OK, I'm refreshed. After eight months, I suppose it's time to start posting again, and what better time to re-engage than now? I was extremely lucky to taste hundreds of good wines in 2008 (and a few stinkers), but the double bakers' dozen below represents my top 26 wines of the year. These are the wines that are the most memorable, and are all wines that I personally rated as 92+ scores. Without further ado (ahem, drum roll please...):
26. Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills 2006 - I enjoyed this rich, fruit-forward Pinot at the winery in Oregon on a perfectly chilly and blustery day in late September. The spicy cherry cola flavors were intense. A fabulous wine for the price.
25. Alto Moncayo Garnacha 2005 - Full-bodied, with gobs of ripe fruit, good acidity and black pepper to keep it honest. Hedonistic to the extreme.
24. Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva White Rioja 1981 - A 27-year-old White Rioja makes the list you ask? Well, for the lucky few who tried this at one of the slowest tastings of the year, it was savory with soft fruit and even some acidity left. Bizarre, memorable, and downright surprisingly good.
23. Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 - The second of three Oregon Pinot Noirs on the list, this is one beauty of a wine.
22. Chateau Haut-Bailly 2005 - There is a reason why the 2005 Bordeaux vintage has been hailed as the best of my lifetime, and this youngster offered a glimpse into a very bright future. Tight, tannic and likely 10+ years away from drinking well, this still offered an amazingly silky mouthfeel with just a skosh of fruit hiding in the background. Check back in 2018, and this might wind up being the very best wine on this list.
21. Owen Roe Cabernet Franc Rosa Mystica 2006 - This completely redefined what I thought Cab Franc could be. Beautiful soft fruit with floral notes and a wonderful mouthfeel. Wish I had more.
20. Chateau de Serame 2005 - The best value wine of the year, hands down. For less than $20, it offered a boatload of tar complexity with good, dark fruit. Outstanding stuff.
19. Luca Pinot Noir 2005 - Another game-changer. If someone had told me that one of the very best bottles of Pinot Noir that I'd try would come from the home of Malbec, I would have chuckled. Then, I would have laughed some more. Well, this is a serious Pinot from Argentina that sports purity of fruit and an elegant mouthfeel reminiscent of the likes of Sea Smoke.
18. Chateau d'Yquem 2001 - I must be doing something right, when a Wine Spectator 100-point classic dessert wine is only my 4th favorite sweet wine of the year.
17. Bergstrom Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2006 - After double-checking my notes, I think this was the best Oregon Pinot that I had the pleasure to try in 2008. Everything you'd expect with a super-silky mouthfeel.
16. Massena The Howling Dog 2005 - After drinking (and enjoying) dozens of great Australian wines in 2007, I severely cut back my Aussie intake in '08. Still, this Petite Sirah was a monster with oodles of dark fruit, spice and tar. Delicious.
15. Louis Guntrum Trockenbeerenauslese 1994 - This German dessert wine confirmed what I had expected: Higher-end TBA's are worth seeking out and rival the best dessert wines in the world. Sweet apple and citrus are brushed back by amazing acidity here. Truly a party in your mouth.
14. Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate 2005 - One of my personal tasting trends that seemed to take center stage this past year was a deep passion for tar. Yes, for some reason I have found that red wines with dark rich fruit and a splash of tarry goodness render me weak-kneed and vulnerable. This was one of those wines....
....and this takes us up to our top 13 wines of the year. The best bakers dozen that money can buy:
13. Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2000 - I had this all the way back on January 3rd, 2008 and it was an absolute revelation. Sure, it's sweet, but it's also laced with a myriad of flavors including a blast of tobacco. Unbelievably complex and thought-provoking.
12. El Nido Clio 2005 - I don't think I had a new-world red last year that did a better job of juggling intense, ripe fruit and sweet vanilla oak quite like this one did. Hedonistic, delicious and bordering on shameful.
11. Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1988 - Another great learning experience. I never knew that a 20-year-old Hermitage could taste so bright and fresh, and be so drinkable. Class dismissed.
10. Fattoria Della Vitae Brunello di Montalcino 1997 - This outstanding Brunello was overshadowed by my favorite wine of the year, which was consumed at the same tasting. After re-reading my tasting notes though, this was a solid top-10 wine itself. Waves of milk chocolate and tar keep coming at you, surfing on a beautiful mouthfeel. Awesome stuff.
9. D.R. Stephens Cabernet Sauvignon Moose Valley 2004 - Unbelievably complex, yet full-bodied and bursting with ripe fruit. A stellar wine, and the best modern California Cab I had in 2008.
8. Domaine Morey-Coffinet Chassagne Montrachet La Romanee Premier Cru 2004 - One of the most vexing wines of the year. When I first tasted this White Burgundy with Sara at a July trade show in Columbus, we both were floored by the bacon fat nose and explosion of smoky fruit on the palate *from a Chardonnay *. At that moment, and it was early enough in the tasting that I knew my palate was still fresh, I proclaimed it the best dry white wine I'd ever tried. Fast forward a month when we poured it at the market, and it didn't show anything, was even a tad boring, and you can understand my conundrum. Well, I know what I tasted at the show, and Sara has my back on this. It was crazy good.
7. Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2001 - I read somewhere that a sweet spot for CdP can be somewhere around 7 years. Well, I had this wine twice in 2008, and while slightly better the first time in September, it was fantastic both times. Just a perfect balance of red berries, meat, olives and crushed rocks. One of the best Chateauneufs I've ever had, if not THE best.
6. Ridge Montebello 1992 - This is the one California wine that I've tried through the years that I believe stands up to the aging potential of many top Bordeaux wines from France. Black currant and lead pencil show the way for a terrific wine that still has several years of life left.
5. Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc 2005 - Another revelation. This was my first White Hermitage, and I luckily started at the top. Oily and peppery and so complex, if I had closed my eyes I never would have thought this was a white wine. Powerful.
4. Rosenblum Kick Ranch Reserve Syrah 2005 - Like an ultra-rich Cote-Rotie. Rich and almost gooey, yet not cloying. This is a bowl of fresh dark berries with a couple slices of smoked bacon floating on a bed of heavy cream. My most hedonistic wine of the year.
3. Cayuse En Chamberlin Syrah 2004 - I believe that Washington has one of the brightest futures of any wine region in the world. I also believe that Cayuse is one of the 10 finest wineries on the planet, and this Syrah was the most complex red wine that I tried all year. A medley of smoked meats dominates the nose, and the palate reveals over a dozen flavors to process. Not everyone who tried this wine last February liked it, as the smoky, meaty character might have been off-putting, but it was a near-perfect experience for me.
2. Baumard Quarts de Chaume 2002 - This list was basically set, until I had the opportunity to try this with Lance and Mike a couple days before the new year, and the rest is history. The best dessert wine I've ever had? Check. Sweet melon and honeysuckle flavors replaced by an incredibly fresh, zesty lemon flavor on the finish? Check. A finish that lasts forever? Check. Lush, silky mouthfeel? Check. This was simply an amazing experience.
1. Chateau Pichon Lalande 1989 - Despite having a boatload of outstanding wines the past few years, I think I was still waiting for that moment to happen. The moment when I tried a wine and suddenly felt justified spending $1,000 or more on a bottle. That moment when I knew what the experts were talking about when mentioning truly classic, life-changing wines. That moment when I'd sip a wine and remember it for the rest of my life. Well, that moment came last Spring as I sipped my first taste of the '89 Lalande, and as quickly as it hit my tongue the wine melted away. To say this wine had a great mouthfeel is the understatement of the year. Lance described it as "hot fat", and I'll always remember the incredulous look on his face when he first sipped it, not to mention the little dance May performed when she had a taste. It was a classic, life-changing wine.