The Most Interesting Wines of the Year – some of the more thought-provoking discussion here on these virtual pages have come courtesy of this annual list, compiled with a not insignificant amount of effort on my part in looking back on the crap-ton of wines that I had the pleasure (mostly, anyway) to have tasted over the last twelve months.
2013’s incarnation of the MIW list was expanded, and broken up into two parts (you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here). Regrettably, I did not have the bandwidth to offer an expanded list for 2014, so I’m reverting back to the Top Ten format for this go-round. Once again, the list offers some surprises (three Chardonnays? WTF?!??), and many wines at high-end price points (you ought to be used to that by now, right?). Napa Valley, the U.S. South, Sonoma Coast, Portugal, Oregon, Italy, France, Hungary, and Spain are all represented herein (some more than once).
As for the selection criteria, once again nothing has changed in this incarnation of the MIW list: these are not the “best” or “highest rated” wines of 2014, they are the wines I tasted from 2014 which most stuck with me during the entire year, those that I felt offered the most geeky, thought-provoking experiences. Please note, these are not necessarily wines released during the year, they are releases that I tasted during the year. Also, I once again attempted to select only wines that you’d have at least some modicum of hope of obtaining. Reactions, whether of the bitching/moaning variety or the exaltation variety, are of course all welcome.
10) 2011 Stony Hill Chardonnay (Napa Valley, $42)
If Napa Valley has a Land of the Lost time-tunnel, it’s surely the drive up from Bale Grist Mill State Park to the vineyards and winery at Stony Hill. In excellent vintages, Stony Hill produces Chardonnay wines that can last for decades, though most of us won’t be patient enough to wait that long. That they have never modified their winemaking style remains a testament to history, stubbornness, and the best vinous spirit of the Napa Valley/
My tasting notes of their 2011 Chard tell you all you really need to know here: “White peaches, stone fruits, flowers… and it’s tight as a drum right now, though it’s also paradoxically lithe and deep simultaneously right now. Gorgeous, but making a move right now on her would ruin the moment and break some of the romance of anticipation.”
9) 2010 Frogtown Cellars “Bravado” (Georgia, $21)
There is NO WAY you saw this wine coming, unless you’re from Georgia. And I don’t mean the Caucuses, I mean the state of Georgia. In the USA. This was the most pleasant surprise for me during my judging tenure this year at the excellent Critics Challenge event in Stay-Classy San Diego.
When I covered this little gem, I wrote that it was “Sangiovese that actually smells and tastes of Sangio: tart red fruits, earth, dried orange peel, the works. It has Sangiovese’s acidic zing, as well, and a plummy richness and well-integrated woody spiciness.” I also wrote that I hadn’t quite fully processed this wine in my mind… I mean, it’s from Georgia!… and I don’t think I’ve yet processed it fully. I only know that it made me sit up and take notice, and that I’ll need to be keeping an eye on this inventive and fearless producer from here on out.
8) 2011 Hirsch “Reserve” Estate Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $115)
In Pursuit of Balance has its detractors, but any event that affords me a chance to taste a wine like this one cannot be all bad. My tasting note for this stellar Pinot is one that’s effusive even for my gonzo, hyperbolic style: “This might be the best wine [Ross] Cobb’s ever had a hand in crafting, with only about 400 cases made, using fruit from Hirsch’s older parcels. It’s a baby now, pretty, structured, vibrant, but close to the vest. Sweet red fruits begrudgingly peek out, but the bottom line is that this is a stunner in the waiting, with an undeniable purity at its core that will take time to mature and come out of its shell.” Simply put, it’s one of the best Sonoma Coast Pinots I’ve ever had, which considering the place of origin is, I think, not an insubstantial statement.
7) 2011 Casca Wines Monte Cascas Malvasia de Colares Branco (Colares, $48)
Remember these guys? They made the MIW list last year, and by coincidence this small outlet from the tiny Colares area on the Portuguese coast just happened to pull off another stunner (in my view, anyway) this year. I had the good fortune of tasting this wine three times (on one of those occasions, in Portugal, I was actually drinking more than tasting). The first exposure I had was at the 2014 50 Great Portuguese Wines event in NYC, during which an MS, an MW, and I all just about lost our sh*t over this juice.
Onto the drool-inducing tasting note: “I am madly in love with this wine. I am not alone in my effusive praise for this waxy, herbal, floral, heady, and zesty white, either; seated at my lunch table was one MW and one MS, and all three of us geeked out over this beauty. The Minerals and lemons are followed by a slightly oxidative nutty toast action, and the finish is gorgeously long.” Malvasia at its most interesting, delicious, and demanding finest.
6) 2012 Bergström Sigrid Chardonnay (Willamette Valley, $85)
But so it goes. If you’ve any doubt that OR Chardonnay belongs on the world-class-fine-wine map, you need only taste a glass of this lively, heady, beguiling beauty from Josh Bergstrom. “We want Oregon Chardonnay to be world class wine,” he told me when I tasted it. Uhm… dude… it’s already there! Next!
5) 2011 Domaine William Fevre Les Clos Chablis Grand Cru (Chablis, $100)
Weren’t we just talking about Chardonnay? Well… in the case of this Chardonnay… BOOM!
Seriously. BOOM! I fell in love with this. I wished that several more bottles would appear at my doorstep. It made me wax slightly philosophic about Chablis for Snooth.com. I just wanted to make this bottle last forever.
My tasting notes for the Fevre GC were some of my favorites from the entire year: “This is austerity at its most stubborn fineness, with a finish that’s all wet stone and toasted apples, piquant and “mineral-driven,” lasting for minutes and eventually giving way to a lemony tang. The palate? Marked by minerals, lemons, spice and honey, a touch of white flowers, white peaches, vibrancy & zest (in all senses of the word). The nose? Oyster shell. Hell, even the oyster itself, and its saline, too. Chalk. Grass. Gorgeous, flirtatious, and clever, with no fat whatsoever. It will make you say things like ‘flint out the ya-yas.’” ‘Nuff said.
4) 2008 Donnafugata Mille e una Notte Contessa Entellina (Sicily, $75)
Another repeat producer in the MIW list, Sicily’s Donnafugata has been firing on all cylinders recently, and arguably making the best wine that they’ve ever produced. While this lively and intense red isn’t a bargain, it does produce the type of drinking experience that imparts lasting memories of pleasure and geeky contemplation.
I had the good fortune of tasting (ok, and drinking) this on the same evening as the number five entry on this very MIW list: “Named for ‘thousand and one nights,’ it could easily be taken as about a thousand and one reasons to love high-end Nero. Sicily is home to some stellar wine bargains at the moment, and this is not one of them. Having said that, this beauty from Sicily’s southwest it is stellar, but it’s hardly a bargain, though I’d argue it’s absolutely fairly priced. This is Nero d’Avola is sultry Persian-princess-from-an-action-film form; lovely, powerful, sexy, disarming, able to also kick ass if needed.” So, 2014 couldn’t have been all bad, right?
3) NV Sogevinus Fine Wines Burmester Tordiz 40 Year Old Tawny Port (Porto, $200)
Personally, after tasting this wine more than a few times during the 50 Great Portuguese Wines event in NYC, I came to the conclusion that many of the reviews of this were just off the mark. This is a stunning example of a special category that doesn’t get quite the media luv it deserves. I mean, it actually caused me to combine middle-aged cougars with actual lions in my tasting notes: “I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a fair share of 30- and 40-Year Old Tawnies, and this might have been the finest I’ve yet tasted. Yes, you can hate me already. Orange rind, sherry, baked apples, exceptional freshness, toasted nuts, and a vibrant mouthfeel that is so alive, it’s like a middle aged woman with the heart and libido of a young lion.” What more bolstering support do we need to justify its entry on this list?
2) 2007 Szepsy Six Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu (Tokaji, $250)
During an extremely trying time in my life, my nearly two-week stint filming for the FurmintUSA.com project in Tokaji was a fulfilling respite for me, professionally, intellectually, and even spiritually. I was lucky enough to also get a tour of some producers who were not yet a part of the Furmint project there, and thus afforded an opportunity to taste and evaluate some of the wines under my “critic” hat.
Of all of the mostly lovely wines I tasted during that jaunt, one held its head high above nearly all of the others: this 6P Aszu from a visionary Hungarian man about whom much praise has already been written, István Szepsy. The wine is, to put it blunty, pure ass-kicking genius (see the embarrassingly effusive tasting note below):
“Holy. F*cking. SH*T! The Szepsy 2007 6P is the kind of wine that creates ridiculous and embarrassing superlatives in one’s tasting notes. There’s an “amazing brown-gold hue,” a nose “resplendent” with “sultana, tea, flowers, dried fruits, spices, caramel, coffee, buts, toffee, toast, orange peel, dried apricots, citrus.” You get the idea. This wine… this wine… f*ck me, this is just about perfect for 6P Aszu; extensive, pure, fresh, luscious, and downright brilliant. I also wrote, one the day, that no detail of this wine seemed out of place, so much so that it was “the stuff of period-piece drama dreams.” I.e., not unlike when you see a film that takes place in another time, and all of the details – set, costumes, language, acting, everything – has been so obsessed-over that the art makes you believe you’re really there. That’s this wine.” I already miss it.
1) 1964 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva (Rioja, about $175)
Speaking of awesome gigs from 2014, my involvement with Wines of Rioja over the Summer was a fantastic experience from start to finish. And the cream of that delicious cake of an experience might be the wine that takes top billing on the MIW list this year, the closer for the NYC trade panel discussion that I chaired during the weekend-long Rioja event.
No, it’s not cheap. But, consider this: for $150-$200, you are getting a bottle of wine that has 50 years on it, and yet is still vibrant, fresh, and able to last for a few hours after being poured before it starts to decline. Oh, yeah, it also happens to be one of the best Rioja wines ever made, from a great producer, and culled from the single greatest vintage that the region has ever seen.
The tasting note: “This is as spry a fifty-year-old vino as you’re likely to meet. All of the crazy and complex secondary action is there – earth, mushroom, tobacco, dried herbs, cedar, smoky spices out the wahzoo – but the thing that is really interesting is how fresh this wine feels even a couple of hours after pulling the (original) cork. Lithe, full of energy, still stubbornly holding on to dried and fresh tart red fruits as if that was the thing keeping it from turning into vinegar (which it started to do, but only after the bottles had been opened for about five hours). The finish was insanely spicy and lasted for a damn long time (I wasn’t counting the seconds, but it certainly wasn’t skimping). So… aromatic, complex, fresh, indicative of place and traditional style, delicious; I was hard-pressed to think of anything more you could ask of a Rioja wine – or any red wine, really – at that age. Recommended? No reservations there, particularly if you’re into the whole dark-fruited-spicy-smoky Gran Reserva Rioja thang.”
Bear in mind that you cannot get a thimble full of `82 first growth Bordeaux for $200, and yet this wine would give several of those a serious run for their Euros. In the grand scheme of things, the combination of quality, longevity, historical significance, deliciousness, reasonable attainability, and bang for the buck here is ludicrous.