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Wednesday’s Meritage #152 – Top 100 Lists

December 16, 2020 2 comments

Meritage time!

Yes, it is the top time again. A time for the tops? Whatever. A Top 100 time – that’s what time it is.

Today’s Meritage is all about numbers and wines. By now most of the wine publications released their Top 100 wine lists of the year and being a number junkie, I want to ponder at them – analyze might be a bigger, but better-suited word. On one side all the Top 100 lists seem to be fun and games – on another side, there is serious business associated with those lists. Of course, they all have different carrying power, but Wine Spectator Top 100 is a serious selling tool – as soon as this list is published, the wine stores go out of their way to get as many as possible of the wine on that list, as wine consumers ask for those by name. So let’s play the game, shall we?

For this post, I took 3 Top 100 wine lists to analyze – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020 list, James Suckling Top 100 of 2020 list, and Wine Enthusiast Top 100 of 2020 list.  All lists are based on tens of thousands of wines tasted by publications’ wine reviewers throughout the year – all the specifics of the process for each publication can be found using the links provided above.

Let’s look at the Wines of the Year first – the cream of the crop so to speak.

Wine Spectator’s wine of the year is 2010 Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($139, WS96) – I had some other Castillo Ygay wines in the past, but not this one. I’m sure it is a well-deserved recognition for this wine – but this choice doesn’t strike me as anything out of ordinary. James Suckling’s wine of the year, on another hand, is something quite unique in my book – 2018 Chacra Pinot Noir Patagonia Treinta y Dos Argentina (wine-searcher $123, JS100). This does strike me as an interesting choice – yes, I had good Pinot Noir wines from Argentina, but considering the price, and the fact that this wine was selected ahead of such heavyweights as Chateau Margaux, California Bryant and Abreu, or Australian Henschke and Torbreck, this must be one hell of the wine. I would love to try it, but I’m sure the wine will have zero availability for the next number of years. Wine Enthusiast choice for the wine of the year was 2017 Lail Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($80, WE97) – never heard of this wine, but you can’t go wrong with Napa Cab, can you?

Comparing the wine lists in their entirety, we can see some interesting differences. James Suckling’s list clearly stands out in ratings, region representation, and prices of the wines. All 100 wines at James Suckling’s list are rated either 98, 99, or 100 – with 99 being the median value. At the same time, Wine Spectator’s list has wines rated from 90 to 97, with a median rating of 93; Wine Enthusiast’s ratings range from 90 to 99, also with a median value of 93.

Price-wise, James Suckling’s list is the most expensive – only 9 wines are priced under $50, and another 30 under $100 – the rest (70!) is priced in excess of $100, and 13 most expensive wines priced above $300. The most expensive wines are California cults – Bryant Family and Abreu ($688 and $685, respectively). I have to note that Suckling doesn’t provide release prices – each wine is listed with the link to Wine-Searcher, which complicates things a bit, with some of the listed vintages not even yet available. The average price of wine on this list is $173, with a median value of $123.

Wine Spectator’s list priced a lot more reasonably (based on the release prices), with Top 10 being some of the most expensive wines, with only one out of ten priced less than $90. The most expensive wine on Wine Spectator’s list is Ridge Monte Bello at $230. The average price of wine on Wine Spectator’s list is only $50, with a median value of $35.

Wine Enthusiast’s list is priced even better than the WS’s list, with the most expensive wine being Brovia Garblèt Suè Barolo at $92, the average wine price on the list at $34, and the median value of $28.

Last but not least we can look at the regions represented in the three lists. To simplify the comparison, I created a little table for you:

Region JS WS WE
Argentina 9 4 3
Australia 19 3 4
Austria 3 1 4
California 9 18 19
Canada 1
Chile 6 2 4
France 12 20 17
Germany 17 2 3
Greece 1
Hungary 1
Israel 1 1
Italy 20 19 16
New York 1 1
New Zealand 4 3
Oregon 1 7 5
Portugal 1 1 7
South Africa 3 1
Spain 2 9 5
Uruguay 1
Washington 1 3 5

Here you can see that James Suckling’s list is uniquely standing out with the number of Australian and German wines far exceeding those in the other lists. I happy to see a good coverage of my beloved Spanish wines in the Wine Spectator’s list, and I would like to commend Wine Enthusiast for giving appropriate attention to the Portuguese wines. For any further insight, I will let you continue peeking at these numbers on your own.

Here you go, my friends. There are lots and lots more of the Top 100 lists available today, but I limited my analysis to these 3. You can definitely continue the analysis on your own, but for me, it is the time to work on my own Top Dozen list.

That’s all I have for you today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

 

The Curse and Mystery Of The Top 100 Wine Lists

December 5, 2019 4 comments

Lists and numbers – who doesn’t like that? We, humans, are all about lists, we like to sort things out – to-do lists, shopping lists, “best” lists, “best of the best ” lists, Top 10 lists, Top 100 lists. No area of people’s interest is immune to the lists – and of course, the world of wine is no exception – come to the end of the year, and you are guaranteed to see lists and lists of the lists, ranking wines, wineries, regions, winemakers, what have you.

I don’t know how much attention you are paying to the top wine lists. Talking about myself, I like to ponder at the Top 100 lists, especially the one produced by Wine Spectator – not because it is any better or different than the others, but simply because I had been a subscriber for a long time, and it formed more into a habit. My main interest is to see what wines can I recognize, and then to play with the data a bit – countries, prices, grapes. I’m a number junkie. It is always fun to organize numbers in a few different ways, no matter if it means anything or not, and so the Top 100 lists present a good opportunity to conduct such a “research”.

Before we delve into the numbers, let’s talk about the Mystery. What is mysterious about the top 100 wine lists? I would say most everything? How the wines are chosen? How wine #1  is decided? According to the information on the James Suckling web site, they select the top 100 wines out of the 25,000 wines tasted throughout the year. How do decide on 100 out of 25,000? Do you run a separate list of potential candidates throughout the year, or do you sit down at the end of the year and try honestly recall the most memorable wines of the year? What role the ratings play?

Here is what Wine Spectator says on the subject: “Each year, Wine Spectator editors survey the wines reviewed over the previous 12 months and select our Top 100, based on quality, value, availability and excitement”. I like the “excitement” part, this is how I decide on my top dozen wine of the year. The other two publications I studied with Top 100 lists don’t talk about their methodology, they just talk about the content of their lists.

So here are some stats we can gain from looking into the details of the Top 100 lists.

Wine Spectator:

Wine Spectator offers two lists – the regular Top 100 Wine and Top 100 Value Wines, which includes wines priced under $25 (you can find all the lists here). I didn’t spend time with the top value list, so all the numbers below are related to the Top 100 list:

  • Distribution by country: France – 23, California – 22, Italy – 21, Spain – 7, Australia and Oregon – 5 each, Chile and Portugal – 3 each, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, and Washington – 2each, Argentina, Israel, and South Africa – 1 each
  • Distribution by the wine type – 74 reds, 21 whites, 1 Rosé, and 4 Sparkling.
  • Prices – most expensive – $197, least expensive – $13. 14 wines are priced above $100, 13 wines are in the $75 – $99 range, 11 wines are in the $50 to $74 range, 27 wines are priced in the $25 – $49 range, and 35 wines are in the $13 – $25 range.
  • Ratings: the top score is 98, the lowest is 90. There is only one wine on the list with a rating of 98, 6 wines have a rating of 97. The ratings of 96, 95 and 94 are assigned to 14 wines each. 11 wines have a rating of 93, 10 wines each have ratings of 92 and 91, and 20 wines have a rating of 90.
  • Wine Spectator’s top wine of the year 2019 was 2016 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien with a rating of 97 and priced at $98.

Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast produces not one, but 3 Top Wine lists – Top 100 Wines, Top 100 Best Buys, and Top 100 Cellar Selections – these links will allow you to retrieve PDFs for each list. General notes on Wine Enthusiast site say that more than 24,000 wines are tasted during the year and afterwards condensed into the 3 Top Wine lists. Note that Wine Enthusiast Best Buys list covers only wines under $15. Focusing on the Top 100, I did a limited analysis, using the data already provided in the PDF file:

  • Distribution by country: California – 18, Italy – 17, France – 16, Australia, Oregon and Spain – 5 each, Argentina, Chile, Portugal and Washington – 4 each, Austria and Germany – 3 each, NY State and South Africa – 2 each, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Uruguay and Virginia – 1 each
  • Prices – most expensive – $114, least expensive – $16. Only one wine is priced above $100, the majority of the wines are less than $50 with an average price of $33.
  • Ratings: the top score is 99, the lowest is 90. There is only one wine on the list with a rating of 99, 3 wines are rated at 98, 5 wines have a rating of 97, 8 wines are rated at 96. Most of the rated wines fall in the 91-93 range (55 wines)
  • Wine Enthusiast top wine of the year 2019 was NV Nino Franco Rustico Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore with a rating of 94 and priced at $20.

James Suckling:

This one is the most exclusive Top 100 club in a number of ways. First, you need to be a subscriber to see any wine details. Second, all the wines on the Top 100 list are rated 98-100 points. This is the only stats available from the James Suckling Top 100 Wines website: “We have 41 100-point wines in the list and another 35 with 99 points. The rest of the wines scored 98 points. All the wines were produced in quantities of 300 cases or more.”

Let’s leave James Suckling Top 100 list aside and talk about Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast lists. The makeup of both lists is quite similar when it comes to the countries – California, France, and Italy represent at least half of the Top 100 wines (2/3 in case of Wine Spectator list). Where the list differ quite a bit is in the pricing – 14 $100+ wines on the Wine Spectator list versus only 1 on the Wine Enthusiast. But the biggest difference to me is the Wine #1 – Grand Cru Classé versus Prosecco. Okay, call me a snob or whatever you want, but I’m really missing the point of the Wine Enthusiast choice. To my defense, I can only say one thing – I tasted this wine. Nino Franco Rustico is a nice Prosecco, and but it is really, really far away from the memorable, exciting wine. Here you go – another case of the wine list mystery.

I also wanted to talk about the “curse” of the Top 100 wine list, for sure when it comes to the one from the Wine Spectator. As soon as the wine makes it on that list, it instantly becomes unavailable. Adding to the mystery side, it is a mystery to me why an average wine consumer puts such a value on the Top 100 list nomination. But talking about availability, are we looking at the scalping phenomenon in the works? Buy bulk and resell for a quick buck? This is annoying, and it is a real problem for the wine retailers who can’t find enough of those top wines to offer them to consumers. It also gets worse every year – a friend of mine, who has a wine store in Stamford, was able to assemble about 40 Top 100 wines to offer to his customers last year – this year he will barely make it to 20.

There you have it my friends – a deeper look into the mystery (and curse) of the Top 100 wine lists. Do you pay attention to those? What do you think of this year’s top wines? Do you see any trends? Cheers!

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