An American in Pollenzo

The Wine Spectator Top 100 and why it matters (now more than ever)


Above: Bruce Sanderson, senior editor for Wine Spectator, and reviewer of Tuscan and Piedmontese wines (among others). He’s really expanded the horizons of the magazine’s critical apparatus since he took over as reviewer of collectible and high-end Italian wines. And he’s one of the most respected and admired players at the highest end of Italian wine writing today (he’s also a super nice guy).

A few weeks ago, the editors of Wine Spectator began publishing previews of their top 100 list. I don’t believe that you can access the list online, even if you are a subscriber (which I am, btw). But the editors of have transcribed and posted the list here.

Wine Spectator did publish, however, videos for the top ten wines on the list.

There are two Italian wines on the list. One of them, Tignanello, is a wine that regularly appears in top wine lists for Italians. After all, it’s one of the pioneers of the new wave of Italian wines in the U.S. And it’s one of the highest-profile Italian wines in the world today.

The other is a wine that — I believe — has never appeared on the top 100 (don’t quote me on that but I think that’s the case). And I am confident that it hasn’t ever appeared in the top 10: Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Asili (one of my favorite wines, btw).

During our seminar this year on English-language wine writing and wine blogging, we talked a lot about the reification of wine via scores and rankings. On one hand, we discussed how the scores and rankings ignore the cultural value of the wines. Especially when it comes to an artisanal product like fine wine, the assignment of a score seems in many ways to diminish the humanistic element of winemaking.

But there’s another side to this story, a much more positive one in my view.

For one thing, while the rankings (like the Wine Spectator Top 100) elide some of Italy’s greatest wines, they bestow a megaphonic visibility to often unknown wines. And this is arguably the case for Produttori del Barbaresco, a historic cooperative winery known for its price-quality ratio and its classic expressions of the Barbaresco appellation. The wines are well known among Italian wine cognoscenti and a limited swath of highly informed consumers. But these are not wines that most Americans have ever heard of. By including it in the Top 100, Bruce not only raised awareness of this winery but he also raised awareness, significantly, for the entire appellation. And in my view, that’s a big positive in terms of the long-term sustainability of a iconic Italian appellation.

Following the game-changing Wine Spectator Top 100 is de rigueur for anyone who works in the Italian wine trade, whether and merchant or observer. The reasons for that are obvious: Self-respecting trade members need to be aware of trends in the world of Italian wine.

But I think an even more important and perhaps more subtle element in this regard is that these lists give us acute insight into how Italian wines are perceived after they’ve crossed the Atlantic. I also note how American top 100 lists rarely reflect or align with Italians’ lists of iconic wines. And we need to shake off any inclination to think that Italian lists or rankings are superior simply because of the fact that they’ve been written by Italians.

As we’ve seen, the wine trade has been defined and shaped historically by how foreign consumer perceive the wines they buy and drink. Port is such a great example of this. And so are the so-called Super Tuscans.

Check out Bruce’s video on the Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Asili. I think a lot of people might be surprise but what he had to say.

To be continued…

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