Back in 1988, the wine world was much smaller. We reviewed about 3,000 newly released wines in our blind tastings, and the Top 100 skewed to France, Italy and California. In 2013, our editors reviewed more than 20,000 new releases, and the Top 100 includes wines from 13 foreign countries and four states.
As always, we select the Top 100 based on quality (represented by score), value (reflected by release price), availability (based on the number of cases either made or imported into the United States) and an “X-factor” we call excitement. However, this year, we have given more emphasis than ever before to the X-factor—the intensity of interest the wines excited by way of their singularity or authenticity.
These 100 selections include more bottlings off the beaten path and represent the producers and wines our editors were particularly passionate about in 2013. Overall, the average score of the wines in this year’s Top 100 is 93 points and the average price $51—an impressive quality/price ratio.
It’s human nature to make lists, to rank our experiences by their value and interest. We hope you’ll take pleasure in reviewing our choices of the great values, emerging new wines and proven names that make up Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2013. Use it as a guide to the wineries, grapes and regions that should be on your radar in the coming months and years.
Over the past 20 years, Spain has experienced a dramatic upheaval in its deeply rooted wine industry. The epicenter of this revolution in style and character has been the country’s most prestigious wine region, Rioja. Beginning in the 1990s, a vigorous debate pitted traditionalist bodegas against a new wave of vintners. Should Rioja maintain the supple, elegant style that had flourished since the early 20th century? Or adopt a richer, more structured approach more in harmony with the world’s other great reds?
Though the polemics have been fierce, a few producers have found a middle ground that is rooted in history yet open to innovation. Among them, the benchmark bottling, for its pedigree and consistency, may be the Cune Imperial. “I feel Imperial falls in the middle of the traditional/modern divide,” says Cune CEO Victor Urrutia, a member of the family that has owned Cune for five generations.
Cune (an acronym for Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) was founded by brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa in 1879. Now one of Rioja’s most important wineries, Cune was among the 19th century producers that helped define classic Rioja, growing several grape varieties (predominantly Tempranillo), fermenting and blending the wines in large wooden or concrete vats, and then maturing them in barrel for many years before release. Cune was one of the first bodegas to bottle and export its wines, and one of its earliest labels, which gained renown in the 1920s, was called Imperial. It was intended for the English market, and bottled as an “Imperial pint,” about 500ml.(There are actually two Imperial bottlings—Reserva and Gran Reserva. In general, Gran Reserva is made with fruit from older vines and spends extra time in barrel.)
The grapes for the wine have always come primarily from a 50-acre parcel in Villalba in Rioja Alta. Yet, Imperial has evolved. The vineyards, once traditionally head-pruned, are now trained in rows on wires, as in Bordeaux. The percentage of Tempranillo in the blend has increased, from around 75 percent to 85 percent, while the white grape Viura has been abandoned as a component. Through most of the 1900s, all the barrels were made of American oak, and maturation extended 10 or 12 years. Today, about 30 percent of the barrels are French oak, and the wine is bottled after about three years. The wines are fermented with native yeasts.
The wine itself has maintained a consistent character. Imperial is rarely aggressive or musclebound, but it doesn’t lack structure or grip. New oak never protrudes, nor the oxidation that can result from excessive barrel aging. There is ripe fruit, but it is framed by spice and mineral notes. The wine never seems too young or too old. “I think Rioja reaches full maturity much quicker than Bordeaux,” observes Urrutia, “but has the virtue of staying on its plateau for a very long time.” The 2004 Gran Reserva, aged in bottle at the winery, was released in the U.S. market in 2013 and, at $63, it is a remarkable value. For its ability to balance past and future in such delicious harmony, the Cune Imperial Rioja Gran
Reserva 2004 is Wine Spectator’s 2013 Wine of the Year.
Tasting Note: Firm and a bit austere, this red shows depth and drive, with chewy tannins supporting plum, tobacco, licorice and mineral flavors. The structure is solid but the wine remains fresh. Maturing now, this has a long life ahead. Drink now through 2024.
Special Designation: Highly Recommended; Region: Rioja, Spain; Issue Date: Sept. 30, 2013
Since he took charge at Canon-La Gaffelière in 1985, Stephan von Neipperg, of German nobility yet a rebel in Bordeaux, has elevated quality by focusing on terroi rand thinking outside the box. He was one of the first to hire consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt. Grapes for this wine, a blend of 55 percent Merlot, 35 percent Cabernet Franc and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, are de-stemmed and go mostly uncrushed into oak vats, triggering a slow initial fermentation. The wine aged in barrel for 17 months.
Tasting Note: This takes the power of the vintage and puts it in its pocket for later, preferring instead to let mouthwatering briar, loganberry, mulberry and blackberry fruit strut its way forward, enlivened with roasted wood spice and supported by suavely but thoroughly embedded iron-tinged structure. Should cruise for two decades. Best from 2016 through 2035.
Number 3 – Domaine SerenePinot Noir Willamette Valley Evenstad Reserve 2010
Domaine Serene founders Ken and Grace Evenstad own 700 acres of land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, with 180 already producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and more to come. The plentiful estate vineyards allow Serene to pick and choose grapes for this red, the winery’s flagship. In 2010, eight of the vineyards contributed to this vibrant Pinot, the highest-scoring Evenstad yet.
Tasting Note: A vibrant, focused and deliciously complex red, offering raspberry, cherry, cinnamon, mocha and subtle sage notes rolling through the long and expressive finish. Deft. Drink now through 2020.
Special Designation: Highly Recommended; Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon; Issue Date: Nov. 30, 2013
Grapes for this red come from a historic site located at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains on the western edge of Napa Valley. Named for its former owners, the 60-acre Hewitt Vineyard was originally planted in the 19th century, and its fruit has been the backbone of many great Cabernets. Winemaker Chris Cooney, under the tutelage of Napa wine veteran Tom Rinaldi, sorts the grapes first as clusters, then as individual berries, to achieve this plush, full-bodied Cabernet.
Tasting Note: Deliciously pure, rich and deep, featuring tiers of spicy red berry, blackberry, and red and black licorice flavors, with pretty wilted rose scents and a long seamless finish that slowly reveals an underlying tannic grip. Drink now through 2026.
Special Designation: Highly Recommended; Region: Napa Valley, California; Issue Date: Nov. 15, 2013
John Kongsgaard is at the top of the Chardonnay game in California, with wines that feature balance, grace and elegance. Refining his winemaking style over the years, he focuses on low yields and barrel fermenting with native yeasts. Kongsgaard, now with his son Alex by his side, lets this wine age in barrel for two years, which adds nuance and gives the wine a chance to settle naturally, so that it can be bottled unfiltered.
Tasting Note: A tour de force that stretches the range of flavors, rich and laden with roasted, smoky marshmallow, showing tiers of marmalade, tangerine, roasted fig and fig tapenade, sailing along seamlessly through the finish. Drink now through 2019.
Region: Napa Valley, California; Issue Date: June 30, 2013
The Mascarello family has grown grapes in Barolo for generations, founding its winery in 1881. Winemaker Mauro Mascarello and son Giuseppe ferment their Nebbiolo in oak vats, leaving it on the skins for roughly three weeks and then aging it three years in large oak casks. Monprivato is a top site covering a south-facing slope just outside the town of Castiglione Falleto, featuring white and gray marl soils that create wines of great perfume and structure, but also elegance.
Tasting Note: Detailed and fragrant, offering floral, strawberry, cherry, licorice and spice flavors, this is elegant and underlined by a strong mineral streak. Well-proportioned, picking up intensity and complexity on the long, savory finish. Extremely fresh and classy. Best from 2016 through 2035. –Bruce Sanderson
Region: Piedmont, Italy; Issue Date: April 30, 2013
Laurence Féraud and her father, Paul, produced a stunning Cuvée Réservée in the 2010 vintage. Sourced from 46 acres of small parcels scattered around the appellation, the wine is 80 percent Grenache, with mostly Syrah and Mourvèdre making up the balance. In the winery, whole clusters are crushed then fermented in concrete vats, with regular pump-overs and occasional punch-downs to extract color and tannins. This cuvée ages for 18 months in large old foudres.
Tasting Note: Intense, with the tarry, bittersweet cocoa-fueled grip of the vintage running through a well-endowed core of crushed plum, blackberry paste and braised fig. The muscular finish picks up notes of brick dust, pepper, warm chestnut leaf and smoldering charcoal. A throwback profile, with a hyperripe core of fruit—and it works. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and others. Best from 2015 through 2035.
Special Designation: Collectibles; Region: Southern Rhône, France; Issue Date: Oct. 31, 2013
Marc Perrin, of the family that has owned Beaucastel since 1909, says cool nights in August were key to quality in the Southern Rhône in 2010, helping to preserve acidity in the grapes. The blend is a mix of about 30 percent Grenache, 30 percent Mourvèdre, 10 percent Syrah and 10 percent Counoise, with small amounts of the remaining nine varieties permitted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Grapes are destemmed, flash-heated, then macerated in vats for two weeks. Fermentation takes place in a mix of cement and steel tanks.
Tasting Note: Dark, dense and very closed now, this has a tremendous core of crushed plum, linzer torte and blackberry confiture waiting in reserve. Ample singed cedar and mesquite, warm paving stone and black tea notes lurk in the background and glide through the finish. Features serious grip, but wonderful integration. Should cruise in the cellar. Best from 2016 through 2035.
Special Designation: Collectibles; Region: Southern Rhône, France; Issue Date: Oct. 31, 2013
Lewis Cellars favors full-throttle Cabernet, yet for all their density and depth of flavor, the wines are graceful and refined, balancing size and elegance. Lewis harvests Cabernet from a collection of hillside and benchland vineyards in the Napa Valley subappellations of Calistoga, Rutherford and Oak Knoll, and the winemaking team selects the best lots for the Reserve. A blend of 98 percent Cabernet and 2 percent Petit Verdot, it aged 20 months in new French oak.
Tasting Note: Bold, rich and complex, yet delicate and graceful, showing finely detailed currant, dark berry and licorice notes, with jazzy spice and mocha-scented oak and a long, firming finish that gains depth and dimension. Drink now through 2026.
Region: Napa Valley, California; Issue Date: Oct. 15, 2013
Quilceda Creek is typically one of Washington’s top-scoring Cabernets, and the 2010 continues that trend. A blend of both estate and purchased Cabernet, with a dash of Merlot, from five vineyards (mainly Champoux), it spent 22 months in 100 percent new French oak. Winemaker Paul Golitzin, who took over production from his father, Alex, in 1998, aims for supple texture and depth without losing this red’s trademark intensity of fruit.
Tasting Note: Polished, vibrant and distinctive, with coffee and jasmine tea accents around a supple core of cherry and red plum fruit. The nubby tannins rub gently against the long finish. Shows tremendous depth while holding its power in check. Best from 2015 through 2025.
Special Designation: Collectibles; Region: Columbia Valley, Washington; Issue Date: Sept. 30, 2013
Full List of Top 100 of 2013 _ Wine Spectator with Ratings and Price