At long last, here is the final word on the very best wines available in California in 2010. Why are they the best? Well, let's just say that as an arbiter of taste, no one comes even close to me around these parts. Others try, but due to the unique concentration of super taster quantities of taste buds, as well as my $1M insured nose, I know which wines are the best.
OK, all kidding aside, a few things which you will likely intimate from this list, but it doesn't hurt to spell them out:
The list is highly subjective. Wine is subjective, so why water down this fact?
As someone responsible for buying Spanish wines where I work, there is a strong Spanish representation.
As a lover of sherry, two of these underappreciated wines are represented.
As someone whose allocation of Equipo Navazos/La Bota sherries is inexplicably delayed, none of these critic's/wine geeks' darlings are on the list (ok, that is not why they are not on here; see the listed sherries below for more).
How is such a list compiled? In this case, and contrary to many other year end lists, it's about as unscientific as you can get. However, there is still a loosely knit, though carefully considered, thought process involved. There is the pleasure principle, of course, i.e. how much of this wine could I gulp down in one sitting, or have I gulped down year to date? Often times, such a wine is a great value as well. Perhaps a wine really caught me off guard, surprised me in an unexpected, delightful way. On occasion, a wine is more important than what is inside the bottle. It transcends, challenges, or perhaps points the way ahead for others to follow? Any and all of these considerations come in to play for the Top 11 list below. Enjoy.
And since this is likely the last substantive post for the year (maybe a quick 1-2 paragraph post or youtube ahead, but not likely anything beyond that), I'd like to thank everyone for continuing to read, comment, question, correct, and show some involvement on this blog. All of you keep it interesting and keep me engaged.
2009 Domaine de la Pepiere "Clos de Briords" Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Severe et Maine Sur Lie
So pure, refreshing, balanced, and delicious, it is hard to stash any of this away without drinking all of it. Somehow the precociousness of Marc Olivier's Briords has made me completely forget about buying any of the basic classique bottling. A wrong to be righted when I buy a case of it this January.
2009 Natural Process Alliance Sauvignon Blanc O'Neel Family
A most unique and unusual white wine. If you are drinking this with unexperienced and/or unexpecting wine drinkers, it is likely to offend, or at the least perplex, someone in your drinking party. Intense SB herbaceousness coupled with an equally intense extended skin maceration pungency, make this a controversial but in my judgement unusually delicious wine. Over 8g/l tartaric acid, just 6ppm total sulhpur, so yeah: this is not for everyone. If you are one of the few people to not hear about NPA, the wine is only sold to restaurants within a 150 mile radius of the production facility, packed in klean kanteens which are poured, swapped out for newly filled ones, cleaned and filled again at the winery. Innovative, environmentally responsible, and most importantly, delicious wine.
2005 Els Jelipins
This blend of garnacha and sumoll from the Penedes is precious, both in terms of limited production as well as price (you will likely pay upwards of $80 for it, if you can find any). The narrative here is compelling: husband/wife team Glòria Garriga and Oriol Illa make some of the most highly sought after wines for the top name in Priorat, do not enjoy drinking their extracted, "enriched" vinous product, and decide to strike out on their own to make more honest wines that are more to their liking. I'm glad they did; this might be the most promising, delicious and polished of Spain's burgeoning natural wines.
Valdespino "Inocente" Fino Jerez
While the oldest continously running bodega in Jerez may be more famous in some circles for supplying Equipo Navazos with some excellent botas of fino, I would argue that theirs is the superior bottling: every bit as rich and mineral, but with more vivid fruit and purity. Also, it is packaged in 375 ml's for those who enjoy taking a half bottle of delicious fino straight to the cabeza.
Argueso Amontillado Sanlucar de Barrameda
If you are looking for a classic, bone dry, tangy amontillado, with all of the dried citrus, slightly candied and nutty aromas but absolutely zero perceptible sweetness on the palate, might I suggest this manzanilla amontillado?
2005 GD Vajra Barolo Albe
Earlier this year, I bought some bottles of this delicious young Barolo, and though I really enjoyed it (especially for the modest $30 tariff) I wanted to be sure that the spot was well deserved. After drinking half a bottle (and exercising some restraint to stop at 2.5 glasses) earlier tonight, I can absolutely say that this wine has earned its place here. Open and fruity for a young Barolo, but with crisp, pure red fruits, classic nebbiolo tannin (not as noticeable as usual to the generosity of fruit), and a lightness in touch that tells all of the extracted, oaky Piemontese big guns to go back to the drawing board (or, more appropriately, the dining room table) to figure out what people want to drink.
2000 Houillon/Overnoy Savagnin Arbois Pupillin (sous voile)
Just a mind boggling, bright as the day is long, classic expression of savagnin grapes undereath a thin veil of flor. Thanks to Guilhaume Gerard, one of the more passionate advocates of Jura wines, for sharing this bottle.
Jose Michel Brut Reserve
While his son Bruno Michel makes mouthwateringly juicy and delicious pinot meunier based champagnes at his own domaine (the eponymous Bruno Michel), this pinot meunier based champagne was more dark fruited and seriously structured. Drier as well. At $58 on the list it was also easily the best deal on a wine list I came across this year.
08 Mendall Finca L’abeurador Macabeu
Owner/vigneron/PVN organizer Laureano Serres' enthusiasm is contagious. His un-sulphured wines are works in progress, with what many would view as flaws presenting themselves in most of the range. Some slightly longer than usual skin maceration qualities reveal themselves, but are not defining features of the wine. I look forward to seeing how Laureano's wines evolve from year to year.
2001 Bodegas Casa Juan Señor de Lesmos Reserva Rioja
From the intrepid members of my more French wine inclined tasting group, to one of my favorite Spanish wine importers, to customers where I work, many have been taken with the unique expressions of Rioja from this Laguardia based family bodega. Heck, even the renowned Fat Boy has purchased quantites of this spicy, purely fruited not uber traditional yet uber expressive take on Rioja. It will likely be at its best five years from now.