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Thoughts On The Spectator's Top 10

Every year around this time, the Wine Spectator releases their list of top 100 wines of the year. And then all around the country, people scramble to buy them. Stocks disappear overnight, and prices skyrocket.

This year's top 10 wines were:

#1 - 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia Red Blend, Napa
#2 - 2003 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhone, France
#3 - 2003 Rosenblum Rockpile Road Vineyard Zinfandel, Rockpile, Sonoma, CA
#4 - 2001 Concha y Toro "Puente Alto Don Melchor" Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
#5 - 2003 Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno, Tuscany, Italy
#6 - 2003 Alban "Reva" Syrah, Edna Valley, CA
#7 - 2002 Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
#8 - 1999 Castello Banfi "Poggio all'Oro Riserva " Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
#9 - 2002 Staglin "20th Anniversary" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa, CA
#10 - 2001 Château d'Yquem, Sauternes, France

Interestingly, I've actually tasted over half of these wines this year. But more on that in a minute.

One of the things that I've always found a bit mysterious is the way that the Spectator chooses this list. They are very explicit about their criteria -- a combination of score, "value," availability, and "excitement" -- but very unclear on how they actually apply them. Part of me wonder's why they don't just use score and nothing else. That's what I would do if I were making such a list.

I understand the reasons for using availability as a criteria -- reviewing a wine that no one can get in the first place is problematic, but I'd be hard pressed to figure out the best way to integrate notions of value or general excitement into a list that is supposed to be about how good the wines are. Maybe that's why they call the list "top 100" instead of "best 100." I'd love it if they actually used some sort of formula with weighted attributes for each of the wines.

Admittedly, I have a problem with 'top xx' lists of any kind.

One of the most interesting things about the list of top 100 wines to me is something that the Spectator also comments on -- the fact that Syrah is getting better and better. Nearly 25% of the top 100 wines this year were Syrah or Syrah based blends. That's extremely surprising, and very encouraging, as I'm a fan of varietal, as many of you know.

As for my notes on the top ten wines, well.... I really enjoy the Clos des Papes, but I wouldn't consider it to be in the top 10 in the world. Likewise for the Rosenblum Rockpile, which is tasty, but not so much better than many Zinfandels out there, or even other Rosenblum wines. Hard to argue with the choice of the Alban "Reva" -- stunning wine -- that is unless you object to really high alcohol wines. The Lewis and Staglin Cabs are both at the top of their form, but there were certainly others this year that were as good or better (Pride, Cliff Lede, Bond, to name a few). Castello Banfi -- good for sure, but there are certainly much better Brunellos out there in 1999 and James Suckling (and the Spectator as a whole) can no longer be trusted on Italy after the showing they made in Mondovino, laughing about giving good scores to the wines of Suckling's landlord Salvatore Ferragamo.

And finally the Insignia. I have no idea what it is about me, but I've never really liked this wine. Weird. I know. Everyone raves about it. But I tend to find it a bit characterless. Oh well. Perhaps that's why I'm not a major wine critic.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.