I have the world’s best job. In 2016 I’ve written about nearly 500 wines, including some that are not only downright heavenly, but also have inspiring backstories.
So I’m listing here my 10 favorite wines from the waning year. Sometimes it was just because they were so delicious. Other times it was value for money. Still other times it was how far a wine had come from humble beginnings.
Wine fans like to say great wines are made in the vineyard. I agree. But they also are made in the winery. I like these wines for their stunning aromas and soul-satisfying flavors, but also for what they tell us about the men and women who grow them and make them.
These are people who understand that wine is not only a science and an art, but also a passion, who have the courage to go over the top, but also the judgment to pull back when they’ve gone too far.
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I like the wines’ stories. The tannic little red grape that took a 200-year journey to world class status. The wines with only about 12 percent alcohol taking on the monsters that wield more than 15 percent. Wines selling for under $15 that are as satisfying as some priced at $100 or more.
In any case, I invite readers to taste some of these wines and email me your thoughts. Or list your own favorite wines from 2016. Happy New Year!
▪ 2012 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (75.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16.6 percent merlot, 3.3 percent cabernet franc, 2.6 percent petit verdot, 2 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and opulent flavors of black plums, bittersweet chocolate and spice, long, smooth finish; $50.
Nobody makes better cabs than the Napa Valley. It’s due to soil, climate and the talent of its winemakers. The 2015 price of a ton of cabernet sauvignon grapes in Napa was $6,319 – nearly five times the California statewide average of $1,302, according to napanews.com.
▪ 2015 Quivira Vineyards Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County (55 percent grenache, 20 percent mourvedre, 10 percent syrah, 10 percent counoise, 5 percent petite sirah): red-berry aromas, flavors of white grapefruit and honey, light and crisp; $22.
I picture winemakers sitting around potbelly stoves in vineyard shacks all winter sipping wine and challenging each other: “What fabulous new blend can we make next summer?” What a life.
▪ 2012 Bodega Trivento “Eolo” Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (100 percent malbec): inky purple hue, aromas and flavors of black plums, mocha and anise, full-bodied and rich, mellow tannins, long finish; $97.
Malbec had humble beginnings as a tannic French wine blended into red Bordeaux wines to add color and backbone. A century later it was imported to Argentina, where the warmer sun ripened it into a luscious wine that tastes like chocolate-covered candy. Another century later hit the U.S. as a soft, cheap, user-friendly drink, and now it’s so subtly powerful they’re charging $97 for it.
▪ 2013 Plungerhead Winery Zinfandel, Lodi (90 percent zinfandel, 7 percent petite sirah, 2 percent petite verdot, 1 percent primitivo): dark purple hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, cocoa and spice, full body, long finish; $12.
Every wine lover needs a “house wine” – something to sip several days a week without breaking the bank. Save the $30 stuff for Sunday dinner.
▪ 2011 Vina Eguia Reserva, by Bodegas Muriel, Rioja DOC, Spain (100 percent tempranillo): bright red hue, hint of oak, flavors of red plums, anise and spice, smooth; $19.
Rioja, the signature wine of Spain, may give the greatest value for money of any wine. They age it until it’s really ready, then sell it to you for less than $20.
▪ 2015 Kaiken Premium Wines “Terroir Series” Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza (100 percent sauvignon blanc): aromas and flavors of lemons, apricots and minerals, crisp and lively, fruity finish; $15.
For Americans, sauvignon blanc is the “little sister wine,” getting no respect compared to our national obsession, chardonnay. But sauvignon blanc is usually leaner and crisper, a better match for food. Oh, and usually cheaper.
▪ 2013 Inman Family Chardonnay, Russian River Valley (12.2 percent alcohol, 100 percent chardonnay): aromas and flavors of lemons, green apples and minerals, crisp, lively and tart, $35.
It used to be that wine with 12.2 percent alcohol was the norm. But then some American fans with their overwhelming buying power decided they wanted “fruit bomb” chards with up to 15 percent. We’re lucky there are still some old-fashioned chardonnays made with restraint.
▪ 2014 Balletto Vineyards “Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay,” Russian River Valley (made without oak): lean and crisp, with intense floral aromas and green apple and mineral flavors; $20.
Another reaction to the recent craze of over-oaked, over-powerful, unsubtle chardonnays is the new trend toward “naked” chardonnays. They’re made in stainless steel tanks, never seeing a stick of oak. It means they must rely on the quality of their grapes. The good ones do.
▪ Nonvintage Veuve Clicquot Brut “Yellow Label” Champagne, Reims, France (pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay): tiny, persistent bubbles, aromas of golden apples, citrus and brioche, crisp acids, creamy body, long, tart finish; $50.
It’s a cliché because it’s true. There’s no finer drink than real French Champagne, from France’s Champagne region. Some doctors even say it’s so good it wards off physical and mental decline. If true, I have friends who will live forever.
▪ Nonvintage LaMarca Prosecco DOC (glera): pale yellow hue, soft bubbles, crisp, with aromas and flavors of camellias, limes and grapefruit; $17.
We can’t all afford $50 champagne every day. Prosecco is a nice alternative. It’s friendlier, with bubbles under less pressure than the bubbles in champagne, so it’s frothier and fizzier and less severe. And you don’t have to pay as much attention to it. Or as much for it.