11 Most Memorable Wines of the Year

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-31-2011

Rather than put together a “best of” list — which would be nearly impossible — I’ve compiled a list of my most memorable wines of the year. As one might guess, I taste a lot of wine. And I’m very fortunate in that most of the wines I taste are super high quality. These are the wines that surprised, impressed, and delighted me the most in 2011.

11. 1976 Balbach Niersteiner Klostergarten Optima Trockenbeerenauslese
This wine came courtesy of Palate Press publisher David Honig, and was opened the night before the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Charlottesville. Never heard of Optima? It’s a cross of Müller-Thurgau and a Riesling x Silvaner cross. And apparently, it can produce some stunning wines. The wine was dark brown and bursting with flavors – and the finish reminded everyone of a “patiently-sucked Werther’s Original Caramel.”

10. 2007 Forlorn Hope Sémillon Nacre
The winemaker and owner at Forlorn HopeMatthew Rorick – makes some of California’s most exciting and esoteric wines. Looking for a guy crazy enough to try and make money on a single carboy of California Trousseau Gris? He’s your guy. I had this wine over dinner at Oenotri in downtown Napa, and even though a boatload of wines were open, I couldn’t stop returning to this glass. (www.ForlornHopeWines.com)

9. 1999 Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos Mézes Maly
Wine writer Ben Weinberg opened this wine at an after party at the 2011 Wine Writers’ Symposium. (Yes, this wine also made 1WineDude’s list, who described it as “a little slice of heaven.”) The number of wines opened that evening was extravagant, but this one stopped everyone in their tracks.

8. 2008 Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc
Until I had this wine, I agreed with Mike Steinberger on Sauvignon Blanc – I thought it was a simple grape, and quite overrated. This wine changed everything. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, the mouthfeel alone makes this wine worth the admission price (about $40). I would go on to consume quite a bit of Sauvignon Blanc this year, and the Elevage Blanc was always my reference point. (www.ChimneyRock.com)

7. 2010 Massican Annia
It’d be too easy to pretend that this Napa Valley white – an inspired-by northeastern-Italy blend of Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Chardonnay – is a simple wine. But it’s not. The wine is light yet dense; sweet yet tart; elegant yet extracted. The wine is difficult to find (just 235 cases are produced), so join the mailing list. (www.Massican.com)

6. 2010 Matthiasson White Wine
I purchased this wine while dining at Frances in San Francisco – and was floored. Like the wines of Massican, the Matthiasson white is also inspired by northeastern Italy – it’s a blend of 59% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Ribolla Gialla, 14% Semillon, and 7% Tocai Friulano. But it’s richer. Once your palate makes it through the citrus notes of the Sauvignon Blanc and seashells of the Ribolla Gialla, you’ll uncover the weight of the Semillon and the spiciness of the Tocai Friulano. (www.Matthiasson.com)

5. 2006 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon True Vineyard
If you’ve ever wondered why Thomas Rivers Brown is the most sought after winemaker in Napa Valley, taste this wine. (www.OutpostWines.com)

4. 1976 Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah York Creek
Purchased from WineBid, and consumed at NYC Berserkerfest. And a wonderful reminder that old California wines are quite special. Although 35 years old, the wine was young ­­– precise blue and purple fruits, wonderful tertiary flavors, and a long finish. Although dozens of wines were sampled that night, many people anointed the ’76 Freemark Abbey their “Wine of the Night.” (www.FreemarkAbbey.com)

3. 1978 Château Palmer
If you’re wondering why people obsess over aged Bordeaux, find a bottle of the ’78 Palmer. Consumed at a going away party for uber wine geek Matt Latuchie, it was positively delicious.

2. 2007 Failla Pinot Noir Peay Vineyard
It’s no secret that I love the wines of Failla and Peay. So I was excited to try this wine — but I wasn’t expecting to nearly lose it. Easily the best Pinot Noir I had in 2011. (www.FaillaWines.com)

1. 2002 Shafer Hillside Select
I tasted this the 2011 Wine Writers’ Symposium. It had so many layers – rich, dark Napa Cab; ripe red fruits; gorgeous spices – and was so perfectly balanced and focused, that I’ve never been so enthralled by a wine. I later discovered that Robert Parker had given this wine 100 points, so sadly, I haven’t been able to purchase any for my cellar. (www.ShaferVineyards.com)

Honorable mentions:
2010 Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc Hope Marguerite
This wine demonstrates just how beautiful Chenin Blanc can be – and it’s why I plan on consuming more of it in 2012 (like Jay McInerney).

2006 Cabot Vineyards Syrah Kimberly’s
My QPR red of the year. Just $20/bottle, and the platonic ideal of cool-climate, California Syrah.

2009 MSH Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
My QPR white of the year. Just $10/bottle, and easily on par with $30+ Napa Sauvignon Blancs.

Weekly Interview: Jon Jennison

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 12-30-2011

Jon Jennison.

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Jon Jennison, the owner of and winemaker for Thistle Wines in Dundee, Oregon.

Until 1996, Jon was a banker in Arizona – where he would “dress nicer and shave more often.” After catching the wine bug, Jon and his wife Laura packed their bags and moved to Oregon. In short order, they purchased a vineyard and began making their own wines.

And those wines have been incredibly well received. Paul Gregutt, the northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast, has written that “[Thistle] wines score like wines costing double,” and he’s urged people to “snap ‘em up if you can.”

Check out our interview with Jon below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: 1980s Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-30-2011

Embarking on a tasting of 1980s Bordeaux.

2011 is ending with a bang. Yes, I’m gloating.

According to Alice Feiring, there’s nothing “new” about the natural wine movement. (H/T: Eric Asimov.)

The iPad can double as a Champagne Saber, and you don’t even need an app!

Lettie Teague details her wine resolutions for the New Year.

Wine Spectator lists its favorite “Unfiltered” stories of the year.

In the Wall Street Journal, Nancy Keates profiles Kelly Fleming. (Which produces a stunning Sauvignon Blanc.)

In Napa Valley, the St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel gather to taste through some sweet wines.

Joe Roberts offers a visual history of Champagne.

#WA 198 Shows Galloni Isn’t Parker

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-29-2011

Wine Advocate critic Antonio Galloni

I, for one, was glad to hear the news that Antonio Galloni was taking over for Robert Parker in reviewing Californian wines. For those of us familiar with Galloni’s preferences, his latest reviews in Issue 198 of The Wine Advocate (subs. req) do not come as much of a surprise. They should, however, serve as another indicator that structure and balance are cool again.

The online wine world has been abuzz about Galloni’s reviews over the past week — picking apart the scores, comparing them to previous marks by Parker, and even panicking that no 100 point scores were awarded.

W. Blake Gray and Alder Yarrow both argued that the reviews were essentially unchanged from Parker. I think they’re right — but only if you look strictly at numbers. If you look at Galloni’s notes on 2010, especially his commentary on wineries like Hourglass (“distinctly sweet and alcoholic”), Corison (“shows lovely delineation and pure, understated class”), or the fact that Robert Foley’s 2009 wines didn’t show well enough to make the issue (these have historically been 90 – 99 pt wines for Parker in the past), there are clearly changes. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Analyzing 2011

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-29-2011

Alcohol and Tobacco.

Steve Heimoff analyzes his 2011 wine reviews.

In Wine Review Online, Michael Franz urges consumers to “taste beyond standard-issue non-vintage Brut to discover the distinctively delicious wines that exist out on Champagne’s stylistic margins.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Comiskey details eight ways to “fully appreciate” Champagne.

In the Los Angeles Times, a look at the push among some French to “go natural and fight the system.”

Mike Veseth (aka the Wine Economist) resolves explore de-alcoholized wine in 2012.

With a camera by his side, Jamie Goode makes a pilgrimage to Hermitage.

Wines & Vines summarizes the end-of-year decisions from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Wine Shop Interview: 750 WINES

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 12-28-2011

The Terroirists pay 750 Wines a visit.

As regular readers know, Terroirist regularly poses 15 questions to a wine shop owner. This week, we’re featuring David and Monica Stevens, the owners of 750 WINES in St. Helena, California.

I visited 750 WINES during a trip to Northern California at the beginning of December. The store is hidden just off the main drag in downtown St. Helena; you’d be forgiven if you walked right by it. When I entered, I felt like I had stumbled upon a secret New York-style speakeasy. The unassuming, unmarked nature of their space is by design; David and Monica work primarily on an appointment basis.

The shop is incredibly hip and reflects its owners’ sense of style. David plays in a band with several other folks in the wine industry, and Monica seems to know everyone in the Napa Valley. Original artwork hangs from the walls, and the furnishings are spare and minimalist: three or four bookcases stocked with wine bottles, a desk in one corner and a piano in another, and a tasting table prominently featured in the center of the room. Monica and David aptly describe the space as “like a loft in Tribeca.”

Because David and Monica work on an appointments basis with their clients, their service has a personal touch that distinguishes them from other retailers. Wine-lovers don’t stop at 750 on the way home from work for a bottle — they call David and Monica to source a cult Napa Cab they can’t get anywhere else or to put together a case for an important dinner. 750 also prides itself on introducing its customers to new wines and winemakers — to keep its clients ahead of the wine curve.

David and Monica poured several wines for us to taste during our visit — and chatted with us about the latest developments in the Napa and Sonoma wine scene. Our full interview with them is below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: 2011 All Americans

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-28-2011

Uploaded to flickr by buggolo.

The Prince of Pinot releases his 2011 All Americans.

“What if I told you about a beautiful Alpine region that is technically in Italy but where the people speak German and make some of the best white wines — and some of the best-value pinot noirs — in the world?” In the Washington Post, Jason Wilson writes about Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost wine region.

W. Blake Gray analyzes Antonio Galloni’s first reviews of Napa.

In Wine Review Online, Robert Whitley looks at the (successful) effort of Regis Camus and the late Daniel Thibault “to restore the great name and reputation of the historic Champagne houses of Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck.”

Wine auction sales in 2011 were quite robust – but experts are expecting prices to decline in 2012.

Eric Asimov tasted a boatload of wines in 2011. “Yet, as crazy as that lineup of wines was, what I remember most in 2011 were the wines that surprised me, grabbed me and shook me up. Not just wines, in fact, but beers and spirits, too.”

With New Year’s fast approaching, just about everyone is writing about sparkling wines. In the Miami Herald, Fred Tasker provides some interesting recommendations.

California Pinot Noir house Donum Estate has been acquired by Winside Inc., a partnership of Danish investors.

Do you think Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is worth every penny? Don’t be embarrassed – you’re just a confident wine drinker.

Terroirist Sample Roundup #3

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-27-2011

Even blind, the Mondavi Reserve lived up to the hype.

On December 18, three Terroirists (myself, Robby Schrum, Sarah Hexter) got together with some friends to formally taste 20 different wines that had arrived as press samples over the previous few months. This marked the first time that we tasted in a single-blind format, which is how we’ll be reviewing all wine samples from now on.

The biggest surprise? How well two budget reds from Paso Robles – the 2008 CalNaturale Cabernet Sauvignon (which comes in a Tetra Pak!) and the 2009 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – performed against some all star Napa Cabs.

Details, wines, and tasting notes below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Simple Wine Resolutions for 2012

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 12-27-2011

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country. All the columns are housed at Wines.com, the fastest growing wine portal on the Internet.

If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David- at -Terroirist.com).

My latest column — some simple wine resolutions for 2012 — went out this morning.

Simple Wine Resolutions for 2012

Early January is the perfect time to reflect on the previous year and make resolutions for the new one. For those of us who take wine seriously — or at least want to — it’s smart to include wine in our New Year’s resolutions. So here are three simple resolutions that’ll heighten your wine appreciation in 2012.

Check out the full piece at Wines.com!

Daily Wine News: Red, White, & Food

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-27-2011

Uploaded to flickr by ChristinaT.

In USA Today, a trend piece on the rise of Grower Champagne. In his latest Washington Post wine column, Dave McIntyre urges consumers to seek out Grower Champagnes. Looks like the secret is out!

In Tennessee, the Red, White and Food campaign is pushing lawmakers to allow ballot initiatives on supermarket wine sales.

In Palate Press, W. Blake Gray writes about the sparkling wines of Franciacorta.

In his latest Decanter.com column, Andrew Jefford explores points. “It would be naïve to think that scores will ever go away; they won’t. I hope, though, consumers will eventually view them as diversion rather than scripture, trust wine importers and retailers, trust their own palates, and come to realize that there is no ‘best’ in the wine world, only ‘different.’”

“An analysis in the January issue of The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs suggests that martinis and beer may be just as effective at extending life [as wine].” Woo hoo!