10 Questions to Consider When Trying to Scoop the Spectator

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We're a couple days into this year's Scoop the Spectator contest and we've gotten some fantastic entries. The snipers are out early this year but there are plenty of viable wines still available to be claimed.

This year we're playing for a $200 Amazon gift card, courtesy of New York wine retailer Grapes the Wine Co so it pays to give this some thought.

Here are 10 questions to consider when selecting your entry...

1. Do you have be a Wine Spectator subscriber to have a chance of guessing correctly?

I would think so. If you're not familiar with which wines they rated this year, and specifically which they're rating favorably it seems extremely difficult to get a sense for which wines have a chance of winning. Check back later this week and next and I'll share some entries I think are likely which haven't been guessed.

2. How likely are they to repeat a recent winner?

Not likely it seems. Since Spectator started running their Top 100 list, only one wine has repeated: Caymus Special Selection won in '89 and again in '04. That doesn't bode well for the Clos des Papes which won in 2007 (for their 2005 vintage), but then again it's got incredibly strong metrics this year with their 2010 (98 points/$128/5,600 cases produced).

3. Does it have to be 95 points or better?

It almost always is. The lone exception: The winner in 2002 was the 93 point/$30 E. Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape. Point chasers must have been sad that year.

4. Does it have to be $100 (or $150, or whatever) or less?

The trend I see is that they're not afraid to go with a pricey wine. But they try to keep it out of the stratosphere because value is a consideration. Mapping that to current wine prices I think they like to keep it south of $100. They might stretch a little over $100 if it's a really incredible bottle. But $200+ is out of the question I think. It alienates too many readers and disregards the value quotient.

5. How likely are they to repeat from a recent category?

I think this is a something they're very mindful of. One (quite elaborate  theory I recall from last year is that they tried to rotate the selection around their senior editors. So it was pre-determined, for example - to an extent, that Laube would only have to do a write-up for "his" wines every three years or so. That doesn't seem to be the case however with the last two wines coming from California (Kosta Browne and Saxum). It's been domestic the past three years though so it definitely feels like it's time for a return to the old world. 2010 Rhone specifically.

6. Are recent Top 10 wines (that didn't take the top spot) more likely to win this year?

I definitely see this as a trend. It's kind of like the Oscars or the Grammys: By the time they recognize someone the public has liked for a long time, after nominating and snubbing them for years, they finally bestow the award upon them when they're old news.

But with wine we call that pedigree. This bodes well for the Donjons and La Craus of the world this year. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride - but expect that to change.

7. How much are they trying to make a statement about a category with their selection?

I think this is hugely important as well and we've seen it with the past two winners. Spectator called the 2009 California Pinot Noir vintage the best ever and selecting Kosta Browne (a wine that was also frequently in the Top 10 in prior years) served as notice that California Pinot is a category to be considered in everyone's cellar. Similarly with Saxum the year before, they wanted to put Paso on the map. But Columbia Crest Reserve wasn't so much a coronation of Washington as a statement about value during a down economy I think.

8. Are advertisers more likely to win?

Columbia Crest surely advertises heavily, but Kosta Browne, Saxum, and many of the moderate production imported wines don't advertise at all. I don't see a correlation here.

9. Do they like to select "actionable" wines?

When I say actionable I mean it's widely available at retail and moderately priced. When they do go this direction I think it's been the funnest years in the contest. How many times did people walk past the $27 Columbia Crest Reserve Cab and ignore it? Then it gets named wine of the year and it sells for north of $100 at auction. This is when the contest is at its best and I'd like to see more years with winners like these. This year that wine would be the $41 2010 St. Cosme Gigondas which is available for signifcantly less if you look around.

10. Do quirky categories have a chance?

They do actually. Sauternes and Ports have won in past years. A Chilean red has won. I considered Saxum a curve ball as well. But I think they go this direction when there's not a standout vintage from a famous category. The famous categories are: Napa, Bordeaux, Tuscany and Chateauneuf. And Burgundy, and Piedmont to a lesser extent because of lower production levels. Anything else is a curve ball. Look for an obvious year with something from the Rhone. Oh, did I mention 2010 Rhone already? Either the St. Cosme Gigondas or a moderately priced CdP like Donjon or La Crau. I'm leaning towards the St. Cosme Gigondas because of the wide availability, lower price point, and the fact that it's drinking better early than the CdPs are.

Haven't entered yet? Have a look at the entries so far and see if you can find an angle nobody else has yet. Enter here:



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