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Top Wines of 2019

December 31, 2019 2 comments

And now, it is the time for the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2019. In a bit of broken logic, most of the explanations to the Top Wines list can be found in the 2019 Second Dozen post – here we are continuing where we stopped before – from the wine #12 all the way to the wine #1 – or, maybe, it is wines?

12. 2015 Field Recordings Foeder Old Portero Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley ($32) – we started the second dozen with the Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon (in the can). By the pure accident (feel free not to believe me, but I just realized what happened as I started to write this post), we open the Top list with another wine from the Field Recordings. This wine is a blend of 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, and 15% Mourvèvedre. In the best traditions of the Field Recordings wines, the aromatics of this wine are simply stunning – luscious, dense and layered liquid can make one salivate just at a thought of it.

11. Channing Daughters “Orange” style wines Long Island, New York ($25 – $42) – here comes trouble – it is not one wine, it is actually 5 of them. We visited Channing Daughters Winery on the South Fork of Long Island in October, and our host, Steve, was kind enough to run our group through the most of the Channing Daughters’ portfolio. The winery makes 5 “orange” wines – Ramato, Ribolla Gialla, Research Bianco, Meditazione and The Envelope – each wine is stunning in its own right. These wines might not be crowd-pleasers, but if you are seriously into the wines, or identify as a wine geek, these are the wines to seek.

10. 2017 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve Dundee Hills Willamette Valley ($70) – Knudsen Vineyards is one of my most favorite producers in Oregon. I had the pleasure of tasting Knudsen wines from the last three vintages, and outside of the fact that these are textbook Oregon Pinot Noir, dark, powerful, and concentrated, I love to see the progression. As the vines are aging, the wine gains a bit more complexity, year after year. These are the wines to watch, for sure.

9. 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory Metodo Classico Trento ($140) – One of the very best sparkling wine producers in the world, Champagne included. Giulio Ferrari is just a perfection of the vintage sparkling wines – beautifully complex and perfectly fresh and bright at the same time. No, this is not the wine for everyday consumption (unless you have an expense account and then I beg your pardon), but next time you want to celebrate something in your life, maybe skip the obvious (move over, Dom Perignon) and try to find this bottle.

8. 1995 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza ($15) – a total surprise of the tasting  – an unknown (to me, at least) 24 years old red wine, showing no age and perfectly presenting itself as a varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon. It definitely makes me want to try a current vintage.

7. 2018 Tenuta Ammiraglia Alìe Rosé Toscana IGT ($20) – delicious wine, presented in a beautiful setting (check the link). Rosé is made everywhere, but this wine definitely stands apart is perfectly memorable. Special bottle and special glass make the wine ever more enjoyable, but then the wine itself has a perfect combination of beauty and presence, and easily get stuck in your head.

6. 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT ($60) – Not all white wines can age with grace. This wine was a perfect example of white wine that can age. It only gained complexity, this bouquet of apricot, apricot pit, vanilla, and spices, all wrapped in a tight and almost a full-bodied package. I can close my eyes and imagine the taste of this wine in my mouth – not a simple fit.

5. 2015 Bodegas LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza Rioja DOC ($15) – I love Rioja. At the same time, I’m very particular about the Rioja and what I like and what I don’t like – the word “Rioja” on the label doesn’t mean anything to me unless I know the producer – or I’m willing to give a new wine a try. While I know of Bodegas LAN, I never heard of Xtrème, and I never tasted before Rioja made with organic grapes. This wine was almost a revelation, it had everything I like about Rioja, with the lip-smacking acidity, fresh cherries, and cigar box, but it also had layers and layers of delight. Great wine, and at a price you will be really challenged to find something which would taste better.

4. 2018 Regueirón Éntoma Godello Valdeorras DO ($50+) – lately, I find myself using the expression “beyond categories” more often. I can’t find a better way to present this wine, as it is truly in a league of its own. This is one of the single-vineyard wines from the new project of Victor Urrutia of CVNE fame. This tiny production Godello presents itself as a grand cru Chablis, with the gunflint, minerality and all of the classic Chardonnay characteristics – but it also has an energy of the tightly wound spring, ready to jump out of your hand. It will not be easy to find this wine, but boy, if you will, you are into lots of pleasure.

3. “This line was intentionally left void” – keep reading, you will see why.

2. “This line was intentionally left void” – see below:

This year I have a problem [again]. I can’t decide on wine #1. Below are my three top wines – interestingly enough, even those three had a “sibling” contender which could literally take their spot. At the rate the wine is evolving around the world, it might be even more difficult to decide on the top wine in the coming years. But you know what? I will gladly accept the challenge. For now – here are the three top wines of 2019:

1. 2013 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Spring Mountain ($225) – this might be how you spell “phenomenal”. This wine was a pure pleasure. Pure, hedonistic, unadulterated pleasure. This is the wine at the level of magic – you take a sip, you whisper “wow”, you quietly reflect on what is happening, immersing into the moment. Then you take another sip and repeat. Yes, magic.

1. 2016 Tara Red Wine 2 Syrah Atacama Chile ($40) – this wine should be experienced to believe it. This is the wine from the place where the vine is not supposed to grow. Atacama desert. Nevermind the desert. But the salinity of the soil is such that nothing should be growing there. But these vines do. And these 6 years old vines (vineyard planted in 2010) produce the wines of complexity which requires no oak (the wine was not aged in oak) to stop you in your tracks after the first sip. A textbook (ohh, sorry, I like this word a little too much, I know… but still) Syrah – pepper, dark fruit medley, lavender. Seriously, this is one incredible wine.

1. 2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley ($100) – talk about mindblowing. There is something in the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I already talked about magic in this post, and maybe it simply appears so for my palate – but the perfection of this wine is nothing short of “wow”. Again “textbook”? Yes, you can say so. Black currant, licorice, a touch of mint. The fruit is succulent, and it appears in full harmony with tannins and acidity. Balance, balance, balance. This wine is truly unique as it is 2 years old, aged in the new oak – and nevertheless, is perfectly drinkable from the get-go. Did I say “wow” already?

Here you are – the presentation of the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2019 is now complete.

What were your most memorable wines of 2019? Embrace the power of happy thoughts… Cheers!

 

It Might Be Gone Already

November 13, 2019 10 comments

Oenophiles are strange creatures. We love wine and derive out of it a tremendous amount of happiness, joy, and pleasure. We are also somewhat of a masochistic type. We like to torture ourselves around our beloved beverage. We can spend a lot of time trying to select a bottle of wine for a Monday night – multiply that by 10 if we are talking even about a casual Friday night. We need to take into account everything – the mood, the weather, who are we sharing the wine with, and on, and on.

One of the biggest problems we are always trying to solve is called “is it the time”. Yes, we know that it is a gamble. There is no science to know when the wine is ready to drink. And as we always like to enjoy the wine at its peak, we can take forever to decide on that right moment. And this is where the danger lurks – instead of getting the wine at its peak, we might be facing the wine which is … gone.

There are two types of special bottles we, oenophiles, get nervous around. There are those which we are trying to age to precisely hit the bullseye, the “oh my god” moment when tasting wine at its peak. The second type are those wines which we call “special”. “Special” is personal – a single bottle which reminds us of a wonderful trip or a moment in life, a special present from a dear friend, a super-rare or a super-expensive bottle we want to hold on to for as long as possible. Sometimes, this can be one and the same bottle which hits both characteristics. For the second type of “special” bottles there is the OTBN – ”Open That Bottle Night”, an event celebrated on the last Saturday in February, invented to help people to part with those special bottles. For the bottles we are waiting to become perfect… well, it might be the same OTBN, or maybe we just need to convince ourselves that “the time is now”.

This is what we decided to do, setting the theme for our wine dinner as “It might be gone already”. Usually, we set the rules for our tastings – what wines, what regions, what price ranges, etc. But for this dinner there were no rules – whatever anyone wants to have open, whatever the reason is to believe that the wine might be past prime (or not) – everything goes.

We managed to assemble a lot more wines than we were able to drink, so many of the wonderful bottles will have to wait until the next occasion. However, we still did great, finding lots of great surprises and enjoying the program very much. Here is my account of our tasting.

We started from a very simple wine – 2007 Saint-Hilaire Brut Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine from the Languedoc, from the winery which claims that they were the first to make the Methodé Traditionelle wines, before Champagne ever saw a first bubble in the bottle. This is one of my most favorite sparkling wines – it is inexpensive ($12.99 or so), and tasty. But – 12 years old? That sounds like a little much for a wine like that. Nevertheless, it was perfect – still fresh, still a good amount of bubbles, a touch of yeast – a perfect start for our evening.

We continued our bubbly explorations with something of a truly next level – 1990 Dom Ruinart Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Another perfect encounter – crisp, focused, a good amount of yeast and toasted bread – an outstanding vintage Champagne without a sign of age.

Italy is better known in the world as the source of great red wines. However, Italian whites shouldn’t be ignored. Jermann makes some of the very best Italian white wines, and these wines are unquestionably a world class. Vintage Tunina is a flagship wine, made out of a field blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and a small percentage of a local sweet grape. According to the notes on the Jermann website, Vintage Tunina can age for 7–8 years, 10 in the exceptional vintages. This 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT was 13 years old, and in a word, it was superb. Bright, vibrant, whitestone fruit and a touch of honey, medium+ body – an outstanding wine.

Our next white was 2007 Château St Jean Chardonnay Reserve Sonoma County – it was not as impressive as Vintage Tunina, but still was not over the hill, with a good amount of white apple, a touch of butter, and good acidity. I never had this wine before, and understand from the people who did that the wine was starting its journey down the hill, but it was still quite enjoyable.

I was trying to convince my friends that our next wine was not ready to be opened – 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé from Oregon. I had 2010 last year, and the wine was mind-blowing (ended up being wine #2 on my Top Wines list of 2018). After being ostracized – “what are you talking about, it is 8 years old Rosé ?!?!” – I angrily pulled out the cork. 2011 was equally mind-blowing to the last year’s 2010. Pungent, lip-smacking, full of smoky cranberries and herbs, medium body – delicious. I don’t know for how long this wine can age, but I would definitely love to see it with at least another 5 years of age. Oh well…

Now, we are reaching practically a culmination point of the evening – 1966 Château Leoville Poyferré St. Julien. Well, it was conditionally the culmination point – when I received this bottle 2 years ago, the capsule showed a significant amount of wine stain, which is an indication of the wine potentially slowly sipping through the cork. But – it was 1966, so that alone deserves the utmost respect.

As we expected, the wine was past its prime. It had dark brown color in the glass – a color you expect to see on a well-aged tawny port, but not on Bordeaux at any age. The wine had the tasting profile of a nice hearty stew, but again, not the Bordeaux. To be entirely honest, I enjoyed a few sips of it (my friends refused it almost instantly), but this was definitely not the wine anyone should drink.

I’m not going in the right order, but let’s talk about maybe the biggest disappointment of the evening – 2010 Yves Boyer-Martinot Meursault-Perrier. 9 years old white Burgundy should be way too young to drink. But then the Meursault wines have a known issue – Premature Oxidation, or PremOx as it is often abbreviated. Fear of PremOx was a driving factor behind the decision to open this wine. Unfortunately, the fear was justified – kind of. The wine was not oxidized – but it was literally undrinkable. It showed a little sign of life at first, and we decided to decant it – however, it didn’t help. The wine showed very tired, some stewed plums, no vibrancy of any kind. Definitely not a good surprise.

Let’s get back to the red wines. Our next wine was 1978 Barbera. The label lost practically all of its color, so I don’t know who was the producer. But the bottle had been very important memorabilia – at the age of 9, our friend Stefano was helping to bottle that exact wine, so it clearly had a special meaning. The wine was still drinkable, had good acidity and some dark fruit. Not amazing, but well drinkable.

The next two red wines aptly compensated for all the misgivings of our tasting. 1997 Shafer Firebreak Napa Valley, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, was excellent. The core of the dark fruit and espresso, firm structure, excellent balance, the wine was alive and delicious. It is a pity that this wine is not produced anymore, as Shafer replaced all the plantings of Sangiovese with the other grapes – this was definitely a delicious wine.

And maybe for the biggest surprise of the evening, let me present to you 1995 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza. What, you never heard of this wine? Me too! Until our tasting that is. When originally acquired, the wine price was something under $10. So who would expect that 24 years old simple Argentinian Cab would age so beautifully? The wine was fresh, no sign of age, tart cherries on the nose, the same tart cherries, herbs and a touch of sweet oak on the palate – the wine was going and going. A tasty, totally unexpected, surprise.

We had to finish this tasting with a dessert wine, didn’t we? 1988 Franciscan Estate Johannisberg Riesling Napa Valley, as rare and precious as you can find, as this wine is simply not produced anymore. This wine was definitely at its peak – beautiful figs, honey, and a perfect dose of acidity – an excellent finish to our great tasting.

Let’s try to summarize our tasting. Out of 11 wines, 6 can be safely designated as an “amazing experience”. Three wines were “good”. Two wines were a flap. I would take it as a very respectful, and very successful outcome – I’m sure you can think of a lot more tastings with a much lesser degree of success and enjoyment.

Here you are, my friends. Feel free to copy the idea – if you have anything reminiscent of a cellar, I’m sure you got the bottles that might benefit from being open. Open now, before it is too late. Cheers!

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