Top 10 Wines of 2012 From Burgundy to Armenia to Sonoma
This year I sampled more than 4,000 wines in my search for the recommendable, hunting the world’s best in chilly cellars, historic chateaux, at noisy tastings and the tables of generous friends.
Here, in no particular order, are my 10 most memorable wines, from bargain to blowout. They range from a great Bordeaux to a new California red to a scarce bottling from the mountains of Armenia. All reflect the growing diversity of today’s wine world -- and where it’s going in 2013.
2009 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti ($14,000 to $18,000)
Auction prices for the best vintages from Burgundy star Domaine de la Romanee-Conti continue to rocket out of sight. So I eagerly anticipated the DRC’s annual release tasting in New York for the much-touted 2009s. The silken texture, complexity, and seductiveness of DRC’s Romanee-Conti is everything I want in a great wine -- except affordability. I swallowed every drop.
2010 Gaba do Xil Mencia Valdeorras ($14)
To make a wine with authentic character that costs less than 15 bucks is not easy, but Spanish wine whiz Telmo Rodriguez is noted for devoting as much passion to his cheap wines as his expensive ones. He uses native Spanish grape mencia, hand-picked from an ancient vineyard, for this lively red with floral aromas and an almost meaty character.
1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional port ($4,500 to $6,500)
Until recently, I’d had only one vintage of the legendary port made from Quinta do Noval’s tiny 2.5-hectare Nacional vineyard. This year, a 12-vintage tasting showed me how much I’d missed. At nearly 50 years of age, this deep, layered fortified wine is all tangy red plums and savory earth.
It’s up there with the most profound wines I’ve ever sipped, making me wonder: Why don’t more people collect port?
2009 Littorai B.A Thieriot Vineyard Pinot Noir ($75)
Pinot maestro Ted Lemon, owner of western Sonoma’s Littorai winery, makes some of California’s best bottlings. I sampled his nine pinots after an afternoon dodging chickens in his biodynamic vineyard and fell hard for this one.
Full and rich, it combines a distinctive sexy elegance and exotic Asian spice character -- and demonstrates that winemakers are finally finding the right sites to make great California pinot.
2010 Zorah Karasi Areni Noir ($45)
In Izmir, Turkey, I was wowed by my first-ever taste of an Armenian wine, this stylish red made from areni noir grapes and aged in traditional clay amphora.
Smoky, silky elegance, soft mulberry-like fruit and wild earth notes are part of the wine’s appeal; I also savored the thrill of drinking history. It’s the first vintage from a new wine making project near the Areni-1 cave, where archeologists discovered the world’s oldest winery, dating back 6,100 years.
1989 Chateau Haut-Brion ($1,400 to $1,700)
A debate over which Bordeaux vintage is better, the opulent 1989 or classic 1990, has raged for two decades. A tasting organized by Chicago auction house Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. gave me the chance to compare first growth and other top crus classes from both years.
My conclusion: I preferred the 1990 from several chateaux, the 1989 from others like the completely stunning Chateau Haut- Brion, with its cassis-and-cigar-smoke bouquet and memorable lingering finish.
2008 Domaine du Closel Clos du Papillon Savennieres ($35)
After tromping through knee-deep snow in this domaine’s Clos du Papillon vineyard, I savored several vintages of the intense, earthy, dry white in front of a welcome fire. The 2008 tastes of citrus and honey and pulses with energy and minerality.
The grape is chenin blanc, and the tiny Savennieres appellation, which produces some of the Loire’s most complex, serious, and long-lived dry whites, deserves to be much better known.
2011 Copain Wines ($45)
Surprise of the year? This light, intriguing, positively gulpable red from one of California’s top pinot noir winemakers, Wells Guthrie. Trousseau, an obscure grape from France’s Jura region, is the new, new thing in Sonoma. Guthrie coaxes out all its spice-and-earth deliciousness. For a first release, this is a huge success. More California trousseau, please.
2008 Tenuta di Biserno, Biserno ($140 to $180)
The most recent vintage of his Biserno cuvee, the 2008, is made mostly from cabernet franc. It’s flat-out gorgeous --deep, powerful and opulent, with plush plum and mocha notes, yet elegant, too.
2002 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Brut Champagne ($200)
The combination of a great vintage and the terroir of the 5.5-hectare (13.6-acre) Clos des Goisses vineyard add up to one of Champagne’s most impressive and complex single-vineyard cuvees.
At a Rare Wine Co. tasting of stellar wines surrounded by a fascinating exhibit of historic food and wine posters, this bubbly’s wonderful aromas of white flowers and subtle, concentrated citrus and pear flavors kept distracting me. Though still too young, it’s my fizz choice for New Year’s Eve.
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