The Top 10 Wines of 2008

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Exams are over, Christmas is near, and my last semester of law school will be spent at UC Berkeley basking in the proximity to many very tasty wine growing regions and one of North America’s best cities. What better time than now to reveal my top 10 wines of 2008. This isn’t really an attempt at an authoritative wine-spectator like list, but rather a list of wines that I thought were exceptional and special in one way or another. Whether it is sheer quality brilliance or outstanding QPR, all of these wines were inspiring, unique, and had real personality. And, without further ado, here they are!

Honourable Mention: Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Amontillado Viejo 30 year old Sherry

Not only was I introduced to the wonders of sherry this year, but I also had the chance to taste this: a beautiful, unique and extremely complex creation that merged subtle sweetness and lightness with robust caramelly vanilla oxydative flavours. Not only is sherry amazingly tasty on its own, but it is also the absolutely most perfect accompaniment to tapas made with Spanish spices like paprika and saffron. Wow, this was a food and wine pairing revelation! And, it was only $33 for a half bottle sitting at 20% abv.

#10: Domaine Saint Antonin Faugeres 2004

Bought on a whim, this wine turned out to be one of the finest QPR wines of the year. A mere $30 for the bottle, this had a stunningly expressive nose of scorched earth, blueberry, cherry, spiced meats, earthy tones, and very distinct pencil/graphite notes. This may, in fact, be the first time I have truly tasted pencil shavings in a wine as more than a subtle tertiary flavour. And, it all worked so wonderfully. A true winter warmer with briary comfort.

#9: Domaine Saint-Damien ‘La Louisiane’ Gigondas 2004

I have a weak spot for the Southern Rhone. Even so, this little wine from a tiny producer absolutely blew me away with its sheer intensity and concentration. And yet, as with all the great Southern Rhone wines I’ve had, this never even came close to being over the top. Add to that a mere $38 price tag (for a wine I think is worth $60) then you have a real winner. What is so special about the Saint-Damien is its sense of place. This tastes like pure Gigondas – made extremely well, reaking of soil and dried fruit, and structured in a rough and ready drinking style made for your braised meats. Fine fine suff.

#8: Donnhoff Estate Riesling 2006

I wrote about this recently and raved about this wine’s articulation, balance, fruit quality and mineral cut. This soars past rieslings at twice the price, and while completely allocated, the estate riesling isn’t too hard to find. A stunner and probably the best riesling I’ve ever had – and this is without getting into the single vineyard territory. At $33 you can’t go wrong.

#7: Mystic Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Another lucky find, and proof that when small vineyards in unknown regions go right, so do wine lovers. Clearly the outstanding wine in the portfolio (the others are nothing special), this cabernet had a density and smoky aged complexity that tasted like something three times the price. Very intense, very unique, and filled with bacon fat, smoke, tobacco, and piercing cassis and cedar this was one hell of a wine, especially at $36.

#6: Daniel Dampt ‘Cote de Lechet’ Chablis Premier Cru 2006

I love chablis, but this wine is something special. Lifting beyond the average, even for the often outstanding premier cru’s, Dampt’s Cote de Lechet should strike the heart of any chardonnay lover, and even convert many of the ‘red-wine only’ crowd. A very food friendly wine, but also perfect for sipping in spring or summer weather. Find this, buy this, and open it on the first day of spring. Another good value at $38.

#5: PradoRey Elite Tinta Fina 1999

Speaking heavily for the wonders of spain, and particularly Ribera del Duero, the PradoRey is not a highly extracted wine – but, it is also not a rustic old-style wine like you would find in Rioja. No, this is an old world but modern wine made in a terroir style that should yet appeal to an international palate with its fantastic fruit character. Old world fans will not be disappointed, however, for this wine is replete with earth and savory herb components. Pair this with lamb and you won’t need to look any further. $55.

#4: Ridge Santa Cruz Mountain Estate Chardonnay 2005

This wine is hardly a secret, since, I believe, it hit #2 on the Wine Spectator’s top 100 a year or two ago. However, one taste of this awesomely lush hazlenutty potion of hedonism confirmed that high stature. Perhaps the best new world style chardonnay I have ever tasted, this also comes in at about half the price of leading Napa chards – $50 – and is sure to blow pretty much everyone away with its beauty, intensity, clarity, and sheer tastyness. If you can find any, you are a lucky individual.

#3: Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2004

Apparently Wine Spectator only gave this 75 points. Huh? This is one of the nicest and prettiest wines I have ever tasted and is true to its origins as an Aussie style Cote-Rotie. One of the most floral wines I have tried, this was also delicate, fruity, and a sheer joy to sip – never tiring on the palate and in fact introducing more with each sip. A huge favourite with many from my wine tasting group, this wine shows Australia’s true potential as a leading wine-producing nation. Forget your $150 Barossa and McLaren Shiraz’s and get this. $90 here, but $60 in the US.

#2: Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 2005

Sure 2005 was a marquis year for Bordeaux. Many, myself included, have raved about the wonders of 2005 for Bordeaux and not so many have noted that those venerable reds will require 30-40 years in the cellar before they hit their prime. Furthermore, the 2005 Bordeaux release saw perhaps the most shocking inflation in the wine world yet, with price increases over 2004 being from 100-300%. However, with all that hype it seems that almost everyone has forgotten about Sauternes, which produced some of the greatest dessert wines ever in 2005, and inflation was generally non-existent or limited to a reasonable 5-10%. The 2005 Suduiraut is probably the greatest dessert wine I have tasted next to the 2000 Graham’s vintage port. The nose was entrancing and the palate explosively fruity, and yet with amazing earthy components. A sweet wine for the ages. This wine packs a hell of a punch now, but will improve for years. $65 for a half bottle.

#1: Nicolas Catena Zapata 2004

I had this at the Catena dinner I attended and, even given the quality of all the other Catena wines, this stood out as one of the finest Cab blends I have had the opportunity to taste. Sadly, I purchased a bottle of this to celebrate the conclusion to my exams and it was corked! Of all the mailto:&@%5E$&@! Nonetheless, I will exchange that bottle and get to revel in the glory of what I think is Argentina’s finest red wine. Made for red meat, especially lamb, the coolness, expressiveness and purity of this wine is astounding. This compares to the top wines from any region in the world and yet commands a price that is a fraction of those. Let’s see $130 for this or $500 for the Clarendon Hills Astralis, or other similarly priced cult wine. No contest, and sitting confidently at the top of 2008.

Above the List: Chateau Beaucastel 1998

I put this above the list for several reasons. First, it is an aged wine. Second, it is an aged wine from a storied French wine producer. Third, drinking this was an experience more than a bottle of wine. Fourth, a bottle like this comes around, at least for the normal human being (and even the normal wine afficionado), only a few times in a lifetime. Superb, expressive, pretty, concentrated, authentic, long, full, attention grabbing – every sip provides an experience and a memory. One of the greatest wines I have ever tasted and I hope that all of you will get or have had this experience before.

Question for 2009: Have you had an experiential moment with wine? Something that has transcended the materiality of the bottle? If so, what was it? If not, what are some of your wine hopes for the future – what do you realistically hope to taste or experience as a special moment in your wine drinking history? Any top wines of 2008 to share?

This will likely be my last post until the new year as I have family obligations and such until then. So, if I don’t get the chance to post for another two weeks, happy holidays to all and may sugar plums and bottles of Bordeaux dance in your head! Cheers!

Posted in: Top Wines of 2008


  1. Edward
    December 18, 2008

    Congratulations on exams and almost finishing. . . 75 points for the Clonakilla is extraordinary. . . Not quite sure what my favourite wine has been for the year – perhaps it will be something I open over the festive season!

    Merry Christmas and look forward to hearing more from you in the new year.

    PS the word verification was very appropriate pwino

  2. Joe
    December 26, 2008

    One: Donnhoff is the house that opened my eyes to German wine.
    Two: The WS score for that Clonakilla is a huge surprise.
    Three: The Catena Zapata, like all Catena wines, is a stunning wine. I think it was selling for $70 something here, making it even more compelling.
    Four: The 1996 DRC I had was an experience that transcended the wine – I doubt I will taste that again.

    All the best in 2009!

  3. Shea
    December 27, 2008

    DRC I’m sure would be a special experience! And, $70 is an incredible price – even cheaper than the US. I would be buying the wine a few times at that price.

  4. Joe
    December 29, 2008

    just to clarify – that Catena Zapata price was rather deceptive – it sold out instantaneously. Happy New Year, Shea!

  5. Shea
    December 30, 2008

    I’d expect as much. I hope you got some, and Happy New Year to you too!

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