My Top 10 Wine Experiences of 2014
I sometimes pause reflecting that I have been writing this wine blog for seven years between 2-5 times per week. It’s a fair amount of time to commit to a subject matter distinct from one’s career. I’ve learned much along the way and met some fantastic people whose infectious passion has expanded both my appreciation my range of possible experiences. The one tradition that has remained consistent throughout my blog’s journey is this yearly recap of the most important and influential wine experiences I’ve had in the year. It’s an opportunity to consolidate in one place the year’s learning.
2014 was the year in which I tackled for the first time in any serious way the wines of the Cote de Nuits, an immense task. From this immense task I was inspired by several Californians to explore in-depth the so-called “new California” movement, which proved to be an enlightening experience demonstrating the massive diversity of California wine and the exciting directions in which it is being taken. In the fall came great fortune with a sponsored trip to Portugal’s Douro Valley, the most significant press trip I’ve gone on and one in which I was given the opportunity to delve deeply into understanding the truth of a region with access to producers and dinner tables that proved to be an intellectual highlight. Of course, there were a few discoveries of unusual or unheralded wine along the way. So, without further delay, here are my top 10 wine experiences of 2014.
10. Continuing the ever expanding exploration of brilliant Italian wines made from indigenous grapes with the Guccione ‘Arturo di Lanzeria’ IGT Sicilia Perricone 2008 and Scarpa’s Monferrato Rosso Rouchet Briccorosa 2007, both filled with vibrant fruit, mouth watering acidity and the unique character only possible with the best of Italy’s indigenous grapes.
9. Being inspired to give Chianti Classico in depth treatment by Monteraponi’s Chianti Classico Riserva ‘Baron’ Ugo’ 2009, an exemplar of traditionally made top-quality Sangiovese.
8. Loving the unusual white varieties of California, in particular the Friuli inspired Arbe Garbe White Blend 2012. It’s great to affirm that California white wine is not just about Chardonnay.
7. That said, the unusual whites were eclipsed by discovering greatness in contrasting California Chardonnays. The warm Hanzell Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2006 from the Sonoma Valley proved in rare places big-boned California Chardonnay can be truly world-class. On the other hand, the lean and mean Sonoma Coast, represented brilliantly by Hirsch Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2012, is perhaps the most exciting terroir in California for Chardonnay – expect salty, sea-driven, high acid wines.
6. Journeying through the Douro Valley and finding insanely innovative wines like the masterful dry, skin-fermented white made with ‘white port’ grapes from Alves de Sousa – Reserva Pessoal Branco 2006.
5. Realizing that even regions that seem well beyond anything my palate can appreciate still have superstars that can make truly compelling wine. See Chateau Rayas and its “Pignan” Chateauneuf du Pape 2009.
4. Tasting truly epic red Burgundy for the first time with Robert Chevillon’s Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru “Les St. Georges” 2007 and Bruno Clair’s Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques 2006. And I mean truly epic. I’ve had a lot of Burgundy, and while I love much of it, so little of it gets to the greatness you seek from the world’s greatest wine region. These wines were a reminder of that greatness.
3. Rediscovering port via Quinta do Vale Meao’s mind-altering Vintage Port 2011 – the best vintage port I’ve ever had.
2. Grower Champagne holding firm in its dominance over house Champagnes for both uniqueness and QPR, even at the very top end. Exhibit “A”: Jacques Selosse Initial n/v Champagne. Exhibit “B”: Egly Ouriet Blanc de Noirs “Les Crayeres” Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru. Two of the greatest Champagnes on earth.
1. Affirming that great old wine is an unreplicable aesthetic experience with Marcel Deiss’ Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Cru 1997 and two brilliant bottles form Domaine Jamet: Cote-Rotie 1996 and 1998. This may seem the obvious choice, but it is actually more common to be underwhelmed by old wine than elevated by it. It’s important to affirm wine can be a truly inimitable aesthetic experience, and that this experience is rare for even the most dedicated. It is a reminder of why wine is more than food, more than sustenance, and even more than community – wine has a capacity for aesthetic and intellectual experience more than any other consumable product on earth.