In an industry saturated by scores, lists, reviews, and other methods of entirely subjective analysis, Wine Spectator‘s annual list of the Top 100 wines of the year manages to rise above the hype and deliver a slate that’s respected by both wine lovers and winemakers alike.
This year’s list came out earlier this week (it can be viewed for free until November 27 at WineSpectator.com) and featured 26 wines from California. Of those, three were sourced from grapes made in Santa Barbara County: Rusack’s Santa Barbara County Syrah from 2008 at #27; Sans Liege’s The Offering 2008 at #34, a Rhone-based blend of grenache, mourvedre, syrah, and viognier from eight different vineyards; and at #82, Margerum’s Sybarite, a 2010 sauvignon blanc from Happy Canyon. And another was made by a Lompoc-based winemaker: at #75, the Loring Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2009.
Produced by the magazine every year since 1988, the list is based on scores, fair pricing, availability, and the “x-factor,” which Wine Spectator‘s executive editor Thomas Matthews says embodies “important and exciting aspects of the previous year in wine.” This year’s list was chosen from more than 16,000 new wines that were tasted and scored blindly, and then subjected to the editors’ further review based on the above factors. It features 12 countries and a drop in average price, from $48 to $44 per bottle.
Still confused as to how wines that get a 97-point score can be listed as #85 (Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Grace Vineyard 2008 ) when a 95-pointer (Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009) gets first place? Matthews broke it down for The Independent by challenging us to think of it in baseball terms. “Who were the best baseball players last year?” he asked. “Well, there are the players who hit the most home runs. There’s no debate about that; it’s a simple list, based on a measurable comparison. For us, that’s the equivalent of ranking wines by score. But home runs measure only one aspect of quality. The best home-run hitter might not be the best player overall.” Like in baseball, where the MVP is chosen by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Matthews said that the Top 100 is “a judgment call.” He explained, “The writers take into account a player’s statistics, but also factor in how important the player was to the success of the team. And that’s how our editors decide on the Wine of the Year.”
Regardless of reasons, the winemakers on the list are certainly happy and expect sales of their listed wines to rise. “We’re very excited to be recognized,” said Doug Margerum, who also owns the Wine Cask in downtown Santa Barbara. His Sybarite, which is all sauvignon blanc grapes from the new Happy Canyon AVA in the far eastern Santa Ynez Valley, is fermented at very cold temperature, subjected to battonage (or stirring of the lees), and then personally blended by Margerum to make what he feels is the best possible wine. “I love sauvignon blanc and I love the styles that are articulated from throughout the world — New Zealand, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, etc.,” said Margerum. “I do think we have a very special area here in Happy Canyon for sauvignon blanc and for the red Bordeaux varietals as well.”
Geoff Rusack was also pleased with the news. “While my wife, Alison, and I are honored and thrilled to get this ranking, it is our winemaking team, headed up by John Falcone, that for years has consistently pursued making world-class wines,” said Rusack. “This recognition is truly a tribute to their efforts.”
Sans Liege winemaker Curt Schalchlin, who’s based in Pismo Beach but whose listed wine, The Offering, was made mostly from Santa Barbara County fruit, said that it was “definitely an honor.” “Honestly, it’s a pretty strange feeling,” said Schalchlin. “I truly love winemaking and am extremely grateful to be able to work with the great people and incredible vineyards that are the core of Sans Liege Wines. It feels great to get this type of recognition and hopefully this is some type of indication that I may be able to continue chasing my dream that has become so much more than a job that I love but a lifestyle.”
This was the third wine named to the list for Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company, who sources pinot noir, chardonnay, and other grapes that strike his fancy from all over California. “What it means most to us is that the senior editors at Wine Spectator felt that we’d done something worthy of special attention,” said Loring, who appreciates the “attaboy!” and says it’s “nice” to be listed amongst wines from across the globe. He believes the listing is “another validation that maybe we’re on the right track.” Said Loring, who runs his winery with his sister Kimberly, “It’s pretty cool that a tiny winery likes ours, basically a brother and sister, two-person show, can be considered as being on the same level as so many of the great wineries of the world. It’s heady stuff indeed.”