I sipped and spat my way across three continents this year, tracking the latest wine and spirits trends and hunting for standouts among the predictable and the pretentious.
My 10 most memorable wines, in no particular order, range from a Rhone classic to a reborn California label to a bargain white from a grape few have ever heard of.
All signal what’s hot in today’s wine world -- and where it’s going in 2014.
2009 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie La Turque ($500)
Northern Rhone negociant E. Guigal is famous for three rare single vineyard wines from the Cote Rotie appellation, the so-called “La-La” wines.
I grabbed the chance to compare the great 2009 vintage of La Turque, La Mouline, and La Landonne in New York with enologist Philippe Guigal.
All are stellar. My favorite was the exotic, powerful La Turque. A blend of syrah with seven percent viognier, it’s the red wine equivalent of a svelte, sophisticated bodybuilder. It comes with serious investment muscle. In the past six months, prices rose 11.6 percent.
1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild ($1,000)
While Burgundy is hot, Bordeaux first growths still provide undeniable taste thrills.
The 1986 Mouton, which I sipped -- and swallowed -- at a press dinner at the chateau, was everything great mature claret should be, with aromas of tobacco and black olives, sumptuous texture, and a haunting aftertaste.
Worldwide thirst for the very latest big deal vintage means the 1986, like top older vintages of other first growths, costs less than the vaunted 2009 and 2010, which won’t be ready to drink for decades.
2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner ($19)
Oddball grapes are now the source of today’s best-value wine buys. Over lunch at New York’s Nougatine restaurant, a collector friend introduced me to this fragrant food-friendly northern Italian white made from kerner, a cross between riesling and red grape schiava.
With its live-wire fruity tang, smooth, opulent texture, and easy-going price, it’s my bargain of the year.
2005 Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos Kapi ($140)
Hungary’s sweet tokaji wines, once drunk by emperors, have made serious strides in quality. At the VinExpo trade fair in Bordeaux, I savored this intense debut wine from first growth Disznoko’s Kapi vineyard. It wowed me with its luscious sweetness and laser-pointer acidity. When will drinkers wake up and embrace these classic sweet wines?
Uncouth Vermouth Apple Mint ($35, 500 ml)
Her contemporary spins on the aromatized wine invented in Italy 200 years ago involve steeping fresh mint and serrano chiles from the farmer’s market in local whites.
My pick is the delicious bone-dry Apple Mint, with lemony aromas and a spearminty finish, served solo over ice.
1998 Wendouree Shiraz ($185)
I was lucky enough to visit and later savor this generous, seductive red that tasted of licorice, dark chocolate, earth and dried plums. It’s a reminder that currently out-of-fashion Aussie shirazes aren’t all palate-flattening fruit bombs.
2002 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut Rose Champagne ($470)
Nothing massages your taste receptors like the insistent tiny bubbles of top-class Champagne. I was suitably dazzled by the Cristal rose from this great vintage. If you’re going to have a fling with wine bling, this is the one. The price is up nearly 19 percent this year, reflecting interest in Champagne as a serious collectible.
2011 Vigno by Garage Wine Co. (Carignan) ($35)
Chile’s wine scene is evolving so rapidly it’s tough to keep up. An exciting tasting of wines from Vigno, a new group of producers making authentic regional reds from old dry-farmed carignan vines growing in the unglamorous region of Maule didn’t disappoint.
Garage Wine Co.’s Vigno bottling was the best, full of lively dark fruit, licorice, and a smooth, smoky finish.
2011 Inglenook Rubicon ($200)
When I tasted it with his new winemaker Philippe Bascaules, formerly of Chateau Margaux, I was stunned by its elegance, cassis-and-herbs flavors, and focused finesse. This is another splendid example of a California estate trading power for a more balanced style. You’ll have to wait until its 2014 release to try it.
2010 Domaine Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon Javernieres ($30)
I love Domaine de la Romanee-Conti as much as anyone. As high-end Burgundies reach stratospheric prices, though, I’ve been tasting in the southern part of the region in Beaujolais to find the many hidden gems in a region often associated with fruity plonk.
Among those I unearthed is this dense, luscious Morgon. Like all Beaujolais, it’s made from the gamay grape, and features gulpably delicious pomegranate-like flavors that make another glass mandatory.
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