As I reflect on the Wine Speculator’s Top 100 classification… I beg your pardon, I meant to write, Wine Spectator! As I reflect on the magazine’s selections, I realize there’s not much to add to what I’ve written in the past. Only the ingenuous (and ingenuous is a generous euphemism) can take the classification seriously. And anyone who does take it seriously is sure to utter those illustrious words of wisdom: “If you’re not in the Wine Spectator Top 100, it means that your wine isn’t worth a hill of beans and, therefore, I, as an Italian, hope to be in it.”
For years, we’ve known that the classification is not a serious endeavor and lacks the authority with which it is peddled to consumers. Nonetheless, it’s worth a few moments of our time to try to understand its meaning.
The following is a list of Italian wines that made it into the Wine Spectator Top 100 (position, score, cost, winery, and wine):
06 94/100 $62 Pio Cesare Barolo 2004
14 95/100 $65 Aldo & Riccardo Seghesio Barolo Vigneto La Villa 2004
15 96/100 $110 Sette Ponti Toscana Oreno 2006
22 95/100 $63 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate Riserva 2004
31 93/100 $28 La Massa Toscana 2006
45 94/100 $80 Jermann Venezia-Giulia Vintage Tunina 2006
50 91/100 $28 Firriato Nero d’Avola-Syrah Sicilia Santagostino Baglio Soria 2006
51 90/100 $17 Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico Berardenga 2006
59 90/100 $18 Terredora Falanghina Irpinia 2007
70 90/100 $19 Attems Pinot Grigio Collio 2007
75 90/100 $19 Suavia Soave Classico 2007
76 90/100 $25 Marchesi Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Castello di Nipozzano Riserva 2005
81 91/100 $32 Querciabella Chianti Classico 2006
84 91/100 $39 Stefano Farina Barolo 2004
96 93/100 $60 Cabreo Toscana Il Borgo 2006
What do we find in this representation of Made-in-Italy wines? The usual Tuscan domination, with 7 wines, topped off by 3 Piedmontese wines (3 bottlings of 2004 Barolo), 2 Friulian wines, 1 Veneto, a Sicilian, and an Irpinian (Campania).
The best wine of the lot, the 6th place winner in the classification, is a 2004 Barolo. But it’s not one of the wines that received Italian wine editor James Suckling’s highest scores over the course of the year, like the 98 he gave to Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto, the 97 he gave to Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello, or the 96 he gavie to Corino Vecchie Vigne, Ceretto’s Bricco Rocche, or Pio Cesare’s Ornato. The 6th place winner is a Barolo that landed a 94 like 9 other Barolos.
Despite the splendid, classic 2004 vintage, no Barolo can even dream of being considered a top Barolo — one of those must-have, outstanding, benchmark Barolos. Wine Spectator gave the vintage less-than thrilling scores of 89-93 (as compared with the 100/100 awarded to the 2000 vintage).
Yet, despite its lack of true character, Pio Cesare’s 2004 “classic” Barolo, which in my opinion is surely better than the more celebrated and more costly Ornato, has obtained a hyperbolic classification, clearly superior to its actual merits.
And even though I am happy that it is a Barolo that spearheads Italy’s representation in the classification (albeit with an overvalued wine), I also cannot help but note the extravagance of 84th position: Fratelli Seghesio’s Barolo La Villa 2004, by a winemaker relatively unknown in Italy, Stefano Farina, whose commercial and administrative offices are located — according to its website — in Albavilla in the province of Como, even though the company “can boast of cellars and vineyards in the most prestigious winemaking regions of Italy, Piedmont and Tuscany.”
It’s a commercial winery and yet its Barolo, which snagged the 49th position in the 2005 Top 100, leaves the crème de la crème of Barolo production in the dust.
Who do we find among the “best Italian wines” in the opinion of the Wine Spectator? We find “cult wines” (as a simpleton would say): the obligatory Oreno (a “very original” mixture of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese) blended by the “mustachioed enologist” Carlo Ferrini for Tenuta Setteponti, a winery owned by businessman Antonio Moretti, a close friend of Wine Spectator editor and owner Marvin Shanken. This winery, founded only ten years ago, quickly entered into James Suckling’s heart. In 2001, it was ranked 10th and by 2003 it was 5th.
Shouldn’t there be a Pinot Grigio in the Top 100? It is, after all, the most popular white wine in the U.S. (and not a Chardonnay or rather anything but Chardonnay)? Sure thing! A Collio Pinot Grigio but not just any Pinot Grigio: a Pinot Grigio labeled Attems, a wine that orbits in the solar system of a well-known Tuscan dynasty, Marchesi Frescobaldi, a winemaking group notoriously close to Giacomino Suckling. They are so friendly, in fact, that he gave their 2003 Brunello 94 points, despite the mediocre vintage.
With all the Pinot Grigio on the marketing the United States, is it possible that Giacomino had to select the one produced by an estate that was purchased by the owners of Tenuta Luce in Montalcino in 2000?
Is it possible that once again this year, just as in 2007 and 2005 (with the respective 2004 and 2002 vintages, yes, 2002!), Frecobaldi’s Nipozzano Riserva (this time with the 2005 vintage) makes it into the Wine Spectator Top 100?