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Top Wines of 2019 – Second Dozen

December 28, 2019 6 comments

Ahh, the end of the year. Quiet time (I wish). Time to reflect on the year which is about to become history. Particularly, it is the time for the Top Wines of the year 2019 to be re-lived, re-enjoyed, and shared.

This is the 10th annual Talk-a-Vino Top Wines list, and I have to say that the selection process is not getting any easier – if anything, it is getting more and more difficult to decide on the top wine (hence I had two #1 wines last year).

I never attempt to count how many wines I taste throughout the year. My rough estimate is between 500 and 700 wines, considering all the wines I drink at home, all the samples, and all the tastings I manage to attend during the year. The top list represents the wines which are easily come to mind with the help of notes, label journals or just stuck in the memory as an unforgettable experience. Yes, I’m sure amazing wines will be left outside of this list, but I really have no way of helping it.

For most of the Top lists, I’m not even trying to stick with just a dozen wines – that would be mission impossible. This is the reason behind the second dozen and top dozen posts. Also, while I always say that the order of the top wines is not important, it is not exactly true, for sure in the top wines selection. I’m always happy to include a variety of wines in the Top list, in terms of countries, wine types, prices, styles and so on, but all of these come secondary to the main criteria – the wine must be memorable. And maybe even bring a smile to my face as I get to re-live the happy moment.

Okay, I’m done with all the explanations. Without further ado, let’s get to it. The second dozen of Top Wines 2019:

24. 2018 Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon Special Release Santa Ynez ($12, 375 ml can) – yes, you are correct – it is the wine in the can. Feel free to stop reading and pledge not to open any of my posts in the future. No, this wine is not included here to be fashionable and appeal to the can-boasting Millenials. This is simply a good wine. What makes it memorable? This wine is made using beer stout starter yeast, and as Field Recordings’ winemaker Andrew Jones explains, the wine shows “crazy good chocolate character wrapped around dark cherries and blackberries” – and I have to agree. Delicious.

23. 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia ($14.99) – the pepper is back! I fell in love with this wine after tasting beautifully clean black pepper and spices, back in 2014 (it was wine #4 on my 2014 Top Dozen list). Then pepper mysteriously disappeared, and the wine became blah. It was a joyous moment finding that pepper returned on my last bottle. I share my frustration in the post which is available via the link, but in any case – this was a perfect sip.

22. 2015 Leone de Castris 50° Vendemmia Salice Salentino Riserva DOC ($12) – Generocity of this $12 wine is beyond categories – layers and layers of silky, velvety fruit, weaved on the structure of power. While Californian wine would have a different flavor profile, the wine of the same richness and power will set you back probably ten-fold if not more. Incredible value.

21. 2015 Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz Nugan Estate South Australia (€20) – Bring on the dried grapes! First I saw the description of this Amarone-like Shiraz, and as I love Amarone as well as any other appassimento-style wines, I had to try it – and the wine didn’t disappoint. Elegant, concentrated Syrah flavor with an additional hint of dried fruit – what’s not to like?

20. Salem Oak Vineyards Brandon Jae New Jersey ($20, Cabernet Franc) – This wine was a star of a delicious, albeit spontaneous tasting at the Salem Oak winery in New Jersey. I was looking for a simple checkmark that I visited a winery in yet another one of 50 winemaking states int he USA. What I found was humble and delicious, world-class, personable wines – at Salem Oak, every wine label tells a story. This Cabernet Franc was a pure, varietally-correct, stand out – the wine to remember.

19. 2015 Mosmieri Saperavi Kakheti Georgia ($16) – Georgian Saperavi is one of my pet peeves and all-time favorites. However, Mosmieri pushed the bar a notch above – with Rhone-like, spicy, earthy and dense rendition. Are you seeking Georgian wines yet?

18. 2017 Le Cadeau Diversité Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($50) – Pinot Noir supreme. Oregon Pinot Noir is in the class of its own, and Le Cadeau is clearly in front of this class. A beautiful rendition of the grape which Oregon made its star.

17. 2017 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo County ($38) – in a word, perfect. I smile just at a thought of this Chardonnay. Even the bottle itself is a pleasure to hold. An elegant and powerful rendition of the Chardonnay which doesn’t want to be shy – yes, I’m Chardonnay, I’m beautiful, and I know it. Vanilla, butter, acidity – a full, delicious package.

16. 1990 Dom Ruinart Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne (~$300) – age is just a number. Don’t take my word for it – well, I can’t suggest that you should find a bottle of this Champagne, that would be rather cruel – so unless you have one in your cellar, my word would be it. But, in a word, this was superb vintage Champagne – still fresh, elegant, beautifully balanced, fine fizz. Age is just a number, when the wine is made well.

15. 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley ($35) – another perfect example of age just being a number – a supremely delicious Bordeaux blend, showing literally no age. Sadly, this wine no longer produced (Estancia still makes Meritage, but from Paso Robles and not from Sonoma)  so you need to check the sites such as Benchmark Wine Company if you would like to experience the beauty of this California made Bordeaux-style blend.

14. 2011/2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley ($32) – unlike wine number 16, these wines are freely available (at least the current vintage, 2016), so if you want to try the best Riesling made in the USA, go get it. Does this sound like a bold claim? Maybe it does, but if your hallmark of Riesling excellence is Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley in Australia, then you will easily understand me. If you like Riesling, this is the wine you need to ask for by name. Yes, now.

13. 2011 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley ($65, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc) – Ferguson is the newest region in the Walla Walla, producing powerful and concentrated wines, and I was unable to understand the appeal of this region until I tried this 2011 Bordeaux blend – it was layered, it was structured, and it was ready to drink. A stunning example of the power of terroir.

This now concludes the presentation of the second dozen of the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2019. The first dozen post will follow shortly. Cheers!

 

Your Wish Is My Command

May 22, 2019 2 comments

Oenophiles are very generous people.

I’m not speaking in general terms here – we are only talking about the wine. But when it comes to wine, we are ready to share. We want to share the experience. We want to share the joy of what we consider a great sip of wine with the whole world. It doesn’t always work – what tastes amazing to you, might be unimaginable plonk for someone else – everyone’s palate is different. But when it works, the experience is priceless. When the person takes a sip of the wine and says “OMG”, this is the best feeling in the world. Been able to help someone to share your joy and discover something new is incredible, and I can’t really describe it – I just truly hope you get to experience it at least once.

And then there are some key words which spur oenophile into the action. “I always wanted to try that wine”. “I never tasted the wine from that region”. “Trying this wine was always my dream”. “If I can ever find that wine”. All of these are the phrases which should be used very carefully around oenophiles, as these are the trigger phrases. They make an oenophile jump of joy and immediately devise the plan on mediating the issue in whatever way possible. If you consider yourself an oenophile, I’m sure you can relate. If you are not – I hope you know at least one.

Recently at the birthday party, an old friend said: “I always wanted to drink aged wines, but I don’t know how to find them, they are probably expensive, and I don’t know anything about them”. Can you imagine my ears perked up as soon as I heard it? Oenophile’s joyous moment, an opportunity to share the wine – yes! I gave her advice as to where she can find some aged wines (Benchmark Wines, for instance), but the brain already was put to the task. When we decided to get together for dinner, the first thing I said was “I’m bringing the wines”.

Aged Wines

After some deliberation, I came to an agreement with oneself regarding the wine program – you can see the whole program in the picture above. I was happy that I had a reasonably aged sparkling wine – Guido Ferrari. I wrote about Ferrari wines many times, these are definitely some of my favorite sparkling wines. 2005 is still a baby, as this is a current vintage, but still – this is an excellent sparkling wine, and it was a sample so I had to open it in any case – sharing with friends makes me very happy.

I definitely wanted to have a Rosé as part of the repertoire, but the absolute majority of Rosé is not made for aging – and those which age well, are either impossible to find, or very expensive, or both. So yeah, no Rosé. For the white, I decided to go with another one of my favorites – barrel-aged Verdejo, 2009 Shaya Habis. 10 years is not that much in terms of wine age, but most of the white wines don’t age that well, and I didn’t have a nice Burgundy, Chablis or white Rhone to offer instead, so I think 10 years old Verdejo should be interesting enough.

Red wines generally can age. I decided to go with “middle-aged” wines, even though the “middle” varies dramatically between the wines and the regions. My selection – 1995 Estancia Meritage, a Bordeaux style blend from California, 1995 Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Portugal (one of my top dozen wines of 2018), and 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot from California. I saw that the folks on Cellar Tracker considered Estancia to be past prime for a while so this will be an interesting experience, no matter what. And the 1998 Merlot I never had before, so this is an excellent opportunity to try it. 2007 Sauternes for dessert? 12 years is not much of age for the Sauternes, but this was one of the few older dessert bottles at my disposal so this would have to do.

The above part of the post was written before the tasting. Now, it is time to tell you how the wines actually fared.

Vintage-designated sparkling wines with some age are not a simple thing for uninitiated wine lovers – many say that Dom Perignon is amazing only because they know how much it costs, not because they enjoy it. This 14 years old, 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory was outstanding in my opinion – fresh, complex, elegant, it was truly a beautiful, minerality-driven Chardonnay, enframed with some fine bubbles. You know what was the best part? To hear my friends say “wow” and “I really like it”. Mission accomplished.

1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander ValleyWe continued with 2009 Shaya Habis Rueda (100% old vines Verdejo, barrel aged). This wine is one of my favorite Verdejo renditions, typically offering lots of complexity – but I never had it with 10 years of age. The wine was still young and crisp, with minimal fruit expression and tons of minerality, tons. Again, I consider this wine a success as one of my friends literally hugged the bottle and kept drinking this wine, repeating every few minutes “wow, and I even don’t like the whites!”.

Now, it was not without trepidation that I opened 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc), taking into account the negative sentiment on the CT. But – my fears were unfounded. The wine was a perfect example of the nicely aged California wine – yes, it mellowed down and was tertiary aromas-driven, but it stayed that way during the whole evening, and it was a perfect example of what aging does to the wine – simply the next dimension. The aromatics which you can enjoy endlessly, an abundance of lip-smacking plums, touch of eucalyptus, good acidity – a great experience. And yet another “yes” vote in our wine program – everyone liked the wine. Were they simply polite? I don’t know. I hope they actually liked the wine, as I wholeheartedly did.

2007 Haut Charmes SauternesThe next wine I brought simply as a “safe bet”, just in case Estancia would not work out. While Estancia was fine, I was happy to open this wine, if anything, at least, to compare two of the wines from the same vintage – of course, from very different wine regions. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva from Bairrada in Portugal didn’t change its standing “you are drinking me too early” even for a bit (the wine was only released last year, and I was raving about it before) – elegant, restrained dark fruit and herbs – two of these 1995 wines couldn’t be any more different than they were. Again, I think people liked this wine too – but it was too far into the evening to keep track. In any case, I’m glad I still have a few more bottles left.

We didn’t open the 1998 Kirkland Merlot – will have to wait for another occasion – but 2007 Haut Charmes from Sauternes was delightful and all apricots, both the nose and the palate. Ripe apricots, candied apricots, apricot jam – all of it was in every sip – oh yeah, don’t worry, all apricots were supported by acidic core. I don’t know if this was a common expression for the aged Sauternes, but there was a lot of pleasure in every sip of that wine.

This is my story of helping friends to experience aged wines. If you ask me, this was a complete success as people got to enjoy something new and different. Have you had any of these wines? What would you open for your friends to try? Cheers!

 

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