Amid a difficult year, Wine Spectator magazine has recently released its Top 100 Most Exciting Wines of 2020. No list is perfect, but Wine Spectator’s has complex criteria and it values cost and accessibility as well as taste.
As expected, releases from the Big Three, France, Italy and California, were dominant and composed 57% of the 2020 list. Of note, Oregon pinot noir releases were well represented as well as Spain’s nine contributions, including the aged Bodegas Marques de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010 (96 points/$139), Wine Spectator’s 2020 Wine of the Year.
For me, the annual list reveals trends and showcases emerging regions and varietals. It represents the best of this vintage and, at times, the best of the decade.
One such trend is the continuing emergence of sauvignon blanc that has inspired the creative juices of winemakers throughout the world. Nine affordable global releases were named to the list including the No. 59 Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc Walker Bay 2019 (90 points/$16) from South Africa and the Chilean No. 50 Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley 2019 (90 points/$14), owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild for over 30 years.
California and the Marlborough region of New Zealand placed three sauvignon blanc releases each, including the No. 18 Hall Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley 2018 (94 points/$35), the No. 23 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2020 (92 points/$17) and the No. 21 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc California 2019 (92 points/$12). Gott’s well-priced sauvignon blanc has been acclaimed and included on past lists.
Vintage 2017 and 2018 pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley fared well, placing seven releases including the No. 9 Beaux Frères Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge Beaux Frères Vineyards 2018 (95 points/$95) that landed in the top 10 for the second time in four years.
Affordable Oregon wines like the No. 33 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2017 (91 points/$22) and the No. 79 Stoller Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2018 (90 points /$20) were joined by a personal favorite, the No. 37 Bergstrom Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Cumberland Reserve 2018 (94 points/$42).
Malbec from the mountainous Mendoza region in Argentina, known for producing high quality, terroir-driven wines at reasonable prices, has become visible in the marketplace. Four Mendoza releases were named to the list. They range in price from the flagship No. 8 Bodega Piedra Negra Chacayes Los Chacayes 2015 (96 points/$99) to the No. 43 Domaine Bousquet Malbec Tupungato 2019 (90 points/$13).
Spanish winemakers never rush their wines to market, which is evidenced not only in the Wine of the Year, but the affordable No. 25 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2013 (92 points/$18) and the No. 55 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Rosado Gran Reserva 2009 (93 points/$33), a winery I had the pleasure to visit in 2012. More great values from Spain are showcased throughout the list.
The Rhone Valley region in Southern France produces some of the world’s finest wines. Among recent vintages included on the list are the No. 5 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Chateaunef-du-Pape Les Trois Sources 2016 (96 points/$90) and the No. 22 Pierre Amadieu Gigondas Domaine Grand Romaine 2017 (94 points/$40).
In addition to the No. 4 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2016 (96 points/$135) celebrating consecutive years in the top 10 and a recent Wine of the Year, and the No. 15 Duckhorn Merlot Three Palms Vineyard 2017 (96 points/$110), the Napa Valley added the No. 68 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2017 (95 points/$100) and the affordable No. 58 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2017 (93 points/$44) to the list. All in all, wines from Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder appellation had a good year.
Among the six releases from diverse Sonoma County, the No. 2 Aubert Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast UV Vineyard 2018 (95 points/$85) and the No. 6 Kistler Chardonnay Russian River Valley Vine Hill Vineyard 2017 (96 points/$90) were ranked in the top 10, while a newcomer, the No. 80 Reata Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2018 (90 points/$20) offers a lower cost alternative to consumers.
One of the best California syrah releases comes from winemaker Joey Tensley. The No. 40 Tensley Syrah Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Vineyard 2018 (94 points/$44) is making its third consecutive appearance on the list.
As we look forward to 2021, Wine Spectator’s top 100 list is a pleasant reminder that the global wine community is still moving forward.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.