They came from Tuscany and Spain, from the Rhône Valley, California and Washington, and the wines they poured were as diverse as their accents. But the vintners who took the stage at Friday morning’s seminar shared a rare distinction: They produced the Top 10 Wines of 2009.
“Our Top 100 is a distillation of the wine world’s major trends in a given year,” senior editor Bruce Sanderson told the audience. Wine Spectator’s tasting staff reviewed more than 17,000 new-release wines last year, rating more than 3,800 at 90 points and higher on the 100-point scale. From there, the wines were narrowed down by price (value), case production (availability) and the “X-factor,” or excitement.
“If our Top 100 wines reward excellence,” Sanderson said, “the Top 10 represents the elite of that list, the crème de la crème.”
To best showcase the wines, they were served in traditional tasting order—from lightest to most full-bodied—rather than counting down from No. 10 to No. 1. Presenting the wines and vintners with Sanderson was Gloria Maroti Frazee, Wine Spectator director of education and video.
Offering the sole white wine of the tasting was Sonoma winemaker Merry Edwards with her Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2007 (96 points, $29), which is the highest-scoring Sauvignon Blanc in California to date. “You can feel the sunshine this wine,” Sanderson said.
There was plenty of sunshine as well in the Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2007 (95, $52), made in co-founder Michael Browne’s distinctively full-bodied yet elegant California style. “Mother Nature dealt us a good hand in 2007 and told us not to mess things up,” Browne said.
Italy dominated the middle portion of the seminar with four wines. Pietro Ratti offered his Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2005 (96, $44)—the only one of the three not from Tuscany. Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer poured Brancaia Toscana Tre 2007 (93, $20), noting that the red blend is “providing consumers with the super Tuscan experience for very little money.” Rounding out the Italian delegation was Francesco Ricasoli with Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Castello di Brolio 2006 (96, $54) and Giovanni Manetti with Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello 2006 (99, $110).
Spain came to the forefront with the No. 2 spot in the Top 10 of 2009, and Frazee described how the once overly rustic and tannic wines of the Toro region were transformed and modernized by wineries such as Numanthia-Termes. With the Toro Termes 2005 (96, $27), Frazee said, “the rough-cut diamond has been polished into an opulent jewel.”
Columbia Crest CEO Ted Baseler told the crowd, “I don’t recall when I heard that we won the No. 1 wine.” Pausing for effect, he added, “Nov. 13, 7:13 a.m. Pacific Coast time.” The audience laughed along with him. The Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve 2005 (95, $25) represented the first time the top prize went to a Washington wine, and Baseler said it was an honor for both the winery and the state’s entire wine industry.
Rounding out the seminar were Molly Chappellet, a Napa Valley pioneer who shared her Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2006 (94, $42) along with tales of her family’s experiences running a vineyard high on Pritchard Hill, and winemaker Daniel Brunier of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, who discussed his muscular Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2007 (95, $70), from another classic vintage in France’s Southern Rhône Valley.
As the tasting drew to a close, WineSpectator.com’s countdown clock was ticking away the days until the first of the Top 10 wines of 2010 would be unveiled, making it just more than two weeks before the 10 crowns would be passed on.
Top row, from left: Michael Browne, Francesco Ricasoli, Molly Chappellet, Pietro Ratti, Giovanni Manetti, Merry Edwards, Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer. Bottom row, from left: Bruce Sanderson, Ted Baseler, Manuel Louzada, Daniel Brunier, Gloria Maroti Frazee.