I almost hate to admit this, but… I did try, and write tasting notes for, 195 wines in 2013. As it turns out, that is about the yearly average for the last decade for me, though for any health police out there, I had plenty of help with these. 2013 was year in which none of the wines I drank were among the greatest I have ever had. None-the-less, there were plenty of wines that were outstanding, and a number that really stand out. Though I have more of an Old World palate, I like pretty much all wine styles, and this year I drank a lot more New World wines than Old World, mostly due to my cellar mix at this point. Therefore, my top ten list has more of a New World weighting than in previous years. This year my top ten wines include 5 wines from the United States, 3 from France, 2 from Italy and 1 from Australia. In coming up with this list, I considered quality of the wine, contemplation inspiration, drinking pleasure and quality to price. Without further adieu, the wines of the year, from tenth place to first place are as follows.
#10: 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia (California, Napa Valley)
Outstanding. Perfectly stored since release. Wonderful bouquet on the nose, dark fruits, herbs, some olive. Great presence on the palate, with oodles of flavors and a long finish. Simply wonderful. Insignia is one of America’s iconoclastic wines, and for good reason. It has a long history of outstanding vintages. The 1999, a great wine, from a somewhat unheralded vintage, results in one being able to find this for less than many vintages, though it will still cost you $150+. None-the-less, an amazing wine, at 15 years old in a great spot. Great for special occasions, and #10 on my list of wines of the year.
#9: 2008 Vaccelli Sciacarello Ajaccio Roger Courreges (Italy, Corsica, Ajaccio)
This is one fantastic wine. Fantastic purity, simply delicious fruit, light body (almost Burgundy-like), nice minerality, wonderful finish. Wow. I give this a 94+. At $28, a steal for this quality. I love wines from Corsica, in general they possess outstanding terroir. This one has enough quality, at an amazingly low cost, to bring it in at #9 on my wine of the year list.
#8: 2007 Martina (Sassa) Brunello di Montalcino (Italy, Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino)
An incredible value in Brunello. Lots of cherry, herbs, earth, and perhaps some aged leather. Smooth on the palate, yet fills every crevice with evolving flavor. Would love to have a case of this. Not sure it is meant to hold too long, but certainly has a fantastic 5-8 years ahead. I give this a 94+. At $28, a steal. Considering cost, complexity and pleasure, this is my #8 wine of the year. If you can find it, buy plenty.
#7: 2006 Sine Qua Non Grenache Raven Series (California, Central Coast)
About as different as one could come up with from the 1989 Beaucastel drank next to it, but almost as pleasing. This is big done right, which winemaker Manfred Krankl seems to have mastered. Could give you the blah blah blah about perfect balance, etc. but one just knows it when they taste it, everything is right, harmony is achieved and a smile crosses your face. While not transcendental, certainly a good case for the joys of hedonism. Wine Spectator says 97, Wine Advocate 96, I will go 95, but still get enough to make #7 on my list. Will cost you $250+ at this point, but well worth sharing with friends. Sine Qua Non is the wine to have, from an American producer, and though pricy, it has never disappointed.
#6: 1984 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill (California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain)
This was unbelievably young and fresh for nearly 30 years old. Very dark purple, and murky as hell…the visual of it did not bode well. However, the nose and palate quickly put any doubts to rest….this was as good as it gets. Beautiful nose of cedar, blue fruits, cigar and leather. On the palate, the fruit was fresh and vibrant with excellent acidity and a remaining tannic structure that would hold this wine for 20 more years. Nice minerality. Long finish. I give this a 96. Though $120+, my number 6 wine of the year due to its quality and in recognition of how Napa Cabernet used to be made (i.e., not overly alcoholic fruit bombs).
#5: 2009 Rhys Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard (California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz)
Ok, wow. Wow. A Cali Chard that blows you away. Burgundian is an over-statement and not really accurate as this fruit can only come from California, though it leans Burgundian in that this is clearly not a buttery oak bomb and it relies on the basics. It has luscious zingy and tasty fruit and minerality, with an amazing amount of other notes that I rarely find in the boring U.S. chard market. Must get more. IWC gives this a 94, I would go 95. About $70. A chardonnay in my top ten list, the world is changing!
#4: 2003 Scherrer Winery Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard “High Slopes” (California, Sonoma Coast)
Hitting on all cylinders, truly a great wine in its prime. A cornucopia of fruit, red, blue and black, some earthy elements, and some allspice. Great acidity, long finish. I give this a 95+. $45. I have never met a Scherrer wine that I did not like, in fact never met one that did not exceed expectations. Fred Scherrer’s wines remain the best value in all Sonoma. His portfolio includes Pinot, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and more. All are outstanding and age worthy. He does not make High Slopes any longer, though it is well worth tracking some remaining bottles down.
#3: 1989 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape (France, Southern Rhone, Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
A wine everyone should try at least a couple times, especially since one can still find it at a reasonable price. Opens with lots of funk on the nose, especially barnyard; with time it gets more complex on the nose with about every scent one can imagine from barns, to spice, to earth elements, leather, etc., most of which passes through to the palate, which has tremendously fresh and vibrant raspberry Grenache fruit. Marvelous. Though about 25 years old, it is still reasonably easy to find. Still has years to go. These days not cheap ($200+), but my #3 wine of the year due to how damn good it is and its iconic status as one of the great CdP’s of all time.
#2: NV Coessens Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut Largillier (France, Champagne)
This was absolutely fantastic — truly one of the best champagnes I have had in years. Excellent fruit, with substantial amounts of minerality, and an almost pinot like body, yet light as a feather, announcing its presence with a near explosion of ‘here I am’ on the palate. Great acidity also. Small growers are producing simply great Champagne these days, with individuality and personality that the big boys really struggle to find. At $48, moderately priced for Champagne. I give this a 95, and it is my #2 wine of the year. It is simply damn good.
#1: 2005 Cirillo Grenache 1850’s Old Vine (Australia, South Australia, Barossa Valley)
Yes, a Barossa wine as my wine of the year (this from a guy with an old world palate). This wine is produced from the oldest viable Grenache vines in the world, so it has a wonderful story to tell. This wine is simply outstanding in every way, from the light violet hue, to the ethereal nose of dark fruits, spice and earth, to the palate, on which a myriad of flavors battle for your attention. Simply stunning. The fruit is pure as it gets, not overly concentrated, just fresh and big, but the size of it is well kept in bounds by a cornucopia of spice and earth elements. A 40 second finish, and lively acidity, caps off this nearly perfect wine. At $40, this is an unbelievable bargain, especially for a wine which comes from vines planted in the 1850’s, all pre-phylloxera. Unquestionably a producer to watch (winemaker Marco Cirillo), and since the wines are quite limited, better jump on them while you can. Wine Advocate gives this a 95, IWC a 93, I go 97. With the inexpensive cost and incredible taste, this is my wine of the year.