Each month I foist upon Books and Vines readers the ‘Vines‘ part of this website’s title. I remain convinced that little life offers is more perfect than a quiet evening at home, reading a great work while sipping on an equally great bottle of wine. On a monthly basis, I try to highlight wines that are reasonably affordable; after all, your spare money should first go to fine press publishers for books you know you have to have! However, in putting together a top ten list, inevitably the best wines often come with a cost similar to the best fine press books. With that in mind, if you are wondering what to open to pair with reading your favorite book, this is your list.
I meant to post this ‘Best of 2011’ list earlier, but never got around to it. As it is already February, I thought I better get a move on before 2011 becomes ancient history! I wrote tasting notes on over 245 wines in 2011, the top ten of which are:
10. 2005 Marcassin Pinot Noir Three Sisters Vineyard (USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast): As one would expect, big fruit, but very well balanced with lots of earth and mushroom notes. Very nice, even better in years. Wine Spectator gave this a 95, Wine Advocate a 94. I give it a 94. Will cost you $200 on the resale market.
9. 2004 Tatiarra Shiraz Pressings Caravan of Dreams (Australia, Victoria, Central Victoria, Heathcote): Excellent balance, depth and texture. Fantastic fruit, far from jammy or thick, mostly red and blue, with minerality, spice and evolving taste with each sip. Excellent. Wine Advocate gave this a 98. I would give it a 95. The ‘bargain’ on the list at $75.
8. 2002 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard (USA, California, Napa Valley): This was very enjoyable to me. Extremely young, brooding, but with enough elements beyond just screaming “I am Huge” to make it interesting. Minerality is easy to get on this wine, making the vanilla laden black fruit more complex. Tons of structure, this thing has the chance to be amazing in another decade or so. Very impressive to someone who often is frustrated by Napa cabs. Wine Advocate gave this a 98-100, I would go 95+. $250+
7. 2001 Sine Qua Non Midnight Oil (USA, California, Central Coast): Very nice wine. Dark purple/black with a big nose of flowers, blue fruits and spice. Much lighter mouthfeel then I expected (not to say it was light, but it was not motor oil either). Great mid-palate, really fills out the mouth and finish. A very, very enjoyable wine, everything in the right place, just not as complex as it could be. Wine Advocate gave this a 96, I would say 95. $500+
6. 1999 Château Haut-Brion (France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan): Everyone is under-rating this IMO. What a great off-vintage. Deep purple color, with a fantastic nose. Tobacco, earth, fruit, maybe even some licorice…a beguiling nose. Fresh and very enjoyable on the palate. Very young, but certainly within the window of great drinking. Very nice. Wine Advocate gave this a 93, Wine Spectator a 91. I would say 95. $350+
5. 1998 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Laurence (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape): Very similar to three and a half years ago, with lots of game, pepper, tar and lots of dark fruit. An outstanding wine that still will get better with more years. Great wine, drink or hold. Wine Advocate gave this a 96, IWC a 95. I would give it a 96. $150.
4. 2001 Torbreck Run Rig (Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley): Outstanding. Makes you remember why you once had that loving feeling for Aussie wines. Torbreck, especially RunRig and Les Amis, was always the best of the best from this region, and can hold its own against the best anywhere. Yes, lots of fruit (and what damn good fruit it is), but balance, acidity, spice, long finish…what else can you ask for? Wine Advocate gave this a 99, Wine Spectator a 98. I would give it a 96. Fantastic wine. $200.
3. 2004 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape): A phenomenal wine. Tons and tons of CdP funk when initially opened, including an interesting dash of petrol (which soon blew off). Huge raspberry fruit on the palate, with a myriad of spices, and layers of flavor. Wine Advocate gave this a 96-98, Wine Spectator a 96, IWC a 96-98. I would say 97+, and will get better over the years. $300+.
2. 1995 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Maxim (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape): The Maxim (like the 82 Larose) is amongst the best wines I have ever experienced. This was singing on every possible level you can imagine. The nose was out of this world, and old school mix of classic CdP provencal herbs, leather, barnyard and dark red cherry, combined with some slight modern elements of dark fruit, licorice and sappy cocoa. The palate is beyond description, so will not try beyond saying the finish lasted for minutes. This is in exactly the right spot, I do not see how things can improve…having said that, no rush, this has oodles of structure left. Too bad these are impossible to find. I would give this a 99. Would cost you hundreds of dollars if you can find it, which you will not.
1. 1982 Château Gruaud Larose (France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien): This wine was simply amazing. Phenomenal. Unreal. Get some. Drink it. Or, hold for another 30 years. It is amazingly youthful, vibrant, fresh. Dark purple hue, nice fruit/cedar and floral nose, but the palate just knocks it out of the ballpark. Different notes every sip, an uber long finish. An unreal experience. Forget 2011, the best wine I have ever had. Wine Advocate gave this a 98, Wine Spectator a 94. I would say 99+. Will cost you $400+ if you can find a well stored bottle.