Opinion: The best that Enotria has to offer? Relfections on the Wine Spectator Top 100

The following is an excerpt of Franco Ziliani’s post dated November 25, 2008. Click here to read the entire post in Italian.

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?

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9 thoughts on “Opinion: The best that Enotria has to offer? Relfections on the Wine Spectator Top 100

  1. Zilliani strikes again! Anyone who trusts The Wine Spectator for insight into Italian wines gets what they deserve, as Franco points out.

    One wonders how Suckling didn’t include an Amarone from the wonderful 2004 vintage. Amarone in general is the type of robust, fruit-forward, dynamic red he so truly loves. Ah, but wait – the wines from 2004 are not soft and round for drinking today, so they don’t deserve the same merit as Super (ripe) Tuscans.

  2. Tom,

    I’m so stunned and rather embarassed that the people at Wine Spectator allow Suckling to manipulate the market like that, I say this becuase I am an american working in the wine business in Italy. The Italians are laughing and thinking that he drank too much Koolaid in his youth.

    I used to greet hundreds of american tourists every week and most of them read W.S. but had no clue really about Italian wines. And those really passionate about wine didn’t want to hear the name mentioned.

    There are so many fantastic wines that don’t get mentioned or get trashed because of something personal that went on between Suckling and the producer like they didn’t send him a Ferrari for the weekend…. or put him up in a Villa or promise him cases of their wine? Does he think we don’t hear about all of this? Where are is morals in Journalism?

    As I’ve written in the Blog of Franco’s why so much power to this one man? It’s not democratic, is it?

  3. Is there a broader context to Ziliani’s nickname of “Giacomino” for Suckling? I don’t speak Italian so I am just guessing it can be interpreted as “Little James”, but is there more to it?

  4. Pingback: I soliti ignoti and blogs I’ve been reading lately « Do Bianchi

  5. I would like to add three comments to Franco Ziliani’s post about Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2008.
    1. The wines selected are not the “best” of the year, as measured strictly by score; they are chosen because of their combination of quality, value, availability and excitement. For this reason, many excellent wines (including some of Ziliani’s favorites) are excluded.
    2. All wines reviewed by Wine Spectator are evaluated in blind tastings (unless explicitly noted otherwise). Neither James Suckling nor any other editor can favor “friends” or punish “enemies.” Ziliani may disagree with our judgments, but he has no grounds to criticize our ethics.
    3. Wine Spectator has been publishing for 32 years; according to independent research, we have 2.6 million readers. Are all these people stupid? Or do they recognize that our editors are passionate about wine, fair and experienced, and aim to educate wine consumers about wines, wine producers and the life of wine? Wine Spectator is working to broaden the world of wine. We welcome honest debate, and urge wine drinkers to sample widely, consider all sources of information, and judge for yourselves.
    Thomas Matthews
    Executive editor
    Wine Spectator

  6. Dear Thomas Matthews,
    I must absolutely thank you on behalf of myself and other passionate winelovers worldwide for preserving the world’s top wine from the grasp of the 2.6million readers and supposedly consumers you claim to have by setting up those mischievously deceiptful decoys in your wonderful magazine.Thank you again and keep up the good work and wish you maximum excitement for next year’s top hundred!

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  8. At this point, what is the use of even caring about which wines Spectator picks as their favorites? People in the wine industry all know that the only people who care about Spectator scores are those with little to no critical wine experience or those just trying to make some money.

    Though it is easy to write off high point wines as uninteresting, lacking in qualities that actually make them great wines, they do serve a couple very important functions:

    1)Highly scored wines are essentially the perfect beginner wines because they are easy to drink, easy to understand and provide simple enjoyment that may eventually lead to further exploration of wine.

    2) Most high point wines are very modern in style and cater to a beginner palate, meaning that the demand for the real wines will remain in the hands of the people who actually enjoy them. Just imagine if Spectator started tossing ridiculous scores at great authentic Italian wines: it would be a nightmare! You would have all of our favorite authentic wines ending up in the hands of someone who probably would not appreciate them as you or I.

    3) High points help sell lots of wine which, in general, helps the economy, and keeps people like me employed.
    Mark Villalobos
    Chicagofoodandwinesocial.com

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