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The 1WineDude.com Top Ten Most Interesting Wines of 2010

Vinted on December 16, 2010 under best of, Most Interesting Wines of the Year, wine review

Here we go again!  It’s time for the 1WineDude.com Top Ten Most Interesting Wines of the Year.

As in previous years, the “competition” (such as it is) was fierce, in terms of both the volume of wine I tasted (now over a thousand, I think, based on some very crude estimation on my part) and the overall quality of those wines (many of you will undoubtedly have noticed the plethora of ‘B’ range ratings this year, which I think is no accident considering how many very good wines are being made).  Interestingly, the average price tag of the wines in this year’s list is pretty high (above $50), which I believe is a function of the very high quality level across the ‘playing field’ of wine globally, and therefore the essential Je ne sais pas needed for a wine to stand out and emblazon itself in a person’s memory banks (mine included).

And for all of my previous winging on the amount of California releases that made the list of 200+ “finalists” from which I chose the top ten wines, only two CA wines made the final cut.

For those of you who are new to this list and are wondering what the hell I’m on about:

  • I put this list together every year. It is NOT intended to be a “best of” of “highest rating” list (though that’s pretty much how the PR folks treat it).
  • It is intended to be a list of arbitrarily-chosen wines that stood out, to me, as being particularly interesting for a variety of reasons, not least of which are quality and complexity; the list is ultimately meant not to reward my most highly-rated wines (though many of them did get high marks from me), but to call attention to those wines that I found most compelling in 2010 – wines that gave me goosebumps, or that reminded me why I still love all things vino.
  • These are not wines released in 2010 (though I try to favor recent releases so that you have a chance of actually trying the wines in this list), they are wines that I tasted in 2010.  Not all the wines I tasted in 2010 qualified – the wines have to be at least somewhat available, which means that some downright legendary items that I had the good fortune of trying this year (but are only available for small fortunes) did not make the cut (wines from the exclusive Premiere Napa Valley tasting, for example, since most of us can’t actually buy those – however, in the case of the wines from Premiere that may change next year as the Napa Valley Vintners are making it easier for consumers to get access to those, though the prices will likely be pretty high).
  • Also, the list of finalists included some wines tasted in late December 2009 (since this list is compiled in its final form in mid-December each year).

Analyzing the results is always fun for me, and what really jumps out at me this year is that only two of the wines in the Top Ten are in similar geographical areas (Napa) – the rest span the charted globe, including three distinct areas of France, Portugal, Greece, Northern Italy, the U.S. East Coast (once again representin‘, baby!), and a fairly large spot “down undah.”

As always, there are some surprises in this list and I am quite sure that some of you will think me insane for including / excluding certain releases – that’s part of the fun of this list, and I invite you to react, comment, and have fun with it, and treat it for what it really is: a celebration of wine’s subjectivity.

Enjoy!…

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Wine Review Four-Pack (And Thoughts on 2010’s Most Interesting Wines)

Four badges to hand out from the latest in the flow of near-never-ending samples coming to my door, so let’s get to it!

[ By the way, the reference to the never-ending sample stream is, quite honestly, not meant as a vehicle of self-aggrandizement in any way, but is in fact more a lament of both how woefully (and unprofessionally) behind I am in my tastings, and in the volume of technically-correct-but-fairly-uninspiring wines of which that stream is comprised! ]

2009 Paso a Paso Tempranillo (La Mancha): Plumy, floral & spicy proof that La Mancha is getting its fine wine shiz together. A bargain. $11 B

It’s such a pleasure to enjoy a bold, uncomplicated and fun wine like this, one that seems tailor-made for a plateful of hearty paella or chorizo.  Spain’s La Mancha region is mostly known for two famously insipid characters: 1) Don Quixote, and 2) the innocuous wines made from the Airén grape variety (though to be fair, not all of them suck). La Mancha’s reputation for cheap Airén can mean big bargains for the better wines made in the region, and Paso a Paso is a great example.

2004 Azul Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec (Mendoza): A tad heavy-handed but U might like that from someone this complex, dark & sexy. $32 B+

During an on-line / twitter tasting hosted by Vines of Mendoza, the word “sexy” appeared in description of this wine about ten million times (give or take a few million). At least, it seemed that way to me. Heed these words: when enough women say that a wine is sexy, then the only logical conclusion is that it is, in fact, sexy.

2009 Toquade Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley): NZ passion fruit comes to Napa, with a French twist of lemon & herbs. In a word: Fantastic. $20 B+

Last year, Opus One winemaker Mike Silacci dared me to try Toquade after I went on a tirade about how too much Napa Sauv Blanc tastes like Chardonnay on a diet.  I’m grateful to Mike for that introduction, and I’m happy to report that Toquade winemaker Christine Barbe is still on top of her game – in fact, the 2009 might be better than her `08 and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with the insane 2010 vintage.

2006 Hesperian Harry’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Go west young man, & find tannin chains long as the Alaskan pipeline. $60 A-

Christine sent along some of Hesperian’s wines to me, and I suppose I’m now also grateful to her for this introduction. It’s not that smoothness is the only thing going for Hesperian’s Coombsville Cab – far from it; it’s packed with currants and aromatic, woody spiciness. It’s just that the smoothness is the thing that will stick with you the most, the silkiness of it – it’s simply drinking beautifully right now.

Speaking of CA wines, if you feel that CA is getting a lot of positive coverage here, it’s probably not your imagination…

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The 1WineDude.com Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2009

Here we go again. It is… that time.

That time when I present the 1WineDude.com Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of the Year.  Although I tried last year to set proper expectations around this year end recap of tasty vino, that didn’t stop my Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008 list from being used as a bit of media-fodder “best of” list – which it wasn’t.

For those of you new to this annual list, here’s how it works: it’s NOT a list of the best wines released in 2009. It is a list of wines that I tasted in 2009 (that’s the only qualification for inclusion, by the way), and that I personally found to be the most interesting of those wines. The list is presented with my twitter mini-review, and reflections on why each wine was included.

I just want to caution everyone not to take this list too seriously.  Because, well, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.  Which doesn’t mean that a lot of serious thought didn’t go into the compilation of this list.  It did.  As I mentioned in preface to the 2008 list:

“…there was nothing easy about compiling the list that I’m about to give to you, and I’m sure the inclusions and omissions will piss some people off somewhere. That isn’t my intention, and this is not a best-of list by any stretch of the imagination.”

That was even more true for this year’s list.  For one, the ‘competition’ (if it can be called that) was stiffer – I tasted more wines, and more wines of higher quality, than I ever have before.  I had access – through the kind generosity of many, many people in the wine industry – to more wines than I had in 2008, much of them of high quality.  Trying to nail this down to 10 wines was, at times, downright agonizing.  Many wines, made by people who in some cases I now count among my friends, that just didn’t make it but were ohhhh sooooo clooooose.

The list is not based on any numerical rating. The wines were chosen based on my tasting notes from all of the wines that I tasted this year. Since I am not employed as a wine critic, I do not taste thousands of wines per year. I do, however, taste well over an amount of wine than (I think) is normally accessible to the average wine lover.

The differences between the 2008 and 2009 lists are exciting for me:

As much as I consider myself a ‘red’ wine drinker at heart, the majority of the wines that made the cut are whites, with at least one of them being a grape that you probably haven’t had before (let alone heard of… or can likely pronounce).  The top 3 on the list are very, very exciting wines and I’m particularly stoked to hear (read) what you all think of those.

Sadly, I’m not sure that any of my picks are budget-priced wines – there’s something we can discuss in the comments! As with the 2008 list, and despite the high(ish) price tags, my aim is to expose you to something unique, different, and of (what I feel is) exceptional quality for the price – you can comment and let me know if I succeeded.

Enough of my yakin’ – let’s boogie! I give you -

The 1WineDude.com Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2009…

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The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

Vinted on December 17, 2008 under best of, Most Interesting Wines of the Year, wine review

Sure, it’s another cheesy end of year wrap-up post.

But you know what?

I dig these recaps – call it a guilty pleasure. It sure beats writing an entire new post and trying to come up with compelling content (hey, it’s the end of the year… I’m tired, man!).

Actually, there was nothing easy about compiling the list that I’m about to give to you, and I’m sure the inclusions and omissions will piss some people off somewhere. That isn’t my intention, and this is not a best-of list by any stretch of the imagination.

The following presents my Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008.

It is NOT a list of the best wines released in 2008. It is a list of wines that I tasted in 2008, and found the most interesting this year. They are presented with a synopsis of my tasting notes, and my reflections on why they were included in the list. Some of them I bought, some of them were media samples, others were tasted at events. No one gets special treatment once the pen hits the notebook that logs my tastings.

The list is not based on scores or any other numerical rating. The wines were chosen based on my tasting notes from all of the wines that I tasted and recorded in 2008. Bear in mind that I am not employed as a wine critic, and I do not taste thousands of wines per year. I did, however, taste well over 400 wines in 2008, which I think is probably more than the average bear. I will leave it to you whether or not the Lush designation is applicable in this context (I did spit… sometimes… at least twice…).

What I’m hoping to do here is clue you into something unique, different, or of exceptional quality for the price – as I see it in the wine world. Hopefully you will find it useful. Anyway, without further ado, here they are…

The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

10) 2006 Benton-Lane “First Class” Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley): Layers of strawberry jam, cherry cola & vanilla. Pure heaven with salmon cakes.

I agonized over the #10 spot in this list – as you can imagine, there were about 50 wines that could have gone into this first slot. I went with the Benton-Lane because,well, it surprised me. It surprised me in that it was one of the biggest, heftiest Willamette’s I’ve had in terms of structure, but still managed to exude a definite sense of place. Balance, baby, balance.

9) 2005 Opus One (Oakville): Supple, hedonistic & built for long haul. Mint leaf & spices floating over black fruit suggest great things to come.

Was the inclusion of this wine a reflection on my tour of Opus this year, and my frank and detailed discussions with their staff? Well…. duh. Of course it is (despite the fact that one visiting intern thought that I was Gary Vaynerchuk… I had the same reaction as you: “Uhm… What?!!??”).

And that’s okay, because wine is an experience and is influenced by the circumstances under which we drink it. But this wine is no slouch, and it had one of the best senses of balance I’ve tasted in a long time - between Old World & New World styles, between primary fruit and secondary aromas, and between early accessibility & ageing potential.

8) 2002 Penns Woods Ameritage Reserve (PA): Bord’x style blend from PA. YES, IT’S FROM PA. Fig, prune, cedar, probably their best vintage ever.

Anyone following 1WD will NOT be surprised by the inclusion of this one. This wine, for me, helped to redefine not only what PA wine is capable of, but what East Coast wine is capable of, and how well some areas of the U.S. can implement an Old World style of wine.

7) 2004 Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres” (Sonoma Valley): When isn’t it a pleasure? Flint, lemon curd, citrus peel, roses, apples, cream. I could go on.

I’m including this wine in my list because I’m astounded at Sonoma-Cutrer’s consistency. This is probably my favorite U.S. Chardonnay, and to date is still my favorite Chard. globally, and I’m actually more partial to the Chablis style so if you can figure that one out please explain it to me so I don’t feel as though I’m going insane. Anyway, this wine has never disappointed me, and the `04 peels away layer after layer of complexity as you drink it.

6) 2001 Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive (Alsace): Viscous, loads of citrus, lychee, & autumn leaves. Holy Hannah it’s good! But not cheap.

As a wine geek, I like to think that I can appreciate a wine made for wine geeks. And this, my friends, is a wine geek’s viscous dream. I have a sweet tooth, and while this wine certainly delivers in its touch of sweetness, the slam dunk is how the sweetness and acidity are balanced by the intense fruit and the funk-a-junk-funkiness. It’s the kind of wine that makes some people say “Hmm… I’m not too sure about this one…,” but has the wine geeks licking their lips in delight. Score!

5) 2003 Vinoptima Gewurztraminer (Ormond, NZ): Yowza! Oil, lemons, honey, orange blossoms, spice. I could sniff this stuff for *days*…!

You know that you’re liking a wine when you realize, after 7 or 8 minutes of smelling it, that you love it but you’ve yet to even take your first sip. There is nothing shy about this Gewurz, and the only downside is that the booze might knock you out before you’ve gotten enough of this wine. Best dry Gewurz. I’ve tasted all year. And yes, that’s two Gewurz’s in a row. On purpose.

4) NV Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (Champagne): Like fresh-baked almond bread with honey. A minor triumph of grace & strength. Excellent stuff.

I tasted this wine at an industry event, and it stood out for me above dozens & dozens of other wines that I tasted that night. Powerful, but graceful as well, it’s like… it’s like seeing a tamed pet panther wearing a diamond-studded collar. You’re not sure how they did it, but you’re damn interested!


3) 2005 Le Premier Pas Domaine Le Pas de l’Escalette (Cot. du Languedoc): Harmonious blend of S. Rhone grapes. French red without the shackles.

What do you get when you lift the AOC burden of varietals, blend percentages, and vinification and viticulture techniques from French winemakers? In the case of this wine, you get as much creativity as any New World wine, with a deliciously well-integrated result. Hey! France!! Give Us Free!!!

2) 2005 Volta Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): 1st vintage, limited run from Howell Mtn. fruit. Lush as all get-out, with lazer-focused tannins.

I have a soft-spot for Volta this year. They’re fans of the blog. They’re nice peeps. And I was the first to ever review their wine in the media. They’ve since gone on to accumulate an impressive array of accolades from palates much better and more influential than mine. And they deserve it, because this wine is a tour de force of just how good Howell Mountain fruit can be when you treat it right. To get it that right on the first try is quite an achievement.

And now… the #1 most interesting wine that I’ve tasted in 2008… (drumroll ensues)

1) 1999 Gutzler Vintage Riesling Sekt Extra Brut (Rheinhessen): Stellar trad. method bubbly with peach, apricot, & non-stop creamy yeastiness.

No, it’s not a typographical error. Yes, I did actually mean to list a sparkling German Riesling as my #1 most interesting wine tasted in 2008. Yes, I am sober as I type this.

No other wine in 2008 threw me for quite as high arcing of a loop as this one. What this wine did was prove to me beyond a doubt that Riesling is the noblest of all white wine grape varieties, with a purity of expression that, in the right hands, has the capacity to shine through in any format, whether it be dry, sweet, still, or bubbly. In the words of my main man Michael Broadbent:

“German wine-lovers may place Riesling first, but I place it second (to Cabernet Sauvignon) in the hierarchy of noble grape varieties. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, it has consistent strength of character which shows through even after transplanting.”

Number two, with a bullet!

There you have it. Now, back to my frantic holiday madness…

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, wineaccess.com, binendswine.com)

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