A glimpse behind the scenes

You’ve probably seen them too.

“Top 100” lists, that is. Top 100 wines, for example, or wineries, or restaurants. For consumers and wine lovers, there is something both compelling and ambitious about these lists. Although we may never in our lifetime taste or visit the entire repertoire of 100 entries, these lists nevertheless serve as orientation and reference.

Less of a “to do list” that is, and more of a summary of excellence, trends or popularity right now.

In this way, reliable, well-researched lists (which are almost always a group effort and offer thoughtful explanations of their choices) serve as a kind of verification. Am I aware of what is happening in the industry? What caught the attention of other observers that I may have missed? Do I strongly agree or strongly disagree with the entries, and by how much? Have my opinions changed over time?

These are some of the questions that come to mind when a new “Top 100” list is released. This year I contacted Joshua Greene, editor and publisher of Wines & Spirits magazine since 1986, when his team recently announced their Top 100 wineries of 2022.

I was curious for more details on how such a list is put together, beyond the basics listed in the introduction to the list: it was a group effort and they looked at thousands of more wineries, in a key distinction that clarifies the purpose of the list. , Greene and his team’s two-step blind tasting process highlights wineries wine production as opposed to their hospitality or tourist appeal.

In other words, this is not a list of the top 100 wines or the top 100 wineries to visit. Rather, it is a list of wineries whose collective production of wine is sufficiently substantial and consistent over time to distinguish themselves among their peers.

No one-hit wonders here. There are two things that I appreciate the most in the Wines & Spirits list: duration over time, and extent of the wines considered.

The following are excerpts from my conversation with Greene about how his Top 100 winery lists come to fruition. Below is a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics and “how it’s done.” In the companion piece, Greene outlines this year’s surprises, COVID-related challenges, and what he personally finds most interesting.

How long has Wines & Spirits produces the list?

JG: The first time we produced the Vineyards of the Year was in 1987. Since then, it has evolved to select the 100 vineyards that achieved the best results as the tastings increased and the magazine was growing. We taste and review more than ten thousand wines a year, and the list is selected from these wineries.

What criteria do you use? How do you rate the best performing wineries?

JG: We do all the tastings without the panelists knowing the cost or the producer of the wines. They know the region, the variety and the vintage of the wine. The critic from this region rates the wine and puts it in our database. At the end of the year, we select all producers who had three or more recommendations with 90 points or more.

We take a look at each individually to see how they fared based on their business model and where they fit in the world of wine. We want to have as diverse a group as possible. What is interesting is to show how people interpret their place in different parts of the world.

Do you notice any “repetitions” or patterns of vineyards over time?

JG: We keep track of that on a page in our issue called Premier Cru. These are the people who consistently produce wines that achieve very good results with us. This year, for example, Penfolds won 30 Top 100 Winery awards. They have scored the most over the years. It’s interesting to watch these kind of producers, and how consistent they are. The list that sticks in my mind includes Penfolds (30 awards), Concha y Toro (28), Antinori (23), Chateau Ste Michelle & Eroica (24), Ridge (23) and Jadot (20). These are in an exclusive club.

Describe more about the composition of tasters and panelists.

JG: We have five reviews, and then we fill in with other panelists who are people from New York and Los Angeles who have tasted with us regularly. We rely on them as regular tasters. Some are journalists, restaurateurs or retailers. We call on other people to try them out and see if they are useful to us. We are not looking for people to agree with us. They will bring their own tastes to the table, and I really like that. We ask them why they think what they think, and they can convince other people on the panel. It’s really interesting.

We are looking for people to explain why they would recommend a wine, why they would tell someone to buy it. What do you find irresistible in wine? It’s a different kind of discussion.

Please consult the accompanying piece to this article for more details on the surprises of this year’s roster, the COVID-related challenges of the past few years, and building a less carbon-intensive roster for the future.

Elisha A. Tilghman