The Year in Review
Another year of tasting is coming to a close, and as usual I feel an anxiety over listing my top wines before the very end of the year–since many of the best wines come out during the Holidays. However, for the sake of consistency and the ability for readers to try and snatch some of these up before going into full-on Holiday Spending mode, I present my Top Wines of 2017.
As years go, 2017 was a rollercoaster ride of travel and tasting. It got off to a heated start, with Benvenuto Brunello in town at the end of January, as we all worked to understand the challenges and success stories of the 2012 Brunello vintage.
April brought Burdigala to town, with a gala dinner that made me miss the days when the Rainbow room was open full time, as well as a selection of wines from the event that would make anyone a fan of mature Bordeaux. Without any official notes from the event, what I can say, is that magnums of 1975 Chateau Magdelaine were worth waiting for.
From there I was off to Spain, tasting in Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro. This trip was an eye-opening experience, as I took in the colors and diverse culture, which seemed to change with each stop along the way. I don’t believe that I’ve ever eaten so well (maybe in Burgundy), but eating lunch no earlier than 2:30 and dinner at 9 o’clock, did take some getting used to–this was a trip I will not soon forget. From there, it was off to Hungary for an intensive tour and study of Tokaj, its, terroir and history (hint: take a look at my wine of the year). We descended into the vast cellars of the Oremus winery, where over one hundred years of history is on display in bottle.
Back in New York City for June meant that it was time to wrap my head around the 2016 German Riesling vintage, a sleeper year that has turned out a large number of highly enjoyable wines and a surprise invite to attend Antonio Galloni’s 2012 Napa Valley retrospective dinner.
Next was the moment that really defined the year, an unfortunate mountain-biking accident in Acadia National Park that left my elbow fractured and my ego bruised. With a recovery period that was expected to last two months, and preparation for the 2017 Morrell Catalog coming soon, I knew I couldn’t stop. Therefore, it was off to Italy for eleven days at Collisioni (fractured elbow and all). The days were long, but the company was great, as I was once again honored to spend time and taste with the likes of the talented Ian D’Agata, Levi Dalton, Kurtis Kolt, Michele Longo, Michaela Morris, Kirk Peterson, Ruben Sanz Ramiro, Elise Vandenberg and many, many more. It was also at this festival that producers from around the boot came to show their products, taste and talk. It was an experience like no other.
Coming back to the States meant the beginning of the whirlwind tastings that we use to build the inventory that fills our catalog. In some cases, entire days were spent at a tasting table, as myself and our CEO, Jeremy Noye, worked to decide on the wines that we felt were the best to offer our customers through the coming season.
Once catalog production began, tasting slowed, but it was the memory of the many wonderful events this year that kept me going. Of the most memorable was a celebration of forty with a table of talented industry pros as we tasted through an epic lineup of wines produced in 1977 (a birth year we all shared). Plus, what is likely to be one of the most memorable tastings of my life: sitting with Luca Currado of Vietti and my friends from our Vinous tasting group, as we worked through a selection of vintage Vietti that was unlike anything I have ever seen before.
With that, it’s time to talk about the top wines. Out of 850 tasting notes that made it from my notebook to the computer (there are many more that didn’t warrant typing up), only 92 wines were scored 95 points and above. From that, my top wine was scored 98 points (I’ve been known to be conservative with my scores, but my scale has remained the same since the beginning). This was followed by 11 wines with a 97-point score, 26 wines scoring 96 points, and 54 wines scoring 95 points. Having said all of that, I still firmly believe that a solid 88 or 89 on a wine that provides a lot of pleasure is a damn good score.
Top Wines of 2017 by Region
Top Wine from Italy
Yes, It’s a 2013 Barolo, which should come as no surprise. 2013 is one of the best young vintages that I’ve had the chance to taste. There’s a vibrancy to this vintage which is perfectly in contrast to their youthful tannins and depths of fruit. The hard part was picking which 2013 Barolo to list here, considering that four of the 2013s I tasted received a 97-point score. I decided to base my Barolo of the Year on a combination of score, price, and availability. When I looked at it like that, the answer became apparent.
2013 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – The nose showed incredible depth with exotic floral tones, saline minerals, a bit of marine flora, plum, dusty spice and rosy florals. On the palate, I found mineral-laden cherry, cranberry, inner floral tones, exotic spice, and exquisitely fine tannin. The finish was long, long, long with masses of inner floral tones and dried berries. This wine has a long life ahead of it, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going. (97 points) — Find it at Morrell
Top Wine from California
The opportunity to taste the best of the best from Napa’s highly-acclaimed 2012 vintage added a large number of high-scoring wines to my list–and also a few disappointments. However, the highs were incredibly high, and no wine wowed me more than the Kapcsándy Family Cabernet from the State Lane Vineyard.
2012 Kapcsándy Family Winery Cabernet State Lane Vineyard – What a pleasure it was to taste the Kapcsándy Grand Vin. Here I found a gorgeous and lively display of red berries, dusty soil and minerals, followed by blueberry skins. It was bright, yet focused and intense, reminding me of picking and eating fresh, ripe strawberries. On the palate, I found velvety textures with a mix of tannin and acid adding angular grip, as tart red fruits saturated the senses. The finish was long and seamless, as dark berry tones lingered with hints of wild herbs and sweet tannin. (97 points)
Top Wine from France
Other than three Grand Cru Burgundies, my top-scoring French wine of the year is a wine that I’ve tasted three times so far, and each time with a consistent score. I could have easily listed DRC from the recent release event or Mugneret-Gibourg, but when it comes to a wine that offers the most pleasure, the ability to age, and is affordable for us mere mortals, I went with my 96 point-scoring Gourt de Mautens.
2013 Gourt de Mautens (Jérôme Bressy) Vaucluse Rouge – Tonight’s ’13 Gourt de Mautens was yet another great bottle, and as usual, not what you would expect from this wine. Gone is the dark veil of black fruit which is usually expressed in its youth. Here I found an exotic mix of spicy herbs, cracked pepper, smoke, violets, crushed stone and sweet plum. On the palate, I was treated to a vibrant expression with silky textures offset by mineral-laden blackberry and cherry, violette florals coming through from its bouquet, and with exotic herbs. It finished fresh with a twang of vibrant acidity, hints of tannin and tart blackberry…. Oh, and don’t forget those violet florals. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous wine. (96 points) — Find it at Morrell
Top Wine from Spain
I went to Spain and back this year, but in the end, my Spanish wine of the year came to me, hand-delivered by Jesus Barquin himself. I must admit that understanding Sherry has been something of a challenge over the years for me, but the wines that are now being produced under the Equipo Navazos label have really opened my eyes. The La Bota de Oloroso #78 is a wine for meditation, one which trumps nearly anything you might put against it. This is a Sherry to seek out–you will not regret it.
Equipo Navazos Sherry La Bota de Oloroso “Bota NO” nº 78 – The Oloroso #78 was drop-dead gorgeous, with a stunning bouquet of fig, dried flowers, apple, pear, and dusty baking spices with a mix of cedar wood, walnut, and bakers chocolate. On the palate, it was amazingly soft but with tremendous drive and verve, stimulating acidity and notes of roasted nuts, butterscotch, spice orange rind, dried cherry, and saturating mineral tones. The finish went on and on and on. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be a follow-up to this wine. (97 points) — Coming Soon at Morrell
Top Wine from Germany
I’m sorry to say that my top German of the year is not a 2016, but that’s not to say that I’m not loving the vintage. What’s more, it only further emphasizes how good the 2015 really is. These are wines of so much power and complexity that I can only imagine what they will one day mature into. In addition, the barrel aging that is done at von Winning adds a richness to their mineral-intense style that I find to be very attractive. Stockpiling the best of the 2015 vintage will pay dividends for decades to come, and this would be a great place to start.
2015 von Winning Forster Pechstein Riesling GG – The nose was intense and reaching from the glass with rich apple, crushed stone minerality, floral undergrowth, and hints of lime. On the palate, I found soft-weighty textures with ripe lime citrus, herbs and inner florals. It’s so rich yet with tremendous energy. The finish was pleasantly ripe and soft yet packed with energy and mouthwatering acidity–drying out over time. This wine is poised for greatness. (96 points) — Find it at Morrell
Top Wine from Austria
Here’s a region that continues to gain popularity, and space in my cellar. If you’re a fan of Riesling but haven’t been checking in on the Wachau, then you are seriously missing out. The wines of Franz Hirtzberger carry a richness that is perfectly offset by the stunning acidity and minerality created by the loess soils of Austria. They are a pleasure to drink and mature beautifully over time.
2012 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel – The nose is so intense yet also finessed and wonderfully fresh, with baked apple, pear, sweet cream, and yellow flowers, then turning savory with a mix of chive, ginger and minerals. On the palate, weighty textures were lifted by intense minerality, spice and zesty acidity with green apple, young pineapple and a cascade of inner florals. A coating of minerals and stone fruit concentration lasted long on the senses. This was so dense but with so much energy, like a bomb aching to explode. (95 points) Sold Out
Top Wines of 2017 by Catagory
We all love bubbles, but if there’s one thing that getting into this industry has done for me, it’s given me the insight to understand the diverse expressions of Champagne and what I really like about them. The Larmandier-Bernier Les Chemins d’Avize falls right into my sweet spot. Biodynamic practices, micro-parcel vinification, aging in neutral Austrian oak and extremely low dosage makes for a beautiful combination.
2010 Larmandier-Bernier Grand Cru Les Chemins d’Avize – The nose was remarkably pretty, showing sweet florals with notes of apple, herbs and crushed stone. On the palate, I found soft, caressing textures complemented by soothing bubbles with ripe apple, spice and hints of lime. The finish was long with lingering ripe apple and hints of spice. This was so elegant and pleasing yet refreshing on the palate, I simply didn’t want to put it down. Wow! (95 points) — Find it at Morrell
My Top Pinot Noir
To be fair, I left top-shelf Burgundy out to arrive at my top Pinot Noir of the year, and I’m glad that I did, because the wine I picked is one that I believe every Pinot lover should get to know. We watch as Oregon’s potential is only starting to be realized. Producers from around the world are staking their claims here, and the old guard is finally looking more to terroir. Among the new wave of producers, we find Kelley Fox. Kelley is an infectiously passionate winemaker who believes in creating the most natural product possible. The results are wines that truly speak of terroir first–and her vineyard sources are speaking loud and clear. The entire portfolio is fantastic, but the Red Barn Blocks really stole my heart.
2014 Kelley Fox Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard Red Barn Blocks – The Kelley Fox Red Barn Blocks displayed a bouquet of mineral-infused cherry, with herbal hints of mint and sage, black pepper, and dusty dried flowers. On the palate, I found soft, caressing textures–much lighter than velvet, yet just as soft–with ripe black cherry, raspberry, plum, hints of subtle spice and brisk, energizing acidity. It finished fresh, floral and almost mouthwatering with lingering ripe red fruits. This is so pure and a completely honest wine with tons character. (95 points) Sold out! — 2015 just arrived at Morrell
It was a joy to taste the ‘89 Vietti Rocche again this year, as it’s proven over time to be one of my favorite bottles of Barolo of all time. I’m sure that tasting it with Luca at the table helped to further increase my enjoyment, but in the end, it’s simply one of the most classic expressions of the region, vineyard and vintage that I have ever encountered. If you find one that’s been stored properly, price should not be an obstacle; it’s one of the top wines ever created at Vietti.
1989 Vietti Barolo Rocche – If I was asked to pinpoint a Vietti Rocche vintage which I believed was the best current expression of the wine that you could find, it would be the 1989, and this night was no different. Here I found a bouquet of dried cherries and plums, with sweet floral tones, crushed stone and hints of cedar. On the palate, it was silky soft and so pure with an impeccably balanced display of red berries, earth, rosey inner florals, minerals and hints of fine tannin. The finish was long, with fine tannins that have only recently softened enough to complete the experience, as lingering notes of dried cherry, earth tones and roses carried on for almost a full minute. It was an absolute joy to taste. (97 points)
My Top Sangiovese
I had to give Sangiovese its own section, because after Nebbiolo, it’s my favorite grape. However, my highest scoring Sangiovese this year surprised me. It’s no secret that I love Fontodi, but I usually find the most pleasure from their Vigna del Sorbo or straight Chianti Classico. However, this year I was treated to a Flaccianello vertical, which is a wine that I typically find too powerful and oak-influenced. To my surprise, it was one of my top tastings of the year, and it shows how Flaccianello can not only handle the oak, but also use it to create a beautifully mature expression.
2006 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve IGT – The 2006 was a dark and beautiful beast, with ripe black cherry, dark wood tones, plum, sweet florals and spice, as it seemed to gain richness the longer it spent in the glass. On the palate, I found a soft and silky expression with ripe black fruit in the foreground, leading to spices and sweet herbs. The finish was long, with fine tannin coating the senses, yet never overwhelming due to a gorgeous display of mint, orange peel and sweet herbs. Anyone who has the 2006 in their cellar should be quite happy with what’s in store for them down the road. (97 points) Find it at Morrell
My Top Bordeaux
I’m not surprised that my top wine from Bordeaux was shown at the Burdigala dinner. The wines that came out that night were absolutely amazing and would make a Bordeaux collector out of anyone who had the chance to taste them. Although the 1975 Chateau Magdelaine was the most memorable wine of the evening, it ended up being the 1989 La Conseillante that topped my list from a scoring perspective. Both wines are worth seeking out.
1989 Château La Conseillante – This was absolutely gorgeous, but still so young. The nose was dark and soil driven, yet became fresher adding mint, dried orange peel and savory cherry. On the palate, I found silky textures with zesty acids and dark red fruits, before still-youthful tannins reasserted themselves. The finish was long with saturating dark fruits, spice, herbs and cleansing acidity. (96 points)
Top Value (Best bang for your buck)
There is a lot of pleasure to be found in 2016 Riesling, especially from the top producers, which is how we arrive at Peter Lauer. The Lauer portfolio is easily one of the highlights of the vintage, and when you taste the Riesling Senior, you’ll understand why. It’s hard to comprehend that this is one of the entry-level wines of the estate. Here I find the intensity of the Lauer style mixed with soft textures of the vintage and a hint of sweetness that completes the package. It’s simply stunning, and at an average price of $27 per bottle.
2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Senior Faß 6 – Here I found wonderful inner florals with savory spice and lemon tones. It displayed great density for the vintage with rich textures offset by saline-minerality, ripe apple and zesty acidity. The finish was long with gorgeous inner floral tones and hints of citrus. (92 points) — find it at Morrell
My Top-Scoring Wine of the Year
From Hungary, I was introduced to Oremus and their epic Eszencia. I will admit that I am not a fan of dessert wines, but Eszencia transcends the boundaries of wine and pure experience. Tasting the 2006 made my heart skip a beat, as I stared at the glass wondering how a wine could both smell and taste this good. It was perfectly in balance with a core of acidity that added remarkable freshness, and although the legend has it that all you need is spoonful, it’s hard to stop at one glass.
2006 Oremus Tokaji Eszencia – The 2006 Eszencia is still a total game changer. The nose was absolutely stunning with dried flowers, bergamot, dried pear, peach, orange peel and candied ginger. On the palate, a wave of weighty silk flooded the senses and saturated everything it touched with a sweet and savory mix of dried citrus fruits, saline minerality and exotic spice. Stunning acidity contrasted its 524 grams per litre of sugar, almost hiding all of its sweetness and making for a remarkably fresh experience. (98 points) Coming Soon at Morrell
Top-Scoring Wine of the Year – 2006 Oremus Tokaji Eszencia (98 points)
Top Wine from Italy – 2013 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole (97 points)
Top Wine from California – 2012 Kapcsándy Family Cabernet State Lane Vineyard (97 points)
Top Wine from Spain – Equipo Navazos Sherry Oloroso “Bota NO” nº 78 (97 points)
Top Vintage Barolo – 1989 Vietti Barolo Rocche (97 points)
Top Sangiovese – 2006 Fontodi Flaccianello IGT (97 points)
Top Wine from France – 2013 Gourt de Mautens (Jérôme Bressy) Rouge (96 points)
Top Bordeaux – 1989 Château La Conseillante (96 points)
Top Wine from Germany – 2015 von Winning Pechstein Riesling GG (96 points)
Top Wine from Austria – 2012 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel (95 points)
Top Champagne – 2010 Larmandier-Bernier Grand Cru Les Chemins d’Avize (95 points)
Top Pinot Noir – 2014 Kelley Fox Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard Red Barn Blocks (95 points)
Top Value – 2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Senior Faß 6 (92 points)
So there you have it. In a way it’s sad to make a list like this, because it reminds me of how many great wines were tasted that couldn’t be mentioned here. However, anyone can easily view all of my notes on Cellar Tracker. Also make sure to keep an eye out for any tasting moments in the next few weeks that may deserve a place on this page.
Until Next Year!