Each year I try to come up with the ten wines that really stood out; this is the installment for 2013. In most years, I find it difficult to narrow a bunch of good wines down to just a top 10 list. This year I had a harder time really qualifying wines to be on a top 10 list. It’s not that there weren’t a lot of good wines, but the number of wines that really differentiated themselves from the pack were few and far between. In the end, I came up with a top 9 list this go-around. We’ll hope for the usual problem in 2014.
I think the resulting list still turned out pretty well, but I’ll warn ahead of time that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In reverse order:
This is a great wine, to be sure. Still in its infancy, it has many years to go. Sadly, I used up my three bottles this year. What made it a wine of the year was how it played with dinner. For New Year’s Even, I made cassoulet. This wine plus cassoulet just worked. Everybody loved it. Anytime you can get more than a dozen people excited about Tannat is a success.
This is always a fun wine, but something about the most recent disgorgement (I don’t recall precisely when, but I want to say it was a fall 2012) put this in scary-good territory. With a deep library of older wine integrated in the cuvee, this was an enthusiast’s wine and a crowd pleaser. Great fun.
It takes something special for one maker to pull two spots on the list, but H. Billiot is killing it. This is a wine I buy every year, but the September 2013 disgorgement is the best I’ve ever had. It had people who don’t drink Champagne raving about the wonders of Champagne, and with good reason. This wine makes no excuses; it’s big and rich but all of the balance and complexity are there. I wish I had accumulated several cases of this, no joke.
We had this wine at Ridge’s Lytton Springs winery (this particular wine is grown and produced in Santa Cruz, however). We had a fantastic tour and tasting there, but the wine stole the show. Everybody knows this wine, but it’s easy to forget how good it is until a few days are wasted on big-ass Napa cabernet.
Ted Lemon needs no introduction; his winemaking is at the top of the game. Known for his Pinot, which was in fact all quite nice, the Chardonnay is off the charts good. Along with Jim Maresh’s white, this is one of the best domestic Chardonnays I’ve had. We tried this at the winery, which is a surreal experience as well.
I don’t know that I can argue this wine is classically good or exemplar of the grape, but it was quite the treat. It tastes like strawberry yogurt. Amazing food wine, unique wine on its own.
This is how we were introduced to this wine: “So we need to bleed the Kronos fruit a little bit to get everything in order. Rather than toss that out, we decided to print some money.” The story is same for most wines of this style. The difference is that this wine is epic. Rosé from Kronos Cabernet fruit. Best domestic rosé I’ve had.
We tasted this wine with Serge Hochar himself. Still in its infancy after more than three decades, this may be one of the best white wines I’ve ever had. Everything I love about Madeira, Burgundy, and Sherry in a single bottle. This is bottled magic.
This wine was a special experience, and remains the best wine I’ve ever tasted to this point. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it. It was that good.
I acquired it and its sister wine (a 1955) through a private shopper who acquired the contents of a cellar in Spain that had been abandoned years ago. Thus these bottles sat in a cellar with their original corks for many decades without being disturbed.
The 55 was purported to be the superior wine but my example was unfortunately corked to an undrinkable level. It didn’t matter. The 1952 was a bottled acid trip of flavors and aromas. The cork was, unsurprisingly, and unmitigated disaster (anecdotally, the 55 cork was beautiful and a trivial pull). This was also the first bottle I’ve opened with a lead capsule, which was pretty fun.
We let the wine breathe for twelve hours. No joke; it kept opening. It was not shut down, and it had so much life left in it. By the end of the evening we were playing a game: Somebody would think or an aroma or flavor (notably only pleasant/interestine ones; we weren’t questing for, say, putrid flesh) and we’d try to find it in the wine. We could not come up with one that was not present. Describing the wine was difficult, if not impossible; it tasted and smelled of more things than one could comprehend. It was only through the lens of determining whether a specific dimension was or was not present that it could be conceptualized.
I realize this all sounds like madness, but the wine was in fact that good. Meaningful and life-changing.