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 Hope – Matthew 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)
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)
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.