The 10 Most Memorable Wine Experiences of 2013

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After several years of traveling to wine regions and wine events, this year was a more domestic experience, with a few dabblings in the United States. Other than a brief stop in Dundee Hills, Oregon, I did not visit a major wine region this year, instead opting for the unparalleled Japan – an aesthetic experience any culture lover owes her or himself. Thus, 2013 was all about finding greatness in modest experiences with good friends and savoring wines purchased in past years. The criteria here are not about a quantitative comparison of ‘quality’, but rather focus on the extent to which the wine and experience with it expanded my perceptions and expectations or reached a level of astonishment or pleasure not encountered before.

10. Bindi Chardonnay “Quartz” 2006. My top Australian wine of the year, and one of the best new world Chardonnays I’ve ever had. This wine is up there with Ridge’s Monte Bello Chardonnay and the Pyramid Valley Home Vineyard Chards. What makes it special is that there is no need to compare to Burgundy except to say that this matches the best premier crus for quality. The flavours and structure, however, are quite distinct and suggests that in the best Chardonnay terroir is an essential component.

9. Domaine Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux 2011. Ok, so my next wine is of course a white Burgundy. Domaine Pattes Loup (Wolf’s Paw) is the most exciting thing to hit Chablis in quite some time. Winemaker Thomas Pico is pulling out some miraculous Chablis using organic growing methods and traditional vinification. Seeing what he did with the difficult 2011 vintage, I wonder if this guy could be the next Dauvissat in a few years. Right now the prices are still reasonable at around $50 a bottle in B.C. I highly recommend buying before he gains inevitable fame.

8. Wind Gap Pinot Gris Windsor Oaks Vineyard Chalk Hill 2010. An orange wine from California innovator Pax Mahle. Wind Gap is producing some of California’s most enjoyable and intriguing wines, using many lesser known varieties as well as the classic Syrah and Chardonnay. This Pinot Gris is, for me, the perfect example of a new world orange wine. It is still quite ripe, and so the fruit shows through, but Mahle was not affraid to make this a true orange wine, with longer macerations and so significant skin tannin in the finished product. Unlike many orange wines, however, this is easy to drink. Enjoy with or without food.

7. Tedeschi Spungola Bellaria Pignoletto Emilia 2009 at Chicago’s Bellina. Orange wine is a divisive category. Much of this derives from how difficult these wines are to make well. This Tedeschi Spungola was the best Orange wine I had this year, combining the structure and aromatics of skin maceration with wonderful fruit and roundness. This avoided the biggest pitfalls of orange wines (overly aggressive, oxidative, and fruitless). Yet it retained the great orange wine versatility with food. Marvelous wine.

6. Knoll Ried Kreutles Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2008 at Chicago’s Sepia. Cementing my opinion of Chicago as a killer wine-town with some of the best restaurants in the U.S., Sepia’s wine list was filled with joyful and carefully curated selections. This 2008 Knoll Gruner was in a perfect place and took Gruner to a level I had not experienced prior. Massively aromatic and complex on the palate, it was fully open, with no austerity or reticence. Nor was the wine simple and merely quaffable. It was delicious and extremely complex all in one, and it loved both air and food.

5. JL Chave Hermitage Blanc 2009. I had my first experience with this wine and it was stellar and far more complex than any other white Hermitage I’ve had. A hedonistic wine in its youth and in the 2009 vintage, there was yet superb balance and structure. Clearly one of the greatest whites in the Rhone valley.

4. A bottle of Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1985 amongst friends. Aged Chenin Blanc is one of the wine world’s great achievements and Huet one of its standard bearers. This 1985 tasted incredibly youthful and was a beautiful, classic wine despite the ‘middling’ vintage. The greatest thing about aged Chenin is its affordability. These wines, even from top producer Huet, cost in the range of $25-$40 upon release.

3. A bottle of Domaine Valette “Clos de Monsieur Noly” Vieille Vignes Reserve Pouilly-Fuisse 1999 with a couple of my closest friends. My friends are not wine geeks, but everyone took a pause on their first whiff of this insane Chardonnay, the top wine from Domaine Valette. This wine was one of the most characterful and potent expressions of Chardonnay I’ve ever had. The 36 month elevage can seem weird in the wine’s youth, but at this level of age, the approach makes sense (notably Valette does not have premox issues). A near perfect experience, paired with good friends and fresh BC Black Cod.

2. Drinking Jacque Selosse’s Substance n/v Champagne on the Oregon Coast. Selosse is one of Champagne’s super-stars. The grower-producer par-excellence, Selosse’s Champagnes are incredibly rare and incredibly expensive. His “substance” is his famous Solera style Champagne, made by blending 20 vintages of wine from Avize. It is considered by many to be his purest terroir wine, attempting to show place while moderating the vintage variable. Selosse is pretty divisive these days, with some claiming the wines are not worth the premium. Some claim “Substance” is over-wraught and over-oxidized. I disagree. This was the best Champagne I’ve ever had, consumed looking over Canon Beach at Haystack rock on the Oregon coast. There is nothing in the world like this wine.

1. A Barolo dinner with friends and colleagues at La Pentola. Nearly a dozen of the top Barolos in the world, most with more than a decade of age. This was a great evening. Highlights included a 1997 Giacossa Rocche di Falletto, a 1996 Cavallotto Bricco Boschis and a 1996 Burlotto Monvigliero. And that’s not even mentioning Vietti, G. Rinaldi and others represented over the evening. It is rare to get such a comparative opportunity with old Barolo, particularly in B.C. This dinner highlighted the magnificence of these wines as well as their strangeness and was clearly the most rewarding wine dinner of the year.

Posted in: Top Wines of 2013

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