Anywhere you look, people are summing up their experiences for the year which will become history in the mere 5 days. “The best thing I did last year”, “the best thing I ate”, “the best trip I took”, “the best picture” and so on and so forth.
This very blog is not an exception to that “the best thing I had” phenomenon. I have my top dozen wines summarized for 2010 and 2011, and now it is time for 2012. But I have to tell you that this year I have an issue. Last two years I managed to identify precisely 12 wines I wanted to include in my “Top” list. This year, it appears that I tasted so many great wines, that I feel that the limit of 12 is too constraining – hence this post, where I will share with you the second dozen (or more) of wines which caused an “aha” moment, and stirred my memory and emotions. In the other words, these are the wines which I would gladly (very gladly) drink at any time. As usual, all the wines will be linked to the original posts in case such post exists, and I will provide pricing information where I can. Here we go.
26. 2011 Walnut Block Wines ‘Collectables’ Sauvignon Blanc, Marlboro, New Zealand ($11.99). In general, I like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – may be I had a few that I didn’t really care for, but for the most of the cases I really enjoy that fresh in-your-face acidity with bright fruit underpinning and fresh cut grass. This wine happened to be single best New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I had last year, perfectly matching the description I just provided.
25. 2012 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier, Texas ($NA) – that experience of drinking literally just blended wine was first and unique, and the wine was excellent. I will be very happy to get a bottle of the released 2012 Flat Creek Estate Viognier and compare the notes.
24. Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut NV ($10.99) – one of the best sparkling wines I tasted throughout the year. It is perfectly brut, perfectly acidic and perfectly balanced. I really want to see this wine in the blind tasting, against any of the $30-$40 Champagne – so many people will lose their bets, swearing that they just tasted a perfect glass of Champagne, and finding out that it was a domestic sparkler. Next time you see it on the shelf – do me a favor, pick up a bottle and let me know what you think (you can thank me later).
23. 2010 Anakena Indo Sauvignon Blanc, D.O. San Antonio Valley, Chile ($15) – A perfect Sauvignon Blanc for my palate. Beautiful fruit and acidity combination, a touch fruitier than NZ Walnut Block, but absolutely refreshing.
22. 2005 Giribaldi Cento Uve Langhe DOC ($75) – Very much Barolo-like (no wonder – 50% of the grapes are Nebbiolo), but they didn’t use for nothing 152 grapes to produce this wine – this is a very perfumy Barolo, with a lot of floral notes. No, I didn’t taste all those grapes by themselves, but sheer number of grapes (152) used in production of this wine is enough to put you at awe.
21. 2009 Craggy Range Te Kahu Hawkes Bay, New Zealand ($25) – Craggy Range is an area in New Zealand which became a source of the great wines, and it also know for the cost of land being dirt cheap about 30 years ago, and becoming absolutely unaffordable nowadays. This wine is an excellent Bordeaux blend, except that you don’t need to wait for 15-20 years before you can enjoy a glass – you can just open and pour. Perfect fruit and perfect balance – if you didn’t try this wine before, and you like Bordeaux style, you just owe it to yourself to find the bottle and enjoy it.
20. 2008 Torres Atrium Merlot, Penedes, Spain ($26 in the restaurant) – this was total surprise – the wine was suggested to us in a restaurant in Florida, as previous two choices were unavailable. We didn’t have much expectations – until the first sip. Dark fruit, soft, supple and round, perfect acidity, long finish. The second surprise came when we saw the bill – I never had a wine of this quality in the restaurant for $26. My only issue – this wine is only available for restaurants, and even my friend Zak who owns wine store, can’t get this wine. If you can – send me a note…
19. Abrau-Durso Semi-Dry NV, Russia ($12.99) – Never heard of this wine until this year, and it appears that this is a very old Russian “Champagne” house which was supplying sparkling wines for Tzar. Didn’t have much expectations before trying this wine – and it was delicious. Touch of sweetness, perfectly refreshing and supple – this actually will be the sparkler I plan to pour to ring the New Year in.
18. 2009 Wente Small Lot Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley, California ($35) – Wente Small Lots Grenache was #6 on my Top 2011 list. This year I opened Petite Sirah – an absolute beauty, silky smooth, dark fruit, perfect acidity and tannins, very balanced. It is unfortunately only available from the winery or through the club, but if you are in the area, don’t miss it.
17. 2009 Sant’Elena Pinot Grigio, Friuli, Italy ($18.99) – Yes, I’m a wine snob – as the result, Pinot Grigio is typically not the wine which would be served in my house. And Pinot Grigio is usually not the wine I would include into any of the “high regad lists”. Except when it is truly outstanding. And this wine is exceptional. Yes, it is called Pinot Grigio – but this is only due to the grape used in production of this wine. Otherwise, this is an “orange wine” – dense, concentrated, with dark white fruit, very complex and thought provoking.
16. 2008 Achaval-Ferrer Quimera Mendoza, Argentina ($24.99) – I wanted to try wines of Achaval-Ferrer for a very long time, but they are not exactly affordable on a given day. Thanks to WTSO ( who else?), I was able to get few bottles of this Bordeaux blend called Quimera, and boy, was that a great wine. Dense and powerful, with lots of dark fruit, very delicious. And – it will definitely improve with time, so I’m glad I still a few bottles left.
15. 2009 Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry Red Blend Napa Valley ($60) – it seems that I discovered so many worthy great Bordeax blends this year, from all the different regions. Yet this BV Tapestry squarely hold place on its own – dark, robust, classic, with all the cassis and eucalyptus flavors you want, it rolls on your tongue and delivers pleasure, as you expect your wine to do.
14. 2006 Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley, California ($24.99) – I can’t believe I didn’t put this wine into the top dozen. When you take a sip of wine, it usually generates a reaction. It can be “hmm, this is nice”, “hmm, I should let it breathe”, “hmm, I need some food”, “hmm, now I need steak”. And then there are wines where you reaction has no hmms in it, it is “I need a refill now, before this deliciousness is all gone”. This Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir is exactly that type of wine – round and delicious from the get go, you just want you rglass to last for long, very long time.
13. 2008 Kovacs Nimrod Battonage Chardonnay, Eger Winery, Hungary ($20.99) – I love Chardonnay – and I so rarely get to enjoy it, unfortunately. I don’t have any deep cellars of Burgundy, and a lot of wineries in California and outside are trying to make Chardonnay to taste like Pinot Grigio – beats me. Luckily, not this Chardonnay from Hungary. This wine greets you the nose with vanilla and butter, and perfectly supports that round package on the palate – more vanilla, more butter, toasted oak, golden delicious apples – just the Chardonnay I want to drink.
That’s all for today, folks – will be happy to hear your thoughts. Have you tried any of the wines above? Did you like them? And yes, my Top Twelve of Twelve is coming out very soon. I’m not going to spoil a surprise for you, but I’m sure you will find my Wine of the Year choice a bit unusual (if you want to guess, write your ideas down in the comments section). Cheers!
The title for this post didn’t come up easily. I was back and forth with myself many times. The reason? Tasting these Rioja wines was a phenomenal experience, something which doesn’t happen often during one’s lifetime. The brightness and openness of the 65-years old Rioja was nothing but stunning – but I think I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning.
I happened to fall in love with Rioja wines about 4 years ago, after attending a Rioja seminar at PJ Wine store (the owner, Peter, is anything but fanatical about Spanish wines – of which PJ Wines houses an amazing selection all the time). At that seminar I was lucky enough to try 1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva Rioja and that was a revelation – the wine was fresh and bright, as it would’ve been may be 5 years old, not 40+. After that tasting I became Rioja fan for life. I have to also mention that even today, you can buy 1964 Rioja starting from less than $300 – for comparison, a bottle of 1966 DRC will set you back for about $10,000. I rest my case.
When my friend Zak told me that we can get a bottle of 1947 Rioja directly from the winery for less than $400, the decision was instantaneous – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is worth it (don’t remember how many bottles were still available, but surely there were not that many). So we got that 1947 bottle and after a little while, were able to set the date for the tasting.
To make sure our 1947 Rioja will not feel lonely, we got a few more bottles to keep it company. You can see the full line up on the picture above, and here is an exact list:
2008 Raventos & Blanc Reserva Brut Cava
1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco
1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1976 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1995 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
Pinord Moscatel NV
There is one more bottle in the picture – Jorge Ordonez Malaga – but, guess what – we never opened that, being quite overwhelmed by the desert time (it is a great bottle of desert wine, but – oh well, there is always a next time).
We started with Cava, of course. It was fresh, round and pleasant – not necessarily hugely distinguishable, but definitely a nice bottle of wine to have before dinner starts.
The first foray into magnificent world of Rioja was with the 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco. I will gladly challenge you to find a bottle of 19 years old white wine which will taste as fresh as this 1993 Rioja. May be you will have some luck with white Hermitage, Chablis or some of the white Burgundies, or may be some of the really obscure grapes like Romorantin – but in any case I’m sure it will not be easy. This wine was fresh and complex, with mineral notes, hint of white apple, perfect mid-palate weight and still bright acidity. Definitely a ”wow” introduction into the ”wow” lineup of reds.
Needless to say that we started with 1947 Rioja. Considering the tender age of 65 years, the first challenge of course was to get the cork out. I wish we had one of those glass cutting devices described in the PJ Wine blog post, which simply allows you to cut the whole neck of the bottle with the cork in it, and not worry about cork crumbling into your wine – well, we don’t drink wines of that age often enough, so we had to stick with more conventional tools, like the two-prong cork puller.
It almost worked.. and then not. It took two people and good 5 minutes of time to get cork our, little by little, piece by piece – but we managed to do it almost clean, with may be one or two tiny pieces falling back into the bottle.
Cork is out, and wine goes into the glasses. First thing to note is color, which is still red and not brown – of course it is not purple, but it is dark garnet red. And for the taste… Should I simply tell you that wine was magnificent and leave it at that? Well, okay, it wouldn’t be fair. Let’s continue. On the nose – coco powder, cedar dust, hint of cinnamon, smoked paprika. On the palate – good amount of red fruit, wine comes in bright and youthful, with good acidity. Then second wave came in as wine opened up a bit, with more sweet fruit and then tannins kicking in. I don’t want to bring in exotic animals to describe this wine, as Joe Roberts did with a black panther, so my description will be simple – grace and elegance. I can only wish to have the same grace and elegance myself when I will reach that age.
Moving along, it is now time for the 1976 Rioja. 29 years younger than the previous wine and… ahh, so different! Barnyard on the nose, very pungent, savory, with hint of the same barnyard on the palate, dried cherries, earthiness. If umami is a part of the wine tasting profile, this wine definitely had it.
And for the 1995, we decided to give it a little breathing time – it spent 2 hours in the decanter. The wine was fresh, with beautiful garnet color, bright fruit, very good acidity and soft tannins, touch of eucalyptus and cedar box. Very youthful and upbeat, if you will.
After tasting this line up of the magnificent Rioja wines from the same producer, the most interesting question in my mind is ”how will these wines evolve?”. Even the 1947 didn’t reach the end of life considering the way it was showing, never mind 1976 and 1995. Will pungency of 1976 stay, or will it evolve to something akin to 1947 in 29 years? How will 1995 taste in 48 years, and will it even last that long? These are all great questions I will not get an answer to – but this is part of the wine connoisseurship game – think about the future but definitely appreciate and enjoy what you have right now (huh – feel free to beat me up in the comments for banalities).
So far we I didn’t tell you about the food – there was a lot of great food. While you can’t taste it anyway, here is at least a picture of one of the dishes – roasted potato encrusted striped Bass:
We also had “death by chocolate” desert which perfectly paired with Pinord Moscatel, which happened to be well aged (the bottle simply got lost under the shelf and was “discovered” many years later).
Overall, this was a great experience, which will stay in memory for a very long time. To tell you honestly, I think it will not be easy to top off this experience, but as the very least I can promise to share all that with you. Wish you all great fun with wines – cheers!
After publishing the first post about Must Try Wines, I had an extended dialog with @PeterZachar on Twitter, where Peter provided good suggestions as to more ”must try wines” to be added to the list. Then I thought about whole rationale of ”must try”, ”must do”, ”must see”, ”must experience”, and I believe it makes sense to talk about it first.
When it comes to ”must experience” in the wine world, I believe there are few deciding factors to get a given wine into that category. First one probably is a price. In the end of the day, this is how first known ”must try” classification came about – famous Bordeaux 1855 classification was made out solely on the price of the wines sold by various Chateaux. Of course price is just a consequence, an artificial showing of other, more fundamental factors, such as quality, reputation, demand and availability – but it is easy for us, humans to comprehend numbers, so the price serves as an aggregate measure instead of quantifying all other fundamentals independently. Looking at Chateau Petrus, Screaming Eagle or Seppeltsfield Port, each one faring at about $2500+ a bottle, it is easy to say ”if ever possible, I really really want to try it”.
Next factor is a reputation of the wine. Reputation in general is hard to assess, right? Well, when it comes to the wine world, one side of reputation also happened to be quantified for us – in the form of the infamous wine ratings. All over the wine blogosphere you can find beating and bantering of the various point rating systems – however, whether good or bad, consumers like to have some simple numerical indication of one ”thing” being better than another ”thing”. No, I’m not planning to divert into the 100-points scale discussion – what I’m alluding to is the fact that it is very easy to include wines rated 100 points into the ”must experience” category. Probably 98 to a 100 points will do just fine, as I can bet I would never be able to tell the difference between 98 and 99 rated wines, so 98 to a 100 is a good range. Should all 100 points rated wines be included into ”must try” list? I don’t think so, simply because you have to draw a line somewhere.
Another side of reputation shows up in the form of someone’s opinion – not a single person, but rather as a collective opinion. If the wine receives multiple [substantial] praises from multiple people, it is probably worth considering for the ”must try” subject – however, all these praises will most likely become reflected in the price, and almost certainly will affect one more ”must have” deciding factor – availability.
What do we usually want the most? That’s right – something we cannot have. In the industrial world, if we run out of something, we can make more of it. It doesn’t work the same way in the wine world. Deeply engrained in the concept of terroir, the most sought after wines are produced from the very specific vineyards – yes, you can plant more vineyards, but they will not bear the same fruit and you will not be able to produce the same wine. Therefore, you can’t address the increased demand by just making more – and your wine becomes less available (and its reputation most likely is increasing). The next step is for the wine to be sold only through the mailing lists thus injecting some sanity into that supply and demand equation. And in many cases price of wine goes up, completing the full connection between our three key ”must have” factors – price, reputation and availability.
I hope I gave you enough insight into my logic. To come up with the additions to the original ”must try” list, I did two things. First of all, I used the exact recommendations from Peter. Second approach was based on using the Wine Spectator online and searching for the wines with 98 to 100 ratings in particular regions and countries – then looking at the prices and styles to decide if I would be interested in experiencing that wine. The result can be found in the updated table which is available as a standalone page on this site (please click this link).
Few more comments, if I may. For most of the wines from France, actual vintage is not essential – all these wines show remarkable consistency in good years and in bad years. Also for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sauternes the actual ”must try” wine is a flagship which usually goes under the same as the winery itself. Same is true for California ”cults” outside of Rhone Rangers. For all other wines, the exact wine is listed. Also for Port, Madeira and Spanish wines the exact vintage is listed and important.
I just want to repeat the same disclaimer as last time – this list is a personal reflection – feel free to criticize it or make it yours and change it. I’m sure there are plenty worthwhile wines which can be added to this list – this is why I’m sharing it with you. Yes, you are welcome.
Let’s raise the glass for the best experiences of our lives! Cheers!
It is not so simple to talk about ”must have experiences” – as we move on in life, the idea of ”must have” can be changing dramatically, taking something which was considered divine to something you can literally despise.
Our experiences are personal, and they have value within our view, our picture of the world. This is true pretty much for everything, but this is ultimately true when it comes to food and wine. If someone is strictly a white zinfandel drinker, convincing him or her that this Chateau Latour is a good wine would be an impossible task. Therefore, does it make sense to come up with the list of ”must try wines”? I believe so. This doesn’t have have to be a ”must try” list for everyone, but this is rather a personal belief based on the present relationship with the wine world. By reading books, blogs and magazine articles, talking to people (twitter conversations included), and then doing more reading, talking and thinking (and drinking!!!), this list came by as my personal reflection. These are the wines I would like to experience at least once – nothing more and nothing less.
Few notes about the list. First, it is built by country, and then sub-regions. The primary idea behind including most of the wines you can see on the list is their reputation, which is based on what I read and heard. Yes, majority of the wines in the list are super-expensive, but this just a consequence of their reputation, I guess. Considering that, I also included possible substitutes for some of the wines – some of the substitution suggestions are based on the official (and semi-official) ”second labels” (here’s a link to the post I wrote for The Art Of Life Magazine on the subject of the second labels) – for instance all of the Bordeaux First Growth have their official second label wines (some of them even have third labels now). Some of the other suggestions are simply based on geographic proximity and ownership – for instance, Chateau Hosanna is located next to the famed Chateau Petrus and both are owned by the same owner, Christian Moueix.
And few more points. If you want to get that list in the form of the PDF file, here is the link for you. If you are interested in my logic as to why particular wines and wineries are there – I will gladly explain, just ask a question. If you think there are other wines I should include in the list, let me know – I will greatly appreciate the suggestions. However, if you think that I’m wrong and some of the wines shouldn’t be on this list – well, tough luck – the is is my personal list, and this is the way I see it at the moment.
Without further delay, here is the list. Cheers!
|Krug Clos du Mesnil||Krug Grand Cuvee NV|
|Krug Clos d’Ambonnay|
|Salon Le Mesnil|
|Chateau Latour||Les Forts de Latour|
|Chateau Lafite Rothschild||Carruades de Lafite Rothschild|
|Chateau Mouton Rothschild||Le Petit Mouton|
|Chateau Haut Brion||Le Clarence de Haut-Brion|
|Chateau Margaux||Pavillion Rouge|
|Chateau Cheval Blanc||Le Petit Cheval|
|Chateau Petrus||Chateau Hosanna|
|Chateau Le Pin|
|DRC Grand Cru Échezeaux|
|DRC Grand Cru Richebourg|
|DRC Grand Cru La Tâche|
|DRC Grand Cru La Romanée-Conti|
|DRC Grand Cru Montrachet|
|E. Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne|
|E. Guigal Cote Rotie La Mouline|
|E. Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque|
|Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin|
|Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee da Capo|
|Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Asili|
|Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto|
|Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia||Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto|
|Ornelaia||Le Serre Nouve, Le Volte|
|Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano|
|Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone|
|1964 Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” Gran Reserva Rioja|
Ribero Del Duero
|Vega Sicilia Unico||Valbuena 5°|
|Bodega Dominio de Pingus|
|Sine Qua Non|
|Taylor’s Scion Very Old Port|
|Seppeltsfield 100 year old Para Vintage Tawny|