Monday, March 22, 2021

Where on Earth does James Suckling think the best wines come from?

High-quality wine is made throughout the world. However, some places are widely recognized as being consistently better than others. There is even variation among places that regularly receive quality scores of 95+ for many of its wines. So, I though that it might be interesting to look at where the highest-scoring wines generally seem to come from.

To do this, I decided to choose a respected wine commentator, and then look at all of their high-scoring wines from 2020. James Suckling has recently released a series of reports with quality scores for last year's wine tastings, so I thought that it would be convenient to choose him.

In spite of the Covid-19 disruptions, Suckling reports that his team "managed to rate almost 18,000 wines" last year. Not all of these wines were the current releases, as many wines had multiple vintages tasted during the year, which you can read about in Our Top 100 Wines of 2020. However, the data that I have looked at here come from the nine Top 100 Reports (Regional):
  • Top 100 wines of Argentina 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of Australia 2020
  • Top 100 wines of Austria 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of Chile 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of France 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of Germany 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of Italy 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of Spain 2020
  • Top 100 Wines of United States 2020
Strictly speaking, these are not wine regions, of course, since they are all countries, within each of which there are multiple wine-making regions; and the vineyard area and the number of wines varies greatly between these countries. In particular, two of these countries cover entire continents, and the number of wines that could potentially appear in the lists is likely to be quite different. So, it is somewhat arbitrary to choose 100 wines per country; but these are the data that we have. Mind you, there are only a limited number of wines that are likely to be tasted by any given commentator, and it is likely that the best wines were included (among the others).

Importantly, Suckling notes that his Top 100 wines are not necessarily the highest scoring wines. That is, the rank order within his lists is not the numerical order by score: "I ranked the wines in this list first on quality (scores) and then prices. And finally I used what I call the ‘wow factor.’" I am therefore simply assuming that the 100 scores that I have do, indeed, represent the top-scoring wines for 2020 from each region. Note, also, that, technically speaking, these data are left-censored (since the scores lower than the top 100 are unknown).

Having compiled the 100 scores for each of the nine regions, we can plot a graph (frequency histogram) of those scores. These graphs are included at the bottom of this post. For a direct comparison, though, it is much simpler to use a box-and-whisker plot, as shown next. Each of the nine regions, as labeled, has a summary of their 100 scores shown vertically. If we take Italy as an example, the summary has a central box, with a thin whisker both above and below, plus an asterisk. The box indicates the range of the central 50% of the scores, while the whiskers show the remaining 50% of the scores. The asterisk is an outlying (unusual) score that is separated from the rest.

What this graph shows us is that Austria, Chile and Spain generally had fewer top-scoring wines than did Australia, France, Germany, Italy and the USA, with Argentina being intermediate between these two groups. So, now we know where James Suckling thinks the best wines tasted during 2020 came from.

The individual graphs at the bottom of this post make it clear that Italy was very consistent (most wines got 97 points), as was Austria (but at 94 points, instead), that Australia did very well (most wines got 96 to 98 points), Spain had good but not great wines (no 99- or 100-point wines), and France did surprisingly poorly (not even one 100-point wine).

You may make of this what you will. Suckling is certainly not biased for or against the New World wines, for example. For me, I am sad to see that New Zealand is missing, along with Portugal.

This final series of plots count how many wines (vertically) received each of the scores (horizontally), for each of the nine wine regions. These are the complete data as summarized in the box-plot above (click to enlarge).


  1. I have a concern with James Suckling and how he rates wines. In more cases than not, he is 2-3 points higher than other reviewers. I have had consumers at my wine store actually comment on this as to why they want a score from another reviewer.

    1. The latest description of Suckling's approach to wine-tasting, that I know of, is here: