Wednesday, December 2, 2009
K2'S TOP 40 FOR 2009
I find it a bit fascinating to compile a list of my top selections because as a retail wine buyer, I am automatically jaded right? And while I do lean heavily toward certain producers, importers, distributors, etc. – for this list, I am not relying on my retailer point-of-view, but my personal one. And there is a difference, or at least, there has to be a difference.
I often tell my customers that if it were up to me personally, the store would be almost certainly, nothing except for Italian wine. I am a huge Italian wine fanatic. So when it comes to buying for the store, I have to be aware of what audience a particular wine would have – would customers buy it? And these aren’t necessarily ones I have reviewed either. No these 40 wines are ones that have come across my palate this year, and have stood out, towering high above the rest.
So without any more time-wasting, here are my top 40 picks for this year (in reverse order):
40. Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005. I am not usually one to choose a Napa Cab but I was truly impressed by both its power and grace on the palate. This wine is a real hit, proving great Napa Cab doesn’t have to cost you three-digits.
39. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2008. Once again, Seghesio scores with their value-priced Zin. A cooler 2008 climate gives you a less bombastic, more food-compatible red, yet still in possession of exemplary Zin character.
38. Roberto Anselmi Capitel Croce 2005. Having been a fan of Anselmi for years, my first opportunity in some time to taste this flagship white wine – 100% Garganega from Veneto – is a revelation for white wine enthusiasts and everyone else.
37. Sparkman Chardonnay “Lumiere” Columbia Valley 2007. Introducing one of the many wines on this list from my Washington trip. Winemaker Chris Sparkman is urging me to bring his wines to our area, and hopefully, sometime mid-2010, you will know how great these wines are. While known for reds, this amazing Chardonnay was well-balanced and reminiscent of a Puligny-Montrachet.
36. DeLille Cellars D2 Columbia Valley 2006. Another in a host of great wines from Washington State, the D2 2006 was one of several we finished up with on our Washington Wine Road Trip. Host/WWC Commissioner Jay Soloff had all their wines opened, yet this well-structured red Bordeaux blend stood out for me.
35. Milbrandt Vineyards Legacy Syrah 2005. Despite the unfortunate use of the word “Legacy” – they were slapped with a “cease and desist” by none other than Jess Jackson over its use – this is one incredible Syrah, particularly due to it being half-price in our store right now. Poured it at a recent tasting, and hooked a lot of folks into its charms as well.
34. Buty Semillon/Sauvignon/Muscadelle Columbia Valley 2008. An incredible white Bordeaux blend I was fortunate enough to try while out in Walla Walla. Winemaker Caleb Foster is a rising star on the West Coast, and with any luck, you will all soon know it too.
33. Feudi di San Gregorio Patrimo 2005. Here is an unbelievably extraordinary Merlot from the Campania region in Italy. It has power, elegance, concentration, depth and finesse, all rolled into one beautiful red, equal to that of Petrus or Le Pin. Absolutely glorious!
32. St. Helena Winery Seduire Napa Valley 2005. I tried this with our former Fort Thomas store manager Ray Burwick (now our rep for the Crown Division of Southern Wine & Spirits) and another former DEPS alum (and our sales rep for Tramonte & Sons) Devon Ward. It was one of those moments where none of us need say a word. Just looking at each other’s faces was recognition enough that this was a truly decadent and beautiful wine. A stunning effort in a Bordeaux-style blend from a family winery in Napa Valley.
31. Domaine de Nizas Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge 2005. I don’t think I could make a list of my favorites without once again, incorporating one of my all-time favorite reds. This G/S/M blend from the folks behind Napa’s Clos du Val, time and again, create this sheer powerhouse, a wine a love recommending because for all its heft and density, it still costs less than $20.
30. Piandibugnano Nanerone IGT 2007. A new discovery from new friend Terence Hughes, and his import company Domenico Selections, this gorgeous, playful dessert wine – 100% Aleatico – is a sweet red wine begging for those intimate, flirtatious evenings with the one you love. It’s sexy, soulful, and alluring.
29. Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. I tasted this at a dinner held at Chateau Ste. Michelle, and heard the explanation for its inception – whilst the winemaker creates many single-vineyard wines, this beautiful Cab is a creation of the winemaker himself – an expression of his mind, soul and palette. It is a remarkable effort.
28. Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas La Louvee 2005. 100% Syrah from Northern Rhone. This is Syrah as it is truly meant to be – dark, voluptuous, and smoky, with a finish that lingers almost eternally. I truly believe Monsieur Colombo is an unsung master of this grape.
27. Some Young Punks The Squid’s Fist South Australia 2007. Something crazy about the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea meets Ed Wood label, but this Sangiovese-Shiraz blend was an amazing discovery. A big, bold, jammy red from Down Under that didn’t have to punch you in the face with its exuberance, it teased you with it, and before you knew it, you were hooked.
26. Santa Rita Carmenere Pehuen 2005. This dazzling blend of 85% Carmenere and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon was an awesome red wine – and really was the catalyst for me changing my tune on Santa Rita on the whole. Big, bold, yet possessing some velvety smooth tannins, this red is what most of Chile aspires to be – f-ing delicious!
25. Belguardo Serrata Maremma 2005. One of the two Mazzei family projects on this list, the Serrata is a stylish, vibrant blend of Sangiovese and Alicante Bouschet. The Alicante portion of this wine gives it sass, and an almost jammy, brambly Zin character to an otherwise-straightforward Tuscan-style red.
24. Barnard Griffin Sagemoor Partners Reserve Columbia Valley 2007. One of the real treats I partook of in WA., this stunning Cab-based blend from a cooperative of vineyards, released only through Barnard Griffin’s tasting room, is absolutely phenomenal. There was just loads of juicy dark fruit flavors and aromas, and even though the 2004 and 2005 vintages of this wine that I tasted were drinking a bit better, coming from the amazing 2007 vintage, this wine showed infinitely more promise.
23. Mulderbosch Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch 2008. I am always amazed by this wine but couldn’t have been happier with the 2008 release. Always a huge fan of dry pink wines, this is another one of my consistent go-to wines for customers, and one I love to take home whenever possible.
22. Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres 2007. Another hidden gem in the Kermit Lynch portfolio, this delicious red blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah is one of Fontsainte’s finest releases to date. Subtle notes of blue and black berry fruit hit you first in the nose, then across the palate. Though slightly rustic, a bit of time opened reveals a plushness sure to please anyone.
21. Pascual Toso Malbec Reserve 2007. Pascual Toso is one of the most consistent names for value in Argentine wine, and their Reserve Malbec gives you plum, blackberry, clove and creamy vanilla tones to make for a rich and extremely enjoyable taste of Mendoza.
20. Barrister Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2006. Another great wine from my WA Wine Trip, Barrister is heralded as the premier WA state producer of Cab Franc – my favorite Bordeaux grape. You get all the great characters of Cab Franc and none of the bad. This is just sheer red wine drinking pleasure.
19. Bodegas Godeval Vina Godeval 2007. One of my favorite white wines, made from the Godello grape, this hidden gem from importer Jorge Ordonez is round yet possessing nicely balanced acidity. If you are tired of all that Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, and you want to try something new and REALLY good, give this one a go.
18. Bodegas Almirez Toro 2007. Having lost the Numanthia wines out of his portfolio, importer Jorge Ordonez found a new and remarkably talented producer from the Toro in Bodegas Almirez. This red made from 100% Tinto de Toro (a Tempranillo clone), is rich, dense and possessing a lot of power.
17. La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’di Pian 2006. One of my favorite producers from the Piedmont, the affordable Ca’di Pian is 100% Barbera, rich and luscious, with the red fruit and spice character you come to expect in a classic Barbera.
16. Spring Valley Frederick Walla Walla 2006. My first vineyard walk in Washington was at Spring Valley, and it was a sheer marvel to see the gorgeous countryside that is the source for this amazing red blend. While the Uriah dons our shelves, the hard-to-get Frederick is more powerful than its sibling, showing much more prowess and potential.
15. Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac 2006. Bordeaux and Value are two terms that don’t seem to go together very well, yet this delicious Merlot-based red from the Right Bank is a remarkable find.
14. Yering Station Shiraz/Viognier Yarra Valley 2006. I have grown wary of Australia in recent years, because all that bombast just turns me off anymore. Yet here is a Northern Rhone-influenced red that shows tremendous elegance and finesse.
13. Selene Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005. I have often said that Mia Klein is my Eric Clapton, and once you try this Napa Valley Cab, you’ll understand why. She is like Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, an elvish queen bestowing her magic on already amazing Napa fruit. In her presence, and in the presence of this wine, I am forever in awe.
12. Bunnell Family Mourvedre Northridge Vineyards 2007. A wine I encountered unexpectedly in Washington state – I am a big sucker for Mourvedre, and this one had me dumbstruck for at least a half-an-hour. Everything I love about French Mourvedre from Bandol – it was right there in that glass of Bunnell. Just breathtaking.
11. Pacific Rim Riesling Organic Grapes 2008. Yes I love Riesling. Yes even sweet Riesling. I think Riesling is the best white grape, and one of the best grapes overall. This Riesling, made from organically grown grapes (for whatever good that may be), is a herculean effort at crafting a Mosel-influenced white wine right in the heart of the Yakima Valley.
10. Gordon Brothers Columbia Valley Syrah 2005. I would hazard to say that this is the best f-ing Syrah from the U.S. for under $30 you will ever find. Period.
9. Zisola Doppiozeta 2006. Another hidden gem I was able to find at the Palm Bay show in Chicago this year, this remarkable red from Sicily is the other Mazzei family venture I was alluding to earlier. A blend of the native Nero d’Avola, along with Syrah and Cabernet Franc, this sultry red is silky smooth, sexy and dark in the glass. It leaves a sensuous stain on the palate that just won’t go away. And you won’t be complaining about it either.
8. Champalou Vouvray Cuvee des Fondraux 2007. Another great treasure from the Kermit Lynch portfolio, this seductive Chenin Blanc is remarkably full-bodied, only slightly sweet from its pronounced fruit flavors, and charms you to your very core.
7. Musto-Carmelitano Serra del Prete 2007. Another amazing discovery from Domenico Selections, this exceptional red wine from the Basilicata region of Italy (comprised entirely of the Aglianico grape) shows incredible earthen qualities with a supple texture of tannins that would almost fool you into thinking it has “new world” origins. Almost. Yet this wine is undeniably Italian. And that is the biggest reason why I dig it.
6. L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2006. Yes, more Washington State. This exceptional red Bordeaux-blend has always been remarkable, with the 2006 continuing its phenomenal run. Loads of power and grace - I am simply amazed each time I try it.
5. Paolo Scavino Barolo 2004. The “value” Barolo from this superstar of the Piedmont, we recently showed this wine at our in-store holiday show. Though extremely young, it shows tremendous promise, and even now, displays smoothed-out tannins, intense fruit complexity and a remarkable propensity for age.
4. Cote Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard 2004. Winemaker Kerry Shiels has one of those intoxicating smiles that always begs the question, “what is she up to?” I almost didn’t get to meet her, or try her wines because she arrived to the tasting a bit late in the evening. But it was worth the delay. This otherworldly red Bordeaux blend is almost beyond words. Describing it as delicious, incredible, amazing – those terms just cannot do the wine true justice. The DuBrul Vineyard is a fairly new vineyard source that I have no doubt you will come to know like you do Stagecoach or Beckstoffer from Napa, Cannubi from the Piedmont, or Richebourg in Burgundy. And this wine, almost inconceivably extraordinary (even that doesn’t quite get it).
3. Long Shadows Vintners Pedestal 2006. I love this wine. I had before my trip to Washington State. Yet after meeting winemaker Gilles Nicault from the winery, I was even more impressed with this wine. The effort of Gilles and famed enologist Michel Rolland, this Merlot is a Columbia Valley expression of the Pomerols of Petrus and Le Pin.
2. Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2007. How can these guys, year-after-year, create Pinot Noirs that are every bit as massive as a Napa Cab WITHOUT sacrificing the inherent grace and delicacy of the Pinot Noir grape. Think it can’t be done. You haven’t tried Papapietro Perry.
1. Bookwalter The Protagonist 2006. Not because with winemaker John Bookwalter’s help did I get in on this year’s Washington Wine Road Trip, but because this wine is just that good did I put this one at the top. At long last, I am able to sell Bookwalter in Kentucky, and in finding a kindred spirit in all things writing, have I found the perfect wine for my poetry.
Please keep in mind, these are wines that I ENJOYED this year, and even though I enjoyed A LOT of wine this year, these were my standouts. There were many honorable mentions – really too many TO MENTION. Yet here it is, my Top 40 countdown. (BTW, why do I call it a Top 40 countdown? For those not already clued in on the whole music tie-in, Kasey Kasem/Kevin Keith – we are both K2s.)