During the first ten years of the twenty-first century, blind wine-tasting results demonstrated producers from California consistently (from 2009) took most Top-10 awards. When the last issue (for 2011) of Wine Spectator
magazine is available (later this month), California will again dominate the Top-10 list. Followers of the competition will see California takes three of the first five positions, 1st, 2nd, and 5th.. A French wine is 3rd and an Italian wine 4th. The lower half of the the Top-10 ranking includes two more French wines, plus one of Portugal and one from Washington state.
True, since the first new-nation tremor in 2003, regions other than France, California and Italy are among the leaders. Producers from Australia, Washington state, Portugal, Chile, Germany and Spain are now frequently taking three or four places among the ten wines judged “most exciting.” This competition avoids saying “highest quality” or “best tasting.” In a twenty-point system, (1) quality, (2) value, and – even harder to define – (3) excitement, are combined to arrive at 100 leading wines.
As the new century began, France and California (trailed by Italy) consistently took all top honors in annual wine appreciation comparisons for decades. So complete was their dominance in 2000, 2001 and 2002, no other nation entered the the Top-Ten mentions. That three-nation dominance ended in 2003 when France, California and Italy only took half the Top-Ten.
To assess world-wide, regional changes, this observer follows the more than half century of reporting of the (now) more than 15,000 different wines blind-taste-tested throughout each year by the editorial staff of Wine Spectator
, then announced in the December, 31st issue.
Already announced in November, medals for a vast range of qualities are awarded each year in the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC). The complexity of IWSC awards is vast, so vast, for example, in the southern hemisphere competition, South Africa alone received 641 medals; Australia, with most medals, received 695. Among thousands of entrants, gold, silver, and bronze IWSC awards are made for “best of show,” plus about 30 varietals from Barbera to Zinfandel Those short-listed producers (wine and
spirits) attend an annual Awards Presentation and Banquet at Guildhall, London. It is a gala event.
From a broad, regional perspective, in the southern hemisphere, the major combatants are Australia, South Africa and Chile, with next-level contenders, far down, such as Argentina and Mexico. In the north, it might be said, there is a war (going back to 1976) between the French and California wine producers. I would characterize it, however, as a sporting duel. In the first nine years of the new century, the resulting duel was tied with each receiving 26 Top-Ten Wine Spectator mentions. Since 2009, California garnered eleven mentions to France with five. California producers are, in the still-new century, thus, ahead a mere six dueling points.
What is hidden in the numbers of both competitions, however, as the Executive Editor of Wine Spectator
, Thomas Matthews, emailed me, is the importance of the vintage in particular years for different growing conditions in different regions. None of the wines in 'his' 2011 competition were newer than 2009; a three-year-older Italian vintage was 2006. For the previous ten years, here in Australia, there is a general belief that only the even years had growing conditions resulting in superior vintages. The last two Australian wines to place among Mathews' Top-Ten were both 2008. Similar even-year results appear in Decanter
magazine's World Wine Awards.
In the Wine Spectator competition, since 2003, Australia, with seven, and Chile, with four, in the Top-Ten, had the fastest rising wine-stars. Neither qualified for 2011. Poor growing seasons?
Perhaps the best news for wine purchasers, as both quantity and quality increase, except for the top drops, prices are falling.