I feel like a respite from all the self indulgence that the Christmas holidays force upon me and feel my thoughts turning back to wine. As the New Year is coming up fast I thought that I would attempt to tell you about my wine highlights for the year.
Most of my top wines have been written up here on my Wine Page, but some have slipped through the net and are new today. Please always remember that this is an entirely personal list, but I hope you enjoy it and that it gives some food for thought.
I was really spoiled for fizz this year, 2 Champagne tastings stand out in particular:
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage based on the 1953 vintage
This whole tasting was extraordinary and provided a wonderful insight into a type of Champagne that it is all too easy to take for granted – read about it here.
1995 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque
In February I was lucky enough to taste four different vintages of Belle Epoque out of jeroboams, the 1995 was the standout wine for me, but they were all superb – read about it here.
Other Sparkling Wine
2004 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut
Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA
I was really thrilled to try this wine again this year. I have known the winery a long time and visited it not long ago, but this is the best sparkling wine of theirs that I have ever tasted and to my mind it showed much better than the Bollinger Champagne I tried at the same time.
Domaine Carneros is a terrific estate that is linked to Champagne Taittinger and aims to produce elegant sparkling wines in a very Champagne-like manner, albeit from riper, softer Napa Valley fruit. This is their top cuvée and is a blend of 98% Chardonnay with a little Pinot Blanc and was aged on the lees in the bottle for 6 years. This has allowed some lovely complexity to develop leading to brioche and flaky pastry notes that combine perfectly with the peach and pear characters and are all balanced by the crisp apples, fresh citrus and richer lemon-curd acidity. I think this is a great sparkling wine – 93/100 points.
£35.99 a bottle from Simply Wines Direct.
2008 Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs Brut
D.O. Cava, Spain
I really like Cava, it is almost always enjoyable and just occasionally can be really, really good too – like this.
This superb wine is 87% Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay, but it is the dried raspberry-like red fruit character of the Pinot that dominates, the Chardonnay just adds to the creaminess and the freshness that keeps it balanced. If Cava has passed you by, give this try – it is superb value for money – 90/100 points.
£9.99-£14.99 a bottle from Majestic.
2008 Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru
I was thrilled to try this wine a few times over the last few weeks and it shows precisely why White Burgundies are often thought to be the greatest white wines in the world and Chardonnay the best white grape. By modern standards this is not a particularly big wine – in fact it delivers less sheer oomph than many cheaper examples. What it does though is give more complexity, sophistication, elegance, balance and thrilling minerality than I had any right to expect and then wraps it all up in some lovely creamy ripe orchard fruit and buttery, toasty creamy oak notes too. This has developed nicely, nuts and cream are really beginning to come through, but right now the minerality and acidity is keeping that all in check, which makes the wine sublime, you can feel the tension in the glass – and the finish is as long as a Bollywood film, but a lot more subtle – 93/100 points.
Around £29 a bottle from The Wine Reserve and Wine Rack.
Louis Jadot’s 2007 Meursault is no slouch either and very nearly made it into the list – oh and it has!
2007 Cakebread Cellars Chardonay Reserve
Carneros Napa Valley, California, USA
I have to own up to really admiring Cakebread wines very much and to liking Bruce Cakebread very much too. I first tasted this wine in December 2010 and gave it a glowing review here. If anything I would rate it even higher today as it had developed wonderful complexity, whilst retaining freshness and delicacy.
£43.99 a bottle from Corney & Barrow.
2009 Chateau LaFayette Reneau Semi-Dry Riesling
Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes Region, New York, USA
Strange thing wine tasting, like bees, you never can tell. When I visited this winery it was towards the end of a full on day and I must have been flagging, because I remember our charming hosts, the wonderful view and the adorable cat, but their wines passed me by. Which is a great, great shame as on this showing they are very good. Many of you know that I love the Riesling grape and have tried a great many examples from all over the world this year, but this really stood out.
It offered a lovely citrus fruit zing as well as softer apple-like notes and a touch of orange-blossom. The palate was fresh, lively, zesty and dominated by a lime-like freshness as well as softer tangerine notes and fleshier orchard fruit of peach and pear and a lovely underlying minerality. On the long, clean and vibrant finish the sweetness was perfectly balanced by the acidity and vice-versa. I wish I had more, but it is only available from the winery – 93/100 points
2010 Viña Alicia Tiara
D.O. Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina
I thought all the Viña Alicia wines were great, but this fascinating white stole the show – read my description here.
2010 Albariño Abadía da Cova
D.O. Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
Personally I think Spanish white wines are terribly underrated and this is the wine that could prove my point.
It is from a beautiful, tiny region of inland Galicia and made from a blend of 85% Albariño for freshness with 15% Godello adding more weight and complexity and ensuring that it does not suffer from the disappointing dilution that spoils so many Albariños.
It is intense and concentrated with rich pear and peach notes supported by some floral and citrus as well as a touch of white pepper and minerality.
The palate is succulent and textured with creamy ripeness running right through it. Flavours are Asian pear, delicate spice, white pepper, even a touch of cinnamon and peach. The finish is clean and fresh with a cut of grapefruit-like acidity while the finish is very long and succulent.
There is nothing dilute or disappointing here, it is really delicious, vibrant and wonderfully drinkable – 92/100 points.
£17.20 a bottle from Taste of Galicia.
By the way, on the subject of Albariño:
2010 Pazo de Barrantes Albariño
D.O. Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain
This is yet another stunning white wine from Galicia, in keeping with my appreciation of fine Spanish white wines. Again this is wonderfully concentrated and textured without giving up on acidity and balance – just the thing with a piece of fish or garlicy chicken – 91/100 points.
£13.95 a bottle from N.D.John.
2006 Scala Dei Cartoixa
D.O.Q. Priorat, Catalunya, Spain
As many of you know, I have a passion for Spanish wines and it continues to amaze me how few Spanish wine regions most UK consumers know. If it isn’t Rioja they seldom seek it out, which is a great shame as Priorat is one of Europe’s great regions. This tiny mountainous area is home to a great many boutique producers of hugely expensive wine, well luckily Scala Dei – the original winery of the region, founded by Carthusian monks in the 12th Century and now owned by Codorníu – is more realistic about the prices it charges for its superb red wines. This is their Reserva and if you like chunky, but elegant, dry and gently spicy red wines then this is a winner – 94/100 points.
Around £28 a bottle from Tesco Wine by the Case.
2009 Château Clauzet
Cru Bourgeois, A.C. St Estèphe and
2009 Château de Côme
Cru Bourgeois, A.C. St Estèphe
These were both very youthful wines, but they really impressed me and showed the modern, seductive side of Bordeaux. If you despair of ever being able to afford good Claret again, then these might restore your faith. I look forward to seeing how they develop – read about them here.
2006 Torres Grans Muralles
D.O. Conca de Barberà, Catalunya, Spain
I was extremely fortunate to spend a week at Bodegas Torres earlier this year. Not only was I able to meet the great man, but I got to try pretty much all their wines and everything was good, at the very least, but some wines really stood out as being quite exceptional. Both his Priorat wines were excellent and great value for money, some of his Chilean wines were very fine while the Marrimar Torres wines from Sonoma, California were quite exceptional.
Of the Torres offerings from Catalunya in Spain, I think the outstanding wine was the stunning Grans Murralles – read about it here.
1974 Villa di Capezzano
D.O.C. – now D.O.C.g – Carmignano,
Tenuta di Capezzana, Tuscany, Italy
This winery was the high point of my wonderful trip to Tuscany earlier in the year, until that day this little wine region was just a word on a map. I now know it produces world class wines that deserve to be better known and not to be overshadowed by their more famous neighbours in Chianti Classico and Brunello. The 1974 was the wine of the day, but they were all good, the 2007 or 2001could easily have been included here – as could the extraordinarily youthful 1931! Read all about it here.
1998 Wolf Blass Platinum Label Barossa Shiraz
Barossa Valley, South Australia
I just do not drink enough Australian wine, which is a great shame and entirely self inflicted, anyway I was very excited to be invited along to this years Wolf Blass Luxury Release tasting. I tasted a load of wines that were superbly made and astonishingly elegant and refined, this won me over in particular, but there was not a dud among them – read all about it here.
2007 Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve
Viña Errazuriz, Don Maximiano Estate, Aconcagua Valley, Chile
I have been a fan of this wine since it grew out of the original Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva with the 1993 vintage. It has consistently shown itself to be an excellent wine and a real standard bearer of quality for Chile and while the price has crept up over the years, it remains a relatively affordable fine wine. The blend changes every year in order to allow the wine to reflect the vintage, the 2007 is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 6% Syrah all aged in new French oak casks for 20 months. 2007 is widely regarded as the best red wine vintage in Chile’s history, the slightly cooler conditions allowed for a gentle build up of sugars in the grapes, this creates full ripeness together with great balance. I am sure this is the best Don max I have tasted and most critics seem to agree. It is not a wine for the faint hearted, it is big, bold, rich and powerfully fruity, but the tannins are wonderfully supple and there is lovely complexity there too – 93/100 points.
There are so many other lovely wines that I could include here, pretty much anything from Craggy Range springs to mind – if you haven’t tried some of their New Zealand red wines, then you really must – read about them here.
Solera 1885 Scholtz Hermanos Málaga
It was bittersweet moment when I tasted my last bottle of this stunning wine recently. The winery no longer exists, so unless I am very lucky I will never taste this extraordinary wine again – read about it here.
2005 Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva
Tenuta di Capezzana, Tuscany, Italy
I first tried this at the end of a wonderful lunch at the Tenuta di Capezzana winery near Florence and was hugely impressed. I have tried a good few Vin Santos over the years, but have never been particularly wowed by any before (except oddly an 1897 example made by Boutari on the Greek island of Santorini), but this is a great desert wine by any measure.
Made from the usually unimportant Trebbiano grape (they make a very good dry example too) together with a little of the obscure San Colombano. The grapes are dried over the winter and fermented in casks made of chestnut and cherry wood. The finished wine is then aged for 5 years in small casks of various sizes – rather wonderfully they resemble the barrels in a Bruegel painting or the Bayeux Tapestry.
The wine is wonderfully complex and fine with little touches of toffee and caramel, mingling with the merest hints of nuts all adding to the richness of poached peach and some dried fig, some fresh coffee and spice, even maple syrup, while the ripeness of the grapes gives a creamy richness and a silky texture that makes it heavenly, vibrant and long – 93/100 points.
Around £35 a half bottle from The Fine Wine Company.
I was so lucky this year to attend superb tastings on both Port and Madeira where I was able to taste some wines of outstanding quality, that were perfectly mature and that I will remember all my life.
1965 Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos
Single Quinta Vintage Port
The only great thing to come out of my birth year – except me – this was an experience to cherish – read about it here.
1920 Blandy’s Vintage Bual Madeira
This was an amazing experience, I have never awarded 99/100 before – something to do with being British and uptight I expect. Read about it here.
Top Wine Trip Lunch
I was very fortunate this year to enjoy many wonderful meals while experiencing wine, but this Tuscan lunch was a real stand out experience.
So there we are, my highlights of 2011, but I had better stop now as the moreI think about the more I wonder if this wine shouldn’t be in there too? Or what about that one? Or…
Anyway I hope you enjoy reading about some of these highlights of 2011 and I look forward to your company in 2012.