No Sonoma County wines made the top ten of ‘Wine Spectator’s’ Top 100 wines. Here is why

Seven Sonoma County wines are on this year’s list, though none cracked the top 10|

This year, seven Sonoma County wines made the cut in “Wine Spectator’s” Top 100 Wines of 2022, giving them recognition on the world stage. Yet no Sonoma County wines cracked the top 10 of the list.

The reason, according to Alison Napjus, senior editor and tasting director at “Wine Spectator,” is likely because there were fewer Sonoma County wines to choose from compared to wines from other regions.

“In 2022, wines from Sonoma that rated 90 points (or higher) accounted for just over 5% of all wines reviewed by the magazine,” she said. “In a simple game of numbers, there were probably less options from Sonoma that checked all boxes for consideration in the top 10, although we continue to look at all the candidates each year.”

“Wine Spectator” considers price, value and availability, among other factors, in evaluating the wines.

Sonoma County wines historically have accounted for just a fraction of wines among the top 10 of the Top 100 list, yet simply being included in the full list has a direct impact for wineries, according to Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners.

“This type of national recognition increases demand for these wines across the country and fuels visitation to their wineries,” Haney said. “It also encourages consumers to explore all that Sonoma County has to offer, from wines at their local shops to planning a Wine Country getaway.”

The seven Sonoma County wines that did make the Top 100 list are: Hanzell, 2019 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley, $98, 95 points (No. 25); Alma de Cattleya, 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, $22, 92 points (No. 28); Nalle, 2019 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $42, 94 points (No. 32); Bucklin, 2019 Ancient Field Blend, Sonoma Valley, $38, 94 points (No. 35); Raen, 2019 Royal St. Robert Cuvee, Sonoma Coast, $65, 92 points (No. 85); Arista, 2019 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, UV-Lucky Well Vineyard (No. 87); and Ferren, 2019 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, $60, 94 points (No. 98).

At Alma de Cattleya, vintner Bibiana Gonzalez Rave said the response to the winery making the list surprised her.

“The most incredible thing about being a part of this list is the reach and impact it has,” she said. “You hear from people all over the world. Emails, calls and text messages from all over inquiring about the wine and even the next vintage.”

Born and raised in Columbia, Gonzalez Rave founded her Sonoma County brand in 2012.

“I’m a small producer, and the wine has already sold out,” she said. “But (due to the win) I could have easily sold my production many times over.”

Historic Sonoma County wins

Since “Wine Spectator” began the Top 100 list in 1988, two Sonoma County wines took the No. 1 spot: in 1999, Chateau St. Jean’s 1996 Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County; and in 2011, Kosta Browne’s 2009 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.

Margo Van Staaveren, associate winemaker at Chateau St. Jean when its Cinq Cepages won, said not only did the winery sell through the vintage with ease but the win changed the perception of cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals in Sonoma County.

“While the region was known for authentic chardonnays, pinots and zinfandels, the award of the top spot on the ‘Wine Spectator’ annual list brought visibility to cabernet sauvignon and companion varieties in Sonoma County,” she said. “It was exciting to share our passion for the potential of Sonoma by blending Cinq Cepages each vintage.”

Van Staaveren said there was a high percentage of Alexander Valley fruit in the bottling, and the win gave recognition to the region in Sonoma County that’s most esteemed for growing extraordinary cabernet sauvignon.

Today, Van Staaveren is the director of luxury winemaking with Treasury Wine Estates. Foley Family Wines acquired Chateau St. Jean in 2021.

As for Kosta Browne’s win, it gave the brand global recognition and respect, said Dan Kosta, who cofounded the brand with Michael Browne in 1997. Duckhorn Wine Co. purchased Kosta Browne in 2018.

“We had experienced a good level of success with our early 2000s vintages,” he said. “But until winning the No. 1 spot, Kosta Browne was a bit of a discovery for American consumers. After the win the brand, as a whole, was in great demand and became a household name for anyone seeking world-class pinot noir from California.”

In addition to these two winning wines — Chateau St. Jean and Kosta Browne — bottlings from Sonoma County have made the top 10 25 times since 1988.

2020 — Aubert, 2018 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, UV Vineyard (No. 2)

2020 — Kistler, 2017 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Vine Hill Vineyard (No. 6)

2019 — Ramey Wine Cellars, 2016 Chardonnay, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros (No. 7)

2018 — Bedrock, 2016 The Bedrock Heritage, Sonoma Valley (No. 10)

2016 — Hartford Family, 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel, Russian River Valley (No. 10)

2012 — Beringer, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley Reserve (No. 8)

2011 — Dehlinger, 2008 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley (No. 5)

2010 — Paul Hobbs, 2008 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley (No. 6)

2010 — Peter Michael, 2008 Ma Belle-Fille Chardonnay, Sonoma County (No. 3)

2009 — Kosta Browne, 2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast (No. 4)

2009 — Merry Edwards, 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley (No. 9)

2008 — Seghesio, 2007 Zinfandel, Sonoma County (No. 10)

2006 — Kosta Browne, 2004 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley (No. 7)

2005 — Rosenblum, 2003 Zinfandel, Rockpile, Rockpile Road Vineyard (No. 3)

2004 — Peter Michael, 2001 Les Pavots, Knights Valley (No. 5)

2002 — Chateau St. Jean, 1999 Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County (No. 2)

1999 — Peter Michael, 1996 Les Pavots, Knights Valley (No. 5)

1999 — Kistler, 1996 Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, Durell Vineyard (No. 4)

1998 — Kistler, 1995 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Vine Hill Vineyard (No. 5)

1998 — Chalk Hill, 1996 Chardonnay, Chalk Hill (No. 9)

1996 — Arrowood, 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County (No. 10)

1996 — Chalk Hill, 1994 Chardonnay, Chalk Hill (No. 3)

1996 — Gallo of Sonoma, 1994 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Laguna Ranch Vineyard (No. 8)

1995 — Kistler, 1992 Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, Kistler Vineyard (No. 8)

1994 — Ridge, 1992 Late Picked Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, Pagani Ranch (No. 10)

1994 — Ferrari-Carano, 1992 Chardonnay, Alexander Valley (No. 5)

“Each year, the top 10 is a surprise — both what’s in it and what’s not,” Napjus said. “It’s hard to generalize or make assumptions about the top 10 wines, because each year we see new vintages of higher or lower quality, and new regions emerging.”

The top 10 often reflects regions that are releasing wines from an outstanding vintage, which means there are many high-quality bottlings to consider, she said.

“The top 10 almost always shows a breakthrough wine or two — a producer or region that is not necessarily considered a ‘classic’ or ‘blue-chip’ wine, but one that we feel should be highlighted and we think our readers should know about,” Napjus said.

Selecting the Top 100 Wines

Only wines that rate 90 points or higher in the “Wine Spectator’s” blind tastings are considered for the top 100 wines. The selection process typically begins with about 5,000 wines.

“We additionally look at availability, represented by the number of cases available in the U.S., at value and price point relative to the rating and availability, and finally, ‘X’ factor,” Napjus said. “The ‘X’ factor is what makes a wine exciting beyond its stats, whether it’s a new winery, a little-known grape or region, a comeback story from a historic producer or other. The aim of the Top 100 is to showcase the broader world of wine and to educate and excite our readers about that world.”

The selection of the top 10 goes a step further, with a double-blind tasting by the magazine’s editors of potential candidates for the No. 1 slot, Napjus said. Before the tasting, each editor nominates three wines for the No. 1 position. From these nominations, and sometimes with additional selections from the larger list, the tasting’s organizer gathers a group of about 12 to 20 wines that are strong candidates to be named the best wine of the year.

All the editors gather to taste this group of wines, Napjus said. They only know that they have a red or a white in their glass. After each editor tastes and rates the wine, each wine is discussed. Further discussion — and sometimes vigorous debate — ensues when the wines are revealed, along with accompanying information about their published rating, pricing and availability. Ultimately, the group decides together on a No. 1 wine and the ranking for the remainder of the top 10.

Gonzalez Rave of Alma de Cattleya said she takes pride in ranking 28th in this prestigious list.

“This type of recognition is special because it gives me a moment to think back on everything. ... I clearly make the same quality wine before and after such an award, but some people perceive it differently after the international recognition.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at or 707-571-5310.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.