Year’s Best Wines Offer $2,500 White, Czar’s Muscat: Elin McCoy

A 1939 Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat
A sweet 1939 Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat was auctioned off with 137 other lots of rare wine from this historic winery in the Ukraine's Crimea. Photographer: Elin McCoy/Bloomberg

In 2010, I once again sipped thousands of wines looking for the few worth recommending. I’m happy to report I found more compelling high quality wines than ever -- especially from the 2009 vintage in Germany, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, and Burgundy -- among a sea of plonk and expensive disappointments. Here are my 10 picks of the year.

2007 Fia Nobile Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($20)

My bargain of the year is this lively red from Sicily, discovered at New York’s Convivio restaurant. Charged with finding one wine for dishes with clashing tastes, the sommelier offered his secret weapon -- the frappato and nero d’avola grape blend known as Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The Fia Nobile version, my introduction to the category, brims with crushed cherry aromas and light but rich texture.

1939 Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat ($525 at auction)

In the Ukraine’s Crimea, the Massandra winery on the Black Sea once produced sweet dessert muscats for the czars. Its collection of bottles, stored in 21 underground tunnels, survived the Russian Revolution and some were served to Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference. History was in my mind as I sipped the amazingly fresh-tasting 1939, with aromas and flavors of rose petals and spicy brown sugar, at a Zachys’ auction before 38 lots of old vintages went on the block.

1980 Soldera Case Basse Brunello Riserva ($350)

One of the maestros of Brunello, Gianfranco Soldera produces cult reds revered by tradition lovers. During a long Italian dinner, my generous host brought out this 30-year-old vintage. I was blown away by its cedar-and-chestnut fragrance, toffee flavors and luminous character that sang in the glass.

2003 Brokenwood ILR Reserve Semillon ($40)

I don’t understand why Australia’s Hunter Valley semillons remain stuck in the world’s underappreciated-great-wines category. While judging semillons at the annual Critics Challenge wine competition in San Diego, this flagship white from the Brokenwood estate won my top marks for its intense lime and honey aromas and toasty complexity. The wine’s magic depends on aging, not oak or alcohol, and it will only get better.

2004 Schloss Gobelsburg Heiligenstein Riesling ($40)

Austria is the land of gruner veltliner, but dozens of rieslings from top vineyards impressed me even more during a tasting tour along the Danube. Who says terroir is a myth? In sampling six vintages (1976 to 2009) made by this 900-year-old winery in the Kamptal from grapes grown in the steep grand cru Heiligenstein vineyard, I was struck by their fruit-and-mineral precision. My pick? The exciting, succulent 2004, with its long complex finish.

2002 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Oak Vineyard ($70)

When I retrieved this bottle from my cellar for a birthday dinner, I thought it would be good, but it was much grander. Since the 1970s, Clos du Val has been creating splendid Napa Valley cabernets that show all the ripeness you could want without over-the-top, palate-bruising extraction and alcohol. This elegant wine echoes top-class Bordeaux while remaining completely Napa.

1989 Argyros Estate Vinsanto ($100, 500ml)

I traveled to the Greek island of Santorini to taste its dramatic dry whites, but fell in love with its luscious sweet vinsantos made from the same grapes, dried in the sun to concentrate their sweetness. This caramel-colored example, barrel-aged in a 300-year-old winery, was the stunner. Its intense dried fruit and roasted coffee aromas and fig and toffee flavors make it my new ideal match with chocolate -- or, for this season, plum pudding.

NV Jacques Selosse Initiale Brut Champagne ($140)

Wild man visionary Anselme Selosse makes concentrated, highly original, terroir champagnes. The bad news is that they are extremely hard to find. Which is why I eagerly downed several glasses of his brut cuvee Initiale offered before a grand dinner in New York. This all-chardonnay blend of three vintages from three grand cru villages is rich and creamy, with amazing energy and complexity.

2007 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet ($2,500)

This year I happily braved a snowstorm to get to the annual release tasting of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti’s great Burgundies. The 2007 vintage is not a top one, but the DRC’s ultra-elegant rare white, made in tiny quantities from the most famous chardonnay site in the world, has a purity and complex layered citrus-and-stone character that makes it extraordinary. Worth it? Perfection is always pricy.

1989 Chateau Palmer ($350)

After sipping and spitting a barrel sample of the powerful 2009 Palmer during last spring’s Bordeaux en primeurs tastings, I swallowed with pleasure the satiny, seductive 1989 with lunch in the chateau’s elegant dining room. A star of the Margaux appellation in that vintage, it’s all black fruit and silky texture, perfect for drinking over the holidays -- and costs no more than the still-in-barrel 2009, which won’t reach maturity for 20 years.

(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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