Last week, I was happy to sit with a group of die-hard Barolo lovers and friends in what has become one of the greatest tasting groups I have ever had the honor of being a part of. Created on the message boards of Vinous (Antonio Galloni’s own website), this group has become a force to be reckoned with, as each member is a long-time collector and passionate Barolo lover. With each tasting we seem to reach a new high, and this week’s focus was the cult producer Cappellano.
Cappellano is one of the greatest producers in all of Barolo, and they’ve never received a 100, 95 or even a 90-point score from any modern-day Italian wine critic. The decision to reject the scoring of critics came from Teobaldo Cappellano in 1983, who believed winemaking a be an art form, a work of passion, and one that should not be encapsulated into a single number. Nor did he believe that it was healthy for fellow producers, seeing it as being divisive. Whether or not you or I agree with this philosophy is beside the point, simply because Cappellano has been making some of the best Barolo in the region for decades.
The lack of scores and small annual production of Cappellano has kept them firmly off the radar of the majority of Barolo lovers around the world. However, for enthusiasts who would read the fine print and wouldn’t sort each critic’s tasting notes by highest scores to lowest, the reward was the discovery of this true pioneer of modern-day Barolo.
The Cappellano name goes back to the late 19th century in Barolo, run throughout that time by a number of true gentlemen, who would not only work as buyers of grapes, growers of vines and makers of Barolo, but also as businessmen and even one as a pharmacist. In fact, it was Giuseppe Cappellano who invented Barolo Chinato, as an aid-all elixir. To this day, the most traditional houses of Barolo will make a Barolo Chinato, whose recipes are usually guarded secrets, but typically consist of a mix of Barolo wine with varying spices, bark, herbs and a small amount of cane sugar.
At one time, the house of Cappellano was one of the biggest names in the region with some 60 hectares, as well as one of the largest purchasers of grapes. Even with this tremendous production, the name stood for undeniable quality, which is something that has not changed to this day. However, what has changed is their size.
Today, Cappellano’s holdings consist of only 4 hectares of vines in the Gabutti vineyard of Serralunga. This brings us back to Teobaldo Cappellano, who returned to Italy in the 1970s, and to the Cappellano winery, which at that time no longer owned any of its own vineyards. His acquisition of vines in the prestigious Gabbuti cru was made through a handshake deal with the past owner Otin Fiorin, whose name remains printed on every bottle of Cappellano Barolo. When you consider that the name of the vineyard itself (with all the prestige associated with it) is no longer present on the label, this gives you an insight into a man who puts more credit in people than status.
The two Barolo made today by Cappellano are designated by the names Pie Rupestris and Pie Franco, both from Gabbuti. One, Pie Franco, being of particular note, as it was planted after an earthquake had caused a collapse of part of the vineyard. Cappellano used this opportunity to plant Nebbiolo of the Michet clone on its own rootstocks. This decision brought Teobaldo fame throughout the region, as the success of these vines made Pie Franco the only Barolo produced on its own European roots. However, like many hardline traditionalists, that fame didn’t travel internationally, outside of longtime collectors of Old-World Barolo.
All of that has changed today, as international interests have swayed back to the traditional school. What’s more, Teobaldo has been firmly placed among the giants in Piedmont, which include Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, and Giacomo Conterno. Now we look upon his organic approach in the vineyards, long macerations, natural fermentations and constant experimentation with low doses of sulfur in a positive and progressive light. In a very big way, Teobaldo Cappellano helped to create today’s traditional Barolo. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to enjoy how much his work, or his art, has added to our enjoyment of what I consider to be one of the greatest wines in the world today.
The good news is that the future of Cappellano has been safely placed in the hands of Teobaldo’s son Augusto, who seems more than happy to maintain his father’s beliefs and continue to produce Barolo as they have over the past decades. The fact is that Augusto had been doing more than lending a hand for years as his father suffered through his illness.
As for the wines, I have decided not to provide scores, but I am happy to supply a number of impressions beyond my tasting notes below. Firstly, my personal preference for sheer enjoyment factor leans toward Pie Rupestris, which is great news for myself and anyone that follows my palate, as the wines are more affordable and easier to find. Second is Cappellano’s ability to make great wines in poorer and warmer vintages, such as the ’95, ’97, ’00, ’03 and ’07. Third, that the Pie Franco displays more dark Serralunga character, while the Pie Rupestris is a wine of lifted, pure fruit and vibrancy. Lastly, that these are wines that are deceptively petite at times, yet mature into gorgeous examples of classic Barolo.
On to the wines (In the order they were tasted):
1964 Cappellano Barolo – This was absolutely magnificent. The nose alone was spellbinding in a way that only perfectly mature Barolo can be. This is one of those wines that converts you into a collector and prompts you to begin building a cellar to house a collection that may one day evolve into such gorgeous bottles of Barolo. The bouquet was exuberant and lively, showing dried cherries, hints of dusty spice, dried leaves, cedar and floral tones. On the palate, it was still lively and fresh with rich cherry and plum fruit, lifted by zest acidity and revealing hints of orange peel and minerality. An inner sweetness resonated on the finish with lingering dried fruit tones.
1971 Cappellano Barolo – The ’71 displayed a dark, haunting and perfumed bouquet of dried flowers, cherry, savory herbs, chalky minerals and spice. The depths this reached on the nose were worth the experience alone, which distracted me from its slightly disappointing performance on the palate. Notes of dried cherry, citrus rind and minerals made an appearance but with a lack of flesh, resulting in a hollow sensation. Dried-out red fruit lingered on the finish—but oh, what an incredible bouquet…
1995 Cappellano Barolo Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose was highly expressive and pretty with sweet cherries, spice and vibrant floral tones. On the palate, it displayed silky textures and perfectly resolved tannin, showing ripe raspberry fruit, along with spice and tart apple. A bump of acidity provided vibrancy going into the finish with notes of orange peel, spice and lingering hard red candy. This is easily one of the best ’95 Barolos I’ve ever tasted.
1996 Cappellano Barbaresco – I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this twice this year, and both times it was truly stunning, but tonight there was a vibrancy that the last bottle lacked. The nose was alive with dark, ripe red fruits, dusty spice, undergrowth, fresh pine and hints of cedar. On the palate, I found alluring dark ripe fruit, silky textures, and stunning inner floral tones. It lasted long on the finish, displaying a juicy, dark and ripe fruit profile.
1996 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose was dark and brooding, showing off its Serralunga roots with a mix of dark soil, iron, and dark red fruits. On the palate, rich dark red fruits flooded the senses, which were quickly assaulted by gripping tannin followed by minerals and earth tones. Its structure lingered long on the finish along with hints of drying red berry and leather.
1997 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The bouquet showed minerality up front, followed by tart red berry, dusty soil tones and crushed leaves. On the palate is where the ’97 Franco shined, as ripe, dark red fruits were carried by a mix of silky textures and vibrant acidity, with hints of brown spice and sweet inner floral tones. The finish was shorter than desired, turning more to unresolved tannin and dried red fruit. Still, this is a highly enjoyable wine.
1997 Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The ’97 Pie Rupestris is everything we ever hoped the ’97 vintage would deliver—but didn’t. Here I found a rich, warm and inviting wine that was perfectly balanced and ready to drink. The nose displayed ripe black cherry, pretty floral tones, brown spice, minerals, dusty soil and undergrowth. It was silky-smooth on the palate, displaying spiced cherry, plum, inner floral tones and hints of contrasting tannin. The finish left nothing to be desired, as fine tannin faded to reveal dark red fruit, spiced orange and inner floral tones. I honestly don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a ’97 Barolo this much.
2000 Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – In the context of the evening, the 2000 Pie Rupestris didn’t stand out much, but considering the competition, it isn’t hard to see why. Here I found a dark red fruit profile, along with sweet floral tones, plum, dusty spice and minerals. It was rich on the palate yet balanced throughout, with soft red fruits that seemed to saturate the senses. It’s a fun wine, very pretty and quite good for the vintage.
2001 Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose displayed airy and lifted red fruit with notes of dusty spice, menthol and licorice wrapped firmly around a mineral core. On the palate, it displayed radiant cherry and pomegranate with hints of spice and firm ’01 tannins, which provided a saturating and concentrated fruit sensation along with grip to spare. The finish resonated on fine tannin and lingering dried cherry and sweet herbs.
2003 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose was dark and almost savory with ripe red fruits, plum, raw meat and brown spice. On the palate, it displayed soft textures with sweet red berries, spice and a hint of green apple, which lent energy to an otherwise bruiser of a wine. A hint of heat was noticeable on the finish but only slightly so. It really is a great wine for the warm vintage, with excellent balance and perfectly contrasting acidity.
2007 Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – This was another great example of Cappellano’s ability to make amazingly balanced wine in warmer vintages. The nose was spicy, sweet and beautifully perfumed with ripe red fruits and floral tones. Nowhere did I find any baked qualities or heat, just pure finesse. On the palate, I found intense red fruits and spice, which seemed to saturate the senses, with a bump of brisk acidity toward the close that made the mouth water.
2008 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose was gorgeous with savory herbs giving way to black cherry, plum, undergrowth and dark floral tones. There was a cool and crisp quality here that was quite attractive as it continued to become fleshier and more expressive in the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by brisk acidity with rich black cherry, sweet inner floral tones and hints of undergrowth. The finish lent a slight green stem note but resonated on red fruit and fine tannin. This is a drop-dead gorgeous wine.
2008 Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – Stunning, simply stated. The 2008 Pie Rupestris displayed a deep and rich balsamic note that was offset by cool-toned red fruits and floral notes, which presented radiance that was undeniably attractive. Its brilliant and lifted character continued on the palate, as pure red fruit and sweet spice gave way to pretty inner floral tones in a palate-filling expression with fine tannin adding grip. Balance is the key here from start to finish.
In closing, these are wines to buy in every vintage, assuming you can find them. While buying a wine without the safety net of a score can be difficult (especially in this price range), I can assure you that Cappellano is worth the hunt. I would be happy to taste any single one of these over and over again. These are wines of soul, passion and purity.
Make sure to check out The Fine Wine Geek for all the details you could ever hope to find on Cappellano, as well as coverage of this tasting in particular, which you can find here Cappellano Vertical at Lusardi’s.
This tasting would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the great group of wine lovers at Antonio Galloni’s Vinous forum.
Make sure to check out Lusardi’s. While I may not have touched much of the evening’s food, I will say that it was superb, even placed against some of the world’s greatest wines.
Article and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
The Holidays are here, and who wouldn’t like to get a bottle of great wine as a gift?
The fact is, wine lovers want wine as gifts (I know I do), but giving wine as a gift can be a minefield full of letdowns. So I hope to take a lot of the guesswork out of it for you. When the time came to create this list, I wanted to make sure that I could touch on a gift for every kind of wine lover. You can find something here for the beginner, the adventurer, the enthusiast, The Francophile, the hedonist and the collector. I also wanted to focus on value versus relative value. I love bargains on great wines, but I also love wines that drink great but cost less than what I’d expect to pay.
I spend my entire year tasting and evaluated each wine’s quality and value, and it has been an epic year for tasting, with almost 700 notes cataloged. I’m happy now to share those findings with you. All of the wines below are available now, and this list can help you find that perfect bottle, just in time for the Holidays.
And so, on to the wines:
The Beginner (Just getting started and brimming with anticipation)
There is no better place to start exploring France than with a Cotes du Rhone. The fact is that this vast region boasts some of the oldest vines and most complex terroir in the country. The best producers often find themselves with more material to work with than they need to fill their prestige bottles. So where does this juice go? It goes right into their Cotes du Rhone. The 2012 Tardieu-Laurent Cotes du Rhone Guy Louis ($34) is brimming over with undeniable Rhone character. It’s a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah aged in older casks. You may want to consider putting a few of these in your own cellar as well.
Chianti Classico has come a long way, and it’s an easy bridge wine for the beginner because of its name recognition. However, there’s a big difference between the pizza pallor wine of yesteryear and this recommendation. The Fontodi Chianti Classico 2012 ($37) is a serious of a Chianti as you can find anywhere. It easily competes with the top wines of other estates, yet at the $37 price point. It drinks beautifully now yet can go for over a decade in the cellar.
The Enthusiast (Just can’t get enough and loves the details)
There’s no better way to please the enthusiasts than with a wine steeped in details, and Riesling is a great grape to get lost in. Hands down, one of my favorite producers is Keller, who has shown us that he is not only the king of single vineyard GGs of stunning complexity but also able to produce an exciting lineup of more affordable bottlings that show off the Keller style in spades. The Keller Riesling Von der Fels Rheinhessen 2013 ($36) is an incredible wine of tension and poise that blossoms over the course of hours. Open them now for their intensity, or put them in the cellar and watch them mature; you won’t be disappointed either way.
There’s nothing like reading one of the back labels on a Ridge Zinfandel. This winery has been a favorite of mine for years now, with some of the best Zins coming out of California. Don’t look for over-the-top here; these are about elegance and details. They also do great in the cellar. Show someone what Zinfandel is truly capable of with the 2013 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Geyserville ($39).
The Adventurer (Walking the wild side and often misunderstood)
If obscurity is their thing, then the 2010 Domaine Troullier Boreal should do the trick. Many of the world’s top critics have talked about the potential of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon; now Gilles Troullier is giving us proof positive that they were correct. Having cut his teeth at Chapoutier for over ten years, Gillies set out to define the terroir of the region and take advantage of its extensive resource of older vines. The 100% Syrah, 2010 Domaine Troullier Boreal ($64) is the result, and it is stunning!
If you know someone who is willing to really take the plunge, then the 2011 Comte Abbatucci General de la Revolution Blanc ($105) is sure to do the trick. Comte Abbatucci is the premier winemaker of Corsica, who works with a number of ancient varieties and creates a unique blend that’s almost impossible to describe. It also happens to boast a 95-point score from the Wine Advocate, making this one of the most highly-rated yet esoteric wines in the market today.
Probably the most popular and highly sought-after vintage Champagne of 2015 is the 2006 Louis Roederer Brut Nature ($85). When Chef de cave Jean-Baptiste and managing director Frederic Rouzaud set out to define a new vintage cuvee, it was apparent that 2006 was the perfect place to start. The goal was to create an exciting and unique expression from their family-owned vineyards, using 60% Pinot Noir from Cumieres and 40% Chardonnay from Hautvillers. This was a champagne that was not extremely dry but rather would express the vineyards and vintage together without the traditionally-added dosage, which the region is known for. The results are spectacular.
The Hedonist (There’s nothing wrong with a little liquid pleasure)
I must admit that even though my palate swings toward acid and structure, a bottle of silky, rich and completely irresistible juice can easily sway me temporarily to the dark side. That’s the 2012 Herman Story Syrah White Hawk ($53) in a nutshell. The fruit here is so pure, yet so ripe, and not a single bit of this wine’s formidable Alc. % feels out of place. I could drink this any night of the week on its intensity of dark Syrah fruit alone. At $53, this is also a tremendous deal in New World Syrah.
The Collector (Put them in the cellar; this wine lover is in it for the long haul)
One of the best young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that I’ve tasted in a long time is the 2012 The Vineyardist ($225). This relatively new property is taking mountain fruit and creating a wine of intensity and balance. Its finely-sculpted fruit is wrapped in a tight knit of saline-minerality and spice, complemented by fine tannin. It’s a gorgeous wine from a producer who is just now getting noticed, and it’s sure to not only get better with maturity, but also increase in value.
You can chase after the 100-point Vietti Ravera (and pay upwards of $250). Or you can look to the 2010 Elvio Cogno Barolo Bricco Pernice ($98) at a fraction of the price. Bricco Pernice hails from what is considered the most prestigious parcel of the Ravera vineyard, and Elivo Cogno is one of Barolo’s under-the-radar traditional producers. Do the math and you’ll quick see my point; this is a wine that is sure to be noticed and elevated in the near future. Did I mention its 96+ point score from Antonio Galloni? Get it while you can.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste a good deal of 2005 Bordeaux this year, and of all of them, one that truly stuck out for its upward aging potential is the 2005 Calon Segur ($110). It may not have been the absolutely best ‘05 I’ve tasted, but for $105, this wine is a sure bet. It’s a classically-structured Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of our age. Sourced from perfect storage since release, this is a wine that you simply can’t go wrong with.
The Francophile (Some people say it all ends with Burgundy; why not skip ahead?)
It’s very easy to spend a lot of money to please the Burgundy lover, but this one delivers a grand cru experience without breaking the bank. The 2013 Louis Jadot Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques ($205) is one of the best examples of relative value in Burgundy. It is widely accepted throughout Gevrey-Chambertin that the Premier Cru, Clos Saint-Jaques, rivals and in some cases surpasses the quality of the surrounding Grands Crus. With the same elevation as Chambertin and similar soil composition of white marl, Clos Saint-Jaques is capable of producing rich and distinctive Burgundy with lush yet beautifully delineated Pinot fruit.
The short list of producers bottling a Clos Saint Jacques reads like a who’s who of Burgundy’s elite, and on that list, you find Louis Jadot. The big difference is the price tag, where at $205, this is actually a steal.
Then there’s white Burgundy. There is simply something about white Burgundy that once it has you, there’s no going back. Possibly it’s the depth and layers found in the bouquet and how you can spend minutes simply admiring and working your way through each and every detail. Or maybe it’s how they convey such a presence on the palate, being one of the few white wines that can be both rich, yet lithe—intense, yet finessed.
One of my greatest discoveries in 2015 is my newfound love of Dauvissat La Forest. The Grand Crus of Les Clos and Les Preuses receive the most attention from collectors, yet the Burgundy insider knows better, and that it is that the Premier Cru La Forest is the real gem of this collection. In a great vintage, such as 2008, Dauvissat La Forest ($99) is an overachiever, performing neck-and-neck with its Grand Cru brethren—and at half the price.
This list would not be complete without a 2010 Brunello di Montalcino. I’ll save you the rhetoric regarding how amazing the vintage was, and I’ll also skip right to the chase—this is not one of the top-scoring wines of the vintage, but that shouldn’t matter. I say that because what it lacks in 97-100 point scores, it makes up for as being an incredible Brunello that’s very easy to like. The traditionalist, the modernist, and the progressive will all find a lot of pleasure from the 2010 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino ($54). If you must know the scores, they are AG93, WA95 and JS96—but I’d like to think you’d buy it because it’s simply a great bottle of wine.
I know it may be hard to believe, but before 2010 there were other great vintages in Barolo. I joke, and I apologize for that, but the sad thing is that so many people have been focused on the great 2010s that they are forgetting about a lot of late-release Barolo from other amazing vintages. Dark, brooding, built for the cellar, but happy to come out and play, the 2008 Elio Grasso Barolo Riserva Runcot ($139) is a great example. Another treat is the highly-anticipated 2006 Alessandro E Gian Natale Fantino Barolo Riserva ($65), which is a true under-the-radar gem that’s guaranteed to rise in popularity and value in the coming years.
Too afraid to buy wine for your wine lover?
Don’t worry; you’re not alone. I understand that it can be intimidating to buy a bottle of wine for someone who spends most of their free time obsessing over it. However, the perfect gift may be right under your nose. Zalto glasses have gained tremendous popularity over the last couple of years, and I myself have joined its following of devotees. Zalto is one of the most elegant glasses you will ever hold in your hand. Each one seems as light as a feather, yet the real attraction is how perfectly they allow the bouquet of each wine sing true. If you’re really unsure, go for the Zalto Universal Glass ($60). However, if you know your gift recipient well, the Bordeaux ($62), Burgundy ($64) or White wine ($58) glasses may be the best way to go.
Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
I really do look forward to this time of year and the creation of my list of the top wines of the year. For one thing, it’s a great feeling to share these discoveries with you, but also because I love to dig through all of my notes from the past year and really think about what I loved about each of those wines. This year to date, I cataloged nearly 650 tasting notes, which is the largest number I have ever written in a year. But what’s even more eye-opening is that I would estimate that I was only able to type about half of the actual hand-written tasting notes that I made this year. In the end, I would go by scores and wines that truly moved me, while the rest remained hand-written. This is unfortunate, but there is only so much time in a day.
That being said, the notes that made it from paper to computer really are the greatest wines I’ve tasted, and so this list is truly fine-tuned to the best of the best. Picking the wines here was not easy, and often I found myself splitting hairs. What I will say is that nearly every wine in this list has been added to my personal cellar. I wholeheartedly believe in each and every one of them.
Categories have changed to a degree, as the average price point has gone up. However, I ask that you truly consider the term “relative value,” as while there is not a single $20 bottle on this list, each wine hits high above its price point. Of course, there is my value wine of the year, as well as a highly recommended wine from off the beaten path.
Lastly, on the point of scoring, I strongly believe that we have witnessed a massive inflation in scores throughout the media. Honestly, it’s a concern of mine as a consumer, as well as a being part of the industry. That being said, I score my wines as I have for the last ten years. My highest scoring wine this year was 98 points (only three wines achieved that score), and in my book, a 90-point wine should be very good, just as a 95-point wine should be amazing. That being said, if a 93- or 94-point score in a Top Wines of the Year list scares you, then you may need to consider point inflation. In the end, the wines listed here are all tremendous examples of their kind.
And so, without further ado, my Top Wines of 2015
Drinking Well Above Their Price Points:
Relative value is a very important thing in the world of wine. Finding a $25 bottle that drinks like a $35 bottle is great, but what’s even better is finding a $65 bottle that drinks like a $100 bottle or a $100 bottle that drinks like it cost $200. That’s what this category is all about. Many of these producers are world-renowned yet still produce an affordable “under the radar” gem in their portfolio, just for the vigilant wine-lover to discover. Others included here are on the verge of discovery. If you’re just building a cellar or looking for some of the best “relative” values to be found, look no further.
Built Like a Skyscraper
One of the most noteworthy wines I tasted this year, the 2012 Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo, is a classic in the making, and I can assure you that I am not alone in this belief. In fact, every person I have tasted this wine with has had the exact same reaction. Borrowing a term from Robert Parker, it is built like a skyscraper. The intensity, purity, structure and balance of this 100% Sangiovese is undeniable. In the $100 price range, you’d be hard-pressed to find a wine with more potential.
2012 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo – The nose was rich with depths of red fruits, yet there was a bright and lifting quality to the fruit which added alluring contrasts. Cherry, crushed strawberry, minerals and hints of spice wafted up from the glass. On the palate, I found wild berry fruit with hints of herbs and cedar, as a wave of acidity pulsed across the senses. The finish showed tremendous length along with imposing structure, yet the fruit remained rich, intense and ever-present. The 2012 Fontodi VdS is now 100% Sangiovese, and it has firmly found its place as one of the top wines of the region. (95 points) @Morrell
The Evolution of Barolo
The price of top-shelf Barolo has gone through the roof. Many of my favorite producers who were once priced in the sub $100 range are now pushing $200-$250. It’s quite sad, but there are still great values to be found if you’re willing to explore and open your mind to new producers. G.D. Vajra should really be a household name of any collector of traditional Barolo, and yet I still find myself introducing them to people for the first time. Vajra, and their Barolo Bricco Delle Viole, have greatly benefitted from global warming as other producers of Barolo have suffered–the reason why being the location and the altitude of their vineyard. Located in the far western edge of the Barolo commune and at a much higher elevation than your average Barolo vineyard, Bricco delle Viole, which was once a feminine and nuanced expression of Nebbiolo, is now turning out some of the top wines in every vintage. This started as far back as 2005, but now the prestige of this location is showing through in a big way. If you’re not already on board with Vajra, then I suggest jumping in as soon as possible, especially at $80 a bottle.
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – Talk about potential. Through a series of events, I was given the opportunity to taste this bottle three times throughout the day, and each taste was better than the one before. At 10am, it was all about intensity and densely-packed fruit laced with minerals and finishing on tannin. At 1pm, it began to open, gaining flesh and nuance as spice, leather, earth and balsamic tones joined the mix. At 5pm, it was a study in elegance. It is still youthful in its tannin but so giving all the same. Gorgeous floral tones and dark red fruits gave way to cedar and minerals. This is a wine for the ages. (95 points) @Morrell
Exploring the “New California”
California has shown that it really can produce world-class Pinot Noir, and much of this has to do with the efforts of Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman. Of course, many great producers have come before them and laid a foundation that led up to today’s “New California” revolution, but the creation of Domaine de la Cote and the wines they are producing today have drawn a line in the sand, and they have shown us all of what this noble variety is capable of in California’s coastal appellations. A study in terroir, picking at ideal ripeness, using whole cluster fermentation, and allowing the purity of Pinot Noir fruit to shine through are just a few of the staples here. These are some of the top Pinots being made in the world today, and the best part is that you don’t need to spend up to the La Côte listed below, because you can get a great example of this producer’s style with their entry-level Santa Rita Hills as well.
2012 Domaine de la Côte Pinot Noir La Côte – The nose was so soft yet intense with depths of ripe dark red fruit, however the profile was more about exotic floral tones and spiced citrus with hints of undergrowth adding brooding depth. The textures on the palate seemed to sweep over the senses like the finest silk, carrying with them refined, focused red fruits, inner floral and earth tones. It was intense and vibrant throughout with a long finish of crushed flowers, tart berry, citrus-rind and earth. (95 points) @Morrell
The Other Great Nebbiolo
Speaking of Barolo, and the prices and level of rarity the best wines are fetching, I’ve found a great outlet to be in the category of Barbaresco. Frankly, it was shortsighted of me to not place more of my Nebbiolo budget in this category before now. The biggest differences you’ll find between Barolo and Barbaresco come from terroir, with Barbaresco generally having a higher content of sand in the soils and the moderating influences of the Tanaro River. This has earned Barbaresco a reputation of being more feminine, but make no mistake, there are dark and brooding Barbaresco just as there are ethereal and finesse varieties. Plus, I’ve yet to witness a 10-20-year-old Barbaresco that wasn’t holding its ground against the best that Barolo has to offer. Enter Sottimano and Andrea Sottimano, who has taken his family property from being considered passible to now being called one of the greatest producers of the region. Much of this has to do with his Burgundian approach to all things from the vineyard to the cellar. There is a small amount of new oak here, but that is a broad statement in the terms of Sottimano. His approach in the winery includes extended macerations, stems and experimentations with barrels and aging. The 2011 Pajore below was mind-blowing. Young to be sure, but worth tasting now on it’s brilliance and purity. This is a great bottle of Barbaresco and worth every penny.
2011 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajore – At first shy on the nose, it blossomed in the glass to reveal dried cherry and tart raspberry fruit, rosy floral notes, and spice, along with hints of sandalwood and balsamic tones developing over time. It was beautifully finessed on the palate with silky, polished textures ushering in tart red berry, leather and spice with minerals lingering long through the structured finish. The Pajore is quite enjoyable now for its layered and radiant bouquet and polished textures, yet it should mature beautifully in the cellar. (95 points) @Morrell
Not Quite Cult Status—Yet
Have you ever heard of the cult wine producer Sine Qua Non? I find that most people have, even though the majority of them have never had a chance to taste this expensive wine of prestigious and exceeding rarity. However, what I was very happy to explore this year were the wines of Maggie Harrison, who spent eight years working and learning at Sine Qua Non before going off on her own to create Lillian. Today, Maggie has garnered considerable attention from the press and consumers, but in the grand scheme of things, these are still quite affordable. Lillian does New World Syrah in serious style. They are gorgeous wines and well worth checking out.
2007 Lillian Winery Syrah – This was just stunning with an intense nose of fresh, ripe black fruits and dark spice which seemed to pull you deeper into the glass. On the palate, it was rich and silky in texture yet perfectly balanced, showing dense layers of red and black fruits, earth, charred meat and sweet herbs. It remained fresh throughout the dark fruit finish with a bitter twang, which added a brilliant finale. (94 points)
The Value of 2005 Bordeaux
Speaking of 2005 Bordeaux once again, the greatest thing about this vintage is how the quality was so high across the entire appellation and in nearly all price points. Kirwan (a third growth) is made in a slightly rustic style, which I find quite attractive. The blend is heavy on Cabernet and Merlot, and it comes from one of the highest altitude parcels within Margaux. The 2005 is just entering its drinking window yet has decades of enjoyment for the patient collector, and the price simply cannot be beat.
2005 Château Kirwan – The bouquet seemed to reach up from the glass with dark red fruits, cedar, intense dusty spice notes, and a rich mix of sweet herbs. On the palate, silky textures gave way to dark fruit, dusty spice, stony minerals and hints of cedar with a coating of tannin contrasted by brisk, mouthwatering acidity, providing a truly enjoyable experience. Nothing seemed out of place, as this finished on dark fruits with hints on tannin. This is perfectly enjoyable now and should continue to evolve for many years to come. (94 points)
A Work of Passion
The only producer who has managed to be mentioned twice in my best of 2015 list, Jean Louis Chave, not only produces one of the top wines of Hermitage but also one of the greatest wines from Saint Joseph as well. They are made from family-owned vineyards which are tended by hand and guided from vine to bottle, the same as their flagship wine, yet at a fraction of the price. Frankly, this has the potential to be the flagship wine, but the fact remains that the Chave family wants the price to remain fair in hopes of showing the world what these vineyards are capable of. It must be tasted to be believed.
2012 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph – The Chave for the rest of us? As a huge fan of Chave Hermitage, but not of the price and decades you need to wait while allowing them to mature, the Chave Saint Joseph is a great alternative. The bouquet displayed layers upon layers of dark fruits, roasted plum, grilled herbs, black earth, charred meats and dark floral tones. On the palate, it was lifted and finessed, but deceiving so, as its fruit intensity came forward with time in the glass. There’s a savory richness to its black fruits, which were strewn with chiseled minerality and inner floral notes. Dark floral tones, bacon fat, and the freshest, ripe cherry fruit you can imagine lingered on the finish. This is a serious wine that’s just waiting to be truly discovered. (94 points) @Morrell
Icons Old and New
Icons of the wine world give us all an example of what every region and producer can strive to be. They are often the most expensive, yet you get what you pay for. There are many wines in the world that fail to impress at their price point, but you won’t find any of those bottles here. These are some of the greatest producers in the world, and their passion and hard work have created a vinous experience like no other.
Vintage of the Century (No, really)
I know that many of us are probably sick of hearing about how great the 2010 vintage was in Brunello di Montalcino, but the fact remains that it was simply outstanding. With that said, I’m not surprised at all to see two Brunello in my best of the best, Icons Old and New. Salvioni being the diehard traditionalist and part of a dying breed, and Stella di Campalto representing the new guard and forward-thinking progressive. Both wines were simply amazing. Money aside, these are the Brunello that I would be buying by the case.
2010 Cerbaiola (Salvioni) Brunello di Montalcino – Revelatory, and possibly the best young Brunello that I’ve had the pleasure to taste, the 2010 Salvioni displayed a multifaceted bouquet of bright red fruits, floral funk and spice which became deeper and richer over time, turning to dark, mulled spices, tobacco and rich fruits. On the palate, it was seamless as it hovered over the senses with sweet and savory cherry fruit, minty herbs and minerals. This went on and on with notes of cherry pit and inner floral tones. It was flat-out gorgeous, getting better with every minute spent in the glass. (98 points) @Morrell
2010 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – Where do I start? What defines a Brunello? For the longest time, I would say a classic structure to age would be a point in the corner of a wine this young, yet here I found such a delicate nature and mesmerizing layers, that I’d find it difficult to leave in the cellar for longer than 5-10 years. Coming across more ethereal Burgundy than Brunello, the Stella di Campalto displayed a highly expressive nose, which seemed to continue opening with each tilt of the glass. There was earth, leather, crushed berries, dried flowers—which turned to deep and lively floral tones over time—as well as a savory toastiness, which wasn’t oak but something rich and warming. On the palate, it was soft, caressing, yet brilliantly focused in its ripe red fruits with sweet spice and herbal tones. The most elegant of tannin wrapped around the senses, yet were never drying. It clung to the palate throughout the finish with saturating dark fruits and fine tannin. (97 points)
Now at the 10-year mark, 2005 Bordeaux has been a big topic of conversation among wine lovers this entire year. Many 1-year retrospective tastings have been organized and finalized, and all with the same outcome—2005 really was a GREAT vintage for Bordeaux. There were certainly higher-scoring wines, but when I consider their cost versus what’s in the bottle, the 2005 Cos d’Estournel takes the cake. This is the 2005 Bordeaux to stockpile in your cellar.
2005 Château Cos d’Estournel – The nose was stunning with deep dark fruits, espresso and minty herbs, sweet berry, then turning almost savory with dark florals, smoke, soil and saline minerals—just gorgeous. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with velvet weight as intense dark red fruits saturated the senses, along with spice, bitter cocoa, sweet herbs, and minerals. The finish was dark, almost haunting, with a coating of tannin enveloped in rich fruit. The 2005 Cos d’Estournel is still incredibly youthful yet worth peeking in on and sure to be amazing for a decade or two to come. (97 points)
Not Just Hype
I’ve always heard about the greatness of Chave Hermitage, but it was only this year that I finally had a chance to witness it. Frankly, I had never experienced a northern Rhone red with this level of depth and bursting at the seams with potential. The best part is that this experience prompted me to dig further and begin exploring the range, which also led to another wine that you’ll see further down in my Best of 2015 List.
2005 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage – The 2005 Chave Hermitage seemed to literally blossom in the glass with a bouquet, which spoke to everything I love about the northern Rhone. Initially it was very much rooted in the earth with dark soil tones, brown stems and herbs, yet it turned deeper and richer with air, as notes of crushed red berry, exotic spice, violet florals, minerals and hints of animal musk lifted from the glass. On the palate, this gave the impression of a never-ending veil of silk being gently pulled across the senses—seamless came to mind. Its dark red fruit gave way to cascading layers of savory herbs and red floral tones as it came to a finish with dusting of mineral-tinged earth. (97 points) @Morrell
Drink Riesling, taste Riesling, collect Riesling, cellar Riesling—and reap the benefits. Can I put it any more clearly? If you still haven’t been turned on to the wonders of Riesling, then you simply need to continue exploring. This category presents a vast range of incredible wines that can easily compete against the greatest white wines of the world. The Keller G-Max happens to be one of the iconic wines of the region, but there is an ocean of great Riesling that can be had for a fraction of the price. That said, cost aside, the G-Max is one of the greatest bottles you can hope to ever taste.
2009 Weingut Keller Riesling G-Max – Words like layered and intense simply do not do this justice. The ’09 G-Max displayed a collage of ripe stone fruits, while hints of brown sugar and honey added depth, then masses of flowers, citrus rind and crushed stone joined the fray. There was so much tension on the palate, as it displayed angular citrus-driven textures, which seemed to explode into riper tropical fruits, spice, and minerals. Tart citrus saturated the senses throughout the finish, offset by tongue-curling acidity and lingering minerality. This is an amazing bottle of Riesling. (97 points)
Off the Beaten Path:
If there’s one lesson that I would wish to teach to every wine lover, it’s that you must be willing to explore. Trust me, I understand the lure of comfort and knowing that a wine I already like will give me pleasure. I also know how disappointing it can be to open a wine that you really don’t appreciate. However, by not exploring, you may end up missing out of some of the world’s greatest wines.
Carole Meredith and Steve Lagier don’t pay much attention to the ever-changing fads in Napa Valley, because they simply don’t need to. Lagier Meredith started as a small project and what probably seemed like a long shot at the time. In 1986, Carole and Steve bought a piece of Napa Valley land, high up on Mount Veeder; a piece of land that it seemed no one else wanted, but what they’ve done with it is amazing. Today, Lagier Meredith is producing some of the most exciting Rhone-inspired wines in California, but the wine that excited me the most at a recent tasting was their Mondeuse.
Mondeuse is a cousin variety of Syrah, which Carole had decided to work with some time ago. Production is tiny, with only 97 cases made in 2012. This wine screams of the Northern Rhone.
2012 Lagier Meredith Mondeuse Noir – The nose showed masses of ripe black fruits, spiced berry, violet floral tones and a hint of wild herbs. On the palate, it displayed rich textures with saturating dark fruits, citrus and spice. The senses seemed to be coated in sappy black fruit throughout the finish yet still with a sensation of balance, as inner floral tones and spice lingered long. (93 points) @Morrell
My Value Wine of the Year:
Yes, it’s Riesling, and for a very good reason. Today’s Riesling producers have shown us that greatness is within reach, as a focus on terroir and the production of dry wines has swept across the region. At $35, the Schäfer-Fröhlich Vulkangestein provides and intriguing bouquet, serious depth, balance and the potential to mature in the cellar. It’s a wine that draws you closer to the glass and satisfies you with every sip. I’ve already added a stash to my cellar.
2014 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Vulkangestein Riesling trocken – The nose was savory and mineral-driven with smoke, crushed stone and cheese rind. On the palate, it was focused and intense, showing lemon-tinged apple and minerals with masses of inner floral tones. It was long and saturating on the finish with tingling acidity, which seemed to touch upon all the senses. (93 points) @Morrell
If you made it this far, then you are truly committed and I thank you. In closing, this year has been an epic rollercoaster of tastings and events. I’ve tasted many of the greatest wines I’ve ever encountered in my life and from nearly every region in the world. That said, my heart still resides in Italy, as I believe it provides some of the best drinking for your money, and wines that can be enjoyed both young and mature. As for this list, I really hope you’ll choose to add some of these wines to your cellar—I assure you that I have already. Enjoy!
Article and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
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