As I reflect back on 2012 I can honestly say that it was my luckiest year yet when it comes to wine. I was fortunate enough to have drunk more great wine more often with more great people than any other year. This is a blessing. And in some ways a curse. Whatever, I have to live with it and make it my own and I am happy to do it.
Traditional Rioja stayed on the radar again for yet another year, so did Barolo and Piemonte. White Burgundy came ripping into my life in a big way and Champagne crept up and I think 2013 is going to be the year of Champagne. Sangiovese also slapped me in the face and said, hey, I’m back and I’m bad. Finally tried me some DRC as well, and it was better than I expected. Unexpectedly got a taste of the greatest Bordeaux I have ever tasted as well. And I was blown away by Chardonnay from a local source here in New York. Surprise. There are a lot of great wines that did not make this list. Too many actually. I tried to pick wines that jumped to my mind most readily, and that perhaps represent a category or genre that I love. I am keeping things strictly to 10 wines this year, no bakers dozen here. Happy drinking in 2013!
While I am not going to create a hierarchy of the top ten wines, if I had to pick just one it would be the 1998 Soldera. Not because of the terrible act that was committed against Soldera, but because the 1998 Soldera is one of the finest wines I have ever tasted. Maybe the finest. That six complete vintages of Soldera has been lost forever makes me very sad and upset. Now tasting one of the greatest wines in the world has just got a lot harder. The 1998 Soldera was a wine beyond description but I think if I had to sum it up, I would say it is all French lace panties and poetry.
It might have been this bottle of Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva that really reawakened my passion for Sangiovese. A random buy from a producer unknown to me proved to be utterly classic and captivating. Between Chianti and Brunello, Sangiovese is staging a huge comeback. As the foot is being taken off the accelerator of high extraction and new oak and being focused soundly back on restraint and classic methods and aging in large wood, we can all enjoy the benefits. Monteraponi ranks along side classic Chianti producers like Felsina and Castell ‘in Villa and drinks better than many folks Brunello’s. Fact!
No top ten list of mine would be complete without a Nebbiolo entry. Normally I might throw a Barolo in here, and I drank a lot of great Barolo’s this year, and became acquainted with a number of great producers that I had not previously had much experience with like Fenocchio, Cavallotto, and Schiavenza. But this 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo from Giuseppe Mascarello just kept coming to my mind. It is a fresh and exciting wine that demonstrates what a versatile grape Nebbiolo can be. Yes, it can make some of the most serious wines in the world, but it can also surprise and delight when done in a fresh young style. Mascarello’s is as fine as it gets. Lovely stuff.
Even more so than Barolo, no top ten list would be complete without an entry from the traditional Rioja genre. There were a number of great Riojas this year, as there is every year, since I adore traditional Rioja above all others. This entry is for both the 1985 and the 1987 Viña Real Gran Reserva. I had the 1985 twice this year, and the 1987 once. They are both amongst the best bottles of Rioja I have ever tasted and they are drinking in an amazing sweet spot right now. They are balancing the fine line between youth and maturity and represent perfect examples of traditional Rioja. I wonder if the wines that CVNE is making today will age as well as these beauties. Sublime wines keeping it Real!
I tasted Marqués de Murrieta’s Capellanía for the first time this year. It bridges a gap between López de Heredia whites and white Burgundy. It has the acidity and character of traditional white Rioja wines and the kiss of oak richness that can be found among certain white Burgundies. It does it pretty well and mostly it does it for a very modest price tag. I drank this wine a lot this year as it can be found under $25 in most shops and under $20 in some spots. It is serious white wine that balances richness, minerality, and acidity very well. I hope this little treasure remains affordable as I look forward to drinking frequently as a López de Heredia white alternative and a white Burgundy substitute. My favorite wine from Murrieta.
Speaking of white Burgundy, which hit my radar in a huge way in 2012, this wine rose to the top. Despite the premox condition which mysteriously affects some white Burgundies, it is a genre well worth exploring. I drank a lot of great white Burgundy this year, but this bottle of 2006 Laflaive “Les Pucelles” was at the top. A seamlessly balanced white white left one with a sense of wonder at it’s elegance and balance. Perfect wine. Maybe a little less showy and unique, but for perfection it was hard to beat.
Red Hook Winery was beset with disaster as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The winery on the waterfront in Red Hook sustained a lot of damage. But spirits remain high for them to rebuild and carry on. If this bottle of 2009 North Fork Chardonnay is any indication it would be a huge loss for them not to carry on. It is one of the best bottles of Chardonnay I have had from anywhere in the United States. This cuvée is courtesy of Abe Schoener (one of the coolest wine makers I had the pleasure of meeting this year), but there are numerous other incarnations of Chardonnay from Redhook that are equally thrilling. Don’t dis on drinking local, Red Hook Winery is the real deal and I look forward to seeing them rise to even higher heights in the aftermath of Sandy. Amazing Chardonnay!
I don’t drink a lot of Bordeaux, but when I was handed a glass of 1961 Haut Brion I had to taste. And I am glad I did. It was the best Bordeaux I have ever had. It was a fire roasted cherry of a wine. Very singular and legendary. Even after only one sip. People may think that they are making the best wines ever now in Bordeaux; this 1961 confirms to me that they are probably dead wrong. This wine is 12% Alcohol and it costs a small fortune and I feel lucky that I got a chance to taste it. It was life changing. If Bordeaux can be more amazing than this I cannot imagine what it would taste like. A legend!
Tried my first DRC in 2012 as well. I wasn’t expecting much, but the 1995 Grands Échezeaux was the real deal. Perfectly mature and somewhat magical. I did remind me a hint of what I love in aged traditional Rioja. Again, this is expensive stuff and it was a pleasure to be able to drink this wine with family. It was nice to have more than one sip, to sit and see it evolve over the course of a meal. That really is the best way to appreciate a bottle of wine. That it was DRC and that it was shared with family means it gets a place on the top 10 list. Is DRC as good as they say it is? You bet.
Champagne also hit me in a huge way in 2012. After trying various vintage Champagne’s I became hooked on the toasty brioche nose that some Champagne’s acquire with age. I can’t site one specific wine, but this bottle of Cuvée Risleus from Hubert Paulet tasted at a recent Champagne and fried chicken dinner stood out for it’s luxurious style. It can also be had for under $75 and it approaches the rich style embodied by the likes of Krug, etc. for at least half the price. Champagne is for celebrating for sure, but it also pairs well with a load of different styles of cuisine (like fried chicken) and should be drunk a hell of a lot more often. Long live Champagne!