My Top 10 Wine Experiences of 2016

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2016 was a year of professional challenges. As such, wine travel took somewhat of a back seat this year. The greatest pleasures arose from interactions with friends and colleagues both in my day profession and in the wine industry. 2016 affirmed to me the power of community and the deep connections we can make with others if we genuinely put ourselves out there without arrogance or pretension. I think that’s a message worth remembering generally as it will sustain joy through many hard times and challenges. Of course a few bottles were memorable by the sheer force of their brilliance – affirming the merit of wine as aesthetic endeavor.

10. Monier Perreol Saint Joseph 2009 and Saint Joseph Terre Blanche 2012

Early in the year I and a group of friends concluded a multi-year Northern Rhone series with an enlightening dinner focused on Saint Joseph at Cinara. The standout wines were both from producer Monier Perreol (who is not in Vancouver) – a rare instance where consensus was formed. The dinner proved Saint Joseph is one of the least appreciated terroirs with the greatest potential in France.

9. Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore 2011

Certain wines suit life. For me, this perfectly pitched Valpol from master-of-elegance Roccolo Grassi represented the single wine of which I consumed the most bottles in 2016. Why? It suits my moods, my food, my occassions best.

8. Gravner Breg 2004

Orange wine is trendy. Orange wine as a category is about as useful as “red wine”. So let’s forget the trends. Gravner’s Breg is a masterpiece. It’s one of the greatest “orange” wines – no, wines, out there. Fruity, complex, structured, stunning.

7. Wine at Hawksworth: Domaine Ramonet Bouzeron 2012 and Bernard Baudry Chinon Blanc “Le Crois Boissée” 2014

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this year at Hawksworth for professional and personal reasons. Each time has been an outstanding experience largely due to wine director Bryant Mao and the well-trained professional staff. Bryant’s ability to read a situation and deliver perfectly honed service is uncanny. I had two lunches in particular where the wine and food just absolutely broke new ground.

The first was with a brilliant Chenin Blanc from Bernard Baudry with Burgundian weight and complexity. It was not simply the wine’s merits that made it memorable. A three hour lunch with a close colleague in the part of my world where passion and profession intersect tipped this experience into my top 10 of the year.

The Ramonet Bouzeron topped off a four hour lunch with an old friend and colleague where we were able to explore our common values and ideas about successful professionalism. The wine itself demonstrated how top producers are bringing Aligote to new heights and offering an authentic white Burgundy experience at a mere fraction of the ticket price of the more famous villages.

6. Tio Pepe Fino En Rama 04/2016 with Herring Roll Mops

New friends are an underrated phenomenon. As I get older I enjoy this more than my insecure young self would have. This wonderful sherry was consumed with friends new and old alongside a food I never thought could pair – pickled Herring Roll Mops. It was probably the most enlightending wine and food pairing I’ve had all year. And a great evening to boot.

5. Domaine Denis Mortet “Longeroies” Marsannay 2010

Marsannay is the new Burgundy for semi-regular folk. Mortet elevates it to the level of serious Cote de Nuits. This is the kind of wine that rewards the obsessive geekdom necessary to discover it.

4. Hanzell Vineyards Visit

There are some places in the world that, once you experience them, you cannot shake from memory. Their inimitable qualities tend to be understood intuitively. As I drove up the driveway from a typical small country highway in Sonoma onto the crest of a series of slopes that overlooked the gentle greenery of the Valley onto the great city of San Francisco and the pacific beyond, I felt immediately I was in such a place.

Hanzell is one of California’s singular sites. The craggly Chardonnay vines that are California’s oldest sit nestled on a gentle slope that crests before it slides down to a distinctly California grove of trees. Close by to these vines are nearly-as-old cousins perched on a dramatic cliff of a vineyard from which I could see the Golden Gate bridge. The aged Pinot Noir nestled between completed the California heritage. One of the world’s special places. I will never forget it. The Chardonnays are likely California’s best and the Pinot Noir incredibly distinctive and underappreciated.

3. Clos Rougeard Saumur “Brézé” 2010

Consumed with my wife in San Francisco over dinner, this is the greatest Chenin Blanc I have ever had. It doesn’t need complex food, just a great companion.

2. Visit with Bob Varner

In 2016 I drank lots of great wines from the ‘New California’ set, such as the Drew Family 2014 Perli Vineyards Syrah and the Sandlands 2014 Sonoma County Trousseau Noir, but it was my several hours of dialogue with the softly brilliant Bob Varner that was my most memorable experience with California wine this year . Bob has been making exceptional Chardonnay in the Santa Cruz Mountains since the 1980’s and just recently ‘retired’ from that project to begin another in Santa Barbara County. Talking with him about life changes, place, the quality of light and the general philosophy of life was inspiring and unique both in the world of wine and life generally. And the wines are absolutely outstanding.

1. Weingut Jamek wines with John Clerides and his Staff of Marquis Wine Cellars


The B.C. retailing and importing sector has taken a serious beating over the last two years as a result of the destructive policies of the B.C. Liberal government. These are policies that have put small businesses created by long-time British Columbians dedicated to creating community in serious jeopardy. John Clerides is the son of a Greek immigrant into B.C. His family has contributed to the province, and the City of Vancouver in particular, for decades. His well-known store, Marquis Wine Cellars has been at the core of B.C. wine culture and helped foster it since NAFTA created the first impetus to modernize and internationalize the province’s wine sector.

Now, 30 years later, private stores like Marquis are fighting to survive, changing their model and adapting to unfair policies that benefit government stores and large corporate interests. It’s extremely sad to witness. However, people like John don’t give up. And their tenacity is the sinew that holds true community together through the toughest times.

John is set to continue his tenacious drive to pioneer game-changing wines and foster growth in B.C.’s wine industry in 2017 when he will import the largest selection of Austrian wines this Province has seen in years. Weingut Jamek will be one of those producers. Jamek has been making wine since 1910. The 2015’s I tasted were out of the park good. The top wines are equivalent to top white Burgundy in complexity, with a totally different terroir and history. Sharing them over dinner with John and his dedicated staff, including long-time employees Leah and Kevin, was a serious treat and a reminder that true community with mutual support is the bedrock of life. Do your part and look for Jamek and other Austrian wines at Marquis in 2017.


  1. Trevor Thomas
    January 7, 2017

    This was an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing Shea.

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