The Cellar Table’s Top Wines of 2016
Somehow this year got away from me. As I sat down to think about a new blog, it suddenly dawned on me–that it’s time for my top wines of 2016.
This year was without a doubt the most epic, diverse and in-depth year for tasting of my entire career. Over the course of the last 11 months, I’ve logged over 800 tasting notes, and that is without transposing the majority of substandard performing wines from paper to computer. What’s more, I still have an entire notebook of tasting notes from my trip to Burgundy this summer, where my tastings of the 2014 and 2015 vintages have yet to be recorded from shorthand. In the end, there’s only so much time in a day and in a year. That said, (with the exception of Burgundy barrel tasting), each and every wine from the daily drinking variety up to the absolute unicorn wine–a once in a lifetime experience–has been recorded.
This year was full of amazing tastings and experiences. Beyond Burgundy, I also traveled to Italy to taste with winemakers and professionals from around the world at Collisioni. I was fortunate to host a number of the world’s top names in wine at multiple dinners and events through Morrell. And of course, there is my local Barolo tasting group, which is one of the best groups of people and collectors that I have ever known. As a group, we were able to assemble a number of epic tastings, including Giuseppe Mascarello, Bartolo Mascarello, plus 1996, 2001, and 2004 vintage retrospectives. All of this has culminated into my top wines of 2016. Every region, every style, and vintages spanning a lifetime were all given a fair shake, and the results are below.
Whenever one of these wines was available, they were added to Morrell’s inventory, but I apologize that some could simply not be acquired. That said, this is a list about my favorite wines of 2016, not my favorite wines that we sell. I have added many of these wines to my own wine cellar and continue to pursue a number of the more elusive items.
Lastly, I want to thank the readers who have reached out and taken the time to extend their gratitude to me over the years. Frankly, it’s often a daunting task to take the time to photograph and take notes on nearly every wine you taste. The desire to sit back and enjoy the simple pleasure of these wines and dinners, without cataloging the finer details, is high. To the readers who have extended their thanks for what I do, I am sincerely in your debt, because without that vote of confidence, I would not be able to do this.
Thank you, and Enjoy!
On to the tasting notes:
There was no question in my mind about this top value white wine. We always hear the comparisons of, this is the white Burgundy of Italy, California, Spain, and on and on. Well, in this case, this really is the White Burgundy of Mount Etna. What Marco De Grazia has achieved with the ‘14 Santo Spirito Bianco is nothing short of magical. To think that this wine only costs $35 is unbelievable. Open this wine, and watch it evolve over the course of hours. You will not be disappointed.
2014 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco Santo Spirito – Another fantastic showing, with a rich display of ripe pear, spring flowers, almond, mineral-tinged citrus and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, I found silky, medium-weight textures with creamy white peach, mango, ripe melon and refreshing acidity. The finish was long, with palate-saturating tropical fruit, kiwi citrus and sweet cream. (94 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!
Since I tasted the 2013 Tiberio Montepulciano in Italy this summer, I kind of knew it would make this list. Frankly, I’d have to work hard to come up with a better quality-to-price ratio wine than this. Most people who know Italian wine know that Montepulciano can be a great value, but Tiberio took it to an all-new level. The purity and sensuality of this wine is undeniable, and to think that it retails at $17. Open it up, give it a short decant, and indulge. I’ve bought it by the case for my own cellar, and I strongly urge you to do the same.
2014 Tiberio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The nose showed rich cherry and forest, woodland notes, with a hint of undergrowth, subtle spice and minerals. On the palate, I found silky, mid-weight textures with saturating, fleshy black cherry, firmed up by a coating of minerals and fine tannin. It finished with dried cherry, licorice and inner dried floral tones. Gorgeous purity. (92 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!
I’ve been talking about Jérôme Bressy for the last two years, and now having tasted many vintages of the the Vaucluse Rouge, I firmly believe that the 2013 may be the best wine he’s ever produced. Jérôme is the mast of the Rasteau, even if his wines are no longer able to be labeled as such by law. However, it doesn’t matter, because his name has gained notoriety over the entire region. If you’re looking for the new up-and-coming Icon of France, you may be looking right at it with a bottle of Gourt de Mautens on the table.
2013 Domaine Gourt de Mautens (Jérôme Bressy) Vaucluse Rouge – It’s not often that I open a note with an enthusiastic “Wow”, but the 2013 Gourt de Mautens deserves such praise. The bouquet opened with an intense display of white pepper, crush mint (or is that basil), rosemary, moist earth and hints of sweet brown spice. On the palate, it was impossibly soft and enveloping to all of the senses, yet vibrant with a display crushed violets, black fruit, and savory olive. Tannins mounted toward the finish, as the wine resonated on peppery spices and a resounding note of black olive. I can’t wait to see where this wine is going over time. (96 points) Coming Soon to Morrell Wine!
And then there’s Burgundy, and this year’s top wine is both exceptional in its quality and an amazing relative value. I say that, because even at $100 a bottle, the 1er Cru La Forest from Dauvissat can run laps around the competition. This is white burgundy at its best and with many years of development in store for us.
2012 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent) Chablis 1er Cru La Forest – The nose was tight, taut and lithe at first, with seashore-inflected mineral tones out front, followed by green apple and hints of lime, yet with time it began to blossom as floral tones arose, along with pear and crushed stone. On the palate, it was a bundle of energy, yet wrapped tight and angular in its youthful state, showing inner floral tones, lemon, apple and saline-minerality. The finish was fresh with vibrancy, lending a last mouthwatering burst of green apple. This was a tremendous experience, having followed the 2012 for an entire day; it simply continued to steadily open more and more. (95 points)
The 2015 vintage in Germany will prove to America that this is a wine-producing country to be reckoned with. While I’m usually a bigger fan of the drier styles of Riesling, there is no denying that the categories of Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese truly excelled in 2012. The property of Donnhoff is one that everyone should know already, and their Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese is easily one of my top wines of the year.
2015 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese – The ‘15 Hermannshohle Spat was off the charts, with a bouquet of spiced florals, sweet sliced apple, crushed stone and hints of fresh ginger. On the palate, it was layered and intense yet still lifted, with saturating notes of lemon curd, spiced apple, minerals and electrifying acidity. It finished fresh and long with lingering notes of citrus and minerals. This wine has decades of development ahead of it. (96 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!
If you love Barolo and haven’t realized that 1999 is quickly becoming one of the greatest vintages of the last 30 years, then now’s the time to start tasting. It’s remarkable to think about how many ‘99s have performed well beyond expectations. As for Bartolo Mascarello, which was tasted in a vertical of Cantina Mascarello, the wine is truly magical.
1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – What a pleasure it was to enjoy the ‘99 once again. It’s a truly great wine in the making. Here I found a bouquet of mineral-infused, dark red berry fruit with hints of sweet herbs and spice. With time, dusty floral tones came to the fore. On the palate, a focused wave of red berry fruit with acid and mineral-driven tenacity splashed against the senses, leaving inner dried floral tones and hints of fine tannin. It finished structured and classic, with tart red fruits and dried spice. This was a gorgeous showing, and it’s a wine that anyone who loves Bartolo must have in their cellar. (97 points)
To all of the Scavino naysayers, you can skip this wine, and leave more for the rest of us. What it comes down to is that the Scavino style has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, yet many people still associate them with the modern stylings of the ‘90s. However, the reality is that they are making some of the best wine in the region today, and the 2010 Rocche dell’Annunziata is a testament to what they can accomplish.
2010 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata – The bouquet was haunting in its mix of dark fruit with sweet and savory herbs. Earth tones, dried roses and crushed stone minerality developed in the glass. On the palate, I found soft and enveloping textures, contrasted by spice and mineral-laden red fruit, tobacco, vibrant acidity, and a coating of sweet tannin that saturated the senses. It finished long and structured, resonating on dried cherry and minerals. This is a gorgeous expression of Rocche dell’Annunziata. (96 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!
It’s no secret that I love Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo. This is a wine that I’ve been collecting for years, yet I seriously wish I had started much sooner. Earlier this year, a group of fellow collectors assembled a massive vertical of Vigna del Sorbo, and the wine of the night was easily the 1999. If you can find it from a good source, this is a world-class wine that is still seriously undervalued.
1999 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo – The ‘99 is classic in every sense of the word. Today it still comes across as young, yet there is a balance of fruit, tannin and acid that makes it seductive and easily enjoyable. The bouquet was pure class, showing haunting dark floral aromatics followed by black cherry, strawberry, spice and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, I found fleshy textures, with a core of sweet tannin and brisk acidity lending vibrancy. Black cherry, spice and minerals were all on display in this perfectly balanced beauty. It finished long and intense, still showing youthful structure and promising years of development down the road. (97 points)
One of my biggest takeaways from tastings in 2016 is that Washington state has really come a long way. This year, I was able to taste through multiple vintages and across a broad spectrum of producers. What I came to find is that California may have a new competitor for our Cabernet spending. What’s even more enticing is how good the entry-level wines are at these estates. The Andrew Will Columbia Valley is a perfect example. I’d be hard pressed to find a better Cabernet for the money.
2014 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon – The ‘14 Columbia Valley Cab is just stunning today. Here I found rich dark fruits and spice cake mixed with wild herbs and floral undergrowth in a truly alluring performance. On the palate, soft textures gave way to exotic spice and hard red candies with a hint of tannin that provided perfect grip. The finish showed a bit of austerity, yet its focused fruit and balance kept things fun and urged me to take another sip. (92 points)
It can often be difficult to justify the prices of new-release cult wines from Napa Valley, but in the case of the 2012 Bond Vecina, I totally get it. Bond has been working hard to establish the importance of terroir throughout their range, and if it’s taught me one thing, it’s that Vecina is my favorite Cru from their lineup. This is a wine of such power, intensity and potential that it’s hard not to start stockpiling it in my own cellar.
2012 Bond Vecina – The nose on the ‘12 Vecina was deep and layered, and it required a bit of coaxing before it sprang to life. Here, I found intense dark red fruit, balanced by dusty earth, wild floral perfumes and stunning minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures delivering formidable weight and tannic clout, as a wave of massive dark fruit swept across the senses, leaving notes of cocoa, dried herbs, and confectionary spice in its wake. The finish was long with notes of tobacco, dark chocolate and sweet herbs. I simply didn’t want this glass to ever empty. The ‘12 Vecina is simply stunning! (98 points)
I was caught completely off guard by the 1986 Murrieta Ygay Gran Reserva Blanco. I had expected it to be an overhyped wine that couldn’t possibly live up to the praise it was receiving–until I tasted it. Make no mistake, it’s quite expensive, but when you consider the amount of time and care that went into creating this wine and how good it truly is, it all starts to make sense.
1986 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial Blanco – There are so many layers and with each tip of the glass, the bouquet seems to change. The hardest part about the ’86 Ygay Blanco is not drinking it too fast. There’s amazing depth on the palate with dense textures, yet vibrant and lifted, playing a sweet-and-sour act on the senses. Minerals, stone fruits, young pineapple, crushed flowers, mushroom, brie, savory herbs…it goes on and on. (97 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!
Top Dessert Wine
To be frank, every time I taste Ben Ryé, I question why I’m not buying it by the case. This is without a doubt one of the greatest dessert wines being made in the world today. If you’ve never tasted one, then you must do whatever it takes to correct that mistake. For what Ben Ryé costs, versus the pleasure it provides, there is no better option.
2008 Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé Edizione Limitata – What an incredible nose, starting with spiced orange, mango, and dried peaches, then turning to dried flowers, exotic spices and honey. On the palate, I found rich, luxurious textures, yet perfectly fresh, with ripe stone fruits, dried orange, clove, allspice, white cherry and hints of mango. It was incredibly long on the finish with notes of raisin, dried peaches, apricot…frankly, you can go on and on and on. (96 points)
Blind tasting is the ultimate equalizer, and nothing proved this to me more than an evening spent with a number of collectors with the theme of “bring one of your best bottles blind”. All of the wines on the table were special, but the ‘85 Haut-Brion was on another level.
1985 Château Haut-Brion – Descriptors are almost meaningless on the ’85 Haut Brion, as the wine was nearly perfect. The nose was dark and rich, showing red and blackberry fruits, smoke, animal musk, minerals and a distinct note of menthol. On the palate, it was like silk drawn across your senses, and it was perfectly balanced with rich dark fruit, inner floral tones, and pronounced saline-minerality. The finish was long with dried cherry, minerals, smoke and hints of spice. This is a drop-dead gorgeous, mature Haut Brion that was hard to put down—and it’s in a perfect place today. (98+ points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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