To my mind, this year's Top 100 demonstrates the amazing range of quality now found throughout the world of wine.
When it came to the 2009 Wine Spectator Wine of the Year, I voted with the majority.
I tried the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet from Washington's Columbia Valley on several occasions and in every tasting it showed tremendous depth, richness, complexity and balance. In terms of value, it was, it turned out, impossible to beat. This wine makes a huge statement that you don't have to spend a lot of money to drink great wine.
In some years, though, I'm in the minority. The truth is that just about every year, all of the final 15 or so candidates for Wine of the Year are tremendous wines.
I also believe in emphasizing the "X" factor (meaning "excitement") in the spirit of spreading the accolades around, giving it more weight than score or price. That's why I voted for Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley (96, $75) in 2008, giving a deserved nod to Chile and the New World, and Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005 (98, $80) in 2007, honoring a great appellation, tradition and grape, Grenache. I was out-voted when I called for Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Washington (95, $85) in 2005, and Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley (95, $55) in 2004. But I was in the majority again in 2003 with the Paloma Merlot Spring Mountain District 2001 (95, $45) in 2003; great value and, hey, it's Merlot.
My favorites among this year's candidates, based on quality alone, were 2006 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Castello di Brolio, 2006 Numanthia-Termes Toro Termes and the 2006 Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Cabernet. Columbia Crest, the 2006 Chappellet Napa Cabernet and 2007 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ran close seconds.
Our editors mostly review a mix of traditional wines vs. modern styles. James Molesworth covers the Rhône as well as Argentina and Chile, Old and New World, along with the Loire and South Africa. Thomas Matthews covers Spain, a vastly diverse country undergoing a huge transition from traditional to modern styles. James Suckling reviews Bordeaux and Italy, both a mix of tradition and modern. Some of us tend to vote consistently on one side or the other. I'm often closest in voting to Harvey Steiman; we've tasted together for more than 20 years and I used to cover some of the same beats he has, Australia, Oregon and Washington.
Choosing a wine of the year brings together tasters with diverse backgrounds and personal preferences and experiences. Each of the final candidates are exciting wines and our process allows for individual thought and then agreement on a wine that personifies greatness and relevance every year.