Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 in Review: My Top 5 Wines

Washington Post wine writer Dave McIntyre recently wrote: “Sometimes our favorite wines are memorable not just for what’s in the bottle but also for how we share them.” I couldn’t agree more. Looking back on 2013, I realized the most memorable wines where those I sipped with good company. I’m truly blessed to have the opportunity to taste so many epic wines, but I’m even more blessed to have such great family and friends with whom to share the joy.

As this year winds down, wine nerds like myself enjoy looking back on those wines that left us in awe. Here are the five wines that stunned me most over the past 12 months…

2000 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut - France, Champagne
After years of studying wine, tasting wine, collecting and storing it, sometimes you forget what it is about wine that drives a person to dedicate so much time, money and effort. Then a wine like this comes along and floors you, leaves you in complete amazement, and reminds you that life is fucking awesome. This Krug was the gem of an incredible May tasting at the Graham Hotel in Washington. I was surrounded by Krug and Dom and friends from Terroirist, and I felt perfectly content. The wine showed a beautiful golden apple color and a collage of rich and intense aromas: fresh biscuits, apricot, hazelnut, honey, caramel, shortbread cookies… the aromas just don’t quit. Dense and bold on the palate, but balanced by superb acid. Rich themes of apricot, hazelnut, honeycomb, caramel, Fuji apple, but they’re contrasted with intense limestone and quinine flavors. Full and hedonistic, yet sleek and elegant, this Champagne is a beautiful contradiction. 43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier. I’d love to taste another bottle of this again when I’m old and crotchety. (98 points)
1998 Henri Sorrel Hermitage Le Gréal - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
I tasted this as part of a “domestic Rhone” themed tasting, filled with rich and powerful Syrahs from California and Washington State. This was the only actual Rhone wine in the tasting, and it was orgasmic. The complexity of aromas, the balance on the palate, the length of the finish, all of it is top notch. The aromas are endlessly beautiful: red berry fruit, dried cranberry, anise, olive tapenade, seaweed, oyster brine, musk and mineral. Pure and velvety on the palate, with silky tannins and brisk acid. Snappy red fruit is accentuated by lots of olive brine, crushed rocks, herbs, iron, white pepper, tobacco. One of the best syrahs I’ve had, period. And it’s in such a good place right now. As close to perfect as I can imagine. (98 points)

2001 Cayuse Syrah Bionic Frog - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
For six years or so, I’ve been tasting wine with a married couple who are huge Pacific Northwest fans. They’ve been so generous in showing me and our tasting crew the best that Oregon and Washington have to offer. They outdid themselves with this wine, one of the most culty and sought-after wines in Washington. And for good reason. It’s a simply sublime Syrah. Complex and profound aromas of black plum, dried blueberry, campfire smoke, rhubarb, grilled steak and charred earth. Brisk acid on the palate, with fine-grained tannins, very elegant at 12 years of age. The blackberry and plum fruit is still rich and opulent, but the non-fruit flavors steal the show: bacon, charcoal, grilled herbs, olive brine. Always expressive, but never overbearing, and a lot of this is credit to the wonderful acid. This wine is incredibly complex and has a near endless finish. It’s such an expensive and hyped wine, but like many Cayuse wines, I can’t help but love it. Probably the best Washington Syrah I’ve tasted. (96 points)

1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Oenothèque - France, Champagne
Another mindblowing bottle from the May Moët tasting. Intoxicating aromas of lemon cake, buttered croissant, yellow apple, honeydew, dried white flowers... and the aromas just keep going. Rich on the palate, with green apple and melon fruit, buttered toast and dried honey, but this wine maintains so much focus and precision. The minerality in this wine is astounding, same goes for the acid, which never ceases. Such beautifully dramatic tension between the lean and rich aspects. Chef de Caves Richard Geoffroy has made a masterpiece with this wine. If I had a bottle of this, I’d put it down with a cellar tag that reads “Do not open until apocalypse.” (96 points)

1983 Miguel Torres Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Coronas Reserva Mas La Plana - Spain, Catalunya, Penedès
I tasted this birth-year Spanish Cabernet with Miguel Torres at a vertical tasting dinner earlier this year. Drinking various vintages of Mas La Plana, an historical Spanish Cab, eating Spanish food and discussing wine with Miguel Torres — it was quite a night. This 30-year-old wine showed a vibrant ruby-cherry color in the glass. The nose is incredibly complex and full of nuance. I get plum, red currants, anise, beef jerky, pepper, and the aromas just keep going, shifting and evolving over the course of the evening. Fine tannins and lots of acid provide backbone for the black cherry and red currant fruit, which is still alive and well. The earth, olive, tobacco and cedar flavors are woven together well, and minerality underlines it all. Brisk, pure and so focused. Miguel said ‘83 was the best vintage of the ‘80s, and, given this epic effort, I believe him. Aged for six months in new American and French oak, then a year in old casks. A refreshing 12.5% alcohol. (95 points)

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