Happy New Year everybody!
Okay, after last week's recap on the Best Of tasting, some requests came in for a list of what yours truly thinks were the best wines of 2010. People LOVE lists, man. So, following is a summary of what I consider to be the most memorable wines of 2010. (Notice the term "most memorable" as opposed to "best", "highest quality", "most exciting", or "biggest boner factor". Quantifying any of those is cumbersome at best. After tasting somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand wines this year, "memorable" is a pretty special endearment.)
I would also encourage the smart shopper to use this as a "keep your eyes out for these" list as you stock your cellar in the new year.
I've split these into two sections: specific wines, and wineries, varietals, and regions which stand out for their consistency, character, and value.
2005 Gallo Frei Ranch Cabernet - An emotionally provoking wine and One of the most enjoyable wine drinking experiences of the year. While not perfect in technical terms, it is fucking sublime. Serious, but still loose enough that you'll willingly surrender to this comforting experience. Like an embrace from that favorite aunt who always makes everything okay. $40
2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah - Virtually extinct now that WS ranked it #29, but there's still some of it out there. Not a powerhouse Syrah, but refined, perfectly integrated, multi-dimensional, feminine, and nothing short of moving given the right time to breathe. Laughably sensational. $26
2006 Mondavi Oakville Reserve Cabernet - Iron fist in a velvet glove. An extraordinary wine of deep intensity delivering on nose, mouth, and overall satisfaction. Enough said. $36
2008 La Follette Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - My new benchmark for quality Pinot as 2011 gets underway. This wine is nothing short of an exhilarating experience. A joy ride and a rapid fire assault on the sense - you're pressed into the bottom of your seat by a blur of sensations, racing, dancing, teasing, and satisfying. Voluptuous flavors and a rich finish a country mile long. $30
2008 Tikal Patriota - All that is great about Argentinean wine, none of the bad. Elegant aromatics of a sophisticated, hearty Pinot Noir and the character and depth of a meaty Syrah. Medium bodied, giving, and surprising. A terrific value given the high quality. $20
2007 Shafer One Point Five - Santa Claus didn't deliver on my wish this year, so I'll keep on wishing. But even after tasting this just once at the beginning of the year, this wine's memory remains a flirtatious reminder of just how good drinking wine can be. Sweet mother of God, this time-stopping wine is heaven in a glass. Earth-shaking, soul-affirming, emotion-stirring love in a bottle. $75 and worth every penny.
Wineries, Varietals & Regions:
Chardonnay from Margaret River - After reading Campbell Mattinson's book on Australian wine, I sought out a couple of Chardonnays from Margaret River. Tough as they can be to find, I've picked up every one I've spotted this year and so far they haven't disappointed.
Merlot from Columbia Valley - Merlot in general deserves a second look. The Milbrandts are right - in the right hands Merlot can be extraordinary. The folks in eastern Washington seem to have the right hands more than anywhere else.
Alsatian Varietals from Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula - One, I love discovering good wine from unlikely sources. And two, I love drinking good wine, especially when it isn't overpriced. The OMP's Pinot Blancs, Rieslings, and Pinot Gris score on both counts.
Aged Cabernet Franc - Elegant, graceful, much more reasonably priced than Cabernet Sauvignon, and easier to find than you might expect. Two terrific sources are Bedford Winery and WineBid.com.
Cameron Hughes - Cameron's track record with California Cabernet and Pinot is unreal. Serious quality, serious value. The only draw back is that now the cat is out of the bag. The better offerings don't last long, so you've got to stock up often after taking a leap of faith.
90+ Cellars - Same basic model as Cameron Hughes, only they're using pedigree as the primary criteria for their portfolio. Lots of deals to be had out there.
Andrew Murray - Perhaps the most unusual bottlings I've enjoyed this year - and certainly the wines which have haunted my thoughts more than any others. Andrew's Rhone varietals/blends defy categorization and deserve a closer look for the seasoned wine lover craving authenticity.
Albeno Munari - An unsung underdog from an underrated region. If you want to be on the cutting edge of discovery this year, call Al directly and order a smattering of his reds. More than fairly priced for wines bordering on profound.
Don Sebastiani & Sons - Go ahead, purists, laugh it up. Yes, these guys use oak staves in their stainless fermenters. Yes, they package Chardonnay in a box. And, yes, their wines are among the most fun values I've had the pleasure to drink this year. Smoking Loon, The Crusher, Aquinas, etc.
Bogle, Columbia Crest, Gallo - All for the same reasons: available everywhere, rarely above $15, and consistently delivering a darn good bottle of wine across nearly all varietals. Seriously.
Here's wishing you happy drinking in 2011! Cheers!