The Top 10 Tasting is always a globetrotting affair—the top wines of 2012 hailed from Italy, Argentina, California, Oregon, Australia and France—but this time there was a twist. The top four wines of 2012 came from different regions but shared one distinction: the Rhône connection.
“This is a real mind-boggling display of what Rhône wines can do around the world,” senior editor James Molesworth told the audience. While Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre dominated the lineup, other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Malbec, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc still got their due. All 10 wines represented the “cream of the crop” in 2012, said senior editor Bruce Sanderson.
This year's Top 10 tasting was divided into two parts, each concluding the Friday and Saturday seminars. To start off, Argentine winemaker Santiago Achával poured his dark, layered Achával-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Finca Bella Vista 2010, (95 points, $120, No 10). Tuscany's Paolo Bianchini offered Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (94, $60, No. 9) but remained in the audience, allowing importer Mollie Lewis of Indigenous Selections to express gratitude on his behalf in more polished English.
The American contingent included winemaker Laurie Hook, whose Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Reserve 2009 (94, $45) placed No. 8, showing that top-quality California Cabernet can be made at a reasonable price. Next, Oregon’s Dick Shea discussed the Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2009 (94, $40, No. 7). “I only intended to be a grower,” Shea said, “but I woke up one morning and told my wife I wanted to make wine. She said, ‘That’s crazy,’ but not in those words.”
The diversity of Bordeaux showed itself with two wines: Château Guiraud Sauternes 2009 (96, $60, No. 5), the finale of the first tasting, and Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2009 (95, $105, No. 6), which kicked off the second. Guiraud winemaker Xavier Planty told the crowd that the 2009 “is a good example of the sort of wine I want to make. With great Sauternes, you don’t have the sugar at the end of the mouth.” Co-owner Lilian Barton Sartorius drew a chuckle from the audience when she said Bordeaux tries to make “the vintage of the century every year.” She added, “In 2009, I think we succeeded.”
With the top four wines, the audience had a chance to compare the variety among Rhône-style wines. Clos des Papes has frequently graced the Top 10 list, and winemaker Vincent Avril returned with the intense but polished Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (98, $128, No. 4), a blend of 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent Mourvèdre and a touch of Syrah.
Another regular among Wine Spectator’s top wines is Australian producer Two Hands; winemaker Michael Twelftree said his Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2010 (95, $69, No. 3) deserved special recognition that day. “After all,” he joked, “I did come the farthest to be here.”
Louis Barruol of Château de St.-Cosme made his second straight appearance in the Top 10 tasting, with his jam-packed, mouthwatering Gigondas 2010 (95, $41, No. 2). The charming, humble Barruol was called “the de facto voice of Gigondas” by Molesworth. “Overall,” Barruol said, “this is a great honor for our appellation.” He coaxed the audience to cellar Gigondas for 10 or 20 years to truly appreciate the wines. “They really deserve it.”
Senior editor James Laube introduced the No. 1 wine of 2012, Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 2008 (96, $60). Doug Shafer said the wine, a blend of 75 percent Syrah and 25 percent Petite Sirah, came from a rugged ridge-top vineyard near the Stags Leap District that the winery planted in 1995.
The wine is named for longtime winemaker Elias Fernandez. “He is relentless,” Shafer said. “He’s so relentless, in fact, I couldn’t convince him to leave his new 2013 wines and come to New York.” Fernandez did make an appearance via a previously recorded video, which offered his thanks and some background on the winemaking.
Wrapping up the seminar, executive editor Thomas Matthews told the audience, “We pick the Top 10 wines of the year from the thousands and thousands of wines we taste, and we hope you found them as exciting as we did.”
1) Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 2008 (96 points, $60)
2) Château de St.-Cosme Gigondas 2010 (95 points, $41)
3) Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2010 (95 points, $69)
4) Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (98 points, $128)
5) Château Guiraud Sauternes 2009 (96 points, $60)
6) Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2009 (95 points, $105)
7) Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2009 (94 points, $40)
8) Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Reserve 2009 (94 points, $45)
9) Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (94 points, $60)
10) Achával-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Finca Bella Vista 2010 (95 points, $120)