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An Italian red tops Wine Spectator’s list of best wines of 2018

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The grenache-dominant Le Vieux Donjon from Chateaunef-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley is No. 8 on Wine Spectator’s list of top 10 wines of 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Wine Spectator is releasing its annual “Top 100” wines list. Some critics view all such lists as subjective and, of course, they are.

However, Wine Spectator’s process is ongoing throughout the year and results from educated palates tasting thousands of new releases. The magazine uses guidelines that makes their Top 100 list more accessible. Instead of ranking wines solely by the highest point rating, they factor in cost, availability and a ”wow factor” that is presented and debated among the panelists. Aside from the requirement that the wine is released during a given calendar year, all varietals and regions compete openly and uncategorized.

The Top 10 wines of the list are given elite status and tell the most revealing stories of the vintage. While the 2018 “Top 10” wines are diverse, it is a testament to Europe, especially Italy and France. The “Top 10” includes four countries, nine growing regions, and both blends, and single varietal wines.

Ironically, the only release on the list that I have tasted is #1 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia 2015, 97-pt/$245, Wine Spectator’s 2018 Wine of the Year.

Italy’s Bolgheri region along the Tuscan coast claims terroir similar to Bordeaux, France and has had success, for decades, in creating Super Tuscan blends with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc rather than sangiovese, the varietal used in traditional Tuscan chianti. Currently, sassicaia is a blend of cabernet sauvignon (85 percent) and cabernet franc (15 percent).

While several exceptional vintages have been cited over the past 70 years, notoriety reached a high point when the 1972 Sassicaia took first place in an international competition of over 30 wines.

The fact that the price of the 2018 Wine of the Year is the highest in recent history emphasizes Wine Spectator’s admiration of this wine.

Italy placed two additional wines, the reasonably priced #3 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2015, 96-pt/$35 and the #9 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna San Lorenzo 2016, 95-pt/$60, a red blend from the region near the Mount Etna volcano on Sicily’s eastern coast. It is described as a blend of two local varietals, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, from 70-year old grown at high elevations.

Vineyards in the Mt. Etna region of Sicily. (Courtesy photo)

France is represented by the grenache-dominant #8 Le Vieux Donjon, 95-pt/$70 from Chateaunef-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley, the right bank merlot-dominant #2 Chateau Canon-La Gaffeliere St. Emilion 2015 96-pt/$84 from Bordeaux and a special Champagne release from a legendary producer.

According to Wine Spectator, a relative cool growing season followed by a warm September contributed to a “vivid acidity” of the #5 Moët Chandon Brut Champagne Dom Pérignon Legacy Edition 2008, 96-pt/$180, prompting the producers to hold it back and release the vintage 2009 earlier.

The special Legacy Edition label includes the names of retiring and incoming winemakers, Richard Geoffrey and Vincent Chaperon. Wines from the Rioja region in northern Spain are traditionally released very late. I have been told that some producers don’t release the new vintage until the previous one is sold.

Picked in 2005, bottled in 2012 and release this year, the #4 La Rioja Alta Rioja 890 Gran Reserva Selección Especial 2005, 95-pt/175, predominantly tempranillo, is described as ready to drink know and well into the future.

Mark Aubert produces brilliant chardonnay from Napa and Sonoma County vineyards and a new release, the #6 Aubert Chardonnay Carneros Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard 2016 is one of two local northern California wines on the list.

Morgan Twain-Peterson and Joel Peterson purchased a century-old Sonoma Valley vineyard in 2004, changed the name to Bedrock and have been making acclaimed wines since. Reviews of the whole-cluster fermented #10 Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2016, 95-pt/$46, a blend of zinfandel, carignane, mataro, syrah and the red juice of alicante bouschet, are consistent with the past quality vintages that I have enjoyed.

For a second consecutive vintage, the Colene Clemens Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains Dopp Creek 2015, 95-pt/ $26
represents Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley on the list at #7 and is a value worth pursuing.

For those serious about wine, Wine Spectator’s complete listing of the Top 100 wines of 2018 will reveal current trends and provide comparisons of regions, varietals and producers worldwide.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com.

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