Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Favorite Wines of 2012

Another year is winding down. I don’t know about you, but I had one hell of a 2012. I caught some of the best waves in recent years out in Sonoma County, as well as all over the Jersey Shore during an excellent fall storm season. I spent a lot of quality time with friends and family, went to a lot of rocking concerts and, of course, drank some pretty fine vino. Since I take obsessive notes on the wines I taste, it’s easy for me to look back and find the wines that wowed me the most over the course of the year.

This year, my favorite wines fell into one of four categories: Burgundy, Chateaneuf-du-Pape, syrah and German riesling. These four categories of wine probably account for 75% of the wine I drink these days. After years and years of exploring every possibly grape variety and wine region in the world, I’ve fallen into something of a stride. I know what I love, and I drink what I love. So here are the wines I loved most in 2012.

It was CdP that gave me the wine bug in 2006, and six years later, this region still tugs at my heart. I’ve consumed a lot of different vintages of Chateaneuf this year (my CdP b-day party was something to be remembered), but my favorites almost exclusively came from the 2010 vintage. Heralded by pretty much everyone as the greatest CdP vintage in recent memory, the 2010s are beyond impressive. They’re so young and compact, with gritty tannins, fresh acid and pure fruit built for the long-haul. That said, it was a true honor to taste a lot of 2010s young, because they offer a wine-drinking experience unlike anything else.

2009 Chapelle St. Theodoric Châteauneuf-du-Pape le Grand Pin (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape) This CdP is gorgeous dark purple color in the glass. Initially the aromas were tight, and I think this wine really needs a decant to show its full stuff. But with some swirling the complexities come out: raspberry, kirsch, also some lovely charred meat and beef broth aromas. The palate is dense and full, very compact. This wine needs a few years to open up, but it’s gorgeous. Lovely brightness of fruit, and it’s not heavy at all. I love the kirsch meets herbs and beef broth flavor that lingers on the finish. What a beauty! 95 points

2010 Chapelle St. Theodoric Châteauneuf-du-Pape le Grand Pin (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape) I've tasted some great 2010 CdPs, but this is way up there. Co-owned by American importer Peter Weygandt and Domaine de Cristia owner Baptiste Grangeon, this is an elite-level wine made from grenache grown in the sandy soils near the heralded producer Rayas. Much more concentration than Rayas, but still retains this lovely mineral and freshness. Aromas of fig, cocoa dust, roasted chestnut, cigar shop and herb-tinged blackberries. Wow. The fruit is like nectar on the palate, but that 2010 acid shines through and keeps this bound together. Very deep and sexy flavors here, all sorts of black fruit, mixed with some red berries, and packed with earthy and mineral flavors. I loved the 2009, but this is even better, with more focus and aging potential. Amazing stuff, and it’s only going to improve. Bury this wine for a decade and see what happens. My Wine of the Year. 97 points

2010 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chaupin (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape) A near-perfect 2010 Chateauneuf, made from 100% grenache. Wow, the structure and depth of this wine is astonishing. Aromas of cedar, tobacco, anise, black cherries, black pepper and hints of toast. The aromas combine to form a tight fist that will take years to unpack. Very young, with firm tannins and tightly-compacted fruit, but enough acid to make this pleasant to drink. I love the complex fig, tar, herb garden and earth flavors in this wine. An incredibly long finish. I would absolutely love to try this again in 15 years, it’s got at least that much time ahead of it. I know Robert Parker and Tanzer swooned over this, but they’re on to something here. Superb. 96 points

I can’t really afford it that often (and Grand Cru Burgundy even less so), but I’ve had the opportunity to taste some pristine Burgundies this year. I’ve enjoyed a lot of premier cru and village-level Burgs, which are far more reasonably priced, but Grand Cru Burgundy is expensive for a reason: it’s the best pinot noir in the world. These two examples are at the top of my 2012 list.

1995 Bernard Dugat-Py Mazis-Chambertin (France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru) What a beautiful Burgundy. The nose is intoxicating and intense. One aroma blends into the next: savory meat and broth, leather, violets, pure cherry fruit, distinct earthiness. On the palate, everything is beautiful and in place, with the fine tannins, fresh acid and purity of flavors. The earthiness to this wine is amazing. Seems like it has a while ahead of it, but it tastes heavenly right now. 96 points

2001 Domaine Robert Groffier Bonnes Mares (France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru) When Robert Groffier is on, he is on. And what a gorgeous wine it is. Vibrant purple color with brick red rims. The aromas alone made this the wine of the night. Sexy, smooth, pure aromas of cranberry, white pepper and potpourri, a hint of Indian spices. The palate starts off brisk, almost tart, but then a wave of fine-grained tannins and lush fruit pour in. Roses, ripe cherries, dark soil flavors, but acid sails through the whole time. The purity of flavor on the finish... it’s just incredible. For my palate, this wine had that perfect balance of power and elegance. I would love to revisit this in another five years, as some of those mature flavors start to develop. 95 points

Syrah and pinot noir are locked in a constant battle for my favorite red wine grape. But after this year I just may have to officially call the fight a draw, because I drank some syrah that just blew me away.

2004 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard (Washington, Walla Walla Valley) This wine was a perfect way to top off an evening of incredible wines from the Pacific Northwest. The aromas are simply divine: plum sauce, caramel, rose petals, olive brine and forest floor. Fruity and rich on the palate, to say the least. I like the red fruit profile of this wine, mostly cherries and raspberries. The fruit is backed up by savory spices, peppered steak, soy sauce and coffee grinds. It’s rare that I find a wine this ripe and hedonistic that still keeps its balance, not to mention all this non-fruit flavors that are kicking serious ass. Poetry in a bottle, my friends. Fucking poetry. This is my first time tasting this wine, but it appears to be in an ideal state right now. There’s a reason why Cayuse is such a cult phenomenon. 95 points

2006 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard (Washington, Walla Walla Valley) Wow, what a tremendous syrah. Beautiful and vibrant purple color, clear and bright. I believe this had been opened for a while before the tasting, but it showed instant aromatic complexity: sweet violets, rose petals, blueberry. There’s a hint of green olive on the nose, and also some sweetness, like creme brulee. Simply captivating to sniff. On the palate, we’re talking tannins made of the finest silk. Pure flavors of blueberry and fig paste are backed up with charcoal, coffee and olive tapenade. The complexity is absurd! I took like half a page of notes on this wine, but I’ll stop now. It’s awesome. 95 points
2004 Copain Syrah James Berry Vineyard (California, Central Coast, Paso Robles) This is an incredibly dark and vibrant-looking syrah. It’s really compact right out of the bottle, and a few hours in the decanter helped coax out some more aromas. Plum cake, fig, tar and war paint aromas dominate. After three hours in the decanter it started to show a bit more olive and smoke aromas. On the palate, this wine is very extracted, with a mouthfeel like glycerin and paint mixed together. Flavors of plum pits, blueberry pie, fruit cake, dark chocolate and toast combine in a dense, tight package. The tannins are fine-grained and provide solid backbone. Just enough acid to keep it going, even though I normally prefer more acid in my syrah. It evolved with air and time in the decanter to show some loam and charcoal flavors, which add complexity. After three hours I started picking up some olive and brine flavors, and as a Northern Rhone lover, I was very pleased. This syrah deserves to be taken seriously by any wine lover, because even though it’s steeped in this bombastic Paso Robles style, it’s elegant in its own way. In my mind, this is a great example of Paso Robles’ syrah, much more my style than Saxum. What’s important to me in a Paso Robles wine is the purity of the flavors and at least some semblance of balance. Copain’s 2004 James Berry syrah has both. I can’t believe I don’t have another one of these to tuck away for five more years. This is up there with the best syrahs I’ve had all year. 95 points

2001 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle (France, Northern Rhône, Hermitage) I can’t deny my love for this wine. The aromas are seductive and complex, lots of fresh red cherry fruit, a mix of green and black olives, and spices like bay leaf, white pepper and potpourri. I poured myself a glass and smelled it over the course of the evening, and every ten minutes the aromas shifted and evolved in complexity. On the palate, this wine is pure silk. The wine coats the palate with fine tannins, but the acid is so fresh, keeping the wine elegant. Amazing complexity of flavors: crushed berries, grilled herbs, cured meat, olive tapenade and smoke. Long finish. Incredible stuff. I’d love to re-taste this in five more years. 95 points

I didn’t drink nearly as much riesling in 2012 as I did in 2011, but that’s mostly due to the fact that (unfortunately) I didn’t make a pilgrimage to Germany’s Mosel Valley this year. Still, year after year, bottle after bottle, Mosel riesling continues to be one of my favorite things in life. There’s no competition in my mind for the best white wines in the world. This year I only rated one German riesling 95 points or more, and here it is…

2010 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling von blauem Schiefer Reserve (Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer) Golden yellow color in the glass. Exotic aromas abound: white peach, fresh wildflowers, orange zest and hints of clover honey. The acid hits the palate right away, and sticks around through the finish. The acid is lip-smackingly high, but I have to admit: I friggin’ love it. The flavors are crazy-good: rich white peach, Granny Smith apple, lime zest, margarita salt, tangerine rind... the flavors go on and on. The level of freshness is absurd. This riesling shows rich fruit but it's laced with tons of acid and minerals for balance. Hints of chestnut on the long finish. I’ve tasted a ton of 2010 Mosel rieslings, but this is one of my favorites for sure. Classic. I'm going to try and age several bottles of this wine because it will improve for 10, 20 maybe even 30 years. But it’s so delicious, I’m not sure if it stands a chance of being left undisturbed for long. 95 points

Honorable Mentions — A Few 94-pointers
2008 Cameron Pinot Noir Clos Electrique (Oregon, Willamette Valley)
2003 Clarendon Hills Syrah Brookman (South Australia, Clarendon)
2005 Château Rieussec (France, Bordeaux, Sauternes)


  1. That is quite a list. I’ve only tasted a few on the list, but I will make it a point to try most of them if not all, especially that 2010 Chappelle. Cheers!

  2. Cheers back at ya Corey! If you're a CdP fan you've gotta try le Grand Pin.