To wrap up 2013, we asked our columnists and contributors to name the wines that have most impressed them over the past 12 months.
2008 Michel Chapoutier Ermitage de l’Orée Blanc, Rhône, France
“I brought this wine over to a friend’s house for dinner back in February, where the ‘main event’ wines were big-name reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy, but this white just blew everything else away. It made everyone around the table smile in recognition of a bloody great wine as soon as they tasted it.
This is not inexpensive – a bottle will probably cost you around $180 – but it is so unbelievably complex, with huge persistency and energy, orange peel, toasted almonds, full of power but still precise and vertical: one of those wines that draws itself upwards in the mouth.
I have one other bottle at home, but am trying to hold off as I know it will get even better with a few more years’ aging.”
Tim Atkin MW:
2007 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Tuscany, Italy
“Sangiovese is a fickle beast, a little like pinot noir. At its best, it has grace and finesse; at its worst, it can taste scrawny and acidic. This is an example of the former tendency, produced in the south-east corner of Montalcino close to the glowering presence of the Monte Amiata.
This sublime Riserva was made under the previous owner of the estate – Piero Palmucci, working with the late, legendary consultant, Giulio Gambelli – although little seems to have changed under the new regime since 2011.
2007 was a hot vintage for Brunello, but that doesn’t show in the wine. Is there a ‘Poggio di Sottoness’ that supersedes vintage variation? It would seem so. I’ve tasted it twice this year: once at the Benvenuto Brunello event in February and once at the Top 50 Italian Wine Awards, where it was voted (blind) the best wine in the country by the five judges, including me. Yes, it’s that good.
It’s a sweet, nuanced, aromatic red, with a little more power from the warmer growing season, but not much, and very fine tannins. Pull the cork and wallow in the aromas and flavors of leather, tobacco, quince and Asian spices. Heaven in a glass.”
Jeannie Cho Lee MW:
Barbadillo Amontillado V.O.R.S. 30 Year Old Sherry, Jerez, Spain
“This is the most impressive amontillado I have tried in many years – a wine I can drink at the beginning of, or throughout, a meal. The flavors are so intense it is almost a meal in itself. Gorgeous, aged sherry that is expressive, complex and very long in the finish. Its intense brown amber color aptly reflects the layered flavors on the palate of toffee, caramel, toasted, mixed nuts followed by burnt sugar and marzipan flavors.”
Fire + Flood 2012 “The Fire” and “The Flood”, Willamette Valley, Oregon
“This has been a wake-up year for Oregon’s once-sleepy wine industry, with several major players, such as Jackson Family Wines, making significant investments in the region. Of even greater interest to aficionados, the influx of talented producers from Burgundy continues.
They include Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, who has launched a collaboration with film producer Mark Tarlov, founder of Evening Land Vineyards. The most interesting of Liger-Belair’s new releases are “The Fire” and “The Flood” – two studies of the Willamette Valley’s most predominant soil types. According to Tarlov, Liger-Belair assembled the cuvées blind, and discovered only later that the vineyard sources for each bottling were, as their names suggest, volcanic and sedimentary.
If you have ever questioned the effect of soil type on terroir, or wondered what, exactly, the Willamette Valley is all about, these two wines are worth tasting.”
1945 Marques de Riscal Reserva, Rioja, Spain
“Rioja is known for producing some time capsules. Unlike Bordeaux, which pre-sells wines while they are still maturing in barrel, wines from the traditional producers of Rioja are often released with a decade or more of age on them. I had the chance to try a really old one earlier this year: a 1945 Marques de Riscal Reserva.
Although 1945 was a liberating year for much of Europe, Spain remained under Franco’s grip for another three decades. The regime was known for turning gold into lead, so I had somewhat guarded expectations for the wine. But the wine was drinking beautifully, with a poise and finish reminiscent of Bordeaux from that era. Delving into the wine’s production history, it turns out that comparison is apt: although tempranillo is the headline grape for the region, this wine was made from 70 percent cabernet sauvignon. That makes it a pretty rare time capsule indeed.”
Rebecca Gibb, Wine-Searcher editor:
2010 Two Paddocks First Paddock, Central Otago, New Zealand
“I could have shown off and said my wine of the year was the 1955 Domaine de Chevalier I had at a dinner with the estate’s owners, but how many people would be able to get hold of that?
Instead, I’m opting for a wine that surprised me at New Zealand’s 2013 Pinot Noir Celebration: Two Paddock’s 2010 First Paddock, owned by actor Sam Neill. It’s not a wine that’s made every year because it’s produced from fruit in the Gibbston Valley, Central Otago’s coolest subregion. Often, it’s hard to ripen the pinot fully here, but when it’s good, it’s very, very good. This wine is a triumph – pure and fragrant, tight and elegant. Like your best knickers for a special occasion, it is both silky and delicate. The damson and especially black cherry aromas are quintessentially Central Otago. And it’s only 13 percent, which means you can potentially drink two glasses or more.”
1981 Newton Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, California
“When did you last see a California wine with 12.5 percent alcohol? Proving that Napa can produce elegant, restrained, long-lived cabernet, this has a lively red-fruit nose with earth and wet stone, crushed rose petals and potpourri. The tannins have lost none of their structure over three decades, with a lovely dry, fine-grained texture throughout, until – and you’ve been wondering where they’re going – they dissolve on the tongue into a juicy, food-friendly finish.
It is the very essence of power with finesse, alive, fresh and with at least another three years before it begins a gentle descent into a long and venerable old age.
I tasted the 1981, made by the renowned and influential John Kongsgaard, in a flight up to 2010 with current winemaker Chris Millard. The wines showed a consistency of style through the decades, which bespeaks uniqueness of terroir and extraordinary winemaking gifts. The 1981 is among the five finest cabernets, from any continent, I have ever tasted.”
1969 Thomas-Bassot Chambolle-Musigny, Côte de Nuits, France
“My wine of the year isn’t something particularly expensive, but that said, you won’t find one down at your local supermarket either. I often buy selections of older wines at auction and this was one such bottle: not a grand cru, not even a premier cru, just a modest villages red Burgundy from a (then) well-reputed producer and vintage.
Good company, of course, added to the experience, but we all fell silent as we sniffed – over and over again we sniffed – taking in those beguiling sweet fruits. Could the taste possibly match the nose? It could. Complex, enveloping, cosseting and with a beautiful balance – indeed, grace. It stopped us all in our tracks.
Of course, beyond a certain age, there are some good bottles and probably many more ‘less-good’ bottles, but on occasions such as this, it is hard to believe that premier and grand cru wines can put on a better show.”
2012 Navarro Vineyards Riesling, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, USA
“For me, the element of surprise is crucial, making some wines stand out head and shoulders above the crowd, and the bigger the surprise the more memorable the wine. This year I spent a great deal of time traveling around the wine regions of North America which produce riesling in order that my forthcoming book, ‘Best White Wine on Earth,’ is fully up to date.
Everywhere I went, riesling was more or less on a roll. However, nothing prepared me for the brilliance of the 2012 dry Riesling from Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley. With a ravishing bouquet of white peach and flowers, succulence, vibrancy and intensely mineral finish, it was everything a great dry riesling should be.
Blind, I would have confidently placed it in Germany, as a number of colleagues I poured it for did. I never thought that California could do that. Together with gewürztraminer and pinot noir, this is one of the wine styles that Navarro’s Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn have been working to perfect since the 1970s.”
2009 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo-Ravera, Barolo, Italy
“I tried this wine on a tasting trip to Barolo during the summer and it blew me away for its freshness, balance and depth – proving that even in a difficult vintage like 2009, quality-minded producers can still make great wine.
Surprisingly, even though this is one of Barolo’s greatest bottlings, changes in E.U. regulations mean that starting from the 2010 vintage, the winery can no longer write two cru names on a label, so this will be the last vintage of Cannubi San Lorenzo-Ravera.”
2012 Eroica Gold Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA
“Three days of Riesling Rendezvous tastings and seminars left me with many candidates for my wine of the year selection, but the final decision was easy. The 2012 Eroica Gold Riesling raises the bar for American rieslings in terms of style, quality and price (pushing through the $20 glass ceiling that some believe has limited the quest for quality in this country). I think this wine is a game-changer and I’m counting on it to open the eyes of American riesling drinkers.
Eroica Gold is made in the style of a German gold-capsule auslese riesling. About a third of the grapes were botrytis infected. Sweetness and acidity are nicely balanced and the orange marmalade aromas and luscious texture are memorable. This is riesling for adults, that’s for sure.”