Following up my post of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008, Paul Zitarelli over at Swordfern Wines inquired why I thought Quilceda Creek’s 2005 Cabernet had not made the list. I noticed this omission as well as this is a truly stunning wine. Moreover, the last two releases of Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet have been featured in the Top 100 in 2007 (#28, 2004 vintage) and 2006 (#2, 2003 vintage). Given how much I liked this wine, I thought I would delve into this a bit.

For the Top 100 in 2008, Wine Spectator used the following criteria:
Quality, represented by score

– Value, reflected by release price

– Availability, measured by case production or cases imported

– An X-factor which they call “excitement”

The Wine Spectator staff put this all together into a subjective rating and came up with the list. Let’s take a look at the 2005 Quilceda Creek Cabernet along each of these dimensions.

In terms of Quality, the 2005 Cabernet received a 94 rating. This is compared to the 2004 and 2003 which both received a 95. All of the Top 100 wines received a rating of 90 points or higher. In this regard, the 2005 Cabernet faired quite well.

In terms of Value, the 2005 comes in at $115. Looking at Wine Spectator’s wines rated in the most recent 12 months, 80% of the wines rated 90 points or higher were priced $100 or less. All other things being equal, we could therefore expect about 80% of the wines in the Top 100 to cost $100 or less. However, for the 2008 list, 91% of the wines cost less than $100. This is what they mean when they say that “Value” is taken into consideration. In this regard, the Quilceda Creek is a bit expensive.

In terms of Availability, Quilceda Creek produced 3,400 cases of this wine. This is a reasonable amount and comparable to a number of other wines on the list. However, Quilceda Creek’s wine is generally only available to mailing list members. This might have affected the wine’s rating along this dimension.

Finally, in terms of X-factor – excitement – I personally would score this wine quite high as I thought about it for (literally) weeks after tasting it. I can’t say that has happened with many wines. Then again, I don’t sample 20,000 wines a year. I have no idea how they might have scored this wine on the X factor.

Overall, I think Quilceda Creek’s 2005 Cabernet didn’t make the list due to a combination of these factors, specifically the Quality to Price Ratio – QPR in modern parlance. While the Quality rating of the wine was high (94), the price was also high compared to other wines on the list ($115). In fact, of the wines over $100 on the 2008 Top 100 list, all received a Quality rating of 96 or higher. The fact that the wine has somewhat limited availability may have contributed as well. As I mentioned in my earlier post, one of the goals of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list is to drive wine sales. Any wine buyer who has seen the march of the shelf-talkers in wine stores after the release of this list knows what I’m talking about. I believe however that the limited availability was a secondary factor.

In summary, another point or two higher and the wine might have made it on the list despite the high price and the limited availability. This just goes to show the problem with rating wines. A point or two higher from an acclaimed source drives tens of thousands of dollars of sales and might put you in the Top 100. A point or two lower and it’s curtains! Not to worry about Quilceda Creek. At their last release weekend, my friend did a back of the envelope calculation of the dollar value of the wine on palettes in front of us. They are doing okay.