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Best wines of 2015: Countdown begins of Great Northwest Wine top 100
From now through New Year’s Eve, the Great Northwest Wine crew will reveal its top 100 wines of 2015.
For the past two months, various publications have been unveiling their top wines of the year. We like to wait until the end of the year to make our selections so we can taste through just that many more wines.
Our process begins in early January when we travel to California’s Sonoma County to participate in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest wine judging held in the United States with more than 6,000 entries. As fortune would have it, the first wine in the first flight during the 2015 Chronicle competition that was tasted blind by Andy Perdue ended up being one of our top 100.
All of the wines we taste for this list (and for most of our various writing projects) are evaluated under blind conditions. This means we do not know the winery or the price until after the wine is tasted and rated. We do know the variety or general style of the wine, but that’s about it.
How we receive and taste wine
Here are the main ways we discover and evaluate wines.
- Between Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue, we judged perhaps two-dozen competitions up and down the West Coast of North America. Some of those this year that were new to us included the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition, the Pacific Rim Wine Competition and Sunset magazine‘s international wine competition. Typically during these competitions, we taste everything blind, and we rate wines from across the country and around the world. After each judging, we go through the results to not only publish the results, but we also will write reviews of some of the best Northwest wines.
- The Great Northwest Wine tasting panel gets together three to four times per month to taste anywhere from 24 to 60 wines. All of these wines are new releases submitted to us by Northwest wineries. We mix in California and international selections just to keep our palates from getting too local. These reviews appear on Great Northwest Wine, and some of them appear in The Seattle Times and in our weekly Northwest Wine column that is syndicated in 22 newspapers in Washington and Idaho.
- We also operate a handful of wine competitions, including the Great Northwest Invitational, the Idaho Wine Competition, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, the North Central Washington Wine Awards and a few others. We rely on the professional judges we use to put the spotlight on what they think are gold medal winners. Then we taste through all of those wines and write reviews of them.
- On behalf of Wine Press Northwest magazine, which we founded in 1998, we conduct four blind peer-group tastings. The top wines from each of these tastings is included for consideration.
You might notice a few wineries that did not make our top 100 list, wineries with reputations burnished from years of hard work and success, wineries that perhaps make the lists of large publications. The simple fact is that we don’t taste every single wine made, and some producers do not submit wines to us for evaluation.
So if we do not taste a wine blind, then it is not eligible for our top 100 list. We do not choose a wine based solely on its reputation. That wouldn’t be fair to the wineries that do submit wines and enter competitions.
And since you already know these wineries’ reputations, this list gives you other wineries to explore.
Selecting our top 100 wines
In all, we taste in the neighborhood of 5,000 wines per year. From these various tastings, we compile a list of the top wines. This year, about 680 wines made that initial cut.
Once this list is compiled in early December, each of us goes through it and marks about 75 wines that stand out as among the best wines we tasted. We use a variety of systems for remembering our favorite wines from throughout the year.
Once each of us has made this initial selection, we look at the wines that both of us voted for and consider three or four that could be our Great Northwest Wine of the Year. Typically, it is a wine we will have tasted multiple times in various settings.
After our Wine of the Year is selected, we treat the rest of the top 100 list sort of like a sports draft, with each of us taking turns making a selection. If either of us thinks the other has rated a wine a little too high, then we stop and talk about it.
After the entire list is selected, we spend some time analyzing what we picked and making adjustments. For example, we look to see what kind of representation each Northwest region has received and where they are placed on the list. We also look at the different varieties and styles we selected. For example, who wants a list that is too heavy on one variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon?
We spend the next couple of days looking over the final list and discussing any other adjustments we want to make. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving wines up or down the list. Sometimes it’s going through that initial list to make sure we didn’t overlook something.
Unveiling our top 100 wines
Starting Saturday, we will begin publishing our top 100 list. We will publish 20 wines per day – starting with No. 100. Ten wines will be published in the morning, and 10 will be published in the afternoon.
On Dec. 31, we will reveal our Great Northwest Wine of the Year with a full feature story on the wine and why it was selected.
One of the drawbacks of top 100 lists is availability of the wines. If a wine was tasted in January and sold out at the winery in August, how does it help you when you can no longer buy it from the winery? While that is difficult, it also shouldn’t hold us back from honoring that particular wine.
So how do you take advantage of this list? Look for the wines at wineries, wine shops, groceries and other favorite wine merchants. Ask for them at restaurants with good wine lists. Can’t find the wine? Consider looking ahead and buying a bottle of the next vintage. Often, a winemaker will use similar vineyard sources and winemaking techniques when a wine shows well (either in the winery or in competitions).
Does a winery have multiple wines in a top 100 list? Does it make multiple lists or win lots of gold medals from a variety of competitions? That’s the time to consider becoming a regular customer or – better yet – a wine club member. This gives you first shot at the wineries best efforts.
We hope you enjoy the list we’ve compiled, and we hope you find a few favorites as well as some wines worth exploring for the first time.