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Fun With Numbers – Analyzing 2021 Top 100 Lists

December 1, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Whoosh…

It is the last month of the year already – do you believe it? There are very few facts left in this life – time moving in one direction is still one of them.

The arrival of December means that it is the time to look back at the year which is about to bid adieu, and reflect. For example, on all the wines, good and bad ones. And maybe rate them, right?

I know that many of the true wine aficionados scoff at the bare idea of the wine ratings, especially those coming from major wine publications – I’m not talking about wine collectors who live and die by those. Top wine lists are usually equally ignored by those passionate wine lovers. I, however, appreciate all of the scores and top lists as a reference – and also the numbers I can play with.

At this point, all major wine publications produced their Top 100 wine lists – some even multiple Top 100 lists, such as James Suckling with Top 100 wines of Chile, France, Spain, New Zealand, and all other major winemaking regions… That means a lot of numbers to digest and dissect – not something I can pass. I set out to waste spend a good amount of time to convert Top 100 lists from James Suckling, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator from all the different formats into a set of excel files which then can be compared – and now I can report on my findings.

As I already mentioned, there are multitudes of Top 100 lists available from these wine publications – for this analysis, I used the Top 100 lists from Suckling and Wine Spectator, and Top 100 Cellar Selections from Wine Enthusiast – this one is the best match for the two other lists, unlike The Enthusiast 100 or 100 best buys. All the lists are produced based on the rating of more than 20,000 wines by each publication during 2021 (25,000 by James Suckling and 22,000 by Wine Enthusiast). Some publications also considered wine production volume and availability as an important decision factor.

Wine of the Year

Let’s start with the Top wine of 2021. It is interesting that out of these 3 top wines, 2 were whites – not something you see very often, but at least both whites were Chardonnays. James Suckling’s Top wine of 2021 was the 2020 Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu Mate’s Vineyard New Zealand (JS100, $73). Wine Enthusiast Top wine of 2021 was the 2018 Ramey Hyde Vineyard Charodnnay Carneros (WE100, $70). Lastly, the Wine Spectator Top wine of 2021 was the 2018 Dominus Estate Napa Valley (WS97, $269). Whether you like it or not, but Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon clearly ruled the world in 2021…

Regions

In all three top lists, there was somewhat lesser diversity than in the lists from last year – 4 countries/regions present in the 2020 lists were absent in 2021. Here is the summary for you in the form of the table:

Region JS WS WE
Argentina 5 4 1
Australia 7 4 2
Austria 2 1 3
California 18 24 20
Canada
Chile 5 2 2
France 22 17 25
Germany 12 2 4
Greece
Hungary 1 1
Israel
Italy 15 23 17
New York 1 1
New Zealand 3 3 2
Oregon 2 4 5
Portugal 1 3 6
South Africa 1 1 2
Spain 5 7 4
Uruguay
Washington 1 4 5

I purposefully didn’t remove the countries from last year’s lists so it is easy to see which are missing. Overall, there were not too many surprises. The US, France, and Italy dominated all 3 lists. It is interesting to note a good number of wines from Portugal in the Wine Enthusiast list, as well as good showing by Oregon and Washington in Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator lists. The biggest surprise for me might be a relative weakness of Chile’s presence across lists and literally negligible showing by South African wines.

Wine Types

I don’t believe I paid much attention to the types of wines on the Top 100 lists last year – I built a comparison table though this year:

Type JS WS WE
Dessert 2 1 5
Red 72 65 72
Rosé 2
Sparkling 3 5 6
White 23 27 17

I classified all wines as dessert, red, Rosé, sparkling, and white. Port and sweet Riesling wines (BA etc.) were classified as dessert. As you can see, red wines rule the world. While the Wine Enthusiast list includes no Rosé, at least it has a good showing of dessert and sparkling wines, which makes perfect sense. I honestly believe we should see more of the Rosé wines in the Top 100 lists, but oh well… Also wondering when we are going to see skin-fermented wines on the Top 100 lists – unless I missed something this year.

Ratings

Ratings this year are radically contrasting between different lists. James Suckling’s list doesn’t have any wines with ratings less than 98. And Wine Spectator’s list has no wines with 100 ratings, only one wine with 99 rating, but 12 wines with the rating of 90:

Rating JS WS WE
100 25 9
99 45 1 7
98 30 3 10
97 6 12
96 2 17
95 18 12
94 14 17
93 14 10
92 10 5
91 20 1
90 12

Both James Suckling and Wine Enthusiast lists have a substantial showing of 100-rated wines – either the wines are getting better and better, or the critics are getting more and more lenient – still, 25 wines with 100 rating is very impressive.

Prices

This might be one of the most interesting and most irrelevant parts of the top 100 wine lists information – and analysis. It is interesting because of course, wine aficionados what to know “how much”. It is irrelevant because the majority of these wines can’t be acquired due to limited availability and high demand – everyone wants to drink “best wines”. Nevertheless, let’s talk about prices.

The wines on James Suckling’s list are ranging from $1,723 per bottle (most expensive) to $24 for the least expensive. Only 45 wines are priced at less than $100. You will need to spend whopping $23,595 to acquire all 100 top wines and $2,108 on the Top 10 wines. It is important to note that prices are not included on the James Suckling Top 100 list – each wine has a link to the wine-searcher page which lists the price according to the wine-searcher’s algorithm.

Wine Enthusiast Top 100 list wines are priced from $780 to $20. 65 wines cost less than $100, and 28 wines are less than $50. You will need to spend $11,061 to acquire all Top 100 wines and $1,047 on the Top 10. Wine prices are included on the Wine Enthusiast list, but I’m not sure how they were sourced, as some of the wines are priced at $222 or $343, which can’t be MSRP pricing.

Wine Spectator’s list happens to be the least expensive overall, with only $6,194 needed to acquire all top 100 wines. Top 10 will set you back by $1,444. The wines are ranging in price from $309 to $13. 85 wines are priced at less than $100, and 68 wines are less than $50.

Conclusion

I hope you are having as much fun looking through all the data as I had compiling it. There is nothing to be concluded from this exercise, but I find it fun. If you think there is any other data you would like to see as part of this analysis – I will be happy to oblige.

Enjoy!

  1. Ted
    December 2, 2021 at 8:55 am

    Very cool analysis.

    For the countries that dominate JS list… he does lavish tastings featuring those wines and the costs to the producer’s to participate are not the price of a newspaper… they are quite a lot of $$. Thus a conclusion could be drawn that there is more attention for a region that can afford or desires to promote its wines thru JS…

    There’s a lot of $$ changing hands in the background that’s not seen by the average consumer… do you think there are many WS top 100 that are not paying $1000’s for tables at all the grand tastings, not to mention advertising in the Shanken tier of magazines?

    I’d love to see your analysis for top 100 WS wines compared to full page advertising that year… that would be interesting.

    Great analysis. And food for thought. It’s all grape juice.

    • December 2, 2021 at 9:10 am

      Thank you 🙂 Yes, this is fun exercise. I’m sure money are involved in the background, but looking at the Top wine choices, I would wonder if a tiny producer from New Zealand, for example, would be the biggest donor for Suckling.
      I would love to compare the WS Top 100 versus advertisements in the magazine, but it will be too big of a task – I’m not even subscribing to WS, so I don’t have that data.
      I can’t speak for all these big publications, but deciding on the top wine and wines is largely subjective – I would assume it is some sort of “toss in a hat” process versus advertisement revenue spreadsheet analysis – but this is just me being an eternal optimist… 🙂

  1. December 13, 2021 at 5:31 am
  2. January 5, 2022 at 9:17 pm

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