After reviewing some 18,000 wines, James Suckling and his team reveal their selection of the top 10 wines of 2020.
It’s been a tough year for all of us and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. But a glass of terrific-quality wine can certainly help us through this crazy time. And we at JamesSuckling.com did our very best to cover the wine world this year and find some amazing bottles. We managed to rate almost 18,000 wines since our last Top 100 list was published in November 2019.
I’ve been in Hong Kong reviewing wines in my tasting room at my wife’s restaurant/wine bar James Suckling Wine Central, Nick Stock has been tasting mostly in Adelaide, Australia and Stuart Pigott is primarily in Germany; we also have some reviews from Zekun Shuai in Beijing. It certainly has been a very different way of rating and writing about wines than in the past, when we travelled the world to visit wineries and talk to vintners and winemakers.
This year, for our Top 10 Wines of 2020 list we tried to focus more on relative value for fine and great wines, because we all know prices continue to increase and most of us need to watch our wallets. We also tried to include wines with a production volume of at least 500 cases or 6,000 bottles. (We didn’t include barrel samples, which is why no 2019 Bordeaux were included.) We only included wines rated 98 points or more, which total 350 names from the almost 18,000 rated. We scored 53 wines 100 points in the last 12 months.
Price is in important factor. All the Top 10 cost US$100 a bottle or less. Some were released at a lower price but have increased significantly. We also – as always – took into account what we call “wow factor”. It’s that emotional element a wine may give you when you taste it. The feeling of joy and wonder of a great wine.
Our Wine of the Year 2020 is from an extraordinary place on Planet Wine. It’s wonderful, not only because it’s a perfect, 100-point wine, but because it represents a number of points we applaud in winemaking today: amazing value, environmentally responsible and sustainable production, clear and transparent character reflecting its ecosystem, and incredible drinkability. Argentina’s Chacra Pinot Noir Patagonia Treinta y Dos 2018 covers all this and more, which is why it’s our Wine of the Year 2020.
Unfortunately, only just over 600 cases were made of this old-vine pinot noir, which comprises 3 hectares of vines that were planted in 1932. All are biodynamically farmed. The wine is produced in a simple modern winery in concrete vats and aged in used French oak. Very little sulphur is used, due to the soft winemaking techniques. The 2018 currently sells for about $90 a bottle from its release price of $40. We know it’s hard to find. However, recent vintages such as 2017 and 2016 are very close in quality, if you can’t find the 2018.
What I like about the wine is its sublime structure and dynamic sensibility with firm and fine tannins and bright acidity perfectly framing the pure fruit character of strawberries with earth and forest undertones. It’s wonderful to drink young, but shows the constitution of a great wine for ageing.
I also greatly appreciate the wine in the number two position and three others from Germany, respectively Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Rheingau Grünlack Spätlese 2019, Wittmann Riesling Rheinhessen Morstein GG 2019 (No 6) and Dönnhoff Riesling Nahe Dellchen GG 2019 (No 7). The 2019 vintage is a benchmark for modern German wines and these three are some of the best ever made. It’s significant that the No 2 wine came from Schloss Johannisberg, as many consider it the birthplace for German riesling as well as sweet wines. It’s been making them since the mid-1770s.
The 100-point medium-sweet, dense and layered Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Rheingau Grünlack Spätlese 2019 is a monument to the genre and is a reminder of the historical greatness of sweet wines of Germany. The other two wines are incredible single-vineyard bottles that point to the country’s seriousness and expertise in dry wine production and highlight some of the most exciting vineyard sites on earth. We (mostly Stuart Pigott) tasted almost 1,200 Germany wines this year and 18 received scores of 100 points, which is a testament to the greatness of the 2019 vintage. Don’t miss buying some.
We also decided to include two Brunello di Montalcinos in the Top 10 wines 0f 2020, as Italy’s famous appellation is just about to release two phenomenal vintages to the world: 2015 riserva and 2016 normale. The Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino 2016 (No 3) and Tassi Brunello di Montalcino Franci Riserva 2015 (No 8) highlight the super depth and structure of these wines and of these two vintages, which made very different styled wines. The 2015 produced more flamboyant and richer Brunellos, due to the slightly warmer growing season, while the 2016 made wines more tannic and intense from a slightly longer and cooler one. Both are necessary additions to anyone’s cellar who loves great Italian reds and they’re the greatest vintages yet for Brunello di Montalcino.
Australia was also a very important wine region for JamesSuckling.com this year. Executive editor Nick Stock has been country-locked since March but has focused on his homeland and delivered an incredible guide to the best of Australia today. For us, the epitome of this greatness is, at No 4, The Standish Wine Company Shiraz Barossa Valley The Schubert Theorem 2018, a 100-point red that showcases the character of Australian wines, especially Barossa and the superb quality of the 2018 vintage.
We were less decided about the current releases from Austria this year when Stuart and I tasted 774 wines. The 2019 was also an excellent vintage for most regions of the country and 2018 was solid as well. But we found the alcohols creeping up everywhere and wonder if the benchmark grape, Gruner Veltliner, is losing some of its mojo. Nonetheless, Austria’s wine wizard Emmerich Knoll made one of his country’s few 100 pointers, the Emmerich Knoll Riesling Wachau Ried Schütt Smaragd 2019 and it’s why we place it at No 5.
Two other wines from the Andes rounded off our Top 10 of the year: Cheval des Andes Mendoza 2017 (No 9) and Clos Apalta Valle de Apalta 2017 (No 10) – both regular names in our lists of recent years. Both are terrific examples of current great wines from their respective countries and highlight the balance, beauty and intensity of wines made to precision in the hot 2017 vintage. An added virtue is that Clos Apalta Valle de Apalta 2017 is made from biodynamically farmed grapes and represents its 20th vintage in production.
There’s something to say about all of the wines in the Top 100 list this year. But it’s better to try a few of them as soon as possible to understand why they’re part of our roster. There was so much great wine released in 2020 and we at JamesSuckling.com are grateful to the winemakers around the world who made them, as well as the thousands of others who made and released outstanding-quality bottles. We know that their wines are being appreciated somewhere in the world just about every minute of the day. And somehow this reassures us and others in this moment of uncertainty and despair.
Enjoy our top 10 wines of 2020 list.
- Chacra Pinot Noir Patagonia Treinta y Dos 2018
- Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Rheingau Grünlack Spätlese 2019 3 Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino 2016
- The Standish Wine Company Barossa Valley
- The Schubert Theorem 2018
- Emmerich Knoll Riesling Wachau Ried Schütt Smaragd 2019 6 Wittman Riesling Rheinhessen Morstein GG 2019
- Dönnhoff Riesling Nahe Dellchen GG 2019
- Tassi Brunello do Montalcino Franci Riserva 2015
- Cheval des Andes Mendoza 2017
- Clos Apalta Valle de Apalta 2017
(Main and featured image: James Suckling)
This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.