wine enthusiast top 100 cellar selections for 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

I have just received the December 1 issue of Wine Enthusiast, and eagerly went immediately to the Top 100 Cellar Selections article. This is the second of three Top 100 lists that the magazine publishes at the end of the year, and I am especially pleased that my reviews of Washington and Oregon wines have led to exceptional showings for the region in recent years.

This newest list continues the streak. In some sense, the Cellar Selections list is the most exclusive. To qualify as a Cellar Selection, a wine must be exceptionally ageworthy. These are the most structured, complex, compact and detailed wines from among all the new releases reviewed in the past 12 months.

As with the other two lists, the final selection and enumeration is done by Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski at the magazine's editorial offices. But only those wines previously marked as Cellar Selections are in the running for this Top 100. When you look at the entire list, it really puts these Northwest winners in a global perspective. Once again, the Northwest wineries are very well represented – far beyond their statistical significance in production terms.

And they are in very good company.

 As Czerwinski writes in his introduction, “To a large extent, our list of Top 100 Cellar Selections reflects which classic wine regions released the best vintages during the past year... the emphasis is on quality, not value. Despite that, this year’s list does feature 30 wines that were originally released for $50 per bottle or less.”

Using that $50 or less yardstick as a further indication of quality, it puts the Northwest wines in especially rarified territory. There are 6 wines that fall in the under-$50 category – one fifth of the global total.

Last year there were 6 Washington and 3 Oregon wines in the Top 100. In 2011 there are 14 – 9 Washington, 4 Oregon, and one straddler – including 5 repeaters from 2010. Note that 11 of the 14 are in the Top 50.

Here they are, along with my original scores and the suggested retail. My sincere congratulations to all the winners. A PDF of the entire list, with full reviews and pictured labels, is available here.

#15 – Domaine Serene 2007 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir – 95 points, $58
#16 – Buty 2007 Columbia Rediviva Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah – 96 points, $48
#17 – Cayuse 2007 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah – 99 points, $65
#21 – Trisaetum 2010 Estates Reserve Riesling – 95 points, $32
#26 – Rasa Vineyards 2008 DuBrul Vineyard Creative Impulse –97 points, $95
#30 – Charles Smith 2007 Royal City Stoneridge Vineyard Syrah – 99 points, $140
#34 – Mark Ryan 2008 Dead Horse – 95 points, $45
#38 – Januik 2007 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – 95 points, $50
#41 – Betz Family 2008 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon – 95 points, $60
#45 – Adelsheim 2009 Nicholas Vineyard Pinot Noir – 95 points, $90
#49 – L’Ecole No. 41 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon – 94 points, $37
#53 – Leonetti Cellar 2008 Reserve – 96 points, $135
#56 – Gramercy Cellars 2009 The Third Man Red – 94 points, $45
#76 – Eyrie 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir – 94 points, $62


JJ said...

"Originally released for $50 per bottle or less.”

Those were the days.

Randy said...

WHO CARES what the corporate wine gatekeepers say!!! Give me a break. Paul you ought to be able to find something else to write about, eh? Corporate Wine Pub's are OUT!

PaulG said...

Randy, thank you so much for that thoughtful, cogent and helpful post. I will devote the rest of my weekend to finding something else to write about, just so I can appeal to excellent readers such as yourself.

Santo said...

As I share some thoughts with Randy I do feel our state has reached a point where most of the winemakers are relying more on what scores they are getting rather than what people want or what they can produce from their soil. I take the wine list that are published with a grain of salt being that that if you receive a high score you all of a sudden need to raise your prices and try to be something you are not. What would happen if none of the wineries were published or scored, would they still charge as much as they do?

Sorry for the rant but there are a group of us that are getting tired of seeing these wine list pop up and people rushing out to buy the latest wines on the list. I've tasted most of the wines on the list and I can say over half should not be charging what they are. Betz...IDK what Bob does to his wines but it might be the tears from an angel. For the time and the amount of years he has put in, he deserves it, as well as Mike Januik. Just my thoughts though.

PaulG said...

Do you not see the arrogance in your remarks? You have arbitrarily decided (rather pompously at that) that "over half should not be charging what they are." By what standard? The standard that you and your pals don't want to pay that much to drink their wines? Too bad. "Most winemakers are relying more on what scores they are getting rather than what people want or what they can produce from their soil." That is an absurd statement. Until you can write an organized series of arguments to make your points, and back them with some sort of factual support, I wouldn't expect to be taken very seriously, either on this blog or anywhere else.

JJ said...

"Using that $50 or less yardstick as a further indication of quality..."

Here's the gripe. Since when did $50 (or any price, for that matter) become the demarcation line for quality?

PaulG said...

What is this, Gripe Day at I was making the point, JJ, that in relation to the total list of Top 100 Cellar Selections, that anything $50 or under was a RELATIVE deal, hence, a further indication of quality. You can set the demarcation anywhere you choose... on your own blog.

Santo said...

Standard? Is this state? Please, in WA state you either get a high score and start raping people, thus they think since you got a high score it must be worth it. Bring up the alcohol percentage past 14, age it in new french oak, submit to WE, RP or WS and pray you can get some good points so you can start charging more for it. For the record, my friends still have a hard time dropping more than $20 for bottle, for me...I have no problem spending money on wine for future drinking or investing, only if they are worth it. Like I said..Betz makes amazing wines and he is hovering around $60.

Anonymous said...

This is great news for Washington State wine! Paul, thank you for being such a great ambassador for the State. I know you put a great amount of thought into your reviews.

Chris Wallace said...

I really don't get the gripes here.

Top 100 (20, 10 or other number) lists are compiled and published all over the place in lots of different fields because people find them interesting. They rank and compare and that tends to draw readers because we find it interesting to see how knowledgeable people opine about the pecking order.

I really cannot get cynical enough to think that wine-makers are making wine just for numerical scores. I have met and conversed with many wine-makers and the over-whelming conclusion I am left with is they are passionate about making great wine. A good score is another way of defining greatness in a wine. As is a medal at a competition, or a sell out upon release. And I know from personal experience that positive comments from consumers in a tasting room is another important measure of greatness to them.

As to the $50 issue, Paul in fact quoted that figure, he did not set the bar there. Also, he pointed out (if you can do the math) that 30% of the wines reviewed sold at $50 or less. That makes it a statistcally valid observation, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of top 100 lists either, (I would never pick my wines this way) but for the consumer who likes scores to validate his/her choices I don't see a real problem with it. The fact that $50 wines "are a deal" is relative to the list, not to every day wines. Of course if you are going to rate the top 100 wines in any given vintage, many will be from top producers and will be very expensive. Normally, $50 might be high but when ranking the top wines/producers in the world it is realatively cheap.

Anonymous said...

Great list Paul!

As for Santo he is for sure an arrogant puss. He is obviously out of touch with reality. 14% alc. would be grapes picked at 24 brix or lower. I don't know of any winemakers doing that in WA, even when they have the chance. Some talk the talk but then come out with bottles of wine that say 14.2% and I use cool climate sites like the south face of Upland Vineyard. One of the hottest sites I've spent my summers on. Your point was "the emphasis is on quality, not value."

As for the the guy that has no problem selling over $100 bottles of Molly Dooker in his wine shop, heres his own words.

"I know that some people might scream when they hear that you would buy a $70 white wine but would you rather by a $3 piece of crap wine that is high in alcohol, nasty and huge tannins and is unbalanced so bad you have to force your way to finish it or spend a few pesos and buy a bottle that you will truly enjoy and look back after you are done and say "That was Amazing"?

If you are like me you will do that latter."

It sounds like he is a walking contradiction.

Not to mention I would have to say that half of these on the list have been making wine longer than Bob.

Sorry you had to get ranted on but I'm sure I opened myself up to some rants just now.


Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, you need to add a 'Like' button. I am more than a little amused. Tough crowd.

randy said...

paul, maybe if you were on the receiving end of some corporate wine pundits' low scores, you'd have more appreciation for our comments... in other words, quit using simply words and maybe make a barrel or five and then you'd see... I gotta take a moment to laugh when people who spend their entire lives writing and talking about something they don't practice themselves... Sideliners thinking they know really anything about from which they write... TRY MAKING WINE and throw your hat in the ring, otherwise....

PaulG said...

Randy, you go right ahead and laugh. And I'll keep on writing. That's what I do. I've made a decent living as a writer - about many things besides wine - for three decades. Never wanted to make wine, never said I could.

JohnH said...

After working for a NW winery for quite a while, we've never taken one step, or made one decision, in our wine making process with the intention that it might garner a higher score. In regards to pricing, scores have nothing to do with an increase or decrease, although they sometimes help sell the wine, but not usually. I will say that it is VERY difficult to generate profits as a small/mod size winery. Considering the year it takes to tend our vineyards, another year or more in the cellar/barrel, another year in bottle = storage costs...$50 bucks for a bottle of our best Pinot? Doesn't seem that much to me. Less I forget to mention that a chunk of that is going to our distributors at half the retail price...
The sad part about this is that just as much effort goes into white wine programs, and they almost never receive the same attention, or garner the prices that reds fetch. I believe the real QPRs are in that's something to talk about!

Larry Olson said...

Santo said, "I do feel our state has reached a point where most of the winemakers are relying more on what scores they are getting rather than what people want or what they can produce from their soil."

Are you daft?! MOST winemakers?! Good God man, I don't think you talk to most winemakers then. With over 700 wineries (740 now?) you think that you can generalize such a large number of identities with your drivel? While a score certainly sells wine to the uninitiated that may not have learned to trust their own palate, it certainly is not what "most" winemakers set out to achieve. "Most" winemakers want to make good wine at a good price which sustains their business and provides their customer both satisfaction AND value. And I've been on both ends as a cellar rat and on the sales side, so maybe my opinion will hold more weight than you gave Paul's.

Oh, and furthermore, Paul has never seemed like a shill for his publication or their scoring system. Instead you get reasoned opinions and well thought out conclusions, so take your pomposity and shove it.

Paul Zitarelli said...

Is it really that time of year again, when Top 100 lists are released, followed by the inevitable gnashing of teeth and rending of garments from trade folks and wine-geekerati? My take, from a retailer perspective: the notion that “Corporate Wine Pubs are out” is patently false. I frequently include Paul’s reviews (along with his compatriots at other publications) because there is demonstrated interest (demonstrated through folks hitting the “Order” button) in wines with that seal of approval from a trusted critic.

Scores are a proxy. The wine world is incomparably large and complicated, and so we all use a variety of proxies to make purchasing decisions, because there’s just no way to taste everything. Certainly, most of us who read this blog, or work in the trade, or post on wine message boards, care enough about wine to eschew lists and make studied decisions based on producer and vintage and tastings and so on. But we represent a *tiny* (albeit vocal) minority of the wine-buying public.

Most folks want to drink wine, not study it, and they want to drink something good. Certainly some of them are hardcore score-chasers, but most just want to find reviewers whose palates match theirs and then use them as shortcuts to find wines they like. It’s not laziness; it’s pragmatism.

I also want to push back on this notion that you have to make wine in order to criticize it or write about it. Production and appreciation (for wine, art, etc) are two different realms. You don’t need to understand Van Gogh’s brushstroke technique to appreciate the beauty of Starry Night. You don’t need to understand Von Trier’s use of handheld cameras to appreciate the beauty of Melancholia. And you don’t need to understand proper use of commercial yeasts to appreciate the beauty of a well-made wine.

Gewurz said...

I would never read wine reviews written by winemakers...
They would be all about the "flaws" in every wine tasted, written by someone who has far too much opinion to be objective, and could not revel in the experience of the bottle. They would just report on what they would have done differently in each wine.
I know this because of 29 harvests worth of tasting and working with wines and vines!
Keep me updated on what is new and tasteworthy out there Paul!

Dane M. said...

Regardless of what anyone thinks about why Top XX lists exist, I like seeing them to confirm (or discredit) my great taste in wine. :)

I have no plans to acquire any Top 100 wines because of the list, but I'm happy to know that of the 14 WA/OR wines, I already owned 7 of these wines, some in significant quantities, before the list was published. I based those purchases on nothing more than my desire to drink the wine I buy. As a wine consumer, positive reinforcement to continue learning and purchasing is a win for everyone in the industry.

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