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The Dude’s Top 10 Most Interesting Wines of 2008

Vinted on December 17, 2008 binned in 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)

Twitter Taste Live: The 89 Project – TONIGHT 8PM ET!

Vinted on December 13, 2008 binned in 1WD LIVE, twitter, twitter taste live, wine review


Another Twitter Taste Live event is upon us. Tune in right here at 8PM ET TONIGHT to catch the action LIVE.

This time, the topic is near and dear to my heart, as it involves The 89 Project, of which I am a contributing member. We will be tasting, live, selections of wines that have been rated “89 points” – blind. Things should get very interesting during this TTL!

Anyway, the action will be available live right here at this post (a recap. will also be available here after the event)…

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Hope to see you on twitter!

Cheers! (image: twittertastelive.com)

5 Reasons Why Chilean Wine Kicks Ass (Wine Blogging Wednesday #52: Chillin’ with the Chilean)

Vinted on December 10, 2008 binned in wine blogging wednesday, wine review

Hard to believe that an entire month has passed since we hosted Wine Blogging #51 (“Baked Goods”) here on 1WineDude.com.

But passed it has, and another WBW is now upon us – this time hosted at CheapWineRatings.com, with the theme “Value Reds from Chile!”

I am stoked for this WBW. Because Chilean wines, for the most part, kick all kinds of ass.

I recently featured a Chilean stalwart, Concha y Toro’s 2007 “Casillero del Diablo” Chardonnay Reserve, as part of an article I posted at the 89 Project. Because it kicked ass (I mean that the wine kicked ass, not the article… actually you could also take that sentence to mean that the 89 Project kicks ass, which it does… ah, forget it….).

Which begs the question, of course, Why does Chilean wine kick so much gluteus maximus?

Here are 5 reasons:…

  1. Ass-Kickin’ Geography
    You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to grow fine wine grapes than Chile. Sure, they grow plenty of the lowly Mission grape destined for cheap
    Pisco [editor's note: wrong, Jack! Mission isn't used for Pisco!]. But Chile is also starting to realize its huge potential to grow classic Bordeaux varietals. Chile’s wine regions are varied in climate and soil types, giving it a diversity in quality wine that few other countries posses. That nasty pest Phylloxera is nowhere to be found, because it faces natural borders to the north (desert), south (ice), west (the Pacific), and east (the Andes).

Cool air from the mountains, as well as the influence of the Pacific’s Humboldt current moderate the growing temperatures, while plentiful water from the Andes provides irrigation. Grapes love this place.

  • More investment smarties than Warren Buffett
    Since opening its agricultural doors to the outside world in the 1980s, Chile has seen an influx of winemaking smarties and significant fiscal investment from wine companies far and wide. This means that Chile is getting a state-of-the art crash-course in modern winemaking and viticultural techniques, which benefits the wine.
  • Set the Wayback Machine for the late 19th Century…
    When the nasty pest Phylloxera was devastating the fine wine vineyards of, well, the entire world, many a European brought winemaking know-how – and, importantly, vine clippings – to Chile.Since Chile never had Phylloxera mucking about, it never had to resort to using grafting (onto American rootstocks) for its imported vinifera vines to survive and thrive. This means that Chilean wine is a bit like a trip back in time to the mid 19th century, because (theoretically) they taste like, well, wine from ungrafted vines. Presumably, not unlike what wine would have tasted like in the pre-Phylloxera days.
  • Ass-kickin’ quality
    Chile has lots of interesting wines across the entire price spectrum (a high-end Chilean wine recently garnered Wine Spectator’s 2008 wine of the year accolade), but it’s nearly perfected the cheap, mass-market wine offering (more on that in a bit).
  • Ass-kickin’ prices
    You can get a decent everyday quaffer from Chile for under $10 USD. I will assume further comment on this point is entirely unnecessary. But I will add that the concept seems to be popular in the U.S. – according to WinesOfChile.org, Americans consumed nearly 1.9 million cases of Chilean wine in 2007, and that was just in NY, FL, and NJ alone!

 

My example of Chilean value red is Concha y Toro’s Xplorador Merlot. You can regularly find this wine for well under $10. It’s from the Central Valley (good area in Chile, not so great in CA), and I really dig the fact that it’s got 10% Carménère (which seems to reach unique excellence in Chile), and is under 14% abv.

The wine is all plum and thyme spice. Is it complex? No. Is it good? Hell yes, for $8 it’s damn good. Amazingly, Concha y Toro seems to be able to make consistently good and cheap wine year on year, which is something that SouthEastern Australia’s equivalent mass-market wine, Yellowtail, has yet to master.

Tasty, fairly well-balanced, and ultra-inexpensive. Hard to argue with that.

BUT… Chile has a LOT more to offer than just value reds - more to come on that in an upcoming post.

Cheers!
(flickr.com/bridgepix, winesofchile.org, snooth.com)

Prime Time: Another New Kid on the ‘Napa Cab’ Block

Vinted on December 8, 2008 binned in California wine, wine review

Remember our not-so-old friends, Volta? Seems there are a few other winemakers out there who do, too.

Take Ted Henry of the newly-minted wine producers Prime Cellars in Napa.

“I was in Volta‘s Winemaker Massimo’s class at UC Davis,” Ted told me. “We used to drink beers together in his Silver Oak days…”

As it turns out, Volta isn’t the only tiny Napa winery that kicked off an innagural, premium Cabernet release in the 2005 vintage. The promising 2005 red wine harvest in Napa also saw the birth of Prime Cellars (who recently contacted me to send me a sample after reading Volta’s first-ever review here at 1WineDude.com), founded by UC Davis alumni and marching band-mates Ted & Lisa Henry, and Curtis Mann (handling winemaking, marketing, and sales chores, respectively).

Unlike Volta, Prime is going for a less high-octane Cab. (their 2005 release clocks in at 13.6% abv, which is about a full percent lower than Volta’s Cab)…


The back-label on their first release, dubbed “District 4″ Cabernet, does the best job of summing up the story of their endeavor so far: “Hand picked… Small Lot… French Oak… Empty bank account.”

Let’s check out the wine…

2005 Prime Cellars “District 4″ Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

Sourced from Grasso Vineyard in Napa’s east hills (Coombsville), which is a relatively cool growing area that can still achieve ripeness for traditional Bordeaux varietals like Cab Sauv.

The vitals: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (Clone 7 on 1103P rootstock), 3 day cold soak, 23 days on the skins, 22 months spent in New French, used French, and new Hungarian oak (1/3 in each).

My thoughts: Even though this wine is lower in alcohol (13.6%) than the typical bordering-on-port style of CA Cab popular today, the first thing that hits you about this wine is that it smells (and looks) powerful.

The nose is dominated by black plum, with a hint of dried black fruits and elegant spice (rather than hefty oak). After several minutes in the glass, pepper and dried herbs start to creep out, and once in a while you sniff some wet dirt (but in a good way).

Take a sip, and and the fruits get a little more red (cherries and currants), but still “feel” dried. The tannins are smooth but almost coffee-thick, and the coffee notees stick around on a finish that is almost half a minute long.

Like it’s prime number namesake, Prime’s District 4 achieves an excellent balance, with almost nothing in divisive proportion; its fruit, tannic & acidic structure, alcohol, and spice seem measured out in harmonious doses with almost recipe-like precision. While in balance, these elements haven’t blended harmoniously together yet – it needs time, either by an hour or two in a decanter, or prefreably 4 years (in a bottle, of course).

This first Prime Cellars release is only 147 cases – so you’ll probably want to visit their website if you want to get your hands on it; chances are it won’t show up at your local wine shop yet.

Although I undermine my perception of ay sort of wine expertise when I say things like this, I need to tell you that I’m stumped as to wether or not the `05 District 4 will ever capitalize on its integration potential.

But I suppose I’d put more money on that than one me being able to hold out 4 years before drinking another bottle.

Cheers!
(images: 1WineDude.com, PrimeCellars.com)

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