Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Top 10 Wines of 2016

As I looked over candidates for my top ten wines of the year, I decided that 2016 was a pretty good year for drinking wine. My list, of course, is a highly personal and idiosyncratic is my blog. I do not award points and do not presume to judge quality--only personal pleasure. For various reasons, these are the most memorable wines I drank during the year.

1. Taylor-Fladgate 20-Year Tawny Port. Both this and my No. 2 wine were consumed on a trip to Spain and Portugal last June. I trudged at least a mile up a steep, cobblestone lane to reach Taylor's, but the pleasure at the top was truly worth it. For less than $20, I had three- to four-ounce glasses of three Ports. Even though, I usually lean toward Vintage Port, this 20-Year Tawny caught and held my attention. Rich, rich, rich bouquet of nuts and caramel with exotic dried fruit flavors. I drank slowly and enjoyed every sip. See my note from June, 21.

After returning home, I kept my eye out for 20-Year Tawny Ports and, on Christmas day, enjoyed another excellent example--Graham's 20-Year Tawny. Judged side-by-side, I am not sure which would get my top nod.

2. Taylor-Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port, 2002. Even the Late Bottled Vintage from Taylor's was excellent, but this Quinta de Vargellas was my second choice. See my note from June 21.

3. Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, 1994. Domaine Thalabert has been one of my favorite Rhone wines since the early 1980s, although I quit buying in 1999 when it became clear that quality was declining. During 2016, I had bottles from three vintages--all at least 20 years old and all drinking beautifully. My favorite was the 1994 (April 24), which has taken on tones of cured meats and Provencal olives. The 1995 (July 28) was a close second, followed by the 1989 (May 8).

4. Giacomo Fenocchio Freisa, 2013. (November, 23). This was my first bottle of Freisa, and the wine is now on my shopping list. I was blown away by the aromas; similar to those of Nebbiolo but maybe even more entrancing. Flavors for this bottle were still a bit backward, but I could see the potential.

5. Bybee Vineyards and Habitat Russian River Pinot Noir, 2005. (May 26). I enjoyed many good Pinots this year from Russian River and Anderson Valley. This was my favorite. Others included 2001 Martinelli, 2006 Saintsbury Cerise Vineyard and 1997 Alderbrook.

6. Gigi Rosso Barolo Arione, 2001. (December 26). I drank this wine with Christmas dinner, along with the 1995 Barbaresco from Ca Rome Romano Marengo, and wavered as to which I liked best. The Barolo was clearly superior in terms of bouquet and about equal in terms of flavors.

7. Ca Rome Romano Marengo Barbaresco, 1995. (December 26, March 28). I chose this as one of my birthday wines and opened another on Christmas Day. No disappointment. This is an estate I really like. Another Barbaresco I enjoyed during the year was the 1993 Musso Cru Pora (March 10).

8. Domaine Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape, 1990. (May 1). As usual, I drank many good Chateauneufs du Pape, including the 1998 Vieux Donjon (April 10), 1990 Domaine Marcoux (March 6), 2000 Mas de Boislauzon (December 27), 2000 Pierre Usseglio (December 27) and 1994 Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches (December 27). All were excellent, but I was surprised by the fruit purity of the Beaurenard.

9. Trimbach Alsace Riesling, 2012. (December 30). I really didn't have much of this Riesling because I was intrigued by other wines at the table. I had enough, though, to know that it is a special wine. I also enjoyed the 2011 Trimbach Pinot Blanc (February 27). And I was impressed by a mature bottle of Cuvee Emile Willm Pinot Gris from 2001 (December 14).

10. Grao Vasco Dao, 2013. (June 21). This inexpensive wine was another highlight of my trip to Portugal in June. While we were waiting for carry-out pizza, my wife and I ordered a glass of the house wine. For about $1.50 each, we were served huge glasses of this impressive Dao--reminded me of a cross between a very good Cotes du Rhone Villages and an equally fine Pinot Noir. Peppery, spicy fruit on a delicate frame. The waiter showed us the bottle and exclaimed: "Very good wine, very low price." I have been looking for Dao wines ever since and may have come close with the 2011 Portado Winemakers Selection from Lisboa (December 30).

There are so many other wines that came close to making this list: the 2001 Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin Prestige, 1998 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, 1999 Font-Sane Gigondas, 1982 Poujeaux, 1981 d'Angludet, 1983 Patache d'Aux, 1985 Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres and 2012 Franco Serra Barbera. It was a good year for drinking wine. And I will try to do even better during the year to come.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Tahbilk Victorian Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

Like the Inglenook (below), this wine, too, is in decline. The bouquet, though, offers up scents of black fruits and smokey old oak. Smoother texture and more depth of fruit on the finish than the Inglenook.

In terms of bouquet and flavor, though, neither of these New World Cabs from 1990 come close to the 1981 Chateau d'Angludet I had a few weeks ago or even the 1983 Patache d'Aux I had earlier in the year.

Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 1990

This 1990 Cab was better a decade ago, but there is still some pleasure left. Deep and dark. Some green herbs along with black fruits. Still some tannin. Not as good as the 1990 Tahbilk Australian Cabernet beside it.

Portado Winemakers Selection Red, 2011

At $5.99 from Costco, this has to be one of the best values I have encountered in several years. It's a Portuguese blend of Tinta Roriz, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Caladoc, Casteleo, Pinot Noir and Touriga National sourced from vineyards near Lisbon. It reminds me of a very good Grao Vasco Dao I had last June in Porto.

Bright crimson. Smells of red and black fruits, spring flowers, peppercorn. Very tightly wound but still very pretty and appealing. Has the peppery, spicy fruit of a very good Cotes du Rhone plus the delicate texture of Russian River Pinot Noir. Sweet fruit peeking through a veil of black pepper. Yum.

Trimbach Alsace Riesling, 2012

There is no reason not to drink this very fine Trimbach Riesling right now, but I suspect that it will get even better over the next few years.

A very dry Riesling. Initially, the smells and flavors are citric--almost tart. Also some white peach which adds some nice fruit sweetness as the wine warms and airs. By the end of the meal, the wine really comes alive, blending so nicely with spicy Asian foods from Chinn Chinn restaurant of Mattawan, Michigan.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Domaine Mas de Boislauzon Chateauneuf du Pape, 2000

This wine had the stong fruit presence of the 2000 Pierre Usseglio beside it on the table...but also a good bit more. The majority at the table, both experienced and inexperienced wine drinkers, preferred this wine. Red fruit Grenache but also a touch of black fruit Syrah and Mourvedre for balance. Longer and more interesting on the palate.

This is the only Chateauneuf from this estate that I have bought or tasted. But I was impressed by the estate's $12 Chaussynette Vin de Table. Both show traditional winemaking that respects the grapes and the soil.

Pierre Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape, 2000

This 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape is drinking beautifully right now.

Strong fruit presence--Grenache red berry with a touch of spice. Also some black fruits but very clearly a wine high in Grenache. Full fruit on the palate. Very easy to like. Even so, the majority at the table preferred the next wine, the 2000 Mas de Boislauzon, and those familiar to wine, the 1994 Domaine des Hautes des Terres Blanches.

This is the regular bottling of Pierre Usseglio, the one sold by Premier Cru

Domaine du Haut des Terres Blanches Chateauneuf du Pape, 1994

This is exactly what I expect from a top Chateauneuf: depth, complexity and pleasure.

The color is much lighter than the 2000 Chateauneufs beside it on the table. And it is clearly not as fruity. But the traditional elements of Chateauneuf have come together so beautifully. Grenache berry with dried fruits and flowers. Savory rather than sweet and very compact. This is mature Chateauneuf du Pape as I love it.

Bergadano Langhe Nebbiolo, 2008

I opened this Langhe Nebbiolo for Christmas dinner for the benefit of guests who prefer the vigor of youth to the complexity of mature wine. And there were some who preferred it to the more expensive Barolo and Barbaresco beside it.

Deep color. Smells and flavors more like that of Barolo. Cherries, licorice, rose petals--yes. Vigor and power. Stays strong in the bottle--and improves--for four days after being re-corked. I paid $130 for a case of this at Binny's in Chicago several years ago and have never regretted it. If you're hesitant about laying down big money for Barolo and Barbaresco, you can do just fine with Langhe Nebbiolo. (My favorite, of course, is Vietti's Perbacco, but it's difficult to find that wine for less than $25--not much less than the price I usually pay at auction for aged Barolo and Barbaresco.)

Ca Rome Romana Marengo Barbaresco, 1995

This Barbaresco made a good companion to the Arione Barolo (below), highlighting the distinctions between the two appellations as well as individual variations in style and vintage.

The Barbaresco is slightly lighter (and more amber) in color but still in line with how mature Nebbiolo should be showing. The bouquet has less exuberance than that of the Barolo; licorice and dark tones are more noticeable. More delicacate on the palate than the Barolo, lighter body and seemingly less alcohol.(Actually, both are 13.5%.) But lots of action on the finish. At least as complex. And on the second night, after the wines have be re-corked, this is clearly superior to the Barolo--a very positive sign.

This is the third bottle of 1995 Ca Rome Marengo Barbaresco I have had over the past two years, and I have been happy with each. Sorry to see it go.

Gigi Rosso Barolo Arione, 2001

This Barolo was the highlight of my Christmas dinner of roast lamb Provencal. It is drinking beautifully now.

Aromas of roses, dark cherries and licorice are beautiful from the time the bottle is opened. The other bottles (a 1995 Barbaresco and a 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo) are much meaner and more backward when first opened, although they open up nicely after a couple of hours. Definitely a Barolo--big, bold and beautiful. Sweetish flavors of dark cherries. Actually, still some tannin and plenty of acid to keep it going. Yet on the second night, after the wine has been re-corked, the wine is much less enjoyable than the 1995 Ca Rome Barbaresco.

2001 was an excellent year in the Piedmont, and Arione is arguably one of the top vineyards. Even so, the Cellar Tracker reviews for this wine were not as positive as our assessments today. And partly because of experiences similar to mine: the wine has not held up over the second night.

Louis Latour Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2011

Valmoissine is a long-term favorite in our house, and this got more than the usual amount of praise.

Very aromatic: red berries, cherries and flowers. Fine textured and smooth. More pepper than usual, and that may be why it gets more than the usual compliments.

This wine is now available for $9.99 at Costco--a good value.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2001

I originally bought a case of this wine, but still have a few bottles left. It has always given more than its share of enjoyment, but when I opened a bottle several weeks ago, I was quite disappointed in the smells and flavors. Thinking it was corked, I opened another bottle. Whoo--same bad smells and flavors. It's pretty unlikely that two consecutive bottles of the same wine could be corked, but the wine is 15 years old, after all. Must be over the hill.

I never completely give up on any wine, though, and when I opened another bottle tonight--WOW! Classic Sainte-Anne. Deep ruby color. A basket of cherries and berries with floral/spice background. Vanilla that I know does not come from oak aging. (This wine is aged only in stainless steel and concrete.) Good mid-palate fruit and a long, enjoyable finish. Luckily, I still have another bottle or two in the cellar.

With the exception of those two bad bottles, my experience with Domaine Sainte-Anne remains 100% positive. I have had CDR and CDR Villages ranging from 1998 to 2007--all vibrant and fresh. Let's hear it for stainless steel and concrete.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Louis Pinson et Freres Grand Cru Chablis Les Clos, 1981

When you have been buying and enjoying wine as long as I have, you always have a few bottles that you know you should have opened years ago. This is one. But, for a 35-year-old unoaked Chardonnay, it certainly isn't the total loss that I expected it to be.

The color is deep gold and gets deeper the longer it's exposed to air. The smells at first are muted but start emerging nicely after half an hour or so: peaches and other stone fruit, butter, triple creme brie cheese. On the palate, it's love at first taste. Very concentrated. Savory rather than sweet. Full of intrigue. Flavors that keep shifting and changing. I am entranced. Very full on the mid-palate and long, long, long on the finish.

Of course, Les Clos is the pinnacle of Chablis, but at 35 years of age, this wine cannot be expected to have much left in the tank. The price tag reads $8.95, but I probably got a 17% discount on top of that from Village Corner in Ann Arbor. I should have opened this a decade or two ago. But I'm sure getting my money's worth tonight.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Domaine des Tourelles Gigondas, 2004

It's sometimes difficult to find the right drinking window for a Gigondas wine. At 12 years of age, I think I caught this Tourelles at a perfect time.

Deep ruby red. Beautiful nose of violets, blackberries, aromatic herbs. Gigondas at its best. The palate is a basket of ripe strawberries and raspberries. Big Gigondas structure. More aromatic herbs and spices and a long finish with only a hint of earthiness.

This was the last vintage of Tourelles before the estate was purchased by the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel fame. The Perrins were impressed by this Gigondas; the sand in the soil, as they saw it, was good for producing wines of aromatic intensity. I agree.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cuvee Emile Willm Pinot Gris Reserve, 2001

When I first served this wine (about 13 years ago), the perception was that it was "too sweet." I thought it needed some time for the complexities of the fruit to become more apparent than the sweetness. I didn't plan to wait 13 years to try it again, but it got lost in the cellar. So here goes.

Deep gold, as to be expected from a 15-year-old white. Rich bouquet that verifies its Pinot Gris heritage. Ripe apricots, honey, dried flowers. Old vine intensity on the palate. Still sweet but the complexities of the fruit are now dominant. Not as sweet as a Sauternes but every bit as rich and enjoyable. Worth the wait.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1996

Now this is what I expected, but did not get, from last night's Saint Joseph Offerus. It is three years older than the Saint Joseph but tastes at least a decade younger. What it has, that the Saint Joseph lacks, is intensity and depth of flavor. But then I have long known that Domaine de Thalabert is a special wine, a baby Hermitage.

There is plenty of sediment as there was with the Chave wine. The color is brickish ruby but significantly more saturated. Intensity plus plus--red and black fruits, leather and spice. And once it is in the mouth, the flavors begin to explode. No use trying to pinpoint descriptors; it's Northern Rhone Syrah at its best. Acidity, fruit, tannin, alcohol all beautifully balanced. Although it is now 20 years old, I would still rank this as a "young" Thalabert. And a very good one.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

J Chave St. Joseph Offerus, 1999

I realize that St. Joseph is ordinarily considered a wine for early drinking, but, from earlier tastes of this (plus the 1997 and 1998) St. Offerus, I assumed that this wine would be more ageworthy than it is showing tonight.

The color is a bit faded, and so are the aromas and flavors. Leather, black fruit and spice but lacks the intensity and depth that I have come to expect from a Northern Rhone Syrah. I like the acid level but there is not enough strong fruit presence for my taste--even considering its age.

Beside it on the table is a much older wine (the 1981 d'Angludet described below) that actually tastes much younger.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chateau d'Angludet Margaux, 1981

When I notice signs of a leaking bottle in my cellar, I drink it up right away. Except for a slight ullage (low neck of the bottle), this wine did not show any signs of leakage until I removed the top of the capsule and found a cork that was soft and almost completely saturated. I may have waited too long on this one, I thought. But my worries were quickly dispelled.

The color is a mature brick red, and initial smells are slightly medicinal. After the first few minutes, though, I am perfectly happy. Lilting Margaux scents of violets, cherries, leather and exotic spices. Flows very smoothly along the palate. Pure and clean with no sharp edges. The finish is medium long and pleasant. Showing its age, but so am I. Nothing wrong with that. A good dinner wine.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee, 1993

Domaine Pegau's Cuvee Reservee is one of my favorite wines, and I have tasted virtually every vintage from 1988 to the present. 1993 does not rank high on that list; it was not a particularly strong vintage for the Southern Rhone. This wine tonight, though, is very enjoyable.

Not a big wine. And there is none of the delightful funk that can be found in many Cuvee Reservees. Red berries and spice. Smells remarkably fresh for a 23-year-old wine. It's actually quite restrained on the palate, almost elegant. (13.5% alcohol) There is some dryness on the finish that might make wine critics turn up their noses. But I can't find anything that really takes away from my pleasure of drinking this wine alongside Provencal lamb with potatoes, onions and tomatoes.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, 2006

You may have heard of Ravenswood's Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel; it sells for about $40 a bottle. Bucklin's Old Hill Ranch Zin is not as well known but only slightly less expensive when it first hits the market. I bought this one three or four years ago for about $12 from Village Corner in Ann Arbor, probably thanks to a distributor close out. It was a great opportunity to try a wine from one of the country's oldest vineyards, first planted in the 1880s. Although the label says "Zinfandel" because Zin is the primary grape, this is actually a field blend that includes Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignane, Temperanillo, Tannat, Grand Noir and few other varietals. You name it, this wine has it. And it's a unique experience.

Very deep and dark. Looks like a big wine and it is: 15.3% alcohol but it's not at all sweet, jammy or hot as many high-alcohol wines are. Zinfandel-like boysenberry is prominent but, oh, so much more--carignane spice and earth, Grenache berry, Syrah pepper, Mourvedre violets, etc., etc. All blended together nicely. On the palate, dark cherry takes over, rich and warm. Medium long finish. This is the best bottle I have had from a half case. One more to go; I may keep it another year or two just to see what happens.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Louis Latour Auxey Duresses Blanc, 1996

This is a 20-year-old mid- to low-level white Burgundy drinking beautifully right now. I have had this wine several times over the past 16 to 18 years, and it has never been better than it is tonight.

Deep gold. Don't worry about the color; this wine is alive and growing. Almonds, white peaches, flowers and grain. Aromas that keep coming at you, and flavors that are layered and complex. Each sip creates a new memory that lingers and lingers. This is a unique experience.

I paid about $15 for this Auxey Duresses at Village Corner in Ann Arbor during the late 1990s. Even if I could live another 20 years (which is highly unlikely), I could not expect the current vintage of this wine to still be delivering pleasure after so many years in the bottle. Things have clearly changed in the way Burgundian Chardonnays are made, but I am fortunate to have a few relics from the good old days.