Every year since 1988, Wine Spectator has compiled a list of the most exciting wines we’ve reviewed over the past 12 months. These 100 wines reflect significant trends, recognize outstanding producers and spotlight successful regions and vintages around the world.
In 2012, our list was selected from more than 17,000 new releases our editors rated in our independent blind tastings. More than 5,500 of these wines earned outstanding or classic ratings (90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale). We narrowed the list down based on four criteria: quality (represented by score); value (reflected by release price); availability (measured by cases made or imported); and what we call the “X-factor”–the excitement generated by a rising-star producer, a benchmark wine or a significant milestone for a wine region. But no equation determines the final selections: These choices reflect our editors’ judgment and passion about the wines we tasted.
In this year’s list, 13 countries are represented. The average score remains consistently strong at 93 points, and the average price per bottle is $46, just $2 more than in 2011. We hope that you enjoy our 2012 list and that it leads you to more deeply explore the world of wine.
Relentless, a riveting blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah, is a groundbreaking red from a region and a winery better known for producing stellar Cabernet Sauvignons. From his first vintage in 1978, founder John Shafer, joined by his son, Doug, steadily built the family winery into one of Napa’s elite; their signature Hillside Select Cabernet is one of California’s most sought-after reds.
The Shafers credit Elias Fernandez, a migrant worker’s son who has been involved in the winemaking for 28 harvests, with steering the winery to a higher level of quality. To honor Fernandez’s commitment to perfection, they named this wine Relentless. To create the blend, the team planted a parcel on a knoll south of the winery, outside the Stags Leap District boundary, to 14 acres of Syrah and 4 acres of Petite Sirah. The grapes are cofermented, and the wine is aged 30 months in new French oak barrels. From its first vintage, 1999, Relentless has been a model of consistently high quality, closely tracking Hillside Select. The near-perfect growing conditions of 2008 are reflected in the wine’s complex array of flavors and textural nuances.
Relentless marks the second time in three years that a Rhône-inspired red from California has been chosen as Wine of the Year, and it is the seventh Napa wine to earn that honor. Read the Dec. 31 issue of Wine Spectator for the entire fascinating tale behind Relentless.
This mouthwatering red is sourced from 37 acres of vines averaging 60 years old that surround the château, on a property that has been in winemaker Louis Barruol’s family since 1490. Barruol, who took over from his father in 1995, is the 14th generation. For the 2010 bottling, he blended 60 percent Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre. The 2010 vintage produced classic quality throughout the Southern Rhône. This Gigondas is a benchmark bottling for the appellation, which Barruol has helped elevate during his tenure.
Two Hands does well with a variety of grapes but excels with Shiraz. Owner Michael Twelftree and winemaker Matt Wenk aim for a house style that emphasizes regional character with their Garden series, a collection of six different Shirazes from top growing regions in South Australia and Victoria. The Bella’s Garden bottling consistently ranks among the best, with fruit sourced from 20 vineyards throughout the Barossa Valley. Wenk uses mainly older, 300-liter French hogshead barrels to preserve the complex fruit flavors.
Wine is in the blood of the Avril family, winegrowers in the Southern Rhône since 1600. But quality at this 80-acre estate has steadily improved since winemaker Paul Avril took over from his father, Vincent, in 1987. His massive 2010 earns the winery a spot in our Top 100 for the sixth time (including Wine of the Year in 2007). Sourced from more than 20 different plots of low-yielding vines, this red blends 80 percent Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre, vinified in ceramic-lined vats and aged in large wooden foudres for up to 12 months.
This blend of 65 percent Sémillon and 35 percent Sauvignon Blanc comes from 35- to 40-year-old vines on a 316-acre property co-owned since 2006 by Robert Peugeot (of Peugeot automobiles), Olivier Bernard (Domaine de Chevalier), Stephan von Neipperg (Canon-La Gaffelière and others) and Xavier Planty, the estate’s longtime general manager. Planty, who oversees winemaking, strives for low yields; the vines usually average nine-tenths of a ton per acre, about half the legal limit in Sauternes. While 2009 was a banner year for red Bordeaux, the region’s sweet wines are impressive, too—the best vintage since 2001.
Léoville Barton has been in the Barton family since 1836, but under Anthony Barton, who took over from his uncle in 1983, the estate significantly improved quality. Though still actively involved, Barton recently passed ownership of the property to his daughter, Lilian Barton Sartorius. The property’s technical team includes consultant Eric Boissenot and cellar master François Brehant, who ferment this Cabernet Sauvignon–dominated blend in traditional wooden vats and age the wine for 18 months in oak barrels, of which 50 percent are new.
In 1989, owner Dick Shea left a career on Wall Street to pursue his interest in wine, purchasing 200 acres of land in the Willamette Valley and planting it to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Shea sells grapes to some of Oregon’s top producers, and in 1996 started making his own wine. The 2009 Estate bottling blends Pommard, Wädenswil and Dijon clones from various portions of the sprawling vineyard and is fermented in both stainless steel and wooden tanks.
One of the top California Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2009 vintage, and a terrific value, this ripe, generous red hails from Knights Valley in Sonoma County, just a few miles north of Napa. Beringer is the appellation’s largest landowner, with more than 550 acres of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. Beringer was one of the first to start planting grapes there, and first used the Knights Valley designation in 1976. Beringer veteran Laurie Hook made the wine.
Brother and sister Paolo and Lucia Bianchini are the team behind this impressive Brunello. The family’s vines are located in the prized southwest-facing vineyards of the region, which at their highest point reach an elevation of nearly 1,200 feet. A traditional style, the wine was fermented in stainless steel and concrete vats and then aged two years in Slavonian oak. Ciacci also makes Brunello from the Pianrosso vineyard, including a riserva in top years, but this label represents the best value.
One of Argentina’s top wineries, Achával-Ferrer produces a trio of flagship single-vineyard Malbec bottlings. The Finca Bella Vista comes from 100-year-old vines planted at an altitude of 3,100 feet in the prime Perdriel district in the Luján de Cuyo appellation, which features a high proportion of clay. Winemaker Roberto Cipresso keeps yields low, typically a minuscule 14 hectoliters per hectare (about 1 ton per acre), and ages the wine for 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels.
The complete listing of Wine Spectator’s top 100 Wines for 2012 can be found here: TOP 100 WINES FOR 2012