Wine Spectator has released its Top 100 Wines of 2018 list, curated from more than 15,000 wines blind-tasted and reviewed by the magazine’s editors throughout the year.
Bottles were selected based on four factors: quality, as represented by their score; value, as reflected by their price; availability, based on the number of cases made or imported into the United States; and “X-factor,” the compelling stories behind them.
The coveted title of 2018 Wine of the Year was awarded to Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015, a blue-chip wine from a third-generation estate near the Tuscan coast. Other finalists span 14 countries around the globe.
The Epoch Times asked Alison Napjus, Wine Spectator senior editor and tasting director, for her insights on this year’s selections.
*Could you comment on any general trends you noticed in this year’s list?
Alison Napjus: Two general trends stand out to me:
First, more than 50 percent of the wines on 2018’s list are there for the very first time. I think that speaks to the global diversity of high-quality winemaking we see today, and to the dedication of Wine Spectator’s tasters to find exciting new faces to recommend alongside the historic leaders that we taste each year. There’s truly something exciting out there for every wine drinker, and we’re doing our best to highlight the breadth of the wine world today.
Second, more than two-thirds of the list is comprised of wines from either the 2015 or 2016 vintages. Both were excellent years through most of Europe and for many parts of California. They’re the kind of vintages that elevate the quality of a winery’s entire range of wines, and even the more affordable, introductory wines show outstanding quality. Because of this, consumers can feel more confident about trying something new from an unknown winery or wine region in these vintages.
*Did anything surprise you?
Ms. Napjus: I was surprised by the average score, 93.2, versus the average price, $50. Like any wine lover, there’s a lot of wine out there that gives me sticker shock, yet here’s a list of 100 wines of great character and diversity that are largely affordable.
In terms of “X-factor,” I was excited to read about the no. 86 wine, the Annia Napa Valley 2017 from Massican winery. It’s a blend of ribolla gialla, friulano, and chardonnay—and I’d bet most people have never heard of two out of three of those grapes! But one of the areas I cover for the magazine is northeastern Italy’s Friuli Venezia-Giulia region, the traditional home of ribolla gialla and friulano. Producers there are doing great things with these grape varieties, and it was so interesting to me to read about a distinctive example from California.
*Did any regions especially stand out?
Ms. Napjus: California, France, and Italy make up nearly 60 percent of the Top 100 list, with 19 wines each. These areas are well-known powerhouses in the wine world, and each year they comprise a significant chunk of the Top 100 list because of their continued excellence.
When you think about these areas, your mind goes to Napa Valley [in California]; Burgundy and Bordeaux in France; or Piedmont [and] Tuscany in Italy. And yes, these regions were well represented on our list. But we also explored less-touted parts of each major area for great additions: Sta. Rita Hills and Contra Costa County in California’s Central Coast; a wine from the island of Corsica; and bottlings from Trentino-Alto Adige at the top of the Italian boot, all the way down to Calabria at the toe.
*What are some emerging regions and producers to watch?
Ms. Napjus: Over the last decade, the quality, price, and wide availability of New Zealand sauvignon blanc has claimed a number of places on our Top 100s as imports of these bottlings to the United States have grown. But this year, three of the four New Zealand wines on our list are pinot noirs. The country’s producers have been doing a lot of work with pinot noir over the last 10 to 20 years—finding the best sites and the best clones (types) for the varying conditions on the country’s two islands. That hard work is really shining through, and I think we’ll see more and more outstanding pinot noir from New Zealand here in the United States in coming years.
*About the no. 1 wine of the year. What made it stand out above all others?
Ms. Napjus: I actually tasted our no. 1 wine, the Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2015, three separate times, and I was wowed by it each time.
Sassicaia started out as an experiment—an attempt to make something like the great reds of Bordeaux from vineyards on the western coast of Tuscany. It was kind of a crazy idea at the time, when most people were drinking light, acidic reds in Chianti’s traditional straw bottles. The first commercially-released vintage of Sassicaia was 1968, 50 years ago, and in the interim it has helped to put Italy, and the immediate Bolgheri area, on the map. It’s so very Italian at its core, but its precision and style is world-class.
The full list can be found at Top100.WineSpectator.com