Thursday, November 15, 2012

The confluence and disconnect of Regional Wine Week and Wine Spectator's Top 100

This week Wine Spectator announces its Top 100 wines of 2012. Now many people pay no attention to this list, but a lot of people do. The list sparks debates amongst enthusiasts and drives prices up for the top 10 wines and helps move many of the other ninety off shelves quickly. I'm not huge proponent of the list, but I think it probably does more good than harm overall to the broader wine industry. Rather than get into the details of the argument, I suggest you read Evan Dawson's recently penned thoughtful defense of the list in Palate Press.

This week is also DrinkLocalWine.com's Regional Wine Week. During Regional Wine Week, the grassroots organization urges writers, bloggers, journalists and enthusiasts to write about the wine industry in the states that don't border the Pacific Ocean. DrinkLocalWine.com will then in turn aggregate and link to the stories to help get the message out that wine is made in every state in the union. Despite the growth and enthusiasm of the local wine movement in the U.S., as exemplified in Regional Wine Week, you will find no American wines on the Top 100 list from the other 46 states that aren't California, New York, Oregon or Washington. Why is that?

James Molesworth, Wine Spectator Senior Editor, discussed this issue with me over Twitter yesterday.  "Well, a wine needs 90+ to be considered for the Top 100, just for starters," said Molesworth. Wine Spectator's history of reviewing "Other U.S." (non-CA, OR, WA or NY) wines leaves much to be desired for those regions. Over Wine Spectator's entire history, they have only reviewed 2,496 wines from the other wine regions. That is not a very big number. To show how much of an up hill battle it is to get one of these wines to appear on the Top 100 list, Molesworth stated that only 8 of those wines have scored at 90+ in their blind tastings. Molesworth continued, "And only one in 2012...#dothemath."

His point, if I may infer, is that the few regional wines he has tasted are not of the quality befitting of the Top 100 list. He also continued to engage with me on Twitter about the lack of submissions from the other wine regions. He is confident (mildly) that better quality regional wines exist, but he can't write about them or advocate they be included in the Top 100 list if wineries do not submit their wines. This is where a disconnect occurs.

Many wineries do not submit wines for a variety of reasons. I imagine fear and disdain are at the top of that list. Many wineries are afraid that Wine Spectator will say less than nice things and give less than ideal, that is below the 90-pt threshold, scores. Other wineries may refuse to submit because they have received poor reviews in the past. Still, some wineries may not even know that they can submit wine (at no cost, mind you) for review or, sadly, even know what Wine Spectator (or Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast) is.

I am not complaining about the lack of "other" wines on the list. I understand the logistics and politics behind the list. I also feel that Molesworth's point is valid. Plus, there is a hell of a lot of good wine from many different regions worldwide. I also believe that many of the American wineries that refuse to submit raise equally valid points. If those wineries and wine regions want to change the status quo, they must take the higher road and actively try to get on that list. Sadly, Wine Spectator probably will not seek out these wines on its own. This is what the Finger Lakes region in New York has done. It took them a few years, but after a few years of persistently submitting cases and cases of wine they finally made the list last year and I'd be willing bet at least one Finger Lakes riesling will do so again this year. Thus, I challenge all regional wineries to submit their wines to Wine Spectator. Inundate their tasting department with samples. Prove to Molesworth that worthy American wine from the "other" states not only exists but is not hard to find. Make Molesworth want to put you on the list. Getting on the Top 100 may also have the benefit of proving to Wine Spectator's readership that they should also start paying attention to you.

I'd like to think that Colorado will be the next state to have a winery make that list (help prove me right Colorado!). Which states do you think will raise the bar for everyone else?


  1. Colorado took one step closer with 2010 The 100th Monkey from The Infinite Monkey Theorem scoring 89pt in the current copy of WS. However, you then need to look at the other judging criteria for the top 100. Value which is okay, x-factor which too is okay, availability which is less okay! Most regional winemakers produce small lots which general sell out within the State that they make the wine, which would seemingly fail this criteria. So the battle is not just the quality of the wine, but the quantity and distribution. I think that we have a way to go!

  2. Yes, there is a lot that goes into the list. Few Colorado wines are in the 3000-6000 range, which seems standard for many of the top wines. IMT is doing good things. More wineries need to follow their lead and submit each year and not be discouraged by scores in the 80s. They are proud of all the scores.

  3. Perhaps the making of the Wine Spectator list would be clearer to consumers and others if we were to know what other conditions, apart from a high numerical score were requirements. It's been said the wineries or importers representing the wineries who make the Top Ten of the Top 100 list are asked to donate (not be paid for, that is) numerous cases of wine for The Wine Spectator's annual Wine Experience in order to be considered for this list...

  4. It is an odd conundrum that the majority of American wine will not be covered by WS any time soon. There are stellars wines out there such as Galen Glen 2011 Gruener Veltliner that our BOA panel felt might be the best in the United States.
    But these folks do not distribute nationally which also has been a requirement of WS to be covered if feedback we receive is correct.

    With the enthusiasm being shown to growing and making wines of place greatly accellerating in the US, the small 'long tail' wineries may be well ahead of the established WS curve.

  5. Anon - I have no info on donation requests for Top 100 wines.
    Roger - I have a feeling WS will slowly start covering more regional wine. Yes, the limited distribution of these wines limits their appeal to WS's editors. However, I think the editors will slowly realize the quality exists and their readership will seek out DTC channels for purchasing the best of these 'unknown' producers. Look at the most highly rated CA wines: Small production and no distribution. Not much different than wines from CO, MI or VA. Change happens slowly, but I have faith it will happen. Granted, this doesn't mean regional wine will take over WS, but start to get the coverage it deserves.