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.
10) 2006 Clos Siguier (Cahors) $18
Why it made the list: It actually delivers on the promise of Natural winemaking. Also, it’s from Cahors and it’s not Bretty.
The brightest of moments in what was a press trip with many, many dark moments, my last-minute decision to play hooky from the Malbec Days Festival and join friends in Cahors for a side-journey session to Clos Siguier proved fortuitous indeed – it introduced me to one of the most balanced and evocative Malbecs I’ve had in a long, long time. Clos Siguier is made in the “natural” style, meaning it has ‘birthed’ with minimal additives such as sulfites. While French uber-critic Michel Bettane was speaking a few miles away at the Malbec Days Festival, making sweeping generalizations about the “idiotic dream” of natural winemaking leading inexorably to wines which “become vinegar,” I was enjoying this naturally-made beauty, bursting with violets and earth. Oh, yeah – if you’re worried about the wine turning to vinegar later due to low sulfites, Clos Siguier’s releases from the `80s still taste great thankyouverymuch.
Why it made the list: Riddle me this, Batman: how often does Muscat totally rule? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
I know, right? This might just be the only wine Top 10 list with a Muscat in it, unless someone is out there producing The Muscat de Beaumes de Venise Hour somewhere. It’s an amazingly tasty Muscat and easily one of the best that I’ve ever tried; like someone took quince and Asian pear, empowered them with the ability to perform miracles and then liquefied and beatified them. I make no concessions or excuses for having included this wine in the list or for giving a Muscat an “A” rating. In fact, this wine’s inclusion in my 2010 Top 10 list is in a (very) small way a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of wine reviewers everywhere to acknowledge that not every high-scoring wine need be big, tannic, red, and 14.5% abv.
8) 2008 Red Tail Ridge Pinot Noir (Finger Lakes) $20
Why it made the list: It’s Pinot from New York that’s better than a lot of other Pinot I’ve had from, well, from every-freaking-where else.
I don’t think too many people would have been surprised to see a Finger Lakes Riesling hit this Top 10 list, but I’m willing to bet an `82 Mouton that no one outside of NY would have guessed that a Finger Lakes red would make the cut. Truth be told, I’m still a bit shocked myself, but there it is. Back in May, I wrote that Finger Lakes reds were coming into their own, and this little sleeper shocked me during a tasting of several FL wines organized during the 2010 TasteCamp East event. This is a wine that many would likely guess as coming from Oregon in a blind tasting; it’s bright, fruity, well-rounded & thoroughly good. And not too pricey (shhh… don’t tell them!).
7) 2008 Plantagenet Riesling (Great Southern, Australia) $20
Why it made the list: It’s like buying a tie in a department store, and when you get home and open the bag you find that the teller also tossed in season tickets to your favorite NFL team – for free.
Now, anyone who’s paid any attention this blog knows that I am a Riesling fan boy, and there was a time a few months ago when I would have said that no Riesling would be able to touch the floral majesty of the Mosel’s recent offerings. Which is why I was so impressed with this focused, lovely & dare-we-say-it “elegant” argument for how well Riesling can be done “down undah.” As I wrote at the time on The Wine Crush Blog, Australia’s Great Southern is an area to watch for delivering on the promise of Aussie Riesling. The bottles of Mosel treasures I have aging in my cellar probably aren’t going to like it, but they’ll be sharing more and more space with their GS cousins.
6) 2007 Modus Operandi “Antithesis” (Napa Valley) $95
Why it made the list: Ripasso meets Napa, and the result possess mad wine kung-fu. Nobody, and I mean nobody ever wakes up expecting that to happen.
Warning: things get decidedly pricier from here…
Big, bold & beautifully rendered, with black fruits so intense that they should administered only via prescription, winemaker Jason Moore’s accidental and almost-ripasso-style Bordeaux blend is a rare work of determination, passion and ingenuity. Not that it matters in the context of the quality of the wine itself (which is spectacular), but Jason possesses the kind of boldness that only a wine blogger could love: “I moved my family and my broke ass half way across the country in pursuit of my dreams because I FUCKING LOVE WINE! ” he told me. I, for one, am quite glad that he did. If you like big wines but are having an existential crisis over the sameness of style that can sometimes plague Napa, this is the wine that just might restore your faith.
5) 2009 Domaine Sigalas Barrel Assyrtiko (Santorini) $28
Why it made the list: It tastes like peaches & cream, it will last for decades, and you probably can’t pronounce it.
During my 2010 sojourn to the Greek island of Santorini, when I wasn’t watching cruise ships sail by the picture-perfect volcanic coastline I was tasting what felt like cruise-ships-full amounts of the islands vibrant and acidic signature white wine, Assyrtiko. Santorini has its challenges, not the least of which is marketing its relatively pricey and difficult to pronounce wines globally, but a mouthful is worth a thousand marketing slogans – and in this case a mouthful of Paris Sigalas‘ barrel-aged Assyrtiko will probably get more of your attention than dozens of TV or wine mag ads ever could. This wine balances Assyrtiko’s racy acidic edge with the vanilla cream of oak and deftly avoids the trappings of oaking the living shit out of an otherwise vibrant grape variety just to pump-up the mouthfeel. It’s a balance that ought to last for decades and could even give German Rieslings a run for their money in the long-life department, when I suspect the citrus edge will give way and add some honey & nuts to the peaches & cream action.
4) 2008 Olivier Leflaive 1er Cru Clos St. Marc (Chassagne-Montrachet) $90
Why it made the list: It’s the kind of Chardonnay that I imagine the gods of Mt. Olympus would drink while deciding which hapless mortals to slay with their terrible lightening bolts.
For that kind of price, it had better be good, right? And it is – amazing, in fact, and so elegant it’s like buying yourself a license to be royalty for an hour or two. My take on this wine when I tasted it in October was that it poured over with citrus aromas and flavors so pure they could qualify for the abstract perfection aroma that Aristotle had in mind when he wrote Book Delta of the Metaphysics. The finish is long enough that you could measure it in minutes without the use of stopwatch. Which is a good thing, because after buying a case you probably won’t be able to afford a stopwatch anyway.
3) 2006 Bastianich Tocai Plus (Colli Orientali) $66
Why it made the list: It offers a compelling proof in the form of the equation [ Friuliano + appassimento + botrytis = F*cking Awesome ] .
Fruili is Superman. It’s Has the Power. It can do almost no wrong. For my money, Fruili is the Northern Italian wine equivalent of Wayne Gretzky in his heyday, when he could more-or-less look at a hockey puck and make it go past a goaltender. Fruili is on that kind of roll right now, and this dense, structured, rich, ‘honeycom-ish’ white from Bastianich is a prime example of Fruilian wine potency. The white equivalent of Amarone (almost literally – some of the Friuliano fruit gets a similar appassimento drying treatment) it also includes some late harvest and botrytized fruit from 50 year-old vines, all vinified dry. The result is just as bombastic and powerful as you’d expect, but it keeps a refined edge with great aromatic complexity (think melons and pears), dissolving into an honeyed character but without the cloying sweetness. Gooooooaaaaaal!
2) 2005 Trefethen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $100
Why it made the list: In the land of dime-a-dozen $100 Cabs, it’s a Cab actually worth the $100.
Can a wine not only speak of terroir, but also capture the soul of a place, and maybe even a bit of the soul of those who made it? This wine would be Exhibit A in my sworn testimony that a wine indeed can exhibit something greater than the sum of its parts. Enormous & powerful, mysterious and elegant, Trefethen’s 2005 is like the obelisk from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey whispering “worship me…” In the scope of big Napa Cabs, it’s a triumph of the style and a slap in the face to those mouthing off that Big wine cannot possibly equal Good wine (and those people needed to be slapped, by the way).
1) 2007 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port (Porto) $75
Why it made the list: This wine will temporarily blind you with it’s awesomeness, make you mow it’s lawn, and demand that you pay it a dollar for the privilege (which you will happily do).
At this point, I am struggling to come up with additional superlatives to pile on the heap of praise I have doused on this release over the past six months. Simply put, Vesuvio’s 2007 is one of the finest expressions of Port that I’ve ever tasted. Superb & sublime, it exhibits none of the dried fruit characteristics that make Tawny Port appealing but rarely elegant, and that often sneaks its way into vintage ports in lesser years. This is full, ripe, blue- and black-berry fruit of the most luscious and complex variety, and no serious Port fan should miss it. I’ve purchased a six-pack case of this on my own dime, just to see if the love-affair abates anytime over the next 20 years (I wouldn’t take that bet if I were you).