When you start with 18,000 wines from 60 different regions, encompassing dozens of varieties, both red and white, then narrow them to a list of just 10, the result is the crème de la crème of the wine world. Wine Spectator senior editors did the "heavy lifting" so audiences at the Wine Experience's two-part Top 10 Wines of 2015 tasting could sit back and enjoy the results.
Last year's Top 10 wines span the globe, from California to Italy, Oregon to Bordeaux. Senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec noted two Top 10 firsts for 2015: New Zealand and South Africa. The 10 wines, she explained, were chosen for quality, value and availability, plus that hard-to-define X-factor, the twinge of excitement. "What a beautiful collection of wines," she said.
The No. 10 wine, Klein Constantia Vin de Constance Constantia 2009 (95 points, $80) has a more than 300-year-old pedigree in South Africa. A sweet white made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (also known as Muscat de Frontignan) grapes, it was adored by Napoleon and mentioned by Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility. Managing director Hans Astrom told the crowd, "The secret of this wine is that it has a lot of freshness and it can age beautifully." (The 2004 vintage was poured earlier that day in a dessert wine seminar.)
Clos Fourtet is a winery transformed since father and son Philippe and Matthieu Cuvelier purchased the Right Bank Bordeaux estate in 2001. They fine-tuned the winemaking, as well as the 43-acre walled vineyard, where limestone in the soil lends minerality. Pouring the Clos Fourtet St.-Emilion 2012 (94, $72, No. 9), Matthieu Cuvelier said, "The limestone is like a big sponge that gives the vines water whenever they need it."
Calling Amarone "the unsung hero of Italian reds," senior editor Alison Napjus introduced Raffaele Boscaini, whose family owns Masi Agricola and produced the No. 8 wine: the Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Serègo Alighieri Vaio Armaron 2008 (95, $85). Boscaini told the audience the wine was made with three grape varieties—Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara—and the berries were dried in the traditional method to concentrate sugars before fermentation. "Not one of these is a great grape," he said, "but together they play great music."
New Zealand cracked the top 10 for the first time with Larry McKenna's Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013 (95, $69, No. 7). "Pinot Noir is as much about texture and structure as it is flavor," the veteran winemaker said. "I waited 36 years for this vintage."
Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews told the audience that Spain's Bodegas Aalto represents "the pinnacle of Ribera del Duero" with its 2012 (94, $54, No. 6). Co-owner Javier Zaccagnini gave much of the credit to his partner and winemaker Mariano García, along with the varied collection of terroirs from which the winery harvests.
California's historic Mount Eden Vineyards has frequented the Top 100 before, but owner-winemaker Jeffrey Patterson took pride in his Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 (95, $60, No. 5) cracking the big 10. Patterson said his goal is to create a Chardonnay that improves with age. "I want to make a 20-year wine," he said.
Alessandro Bindocci, who with his father, Fabrizio, manages Tuscany's Il Poggione, offered an overview of the beautiful Italian estate and poured Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (95, $84, No. 4), from a classic vintage in the appellation. (Another four 2010 Brunellos were poured earlier in the weekend.) "We are traditionalists, but we also think about technology," Bindocci said.
Oregon Pinot Noir continues its quality ascent, and editor at large Harvey Steiman offered a prime example, the Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012 (98, $70, No. 3). Rajat Parr, who with partner Sashi Moorman has overseen winemaking since 2014, was on hand. "We're in love with this property," Parr said of Seven Springs. "It's an honor to work with it."
Quilceda Creek is one of the oldest and most respected wineries in Washington, and its Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012 (96, $140) was the No. 2 wine of 2015. General manager John Ware said that, while a devastating 2011 frost forced the winery to find new grape sources for several vintages, no one could argue with the results of the 2012.
Finally it was time for wine No. 1, the Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis 2012 (96, $195). Senior editor James Laube called Au Paradis a special vineyard: "Peter Michael bought it a few years ago, but the magic happened in 2012." Winemaker Nicolas Morlet agreed: "As a winemaker, this is a dream site to work with." With a wry smile he added that, in 2012, "My wife gave birth to twins just before harvest."
1. Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis 2012 (96 points, $195)
2. Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012 (96, $140)
3. Evening Land Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012 (98, $70)
4. Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (95, $85)
5. Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 (95, $60)
6. Bodegas Aalto Ribera del Duero 2012 (94, $54)
7. Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013 (95, $69)
8. Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Serègo Alighieri Vaio Armaron 2008 (95, $85)
9. Clos Fourtet St.-Emilion 2012 (94, $72)
10. Klein Constantia Vin de Constance Constantia 2009 (95, $80)