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The Top 10 Tasting is always a globetrotting affair— the top wines of 2012 hailed from Italy, Argentina, California, Oregon, Australia and France—but this time there was a twist. The top four wines of 2012 came from different regions but shared one distinction: the Rhône connection.

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“This is a real mind-boggling display of what Rhône wines can do around the world,” senior editor James Molesworth told the audience. While Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre dominated the lineup, other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Malbec, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc still got their due. All 10 wines represented the “cream of the crop” in 2012, said senior editor Bruce Sanderson.

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This year's Top 10 tasting was divided into two parts, each concluding the Friday and Saturday seminars. To start off, Argentine winemaker Santiago Achával poured his dark, layered Achával-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Finca Bella Vista 2010 , (95 points, $120, No 10). Tuscany's Paolo Bianchini offered Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (94, $60, No. 9) but remained in the audience, allowing importer Mollie Lewis of Indigenous Selections to express gratitude on his behalf in more polished English.

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Harvest is in full swing in the Arroyo Seco area of Monterey County, so any celebrations will have to wait. But this year marks the 30th anniversary of Arroyo Seco's federal designation as an American Viticultural Area, the U.S. version of an appellation.

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A lot of wine consumers don't know much about Arroyo Seco, which is near Greenfield and adjoins the better-known Santa Lucia Highlands. It's relatively small at 18,000 acres, half of them planted with vines. Historically, much of the harvest ended up in bigger blends, many of them labeled with Central Coast or California appellations. Arroyo Seco, says winemaker Mark Chesebro of Chesebro Wines, was "traditionally a place that provided high-quality chardonnay to cheaper blends." A lot of fruit is still being used in bigger blends, but the Arroyo Seco appellation is increasingly showing up on wine labels. Wente Vineyards, one of the first to plant in Arroyo Seco, is probably better known as a Livermore Valley winery, but it has a series of wines labeled with their Arroyo Seco origins. J. Lohr also produces several Arroyo Seco wines. And smaller players have started wineries there or are buying fruit from the area and putting Arroyo Seco on the label.

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Precise figures aren't available, but chardonnay is the most widely planted grape, and most vintners agree it's the variety that performs best. Pinot noir plantings have increased. "There used to be a lot of merlot; pinot noir has taken its place," Chesebro says. Riesling and sauvignon blanc also have significant plantings.

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. But in the not too distant future, some French wines might not come from their namesake regions.

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That's because climate change is altering growing conditions in wine-producing regions, and grape production long associated with regions further south is beginning to shift to new areas.

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"Climate change will produce winners and losers among wine-growing regions, and for every region it will result in changes to the alcohol, acid, sugar, tannins and colour in wine," says climate scientist and wine expert Antonio Busalacchi of the University of Maryland.

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It may be the gnarled curves of their trunks, the historic events they’ve witnessed or the sheer quality of their limited fruit, but winemakers have long sought out old vines.

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In California, storied producers like Bonny Doon, Ravenswood, Ridge, Rosenblum, Turley and Williams Selyem have long sought to keep old vines in the ground. Bedrock Wine Co. and Carlisle Winery & Vineyards are more recent additions to this group.

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These wineries also helped define the old-vine category as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah or Mixed Blacks—a field blend including these and such long-forgotten varieties as Alicante Bouschet and Palomino (a white), typically planted by Italian immigrants around the turn of the 20th century.

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