Another year, another set of lively, sometimes controversial, blog posts from Wine Spectator's impassioned editors. This past year provided a seemingly endless slew of water-cooler conversation topics, from personnel changes at historic estates to the thorny topic of wine credentials. While some of our editors stuck close to their tasting beats to report on wines they were excited about, others took to topics off the beaten path. This roundup of top blogs posts is, much like 2016, a collection of happy memories, strong opinions, tragic moments and more than a hint of drama.
Here, in alphabetical order by editor, are the top blog posts of 2016.
In early March, senior editor Tim Fish shared his excitement for 2014 Zinfandels. At the time, he had only tasted about 40 percent of the vintage, but was blown away by the "balanced, delicious and often exceptional" wines. In the short and sweet blog post, followed later by the full Zinfandel tasting report, Fish sang high praises for the California grape's 2014 offerings, and even suggested that the 2014s could be the best Zins ever. Did his prediction prove true? The No. 10 wine in the Top 100 of 2016 may help his case.
When news broke that Philippe Bascaules, director of winemaking at Napa's historic Inglenook estate, was named the new managing director of Bordeaux's Château Margaux, readers turned to senior editor and California wine expert James Laube for his take. Noting that Bascaules had previously worked for 15 years at the first-growth estate, Laube dubbed the change "a prestigious if bittersweet appointment," since he will take the place of longtime Margaux director Paul Pontallier, who died in March. Though he's moving back home to Bordeaux, Bascaules will continue to serve as Inglenook's director of winemaking from afar. Considering all of the changes Bascaules has implemented since Francis Ford Coppola hired him in 2011, what does the future hold Inglenook?
"What's in a name?" contributing editor Robert Camuto asked in his most popular blog post of 2016. He was referring to the dispute between the Amarone Families and the Valpolicella Consortium, a Verona-based conflict evocative of a Shakespearean drama. In 2009, 12 Amarone della Valpolicella producers created a new confederation called the Amarone Families (or the Famiglie Dell’Amarone d’Arte) to distinguish their wines from what they considered lower-quality Amarone. However, the Amarone name is a registered trademark controlled by the Valpolicella Consortium, a group that represents more than 2,200 growers, wineries and bottlers. Many consortium members opposed this use of the Amarone name, and in June 2015 the group sued. The jury's still out on who will be able to use the name, but Camuto addressed what this soap opera–like conflict means for Amarone overall.
In the March 31, 2016, issue, contributing editor Matt Kramer wrote a controversial column about the negative aspects of "a proliferation of credentializing" in the wine industry. As a response, executive editor Thomas Matthews penned an open letter to both those feeling disenchanted with formal wine education and those who have invested a great deal of time and effort in situational learning. What resulted was a thoughtful discussion about structured study versus real-life experience. Both, Matthews argues, have their merits. Wine Spectator readers added their own opinions (providing even more fodder for thoughtful conversations) in the comments section.
When it comes to wine movies, it's no secret that senior editor James Molesworth has strong opinions. In 2016, he set his sights on A Year in Port, the third in writer-director David Kennard's trilogy of films that included A Year in Burgundy and A Year in Champagne. The documentary-style film highlights the history, culture and process of making Port, one of the oldest delineated wine appellations in the world. Molesworth commented on all aspects of the film, from the coverage of the subject matter to camera movements, and happily reported that it did "what a wine movie should do."
Expectations were high when senior editor Bruce Sanderson attended a tasting of Produttori del Barbaresco's 2011 single-vineyard wines in March. The event was significant not just because the Produttori produces some of the top wines of the region, but also because the cooperative only makes single-vineyard cuvées when conditions are "perfect." (Neither the 2010 nor 2012 vintages made the cut.) Sanderson discusses the important role terroir plays in creating these single-vineyard wines and gives his first impressions of the wines he tasted, one of which turned out to be the No. 5 wine in the Top 100 of 2016.
Winemaker Juan Muñoz-Oca makes polished, highly drinkable wines for Washington's Columbia Crest. To editor at large Harvey Steiman, he's the last guy you'd expect to experiment with extended maceration, a process that often produces rough tannins and a mouth-drying effect. However, what began as a curiosity-fueled test on a small lot of 2012 Cabernet has blossomed into an exciting approach to winemaking that, in Muñoz-Oca's opinion, "is better at expressing what's unique about each of our microclimates." The wines made from this style—called superextended post-fermentation maceration—are being released under a new label, Intrinsic. At the time, Steiman said it was too soon to tell if this risk would pay off, but with the 2014 Intrinsic coming in at No. 32 in the Top 100 of 2016, one might believe that it indeed has.
In the past year, the wine community has endured the loss of many loved and respected figures. Perhaps one of the most unexpected and heartbreaking deaths was that of 39-year-old Sam Beall. In his tribute to the young proprietor of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., features editor Owen Dugan reflected on the first time he met Beall, remembering him as wide-eyed and idealistic in his twenties. Despite his young age, Beall turned his huge ideas into reality and transformed his family's small inn into a first-class food destination with one of the world's best wine programs. Dugan echoed the sentiments of Beall's family and friends, as well as the food-and-beverage industry as a whole, in lamenting the loss of this visionary.
Opening his blog post in the most Millennial way possible—with a quote from a Drake song—associate editor Ben O'Donnell let the world know that the whole team is here, which you can translate to mean that the youngest of the Millennial cohort officially reached legal drinking age. So what does this mean for the wine industry? For starters, the Wine Market Council now has enough data to divide the generation into two subsets—"the young-young" (21 to 29) and "the aged-young" (30 to 38), as O'Donnell calls them—to compare trends within the group. This blog post looked at some of these trends, from favored regions to the wine-from-a-can trend.
In response to associate editor Ben O'Donnell's aforementioned post on Millennial wine consumption, Mitch Frank assumed the role of "cranky Gen X editor" to make it clear that the youngest generation of legal drinkers has not (yet) taken over the world. Frank did acknowledge, however, that Millennials are certainly the key demographic for the coming years, and that the wine industry will need to adapt accordingly. He says keeping the wine industry on its toes is a good thing—American wine can grow up and learn new tricks at the same time. Meanwhile, Frank is hanging onto his Soundgarden CDs.
Though one of senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec's specialties is Australian wine, it seems she's picked up a knack for Aussie vernacular, as well. In her most popular blog post of 2016, she used the Down Under expression "like chalk and cheese" when discussing two McLaren Vale winemakers who appear similar on the surface, but are actually quite different. During her visits with Mollydooker's Sparky Marquis and d'Arenberg's Chester Osborn, she noticed that the two fun-loving winemakers, who work practically across the street from one another, achieve their success in vastly different ways.