Since 2016 is drawing to a close, I thought now was as good a time as any to put together my ultimate case of the year. Since any list requires at least a few guidelines, here’s what I went with:
Pick 12 wines.
Pick wines that I tried within the 2016 calendar year: no legacy wines.
Pick wines that are or were on sale within 2016: no library wines unless an average wine drinker could get their hands on them. That said, not all of these wines are available in the United States...yet!
Price matters, but only so much. None of these wines are all that pricey, but neither are they bargain wines. Maybe I’ll work on a separate list.
Pick wines that I genuinely enjoyed. That means that certain places and varietals may get more love or less...deal with it.
With that, here’s the list!
Summerhill Pyramid Cipes “Ariel” 1998
I’m fine letting everyone else go all crazy for British sparkling wine and the latest pet-nat craze: these days, if I’m venturing out of Champagne for my fine sparkling wine needs, I’m heading north of the border. Extensive lees aging gave this wine an incredibly rich texture, yet it remained impressively fresh and crisp, which can be a hard line to walk.
Nicolas Feuillatte “Palmes d’Or” 2002
Not sure what there really is to say about this wine: it routinely delivers incredible density and flavor, for a price that’s almost affordable within the whole tete de cuvee realm. No, it’s not an everyday wine for the 99%, but most everyone can find an occasion or two during the course of the year where a great bottle of Champagne can come in handy.
Liebart Regnier “Excelia” 2008
To me, this is the perfect example of what a great grower Champagne can be: an expression of specific vineyard sites in the Valle de la Marne, yet still showing the depth of flavor and texture that makes Champagne a unique and thrilling experience.
Giovanni Almondo “Bricco delle Ciliegie” Roero Arneis 2015
The true discovery of my trip to Piedmont wasn’t Nebbiolo: I was already smitten with that noble grape! It was uncovering just how much complexity and intrigue there is surrounding Arneis, in particular in the sandier soils of the Roero. This bottling, from a thoroughly unique soil structure found only in small parts of the Roero, reminded me of a Grand Cru Chablis, with vibrant minerality and well-developed fruit.
La Soufrandiere Pouilly-Vinzelles “Les Quarts” 2013
Speaking of wines that were “like Chablis,” this incredibly intriguing bottle of Chardonnay from the Maconnais blew me away: it’s rare to find such clarity and structured acid in wines from the slightly warmer part of Burgundy. Yet more and more winemakers in the less-renowned Maconnais are taking tremendous care with their wines, and this is a great example.
Selbach Oster Zeltinger Sonnenheur Spatlese 2013
I know, I know, the trend in Germany is breaking hard towards totally dry Riesling, but goddamnit there are few things as compelling to me as a wonderfully-balanced off-dry Riesling, and this bottle just nailed it: Granny Smith apple, lime leaf, lightning bolts of acid, and a texture that was at once sensual and starkly austere.
Latta Roussanne 2013
Roussanne is one of the emerging stars of Washington’s white wine scene, thanks in no small part to its ability to soak up sunlight and warmth without going all tropical. This wine is such a sensual delight, especially texturally, where it has a waxy quality that makes it a great pairing for richer winter fare, and an almondy note that plays nicely with the stone fruit notes.
Produttori del Barbaresco “Muncagota” 2011
Ok, for all the Arneis love above, Nebbiolo still reigns supreme in Piedmont, and this single-vineyard bottling from the Produttori was the standout in a trip filled with exceptional wines. The perfumed notes of rose petal and cedar smoke were intriguing, but it was the slight meatiness that truly drew me in. The accessibility of this wine in youth means you can jump right into it now, but of course it has a long life in front of it.
Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2014
Thanks to some 1930s-era cartography, the vineyards that go into this wine lie just outside the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC, despite being functionally identical. That means you get an incredibly nuanced wine, from very old vines, for a fraction of the cost of what you’d expect to pay for the wines from Beaucastel otherwise.
Leah Jorgensen “Clos Rogue Valley” Reserve Cabernet Franc 2014
Well-made Cabernet Franc is something close to a perfect wine: a mix of red and black fruit, tannic without being overly so, braced with acid, and elegant on the finish. It can be a bit tricky to grow, and of course it doesn’t have the prestige of its more famous child, but damn if it isn’t rewarding. Leah Jorgensen’s offering, from the up-and-coming vineyards of Southern Oregon, is dynamic, delightful, and delicious.
Two Vintners “Some Days are Diamonds” Syrah 2013
I’m not quite sure how, but Morgan Lee and his team have a magical touch with Syrah. I almost gave this spot to their 2013 base-level Syrah, which is a crazy value, or the bloody, savory delight that is their “Some Days are Stones,” but in the end the incredible aromatic complexity, developed fruit, and long finish of this bottling from the Horse Heaven Hills won out.
Bodegas Ontanon Gran Reserva Rioja 2005
Again, I was torn between two wines from this winery for this list: the Vetiver Blanco is another incredible bargain, but the incredible elegance of this wine won out, and given the pedigree, the complexity, and the age of the wine, this is still a great bargain! The hints of smoke at the edges of the palate are I think what intrigue me most, along with the vibrant cassis and black cherry notes that transition into a dusty finish.
So there you go, a great case of wine to commemorate a perhaps less-than-ideal year. Have you tried any of these? What did I leave off? Let me know!