Wine Spectator’s Annual Review


Wine Spectator magazine’s release of its “Top 100 wines of 2010” is much more than a list of those with the highest ratings. It would be simplistic and one-dimensional to list great wines that we, most likely, could not find or afford. By adding criteria of value, availability and intangibles to quality, the magazine annually offers us a “snapshot” of recent trends in the world’s wine community. Described as the magazines view of the most exciting wines, the 2010 list, as past lists, provides enthusiasts with a concise summary of the present and insight into the future.

for those who have monitored the progression of the Paso Robles region, especially the recent foray in Rhone blends, have known it was only a matter of time for the area’s star to shine on a larger stage. Well, that time is now as Justin Smith’s Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007 ($67/98 points), a creative blend of grenache, mourvedre and syrah was named 2010 Wine of the Year.” this is not a complete surprise to those knowledgable of the region, given that the Saxum Broken Stones Paso Robles 2006 and the Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel Paso Robles placed No. 12 and No. 50 respectively on WS’ 2009 list. It is, nonetheless, a significant achievement for Saxum and the entire region.

Eastern Paso Robles is hot enough during the summer months for the grapes, especially zinfandel, to fully ripen, exposing momentous flavors. However, the breezes off the Pacific Ocean, apparently adding more depth and balance to the flavor, cool the heat in the western valleys. Smith has roots in the area and the foresight to include the grenache varietal, popular among local Rhone Rangers, in 20% of his vineyard portfolio. the 2007 “James Berry Vineyard” blend is dominated by grenache (41%), aligned with new post-harvest techniques that reportedly result in vibrant, yet subtle flavors and near perfect balance. Smith’s friend colleague, Matt Trevisan from Linne Calodo, introduced me to the practice of aging these blends in large wooden puncheons, reducing the influences of smaller oak barrels. This seems to be a trend among the new Paso winemakers, resulting in a more subtle, well-textured wine. those choosing to discern future blends from the region will be rewarded with the best California has to offer.

Although all Saxum wines are nearly impossible to acquire, there are numerous Rhone-style blends available to please your palate. One is the Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel Paso Robles 2007 ($50/94 points) which joins Saxum on the 2010 list at No. 33. The Tablas Creek winery, through a long-term relationship with Chateau de Beaucastel in France, has been a pioneer in the areas’ shift toward Paso Robles blends that resemble Rhone-style blends.

California is the big winner in 2010, contributing 24% of the releases on the list.  Much of the credit goes to the successful 2007 vintage for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with seven among the top 30, averaging 97 points and, of course, $1112 per bottle.  The Revana Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena 2007 ($125/97 points) and the Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 ($85/96 points) landed in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots respectively.  However, the huge story comes from Schrader Cellars, releasing six cabernets, two rated a perfect 100 points and one each at 99, 98 and 96 points.  The Schrader Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley CCS Beckstoffer to Kalon Vineyard 2007 ($150/100 points) from the renowned Napa Valley vineyard placed 15th on the 2010 list, cited for mesmeric richness, complexity and balance.

Included in the San Diego Wine and Food Festival Reserve Tasting event, the reasonably priced Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006 ($40/94 points) featuring three  geographically divergent vineyards is the best cabernet value on the list, ranked at No. 18.  We had the opportunity to visit the Hall Winery on New Year’s Day and picked up a few bottles for the cellar.  Significant oak influences, spice, fruit and some chocolate on the finish highlights this vintage that is rapidly disappearing due to recent accolades.

France contributed 19 wines, though surprisingly only one from the Bordeaux region.  Ironically, the highest rated Bordeaux-blend, the Coho Headwaters Napa Valley 2007 ($40/95 points), originates from the Coobsville district in the  southeast Napa Valley.  Also surprising, Chateaunef-du-Pape, a region famous for French Rhone Classic Cru, contributed the Clos deds Papea Chateaunef-du-Pape White 2009 ($100/95 points), the most expensive white wine encountered.  We are resigned to “drool” over the wonderful description of a grenache blanc, roussane, picpoul and bourboulenc blend, crisp and fresh from steel tanks and no malolactic fermentation.

the highest ranked California white wines, the Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2006 ($48/96 points) and the Ridge Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 2006 ($60/95 points) hailed from the mountains near my hometown of San Jose, each vineyard historically producing tremendous wines.

The Santa Cruz Mountains region has produced very fine chardonnay, pinot noir and other varietals for years.  With some research, one can find highly respected mountain vineyards north of Santa Cruz to Woodside, above Stanford University.

In both good and bad years, Sonoma’s Kosta Brownes winery provides assurance that the pinot noir varietal will be annually represented.  At No. 12 was the multi-vineyard Kosta Browne Russian River Valley 2008 ($52/94 points), two bottles of which are contentedly spending time in my cellar.  From arguably the world’s best appellation, the Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45/94 points) secured the No. 6 spot, another top ten honor.

My instincts are telling me that the 2008 vintage Oregon pinot noir is noteworthy.  The representatives, Roco Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008 ($30/92 points) at No. 71 and A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2008 ($20/90 points) at No 75, certainly benefited by their high value/rating ratio.

Washington State placed six wines to the list, equaling the Rhone Valley and Australia.  The diversity of the varietals contributed were surprising an acknowledgement of the area as a premier wine-producing region.  Syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are created as single varietals or blended in such releases as the Goose Ridge “Vireo” Columbia Valley 2006 ($25/93 points) and the Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red Columbia Valley 2008 ($16/90 points) Nos. 41 and 49 on the list,  respectively.

In another 2010 story, Portugal has burst on the scene with three wines within the top 25, blends with lesser known grapes like Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela and Sousao in the Douro appellation in northern Portugal.  The CARM (Casa Agricola Roboredo Madiera) Douro Reserva 2007 ($27/94 points) seems to be a good value at No. 9.  It is typical for the country’s port to be acclaimed worldwide.  However, the Dow Vintage Port 2007 ($80/100 points), also from the Douro region, was one of two wines on the list awarded 100 points.

One would hardly anticipate that Hungary would place the same number of wines on the list as the mighty Bordeaux region.  The Royal Toakaji Wine Co., located north of Budapest, has placed a wine on the Wine Spectator list two years running.  At No. 28, the Toakaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos Red Label 2006 ($39/94 points) blends furmint, harselvelu and muscat de lunel grapes to create the wine only in exceptional years.  Known for its sweet wines, the Red Label uses aszu, dried grapes affected by “noble rot” for sweetening.  Five puttonyos is equal to 120 to 160 grams of sugar per litre.

The list includes 14 countries, four U.S. states and numerous regions.  The United States asserted itself by supplying 35 wines to the list, mostly from California.  We, once again, have proven to the world that we have the diversity of terrior to match up with appellations throughout the world  From Santa Barbara to Mendocino, from Monterey to Lodi, California continues to push the envelope toward becoming the “melting pot” of future wine exploration.

About Lyle W. Norton

Lyle is a freelance writer who specializes in “lifestyle” issues like wine, food, travel, music, film and memoir. He currently writes “On The Vine,” a weekly wine column for the San Francisco Examiner. View all posts by Lyle W. Norton

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