Ten years ago, editor and publisher Joshua Greene and his staff at Wine & Spirits Magazine took on a monster of a challenge: selecting the world's best wineries and pairing their wines with signature dishes from new or notable restaurants in San Francisco, which he calls the center of the American wine world.
The event, now known as the Top 100 Tasting, is a place where you can inhale an A16 meatball or swirl a Ridge Monte Bello cabernet sauvignon then return for a third Hog Island oyster to go with your Louis Roederer Cristal. It's worth the $105.
"It's a time when people who know a lot about wine can find something they've never tasted and people who want to know about wine can learn and taste some of the best wines in the world without intimidation and ego," Greene told me over the phone in advance of the event's 10th anniversary, which will be Oct. 15 at the Metreon's City View. This year's restaurants include San Francisco's 1601 Bar & Kitchen, Larkspur's Farmshop Marin and Oakland's Tribune Tavern.
The event honors producers that delivered the best overall performances in Wine & Spirits' complex series of blind tastings, conducted during the previous 12 months. Domestically, wineries from Napa and Sonoma make the biggest showing; internationally, there's equal representation among wineries in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Australia.
And the Top 100 wineries don't all carry Cristal price tags. This year, the wineries produce many value wines in the $14-$20 range, from the Zorzal 2011 Gualtallary Terroir Unico Malbec ($14, 92 points, Argentina) to the Errazuriz 2012 Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($17, 93 points, Chile) and Lioco 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($20, 93 points, U.S.).
As for how they select the wineries and wines, Greene explained it to me and I lost him somewhere between "purely statistical" and "six columns of numbers."
But in a nutshell, dozens of critics in New York and San Francisco started in April, tasting a total of 12,450 wines -- 3,950 domestic, 8,500 international -- to arrive at these 100 wineries and wines. I've judged in large-scale national wine competitions, tasting 100-plus wines per day, and it doesn't even touch what these panelists do.
The most profound change Greene has observed since launching the Top 100 is the wider spectrum of wine styles available in the market.
"In the late '90s and early 2000s, a lot of winemakers did move like sheep toward certain styles, like fruit bomb merlots and big, alcoholic (shirazes)," he says.
But, Greene explains, as the wine market has grown, it has allowed for niches -- big niches, such as moscato or off-dry reds, for instance -- that can exist and flourish and help bring new people to wine, without shifting the larger market.
"It's interesting that everyone's not jumping to make a moscato," he says.
Top 100 tasting
Taste the wines along with pairings from new and notable Bay Area restaurants, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 15, City View at Metreon, 135 Fourth St., Fourth Floor, San Francisco. $105; $150 for VIP. Buy tickets and see a list of the Top 100 at www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/top100.