The Top Ten Wines of 2014 for Fine Press Fans

Though one must be very careful to not turn their favorite fine press book a deep crimson by accidental spilling, there is nothing like an appropriately chosen, hand-made, artisan fine wine to enhance your reading pleasure! So, for the third year running, I present my favorite ten wines of the previous year, despite having to admit how much wine I tried in the previous twelve short months!  In 2014, I tasted and wrote notes for 138 wines. The good news for my liver is this is down from 195 wines in 2013. Still, enough to have a worthy top ten list. Do note, for those who worry about these things, I had plenty of help in dousing those bottles!

My fine press wants greatly exceeded my wine wants during the past year, so I actually sold quite a bit of my wine collection to pick up some long wished for books. None-the-less, collecting and tasting wine has been a hobby for well over twenty years now, and it will continue to be, just at a more subdued pace.  As I have bored you with in the past, there are many parallels between fine wine and fine books. Just as the world is awash in mass produced books (and ebooks) with zero thought given to quality, form or purpose, the wine industry is awash in mass-agricultural production of wine which is soulless. Yet, like those craftsman who produce fine press books that are everything ebooks and paperbacks are not, artisan winemakers produce wine with meaning using centuries old techniques that have never been bettered. Vineyards cared for with little or no mass mechanization, hand picked grapes, no manipulation, etc., etc. Artisan fine wines reflect the time and place of its origin, and the best winemakers are master craftsman who know how to best let the wine speak for itself. Sound familiar?  For those with even a passing interest in finely made wines, please imbibe on this article from Books and Vines, which will increase your enjoyment level of drinking artisan wines while contemplating your artisan books!

There were plenty of wines I sampled in 2014 that were outstanding and memorable. Though I still would claim a preference for Old World styles, I like pretty much all wine styles, and, similar to 2013, 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 a heavy New World weighting. About 46% of the wines I tasted were from the United States, 33% from France, 13% from Italy and the rest sprinkled from around the world. This year my top ten wines include 6 wines from the United States, 3 from France, and 1 from Italy (which, interestingly enough, is the exact opposite of my typical current buying patterns).  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.

{Ed. Note: You can use wine searcher to find who sells and ships these wines.}

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2004 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano
2004 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano

#10: 2004 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano (Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco)

Bruno Giacosa, considered the ‘Genius of Neive’ for his long mastery of Nebbiolo, is the greatest of traditional Barolo and Barberesco producers. His wines are always a masterful statement of time and place, though usually require many, many years in bottle to hit its true form. His 2004 Santo Stefano Barbaresco is brilliant. This wine has the complexity of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, mixed with the reading enjoyment of Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron! The 2004 is a bit young with more improvement to come, but it has tons of character already. Floral, leather, and a bit dusty, with bright red fruit. A very long finish. Fantastic.  I would give this a 94 rating with certain upside over the next one to two decades. At about $200 in the secondary market, it is not inexpensive by any means. However, if you want a special bottle that is also food friendly, this is it.

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#9: 2008 Alban Vineyards Syrah Reva Alban Estate Vineyard (California, Central Coast, Edna Valley)

John Alban is the original Rhone Ranger who has had significant influence on the American wine scene over the past few decades due to his advocation and mastery of the varietals SyrahViognier and Roussanne. These varietals were essentially unheard of in American production until, starting in the last 1980’s, Alban showed how they could be produced here in a manner as good (arguably) as in France.   As for his 2008 Alban Reva Syrah, wow, it is one awesome wine! Though young, it is in a great spot (I find almost all Alban’s irresistible when young, though they age well also). Fruit, spice, floral, roasted meats — this has it all. Palate coating presence, oodles of dark fruit with a myriad of secondary flavors (already), especially smoked meats and all-spice, perhaps some cocoa. Long, long finish. Big done right. Think of it as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Outwardly manly, big and strong, yet woven together gracefully. I would give this a 97, and is well worth the $94 release price, and current $120-130 secondary market price. Get on their mail list so you can eventually buy at release price instead of on the secondary market for much more!

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1987 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
1987 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

#8: 1987 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (California, Napa Valley)

People these days often forget how outstanding Mondavi wines were in his earlier days, especially the Reserve wines. Once mass production of his wines meant one sees Mondavi’s all over super market shelves, the panache associated with the name plummeted.  While this is fair for the mass produced plonk, it is a big mistake for his higher end older wines. One can still find his Cabernet Reserve wines from 20-30 years ago on the secondary market for $100-180, and they have, in general, aged marvelously.  They reflect a very Bordeaux profile, unlike the mass of high end modern California wines most known for being fruit bombs. This 1987 Reserve, perfectly stored, is an excellent example as it is currently drinking perfectly. Herbs, currant, tobacco, and leather complement fresh red fruit, ending in a 60 second finish. Just fantastic and hard to imagine any of today’s superstars bringing this degree of complexity to the table with one of their wines in 30 years. I hope I am wrong. Perfect acidity, unreal complexity. 97 points. 12.5% alcohol, which is on average about 3% less than today’s superstars, who place ‘largeness’ above complexity.  The 1987 Mondavi Cabernet Reserve is of my all time favorite American wines. Like Virgil’s Georgics, classic, thoughtful and appreciative of the land from which it comes!

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2008 Jules Desjourneys Moulin-à-Vent
2008 Jules Desjourneys Moulin-à-Vent

#7: 2008 Jules Desjourneys Moulin-à-Vent (France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Moulin-à-Vent)

Over the last five years (beginning with the incredible 2009 vintage), I have fallen in love with ‘real’ Beaujolais, not the mass produced crap that floods grocery store shelves prior to the holidays. A number of producers have really taken Burgundy by storm on the past few years, bringing the quality of their Gamay based wine to world class levels. Fabien Duperray is one of them. He acquired some very old vines in some of the best and steepest terroirs of Beaujolais, then set up doing biodynamic farming, hand-pulling of weeds, using custom made barrels, aging 36 months before bottling, and using the finest quality of corks. The result is fantastic artisan wines. As for his 2008 Jules Desjourneys Moulin-à-Vent, it is unreal how good this is. Well worth the $42 for a Moulin-à-Vent, probably the best I have ever had. Lots of fresh red fruits, iodine, minerality and roasted meats — I mean just a ton going on here. The nose is unreal. 94 points. Bravo, Fabien Duperray. Like Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in that it should not be taken too seriously, yet can’t help but be due to its complexity within its lightness.

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2010 Paul Lato Pinot Noir Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard
2010 Paul Lato Pinot Noir Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard

#6: 2010 Paul Lato Pinot Noir Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard (California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands)

Former sommelier turned winemaker Paul Lato is one of the hottest producers of fine wines in California today. His Pinot Noirs and Syrah have received near universal acclaim from critics, especially from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. While Parker is often accused of being biased towards big, heavy, fruit bombs, the scores Paul Lato gets proves this wrong as his wines are as nuanced as the best of them. While his wines have excellent, tasty California fruit profiles, he manages to keep such in check and let other attributes of the land and vintage shine through.  Alto’s 2010 Paul Lato Pinot Noir Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard is a good example of this, as it is outstanding in every way. Good from the initial pop, and it only gets better through the night. Perfectly balanced, with delicious and fresh dark red fruits, some earthy and floral notes, and a surprising acidity that keeps it all in check. One of the best Pinots I have had in years. Sort of like a Dickens novel with a long, long finish and enjoyable every step of the way! I would give this a 96 and is $85 on release. Get on his mail list so you can eventually buy at release price instead of on the secondary market for much more!

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2007 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon

#5: 2007 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon (California, Napa Valley, Rutherford)

Scarecrow is a California cult wine produced on what was once the J.J. Cohn Estate. The estate is in Rutherford, CA and it produces anywhere from 400-800 cases a year. The winemaker is the heralded Celia Welch. It is not inexpensive, tracking one down now will cost you about $1000!  So if you are one who is perusing a Kelmscott, you can afford this. The rest of us will wait for a sip or two from a generous friend. As for the 2007, it truly is a fantastic wine, young but hitting on all cylinders. Tons of dark fruit, creme de cassis and floral notes, along with some cocoa. Amazing mouthfeel, big but not overly rich. Long, long finish. Very pure. Will be nearly perfect some years from now. I would give it a 97.

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2005 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis
2005 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis

#4: 2005 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d’Ampuis (France, Northern Rhone, Côte-Rôtie)

Guigal produces among the best and most sought after Northern Rhone wines. The domain was founded in 1946, and sits on land situated in Ampuis, that has had vineyards for over 2400 years!  Most famous for their amazingly good and expensive “La La” wines (La MoulineLa Landonne and La Turque), they also produce a number of other high end and more moderate wines. The bottling reviewed here, Château d’Ampuis, is a blend of six vineyards of Côte Brune and Côte Blonde and, while not inexpensive, is moderately priced, for the quality, around $100. Typically around 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier. It was first produced in the 1995 vintage. The 2005 is young, but very expressive. Dark purple, with a nose of red fruit, flowers, herbs and pepper, it coats the palate and finish with bright cherry flavors, along with follow through of herbs/pepper and an interesting tar aspect. Excellent, delicious stuff. I would give it a 95+. I can only imagine what this will taste like in a few more years. Reminds me of Camus, or perhaps even Baudelaire’s les Fleurs du Malin that it is unquestionably modern, yet by its brilliance now is thought of as traditionally classic.

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2007 Cayuse Flying Pig
2007 Cayuse Flying Pig

#3: 2007 Cayuse Flying Pig (Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley)

The Cayuse domaine is located in the Walla Walla Valley of Washington. Proprietor and vigneron Christopher Baron produces some of the most food-friendly wines in America, with a degree of individuality and character rare in American wines. I have been drinking Cayuse for years, and can still say that there is not another American wine that tastes anything like it. It is distinct, and better still, outstanding and always thought provoking! A true terroir driven wine. Whitman would appreciate. The fruit is grown entirely using biodynamic farming methods. The 2007 Cayuse Flying Pig is one awesome wine. It is just singing! Medium bodied, excellent red and blue fruit, tobacco, minerals, spice…pretty much everything. 60 second finish. Probably will still get better with a few more years.  Get on their mail list so you can eventually buy at release price instead of on the secondary market for much more!

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2009 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Laurence
2009 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Laurence

#2: 2009 Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Laurence (France, Southern Rhone, Châteauneuf-du-Pape)

The Feraud family has been planting grapes here since the mid seventeenth century. The vineyards are located in different areas of Chateauneuf du Pape though the best vines of Domaine du Pegau are located on the plateau of La Crau. Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Laurence is produced from the same blend as their Reservee bottling, 85% Grenache, 9% Syrah and 4% Mourvedre, Counoise and other varieties. The only difference compared to the Reservee bottling is that Cuvee Laurence is aged longer. It is vinified in cement tank and is aged in old, French oak barrels for 32-36 months. In vintages where it is produced, they make around 600 cases. Pégaü is almost always my favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape from any vintage, and it looks like their Cuvée Laurence may take that honor for 2009. It is an outstanding young CdP. Lots of blue fruit, though smoked meat/fat aroma’s and herbs predominate. A wonderful mouthfeel, medium bodied but silky, with a nice long finish with a myriad of flavors. Great stuff. It will be even greater in ten years. I would give this a 97+. It can be found for about $120. Likely goes perfect with anything from Balzac as it perfectly presents what it is to be French.

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2012 North (Alban) Pinot Noir Alban Estate Vineyard
2012 North (Alban) Pinot Noir Alban Estate Vineyard

#1: 2012 North (Alban) Pinot Noir Alban Estate Vineyard (California, Central Coast, Edna Valley)

I talked about Alban wines a bit above in the #9 wine of the year section. Here Alban shows up again — at number 1!  What is most amazing about this incredible wine is that it is only the second vintage that it was produced. Taking into account that, and it is the first time Pinot has come from the Alban land of Rhone varietals, it boggles my mind how they hit such a grand slam on a second bottling.  Wow! And wow again! Yes, super young, but none of us could believe how this bottle was hitting on every cylinder already. Amazingly good red and blue fruit, with some kirsch and earthy elements. Big, but not overly big, with acidity to match and a finish that went on and on. I am surprised at how much typicity it has, in that this was pinot through and through, and one great expression of it. May actually be the best California Pinot I have had in many a year. I would give this a 97+ and almost certainly will develop even more complexity with some years in bottle. I usually like to have some history behind a label before I get so enthused about it, but this was so damn good, and with Alban’s track record, I have few concerns about ranking it this highly. I suppose I would match this with Melville, as quintessentially American in its boldness and adventuress spirit. Again, get on their mail list so you can eventually buy at release price (of $70-80) instead of on the secondary market for much more!

3 thoughts on “The Top Ten Wines of 2014 for Fine Press Fans

  1. There are more fine wines than fine press books. This is a fact. Mondavi’s Cab is indeed highly rated here in California. A few years back I bought a bottle, around $100, but have not tried it yet. However there are so many fine Cab producers around the world that it is hard to justify a $100 bottle, I wonder how much better could that $1,000 Scarecrow bottle be. Anyhow keep up posting reviews of fine press book and cheers!

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