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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!

 

Thanksgiving with Smith-Madrone, And a Few More Delights

December 9, 2018 4 comments

Holidays are all about pleasure. The pleasure of the company. The pleasure of food. The pleasure of wine. As the very least, they should be.

Let me tell you about the pleasures of my recent Thanksgiving – in one picture:

Turkey with Smith-Madrone wines

If this would be an Instagram, I could end my post here, but in this blog, I can add a few words, right?

Let’s talk about the wine first. Everyone has their ideas as what is the best Thanksgiving wine. Some talk about how difficult it is to pair any wine with the Thanksgiving table, due to the large variety of dishes and often prevalent sweet flavors (this is not universal, of course). I have a very simplistic view of the wine and food pairing – give me tasty food and good wine, and if they don’t work together – no problems, I’m happy to consume them one by one. Difficult or not, pairing is not the focal point of my Thanksgiving wine selection. I really have only one strong preference for the Thanksgiving wines – they should be all American. Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the USA is all about this country, and so the wine should match that. And thinking about American wines, you understand how easy it is nowadays to have all-American wine experience.

How many of you heard of Napa Valley? Okay, I see that look, this was a stupid question, I know. But let me go on. How many of you heard of Spring Mountain District? Okay, I see your facial expression changing to say “hmmm, I’m not so sure”. And the last question – how many of you heard of Smith-Madrone? Okay, don’t feel too bad, at the end of the day it is one of the about 400 wineries located in the Napa Valley, so of course, one can’t know all of them. But – this is why I’m talking about it – this is the winery you might want to get better acquainted with.

Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in 1971. Smith-Madrone property is about 200 acres, with some parts of the vineyards planted more than 100 years ago, all located near the top of the Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The name Smith-Madrone combines the family name with the name of the evergreen Madrone trees, prominently growing at the property. Well, instead of me trying to regurgitate the past and present of the Smith-Madrone winery, let me direct you to this article – it is a good story, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Smith-Madrone wines

When was the last time you had Napa Valley Riesling? If you answered “never”, it could’ve been my answer too – until I discovered this Smith-Madrone Riesling. Riesling is simply not a common grape for the Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone produces the absolutely beautiful rendition of the famous grape. It might be due to the mountain fruit – all the Smith-Madrone vineyards located at the altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet, with slopes reaching 34%. Sustainable dry farming and winemaking practices also play a role, but one way or the other, the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $32) was just delicious. varietally correct both on the nose (honeysuckle, a touch of tropical fruit, lemon, apples) and the palate, which was beautifully balanced with golden delicious apples, a touch of honey and acidity. To make me ultra-happy, the Riesling is sported a distant hint of petrol, which is my pet peeve.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, $40, 10 months in French oak) was equally beautiful. Again, the wines of that styling I call in my book “classic”. A touch of vanilla and apples on the nose, a distant hint of butter, continuing with the same vanilla and white apples on the palate. Clean acidity, noticeable minerally undertones, restrained, balanced – a very classic example of “how to do chardonnay right”.

With the risk of sounding very boring and repetitive, I have one more classic wine for you – 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $52, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 70% new French oak, 30% one-year-old French oak for 18 months). How classic was this wine? Bordeaux-classic. The mountain fruit was shining, showing great restraint. This was not an exuberant typical Napa Cab – lean, tight, well-structured, with cassis both on the nose and the palate, the wine was very enjoyable now, and it will be equally or more enjoyable in 30 years.

So that was my main wine story on the Thanksgiving day. The rest was about the food – starting the smoker as 9 am in the 21°F weather (about -6°C), and then watching the turkey slowly getting to the right temperature. The silver lining of that cold weather was the fact that instead of 4-4.5 hours in the smoker, it took about 6 hours to get that big bird to the right doneness – and slower cooking results in more tender and more flavorful meat. A glass of Smith-Madrone Riesling was adding to the cooking enjoyment.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at our house, we went to see our close friends in Boston. What I love about that house is that there are always a few of the older wine bottles laying somewhere on the shelf. You never know what you will find in the older bottle, but that is what makes it fun, isn’t it?

The first bottle I opened was 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel (12% ABV, 70%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah). Judging by the pronounced brickish, almost orange, color, my first thought was “this probably fully turned”. And it was not! Complex nose of dried fruit and herbs was supported by plums and prunes forward, but balanced palate. Good amount of acidity, tertiary aromas – this was a very enjoyable glass of wine. Only one glass, I have to say – by the time I wanted the second, the wine was gone.

Without much thinking, I pulled another wine, realizing later that I opened another wine from the same vintage – 2007 Marani Kondoli Vineyards Saperavi-Merlot Kakheti Georgia (13.5% ABV). This wine couldn’t be more different from the previous 2007 – dark garnet color, not a sign of any aging, tight, fresh, blackberries and blueberries on the nose and the palate, firm, fresh and young. I’m really curious about how much longer this wine could’ve last.

One last wine to mention – 2010 Massandra White Muscat Crimea Ukraine (16% ABV). Massandra winery roots go back to the old Tsar’s Russia in late 1800, but their cellars hold wines from the 18th century (if you are not familiar with Massandra wines, here is an article by Jancis Robinson). Massandra is best known for sweet fortified Muscat wines, like the one we tasted. To me, this 2010 was most reminiscent of a Sherry, and not necessarily an ultra-balanced one. But then the same Jancis Robinson’s article says that Massandra wines require 45-60 for the full maturity, so I guess the wine tasted within the expectations…

Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley, Israel, Georgia, and Ukraine – not a bad wine play for the holiday, what do you say?

Here you go, my friends. I will leave you with some beautiful wines to look for. And how was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember it? Cheers!

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