Almost unbelievably, it’s time for the annual 1WD tradition of selecting The Most Interesting Wines of the Year.
In some ways, with my back out of commission for nearly eight months, 2013 seemed like a long painful slog through semi-frozen sludge wearing nothing but flip-flops. But when it was on, 2013 was really *on*; it was an amazing year in which I travelled some of the world’s most gorgeous wine regions and tasted through thousands of some of the its best (and worst) offerings.
In 2012’s MIW round-up, I lamented that so many interesting wine picks don’t make the annual list, and that the traditional selection of ten wines seemed restrictive. Based on a few twitter and Book of Face conversations, a lot of you felt the same way, some going to the extreme of suggesting that I come up with a Top 100 list, a-la Wine Spectator, to which I had to respond with a humble, flattered, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek response that I’ll summarize briefly as “are you f*cking nuts?!??”
This year, I’m bending somewhat to those dual pressures, and am expanding the Most Interesting Wines of the Year list from ten to twenty, the first part of which is presented below, and the second half (containing the Numero Uno spot, which last year went to the 2007 Henschke Hill of Grace) will be presented in exactly one week.
As for the selection criteria, nothing has changed in this sixth annual incarnation of the MIW list: these are not the “best” or “highest scoring” wines of the year, they are the wines which most stuck with me during 2013, those that I felt offered something intangible in geeky, thought-provoking pleasure. As in the past, these are not necessarily wines released in 2013, they are (reasonably) recent releases that I tasted in 2013. I also attempted to only select wines that you’d have at least some hope of obtaining (whether at a restaurant, auction, shop, or otherwise – no attempt is made to set a cut-off price point, however). As I wrote last year, reactions, exclamations, bitching/moaning, exaltations, and the like are all welcome.
20) 2010 Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut (Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, $34)
One of the standouts of the juice originating from “emerging” regions that I tasted during my trip to Riesling Rendezvous this Summer in Seattle, Tantalus kind of knocked it out of the park with this bubbly made from fruit from 1978 plantings (I refuse to call it “old vine” because I was born in 1972). Dry, mineral, very pithy, and very pretty, with a hint of yeast (courtesy of a year on the lees), and the kind of hurts-so-good acidity that makes you simultaneously want to wince and also shout “hoozah!” old school while throwing your Civil War era cap high into the air. Or was that just me?
19) 2008 d’Arenberg Shiraz, The Dead Arm (McLaren Vale, Australia, $65)
As I wrote after tasting this one at the 2013 Critics Challenge competition, the Dead Arm “has just about everything that you could ask for from Aussie Shiraz: herbal spiciness, complexity, depth, power, pizazz, attitude, and the ability to charm geek and newbie alike.” It’s listed here because it is, in fact, that good, but also because it wowed nearly the entire judging contingent at a wine comp. full of hard-ass judges and very, very good wines.
18) 2008 Lomond “Pincushion” Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Cape Agulhas, $NA)
One of the benefits of delivering the keynote address at South Africa’s Nederburg wine auction is, of course, tasting the cornucopia of wines on offer at the Nederburg wine auction. I had the pleasure of doing both in 2013, and for some reason the wine that most stuck with me from that trip is the one I figure most of you would positively hate. Not because the wine is bad – it’s actually wonderful – but because the U.S. has lately become the Great Land Where Green Sauvignon Blanc Is Treated As The Spawn Of Evil Gremlin Monsters. Seriously, it’s like the wine cognoscenti go out of their way to punish SB that has any notes of veggies whatsoever, even if those veggies are enticing and fresh rather than canned and tired. This SB is all fresh peas and asparagus, full of the good things about those aromas, and was still fresh as a daisy after five years young. Somebody, import this already and punch the Anti-Green contingent here in the face, please.
17) 2010 Kieran Robinson Wines Le Voyageur Syrah (Bennett Valley, $38)
Ah, it took an Eagles-cheering Philly boy to go to the Left Coast and show you 49ers fans how to make cool climate Syrah! Ok, that’s a tongue-in-cheek stretch, but generally this side-project by Jericho Canyon’s East-Coast-born Kieran Robinson makes a compelling case for transplanting more Right Coasters and giving them good Syrah grapes to crush: peppery, bright, meaty, full of dark cherries, and downright honest.
16) 2005 Bibi Graetz Colore (Toscana, about $700)
When former 1WD-intern The Young Unpaid Shelby bid us adieu, we cooked up an amazing farewell feast and I more or less gave Shelby free reign on the 1WD sample pool for the wine pairing selections. To match with lamb tagine, Shelby picked what is purported to be Italy’s most expensive red wine, mostly because she couldn’t believe the price tag when she cataloged that sample after it arrived at 1WD Central. I’m not gonna say this wine is worth the lofty price tag (is any wine worth that much cash?), but its complexity is ridiculously memorable. From the review: “The `05 Colore just about jumps out of the glass (you can smell it a good 2-3 inches away from the rim); plums, stewed red fruits dark cherries, orange peel, anise and sweet spices, chocolate, leather. Graetz pushed the ripeness but did not go overboard here, and my favorite part of this excellent wine is how much energy and power and poise it has; it’s certainly one of the best Italian reds I’ve had in a long time. And the finish is… insane amounts of long… almost as insane as the price. Equal parts Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Colorino, and 100% Kick-ass.”
15) 2006 C.H. Berres Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese (Mosel, $60)
The best Mosel Riesling out there? Uh… no. But… aside from lacking just a touch more of the acidity it would have needed to make it really incredible, I loved everything else about its sexy, toasty, floral, honeyed, citric, sweet goodness, and drank the entire bottle over several days. It’s a wine that just… haunted me, I couldn’t let the memory go. The mini-review speaks to its haunting-ness (sp?): “Like the scent of a lover’s perfume lingering on your pillow the day after.” Somebody please bring me a tissue… or three…
14) 2009 Chateau Gaillard Clos de Mez Morgon (Morgon, $23)
A wine I shared “virtually” with Jancis Robinson when she graciously agreed to join us live for Episode 4 of The Punch Down earlier this year. I loved the seriousness of this Beaujolais, the freshness and elegance of it, and taken as a whole it’s one of the single best Morgon offerings that I’ve yet come across. Lovely, but also powerful, it could seduce and entertain you before devouring your soul X-Box-hi-res-horror-game style. Major kudos to Fass Selections for having the wherewithal to
pick this one up.
13) 2010 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, $160)
If I wasn’t so sick of CA wine in general (no offense, everybody needs a break from the familiar, okay?), this wine might have moved up to the top ten. It’s big, it’s almost obnoxiously ripe, but it’s bold and wonderful and generous and everything that is right about Big Napa Valley Cab when it’s in the right hands. It might feel “cool” to diss a big NV wine like this, but if you diss this wine on style alone then you’re not being cool, you’re actually being an imbecilic douchebag. Sorry, somebody had to say it…
12) 2012 Quinta dos Roques Encruzado (Dão, $20)
When, after judging in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge, I complained in my cheeky way about enduring a bus trip to the Dão that lasted several hours more than the time we actually spent in the Dão, I inadvertently pissed off some people. I’m officially apologizing now for doing that, all the more because the wines that we did try during that brief tasting time shouldn’t be overshadowed by my cheekiness – they really embodied what makes Portugal so damn special. As I wrote back in May, this particular wine from that fateful day was “refined, pure, easy drinking and almost ethereal, an Ah-ha! moment of realization of what this not-so-common Portuguese white grape is supposed to taste like when it’s not oaked to hell, or had more cream than a dairy farm added to it from too much lees stirring.“ And for only $20 a bottle, you can buy a case and still have money left over for the bag of chips.
11) 2006 Pisano ArretXea Grand Reserve (Uruguay, $40)
“A shot of sour dark cherries that are sipping tea, jamming Mozart & discussing Kant.” That was the mini review, after tasting it with the Pisano clan in Uruguay (who later helped me out with an overview of that country’s signature red variety, Tannat). After tasting through Pisano’s impressive portfolio, I basically received a masterclass in the heights of complexity and age-ability of Tannat, and could have picked any number of their reds in this round-up. This particular Tannat-based blend is a pricey but exceptional intro to Uruguay’s meatier, older school wines: big, tannic, spicy, tart, hefty, acidic, and requires that you wear your big boy/girl pants. But if you’re man/woman enough to face up to it, I doubt you’d soon forget it; and if you don’t have big boy pants, you can give this one several years to soften up until you fit into them.
Stay tuned next week for the top ten!