What Makes a 100-Point Wine?

Beckstoffer Vineyards
Photo courtesy of Beckstoffer Vineyards

What defines a wine as absolute perfection? The answer depends on whom you’re asking. There are multiple well-respected wine rating systems used in the U.S., but the most used is Robert Parker’s original scoring system favored by his Wine Advocate. This 100-point scale applies specialized criteria for what’s considered “perfection” at the time of tasting and has become something of a wine industry standard for rating quality wine. Wines that are given a score of between 96 and 100 points are considered to be “extraordinary” and worth the effort to find. 

For our purposes, the recommendations and information below are based on the Wine Advocate rating system as applied to Napa Valley’s and the Sonoma region’s wines, including many from the 2018 vintage.  

What makes a 100-point wine?

Creating a 100-point wine requires a perfect storm of internal and external factors. Both the vineyard’s location and the winemaking process impact the outcome for the final product, but ultimately the quality of the wine largely depends on the climate of the year the grapes are grown. Uncontrollable forces of nature such as wildfires and weather factors like frost affect the grape quality, and not all years will yield good wines. Also taken into consideration are soil composition where the grapes are grown, the direction the vineyard is facing and the timing of the harvest.  

In terms of climate, 2018 offered nearly flawless conditions for creating the ideal vintage. There were heavy rains early in the growing season and the remainder of the season was filled with warm days and cooler nights. This allows the grapes to mature to ideal ripeness on the vine while also retaining the acidity needed to create balanced wines that are capable of aging (an important factor on the Wine Advocate scale). 

An impressive number of high-scoring wines were produced throughout the Napa and Sonoma region in 2018. Now, in the fall of 2021, many of these wines are just beginning to become available for purchase.

100-Point Wine Experiences

It can be challenging to find a 100-point bottle of wine, as such wines are enthusiastically coveted by collectors, and disappear seemingly as soon as they’re available. Luckily those wanting to indulge in one of these impeccable wines can enjoy a variety of unique wine-tasting experiences hosted at select wineries in the Napa and Sonoma region.  

Immortal Estate in Sonoma offers a one-of-a-kind “100-Point Experience.” The winery is helmed by Napa wine industry veteran and Tusk Estates co-owner Tim Martin and Randy Nichols, who is developing the new Auberge Resort at Stanly Ranch property. The pair thought it would be interesting to showcase four different vintages of their prized wines at once (each valued at more than $300 per bottle), so they created a special and soon-to-be-coveted experience.

TOR’s Black Magic wine bottle from 2018
TOR’s Black Magic, 2018 (courtesy of TOR Wines)

This four-bottle vertical flight includes years 2013 to 2016 of the flagship Immortal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Two of the featured vintages — the 2013 and 2016 — have received perfect 100-point scores. The 2016 was a favorite among wine critics.

As there’s a limited amount of these wines, the intimate tastings accommodate between four and eight people at $500 per person for a 90-minute guided tasting experience and are held at an exclusive location in Napa. 

TOR Black Magic Experience offers another chance to catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into making a 100-point wine. This full-day tour gives visitors access to the TOR 2019 Black Magic vintage, which includes the single-vineyard TOR Chardonnay, the TOR Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon and Black Magic. Also offered is a visit to three private vineyards that contribute to the making of these rare wines: Beckstoffer Dr. Crane in St. Helena and Beckstoffer To Kalon and Vine Hill Ranch vineyards in Oakville.

Tor Kenward has a 40-year relationship with vineyard owners Andy Beckstoffer and the Phillips family of Vine Hill Ranch, and he is able to offer insider access to these elite sites traditionally closed to the public. Guests will either taste finished wines or barrel samples on-site at these destinations and end the day with a meal at The Charter Oak Restaurant in St. Helena, where more TOR wines will be poured. 

Wineries Known for Making 100-Point Wines 

Alpha Omega Winery

Alpha Omega creates artisanal wines, drawing on Old World vineyard practices combined with New World technology. Try: Alpha Omega Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

Bevan Cellars 

The team at Bevan Cellars believes the journey is just as important as the outcome when it comes to making great wines and goes to great lengths to source the best fruit that Napa and Sonoma have to offer. Try: Bevan Cellars 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dr. Crane Vineyard, Saint Helena 

Cliff Lede Vineyards 

Cliff Lede Vineyards was established in 2002 by Bordeaux enthusiast Cliff Lede. Each vineyard block is named after one of his favorite rock songs or albums and is used to craft cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. Try: Cliff Lede 2018 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District 

Kapcsándy Family Winery 

Kapcsándy uses vineyard management and winemaking techniques heavily influenced by French Bordeaux-style practices. Try: Kapcsándy Family Winery 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Vin, State Lane Vineyard