December 15 2010 issue
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Sommelier's Choice: Top Releases of 2010
We at Sommelier Journal found last year’s selection of the best releases from 2009 so intriguing that we invited even more of our editors and writers, along with other leading professionals from around the world, to submit their most memorable wines of 2010. Once again, they were not restricted by price, region, or variety, but their choices had to be 2010 releases that were currently available in the United States. To avoid any conflict of interest, selectors were not allowed to pick wines that they represented commercially.
As in 2009, no two people picked the same wine. To me, the complete list of more than 50 bottlings, as indexed in a box at the end of the article, is amazing in its breadth and depth. We’re delighted to present our 2010 Sommelier’s Choice, with the producers arranged alphabetically within each category and region.
David Vogels, CWP
Louis Roederer Brut Rosé, Champagne, France 2005 $65
What a wondrous discovery this sparkling rosé was for me! I had never tasted any previous vintage, but I instantly fell in love with its yeasty, fresh-baked brioche aromas, commingled with hints of wild-strawberry jam. The wine becomes serious on the palate, drinking like many a tête du cuvée , and is, therefore, the rarest of creatures in Champagne—a bargain. It pairs perfectly with spicy, seared ahi tuna or even meatier fare like ginger beef. Importer: Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Inc., www.mmdusa.net .
Maria E. Denton, CWE
General Manager, Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Director, Society of Wine Educators
Marc Hebrart Brut Rosé, Champagne, France N.V. $45
This is my wine of the year because I love it. It is also my wine of the year because I have recommended it to hundreds of guests at RN74 who were unfamiliar with it, and their smiles confirmed my own impressions. Where so many rosés can fatigue the palate, this one lifts. Hebrart’s blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay creates the perfect harmonious tension: the red fruit is pretty, but the linear, steely lightness of the Chardonnay carries this stunning rosé. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .
Christie Dufault, ACWP
Instructor, Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
St. Helena, Calif.
Tarlant Brut Tradition, Champagne, France N.V. $25
With high tones derived from chalk and sparnacien (clay-limestone) soil, the grapes produced in Oeuilly, a commune of Vallée de la Marne, have a unique profile. This Brut Tradition, composed primarily of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, is aged five years on the lees. The nose offers intense notes of magnolia blossoms, baked Golden Delicious apples, and ripe Granny Smith apples. The palate presents a creamy mousse texture, highlighting subtle tones of caramel and marzipan. A fantastic Champagne that flies under the radar. Importer: Boutique Wine Collection, www.boutiquewines.info .
Director of Wine
Addison at the Grand Del Mar
Vouette et Sorbée Extra Brut Blanc d’Argile, Champagne, France N.V. $70
This is exciting Champagne, farmed biodynamically and made naturally—a single-varietal from a single vineyard and a single vintage (despite the non-vintage labeling). It hails from Buxières-sur-Arce, a village way down south near Chablis, where the soils are in fact Chablis-like. Although it is barrel-fermented, there is no dosage , so it can be rich and opulent, but at the same time lean, racy, and super-dry. This Champagne demands to be recognized as wine first and sparkling wine second. It is versatile, beautiful, powerful, and unforgettable. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, www.domaineselect.com .
Wine Director, Nopa Restaurant
Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena Premium, Emilia Romagna, Italy N.V. $18
The Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco is fresh and fruity, but not cloyingly sweet; lively, but not painfully so. It boasts a beautiful red color—not too deep, not too light—and it’s perfectly dry. The palate features great acidity, without any recoil. It pairs perfectly with hearty Emilian fare, prepared with balsamic vinegar from the same grapes. The alcohol is temperate enough to enjoy it for lunch. I would drink it every day, if only I could. Importer: Siema Wines, www.siemawines.com .
Alfonso Cevola, CSW
Corporate Director Imports, Glazers
Westport Rivers Riesling, Southeastern New England 2008 $20
The Russell family has done it again. Known for its amazing sparkling wines (the Blanc de Blancs is not to be missed), Westport Rivers has continued to push the envelope with Old World-style wines grown in New England. This Riesling provides everything we love about Alsace and Germany: acidity, structure, minerality, and fruit that blossoms when paired with food. Lemon, peach, and hints of melon give this wine every bit of the quality of its European ancestors, but at an incredibly accessible price. www.westportrivers.com .
Luxury Account Manager New England
Heirloom Wine Group
Founder/Chairman, Boston Sommelier Society
Bastgen Riesling Trocken Kestener Paulinhofsberg Auf den Felsen, Mosel, Germany 2009 $40
I was introduced to a new producer and Einzellage while tasting in the Mosel, and what a serendipitous discovery it was! One of the many highlights was a wine that reminded me how marvelous a dry German Riesling can be. Auf den Felsen (“on the rock”) certainly comes screaming through on the palate. Layers and layers of minerals mingle with complex notes of slate, lemongrass, red apple, peach, citrus, campfire, thyme, and clove, leading to a loooooong finish. Importer: Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd., www.kysela.com .
David A. Singer, CWE
Kerpen Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Mosel, Germany 2009 $10
Martin Kerpen’s wines, to me, are the best this fabled vineyard makes—or maybe it is the other way around. Very traditional, no rouge or makeup needed, just amazing lime-blossom aromas and slate-soaked fruit. It is that balance point between perceptible and imperceptible, with hints of everything weighing in—sweetness, acidity, salt, minerality, fruit, flowers—that makes this wine so amazing to me. And it’s a value compared to Kerpen’s more celebrated colleagues. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .
Christopher P. Bates, CWE
General Manager/Executive Chef
Robert Weil Riesling Trocken Kiedricher Gräfenberg Erstes Gewächs, Rheingau, Germany 2008 $60
It’s like drinking liquid limestone filtered through tiny white flowers with the essence of macerated, spiced peaches and pears. This wine is so balanced and pure, with its crisp dryness and firm backbone, that it is simply perfect. Weingut Robert Weil’s Gräfenberg vineyard, in the heart of Kiedrich, is among the finest “first growth” sites in the Rheingau. Its combination of stony soils, steep slopes, southwestern exposure, and ideal microclimate allows the grapes to become complex and rich in minerals, while retaining great elegance and finesse. Importer: Loosen Bros. USA, Ltd., www.loosenbrosusa.com .
Ryan Fletter, CWE
Wine Director/General Manager, Barolo Grill
Allimant-Laugner Riesling Prälatenberg Grand Cru, Alsace, France 2008 $28
Ahhh, Riesling—what other wine shows such diversity and character? The beauty of this Prälatenberg is that even though it’s been months since I tasted it, I can still remember the brilliant sensations it revealed: haunting minerality and crushed stone, a whiff of petrol, citrus oils, and flowers. The palate dances along a ridgeline of subtle oiliness before succumbing to a surge of lime, ginger, white peach, and apricot. Give it some time if you’re patient enough. Importer: Vigneron Imports, www.vigneronimports.com .
Sommelier, Brexi Brasserie
Marjan Simčič Sauvignon Blanc Opoka, Brda, Slovenia 2006 $47
At Frasca, we think more great Sauvignon Blanc is created in Friuli’s Collio and Colli Orientali and neighboring Slovenia’s Brda region than anywhere else in the world. Whether they’re oaked, as the Simčič is, or made entirely in stainless steel, like the wines of Gianpaolo Venica, these Sauvignons show true varietal character, with compelling richness supported by bright acidity. Importer: Dark Star Imports, N.Y.
Sommelier, Frasca Food and Wine
Pascal Cotat Sancerre La Grande Côte, Chavignol, Loire Valley, France 2008 $45
Pascal Cotat has produced a true vin de garde with his ’08 Grande Côte. The wine shows intensely ripe aromas of tropical fruit, with a savory, smoky, mineral edge and a slightly herbal note. On the palate, it has a dense, almost oily texture and great richness, with considerable length. Very impressive. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .
Charles Curtis, MW
Head of North American Wine Sales, Christie’s
Aubert Chardonnay Lauren Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California 2008 $150
I first met Mark Aubert at Peter Michael, where he was winemaker during the 1990s. Since then, he has been turning out top-flight single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays under his own label, while continuing his consulting work for such prestigious wineries as Bryant Family Vineyard and Colgin Cellars. Sonoma Coast yields were down in 2008, but the resulting quality is generally high. This Chardonnay blew me away with its concentration and combination of minerality and ripe fruit flavors. The texture is lush, but there’s enough balancing acidity to allow it to age for 10 years or longer. Spring flowers, honeysuckle, orange blossom, and lemon rind are only a few of the flavors found in this beauty. www.aubertwines.com .
Wine Director, Tribeca Grill
Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California 2007 $50
Great wines start with great people—like the Hirsch family, whose vines are perched on a ridge high above the Pacific in northern Sonoma’s Fort Ross subregion. These vineyards have long produced highly sought-after fruit that is both site-specific and varietally brilliant. The 2007 Chardonnay under the Hirsches’ own label is a stunner, leading with a backbone of acidity and minerality and finishing with “true” Chardonnay notes of fresh-cut hay and almonds. A labor of love that proves the possibility of world-class Chardonnay from California. www.hirschvineyards.com .
Wine Director, Charlie Palmer Steak
Bitouzet-Prieur Meursault Perrières, Burgundy, France 2005 $67
For those who love the big boys from Meursault, but generally can’t afford them, this pick is for you. I find that Bitouzet-Prieur’s wines consistently provide the best quality for the dollar in the appellation. The steely flintiness of the premier cru Perrières vineyard adds a racy touch that makes this bottling perfect for food. It is pure, fresh, and balanced. Lightly touched by oak, it’s youthful and tightly wound, but shows its complexity when exposed to air; I recommend decanting. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, www.madrose.com .
Matthew Conway, ASA
General Manager/Sommelier, Marc Forgione
Domaine Roulot Bourgogne Blanc, Burgundy, France 2008 $31
It’s not a grand cru, a premier cru, or even a village wine, but this Bourgogne Blanc performs at a much higher level than its lowly generic classification would indicate. Jean-Marc Roulot makes it with the same technique, care, and attention he applies to his more celebrated appellations. It reminds me of when a great chef pares down his dish to a few simple, high-quality ingredients and outperforms other preparations with layers of ingredients, multiple steps, and complicated techniques. A “simple” omelet perfectly made is not as simple as it seems, nor is a basic wine that outclasses most others of higher breeding and price. Bravo, Jean-Marc. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .
Wine Director, The Dinex Group
Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay, Walker Bay, South Africa 2009 $24
For years, I have been awed by this South African Chardonnay. It is consistent from vintage to vintage, but shows a strong sense of place and the maritime climate of Walker Bay. You can easily be convinced in a blind tasting that this is a white Burgundy of the Montrachet persuasion. Fresh, complex, full-bodied, and long, it offers notes of ripe stone fruits, butterscotch, roasted chestnuts, and a bit of oak, skating along on a board of acidity and minerality. Value! Importer: Vineyard Brands, www.vineyardbrands.com .
Wine and Culinary Travel Writer
Alexana Pinot Gris Revana Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2009 $24
This is the sister property of Revana Family Vineyard in Napa Valley. Although Dr. Madaiah Revana produces some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa and Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley—made by Heidi Peterson Barrett and Lynn Penner-Ash, respectively—it was the Alexana Pinot Gris that caught my fancy. Just the fourth vintage from the winery, the ’09 is the epitome of seamlessness. Highly floral, with hints of jasmine and rose petals, it has a subtle acidity that lifts the wine without being obtrusive. A beautifully silky, round texture carries lovely spiced-pear and -apple fruit through the finish. www.alexanawinery.com .
Daniel Rudiger, CSW
General Manager, Nikolai’s Roof
Quinta de Gomariz Vinho Verde Loureiro, Minho, Portugal 2009 $10
You may be thinking that I surely have tasted some better, higher-end wines over the course of the year, but this is the one I’ve been coming back to over and over again. It’s the wine I was champing at the bit to put on by the glass when the weather began to get warmer in the spring. It was perfectly crisp and refreshing through our blazing-hot summer, and even in the fall, it provides the zingy, fresh citrus and mineral notes that I’m looking to pair with our crudi and antipasti. This Vinho Verde keeps bringing me back with its bracing acidity, its floral nuances, and the slight pétillance that makes it just plain fun to drink. Importer: P.R. Grisley Company, prgrisley.com .
Melissa Monosoff, MS
Sommelier, Savona Restaurant
Vodopivec Vitovska, Carso, Friuli, Italy 2005 $79
Paolo Vodopivec’s tutelage under Edi Kante and Josko Gravner helped turn his vision of a focused, unequivocal wine into a reality. He produces only the Vitovska grape native to the Carso region of southeastern Friuli (which overlaps into Slovenia), giving it all the attention of a red wine in the cellar. The ’05 displays exotic floral hints of orange blossom and ginger. A green-almond savoriness and slatey minerality balance this incredibly structured, burnt-golden-colored wine. Three years in botte grande , after six months in amphora and another year in bottle, result in a modern, biodynamic wine made with a philosophy from antiquity, connecting us to our past and future. If you can get your hands on a bottle, please treat yourself. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, www.domaineselect.com .
Wine Director, A16/SPQR
Tukma Torrontés, Salta, Argentina 2009 $14
This wine instantly became my benchmark for New World Torrontés. Situated in the barren mountain deserts of the Calchaquí Valley, the vineyards are some of the highest in the world at over 6,000 feet. The Tukma bottling shows plenty of aromatic typicity without being overtly peachy or floral. Complex tropical and citrus aromas of pineapple, litchi, and orange are repeated on the palate, but it’s the lengthy, crisp finish that sets this Torrontés apart. Importer: Matadorvino, www.matadorvino.com .
Deborah Parker Wong, AIWS
Northern California Editor, The Tasting Panel
Quinta de Gomariz Vinho Verde Espadeiro Rosé, Minho, Portugal 2009 $11
I’ve tasted “finer” wines this year, but none surpasses this fizzy summer refresher in sheer pleasure for the dollar. Made with 100% Espadeiro grapes, it has Vinho Verde’s signature spritz of carbonation and low, low alcohol, as well as a whisper of playful sweetness to offset the zingy acidity of underripe grapes. The vivid citrusy flavors, exuberant color, and lingering sweet-tart finish remind me of a pink grapefruit soda. Yum! Importer: P.R. Grisley Company, prgrisley.com .
Author and Consulting Sommelier, Old Wines
Failla Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California 2007 $55
Head-shaking grace and finesse—nary a sharp edge nor unwieldy wrinkle—encompass huge, explosive flavors of cherry and plum pies, along with peppermint perfumes and suggestions of pine needles and forest humus. Yet this is a wine picked “early” (around 23º Brix) to retain natural acidity and optimal pH, with no cultured yeasts to extract what isn’t there, no clonal cleaving (Failla practices sélection massale ), no racking, no filtering, less than one-third new oak, no nuthin’ beyond destemming into open-top fermenters and daily punchdowns. How is that possible, in this day and age of 99-point monsters? Simple: it’s a good mountaintop vineyard, and winemaker-owner Ehren Jordan is daring enough to leave well enough alone. And some people say Californians don’t know Pinot Noir! www.faillawines.com .
Contributing Editor, Sommelier Journal
Rochioli Pinot Noir Estate, Russian River Valley, California 2008 $60
Normally, I gravitate toward minerality and tension in the glass, but for pure sensual drinking pleasure, this Pinot Noir can’t be beat. It’s low lighting and a sheer silk kimono, a nearly complete expression woven from many dream strands: sleek and cool, with understated terroir and haunting hints of spice, all balanced in beautiful proportion. Or at least that’s how it grabbed me in my office, staring at a screen full of sales and gross profit reports one dreary New England autumn afternoon. www.rochioliwinery.com .
Sandy Block, MW
VP Beverage, Legal Sea Foods
Professor of Wine Studies, Boston University
Roots Pinot Noir Leroy Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2008 $30
The 35-year-old Leroy Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains is planted with the Pommard and Wadenswil clones of Pinot Noir—the backbone of the best Pinots since the early days of Willamette viticulture. Owner-winemaker Chris Berg’s 2008 Roots Leroy Vineyard offers the breadth, delicacy, and intensity that define good Pinot. It reveals a deliciously silky texture and layers of pure raspberry and cherry fruit, interwoven with an enchanting range of smoke, white pepper, herb, vanilla, earth, and spice nuances. www.rootswine.com .
Wayne Belding, MS
Author, Diving Into Wine
Domaine Bertagna Vougeot Clos de la Perrière Monopole, Burgundy, France 2008 $100
This wine had me at location. Situated in the northeast corner of Vougeot, the premier cru vineyard is surrounded by Clos de Vougeot, Musigny, and Les Amoureuses. Its pedigree is more than apparent in the glass: it is at once focused and ethereal, with delicate raspberry and red-licorice flavors giving way to truffle and spice on the finish. Like many of the ’08s, it is approachable now, but I hope to be able to resist it for eight to 10 more years! Importer: Weygandt-Metzler Importing, Ltd., www.weygandtmetzler.com .
Kathryn Morgan, MS
Michel Richard Citronelle
Yabby Lake Vineyard Pinot Noir Block 5, Mornington Peninsula, Australia 2008 $80
New Zealand has rightfully garnered a lot of attention over the past decade as the new center of the Pinot Noir universe. But one of the great surprises of a recent trip to Australia was the high quality of Pinot Noir across the board, and especially from tiny Yabby Lake Vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula. The 2008 Block 5 is without a doubt the finest New World Pinot Noir I’ve tasted in a long time. Sourced from a small lot of organically farmed vines on the winery’s estate, the Block 5 is lush, seductive, layered, and complex—in short, a complete wine. Importer: Yabby Lake Vineyard, Inc., Lafayette, Calif.
Tim Gaiser, MS
Director of Education
Court of Master Sommeliers Americas
Boulder Bank Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 $18
New Zealand is most often associated with snappy Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, but Pinot Noir is making its mark. And global winemaker Nick Goldschmidt’s Boulder Bank, blending New World brightness with European restraint, is one of the best. Sourced from the sustainably farmed WaxEye Vineyard in Omaka and produced in small quantities, this warm, inviting wine offers notes of pink rose petal, sage, wild strawberry, and cardamom. Although Central Otago Pinots tend toward ripe fruit profiles, the restraint and elegance of this wine give it the ability to pair beautifully with even the most nuanced delicacies. Importer: Goldschmidt Vineyards, www.goldschmidtvineyards.com .
Catherine Fallis, MS, ACWP
Planet Grape LLC
Anomaly Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2007 $85
Anomaly’s 9-acre vineyard lies in the shadow of Spring Mountain, in the St. Helena sub-appellation of Napa Valley. Its rocky soils are a result of being located smack dab in the middle of the White Sulfur Springs alluvial fan. Although the 2007 Napa Valley vintage has received considerable critical acclaim, after tasting a number of these wines, I find most to be full of overripe fruit and high alcohol. The distinct tannins in this Cabernet provide a natural backbone for extended aging, but it’s the dark blackberry fruit and depth that have reassured me that Napa Valley Cabs don’t have to go to excess to be extraordinary. www.anomalyvineyards.com .
Robert Bath, MS
Robert Bath Imports
St. Helena, Calif.
Ovid Napa Valley, St. Helena, California 2006 $170
A standout for me this past year has been the 2006 Ovid from Napa’s Pritchard Hill. An elegant blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41% Cabernet Franc, with the balance Merlot and Petit Verdot, the wine displays uncommon polish and refinement, gorgeous blackcurrant fruit, notes of cedar and sweet anise, a kiss of French vanillin, and caressing tannins. Its finish lasts for several minutes. I shouldn’t be surprised, because it’s a collaboration between three industry superstars: winemaker Andy Erickson, vineyard manager David Abreu, and winemaking consultant Michel Rolland. ovidvineyards.com .
Director of Wine and Beverage
Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek
Tenuta di Biserno Lodovico, Tuscany, Italy 2007 $200
This brand-new Tuscan release is the brainchild of Lodovico Antinori, in partnership with his brother Piero. From an estate near the coast at Bibbona, bordering the Bolgheri region, it’s the latest blend to combine Bordeaux grape varieties with Italian flair. The first vintage of Lodovico is a show-stopper. Dense ruby in color, it offers intensely perfumed aromas of violets, smoke, spice, and pencil shavings—the typically enticing hallmarks of fine Cabernet Franc, ably supported in this cuvée by Merlot and Petit Verdot. Fruit-laden, fleshy, and deliciously approachable, it nonetheless has a fine tannic structure, excellent freshness, and persistent length. The 15% alcohol is perceptible only in the warmth of the mineral, blackcurranty finish. Importer: Wilson Daniels, Ltd., www.wilsondaniels.com .
Beverley Blanning, MW
Independent Wine Journalist and Author
Añoro Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2008 $26
Those who know me know that Malbec has generally not been in my wheelhouse. If that situation has changed, it’s largely because of the Añoro. Maybe it is the elevation of the vines (3,600 feet), maybe it is the judicious application of oak (mostly used or unoaked), or maybe it is the sophisticated palates of the talented winemakers, Ken and Licelys Fredrickson. In any case, what I love about the wine is that it brings grace to girth. It is not only resplendent with fruit, but also loaded with flowers, truffles, spices, and all kinds of good things. Ultimately, it has convinced me that in the right hands, Malbec can make a noble wine. Importer: Vine Connections, www.vineconnections.com .
Richard Betts, MS
Director of Fine Wine, Castle Brands
CARO Red Wine, Mendoza, Argentina 2006 $45
I tasted this wine alongside 10 others representing Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s line from around the world. As we quickly went through the wines, I dumped all the others, trying to say polite things to the salesman about each one, and then this bottle just stopped me. I kept going back to it like a child looking for candy. It’s not only a 50-50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, but a blend of two famous names, Catena and Rothschild—hence, “CARO.” Although the wine is very New World on the nose, it has a ton of Old World finesse in the mouth: sweet chocolate on the entry; a mouth-coating, silky midpalate of dark fruits; and a great finish with reasonable alcohol. The CARO will be on my dinner table many times this year. Importer: Pasternak Wine Imports, www.pasternakwine.com .
Tylor Field III
Vice President of Wine and Spirits
Morton’s The Steakhouse
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Terrunyo Carménère Peumo Vineyard Block 27, Cachapoal Valley, Chile 2007 $40
So what vino combines dusty 70% cacao chocolate, tobacco, espresso, and juicy blackcurrant in one package? A good Chilean Carménère—and no Carménère puts those attributes together better than this one. It packs a youthful punch right now, but there’s a surprising sense of finesse on the back end. The finish is minutes long. It really wants a lamb shank or steak frites or a juicy burger, or let’s just say it’s gonna like red meat. The best Carménère I’ve ever tasted, and as the buyer for a major South American-style restaurant, I’ve tasted a few. Importer: Banfi Vintners, www.banfivintners.com .
Wine Director/Sommelier/Floor Manager
Dussek Syrah Rattlesnake Hills, Washington 2007 $20
Although pop-and-pour garners immediate attention, a splash decant of this wine epitomizes the term “fleshing out”—it goes from waif model to sumo wrestler in 15 minutes. It’s jam-band-packed with a galactic amount of sweet purple fruit, and its cloaked tannins make it a total crowd pleaser. The plebeian price is capable of both titillating the frugal and raising the eyebrows of the richest Silver Oakers. Swat away the wine bug and consider the charming venom from this Dussek wine snake. www.thewoodhousewineestates.com .
Wine Director, Avenues Restaurant Group
Kansas City, Mo.
Gramercy Cellars Grenache, Columbia Valley, Washington 2007 $40
This makes the endless line of samples worth every sip (or spit). Little did I imagine on a humid St. Louis afternoon that I would taste this total deliciousness. An unexpectedly juicy Grenache totally blew off my sneakers and screamed for any type of four-legged protein on our menu. The idea was to make a wine like the Pope’s new house—no way! This is Lady Gaga singing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. www.gramercycellars.com .
Glenn Bardgett, CSW
Annie Gunn’s and Smoke House Market
Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude, Rhône Valley, France 2007 $55
Probably because Syrah is one of my favorite grapes—or maybe because this wine lets you imbibe the essence of where it is grown—I enjoyed the never simple, but always surprising, La Guiraude. A brilliant vigneron , Graillot makes wines with majestic energy. Focusing on Syrah, and clearly managing one of the best sites in Crozes-Hermitage, he produces only tiny quantities of this barrel selection in the best years. The winemaking involves whole-cluster fermentation and aging in used barriques from top Burgundian estates. This wine combines powerful, exuberant, smoky bacon-fat goodness with balanced structure. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .
Fernando Betata, MS
Tenzing Wine & Spirits
Roucas Toumba Vacqueyras Les Restanques de Cabassole, Rhône Valley, France 2007 $36
This wine, to me, highlights the tremendous leap in quality that the Châteauneuf-du-Pape “satellite” appellations have achieved. Mostly gone are the days of overcropped, overpressed, dry, astringent Vacqueyras and Cairanne. Here, Roucas Toumba showcases the hallmark kirsch, licorice, spicy black fruit, and spiny mineral acidity of classic Châteauneufs. While not exactly inexpensive, the wine still resides in a list-friendly price bracket, allowing sommeliers to introduce their guests to a less fashionable yet equally delicious alternative. Importer: Triage Wines, Inc., www.triagewines.com .
Cyril R. Frechier
Directeur des Vins et Spiriteaux
Campagne Restaurant & Cafe Campagne
Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage Classique, Rhône Valley, France 2007 $25
The first impression on the nose is smoke, savory and beautiful, followed by meat—like a grilled steak—then by black-pepper spice. Underneath, ripe blueberry peeks out. There is no oak on this wine, but it doesn’t need it. I love having it on the list because it pairs perfectly with CUT’s steakhouse menu, but also because it provides an affordable opportunity for me to show my staff and our guests what an amazing grape Syrah can be, pure and unadorned. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler Importing, Ltd., www.weygandtmetzler.com .
Sommelier/Beverage Director, CUT and sidebar
Beverly Hills, Calif.
Jiménez-Landi Sotorrondero, Méntrida, Spain 2007 $15
This is my favorite way to discover a wine: tasting a producer I’ve never heard of, making wine from a region I’ve never heard of. The grapes I knew—Syrah and Grenache—so I was expecting a well-made yet simple wine. I was wrong. Jiménez-Landi has produced a blend with depth and complexity, full of savory herbs, grilled meats, and blueberries. It continues to stump my guests and wine-geek friends. Importer: Eric Solomon Selections, www.europeancellars.com .
General Manager/Wine Director, Moto
Arnot-Roberts Trousseau Luchsinger Vineyard, Lake County, California 2008 $30
Last fall, I had the good fortune of stumbling across Arnot-Roberts, a garage operation run by two childhood friends, Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers, in central Sonoma County. Their wines are completely natural, expressing a freshness and wildness that are truly exciting. This luscious red—a variety from the Jura region of France, making a cameo appearance in California—is translucent, but so flavorful and delicious that I jumped for joy. Tasting like a cross between cru Beaujolais, Chinon, and Gigondas, it made me dream of mushrooms and gnocchi. www.arnotroberts.com .
Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch Public House, H&F Bottle Shop
Bressan Schioppettino, Friuli, Italy 2004 $37
This red grabbed me by the nose and simply would not let go. A well-aged beauty, it radiates aromas of cedar, dried roses, and tea leaves. The barely medium-bodied texture, bright acidity, and lean tannins are warmed up with Christmas spice, black pepper, and sweet cherry fruit on the finish; a hint of forest floor adds dimension, but doesn’t cross into overly herbaceous territory. There is an autumnal savor that cries out for the foods of fall in the countryside—roasted game, rustic terrines, and wild mushrooms. The Bressans are 10 generations into winegrowing, and their staunchly minimalist, meticulous regime in both vineyard and cellar is clearly working beautifully, if this layered, long, elegant (but assuredly not slick) Schioppettino is any indication. Importer: Sherbrooke Cellars, www.sherbrookecellars.com .
Beverage Director, Gramercy Tavern
Castello di Verduno Basadone, Piedmont, Italy 2008 $28
Pelaverga is a relatively unknown grape hailing from Verduno, a town in northern Piedmont. This example makes me think of a hypothetical Barbaresco-Volnay-Morgon blend. Its limpid, pale-ruby color is matched in delicacy by a light-bodied palate. The Basadone’s ethereal fruit and tertiary notes open with fraises des bois , Craisins, and dried roses; with aeration, the palate moves on to Chinese five spice, black truffle, and roasted cinnamon stick. The incredible acid-tannin balance just begs for food. Probably the most interesting wine I’ve had all year, and definitely one of the most delicious, it’s simply gorgeous, gossamer perfection. Importer: Oliver McCrum Wines, www.omwines.com .
Beverage Director, Spago Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, Calif.
Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Italy 2004 $146
A great Brunello performs a high-wire act, balancing impressive palate weight with a sleek texture and seamless finish. This producer, long known for its adherence to tradition, ages its Brunello solely in large casks, allowing the wine to display lovely varietal purity in its perfumes of red cherry, currant, strawberry, and dried flowers, along with attractive cedar notes. The persistence is excellent, the oak influence is subtle, and the acidity is perfectly tuned. In short, it’s a textbook Brunello di Montalcino that combines power and finesse. There are more intense riservas from this excellent vintage, but I have yet to taste a more complex, satisfying bottling. Importer: Empson, Inc., www.empson.com .
Publisher, Guide to Italian Wines
Buil & Giné Baboix, Montsant, Spain 2006 $25
In the winter of 1996, the Buil & Giné family decided to return to winemaking. Since then, they have been producing stellar wines from the two most desirable locations in northeast Spain—Priorat and Montsant. Made from a blend of 20% Garnacha, 20% Cariñena, 15% Tempranillo, 25% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Baboix combines tradition with a bit of international flair. Full-bodied, with overtones of black plum, black cherry, and cassis, the wine offers hints of wild meats and dill. Its rich tannins and oak nuances will complement heavier dishes such as lamb, venison, and beef. Importer: WineWise, winewise.biz .
Virginia Philip, MS
Chef Sommelier, The Breakers
Palm Beach, Fla.
Viña von Siebenthal Carabantes, Aconcagua Valley, Chile 2007 $45
My only problem was deciding which von Siebenthal cuvée to select. Although I’ve known the winery since its earliest days, it took a recent visit to fully appreciate what this Swiss expatriate has achieved in just 12 years, based on a careful choice of terroir and meticulous attention from Chilean enologist Darwin Oyarce. Comprising 85% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot, the Carabantes represents a perfect balance of quality, complexity, and price. Aromas of dried black cherry; tar; and old, dry leather blossom into raspberry and fresh cherry. Rich fruit dominates the palate, but big, chewy tannins call for two to three years of aging. The delicious complexity persists on a long finish of black cherry, stewed strawberry, pie crust, and plum. Let the wine breathe and enjoy it now with food, or cellar it to allow its sophisticated character to evolve. Importer: Vindino Wine, www.vindinowine.com .
S. Peter Smith
Newport Beach, Calif.
Château Coutet, Barsac, France 2007 $62
Château Coutet has been raising the bar in recent vintages, with the goal of competing with Yquem and with Coutet’s close neighbor, Climens. The 2007 continues that trend. Fermented and aged in 100%-new French oak barrels, it bursts with aromas of ginger, honey, lime blossoms, and spicy botrytis. Surprisingly elegant on the palate, yet characteristically crisp, it makes a great accompaniment to butter-poached lobster, five-spice-scented diver scallops, foie gras torchon , or—as they do it in Bordeaux—roast chicken. Barsac: it’s not just for dessert any more! Importer: Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A., www.bpdr.com .
David D. Denton, CSS, CWE
Sommelier, Charlie Palmer Steak
Instructor, Capital Wine School
Faculty Member, The Wine Academy Spain
Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume, Loire Valley, France 2007 $63
This is the kind of wine that lingers on your taste memory forever—the kind of wine you wake up the next morning still swooning over. It is both rich and ethereal, its sweet, creamy texture braced by precise acidity. It is classic yet exotic, combining green apples, quince jam, and wet wool with mango custard and orange-blossom honey. Its vibrancy, purity, and poise make it a stunning, surprisingly affordable addition to your dessert-wine list. Importer: Vintus Wines, www.vintuswines.com .
Natalie Guinovart, DWS, CWE
Wine Writer and Educator
Wine for Thought, LLC
Dönnhoff Riesling Eiswein Oberhäuser Brücke, Nahe, Germany 2008 $290
With so many great Rieslings available—from Ontario’s Cave Spring to a vertical of Kamptal’s Schloss Gobelsburg Tradition to a multitude of local Rheingau bottlings—at November’s International Riesling Symposium in Eltville, Germany, Helmut Dönnhoff’s latest marvel managed to stand out. His flat, 2-acre parcel of 30-to-40-year-old vines along the river Nahe provides an Eiswein nearly every year; in 2008, it gave two. Working with his wife and daughter, Dönnhoff has created an impeccably balanced, delicate wine at 6% alcohol, with a complex array of orchard and berry fruits and a superfine, long finish. A winery deserving of every accolade it has acquired. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .
David Furer, CWE
Contributing Editor, Sommelier Journal
Los Bermejos Malvasía Naturalmente Dulce, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain (500 ml) 2008 $40
This “naturally sweet” Malvasía is grown in small craters, dug into the barren volcanic soils of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Unfortified and light on its feet, it sends up aromas of fragrant orange blossoms and delicate herbs. An intriguing Tahitian vanilla-bean quality comes from aging in Allier barriques after an extended fermentation. But the wood notes do not mask the wine’s delicious palate of peach and dried apricot, nor its beguiling honey-spice finish. A firmly acidic core extends the flavors for several minutes, making this the ultimate end-of-meal sipper. Importer: José Pastor Selections, www.josepastorselections.com .
Jesse Becker, MS, CWE
périphériquewine Wine Merchants
Château Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia, Hungary (500 ml) 1993 $140
From the finest Tokaj vintage since the fall of the Iron Curtain, this nectar is so sweet (more than 550 grams per liter of residual sugar) that the texture is almost gelatinous. Off-the-charts acidity keeps it from being cloying. Apricot, red cherry, pineapple, mango—it’s all here, along with bits of hazelnut, creamy caramel, and a honeysuckle finish that elicits a 10-minute sense of wonder. This is one of my lifetime top-five bottles, certainly the best dessert wine I’ve ever had. Importer: VOS Selections, www.vosselections.com .
Editor-in-Chief, Unfiltered, Unfined LLC
Mullineux Straw Wine, Swartland, South Africa 2009 $25
How can a wine this thick and unctuous be so focused? Chenin Blanc is picked at normal ripeness and air-dried for three weeks, resulting in an amazing wine of intense sweetness, with a supernal brilliance beamed in by exhilarating acidity. Peach, dried apricot, orange marmalade, and honey are elaborated by notes of almond, tea, and tobacco. This singular wine demonstrates the potential of both Chenin Blanc and South Africa. Importer: Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd., www.kysela.com .
Joanna Breslin, CSW
San Mateo, Calif.
Quinta do Noval Noval Black, Douro, Portugal N.V. $17
The Noval Black’s nose is similar to the fine bouquet of the better 2007 vintage cask samples I’ve tried: it exudes freshness, floral scents, and a dominating essence of grenadine and bright raspberry. Richer and weightier than I expected, it’s stylistically sweet, with rich raspberry and plum flavors, a smoky edginess, and ripe tannins. You realize just how good this Noval is when it requires you to swallow three times; suffice it to say that the finish is beautiful and long. An impressive ruby reserve that will rival any of its peers on the market, at a price that makes it perfect for any by-the-glass program. Importer: Vintus Wines, www.vintuswines.com .
Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal 2007 $75
One of the finest Ports I’ve ever tasted. Although Port often gives off aromas of raisined fruit, the Vesuvio has none of that; its blackberry and blueberry fruit is so fresh that you’ll feel like drizzling it over waffles. An intriguing mix of white pepper, cocoa, and acidity, it’s powerfully alcoholic, but carries those dark fruits all the way through the finish. It will continue to evolve for decades, offering repeat restaurant guests a reason to return to it again and again. Importer: Premium Port Wines, Inc., www.premiumport.com .
Joe Roberts, CSW