By Robert Parker
Making lists is always fun because it generates both conversation and controversy. With that in mind, I thought I'd take a look at what in the wine world is hot and what's not, from Argentinian malbec and Italian prosecco (hot) to both red and white Burgundies and most any wine from New Zealand (not).
Spain's 2004 and 2005 vintages
Spain is the most fashionable wine producer in the world, and for good reason. Young Spanish winemakers respect their traditions but are also adopting practices from elsewhere that make for better and better wines. Nature lent a hand as well with two terrific vintages, 2004 and 2005.
Isn't it odd that a grape that failed so miserably in France has thrived in Argentina? Whether they're $10 table wines or premium-priced, limited-production selections from high-altitude Andean vineyards, these malbecs are rich, concentrated, complex, and deservingly popular.
French champagne is still the greatest sparkling wine, but there is a place for inexpensive, enjoyable bubbly. I find it in Italy's proseccos. Light as a delicate sea breeze, these sparklers rarely cost more than $15 or $20 a bottle. These are nonvintage wines that don't age well, so buy them from a retailer with rapid turnover.
Châteauneuf du Pape
The world is discovering the sumptuous wines from this sun-drenched, windswept appellation in Provence. They're made from some of the oldest vines in France and are true expressions of terroir without makeup or manipulation. Some very good vintages between 1998 and 2005 (forget about the horrible 2002) have helped, too.
Paso Robles syrah and syrah blends
Young winemakers growing grapes on the limestone hillsides near Paso Robles, Calif., have had remarkable success here, especially with syrah. The wines improve with each vintage, and at $20 to $60 per bottle, the prices are fair given the quality.
Terrific trattoria-style reds, and some pretty tasty whites and rosés, are coming from this hinterland known better for its tomatoes and scenic coastal drives than for wine. Look for reds from Puglia, especially those made from the aglianico grape.
Santa Barbara pinot noir and chardonnay
The movie Sideways focused attention on this area, a hotbed for high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines are fresh, lively, and complex. Wines coming from the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez areas should be on your shopping list.
Bordeaux wine futures
The idea of paying for wine that won't be delivered for several years has never made much sense to me, except perhaps for the really great vintages that are few and far between. The wine world went nuts and overpaid for the 2005 Bordeaux. I predict there will be few takers for the 2006 futures when they hit the market in the spring.
Red and white Burgundy
For the last 10 years or so, expensive whites that should age well for at least 5 to 10 years have deteriorated in three to four. Quality is an issue for the reds, too. While 2005 is a very good vintage, 2004 was mediocre, especially for reds, and yet-to-be released 2006 looks like a loser for both.
Overpriced mediocrities from the Napa Valley
Too many producers with a Napa label think that's a license to charge two or three times what their wine is really worth. Some world-class, profound wines are coming from Napa, and Chateau Montelena, Colgin Cellars, and Harlan Estate are a few of the wineries making them. The great majority of Napa wines are the vinous equivalent of fool's gold.
Brunello di Montalcino
Italy's most historic and famous wine can be very good but is often too leathery, too tannic, and charmless. Producers cut from four to three years the amount of time the wine spends in the barrel, but it can still taste old even when it is just released.
As a student, I cut my teeth on the glorious wines made in this region of eastern France. The rieslings, gewurztraminers, pinot gris, and pinot blancs are sensational, but in the nearly three decades I have been writing about wine, they haven't caught on in the U.S. That's a shame.
This appellation could challenge Châteauneuf du Pape for supremacy in southern France/Provence, but winemakers there seem resistant to change. Some, like Santa Duc and St. Cosme, are improving the quality of their wines, but few of their neighbors are following them.
The cool-climate wines of New Zealand have long been popular with wine critics. But to me, the pinot noirs are often too vegetal and green, the sauvignon blancs reminiscent of cat pee, and the chardonnays grotesquely over-oaked. This is a country of young wine producers where everything remains a work in progress, but for now the prices of these wines do not translate to quality in the bottle.
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Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit www.eRobertParker.com to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.