Aaaaaaaannnnd… here they are!
I give you the Top Ten Most Interesting Wines of 2013, as determined by my mouth, brain, and what amounts to my dark little tortured soul. For the preamble and the wines that made the newly-expanded 20 through 11 slots of this round-up, see The Most Interesting Wines of 2013, Part One.
I will add only this to the sentiments of that previous preamble: if you hate the fact that the budget picks were few and far between in the first half of this year’s MIW list, you are really gonna hate the top ten. Sorry, but this isn’t a budget buying guide, peeps; it’s a romp through the stories, emotions, joys and sorrows of 1WD throughout the past year, and a highlight of those wines that I think combine both context and quality in ways that made me remember them months and months after the finishes had left the caves of my olfactory cavities (obviously, their fascinating memory-nasal-cave-paintings remained… okay, whatever, that analogy is really odd). Some of these top ten selections are stupidly pricey; but they’re also ridiculously interesting wines, the kind of stuff that one geek urges another to try if they’re ever presented with the opportunity and inclination.
Oh, and a bit more fodder for ya… the top five are almost entirely expensive, white, or dessert wines (or all three)! You are free to flame me to your dark heart’s content.
Enjoy the long, strange trip…
10) 2012 Mendel Semillon (Mendoza, $20)
Context is so important when it comes to taste memory… and probably to memory of any kind, really, at least to the substantial memories that form our lives. And I’ve got a crap-ton of such great memories from judging the Argentina Wine Awards in 2013: the affable regional winemakers, tasting an orange-wine take on Torrontes (yes, really), horseback riding through the Andes (by the way, if the gaucho ever tells you “Éste, a mantener una estrecha rienda. Cerrar!” after you mount a horse, expect some rough riding…), eating more meat than one human can possibly digest, and working dging with such interesting and talented people. One of those judges, the lanky, soft-spoken but intense vineyard manager Santiago Mayorga Boaknin, brought along one of his own wines to dinner at Mendoza’s fabulous Siete Concinas. But it wasn’t a Malbec, Bonarda, or Torrontes, but a Semillon. And what a Sem; bright lights, lithe dancing, focused stares, and powerful intent. Hey, Mendoza: please ship more of these kinds of lively whites to the States!
9) 2011 Cloudburst Chardonnay (Margaret River, $150)
This wonder from Oz (funny how Aussie wines do so well in this MIW round-ups each year, despite so many people railing publicly about the demise of the international wine biz Down Undah) is likely not on your radar, because so little of it is made. In fact, I was interviewed about the wine simply because I was one of the few people outside of Oz to have tasted it, apparently. Combine that with it being an early-days-promising example of the great potential of the producer, and that it almost fully delivers already on the potential for great Chard in far western Australia, and that I used it as a catalyst for a discussion on whether or not the rich actually buy wines priced like this one (hint: according to a few sources, they don’t), and you’ve set the stage for one very, very memorable bottle of juice.
8) 2010 Alto de la Ballena “Cetus” Syrah (Uruguay, $50)
Toilet frogs. Beautiful scenery. Toilet frogs. Nice people making fantastic wine in a little-known gem of a region. Toilet frogs. A wine full of (as I wrote at the time) “raspberry, toast, smoked meat, spices, hints of gravel and iron.” Toilet frogs. A Syrah from Uruguay that‘s named after a whale’s eye and is “lively, broad, peppery and about as pretty and compelling as a real-life close-up with that sea-mammals olfactory orb, lashes and all.” Did I mention the toilet frogs? They’ve got f*cking TOILET FROGS! Ok, whatever… The wine is fantastic, and the memory of the visit to Alto de la Ballena is etched even more strongly into my memory banks now that I realize that in a side conversation during that visit, its proprietor Lorenzo had accurately diagnosed my busted lumbar disk problem (he was suffering from the same thing) months before the U.S. medical professionals had. Oh, yeah, annnnd… Toilet Frogs!
7) 2011 Foxen “Block 8” Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley, $60)
Speaking of my back issues, I was in sad, sad, sad shape when I finally drug my sorry ass over to a long overdue visit to Foxen in Santa Maria Valley (courtesy of my hosts from The 2013 Chardonnay Symposium, an event in which I was thrilled and privileged to act as the social media liaison; ever take over someone else’s blog and twitter feed? It’s pretty damn fun). The sciatic pain made that visit somehow both surreal and ultra-focused, and I was dialed into this compelling, hefty, and amazingly spicy Pinot from sniff number one. At first I thought “damn, I shouldn’t be this into a Pinot that’s this hefty, should I?” And then I came to my senses and metaphorically punched myself upside the head for being a douchebag.
6) 2009 Casca Wines Monte Cascas Ramisco (Colares, $40)
You want to know why I write at 1WineDude.com? Besides the fact that in some ways I’m a hopeless exhibitionist, I mean? It’s to talk about wines like this one. The review says it all, I think, in summary version: “From a dying variety comes a wine of high-energy life-force; citrus pith, vibrant red berries, in a package that’s dusty, leathery, floral, pretty and full of tea leaf aromas and tannins. Imagine, if you will, the love child of a tough young Northern Italian Pinot Noir and one of the meatier Cru Beaujolais from Morgon or Moulin-a-Vent, and you’ll get pretty close to this beauty.” A dying variety grown on the beach, a fight for survival spearheaded by a nice, talented wine pro (Helder Cunha), and a compelling, rustic, pretty result in the bottle. How could you not (fondly) remember that kind of vinous action?
5) 2003 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza (Rioja, $30)
I’m a fan boy. Plain and simple. This is probably the best white Rioja producer in the history of ever, and I’m a fan boy. It’s the gold standard of old school white Rioja, the yardstick to which all other oddball aged whites from the region must be compared. It’s almost sickening how much of a fan boy I was in the review: “100% Viura, and 100% showing why Heredia’s wines (particularly the whites) can lodge themselves firmly into love-it-or-hate-it territory. Four years in barrel give this white wine more of an off-gold hue, and more than a little oddness. Citrus, earth, wet cement, even some dried banana action… those reared on generously fruity whites will almost certainly not feel at home here. But if you’re at all paying attention, even if you hate it you’ll instantly recognize how good it is; this is a cool and stylish character, so cool that it knows how cool it is but doesn’t think to dwell on it. And it will probably stay that cool for another ten years or so (I won’t know, because I drank the hell out of it).” This kind of drinking is possible for $30? F*ck, that should be illegal, they need to issue licenses for sh*t this geekily awesome.
4) 2008 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria (Sicily, $40 / 375ml)
$40 isn’t cheap for a half bottle, but since this kind of wine stands toe to toe quality-wise with sticky sweet stalwarts like Ice Wine, Vintage Ports or Sauternes costing the same (or much more), credit should be given where it’s due. This is a stunning wine, easily one of the best dessert wines I’ve had from Italy, and in that respect it’s actually a bargain at the price point. The value of this dried grapes wonder, produced from one hundred year old vines, is borderline insane. Part of my family hails from Sicily, and they’d likely be the first to express partially-tongue-in-cheek surprise at Sicily producing anything great, I suspect. But there it is, right in the bottle, a bottle that you can leave open for a week and within still find nuanced, powerful, hedonistic, sultanas-and-spices-laden goodness to sample and sup. The mini-review: “Like having amazing sex without having to fork over for an expensive dinner.” Meant as a tongue-in-cheek commentary, of course, and not a serious view of the modern social dating scene; except for the part of this wine being like great sex, I actually meant that.
3) 2004 Robert Weil Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Beerenauslese (Rheingau, $250)
Another Riesling Rendezvous vinous rendezvous, tasted I think during a session in which the Germans tried to explain why they decided to further complicate their already bafflingly complicated quality designations. Right. I know. Believe me, I tried to warn them; I think they just don’t really want to sell any wine. Anyway, to the mini-review: “Honey & apricots skipping flint & dancing on lemon peel. Wow.” In a word, the wine is glorious. It probably has enough sugar to carry a diabetes warning, but you wouldn’t find it distracting thanks to all that bracing acidity. You could also probably smell it being poured from across a crowded room. If there’s something not right about this wine, I was unable to find it, or I didn’t care enough to find it as I was too busy being totally beguiled. Tasted on the last day of the RR event, and good enough to send Ben Weinberg and I into a boyish, loosing-our-sh*t, inappropriate exchange of knowing glances and laughter at the back of the seminar room.
2) 2008 Klein Constantia Vin de Constance (Constantia, $70)
I suppose you can’t get a whole lot more memorable than one of the world’s most unique dessert wines. Unless, of course, you visit the place and taste the stuff there, with the affable young winemaker, form the barrel and the bottle, and clearly witness a producer well into its ascendency back to greatness. Such was the experience when I ended my 2013 South Africa jaunt at a rainy Constantia earlier this year. My earlier description: “Spicy, dried fruits to start, sultana and tea leaf, orange marmalade, toasted nuts. Okay, a little bit of volatile acidity, too, but only if you’re really looking for it. This starts heavy and viscous, but lightens up quickly with a burst of freshness. Marmalade comes back to glide you down smoothly to the ride’s exit, and gives you a spicy pinch on the butt cheek at the end, just to remind you who’s really the boss around here. Does it rival Tokaji? Yeah, it does rival Tokaji.” As the Great Stan Lee is fond of saying, “’nuff said!”
1) 2010 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche (Cote de Nuits, $1200)
I know, right? I suck for tasting this, rubbing it in your faces and then putting it at the top of the 2013 MIW list. But at the top of this list is most definitely where the 2010 La Tâche belongs, my friends. It is, for my purposes, palate, nose, aura, soul, and spiritual energy the single best Pinot Noir expression in existence, a concentrated Pinot version of heroin, or crack cocaine, the kind that is so good at the first time that it begets a haunting addiction. Love, in the glass. Yeah, really, it was that good (and subsequent later reviews from other sources have more or less borne out that assessment as not being too crazy). I won’t regret putting this extremely expensive and certain-to-be difficult to obtain wine at the top slot of the most challenging MIW lineup ever; in fact my only related regret is that the piece that I penned for this one was purchased by Playboy.com but never ran (along with several other pieces of mine that have yet to see the light of day there, including some great interviews and a totally over-the-top, oddball, crazy winery and proprietor feature from S. America). Well, that and not becoming a multi-billionaire so that I can drink more of this stuff…