The Top 10 Wines that Changed My Perspective in 2010
As a North American I have a weird compulsion towards top 10 lists. They’re just fun damnit! I also hate when such lists impart a sense of scarcity and eliteness as they often do in wine. There’s no point to that since everyone experiences wine differently. Thus, I like to write my top 10 list from a personal perspective – what wine experiences changed my perspective this year.
Each of these wines represents a huge shift in how I perceive wine. In fact, I think this year has been the most important year so far in my wine voyage and I feel a marked shift in how I think about and evaluate wine. A couple huge occasions this year were red Burgundy (I was already sold on the whites) which I first truly understood after Allen Meadow’s inspiring visit to Vancouver, and Champagne, both young and aged, for which I owe a debt to Matt Sherlock, former manager at Kits wine and Rasoul Salehi (of Enotecca group).
Again, I don’t believe in ultimate top 10 lists of “greatest wines evers” or any of that nonsense. But I do admit to finding lists fun. My focus is simply on the wines which were important experiences in the last year, wines that changed my perspective and pushed my boundaries. Like all great things in life, it is that which truly shifts your perspective that has the most value.
10. Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley: This year I’ve discovered the beauty, elegance and amazing value of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc. It is rare to find wine with such expressive aromatics but also such mouthwatering fruit. Here I refer particularly to the wines of Andre Breton, Domaine Bernard Baudry and Domaine Guion.
9. Auguste Clape St. Peray 2007: This wine is emblematic of the amazing stuff going on with whites in Northern Rhone, which I featured in one of this year’s spotlights. These whites are tremendously compelling and utterly unique. Many drink best young, but some can age tremendously well. This wine beautifully winds together the typical Northern Rhone white flavours and aromas of flowers, honey and minerals. Clape’s St. Peray is also emblematic of the superb quality of this outstanding producer, one of the best in the Rhone.
8. Alban Estate 2007 Viognier: Another wine I tasted as part of my Rhone Valley White Wine profile, this was the most exciting new world wine I had this year. It marries huge opulence, depth and deliciousness with a perfect expression of the variety. Unlike many wines in California, this wine is utterly true to the grape from which it is made. It is also completely different from Condrieu but equally good as the wines of the best producers from that French wine region. John Alban really is one of the the U.S.’s great winemakers.
7. Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 1981: Before tasting this wine, I had already experienced a couple of this winery’s amazing old white reservas. This Gran Reserva took things to an entirely different level and was almost like an old champagne crossed with something entirely sui generis. This is unlike any other white wine in the world and is a testament to the traditions of Rioja. Of course, it helped that Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia presented this wine personally to our small tasting group – outstanding!
6. Anne Parent Pommard “Les Epenots” 2006: It was hard to choose just one red Burgundy for this list. I chose Anne Parent’s Pommard as representative of my obsessive entrance into red burgs and the Allen Meadows visit because it is an amazing example of the kind of profundity, elegance, and purity that these wines offer. In fact, the wine really is representative of one of the best wine experiences I’ve yet had – a complete philosophical and sensual paradigm shift.
5. Rey Fernando de Castilla Antique Fino: It was hard to choose just one wine from this winery, which was not only the best I found during my visit to Jerez but also brought sherry to a new level for me. The Fino represents everything this place is all about: it revives an old oxidative style of Fino that has fallen to the wayside of the current trend in Jerez towards youth and freshness. Rey Fernando, however, maintains quality, tradition and the most thoughtful approach to sherry I discovered in all of Jerez regardless of trends and corporate amalgamations. A beacon in the world of wine.
4. Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus: This was my first experience tasting truly terroir driven Champagne and completely changed my perspective of this world famous bubbly. Not only can you get truly great champagne for ¼ of the price of the great houses, you can be part of the region’s rediscovery of its land and its history. Growers across Champagne are now discovering subtle differences in terroir that promise Champagne may, in a few hundred years, become as diverse as Burgundy. The wine itself is utterly mineral, focused and full of laser-like precision.
3. Krug Vintage 1996: Despite the last wine, the 1996 Krug cemented my Champagne obsession completely by showing how great these wines can become with age. Tasted at a vintage Champagne tasting hosted by the extremely generous Rasoul Salehi – who I still owe some seriously cool wine in return – this Krug is hedonistic, opulent, and, simply, ridiculously delicious. I don’t know what else to say other than that this was an amazing experience.
2. Cornelissen Munjebel 6: A wine fermented in amphora buried in the ground. Yet, this wine is as clean and as pretty as the best Burgundies. It is also chameleon to everything you eat with it and unlike anything else you’ve tasted. Almost transparent in colour, it yet possesses deep tannin and tremendous length, effectively combining immediate sensual pleasure with intellectual stimulation. One of the most inspiring wines I’ve ever tasted.
1. Damijan Kaplja 2003: This was my first – and my favourite – macerated white wine. Maintaining much greater finesse and depth of complexity than the Paolo Bea Rusticum, the skin contact worked amazingly here and ended up being one of the coolest food pairings wines I’ve ever had. I drank this at San Francisco’s amazing Nopa Restaurant. It’s hard to explain why this wine changed my perspective in a way more than any other wine I had. I think it comes down to the simple fact that it was the first truly mind-altering wine I had had since I started my wine obsession 5 years ago and the first of the extreme no-sulpher and obsessively traditional ‘natural wines’ I tasted. Sometimes the greatest experiences we have are unexpected and embedded in the immediacy of the moment. This wine experience will stick with me for some time.