What’s Wrong With Top 100 Lists

awardImagine this: a shopper rushes into my store clutching rumpled magazine pages. He skids to a halt and demands breathlessly, “Do you have Domaine Lake Erie Concord 2007?” (Or something like that). “Why no,” we say. “It’s been sold out for 10 months now.”

“But how can that be?” says anxious shopper, now wringing his hands. “I read it just this morning when the brand new list of Top 100 Wines Made From Jelly Grapes was released. It can’t be sold out!” He exits the shop, wailing…

Sadly, somewhere in America this scenario plays out every day during Top 100 season. That’s the time of year when wine publications release the lists that whip wine drinkers into a frenzy and send them out to grab as many bottles of Top 100 wines as they can lay their hands on. But the joke’s on the consumer: these lists seem to be released the very day after the last of these wines have disappeared from shelves and warehouses.

Well, not really. I exaggerated just a little. But it’s true that by the time the Top 100 lists are released, many of these wines have been sold out at the winery and at every distributor and retailer in the country. “So why,” you ask, “would they print these lists now?”

Good question. I’ve asked it myself many times. I think the main reason must be that Top 100 lists sell lots of magazines (or website subscriptions.) Wine drinkers love scanning the lists to see which wines they’ve tasted or already had the good sense to buy. And then they become acquisitive: they yearn to own more of these special wines.

But they can’t because all 100 of the Top 100 wines were reviewed last year, in the 12 months prior to the release of the list, and if they got a great rating then, they were snatched up by savvy wine drinkers or the Ratings Buyers (people who will buy anything as long as it has a 90+ rating).

So, are folks like my Lake Erie Concord shopper doomed to be disappointed?

They needn’t be, if they would just listen to knowledgeable people like me who, all year long, suggest and recommend wines that we think are really fine. Many of these are the wines that make it to the famous Lists, but only after they’ve been bought by wine drinkers who trusted their own palate or their wine adviser’s suggestions.

There’s one other reason why folks can’t buy Top 100 wines: too many of them are produced by impossibly small boutique wineries who make about 212 cases. Most of those don’t even make it out of the state where they were produced, let alone to the Great American Heartland where I’m trying to buy and sell wine. So only about 22 people in the entire world (including the person who reviewed it) will ever taste this wine. And customers again look at me and yell, “What do you mean, you can’t get it?”

It’s probably quite plain by now that I consider Top 100 lists to be a big pain in my posterior. I call them the Kiss of Death, because wines kissed with a Top 100 honor immediately become a source of anger and frustration for wine drinkers and sellers alike.

So here’s my suggestion: forget this year’s Top 100. Look back at last year’s list and vet it this way: cross off all the small-production boutique stuff that you’ll never find anyways; cross off everything priced at $50 or above, because by this year they’ll have jacked the price up well over the century mark; then put a check mark beside the varietals you typically enjoy. You’ll be left with a short list of maybe 20 wines. Now assume that a winemaker capable of producing a really first rate wine one year will do pretty well every year (except for vintages where lousy weather lowers the bar).

cAnd there you have it: Your own personal Close To The Top list that you can use as a guide in your wine shopping. Go cruise your favorite wine shops, talk to other customers and wine-drinking friends, and if someone whose opinion you respect says, “This is a wine you need to try,” then try it.

It’s that simple. Cheers!

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One Response to “What’s Wrong With Top 100 Lists”

  • [...] Top 100 lists can be a pain in the anatomy. They’re published annually by the major wine review magazines, and every year they generate huge demand for the all the wines on the list. Unfortunately, most of those wines were sold out before the list was published, and thirsty consumers everywhere are doomed to be frustrated when they can’t buy any of the wines. (You can read my frustrated rantings in a previous article, What’s Wrong With Top 100 Lists.) [...]

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