Grapelive’s Top Ten Wines of 2014
By Kerry Winslow
After 365 Wines of the Day and many extra tasting reports I’ve picked my Top Ten Wines of the Year for 2014, all are fantastic wines and it was terribly hard to narrow it down, I honestly should have done a Top 100, but these are certainly fascinating wines that I would wholeheartedly recommend you try and find and taste for yourself, some will be insanely hard to come by, and I apologize for that, but there some that will not take too much effort as well, thank God for wine-searcher! Without question wine number 1, the Donnhoff Eiswein was never in question, it was always going to be number 1 here, I am still haunted by it’s charms, and I’m not a sweet wine person by nature, so it gives you an idea just how special this wine is, congratulations to Cornelius Donnhoff for making such an amazing wine. I also want to say while his Eiswein and Auslese are among my personal favorites, be sure to check out his Trocken (Dry) offerings as these too are magical, I personally always try to have a bottle of Donnhoff on hand and ready to go! Donnhoff’s Nahe estate is one of the world’s great wineries and it is an honor to be able to taste these wines year after year, a big thank you to Terry Theise who imports them and to Cornelius Donnhoff who makes them, and of course who has kindly shared them with me over the years. Also, I will also mention that 2014 was a great year for tasting white wines, and by far and away it was the whites which showed the best and more interesting character over the 12 months, though I tried to keep things as even as possible in this Top Ten list, and I found Riesling and Syrah to be the best white and red varietals this year, though Nebbiolo, and especially the 2010 Barolo offerings, stood out as well. Enjoy the list of Grapelive’s Top Ten of 2014, plus Ten Honorable Mentions, and on we go with 2015!
#1 Wine of the Year: 2012 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling, Oberhauser Brucke, Eiswein, Nahe Germany. 375ml-Half Bottle.
Cornelius Donnhoff’s Oberhauser Brucke icewine 2012 is absolutely perfect and one of the most pristine examples of sweet wine I’ve had the privilege to try, this monumental and profound Riesling transcends classification, it is so heavenly and beautifully detailed it is pure art in a glass. The 2012 Brucke Eiswein was crafted from ideal non-botrytis hand-picked berries, which adds to the elegant and precise character in this focused wine, I can honestly say without any hesitation I would rather drink this glorious nectar than Chateau d’ Yquem Sauternes any day, this Donnhoff sweet wine is utterly sublime, it feels dreamy and lighter on the palate with out any cloying toothache quality, there is live, vividness and purity of terroir that shines through, a transparency that defines this stunning Donnhoff. The nose is bright, floral and intoxicating with fresh white roses, citrus flowers and crystalline mineral notes along with hints of tropical and exotic fruits leading to a richly textured palate of delicate sweetness, with apricot, lemon curd, apple butter, mandarin orange, golden peach fruits along with pineapple, vanilla, clove, lychee, kiwi and tangy lime with a steely/flinty note in the background. There is well judged acidity adding structure and highlighting every complexity, this stunning wine almost never finishes, this might be a 100 year wine, I have no doubt this is a wine with amazing potential, point scores do not even matter here, words fail as well, I am feebly trying to say this is stuff of legends, and if you ever want to spurge for something luxurious and rewarding to put in your cellar, you couldn’t do much better than this. This is unbelievably good now, I can only imagine what glories are to come, for the wine drinker this is like seeing a Michelangelo, this is a masterpiece, drink from 2018-2050, though it would be incredibly hard not to open the minute I got my hands on it! Donnhoff’s Oberhauser Brucke Eiswein 2012 seriously is one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tried period. ($250 Est.) 100 Points, grapelive
#2: 2013 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Mary Katherine Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Mary Katherine Chardonnay is Richard Alfaro’s limited estate organic Chardonnay that comes from a special plot of organic vines planted to select clones, I believe to be Wente and a unique Kongsgaard clone, regardless this 2013 is a distinct and fascinating wine with a yellow/golden hue, full of flavor, vigor, intensity and depth. The Alfaro estate is in Coralitos in the southern part of the cool Santa Cruz Mountains, it is not far from Aptos and sits in a mostly southerly facing area near the ocean, this gives tons of acidity and long hangtimes, making for very exciting Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir too. The grapes from Alfaro’s home estate and his leased site Trout Gulch have become very in demand with a long list of top winemakers interested in sourcing the fruit, look for Arnot-Roberts and Big Basin wines from these grapes and a few more I can’t mention yet, but it’s Richard’s wines that you should really take the time to find, these are glorious efforts, especially his Chardonnay, one of my top picks for personal use and a great value. The 2013 vintage looks set to be one of best yet from Alfaro, from the Gruner Veltliner to his Pinots, but again it’s his Chards that rock n roll, particularly and spectacularly this 2013 Mary Katherine and as always the Lindsay Paige Vineyard estate wines, plus the Trout Gulch Vineyard, these are three fantastic offerings. The MK starts with exotic honeysuckle, butter rum, pear tart, tropical essences and earthy sea notes leading to a dense and tension filling palate that shows mineral, wet stones, tangerine, quince, apple and tangy lemon curd along with salted caramel, bitter peach, floral herb/spice all lifted by zesty acidity, hints of brioche and wood and a touch of honey. This dry and driving Chardonnay is packed with layer upon layer, and it changes beautiful in the glass, this is majestical, stylish and gripping Chardonnay, complex, elegant and lingering in class and detail, drink this beauty over the next 3 to 5 years. ($35 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
#3: 2012 Peay, Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Vanessa Wong’s latest Savoy is flat out stunning and totally gorgeous, one of the best yet from the vintage which promises so much in California. The new Peay comes off the Cru site farmed by Richard Savoy in Anderson Valley, it is set in the middle of the valley on rolling hills and planted to a selection of heritage and dijon clones, though Peavy seems to like the Calera clone a lot here. Savoy has many a talent enjoying the fruits of his labor, with top producers like Littorai, Radio-Coteau, Breggo, Auteur and Kutch all making great wines from this special place. The 2012 Peay is beautiful from start to finish, full and expressive with lush layers along with acidic framing and life making for a divine experience. The nose is perfumed with floral tones and light earthiness, mineral and exotic spices leading to a lavish palate of red currants, morello cherry, mountain raspberry, crushed violets, lavender, wild mushrooms, anise and tea spices, plus a touch of mouth watering briny saline, gravel stones and then hints of mocha and vanilla. The finish is long and leaves a lightly fruity aftertaste with strawberry echoing along with fresh plums, fantastic, drink 2014 to 2022.
($60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
#4: n.v. Equipo Navazos, Sherry, La Bota de Amontillado no. 37, Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín “Navazos” Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez-Xérès DO, Spain.
This unbelievable Sherry is drop dead gorgeous and complex, only 3,000 bottles of this rare Amontillado were made from unique casks, this No. 37 is drawn lots of Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, hand selected by Equipo Navazos which is fast becoming the exciting Sherry shipper in the world and is putting the passion into these stylish expressions. The La Bota de Amontillado P. Marin 37 Navazos is a rare solera that has selected and refreshed with pure Manzanilla (unfortified) to add dynamic character and verve, which also heightens the aromatics and gives life to this deeply flavored and complex Sherry, without question this is one of the most interesting and pleasing Sherry wines I’ve tasted. The nose is tangy, briny and vibrant with citrus, pear, sea breeze and has green almond notes leading to a vivid palate of lemon, peach and tangerine with pecan oil, wild herbs, unsweetened salted caramel/toffee and burnt orange rind. This fine dry and dusty Amontillado gains richness with air, but is wonderfully fresh and crisp, and it is not overly oxidized, leaving a lip smacking sensation and is hauntingly long and lingering. Wow, wow and more wow, if you want to taste what great dry Sherry is all about, find this one, this is fantastic, a big thank you to Duende Tapas Bar in Oakland for pouring this one by the glass, bravo! Ole, Ole, Ole!
($60-70 Est. 750ml, 18.5% alc.) 95 Points, grapelive
#5: 2011 Cave Conrad Caloz, Humagne Rouge “La Mourziére” Les Coteaux de Sierre Valais AOC, Switzerland.
The Humagne Rouge grape is rare and wildly exotic with high levels of tannic structure, it was thought to have been native to Valle D’Aoste in Alpine Italy, but where it is almost extinct, it is almost exclusive to Valais SWitzerland and there is less than 350 acres of it in total production. This varietal is also known as Cornalin, and or Cornalin d’ Aoste, but it is almost certain to be historically native to Switzerland, though it is sometimes confused with and even called Petit Rouge. Cave Caloz’s stunning expression of Humagne Rouge is one of the greatest alpine wines I’ve even tasted and is a remarkable wine of complexity, depth and with a hauntingly long aftertaste with rich almost a northern Rhone Syrah feel, but with racy red fruits instead of black/blue, this is gorgeous wine, pretty, detailed and with a velvet covered tannin grip. This poised red with thrill mountain wine fans, and for those that geek out on Jura and Savoie reds, it is time to get into Switzerland, and while the whites have impressed lately, as well as a few Gamay and Pinot Noir wines, this Swiss red with blow your mind. The La Mourziere 2011 by Conrad Caloz, the King of the Mountain, starts with red currants, plum and wild berry fruits with morello cherry, candied cranberry and brambleberry as well, along with savory spice, earthy truffle, sage/herb, chalky stones and briar notes finishing with black olive, anise, strawberry liqueur and pepper notes. This is stylish medium bodied artisan wine from a talented winemaker and unique terroir, it offers a lot of detail, density and natural elements, I highly recommend finding this scarce gem, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, wonderful!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
#6: 2013 Von Winning, Riesling, Ungeheuer, Grosses Gewachs, Pfalz, Germany.
I think Stefan Attmann might be the greatest winemaker you’ve never heard (in the USA) of and his von Winning wines are some of the best in the world, period, that’s it, especially his Grosses Gewachs Rieslings, which on are on par with the top Grand Cru Burgundy producers, like Laflaive, Lafon, William Fevre or California producers like Marcassin, Aubert and Kistler. Recently I tasted through von Winning’s cask samples of 2013 wines with Andreas Hutwohl, who was lengthy and patient with me in explaining the vineyards and techniques used by the estate to make such amazing and mind-blowing wines. The 2013 wines were thrilling expressions of dry, intense Riesling and while the Grand Cru Pechstein may end up being 100 Point perfection, certainly the 2011 and 2012 were close, I adored the Ungeheuer best at this stage and maybe that is because, like Terry Theise suggested, it might be feeling a tad riper in style, but regardless this wine is pure sex in a bottle and ultra classy from start to finish. I have mentioned before, von Winning is inspired by the Burgundians and there is long lees contact and the Grosses Gewachs spend time in French barrique, but they remain as German as German can be, think of the German world cup soccer team, power, poise, control, playing the world game and winning it all, that is how you can relate to this majestic wine. The 2013 Ungeheuer Grosses Gewachs starts with stony mineral, brioche, citrus flower and tropical notes leading to a layered and lush palate of lemon, minty lime, apricot, peach and almost a cherry taste along with clove, salted caramel, grapefruit, green banana and mango all wrapped in cedary wood, brisk acidity and Chablis like steely mouth feel. This is totally gorgeous rich Riesling Trocken, seductive, exotic and haunting, again this wine is as good as any Puligny or Corton-Charlemagne, and I must point out that the price reflects that, while not cheap, it is a top value in this class of wine, the quality level is insane, von Winning is a winery to be on your bucket list, and you can’t go wrong with this 2013 Ungeheuer Grand Cru which should be available this coming winter.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
#7: 2012 Bucklin, Ancient, Old Hill Ranch, Proprietary Red, Sonoma Valley.
Will Bucklin’s latest Zinfandel blend from the historic Old Hill Ranch is a stunner, this is an awesome wine and one of the best reds of the vintage in California! First planted in 1852 and becoming California’s first vineyard to be planted with Zinfandel, Old Hill Ranch in Sonoma Valley, not far from Glen Ellen has the state’s oldest Zinfandel vines and this bottling features fruit from vines that were planted in the 1880’s! The Old Hill Ranch is more than that, it is also a Heritage Vineyard with dozens of varietals inter planted making an intriguing palate of complexity and diversity, much like Bedrock, the vines at Old Hill Ranch are living history and a tribute to California terroir over mono varietal labeling, this was the old school way of doing things in the state and it is nice that we can still cherish and taste the past and the future in one one. Zinfandel plays a big role, this long lost Croatian varietal also known as Tribidrag (not Plavic Mali as once thought) or known by Italians as Primitivo, but it is not the only story of these heritage sites with many black grapes playing a part too, like Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, Grenache, the Mission Grape along with many others, and even a few white grapes thrown in too, all this adds to the great tapestry that forms these wines, especially Bucklin’s Old Hill Ranch Ancient. I have tasted the 2012 Ancient on three occasions now, it is very impressive stuff, in fact in a recent panel it went up against the fine and highly rated Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape and in my opinion came away the clear winner! The 2012 Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Ancient starts with a burst of raspberry, floral tones, bramble/briar and earthy spice leading to an array of gorgeous layers on the palate with loganberry, currant, plum and frambois leading the attack along with minty herbs, pepper, cinnamon stick, game and anise making a presence as well as cedar, sweet tobacco leaf and dried flowers. Like Ridge, this is a wine that should gain over time and it will be interesting to see how it develops in the bottle, I can easily imagine great things to happen over the next 10 to 15 years, this wine, at this price is a rewarding option for medium cellaring, it is fantastic now, but with patience there should be lovely results. This is full bodied wine, no question, extremely hedonistic, but everything is poised, sharp and structured with supple tannins, a fair bit of natural acidity and remarkable depth and length. The alcohol is about 15.4%, but you’d be hard pressed to feel it, if you are honest, and there is good ripeness and pleasure, though not cloying or syrupy, this is not a candied Zin or porty wine by any means, and it should age well for another decade at least, this is spectacular California wine with a glorious history and future full of joy ahead of it, drink from 2015 to 2020.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
#8: 2010 G.D. Vajra, Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Giuseppe Vajra’s wines are absolutely beautiful, especially his latest set of Baroli, three from his family estate and the three he does under the Luigi Baudana label. This year they released a new Cru Vajra Barolo, the Ravera, and it is the most expressive and forward of his wines to date, this is a real beauty, but I have to give a shout out to their top wine, the Bricco delle Viole, this wine will require some cellar time to show it’s full potential, it has the structure and grace of a top Grand Cru Burgundy, I found it very much like a Rousseau Chambertin, though with classic Nebbiolo markers and character, though I hope you get my point, this is fantastic stuff and a treasure to hunt for. The G.D. Vajra lineup is stunning, from their amazing Riesling and Freisa to these gorgeous Baroli, this is one of Italy’s great rising stars, and this 2010 Bricco delle Viole is a masterpiece with power and elegance, along with glorious detail and length, I can’t wait to taste it at full maturity in about 10 to 15 years, I can only dream that I get that chance! The 2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole starts with tight force and takes time to unfold in the glass with black cherry, tar, game, licorice and mint/herbs slowly showing up before an impact of massive proportions on the palate with damson plum, liqueur, bacon, wild strawberry, hoisin and savory elements along with truffle, mineral and spicy cedar notes. Lingering violets, rose oil and lavender mix with earth, saline and tangy currants, all pushed up from the background by lifting acidity and firm tannins in this impressive and gripping Barolo. This is a blockbuster effort and a living classic, drink from 2020 to 2030, this will be a wine for the ages!
($90 Est.) 96-98 Points, grapelive
#9: 2012 Sandlands, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua’s own label Sandlands is gaining traction and this new set of releases are stunning, especially the Soberanes Syrah which is showing the true potential and character of this Pisoni farmed vineyard. Tegan is the head vineyard manager and winemaker for Turley Cellars and has a true gift for old vines and unique varietals, this a hard working talented winegrower and under his own label Sandland he explores a more delicate and raw style of crafting his wines, though all the latest wines are full of flavor, deep in profile and wonderfully poised and balanced. This 2012 Soberanes Syrah from Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands is a cool climate, northern Rhone style wine, it is stunningly terrific with violets and pepper on the nose, blueberries, boysenberry and juicy plum fruits to start the palate along with hints of sage, licorice, briar, bacon/meat and black olives. This intriguing Syrah (only 13.2% Alcohol) is full of intensity, vibrancy and vigor, but still gives fine detail and finessed class, of all the great Syrah coming from this site, this has shown the most harmony and should age wonderfully for another 3 to 5 years and beyond. Tegan Passalaqua’s Sandlands wine are a must find, don’t miss this one if you are a Syrah fan, and the this whole cluster, native yeast, Alban clone from Soberanes is a star, an impressive example of winemaking, site and vintage!
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
#10: 2011 Weingut Knoll, Riesling, Ried Pfaffenberg Steiner, Wachau, Austria.
I was so thrilled to taste and enjoy this wine, I’ve always admired Knoll, and I haven’t had one of their wines in a long time, so I had a lot of expectations built up, and this 2011 did not disappoint, it is an absolutely gorgeous Riesling. Share over dinner, it really unfolded and showed wonderfully changing layers of complexity, this vibrant and dry white has fantastic energy and extract, and it should age great for another ten years. The 2011 Knoll Ried Pfaffenberg Steiner is a terroir driven example of top quality Austrian Riesling with poise, beautiful detail and graceful balance, there is depth, vigor and loads of intensity to enjoy and savor, there is bright citrus, spice, mineral and subtle tropical notes. The color is greenish and very pale, the nose is a mix of stones, a whiff of petrol, yellow roses and brine leading to a vivid palate of lime, white peach, apricot and melon along with hints of truffle, salt, grapefruit and wet rock. The body is medium weighted and taught, there is tangy/firm acidity and lots of sizzle, this wine still manages to feel smooth and generous in the mouth and there is a hidden depth and richness to be found when given time to open. This is very lovely, dazzling and stylish Riesling, drink from 2014 to 2026, this is all you can ask for in a dry Riesling and more!
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
Grapelive’s Honorable Mentions Wine of the Year
2012 Elisabetta Foradori, Fontanasanta, Manzoni Bianco, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, Trentino, Italy.
This wine is one of the top ten whites of the year, in a great year for white wine, and another stunning wine for Elisabetta Foradori’s collection of glorious offerings, this 2012 Fontanasanta Manzoni Bianco is a masterpiece. The Fontanasanta is made from the native and rare Manzoni grape, fermented and aged by Foradori in amphora and raised on it’s skins, this ancient technique is making a come back around the world, but nowhere have the results been as good, a they are in northern Italy, especially the beautifully detailed wines of Elisabetta Foradori at her winery high in the Italian Dolomites near Trentino not from from Alto Adige. The skin contact gives a bit of yellowy color, but not as much as you’d find in other varietals like Pinot Grigio which really turn orange, but the Fontanasanta gains tannin and savory elements that bring superb structure and complexity to this gorgeous white wine, this wine certainly rivals white Burgundy for elegance, layers and finish, but it is much more unique to it’s varietal and terroir, as well as the winemaking style itself, it is truly a marvel to cherish, in the glass it gives unending pleasure with bright flavors, subtle density and mineral tones. The 2012 is a bit lighter and delicate than the 2010 or 2011 versions, but that might even make it that much better, starting with a play of aromas, white flavors, anise, chalky stones, saline and tropical essences lift dreamy from the glass, leading to a medium weight palate of lemon/lime, orange, green apple, white peach, flinty/rocks, apricot pit, melon and cured meats along with rose petal, earth and wild fennel. This wine is graceful, joyous and exotic, it is a masterful piece of craftsmanship and passion, I can’t recommend this beauty strongly enough, you should experience this rare wine, fantastic in everyday, drink from 2015 to 2020.
($36 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2013 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling, Wisselbrunnen Grosses Gewachs, Rheingau, Germany.
It was a pleasure to taste through the up coming releases with Andreas Spreitzer and get a feel for the vintage and his unique Rheingau terroir, and especially the rare opportunity to sample his dry Grand Cru wines. The 2013 Grosses Gewachs were cask samples of the final blend, though they won’t be bottled for a bit more time as they are still on their lees, gaining richness and detail, but these incredible dry white wines are some of the finest of the region. The Spreitzer estate is vastly different to other areas with a totally proprietary mix of exposures and soils, this is why the two Grand Crus, the Wisselbrunnen and Rosengardten, as so contrasting with the Rosengarten being the more overt and fruity/flirty and the Wisselbrunnen the more reserved, austere and complex in style, both fabulous in their own ways, though I was really taken by the 2013 Wisselbrunnen. Andreas and his brother run the place and are becoming leading lights in their region, this is a winery to discover and collect, the value and range is exceptional with three great vintages under their belt this have moved to a new level and the wines are showing a deft touch and finesse. The 2013 Speitzer Wisselbrunnen Grand Cru dry Riesling is earthy, enchanting and mysterious with it’s loam and loess soils showing through with subtle fruit, spice and lengthy finish, there’s persimmon, kumquat, green apple, white tea, chalky stones and a core of lime and white peach. The leesy richness is matched by firm acidity and dynamic character, this is fantastic Riesling and with out question a great value in the this league of wines, look for lots more to come here, it should be hitting it’s stride in 3 to 5 years and drink well into the next decade, be sure to chase after this stunning Grosses Gewachs, and don’t miss the 2011 and 2012’s if you find them out there, Spreitzer is on a roll!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Selbach-Oster, Pinot Blanc, Trocken (Dry) Mosel, Germany.
This was a huge and pleasant surprise, a beautiful and vibrant dry Pinot Blanc by Johannes Selbach, this wine really stands out for quality and value, I was highly impressed. Almost every year without fail, I attend the Terry Theise Imports Winter and Summer pre sale tastings in San Francisco, I’ve been coming since 2001 or there abbots and I always learn new things and experience some of the greatest joys of being part of the world of wine community, and it is always a great pleasure to taste with Johannes Selbach, he is a serious and generous winemaker that has a wealth of knowledge and talent to share, I am always grateful of his time and his patience, even when the German national side is playing in the World Cup and his is pouring wine and answering questions! This year, he showed his new Pinot Blanc, along with his fantastic lineup of 2012 and soon to be released 2013 Mosel Rieslings, and the Pinot Blanc is a smash hit, this is an excellent wine and great example of the varietal with vivid flavors, Mosel character and nice intensity, not usually found in this grape. The nose has honeyed lemon and green apple with a steely and stony edge leading to a medium palate of white peach, lemon/lime, tart apple and a hint of tropical fruit along with fresh acidity, bitter herbs and mineral tones adding vigor and lift. This crisp and well structured Pinot Blanc almost has the feel of Riesling, though it does have more roundness and is very generous, finishing brisk and lingering with a long spiced grapefruit and apple-skin aftertaste, drink from 2014 to 2018. This charming German Pinot Blanc comes off three plots in three Cru sites, and is well worth searching out, it should be arriving late summer or fall of 2014.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2009 Vilmart et Cie, Grand Cellier “Rubis” Vintage Brut Rose Champagne, Rilly la Montagne, France.
Vilmart’s stellar 2009 Rubis Vintage Rubis Rose is one of my wines of the year, a top 5 contender no question, it is magnificent and beautiful. Laurent Champs is one of the best winemakers in Champagne and his glorious bubbly rivals Krug for star power and luxury, and are less than half the price, these are artisan grown and crafted spiraling wines that show gorgeous layers, texture and elegance, especially his Rose Rubis. The 2004 Rubis Rose ranks among my 100 Point picks and the dreamy nose still haunts my dreams today, and this 2009 is not far off that magical level with vivid flavors, perfume and divine mousse the 2009 Rubis is stunning and jaw dropping sexy. The nose begins with violets, rose petal and strawberry with yeasty/toast, bread dough/brioche leading to a palate of exotic texture, lively focus and tension with creamy bubbles and lengthy finish, this is heavenly stuff. There is lemon, cherry essence, mineral and vanilla along with apple skin, peach flesh and a hint clove and hazelnut. Laurent Champs has created a masterpiece with his latest set of Champagne offerings with the 2009 Rubis leading the way, but his non-vintage bubbly all under $100, are fantastic as well and while it would be best to cellar his vintage wines, they are glorious now, there is his 2005 Coeur de Cuvee as well, which I sadly was not able to taste time through, but of which I’m sure is awesome and at the very top of Champs magical selections. Words often fail to relate the sheer beauty of these Champagnes, so I highly recommend you try Vilmart Champagne, it is truly an experience of the gods! Drink the 2009 Rubis Rose over the next 10 to 15 years, best from 2018 to 2028.
($170 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2010 Brovia, Barolo “Garblet Sue” DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Garblet Sue Barolo from Brovia is a fantasic wine, pure and classically defined with beautiful details and sublime structure. Brovia is becoming a top top tier Baolo producer, and with these 2010 wines certainly needs to be on the same shelf as Giacosa, Gaja, Aldo Conterno and Elio Altare. Set in Barolo’s Castiglione Falletto, Brovia captures the essence and soul of this terroir to perfection, and this 2010 Garblet Sue flirts with immortal greatness, and looks set to join the Nebbiolo hall of fame. The 2010 Cru Baroli will need some mid term cellaring to reach potentials, but even still you can taste the heart of these glorious wines and especially this one, where there is rose petals, dried violets, incense, wild herbs, bacon/meaty notes, tar, briar and a bonanza of red fruits with tangy currant, plum, black cherry, strawberry and earthy mulberry, along with forceful tannin, brisk acidity and savory elements, mineral and loamy stones. This wine has a firm voice and is very intense, but as it starts to unwind there is grace and seductive charms to be found and celebrated, it lingers on the finish with a hint of kirsch, chalk, cedar, hoisin, fig and licorice, this is absolutely gorgeous Barolo and will be even better in a few years, drink from 2020 to 2028. One of the best wines I’ve tried all year, and I highly recommend putting some of this away, and don’t miss their Dolcetto and Barbera for immediate pleasure and enjoyment.
($90 Est.) 96-98 Points, grapelive
2012 Cedric Bouchard, Champagne Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs, Pinot Noir, Cote de Val Vilaine, France.
This wildly intriguing Champagne from Cedric Bouchard was all sourced from the vintage 2012, 100% Pinot Noir, no dosage, and from a single parcel (vineyard), it is not classic Vintage Champagne in the literal sense, and though it doesn’t say it on the label it is I’m sure an Extra Brut. Bouchard has become one of Champagne’s most interesting artisans, along with Selosse, Boulard, Lassaigne, Dehu and others, this goes beyond the Grower Producer, into a realm of extreme fanaticism and total passion, these are sparkling wines of distinct individual character, mostly specializing on single varietal and without any sugar or dosage, Extra Brut or Brut Nature (Natural) this makes for a more serve and nervy style, but with talents like Bouchard you end up with something excitingly special, as is the case in his latest offering the Roses de Jeanne Champagne Cote de Val Vilaine (2012 vintage, disgorged in April 2014) which is unbelievably complex and wondrous. This 12.5% non frivolous sparkler is to be enjoyed as you would a still wine with dinner, almost any cuisine would be enhanced by such an alluring fizz. This fine moussed dry bubbly is smoky and savory with intense tension and sublime finesse with white cherry, driving citrus, apple and apple peel, mineral, peach, saline and subtle richness with exotic notes of guava, oyster shell and truffle. This Champagne is mysterious, ever changing in the glass, and sublimely focused and vigorous finishing with brisk vibrancy and length, fantastic from start to lingering aftertaste. This wine is austere in the normal sense, but feels wonderful on the palate with transparence, vivid pleasure and density of extract, this is hard to explain, but easy to fall in love with, it has vitality and charm, glorious detail and depth of flavors, a pure terroir champagne that only hints at yeast, hazelnut and white flowers, electrifying and still graceful, this is magical stuff for the brave! Very interesting now, but should be amazing in 3 to 5 years, drink from 2018 to 2024, sadly this will be almost impossible to find, but if you see it, get it, you’ll be thrilled!
($70 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2012 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay AC Rouge, red Burgundy, France.
This fantastic Marsannay is a completely new discovery for me, Sylvain Pataille looks set to be a star in Marsannay and his wines are super delicious. I tasted through three reds and one white, everything he does comes from Marsannay and are all organic, and I believe biodynamic, all of the wines were highly impressive, but especially his base Marsannay AC, which I thought was stunning. Pataille makes his wines with almost no sulphur and follows in the style of Philippe Pacalet, making natural wines in Burgundy. These red Marsannay wines lovely ruby/garnet hued, very pretty in the glass and are full of flavor, energy and are very pure, time will tell how they age, but I must say, it would be hard not to drink these superb Pinots young and fresh, they are delightful and richly layered showing great already with good fruit density, acidity, minerality and subtle earthy spices. The 2012 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Rouge starts with blackberry, cherry, strawberry and plum fruits, it really reminds me at this stage of a Jean Foillard Morgon, and that is a not a bad thing at all, then there is wet stones, truffle and cedar spice with cinnamon, nutmeg, dusty lavender and walnut oil in the background. Things unwind with air and tangy currant, blueberry and rose petals show through along with a lift of tea spice and hint of savory elements and saline. This is a fine offering and stylish wine, I’m grateful for Veritas Imports for sampling me on this exciting new producer, be sure to keep an eye out for Sylvain Pataille, and his gorgeous lineup of Marsannay’s.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2011 Ridge, Monte Bello, Proprietary Red, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Ridge Monte Bello is one of the great wines of the world, often besting the First Growths in my book, and often the wine to look for in an off year, proving that point especially well is the 2011 vintage, as Ridge has turned out an amazing wine. I taste lots of wine, I’ve had hundreds of 2011 Cabernet blends, and while there have been many outstanding wines and some great surprises, there has been some real troubled wines and it has to be said it was not a great year, some like to spin it and say it was a year for refined palates and such, I will be honest, it wasn’t all that pleasing to be kind. Then along came the 2011 Ridge Monte Bello, if you wanted to get a fabulous and complex world beating wine from this vintage, then this might be your top option in Cabernet Sauvignon, again in my opinion, and I have some experience with Monte Bello, this is amazing wine. The latest Monte Bello shows a beautiful dark garnet/purple hue with an almost blue/black core with floral tones lifting from the glass along with mineral/graphite, hints of camphor, blueberry and baking spices leading to a glorious palate arrayed with blackberry, mulberry, plum, deep black currant/cassis plus tobacco, cinnamon, pencil lead, cedar, black licorice, smoke and vanilla. This 12.8% medium to full weighted wine is utterly spellbinding, sublime and graceful, bravo to the whole Ridge team, this is a majestic Monte Bello that shines brightly, can’t wait to revisit this fantastic wine again in 5 to 10 years. Drink this beauty anytime you wish, but those that have patience will certainly be rewarded, it should drink well if not perfectly brilliant from 2016 to 2025. This 2011 Ridge Monte Bello, about 90% Cabernet Sauvignon with small parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc, will be a savvy choice and rivals the best from Bordeaux, it tastes like a blend of La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau Margaux with a California heart, both thumbs up, absolutely super!
($145-169 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2013 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Norheimer Dellchen” Auslese Goldkapsel, Nahe Germany.
In a world obsessed by dry wine, it is hard to put into poetic words just how fantastic this sweet Auslese really is, and how amazingly divine, it is not just a sweet wine, this is one of the most complex and layered wines on earth with the added bonus that is drinkable as a table wine. The balance and detail on Donnhoff’s Norheimer Dellchin is mind blowing and could change everything again, this wine defies classification. While I admit to following the dry/trocken trend and love the Grosses Gewachs, especially Donnhoff’s from this same vineyard, their latest Spatlese and Auslese have been magical, plus I adore Selbach-Oster’s Auslese weight single block wines like his “Schmitt” Zeltinger Schlossberg, these modern sweet/weighted Rieslings are just as important to follow and are probably some of the most age-worthy and collectable wines being made in Germany. The 2013 Donnhoff Norheimer Dellchin Auslese bursts from the glass with energy and vigor with sea salt, mineral spice, white roses and tropical essences leading to a full and lush palate of honeyed pear, lime sorbet, golden apples, kumquat, pineapple and mango along with lemon zest and orange notes while in the background hints of flint, peach pit and wild mint hover round. The sweetness is refreshing and doesn’t feel heavy at this stage, this is a very young wine, this baby can cellar for another decade easy before giving anything like full potential, so be patient and put a lock and key on this ultra gorgeous Riesling, though that said this wine would be stunning young with Asian cuisine and or smoked/cured pork. This is great stuff, absolutely one of the best wines of the vintage, I’m certain, drink from 2018-2028.
($87 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2012 La Stoppa, Trebbiolo Rosso, Emilia IGT, Barbera/Bonarda, Italy.
Elena Pantaleoni is one of the revolutionary women winemakers of her generation, she is also one of the world’s most respected natural vignerons, she has taught and inspired many a rising star, including most famously Sicily’s starlet Arianna Ochipinti was mentored here. Elena’s own wines are earthy and speaks from the heart of this region of Italy, these intriguing wines capture the soul of Emilia-Romagna, she has expert help in the cellar with Giulio Armani at the helm of this old winery. This small estate in the northwest side of Emilia-Romagna is known for their Barbera, but also have a local Bonarda (Not related to Bonarda found in Argentina, and as many as two other varietals called Bonarda in Italy itself.) and La Stoppa has some white grapes too with Malvasia being the pride of the place, again it is a unique clone call Malavasia Candia. Of the latest wines from La Stoppa, I was completely blown away with the blended rosso Tebbiolo, which is a cuvee of Barbera and Bonarda, this natural beauty has wonderful deep color, flavors and complexity. This wine is made from organic vines grown on clay and mixed soils, fermented in a combination of steel, cement and wood vats, exceptionally long skin contact is employed here as well, using only native yeasts and no chemical additions, no sulphur, except a low amount at bottling, aging takes place in large used casks. These techniques have been the standard Natural Wine guidelines and La Stoppa has been a model case for these wines for many years now. The La Stoppa Tebbiolo Rosso 2012 starts with plenty of earthy tones, porcini notes, iron/meat, bright red fruits and floral tones making for an alluring mix to excite the senses leading to a fruit driven palate with plum, wild berry, strawberry and black cherry leading the way on the medium palate along with hints of cranberry, chalky tannins, juicy acidity and a array of herbs and spices plus a mineral/stony streak. The wine feels energetic and lively in the mouth, it expanses and widens with air, but never gets heavy, it would be best with hearty cuisine and should drink nicely for another 2 to 3 years easy. Whiffs and teases of licorice, minty notes, cedar, briar and tangy currant linger on the surprisingly long finish, making for a wine that is hard to put down or forget in the glass, this release is far less earthy/funky than past wines in my experience, highlighting the vintage and balance, this is really fun and lovely wine from La Stoppa, imported by Dressner, hard to find, but well worth the search, especially for this Tebbiolo 2012!
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
Best Flashback Classic Wine Drinking Experience
1981 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley.
Diamond Creek might be Napa first cult single vineyard wine and are wines that seem to age forever without dying, these are the Dorian Grey of California wines! I have been a longtime admirer of Diamond Creek and I am grateful to have met the late Al Brounstein on a few occasions and his wife Boots, and was graced with a wonderful conversation and inspiration, Al was a great person and a visionary, starting his winery near Calistoga on Diamond Mountain back in 1968, and it is a piece of history that sometimes we get lucky enough to taste! I last saw Al and Boots in 2002 at a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting in Napa at the Greystone, and while very much affected by Parkinson’s decease, Al was gracious and warm, I’ll not forget that, and his kindness in chatting to me, and for having Phil Steinschreiber is winemaker pour me barrel samples of his 2001 Cabernets. Over the years I’ve picked up a few bottles of Diamond Creek, these have all been glorious, especially 1985 and 1987, along with 1990 and 1992, but also I’ve been at tasting that had early 1970’s and they were fantastic as well. Getting to the 1981 Red Rock Terrace, I must thank my friend Fred Daniels, it was his bottle we savored over a evening recently at Sens Restaurant in San Francisco, which happens to have a nice selection of Diamond Creek on their list, at remarkably fair prices I might add. I have in the past favored Gravelly Meadow from Diamond Creek, though each of the four single crus (vineyards) Red Rock Terrace, Volcanic Hill, Gravelly Meadow and the legendary Lake Vineyard, which is only done in the greatest of vintages, are grand wines. The 1981 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace, which we single decanted, started with violets, graphite, a hint of earth and lots of black and blue fruits, this Cabernet has a very Bordeaux like personality and is not too far off Latour or Montrose from a good year, the palate slightly hints at full maturity, but the color is solidly holding to deep garnet and ruby with a black core, this very much impressed me and the texture, layers and detail are all stunning, there’s currant, smoke, blackberry, plum and cherry along with mineral tones, dried flowers, a touch of game and cedar notes. with air the tannins melt away and turn sweet and succulent and hints of tobacco leaf, licorice and subtle vanillin emerge.The 1981 Red Rock Terrace is fabulous and I might say peaking now, it could go a few more years, but I doubt there is much to be gained by waiting in this medium/full bodied California classic. This was a great experience, again lots of thanks to Fred Daniels for bringing this wine out of his cellar and to Peter Steiner, a longtime friend, and wine director at Sens for making it all happen. You can still find Diamond Creek, both young and old at many wine merchants, and there are many good bottles to be had, even on Wine Bid where these older vintages go for reasonable prices.
($100-300 Est.) 97+ Points, grapelive