2018, A Year in Wine Tastings: Top Ten Wines

In 2018 I led 63 Wine Tastings, mostly in the Grapes Bordeaux Room, a few in private homes. Over the course of the year there was a high degree of diversity to the themes. From modest wines that we enjoy with “comfort foods” on an everyday basis, to exclusive Grand Cru wines of Burgundy that are meant for the cellar. We covered wines regionally — Rioja, Sicily, Napa, to name a few. We looked at varietal comparison — including Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Riesling.

From last year’s Tastings I have put together my Top Ten Wines tasted. {SPOILER ALERT: the wines selected are not necessarily the best wines tasted — although some are — rather each of these wines simply declared: “look at me!” Wines in each case raised an eyebrow and were wonderfully satisfying.} Before we head to the listing there are four additional points to make.

  1. The wines are listed alphabetically, so give no weight to the order.
  2. There are actually 16 Wines in the Top Ten. The “rough cut” number was 31, so as you can see, I did some serious pruning.
  3. I love tasting wines that are unfamiliar to me. Part of knowing a “little bit” about wine is that it can cloud our judgment when we critically examine what’s in the glass. A wine from a known producer, or a wine that we have tasted in previous vintages can predispose us to liking or not liking a wine. It’s human nature! Therefore, it’s understandable (at least to me) that my Top Ten is populated almost entirely of wines that were completely new to me – with the following exceptions: the two Châteauneufs, Pierre Gimonnet, Clos Henri and Dal Forno.
  4. I wanted to resist putting in two wines of the same type/region into my list. This proved impossible to do. Why? Because we had two “monster” vintages from Châteauneuf available to taste: 2015 and 2016. And it would have been a crime against wine not to have each vintage represented in my Top Ten.

Aia Vecchia Bolgheri Superiore Sor Ugo ’14 (Tuscany, Italy)

Aia Vecchia is the name of an old building which is today the centre of a company deep in the Tuscany countryside between Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci. The property consists of 69ha, 30 of which are under vine. The 2014 Sor Ugo is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Aged for 18 months in new Allier barriques. In the glass, the wine shows colors of red garnet accompanied by a bouquet of cherries, menthol and a hint of rosemary. On the palate, the wine is round and rich without being overpowering. It is spicy on the mid-palate and lively on the back-end, with flavors of black current, licorice and coffee, followed by a long-lasting finish that is slightly minty and boasts a juicy mouth-watering sensation.

Best’s Great Western Riesling ’17 (Victoria, Australia)

Great Western is part of Central Victoria’s Grampians wine region – one of Australia’s most historic and highly regarded wine regions. The first grapes were planted at Great Western during the 1850s as the gold mining boom receded and people looked for a more permanent means of livelihood. Another floral riesling showing lots of acacia, honeysuckle and cherry blossoms. Medium-bodied with some fleshy tropical and stone fruit, which are delivered in quite a friendly manner across a bed of steely acidity and right through to the tangy finish. 93pts James Suckling

Celler Cecilio Gratallops Black Slate ’15 (Priorat, Spain)

The Black Slate series wines are produced by different producers from different villages of Priorat for US importer Eric Solomon, as is the case of the 2015 Black Slate Gratallops from Celler Cecilio. They want to show the character of the Priorat grapes in the different villages. It’s a blend of Cariñena, Garnacha and Syrah from (guess what?) slate soils that fermented separately with indigenous yeasts and with 20% of the volume being raised in oak barrels for some eight or nine months. I noticed the Syrah here, combined with classical Gratallops sweet Garnacha and a pinch of spices. The palate is medium-bodied, with the fine slate texture, generous, warm and showy, but without excess, with the graphite holding it together. This is a Gratallops Vi de Villa. 90pts Wine Advocate

Ch. Doisy-Védrines ’15 (Barsac, Bordeaux)

The 2015 Doisy-Védrines might very well be one of the best values in all of Bordeaux. Aromatic intensity is mirrored on the palate, where the wine reveals remarkable depth and richness. A host of apricot jam, wild flowers, honey and hazelnut notes flesh out in the glass. Creamy, unctuous and incredibly inviting, the Doisy-Védrines hits all the right spots. This is a superb showing from the Castèja family. 95pts Vinous; 95pts Wine Advocate; 94pts Wine Spectator

Clos Henri Pinot Noir ’14 (Marlborough, NZ)

The 2014 Pinot Noir has a pale ruby color and slowly evolving nose of warm cranberries, mulberries and kirsch with underlying notes of black earth, truffles and mossy bark. It packs a lot of red berry and earth flavor layers into an elegant, medium-bodied palate, with firm, chewy tannins and a refreshing acid line to support, finishing with lingering savory notes. 91+pts Wine Advocate; 93pts James Suckling

Clos St. Antonin Châteauneuf du Pape ’15 (Southern Rhône, France)

The Sabons of Domaine de la Janasse purchased this sizable estate in the Côtes du Rhône in 2015, making this the first vintage for them under this label. To complete the Clos Saint Antonin range of wines, the family selected two parcels that previously went into Domaine de la Janasse to create a Châteauneuf du Pape for Clos Saint Antonin. It’s an overnight success. “The gem of the collection is the 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape. Selected from two lots that used to go into Domaine de la Janasse’s bottling, this is redolent of ripe berries and stone fruit, with a lush, silky, nearly weightless feel on the palate. It’s a lovely example of the delicate, elegant style of Grenache increasingly being produced from Châteauneuf’s sandy soils. Aged in a combination of concrete vats and foudres, it should drink well for 10 years or more.” 94pts Wine Advocate

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ’14 (Sicily, Italy)

A blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. The 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico reveals beautiful integrity and elegance with wild raspberry, blue flower and raw pistachio nut that is a bit sweet and salty at the same time. Buoyant and bright berry fruit takes center stage and although there are some post-fermentation aromas that might stick out to some experts, I embrace them as an integral part of this unique wine’s distinctive personality. The bouquet is almost electric. It has many elements that recall a young Nebbiolo with powdered licorice, cola and dried ginger. I tasted this wine from vat and tasted it again as a finished product. The label has been restyled to boast one of the most distinctive and contemporary designs I have even seen in Italian wine. 94+pts Wine Advocate

Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta ’10 (Veneto, Italy)

The 2010 Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta is more precise and focused compared to the 2011 edition that I tasted at the estate at the same time. This was not an easy vintage in Valpolicella compared to other parts of Italy that enjoyed a classic growing season. Instead, this Northern corner of Italy suffered from heavy rains and some hail damage. Overall yields were lower as a result. But the wine sings in terms of its brightness and aromatic intensity today. The expressive bouquet covers all the bases from black fruit to spice to drying mineral or flint. All of these elements conspire to bring robust flavors together with smooth and seamless transitions. 95pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Faiveley Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin ’12 (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy)

The 2012 Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru from Faiveley has a beguiling nose with brambly red berry fruit, damp earth, cold flagstone and just a faint smear of marmalade. The palate is medium-bodied with fine, supple tannin matched with assiduous acidity that lends tension and poise. It is quite backward, even compared to other grand cru 2012s, but there is the substance and the breeding here to suggest a seriously long and pleasurable evolution. This is one of the standouts of the Côte de Nuits. 97pts Wine Advocate; 95pts Burghound; 94+pts Vinous

Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf du Pape ’16
(Southern Rhône, France)

Third-generation Guillaume Gonnet is firmly in charge of winemaking at this family domaine, situated just up the road from Vieux Télégraphe. I tasted a number of lots that will go into the 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape, including a Grenache out of vat that included nearly 10% white varieties. This was ripe and pure, with lovely fruit and spice. A Syrah from 800-liter new oak was rich, velvety and warm, while a blend of Grenache and Counoise was more pomegranate-like and tart but with silky tannins. A prospective blend Gonnet prepared was creamy and lush, with no obvious oak and just a slight bit of warmth on the lengthy finish. 94pts Wine Advocate

Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ’14 (Alsace, France)

Growing vines since 1620, the Blanck family founded their Domaine in Kientzheim only in 1921. Lead today by Philippe (sales) and Frédéric (winemaking) Blanck, the family company cultivates a total of 35 hectares of vines, of which 50% are situated in the prestigious Grand Crus Schlossberg, Fürstentum, Mambourg, Sommerberg and Wineck-Schlossberg. The 2014 Riesling Schlossberg has a very deep, rich and mineral, as well as herbal bouquet of ripe Riesling and lemon aromas. Full-bodied, rich and intense on the palate, this is a very elegant, complex and concentrated, stimulatingly piquant and persistent Riesling. It has an explosive and very juicy fruit, with firm yet fine tannins. A great Schlossberg! 94pts Wine Advocate. DRINK DATE: 2022 -2034

Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils Panorama ’16 (Vin de France)

From vineyards on the banks of the Rhône River just south of Châteauneuf, the 2016 Vin de France Panorama is a blend of Merlot, Marselan, Grenache and Syrah made and aged entirely in stainless steel. This medium-bodied wine is loaded with jammy raspberry fruit and supple tannins. Impressively ripe without going over the top, and will drinking beautifully for the next few years.

Donnafugata Ben Ryé ’15 (Sicily, Italy)

Ben Ryé is made from late-harvest Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes, Bright dark golden-yellow with orange tinges. Enticing aromas of very ripe tangerine jelly, orange oil, white flowers, raisins, figs, marzapan and honey. Rich, dense and suave, with a creamy almost unctuous mouthfeel and flavors that are very similar to the aromas. Closes long and extremely dense, with repeating caramel apple, honey and peach flavors. One of the richest, creamiest Ben Ryés in memory, but a touch more acidity might have provided better lift and in that case I would have scored this even higher. Still, this is an absolute knockout, and you’ll never guess it has 14.5% alcohol. 95pts Vinous

Pierre Gimonnet Special Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay ‘12 (Champagne, France)

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, directed by Olivier and Didier Gimonnet, cultivates 28ha of 1er and Grand Crus in the Côte des Blancs, namely in Cuis (14ha), Cramant and Chouilly (11ha), Vertus (2ha) and Oger (1ha). Most of the vines are older than 40 years, with the oldest vines planted in 1911 and 1913. The 2012 Special Club Grand Terroirs de Chardonnay is sourced only from old vines, mostly in Cramant which makes 60% of the cuvée. 55% of the vines harvested in the Grand Cru village of Cramant were planted in 1911 and 1913, but also the 58-year-old vines in the Montaigu plot in Chouilly Grand Cru (which makes 24% of the cuvée, next to the 16% from the Croix-Blance parcel in Cuis) are exclusively picked for the Special Club. Expressive orchard fruit, lemon confit, white flower and vanillin notes, along with gentle contours, all give the 2012 its considerable near and medium-term appeal. There is a lovely sense of radiance to the 2012. 90pts Vinous

Sanguinhal Touriga Nacional ’14 (Lisboa, Portugal)

The Lisboa wine region stretches from Lisbon along the Atlantic coast to the Bairrada DOC. Touriga Nacional is a variety of red wine grape, considered by many to be Portugal’s finest. Despite the low yields from its small grapes, it plays a big part in the blends used for Ports, and is increasingly being used for table wine. Touriga Nacional provides structure and body to wine, with high tannins and concentrated flavors of black fruit. The Sanguinhal is aged 12 months in French oak, this wine is rich and spicy. It has concentration as well as juicy blackberry fruits. With its edge of tannin and smooth texture, it is ripe, perfumed and ready to drink

Sequum MIXT’13 (Napa, CA)

Most of the fruit for MIXT is from the 1½-acre Kidd Ranch in Napa Valley. This 32-year-old, dry farmed vineyard is located on the valley floor within St. Helena. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts: the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah confirms this axiom. Discover how the grapes’ separate identities become uniquely integrated once MIXT or thoroughly co-mingled. This is a hearty coming-together of our Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. It dances in baked plum and raisins as a tartness of cherry and savory dried herb counterbalances the ripeness and sizable tannin.

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