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Top Picks for 2005

Cosmic VarianceBy JoAnne HewettJanuary 2, 2006 9:04 AM


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It's that time of year, when the media overwhelms us with list after list of the "Best fill in the blank of 2005". I fully admit to being hooked on these (sometimes cheesy) lists - it's a combination of nostalgia and curiosity on my part. To me, one such list stands out. In fact, it is downright important: the annual top 100 wines of the year as compiled by the Wine Spectator. It comes pretty close to bringing total hysteria to my household. It is published every year in the December 31st issue. If I see it in the store before it has arrived in my mailbox, I buy it - one can't have too many copies of the pull-out form of the list. This year, I learned that Mark received his copy a full TWO days before me, and seeing my agony, he was kind enough to xerox the pull-out for me. The editors of the Wine Spectator tasted and rated 12,400 wines in 2005. (If I don't make it in physics, I'm going to apply for that job!) They rated 2500 as outstanding, which translates to gathering at least 90 points on their 100 point rating system. They started with this set of 2500 outstanding wines and evaluated each on 4 criteria: quality, value, availability, and excitement. I'm sure there was plenty of discussion (perhaps more tasting??) before they finally arrived at their top 100 picks. The roundup spans 13 countries (note that I count California and the Pacific Northwest as 2 different wine countries). Each year, upon finally getting my hands on this list, my first task is to see how many of the wines I have tasted. The count this year was about average (the year I had only tasted 2 Chardonnays was heartbreaking): 12/100, corresponding to numbers 3, 16, 30, 33, 42, 49, 53, 69, 77, 78, 80, and 85 for the insanely curious. Note that the wines tend to be less expensive if they are further down the list. (I've been keeping track of this Best of list since 1991 and have only had 2 of their #1 wines - one of which is still cellared!) I highly recommend 2 of these wines: #69, Fairview Goats do Roam in Villages 2003 from South Africa (no, I'm not joking, that is the actual name - it's a pun off the French Cote du Rhone) and #77, Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2002. I snared a case of each (long since sold out in the Bay Area) and it's almost all gone....these are very quaffable wines. Goats was $11/bottle and the Cab was $12. My next task is to memorize the compilation and scour the local wine shops for other wines on the list! It's a frenzy cause I have to beat out everyone else. The process has begun and I managed to capture the last bottle of #18, a 2003 Aussie Shiraz for $15, sitting on the rack in my local shop. In fact, the wine shops will now contact their distributors and also try to nab as many of these bottles as they can - they will be featured in the January newsletters and I will be able to pick up a couple more (with reasonable prices). I could go on about whether wine magazines with their rating scales do a service or disservice to the wine community - case in point: the Number One wine of 1999 was the 1996 Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages - the price for that wine immediately shot up to ~$75 and has stayed there since, while I have a 1994 bottling in my cellar with a $13 price tag still on the bottle. But I think I will save that discussion for a later time and close with my personal top picks for the year. My personal top wine of the year was one that I accidentally found in the back of my wine storage area - it was a 1992 Ridge Lytton Estates Zinfandel, which should have been drunk about 5 years ago, but was absolutely fabulous. The runner-up was a 2003 Oregon Argyle Pinot Noir Nuthouse Vineyard. Had that one in a restaurant and ordered it just for the name! Honorable mention goes to 2003 P.E.T.S. Vinum Petite Sirah at $11/bottle. That case is long gone. (Don't even think about trying the 2004 - it's not the same.) Now that the New Year has arrived, I look forward to the wines released in 2006! May they be bountiful, delicious, and affordable.

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