Tag Archives: wine spectator magazine

Wine and Cheese Pairing, 2016

 

The idea began with our desire to support “ArtStart,” a local Santa Rosa non-profit that provides opportunities for high school student artists to create and install public art projects.  Our solution was to donate to the auction a wine and cheese pairing for 14 people.  After a successful $1,500 donation, it was now time to create a

The Wines

The Wines

memorable experience that exceeded the donors expectations.  As always, the wine selections would be easier than determining and acquiring the proper cheeses.  Even living in Sonoma County where many fine artisan wine and cheeses are produced, research to find unique pairings would require some effort.

To facilitate the outcomes to 1)discover the aromas and flavors of each wine and cheese, 2)understand their backstory and 3) promote discussion and select favorites, we distributed comments from winemakers and sommeliers that assisted us through “power of suggestion.”  Seven bottles opened, seven cheeses unwrapped, we were ready to start the global culinary journey.

 

Pairing #1:  Old World vs New World Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc, originating from the Loire Valley in France, is one of the most versatile wines in the world,

2014 Huet Le Haut-Leiu Vovray Sec

comfortable as a dry, semi-dry, sparkling or dessert wine.  Grown extensively in South Africa, Australia and California, the grape has made a huge comeback over the past few decades. We compared the waxy richness and minerality of the 2013 Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc, grown in San Benito County and fermented in concrete eggs at the Russian River Valley winery with the rich 2014 Huet Le

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012 San Benito County

Williams Selyem Chenin Blanc 2012 San Benito County

Haut-Leiu Vouvray Sec, a classic semi-dry from France with stone fruit flavors throughout the finish.  No favorites here as the group decided that the two wines were different but equal, experiencing the diversity of the grape.

The two wines were paired with Valencay (Val-on-say), a tangy goat cheese from central France and a

Valencay

Valencay

young Mahon from the island of Minorca in Spain, both salty with an appealing creamy, nutty flavor.  Young, as opposed to aged Mahon (mah-ON), is an accessible semi-soft cheese that becomes hard with distinct salt crystals as it ages.  Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, locals explain that even the grass and cow’s milk from the island is salty.  My usual preference is for the young Mahon, but the citric tanginess of the of the Valencay, rare to the US, was a unique new discovery for all.

Pairing #2:  “California Chardonnay and Spanish Goat Cheese”

Sonoma County’s Kosta Browne Winery consistently creates, arguably, the best pinot noir in California, earning Wine of the Year status from Wine Spectator magazine with their 2011 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.  The winery has recently begun producing a rich, Burgundian-style chardonnay from the Russian River Valley that epitomizes their high

2012 Kosta Browne "116" Chardonnay Russian River Valley

2012 Kosta Browne “116” Chardonnay Russian River Valley

standards.  This pairing features the 2012 Kosta Browne Chardonnay “116” RRV, named after the highway that meanders through the Sonoma Valley, that combines nice aromas of lemon, pears and toast with stone fruits and lemon curd flavors and a lingering mineral finish. To augment these flavors, we chose a pasteurized goat cheese from northeastern Spain.

Garrotxa

Garrotxa

Garrotxa (gah-ROW-cha), an area in the Catalonia region, north of Barcelona, is home to a collective of goat farmers, many of whom fled urban life to revive the local cheese making trade. The semi-aged, semi-soft cheese has a somewhat sweet, nutty flavor with hints of cooked milk.  We used the rich texture of the wine to compliment the buttery sweetness of the cheese to create a celebration on the palate.

 

Pairing #3:  “All-American Classic”

One of this country’s most awarded cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Farms in Wisconsin won Best Of Show by the American

2013 WALT Pinot Noir "The Corners" Anderson Valley

2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley

Cheese Society in 2001, 2003 and 2010, the only cheese to do so. After careful consideration of pairing this creamy, nutty, caramel flavored cow’s milk cheese with the Kosta Browne Chardonnay, we opted for the earthy 2013 WALT Pinot Noir “The Corners” Anderson Valley, knowing from experience that they would compliment each other perfectly. From the northerly Mendocino County, WALT is owned by the Napa Valley’s Hall Wines team and responsible for the production of their pinot noir releases. This 2013 vintage, awarded 92-pt by James Laube from Wine Spectator magazine, has a floral, clove bouquet with a rich, vibrant cherry-cola flavor that lingers throughout the finish.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

A rare raw cow’s milk cheese in the US, the Pleasant Ridge Reserve comes from a single herd and only from the pasture season, beginning in late spring through the fall.  The evenings most creamy, well-integrated cheese with a young, but luscious pinot noir release was an instant hit with our guests and stood out as the best pairing.

 

Pairing #4: “The Island Pairing”

Geoffrey and Allison Wrigley Rusack have, for decades, produced quality wines in the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, near Solvang.  Through Allison’s family connections, they gained access to five acres on the old Rancho Escondido site on the island where they began, in 2010,

2012 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

2012 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

producing pinot noir, chardonnay and a half acre of a very special varietal.  Geoffrey received permission to excavate some cuttings from ancient vines on Santa Cruz Island, another of the Channnel Islands.  Analysis determined that they were old zinfandel vines, later transplanted to the Rancho Escondido site.

Having an opportunity to secure one bottle of each varietal annually, the scents of cranberries and old leather foreshadowed the youthful maturity of the 2013 Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island (Bottle #827), fruit-forward with a complex flavor profile strong enough to compliment aged Mahon (mah-ON),

young Mahon, aged Mahon

young Mahon, aged Mahon

a hard, textural cheese, salty with toasted nuts and caramel flavors that thoroughly coat the palate, pairing best with a rich, deep flavored wine like zinfandel.

 

Pairing #5:  “Nearly French”

Randall Grahm, founder/winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards, is one of the patriarchs of the California Rhone Rangers, replicating the famous blends from Chateaunef-du-pape in France’s southern Rhone Valley.  The

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve

syrah/grenache dominant 2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve en bonbonne, is a rich, savory red blend with deep berry and tobacco aromas followed by herbal flavors and a long, silky finish.  Awarded 92-pt by Wine Enthusiast magazine, it is uniquely aged in 5-gallon glass bottles, the same ones from yesterday’s water coolers.  The right cheese to compliment this wine was never in question.

From France’s Basque region near the Pyrenees Mountains, the semi-soft Ossau-Iraty (OH-so ear-ah-TEE), a very wine compatible sheep’s cheese, has complex brown butter, caramel flavors that seem to soften deep

Ossau-Iraty

Ossau-Iraty

flavored wines like syrah, especially one as earthy and savory as the Le Cigare Volant.

 

Pairing #6:  “Dessert!”

The last and sweet pairing of the evening featured a 2010 Longoria Syrah Port “Vino Dulce” from Santa Ynez Valley with the creamy, buttery Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

from southern Oregon’s Rogue Creamery.  The port-style wine, available in Longoria’s Los Olivos tasting room expressing cherry, vanilla and spice flavors, is often served with chocolate desserts but the Rogue River, lacking the aggressive bite of most blue’s and augmented by sage honey, was a memorable compliment to the wine and the experience.

Of course, there were no winner or losers, just some of the world’s finest cheeses carefully matched with fine wines, a culinary delight beyond reproach.  Many of these cheeses are available at various gourmet markets, often providing personalized assistance with selections.  As a

2010 Longoria Syrah "Vino Dulce" Santa Barbara County

2010 Longoria Syrah “Vino Dulce” Santa Barbara County

backup, there are many reliable websites that can offer the most rarest of cheeses.  I also often consult food columnist Janet Fletcher’s “Cheese and Wine – A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying” and “Cheese Course” by Fiona Beckett as resources for our pairings.


Wine Spectator’s 100 Top Wines of 2015: An Overview

 

On the surface, Wine Spectator magazine’s annual list of exciting wines seems to be another coronation of the fabulous Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the luscious 2010 releases from the Brunello Di Montalcino region of Tuscany.  However, just below the surface is a story of tremendous diversity, both with varietals and regions in

fog descends on vineyard at Peter Michael Winery

fog descends on vineyard at Peter Michael Winery

California and throughout the world.

The 18 California wines on the list represents 10 different varietals and 10 regions.  Europe’s great appellations in Italy, France and Spain are all still dominant, but world demand is creating opportunities to successfully explore new terroir.  The French wine region  listed most often is “other,” more than Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone or Champagne.  This year’s list is an eclectic blend of tradition and the swell of wines from the New World, but let us begin with the time-honored California Cabernet Sauvignon.

2015 WS Wine of the Year

2015 WS Wine of the Year

All of the five California “Cab” on the 2015 list are well-known, pedigree wines, two of which have made it before and for the fifth time in its history, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis 2012 (96pt/$195) is the magazine’s “Wine Of The Year.”

Over the years, Peter Michael has developed a

Sir Peter Michael

Sir Peter Michael

reputation for producing marvelous chardonnay and a top-notch red Bordeaux blend, “Les Pavots” from the Knights Valley region, due north of the Napa Valley.  The “Au Paradis” originates from an Oakville district vineyard in the Napa Valley that Michael purchased a few years ago, perfectly positioned to absorb the valley heat and the cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay, the quintessential terroir for a “classically structured Napa Cabernet.”

The Napa Valley was also aptly represented by the #57 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012 (95pt/$90) and the #65 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Signature 2012 (93pt/%56), one of the best values on the list whose 2006 vintage made the top ten in 2009.  Although their estate vineyards are in different parts of the valley, both are diverse in ripe characteristics, paired with perfect stock.

The northerly Alexander Valley appellation bestowed the #59 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Rockaway Single Vineyard 2012 (94pt/$75) and #(78 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2012 91pt/$30), each from long-standing Sonoma County producers who are also celebrating the 2012 vintage of California cabernet sauvignon.

The three California chardonnay varietals on the 2015 list, each from separate regions,

Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012

Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012

clearly exemplify its diversity and long-standing presence statewide.  The routinely present #5 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2012 (95pt/$60) is arguably our best, vintage to vintage, and indicative of what a California chardonnay can be. This vintage is barrel fermented sur lie in French oak for 10 months with 100% malolactic fermentation, bringing back fond memories of past vintages.

The consistently good, very accessible #35 Rombauer Chardonnay Carneros 2013 (92pt/#36) comes primarily from the Sangiacomo Vineyard that supplies grapes for many creators of fine chardonnay.  Their traditional creamy, fruity style, again, comes from French oak, malolactic fermentation and periodic stirring of the lees. The diverse value-priced #48 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast 2013 (90pt/$20) blends vineyards from Monterey to Santa Barbara counties.

Other noted California varietals in include the #12 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2012 (94pt/$32), dry-farmed from century-old vines and winemaker Randy Mason’s #40 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc California 2014 (90pt/$12), a white wine composed of grapes sourced exclusively from Lake County vineyards, an area recently ravaged by fire.

The petite sirah grape was also highlighted among 2015 releases beginning with the soft #17 Turley Petite Sirah Howell Mountain Rattlesnake Ridge 2013 (95pt/$44) from Napa Valley and Amador’s #42 Keplinger SUMO Amador County 2013 (95pt/$70) described as “a Cote Rotie twist on Petite Sirah,” blending petite sirah (76%), syrah (20%) and viognier (4%) to create a “massive, plush wine.”

Orin Swift "Machete" California Red Wine 2013

Orin Swift “Machete” California Red Wine 2013

Having enjoyed past wines from Napa Valley’s Orin Swift Winery, I was pleased to see the #97 Orin Swift “Machete” California Red Wine 2013 (93pt/$48) on the list, another earthy blend of petite sirah, syrah and grenache boasting floral notes with concentrated berry flavors and manageable tannins.

Italy contributed 20% of the wines on the list, mostly from Tuscany, more specifically, 2010 vintages from the Brunello di Montalcino region, landing three spots within the top 20 wines.

Having had an opportunity to taste the #4 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (95pt/$85) at a sponsored tasting event in early 2015, I am aware that this

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2010

superb wine represents five generations of family ownership and over 300 acres of estate vineyards.  Following a time-honored process involving lengthy maceration on the skins and extensive aging, their history shows consistent brilliance. The #13 La Serena Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (96pt/$60) and the legendary #18 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2010 (98pt/$125) continue to highlight an excellent 2010 vintage for the region.

At the same 2015 event, I also tasted the outstandingly balanced #8 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Serego Alighieri Vaio Amaron 2008 (95pt/$85), from another family producer in the Veneto region of northern Italy that uses a traditional “appassimento” process of drying the grapes for 90 days before pressing, then committing to five years in the barrel, usually resulting in a memorable wine.

Throughout its tremendous growth, Washington State has proven to have the diverse

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012

terroir to support many varietals.  That being said, the 2015 star is the #2 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012 (96pt/$140), celebrating their third top ten designation since 2006 with the annual reviews of a collector’s classic.

Placing in the top ten in 2011, the Bordeaux-style blend, #28 BAER Ursa Columbia Valley 2012 (94pt/$39) combines 40% each of merlot and cabernet franc with small amounts of cabernet sauvignon and malbec.  Experts speak of herbal aromas, layered chocolate and cherry flavors in a wine that will soon be in short supply.  The moderately priced #34 Tenet Syrah Columbia Valley “The Pundit” 2013 (92pt/$25) is yet another in a growing line of good syrah from the region.

Washington’s Walla Walla area has grown exponentially over the past decade and is the source of two wines on the 20125 list, the #22 Gramercy Syrah Walla Walla

K "The Creator" Walla Walla Valley 2102

K “The Creator” Walla Walla Valley 2102

Valley “The Deuce” 2012 (95pt/$52) and #31 K “The Creator” Walla Walla Valley 2012 (94pt/$55), a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, co-fermented in stainless steel tanks.

With all the industry “buzz” regarding the vintage 2012 Oregon pinot noir, it is no surprise that the Willamette Valley provided five wines including the most talked about of all, the #3 Evening Land Pinot Noir Enola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012 (98pt/$70), Oregon’s highest

Evening Land Pinot Noir Enola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012

Evening Land Pinot Noir Enola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard La Source 2012

rated.  Having tasted past first-rate vintages of Evening Land pinot’s, obtaining a bottle of this wine, from a unique geological site within the mid-Valley Seven Springs Vineyard, remains clearly in my sites.

From the Yamhill-Carlton appellation, the #38 Solena Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Grand Cuvee’ 2012 (92pt/$25) and  the #11 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2012 (95pt/$40) are highly rated wines at very reasonable prices, the latter noted for complex, concentrated fruit and spice flavors.

From the Valley’s Ribbon Ridge appellation and possibly my favorite Oregon point noir producer, the #14 Bergstrom Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge Le Pre’ Du Col

Willamette Valley vineyard

Willamette Valley vineyard

Vineyard 2013 (95pt/$60) is one of many single-vineyard pinot’s, all with exceptional structure and balance.  The Bergstrom tasting room experience, which includes chardonnay as well, is something not to be missed if you are in the area.  From the neighboring Chehalem Mountains appellation, the #45 Colene Clemens Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains Margo 2012 (93pt/$36), is a fairly new player that deserves attention.

Aside from France’s acclaimed #9 Clos Fourtet St. Emilion 2012 (94pt/$72) from Bordeaux, I was intrigued with two wines from the Bandol region, having spent a week

Domaine Gros Nore Bandol 2012

Domaine Gros Nore Bandol 2012

in Cassis a few years ago.  One of the top scoring wines from the region, the #94 Domaine Gros Nore Bandol 2012 (93pt/$39) is an engaging blend of mourvedre, cinsault and grenache that sells for a reasonable price.

Provence has secured itself as, arguably, the best new producers of rose’ wines and in 2015, the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose 2014 (92pt./$40), a mourvedre, grenache, cinsault and carignane blend, aged in concrete vats, could be the best of the best.

 

The ten Spanish wines on the list originated from a variety of regions including Ribera Del Duero that contributed the #6 Bodegas Aalto Ribera Del Duero 2012

Bodegas Aalto Ribera Del Duero 2012

Bodegas Aalto Ribera Del Duero 2012

(94pt/$54) made from 100% “tinto fino” or tempranillo grape.  Following the CUNE Rioja Imperial Grand Reserva 2004 (95pt/$63) as 2013s Wine of the Year, the tempranillo-dominant blend #56 CUNE Rioja Imperial Reserva 2010 (93pt/$44), produced near the town of Haro, lends proof of their reputation for consistent, fine wines.

The growing quality and popularity of New Zealand wines is revealed on the 2015 list through a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, a chardonnay from Auckland and two

Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013

Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013

pinot noir from different regions including the 70% whole-clustered #7 Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough Kupe Single Vineyard 2013 (95pt/$69, originating from the southern tip of the northern island.  Another fine white, the complex  #21 Cloudy Day Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014 (93pt/$28) is generally available in most wine outlets.

Each year, the list clearly illustrates the expanding global reach of the wine industry.  Today, our favorite wines have an equal chance of originating from Australia, South America or South Africa than California, France or Italy.  I applaud Wine Spectator’s effort in reviewing thousands of wines and continuing to open doors to discovering new, dynamic appellations, varietals and blends that encourage more exploration of the 2016 releases and beyond.


Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014

 

In the world of wine, 2014 will forever be remembered as a premier year for Portuguese releases.  In fact, it is not about the year 2014, but the 2011 vintage in northern Portugal’s Douro River Valley.  Exceptionally warm, dry temperatures in 2011 pushed the fruit forward, resulting in robust, yet pristine ports and tables wines, so much so that it landed three wines in the top five, averaging 98pts on Wine Spectator magazine’s most exciting wines of 2014 list including the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 (99pt/$89)as the top wine of the year.

2014 WS Wine of the Year

2014 WS Wine of the Year

I always anticipate Wine Spectator’s annual list that emerges from a  laborious process beginning with some 20,000 wines tasted by their staff throughout the year, hard work but someone has to do it. Their criteria are quality (only wines rate 90+ are considered), cost ( is it a reasonable value for the price) and accessibility (how many cases were produced).

From the wines tasted throughout the year, approximately 5,000 met the 90pt+ criteria and moved on to the blind taste test. Next, those extremely high-priced or low produced wines are eliminated.  Finally, numerous votes are taken after and during intense discussion, allowing the panel to be subjective in defending their wine’s special characteristics such as unique region, varietal, etc.  The final product is a list of the year’s Top 100 exciting releases.

Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 is no stranger to the list, slipping into the top twenty in 2010 with the perfect 100 pt rating for the 2007 vintage. It originates from the Cima Corgo region along the Douro River near the village of Pinhão, known for

Portugal's Douro Valley

Portugal’s Douro Valley

higher temperatures, lower rainfall and premier grapes.  The Symington family, the region’s largest land owner with 2,400 acres, oversees all vineyards and production including the 2011 vintage of native varietals, touriga franca (40%), touriga nacional (36%), souzão (10%) and a few mixed-grape plantings.

Wine writer Jancis Robinson compared the relationship of the main varietals with that of Bordeaux’s Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Touriga franca adds the exceptional flavor, touriga nacional the power and souzão the color.  Managing Editor Kim Marcus chronicles the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 as simply “the best of the best of a great vintage,” with a reference to the other fine Douro River Valley wines on the 2014 list.

At the cusp of yet another top rated release, the Symington family, in partnership with Bruno Prats, created the #2 Prats and Symington Douro Chyseia 2011 (97pt/$55), another red wine hailed for the flair and capacity of Douro’s 2011

Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011

Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011

vintage.  From the upper Douro valley, the #4 Qunita Do Vale Meao Douro 2011 (97pt/$76) continues the regions dominance with a red table wine with, as Marcus described, “plenty of cream and spice notes.”

Aside from the strong showing from Portugal, the “Big 3,” Italy (19), France (14) and California (19) contributed 52% of the wines. California was represented by nine different varietals, with pinot noir and chardonnay topping the list including the #11 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2011 (95pt/$60), a perennial addition and always one of the best among the varietal. Fermented in mostly new oak with full mall-lactic fermentation, sur lie for 10 months makes my mouth water for this creamy, California classic.  There has been much discussion this year 134876lregarding chardonnay from Napa’s Peter Michael. His #20 Peter Michael Chardonnay Knights Valley Ma Belle-Fille 2012 (95pt/$90)remains one of 2014’s best although at a bit higher price.

Among the California pinot noir, I was pleased to see current releases of two favorites make the list, especially the #8 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2012 (94pt/$40) The Greg Brewer-Steve Clifton partnership has produced pinot noir from this appellation for two decades.  As Brewer also serves as the winemaker at Melville Winery, I has recently enjoyed wines from his distinctive style of whole-cluster fermentation sans new oak.  This wine is competitively priced and, from

Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012

Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills 2012

all accounts, is deserving of its new status.

I have enjoyed, over the years, pinot noir from winemakers statewide who have sourced their grapes from Garys’ and Rosella’s Vineyard in the highly regarded Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County. Roar Wines is a special project of Gary and Rosella Franscioni to produce limited amounts of fine pinot noir, syrah and cool-climate chardonnay in their “Highlands” vineyards.  There is much excitement at ROAR these days with the #71 ROAR Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard 2012 (93pt/$52), earning deserved recognition as they have produced fine wines like this for years. My friend, David, a long-time ROAR aficionado, has two bottles, one of which will be shared at our next fork ’n cork gathering.

Launched by ideal weather, the 2012 Oregon vintage was excellent and #17 Soter Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Mineral Springs Ranch 2012 was the highest ranked pinot noir on the list.  If you have a preference for pinot noir, pay close attention to the 2012 vintage in Oregon.

Three special California wines should be noted, first for their accomplishments and also for their story. The magazine

The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012

The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012

recognized a blend from 120-year old vines in the Sonoma Valley, done in an old-style of winemaking.  The #15 The Bedrock Heritage Sonoma Valley 2012 (95pt/$42), a blend primarily of zinfandel and carignane has a “yummy” review and releases at a reasonable price.  As one who enjoys the juice of grenache, the #52 Herman Story Grenache California On the Road 2011 (93 pt/$42), from north Santa Barbara County sounds intriguing.

Finally, as a sports fan, I have delighted in watching the skills of former Heisman Trophy winner, current

all-Pro NFL defensive back Charles Woodson. I have also heard some buzz about the #58 Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2010 (93pt/$112), but did not make the connection.  It seems that Mr. Woodson has

Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Twenty-four Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

secured a vineyard in north Napa Valley, found the right partners/winemakers and turned a hobby into one of the highest ranked California cabernet sauvignon on this year’s list.

Internationally, 15% of the wine’s on the 2014 list were produced below the equator. Australia contributed six wines, two in the top five.  The #2 Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012 (95pt/$75), no stranger to the list, is defined for the same richness as past vintages I have tasted. Chardonnay from the westerly Margaret River appellation is renown, but the magazine was most impressed with the #5Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River Arts Series 2011 (96pt/$89), making it the highest ranked in the varietal.  The #16 Two Hands

Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012

Mollydocker Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2012

Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 2012 (95pt/$69), once again made the list, confirming it’s place as one of the fine wines produced by the Aussies with a superb 2014 release.

Ten percent of the 2014 list are wines from South America, namely malbec from the Uco Valley/Mendoza region of Argentina and red wines from the Colchaqua Valley in Chile.  On my radar since the 2005 vintage was named Wine Spectator’s 2008 wine of the year, the #42 Lapostolle Clos Apalta Limited Release Colchagua Valley 2010 (94/$89) has remained a first-class wine since Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle began the project in the late nineties.  This wine has a fascinating story and it’s own state-of-the-art facilities.  The #19 Luca Malbec Uco Valley 2012 (93pt/$32) seems to be a wine that is available and at a moderate price.

Of course, we could not discuss any list without acknowledging the wonderful wines from Italy and France, who contributed 19 and 14 wines respectively, mostly from the famed Tuscany, Piedmont, Bordeaux and Rhone Valley regions.

When the region has a good vintage, the #7 Clos Des Papes Chateaunef-du-Pape 2012 (97pt/$135), from the

Clos des Papes Chateau-du-Pape 2012

Clos des Papes Chateau-du-Pape 2012

Rhone Valley, is usually ranked in the top ten.  Likewise with the #14 Fontodi Colli della Toscana Centrale Falccianello 2011 (95pt/$120) Having had the pleasure of tasting earlier vintages of each, assuredly, they are very special wines, though a bit above my pay-grade.  For the money and based upon the magazines descriptions, let me discover a bottle of #6 Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico San Lorenzo Gran Selezione 2010 (95pt/$52).

So, congratulations to Portugal, Australia, Chile and Argentina for helping to define the unique 2014 list.  Their wines, including releases from South Africa, will continue to emerge and, when a vintage comes together, will compete with all great wines throughout the world.  As for California, we continue our place among the world’s great appellations and, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, great wines are ours to explore.

 

 

 


Top Wines of 2012 are “Relentless”

 

 

 

bottle_Relentless

Shafer “Relentless” Napa Valley 2008

clos_des_papes_label

Clos des Papes Chateaunef-du-Pape 2009

It began in late November, as it does each year. Wine Spectator magazine unveiled wines #10-6, then #5-1 and finally their entire 2012 top 100 list of “the year’s most exciting wines”, an apt description.  If previously rated quality was the only factor, we would be surrounded by the Clos des Papes Chateaunef-du-Pape 2010 (98pt/$128) and Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Family Estate 2009 (96pt/$145), both very fine, but expensive, or the highly touted wines that are nearly impossible to find.  Besides, we can’t overlook price, uniqueness or our personal preference for a specific varietal.  Kudos to Wine Spectator for annually undertaking this arduous task and giving us a global snapshot of the releases in 2012. One can purchase a copy of their latest issue for the complete details or read the following synopsis from someone who enjoys analyzing national, regional and varietal trends.

Without question, my major takeaway from the list is that 2012 is the “Year of Syrah.”  To prove, or at least defend my moniker, nine (36%) of the top 25 wines included syrah as a single-varietal or in a blend.  To be fair, France’s Southern Rhone Valley, using syrah in their mélanges, had a good year.  However, included in that same top 25 were single-varietal syrah from Paso Robles, Edna Valley and the magazine’s “2012 Wine Of The Year”, Napa Valley’s Shafer “Relentless” Napa Valley 2008 (96pt/$60), a blend of mostly syrah with 18% petite sirah.  Finding the #1 wine in the Napa Valley is fairly common, the fact that it was syrah, not cabernet sauvignon, is a headline.  The real story here is the meticulous winemaker Elias Fernandez.

Born to an immigrant father and locally raised mother, both farm laborers, Elias Fernandez grew up in the Napa Valley vineyards before leaving to pursue a Fullbright music scholarship at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Missing his roots, he eventually transferred to the UC Davis, earning a degree in winemaking studies. Since graduation, he as worked closely with the Shafer family as an assistant before becoming the winemaker in 1994.  He pushed for the expansion of syrah vineyards and was relentlessly hands-on in every aspect of the wine of the year.

Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez

Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez

ET COSME GIGONDAS 750 ML 09, page 1 @ Preflight

Chateau de St.-Cosme Gigondas 2010

While we again see the Chateaunef-du-Pape region displayed throughout, the #4 Clos des Papes Chateaunef-du-Pape (98pt/$128), a former wine of the year and recurring top ten designee, stepped aside as the neighboring Gigondas appellation produced the #2 Chateau de St. Cosme Gigondas 2010 (95pt/$41) assuming stature as the top French wine. Certainly, at less than one-third the cost of its famous neighbor, this Grenache-based Rhone Valley blend was attractive to the judges.  Demonstrating the global strength of syrah, the #3 Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Belle’s Garden 2010 (95pt/$69), one of the best 21st Century wines, comes from the acclaimed Australian winemaker that performs miracles with the varietal.

The Reverence of Napa Valley

 

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Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Reserve 2009

In a year of surprises, the Napa Valley maintained its supremacy with the Wine of the Year, two Cabernet Sauvignon, two merlot and a Carneros chardonnay, all from established vineyards.  The #8 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley Reserve 2009 (94pt/$45) puts the time-honored winemaker back on the list after a long absence. Aged for 15 months in mostly new French oak, several periodicals have generated flattering reports of the wine’s texture and flavors.  St. Helena’s Spottswoode Winery, long-time producer of fine quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, earned a spot on the list with the #80 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Family Estate 2009 (96pt/$145).  I am very familiar with this “liquid velvet” wine that has moved into icon status within the high-end market.

The #63 Neyers Chardonnay Carneros 2010 (93pt/$29), a reliably good wine, was the sole chardonnay from the Napa Valley

Neyers Chardonnay Carneros 2010

Neyers Chardonnay Carneros 2010

and only one of two on the list.

Celebrate the French

 Without fail, great wines are produced, vintage-to-vintage, in France.  Twenty-two wines on the list were French and, more impressively, three of the top five and six of the top 20.  Aside from the aforementioned classic wines from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley, the list included very reasonably priced wines such as the #39 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Alsace Les Princes Abbes 2010 (92pt/$20), with forward flavors pleasingly influenced by local volcanic soil.

Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Alsace Les Princes Abbes 2010


Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Alsace Les Princes Abbes 2010

 

Presence of the Central Coast

 With the typical Northern California powerhouse regions in mind, the fact that half of the California wines on the 2012 list originated from vineyards located between northern Santa Barbara County and the Santa Cruz Mountains illustrates a shift that sees new terrior matching the standards of the old.  On a more local shift, nearly all of the five Paso Robles releases on the list included syrah, a change from the typical Rhone’s and Zinfandel.  The exception #72 Turley Zinfandel Paso Robles Presenti Vineyard 2010 (93pt/$35) marks a successful turn since the Turley Family purchased the old Presenti Family Vineyards years ago.

One of the highest rated wines on the roll is the #21 Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2009 (97/$85), making successive appearances since being named 2010 Wine of the Year. Yielding less than 1,000 cases, this acclaimed wine is rarely available.  While wines like the #19 Booker Syrah Paso

Booker Syrah Paso Robles "Fracture" 2010

Booker Syrah Paso Robles “Fracture” 2010

Robles “Fracture” 2010 (96pt/$70) and the #76 Austin Hope Syrah Paso Robles Hope Family Vineyard 2010 (93pt/$42) have emerged onto the scene, I was delighted to see the #40 Eberle Syrah Paso Robles Steinbeck Vineyard 2010 (93pt/$24), from a well-respected, long-term eastside winemaker, gain recognition.  All of his wines are worthy of your palate and the cave tour is excellent.

Good value Pinot Noir, at times an oxymoron, truly personifies three Central Coast wines that represent much of the region.  Sourced from vineyards in San Luis Obispo to Gilroy, the grapes that encompass the #28 Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Vintage 2010 (93pt/$24) are fermented and aged separately, then blended to age harmoniously in the bottle for nearly a year.

Located at the intersection of its namesake, the Clark and Telephone (Rd.) Vineyard is a coastal property in north Santa Barbara County, owned by Belle Glos Winery, that produces the sweet spice-driven #77 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Clark and Telephone Vineyard 2010 (93pt/$44).  Located one hour north in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands, Morgan Winery

Morgan Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Twelve Clones 2010

Morgan Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Twelve Clones 2010

sourced grapes from notable vineyards, Garys’, Tondre Grapefield and their own Double L for the #83 Morgan Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Twelve Clones 2010 (92pt/$32).

 

Two classic wines and consistent delegate’s to the list represent the Santa Cruz Mountains region, above Monterey. The #26 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2009 (94pt/$55) belongs in any discussion of California’s best and the historic #94 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains 2009 (95pt/$150) whose early vintage was the top wine of the 2006 Reprise Paris Tasting.

 

 

Evolution of the Pacific Northwest

Nine percent of this year’s most exciting wines were produced north of California with Oregon honing their classic red grape and Washington expressing their diversity.

Oregon placed three pinot noir wines on the list, each from a different region and two wines, the #7 Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard

Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2009

Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2009

Estate 2009 (94pt/$40) and the #14 Maysara Pinot Noir McMinnville Estate Cuvee 2009 (94pt/$32), were included in the top twenty. Both wines are reasonably priced and representative of a tremendous vintage statewide.  Argyle, another top pinot noir producer, once again contributed the #18 Argyle Extended Triage Willamette Valley 2002 (96pt/$70), always aged and, arguably, our country’s best sparkling wine.

Argyle Extended Triage Willamette Valley 2002

Argyle Extended Triage Willamette Valley 2002

Washington State contributed four different varietals, a cabernet sauvignon, merlot and rose’ from the Columbia Valley and the acclaimed #22 Cayuse Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard 2009 (96pt/$75) from their neighbor to the east.

Amidst these great wines that reflect trends of the 2012 releases is the #51 Bodega Norton Malbec-Mendoza Reserva 2010 (90pt/$18), vintages consistently available at local outlets for under $20.  I enjoy this wine occasionally, receiving a bottle as a gift at least once a year.  Here’s to a fantastic 2013.