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Top Dozen Wines of 2011

December 27, 2011 10 comments

I’m not sure I fully believe it, but time has come to sum up another year. Same as last year, I’m going to present you with a dozen of most exciting wines of 2011. I keep mentioning that quality of the wines available from all over the world is getting better and better, and it was very hard to decide on only 12 wines out of many hundreds of great wines I had an opportunity to experience throughout the year. This list is unequivocally subjective, and to make it even more subjective my criteria was the “wow” moment experienced when I tasted the wines – this is always dangerous, as depending on the circumstances of the “wow” tasting, the same wine might not be as exciting the next time. Nevertheless, without further ado, here are my twelve  best wines of 2011.

12. 2005 Maisuradze Wines Mukuzani ($NA) – power and more power. This wine is a monster powerhouse, and you are hypnotized by that power and don’t want to put your glass aside. Tremendous tannins, complemented by acidity and good fruit. Very big wine. Will be very interesting to lay it down for 10-15 years. Transformation should be remarkable, if you can wait, of course.

11. Bodegas Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Viejo Triana ($24) – first, there is an element of awe when you drink this wine, as it is 250 years old ( at least in the trace amount, thanks to the Solera method when the new wine is added to the barrel which was never emptied completely for the last 250 years). Then the taste is spectacular – liquified fig jam, but very light and balanced with nice acidity.

10. 2009 Montalbera Laccento Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato ($30) – the wine opened up with a nice earthy smell, with fresh unadulterated grapey taste on the palate, somewhat similar to Beaujolais Noveau, but then quickly evolved to deliver the  power punch of big voluptuous wine. This wine needs lots of time, but in the end, it will be glorious, multi-layered beauty. If you can find it, put a few bottles to rest and experience later for yourself (ability to wait is required).

9. 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis Rueda DO ($28) – this wine is made out of old vines Verdejo (100+ years old vines). This is one of the most unanticipated wines I ever had, as while you are expecting Verdejo wines to be somewhat simple and easy, this wine delivers complexity of a top-class Chardonnay, with toasted apple, vanilla and hint of butter on the palate, all with the great balance.

8. 1982 Chateau Prieure-Lichine Margaux ($130) – This was a 1982 Bordeaux! Do I need to say anything else? A Bordeaux from Grand Cru producer from legendary year – it doesn’t get much better than that. The wine was beautiful,  fresh, with great fruit and great balance of tannins and acidity. I rest my case.

7. 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja Blanco  ($33) – it is rather expected that 1976 Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva would be good, but 18 years old white Rioja? Hmmm, I couldn’t imagine that – but then came 1993 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco, and it was beautiful, fresh and acidic, coming through as a very youthful wine, with lots of fresh fruit. You can still get it at PJ Wine, and I believe it’s worth every penny.

6. 2009 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Grenache Livermore Valley ($35) – opens up with a nose of ripe plums, continuing into plush, soft, round wine with velvety mouthfeel, very balanced. Very similar to great Spanish Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo Aquilon, only coming from California. This wine is available only at the winery, but definitely worth a trip if you are in the area.

5. 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County – ($25) – this was a gorgeous wine, great structure, ripe fruit, balance and finesse – without showing any sign of age. The only problem was that I got only one bottle from the Benchmark Wine Company…

4. 2009 Peter Michael “Belle Cote” Estate Chardonnay – ($80) – this Chardonnay was a beautiful song, or may be rather a dance of impeccable synchronicity. Absolutely stunning in its balance of fruit, acidity and minerality, with the hint of white peaches and golden delicious apples on the palate, but just a hint – not a single element taking over and pushing others aside. From the moment I tasted this wine, it became my golden standard for what Chardonnay should be – you can even see it throughout my posts.

3. 2007 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine ($130) – This was definitely the best Icewine I ever tried. Light and effervescent (not your usual descriptors for the icewine), with perfect acidity complementing beautiful fruit. True masterpiece.

2. 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($130) – this was an Amarone I’m constantly looking for and can’t find. Stunning nose of the raisined fruit, a dried fruit extravaganza – with powerful, structured and balanced body – not a glimpse of overripe fruit which is so common in the nowadays Amarone. Truly beautiful wine for the special moments.

1. 2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t lets you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine. On the palate, this wine shows bright red fruit, like raspberries and cherries, all perfectly balanced with a great finesse. Any time you want to experience beautiful summer day, reach out to that wine.

For what it worth, these are my favorite wines of 2011. I’m sure 2012 will bring many more exciting discoveries – it is great to be an oenophile today! What were your favorites of 2011? Please share it here! Cheers!

Wine, Aged Beautifully

July 12, 2011 4 comments

Let’s talk about aging. No, that’s not what you think – not people aging and not the world problems with the aging populations. Let’s talk about the aging of the wine. By the way, it appears that second time in the row I’m taking upon the popular subject – in the previous post we were comparing the wine glasses (post can be found here), and now the wine aging.

With all due respect (based on this phrase, my friend Kfir would tell you right away that I’m about to blast something), I completely disagree with the majority of the popular opinion on the subject of wine aging. Open a wine book, read a wine blog, or ask a question on Quora, and for the most part, you will get an answer that 95% of the wines are not supposed to be aged and should be consumed within a year or two from the release date.

Based on my personal experience, I disagree with this viewpoint. I can’t put a percentage or a quantity on it, but I believe that well in excess of half of the wines produced in the world (not by the volume, but by the variety of the actual wines) can age very well for 5 to 10 years – and “age well”  means “to improve with age”. My biggest problem with the aging of the wines is … space. If you want to drink aged wine, you either need a lot of space, or you need [typically] lots of money, as most of the aged wines increase in price. If you have a cool and dark area with constant humidity, you can buy wines as they are released.  store them and enjoy them later as they evolve and mature. Otherwise, you need to have money and a reputable source of the aged wines (improper storage conditions will ruin any wine in no time). Once you solved your space problem, the rest is easy.

How easy is that? How can we know if that bottle of wine will age well – read: improve with age? There are way too many factors affecting the aging of the wine, and being able to predict age-worthiness of the wine (age-worthiness means that wine will evolve and taste better in the future) is more art than science. As an example, Matt Kramer, one of my favorite wine writers identifies age-worthy wines using characteristic of the mouth-feel, a mid-palate weight of the wine in the mouth. Here is my take on the subject. First, yes, of course, some of the wines are meant to be aged – for instance, Beaujolais Noveau is released in November and should be consumed by May of next year. Outside of the wines which are designated by winemakers as “do not age”, the majority has some aging potential. I believe the biggest dependency here is on the winemaker and what she or he wants to achieve with particular wine – if wine is well made,  there is a good chance that it will also age well.

Some wines are helped by their “DNA” – under which I mean from what grape and where in the world the wine is made (of course good/bad year matters too). California Cabernet Sauvignon expected to [typically] reach maturity at around 13 years. Bordeaux easily ages for 30-50 years. Syrah-based wines, whether from Australia or France, can live for 50 years. Many 50-years old Riojas are fresh and vibrant as being just made. But “DNA” alone is not enough – wine should be well made in order to age well.

If you are still reading this post, I guess you might be tired by now by this prolonged escapade into the wine aging, and you might be wondering why, why is all that wine aging might be important? Well, I can’t answer this question. At least not before you will find the wine with a little age on it, which will blow you away. Yes, it is an acquired taste. But once you will actually acquire that “mature wine” taste, this is what you are going to crave, I guarantee you.

Let me share some recent and exciting discoveries. Let’s start with 1995 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley. This wine is made out of 100% Chardonnay. While the nose was not very expressive, the level of complexity of this wine is unimaginable. Yes, considering dark golden color, this wine might well be past prime, and without that “acquired taste” for the aged white wine, you might be even upset after the first sip. This wine was exhibiting notes of vanilla which almost moved up to some sort of the almond paste, still showing some acidity. Next are savory notes, almost to the level of saltiness, which was increasing the complexity even further. The wine was in a very stable shape as it tasted the same on the second day as well. Will this wine evolve further? Who knows – but I would be very happy to taste this wine again in five or maybe ten years. Drinkability: 8

The next wine is 1992 Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage from France. Crozes-Hermitage wines are made primarily out of Syrah, typically with a very small addition of Marsanne and Rousanne grapes. As we mentioned before, Syrah wines age quite well, and this was an excellent example of the well-aged Syrah wine. This wine was very playful and soft, with lots of red fruit on the nose and on the palate, very good acidity and a good level of tannins. This wine probably will continue evolving for the next five to ten years, and again I will be glad to help you share the bottle later on – if you will have one. Drinkability: 8-

 

Going back to California, 2001 Lolonis Petite Sirah Redwood Valley. In short – outstanding. This 10 years old wine was completely fresh and beautiful. It is made from organically grown Petite Sirah grape. The wine showed perfect dark fruit, good acidity, full body, excellent tannins, and perfect overall balance. This wine might be evolving for the next 10-20 years – again, the trick will be to find it.

Drinkability: 8+.

 

Last, but not least, 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County. This was the “wow” wine, that exact mind-blowing one. First, while I like Cabernet Franc wines, I had no idea they can age so well. I can literally guarantee that in the blind tasting format, very very few people would be able to guess the age of this wine. Deep garnet color, not a hint of age (no brownish overtones at all). Perfect fresh fruit, soft and luscious, a perfect balance of tannins and acidity. This wine was the oldest in the tasting, and it was definitely the best of tasting. Considering how good it was now, I can’t even guess how much time it has left – but I would be very glad to find a few more bottles to be “wowed” again in the future. Drinkability: 9-

One note before we conclude – this was a rare case of someone doing all the hard work, and me enjoying the results – I got all wines from Benchmark Wine Company and each one of them had been less than $20.

Don’t know if you got the desire to seek well-aged wines – I hope you will one day. For now, I can only wish upon myself, my family, all my friends and all of you, my readers, to age as beautifully as this Justin Cabernet Franc does. Cheers!

 

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