Not often do wine lovers get the chance to taste a lineup of only the best and most sought-after wines from around the world. “Fasten your seatbelts, this should be a fun ride,” editor at large Harvey Steiman told the audience as he introduced the Top Wines of 2010 tasting.
The wines poured at the seminar were the cream of the crop released in 2010, selected from nearly 16,000 wines reviewed by Wine Spectator that year, based on their quality (score), price (value), case production (availability) and the “X-factor,” or excitement.
Hailing from France, Italy, Australia, Portugal and California, the wines were varietally and stylistically diverse. To best showcase them, they were served in traditional tasting order—from lightest to most full-bodied—rather than counting down to No. 1. Steiman and senior editor James Laube moderated the panel, and each wine was represented on stage by a winemaker or vintner who spoke passionately about how their particular bottle arrived at the top.
On hand were first timers like Filipe Roboredo Madeira and his CARM Douro Reserva 2007 (94 points, $27, No. 9), representing Portugal’s increasing success with dry reds, as well as old hands such as Giovanni Manetti. He made the Top 10 for the second year in a row with his Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello, this time with the 2007 vintage (95, $110, No. 8). “I was sure it was a mistake when they called,” Manetti joked. “They were thinking of last year.”
The sleek, elegant and complex Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2009 (95 points, $100, No. 10), from France’s Rhône Valley, found an impressive contrast in the rich and opulent Peter Michael Chardonnay Sonoma County Ma Belle-Fille 2008 (97, $85, No. 3), from California’s Knights Valley. Sir Peter Michael said he planted Chardonnay on his ranch almost as an afterthought when he realized it would take years before his Cabernet Sauvignon reached the market. “I thought that would be a very good way to go broke,” he said.
Elsewhere in Sonoma, veteran winemaker Paul Hobbs said that, despite the harrowing 2008 vintage, which saw drought and extreme heat and wildfires, his Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 (94, $45, No. 6) managed to thrive. Noting that this wine is a blend from multiple sites rather than one of Hobbs’ many single-vineyard bottlings, Laube told the audience, “To me, this wine reflects the broader Russian River terroir.”
California accounted for half of the wines in the tasting, including two Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from the stellar 2007 vintage: the supple, polished, herb- and spice-accented Revana St. Helena (97, $125, No. 4), from a valley floor site, and the generous yet elegant, licorice-layered Altamura Napa Valley (96, $85, No. 5) from hillside sites in the more southerly Wooden Valley area.
The two final wines took inspiration from the Rhône Valley but did not come from France. Another veteran of the Top 10, Michael Twelftree poured his Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella's Garden 2008 (94 points, $55, No. 2) from Australia, while newcomer Justin Smith landed the No. 1 spot in 2010 with his Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007 (98, $67).
Smith explained that the blend for the James Berry bottling changes from year to year, with Grenache playing the key role in 2007. The Grenache adds bold fruit, the Mourvèdre brings structure and tannins, while the Syrah adds spice and color. “I feel like a chef working in the kitchen,” he said.
Laube said the Saxum best represents the X-factor, that hard-to-define exciting character that lands a wine in the Top 10. For both Saxum and California’s Paso Robles region overall, Laube said, “it has been a swift ascension” to a level of world-class quality.
As the seminar wrapped, Steiman remarked to the audience how distinctly different all the wines were: “This is a collection of wines that truly represent where they come from. … No two of them are alike.”
Wines in Order of Tasting
- Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2009 (95 points, $100, No. 10)—presented by Paul-Vincent Avril
- Peter Michael Chardonnay Sonoma County Ma Belle-Fille 2008 (97, $85, No. 3—presented by Sir Peter Michael
- CARM Douro Reserva 2007 (94 points, $27, No. 9)—presented by Filipe Roboredo Madeira
- Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 (94, $45, No. 6)—presented by Paul Hobbs
- Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Flaccianello, this time with the 2007 vintage (95, $110, No. 8)—presented by Giovanni Manetti
- Revana Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena 2007 (97, $125, No. 4)—presented by Dr. Madaiah Revana
- Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007 (96, $85, No. 5)—presented by Frank Altamura
- Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2008 (94 points, $55, No. 2)—presented by Michael Twelftree
- Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2007 (98, $67, No. 1)—presented by Justin Smith
Wine No. 7, Schild Shiraz Barossa 2008, purposefully omitted: Due to concerns over bottlings subsequent to our review, Wine Spectator could not guarantee that the wine provided would be the wine that earned the Top 10 designation.