Dec 2009 issue


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PAGES (44-53) December 2009

COVER STORY Sommelier’s Choice

For Sommelier Journal’s year-end selection of the best of 2009, we wanted to avoid adding to the omnipresent listings of “wines of the year” and “gold medals.” Instead, we thought our readers would be more interested in seeing meaningful recommendations from their colleagues. I asked a number of our editors and writers and other top professionals from around the world to submit their most memorable wines of 2009, along with personal tasting notes. Each was limited to one selection; the only criteria were that the wine had to be currently available in the United States and not commercially represented by the selector. Interestingly, no two people picked the same wine.

So here is our Sommelier’s Choice, organized by category and region. I think it would make quite a wine list for any restaurant.

David Vogels, CWP


Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs Brut Initiale, Champagne, France N.V. $140
This classic Blanc de Blancs is hands down the most memorable white wine I have tried this year. Not knowing what to expect, I discovered depth and power. I am still reeling from the finish, so delicate yet persistent, without becoming rapacious. As a personal indulgence for special moments—birthdays or holidays, with family and friends—this is a perfect choice. The wine is assembled from three vintages and aged two years before disgorgement. Importer: The Rare Wine Co., .

Alfonso Cevola
Italian Wine Director, Glazer’s

Krug Clos du Mesnil, Champagne, France 1995 $800
Borrowing the allusion of the great Dom, this is one of the few wines that has made me “see stars.” It was during a private audience with the dynamic, memorable Rémi Krug that I first tasted this Champagne in 2006, while researching a feature on mono-crus. Maybe it was Rémi’s genuine and boundless enthusiasm that first brought me to this, but I have rarely before or since tasted as profound a wine. When I sampled it again one chilly and sunny March 2009 afternoon along the seafront in Brighton, England, the straw-yellow color from three years earlier hadn’t altered. A highly mineral and medium-full body, a firm acidity that still makes the tongue rise to attention, and an elegant and savory finish combine in a singular, harmonious wine experience. Though delicious, inspiring, and mind-blowing now, it’s tightly wound and should improve for decades. Importer: Moët Hennessy USA, .

David Furer
Contributing Editor, Sommelier Journal
Brighton, England

Vouette et Sorbée Extra Brut Fidèle, Champagne, France N.V. $80
This Champagne left me speechless and my heart pounding. Before tasting, I knew the facts: barrel-fermented Pinot Noir from a tiny, Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard in Buxières-sur-Arce (a village closer to Chablis than to Reims), bottled without dosage . But nothing prepared me for the exquisite entry on the palate, the linear tension, and the discreet effervescence. The complex flavors of quince, jasmine rice, and calcareous rock are nothing short of stunning. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, .

Christie Dufault, ACWP
Sommelier, RN74
San Francisco

Elio Perrone Brachetto Moscato Bigarò, Piedmont, Italy 2008 $20
A five-alarm table fire has onlookers. With only one course left to smother it, we stop, drop flutes, and roll out this pink frizzante . A mistral of red-fruit intensity zephyrs away hot moods; women swoon, and even the gruffest of mine workers finds his feminine side. Any accompanying red-fruit-based dessert typically causes a nuclear tastebud explosion. After serving this semi-sweet wine, the only thing left burning is the bottom line. Importer: Polaner Selections, .

Timothy O’Neal
Wine Director, Avenues Bistro
Kansas City, Mo.



Dönnhoff Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany 2008 $44
This wine blew me away when I tasted it earlier this year. It is the perfect combination of balance, purity of fruit, and mineral depth. Because the 2008 vintage is much leaner than other recent years, the high acidity perfectly balances the residual sugar, allowing an arsenal of mineral and tertiary flavors to bounce off the clean and focused fruit. Truly a spellbinding wine. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, .

Chase DuBay
Wine Director, Cyrus Restaurant
Healdsburg, Calif.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany 2008 $37
The well-known wine reviewers laud Germany’s great dessert wines and ignore exquisitely balanced table wines such as this deft beauty. Like the best of all possible Rieslings, it is poised between richness and delicacy and between earthiness and fruitiness. At 10% alcohol, your customers can split a bottle without fear; powerful flavors and acids allow the wine to stand up to an amazing array of foods, especially spicy dishes. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections, .

Doug Frost, MS, MW
Founder, Beverage Alcohol Resource
Kansas City, Mo.

Wegeler Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany 2008 $70
Combine a classic vintage, a top producer, and one of the world’s great vineyards and you have my favorite wine of the year: Wegeler’s Spätlese from the legendary Doctor Vineyard in the Mittelmosel. The 2008 offers an astonishing purity of fruit and the perfect fruit-acid balance that all great Mosel Rieslings possess. It’s utterly delicious now and can be cellared for 30 or more years. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections, .

Tim Gaiser, MS
Education Director
American Chapter
Court of Master Sommeliers
San Francisco

Weingut A. Christmann Königsbacher Idig Riesling Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz, Germany 2007 $65
The Gross Gewach of Idig is located just below the village of Königsbach in the heart of the Pfalz region. Idig is a near- Alleinbesitz (monopole) of proprietor Steffen Christmann, who lovingly farms his majority share of the vineyard using Biodynamic techniques. Mineral aromas from the soil’s loamy mix of loess, chalk, and sandstone scream from the glass, followed by flavors of apple pastry, kaffir lime leaf, ginger, and lemongrass. The 2007’s laser-like acidity is beautifully balanced by a rich texture, even though the wine is bone-dry. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, .

Jesse Becker, MS, CWE
Sommelier, The Boiler Room Restaurant
Omaha, Neb.

Sauvignon Blanc

Viña Garcés Silva Amayna Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile 2008 $24
Since its first vintage just five years ago, Amayna has already become one of Chile’s top wineries. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc combines immense concentration with crisp acidity, thanks to Leyda Valley’s unique climate. Packed with tangy lemon, greengage-plum, and chive flavors, this wine is an extraordinary match with fresh seafood doused with citrus and herbs. The Burgundy-shaped bottle further distinguishes this mouthwatering, well-priced Sauvignon Blanc from all the rest. Importer: T. Edward Wines, Ltd., .

Natalie Guinovart, DWS, CWE
Writer/Educator, Wine for Thought
Buenos Aires, Argentina


Westport Rivers Chardonnay, Westport, Massachusetts 2007 $16
In an increasingly wine-saturated world, here’s a toast to rediscovering the beauty of drinking local. New England is not known as a viticultural hotbed (yet), but the Russell family at Westport Rivers, tucked along the southern coast of Massachusetts, is quietly gathering a national following for its wines. This Chardonnay exceptionally balances ripe pear and apple with crisp acidity and just enough oak for structure. With the money you saved on overseas freight, grab a bottle of Westport’s Cuvée RJR sparkler and discover the emerging terroir of New England. .

Michael Meagher
Beverage Manager, BOKX 109 American Prime
Newton, Mass.
Chairman, Boston Sommelier Society

Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis Les Monts Luisants, Burgundy, France 2006 $78
Dujac doesn’t produce a lot of white wine, but perhaps it should make more. The grapes for this bottling come from a small holding (a little more than an acre) in the Côte de Nuits premier cru vineyard of Mont Luisants. There’s a wonderful intensity and yet a grace to this Burgundy, accented by balanced oak, strong minerality, and a lengthy finish. As in any great wine, every sip becomes more fascinating. Importer: Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants, .

Robert Bath, MS
Robert Bath Imports
St. Helena, Calif.

Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc, Burgundy, France 2007 $55
The same day I tasted this gem, I tasted Domaine Leflaive’s grand cru Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet. It was $410 a bottle, stupendous, and way out of my league pocketbookwise. So I turned my attention to this supposedly simple Bourgogne Blanc. Alas, there was nothing simple about it. The amazingly deep richness, purity, and integrity were astounding for a wine that holds merely a regional “Bourgogne” credential. It had a vividness, an almost soulfulness, that marked it as coming from rarified vineyards. Indeed, Domaine Leflaive, which I consider to be the single best producer of white Burgundy ever, owns vineyards that rank among the crown jewels of France. This may be the domaine’s “little” wine, but its impact is anything but. Importer: Wilson Daniels, Ltd., .

Karen MacNeil, ACWP
Author, The Wine Bible
Chairman, Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies
Culinary Institute of America
St. Helena, Calif.

Other Whites

Antoine Aréna Bianco Gentile, Corsica, France 2008 $34
From the steep, rock-strewn hillside of Aréna’s Patrimonio vineyard, this unique wine is ironically classified as a vin de table because Corsica’s indigenous Bianco Gentile grape is not recognized by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. A Chardonnay-like nose with tight minerality precedes a palate of stones, white pepper, lemon, and apple, balanced by a buttery fatness that cries out for foie gras. The 5 grams per liter of residual sugar soften the attack and add a luxurious dimension to this unoaked wine, but the rocky base of the grapes’ terroir underscores all. Unique and fascinating. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, .

S. Peter Smith
Newport Beach, Calif.

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Les Gras Moutons, Loire Valley, France 2008 $17
Muscadet has gained prestige in recent years, as demonstrated by the new category of Muscadets de haute expression originating from specific terroirs. Marc Ollivier’s offering, from a parcel in the highly regarded vineyard of Les Gras Moutons, is subtle and complex, with aromas of lemony fruit, minerals, yeast, and fresh-cut hay. On the palate, the wine is crisp and refreshing, making it a perfect foil for food now, but it has an underlying concentration that promises the ability to age for some time to come. Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections, .

Charles Curtis, MW
Head of North American Wine Sales
New York

Dönnhoff Weissburgunder S Trocken, Nahe, Germany 2007 $30
Weissburgunder, or Pinot Blanc, has never shown me the “wow” factor until I tasted the S cuvée, Dönnhoff’s top of the line. Thanks to fermentation and aging in large casks, the nose has similar notes to those of Chardonnay: pear, light vanilla, ripe melon, and almond. On the palate, the wine displays ripe yellow apple and peach, with an intense minerality, yet a creamy mouthfeel and a long finish. Importer: Terry Theise Estate Selections, Silver Spring, Md.

David A. Singer, CWE
Newton, Mass.

Benanti Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina, Sicily, Italy 2003 $50
This was the one wine from 2009 that I will never forget, and definitely one of the most unusual and tasty white wines I have ever tried. In 1991, after a three-year study of some of Etna’s lost and forgotten grape varieties, Giuseppe Benanti thought it was time to offer up his research in the bottle. His family’s rediscovery helped save many of these ancient grapes from extinction and brought renewed interest from local and international producers. Pietramarina is made from Carricante grapes grown at the foot of the Etna volcano. The 2003 version offers aromas of pear, white flowers, and fennel; the palate is medium-bodied, with flavors of intense lemon peel, hazelnut, yellow apple, and volcanic minerality. Pietramarina ages in tank for at least one year, followed by five months of aging in bottle. Importer: Vino Bravo, .

Fred Dexheimer, MS
Founder, Juiceman Consulting
New York

Marisa Cuomo Furore Bianco Fiorduva, Campania, Italy 2005 $55
A blend of three varietals indigenous to the Amalfi Coast: 30% Fenile, 30% Ginestra, and 40% Ripoli. This is one of Italy’s brightest gems, so complex it is hard to summarize. Low yields from terraced slopes produce a concentrated wine with some weight. Its lush, ripe stone fruits are accentuated by oily citrus rind and spring field flowers. The grapes are picked late, adding a pronounced honey character balanced with delightful minerality. This wine will hold its own among the great whites of the world, and at a very reasonable price. Importer: Panebianco, .

Matthew Conway, ASA
General Manager/Sommelier, Marc Forgione
New York

Sequillo White, Swartland, South Africa 2007 $34
This fascinating wine is a blend of 65% Chenin Blanc with Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne, all from low-yielding vines on Paardeberg Mountain. Aromas of fresh hay, honey, yellow flowers, Fuji apple, and quince expand on the palate, where a flavor array of tangerine, pear, caramel with fleur de sel , and roasted, sweet root vegetables is held in balance by firm minerality. A fine example of cutting-edge South African white blends, this Sequillo is food-friendly and flat-out delicious. Importer: Vinnovative Imports, .

Joanna Breslin, CSW
Bridge2Worlds Wine Agency
San Mateo, Calif.


Lorenza Rosé, California 2008 $20
This is by far one of the most fun wines of the year. It is also the one that I tasted, drank, and slurped more than any other. A blend of Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Syrah makes for a spicy, floral, and completely alluring glass that is bone-dry and an amazing partner to everything on the table. It is also the easiest to pair because it’s delicious with virtually everything. The essence of what the experience is supposed to be about: food, friends, fun. .

Richard Betts, MS
Director of Fine Wine, Castle Brands
Boulder, Colo.


Pinot Noir

J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon 2007 $42
Jim Prosser began crafting Pinot Noir in a century-old barn surrounded by hazelnut orchards in 2001. Upstairs in the rustic hayloft, an ethereal sculpture of a Nordic spirit boat is suspended from the rafters. Like the boat, this flagship blend is elegance defined. With a nose of plum and black cherry and a lush flavor medley of raspberry and strawberry, it pairs perfectly with fresh-caught steelhead salmon. Wild-yeast fermentation, no fining or filtration—this is authentic Oregon. .

Kerry Newberry
Wine and Food Writer
Portland, Ore.

Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir La Source, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2007 $90
Oregon Pinot Noir lovers have been enthralled by this vineyard for years, although, since its purchase by Evening Land Vineyards, its grapes no longer go out to artisanal vintners like Penner-Ash, Cristom, and St. Innocent. Rest assured that in the hands of French-born winemaker Isabelle Meunier and über -consultant Dominique Lafon, Seven Springs Pinots (now biodynamically farmed) are better than ever. The proof is already in the bottle: the ’07 La Source is drop-dead gorgeous, beginning with a luscious, fragrant array of rose petal, anise, wild red berries, and blueberry jam. A velvet-smooth entry leads to long, sweet flavors anchored by sturdy tannin, solidifying the fruit past the mouth-watering midpalate in lithe, lively, harmonious balance. .

Randy Caparoso
Contributing Editor, Sommelier Journal

Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Musigny, Burgundy, France 2006 $560
One taste of this wine, and I knew Frédéric Mugnier had hit that special note that resonates like a wonderful piece of music. It is a Burgundy of perfect balance, with the purity, clarity, and intensity one finds only in great wines. There is nothing heavy or imposing about this wine; it is ethereal and elusive, yet present and all-enveloping. This is Musigny at its best and Musigny guided by the hand of a master. Importer: Veritas Imports, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Daniel Johnnes
Wine Director, The Dinex Group
New York

Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road Vineyard, Martinborough, New Zealand 2006 $38
This New Zealand Pinot is bright, alive, and long. The nose is a bit muted, showing notes of white cherry, tart strawberry, light chocolate, dusty mushroom, and coppery earth. The palate is much more giving, with tangy and zesty red-fruit skins, moderately high complexity, and tannins from aging in 35%-new French oak. A great balance of true Pinot Noir. Importer: Kobrand Corporation, .

Hristo Zisovski
Chef Sommelier, Jean-Georges Restaurant
New York

Bordeaux Varietals

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Benchland Select, Rutherford, California 2006 $106
I tried this recently at a wine dinner, and my first reaction was that I had been poured a glass of chocolate fondue. The wine was not overly extracted, but filled with jammy sweet fruit, vanilla, and heavy chocolate notes. It was also not overly tannic, which surprised me. Although I would classify it as “huge,” it was smooth enough to complement the filet it was served with, also pairing well with a course of four cheeses ranging from a stinky blue to a light goat cheese. This was a “wow” wine for me, and truly American in style. .

Tylor Field III
Vice President of Wine and Spirits
Morton’s The Steakhouse

Grace Family Vineyards Blank, Napa Valley, California 2006 $130
For more than a quarter-century, this winery has produced some of the classic vins de terroir of California. Bucking the trend toward richer wines, Grace continues to listen to the earth and take beautiful snapshots of vintages. The 2006 Blank, the family’s newest label, is a medium-ruby color, with dark-cherry, cocoa, and soft eucalyptus notes. Coming in at 13.5% alcohol, it’s a superb food wine that allows for a more compatible marriage every time. .

Nadine Brown
Wine Director, Charlie Palmer Steak
Washington, D.C.

Emiliana Carménère-Cabernet Sauvignon Novas Reserve, Colchagua Valley, Chile 2007 $14
Antonio Bravo is the winemaker for Emiliana, the organic and Biodynamic arm of Concha y Toro. This fresh, lush blend of 80% spicy Carménère and 20% backbone-building Cabernet Sauvignon fills the mouth with black fruit, balanced by tannins and just enough acidity. After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine spends 10 months in both stainless and oak to add complexity. Delivering value far beyond its price, this Carm-Cab is perfect for the by-the-glass menu. Importer: Banfi Vintners, .

Patricia Savoie
Wine and Culinary Travel Writer
New York

Rhône Varietals

Gregory Graham Syrah Crimson Hill Vineyard, Red Hills District, Lake County, California 2006 $20
Graham’s Syrah achieves considerable expression from this region’s distinct red volcanic soils. The wine reflects a true marriage between vine and terroir, showing classic white-pepper and smoked-meat aromas; ripe plum, blueberry, and baking spices on the midpalate; and complex notes of creamy mocha on the finish. This balanced and expressive Syrah serves as an ambassador for the quality and value that can now be found in many Lake County wines. .

Deborah Parker Wong, AIWS
Northern California Editor, The Tasting Panel
San Francisco

Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France 2007 $180
Clos des Papes is a traditional estate that has been producing wine in the region for more than 200 years. Although proprietor Paul Avril died this year, his son Vincent carries on his legacy. Refusing to create a special cuvée, as many of their competitors in the region have done, the Avrils produce a delicious Grenache-based wine aged in large wood foudres . The 2007, from a forward, ripe, and rich vintage, is full-bodied, with kirsch, licorice, and blackberry flavors; a lush, supple texture; and a long, balanced finish. Importer: Vintner Select, .

David Gordon
Wine Director, Tribeca Grill
New York

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France 2006 $43
This second label of the esteemed Vieux Télégraphe sends a clear message: big and bold doesn’t necessarily translate into brash or brassy. It fills the glass with color, the nose with aroma, and the palate with a fruit flavor that’s elegantly balanced by refreshing acidity. The aromatic, incense-scented nose invites savoring over a long, slow finish. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, .

Bill Daley
Food and Wine Critic, Chicago Tribune

Other Reds

Northwest Cellars Intrigue, Columbia Valley, Washington 2006 $28
With 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Syrah, 18% Pinot Noir, and 9% Carménère, this is an “intriguing” cuvée, indeed! On the nose, it shows classic Cabernet aromas plus a bit of smoke from the Syrah. On the palate, this medium-bodied wine offers sweet fruit and ample acidity. The Pinot contributes to the aromatics and makes the wine glide over the tongue. It’s a well-balanced food wine that goes with everything from swordfish to ribs to spicy lamb kebobs. .

Marlene Rossman
Wine Columnist, Chef Magazine
Instructor, Wine Certificate Program
University of California-Irvine

Cantine Dei Toscana Sancta Catharina, Montepulciano, Italy 2007 $39
Cantine Dei, situated in the heart of Montepulciano, produces the classic Vino Nobiles of the area, but this blend of Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot is a more modern bridge between Old World and New World: a textbook super-Tuscan. The wine is loaded with layers and texture, representing a stunning harmony of red and black fruits with undertones of coffee, chocolate, and licorice. Only around 500 cases were made. Importer: De Grazia Imports LLC, .

Ryan Fletter, CSW
Wine Director/General Manager, Barolo Grill

Villa Monteleone Amarone della Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy 2005 $75
A deep, opaque core extends to a bright-ruby rim, with quickly forming tears. Dark, plummy notes of desiccated blue- and blackberries, ripe figs, espresso crema, licorice root, violets, and dried potpourri are all apparent on the nose, along with a constant hint of beeswax. Although there are wood notes such as burnt bread, vanilla bean, dark caramel, and roasted cocoa, this wine shows more restraint in its oak regime than previous vintages, making it the best I have ever tasted from Monteleone. The palate is full-bodied, mimicking the nose, but with more cocoa nib emerging. The midpalate is a bit clipped at the moment, with high acidity and tannins clamping down before giving way to a long finish of mocha and berry cream. This wine has great aging potential, but will drink well over the coming winter as well. Importer: Domenico Selections, .

Christopher P. Bates, CWE
General Manager, The Inn at Dos Brisas
Washington, Texas

Quinta do Crasto Douro, Portugal 2007 $15
This blend of 35% Tinta Roriz, 25% Tinta Barroca, 25% Touriga Franca, and 15% Touriga Nacional will satisfy Cabernet fans, Syrah lovers, and Malbec groupies. As I pulled the cork, I was expecting an earth-driven, powerful wine with gripping tannins and high alcohol; much to my surprise, I found a medium-bodied, approachable, fruity wine with soft, silky tannins. Deep purple in color, it offers aromatics of blackberry jam, plum, black cherry, coffee, and chocolate, with hints of licorice and black pepper. The palate confirms the nose, but adds a touch of smokiness, vanilla, and butterscotch on the juicy, long finish. I would pair this with beef, pork, or pasta with red sauce, or put a slight chill on it and take it out to the picnic table for your barbecue. This wine will easily age for 10-15 years. Importer: Broadbent Selections, .

Kristie Jones
Restaurant Manager/Beverage Manager
Sanaa Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge
Walt Disney World
Orlando, Fla.

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines, Douro, Portugal 2006 $40
Considering there are about 30 grape varieties in this northern Portuguese beauty, complexity is a given. Eighteen months of seasoning in mostly French oak add earthy notes of kalamata olive, cassis, and tobacco. This wine is still very much a youngster, with layers of bright purple fruit, vibrant acidity, minerality, and tannins that are rounder than in previous vintages. I’d either leave it in the cellar for a decade or pour it by the glass for customers willing to experiment with something that is probably new to them. Extraordinarily food-friendly with hearty meat and game dishes. Importer: Broadbent Selections, .

Roy Hersh

Quinta do Vesuvio Douro, Portugal 2007 $75
Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the grand estates of the Douro Superior, founded by Dona Antónia Ferreira in 1820 on the south bank of the river. Once reachable only by boat and now by train, it is still a remote estate with vineyards carved out of the steep, schistous hillsides. In 1989, the quinta was purchased by the Symingtons, who initiated in-depth research on Portugal’s unique varieties and were the first to plant monovarietal blocks. Table wines had always been produced in the Douro, but a better understanding of varietal character, harvest timing, extraction techniques, and tannin management is now producing complex and structured wines reflecting the unique, wild beauty of the valley. Taking advantage of Vesuvio’s diversity of exposures and altitudes and blending the star Portuguese variety, Touriga Nacional, with Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela, this wine combines a smooth, opulent richness with a powerful concentration from low yields, finishing with long, rich, spicy flavors of dark chocolate and smoke. The estate’s second wine, Pombal do Vesuvio, is a great value as an introduction to this emerging category. Importer: Premium Port Wines, .

Gilles de Chambure, MS
Director of Wine Education, Meadowood
St. Helena, Calif.

Descendientes de José Palacios Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain 2007 $20
I loved this wine from Álvaro Palacios and his nephew, Ricardo Pérez Palacios. It is 100% Mencía, cultivated in vineyards ranging from 40 to 90 years old. After spending a few weeks in new French barriques, it is aged for six to 10 months in seasoned oak. The wine is purple in color and fragrant with blueberry, black raspberry, violets, minerals, and smoke. Fresh and fruity, it is complex enough to stand up to any number of dishes I have been testing for cooking classes. It was especially tasty with grilled baby lamb chops marinated in bitter honey, cumin, and Sherry and with lamb kebabs marinated in Moorish spices. It would also pair well with grilled flank steak marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper, served with mushrooms sautéed with bacon, or even with grilled tuna with fennel and pepper. Importer: Polaner Selections, .

Joyce Goldstein
Contributing Editor, Sommelier Journal
San Francisco

El Espectacle de Montsant, Montsant, Spain 2006 $140
Made by iconic Priorat producer Réné Barbier, El Espectacle comes from the hills surrounding the Priorat appellation. The spectacular views of the Pyrenees from this lovely spot inspired the name of the wine, which is made entirely from old-vine Garnacha. What really sets this wine apart for me is its delicacy, which seems almost a contradiction in an area that is better known for producing blockbusters. It’s a charmer from the start, displaying a nose of roses and spice with hints of raisins at the back. Only large, old oak casks are used for maturation, as shown on a palate that has a beautiful purity of flavor and a smooth, silky texture. The fruit expression is outstanding, combining the powerful depth of flavor and effortless balance of old vines. Wonderfully gentle floral flavors linger on the finish. Importer: Europvin, .

Beverley Blanning, MW
Author, Teach Yourself: Choosing the Right Wine

Nita Priorat, Spain 2006 $16
Meritzell Palleja is a charming, unassuming, and surprisingly young winemaker from Priorat, typifying the vigorous youth movement in Spain. Her Biodynamic wine focuses on Garnacha and Cariñena, with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, delivering a truly seamless blend of Old World finesse and New World flash. Deep-ruby in color, this Priorat displays aromas of red licorice and black cherry and hints of black tea and sweet spice, always underpinned by mineral notes, leaving no doubt of its Spanish origin. A medium body of lush red fruit is framed by soft, grainy tannins and flavors of baked cherry and eucalyptus, with a finish that is smooth yet intense. The impression is of a pricier wine—an elegant style able to pair with a variety of dishes. Importer: Folio Fine Wine Partners, .

Jonas Atwood
Sommelier, Meritage the Restaurant
Boston Harbor Hotel

Bodegas O. Fournier Alfa Crux, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 2004 $47
Alfa Crux is this winery’s premier line, named after one of the stars of the Southern Cross. The wines are made from individually selected barrels, aged in new oak for 18 months and in bottle for an additional 12 months before release. This blend of 50% Tempranillo, 30% Malbec, and 20% Merlot has notes of mocha, cherry, cassis, rose petal, and smoke. It is rich, complex, and understated, with beautiful balance and a long finish. The 2005 is also on the market, but is still very young and closed. O. Fournier is a benchmark producer and, though less recognized in this market than Catena, a must-have for your wine list. Importer: Fine Estates from Spain, Dedham, Mass.

Catherine Fallis, MS, ACWP
Founder/President, Planet Grape LLC
San Francisco


Royal Tokaji Essencia, Hungary (375 ml) 2000 $500
A crazy-good wine that exudes oceans of mushroom, caramel, roasted hazelnut, and dark, leafy forest floor on the explosive nose, followed by a honey-and-lemon-pepper finish that’s velvety and long to the point of senescence. This rare nectar is for wine drinkers who think they have already tried every bottle a top-notch restaurant can offer. A quintessential offering from one of the finest wineries in the world. Importer: Wilson Daniels, Ltd., .

Benjamin T. Weinberg
Editor-in-Chief, Unfiltered, Unfined LLC