Plus A Year in Review
It’s crazy to think that 2018 is coming to a close. When I sat down last year to review 2017, I remember thinking that it was a rollercoaster of a year that would be impossible to beat. However, here I am looking back on another year, and in all honesty, it makes me tired even thinking about it. That’s not to say that 2018 wasn’t a good year; in fact, quite the contrary, yet it was also a non-stop, pedal-to-the-metal kind of year that was so busy and action-packed that it seemed to go by like no other year that I can remember.
First and foremost, I was amazed to look back at the amount of tasting notes that I penned in 2018–literally 1,123–and there is still one week left. Prior to 2018, my record for a year’s tasting notes was 895. The uptick this year was the result of a conscious effort that I made to get more notes out of the notebook and into my Cellar Tracker (a website and tool that I highly suggest for wine lovers). In the end, this means a lot more to choose from when counting down my top wines of the year, but also the ability to make more informed decisions on the go. For an entire list of all of my tasting notes, you can check out my account on Cellar Tracker.
Back to 2018
Thinking back to the beginning of the year, what struck me most was how everyone seemed to be pushing for things to happen earlier than in years past. What this created was a pressure-cooker of tastings that took place in the first few months. However, I really have no complaints about the first tasting of the year, as La Pizza Fresca and Levi Dalton invited me to assist with A study of Falletto di Serralunga; in other words: Bruno Giacosa. We poured and tasted both white and red labels from 1998 through 2007. As payment for my help, I was able to enjoy dinner and the wines with the group. This was an epic tasting, being able to taste these great wines, and from multiple bottles–truly a once in a lifetime experience.
From there I jumped right back into the fray with my first of two tastings this year of Vega Sicilia. In this case, it was a tasting of the new vintages at Il Buco (a restaurant that I can’t recommend highly enough, and make sure to get the steak to share!!!). The 2006 Unico was a tremendous standout, and it ended up as one of my highest-scored wines of the year. Granted, it’s still a baby, but the potential in the bottle was undeniable.
Two Weeks of Non-Stop Tasting
This is when things got crazy, with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, Benvenuto Brunello, Louis Jadot 2016 Vintage Preview, Rieslingfeier and La Festa del Barolo all taking place within two weeks of each other.
Seriously, I don’t know how I got through, other than the fact that these all presented an amazing selection of wines to taste. Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux featured the newly released 2015s, which are variable across the region, yet a stunning year for a number of producers. Benvenuto Brunello showed the highly-anticipated 2013 Brunellos, which didn’t disappoint, and the beautiful 2015 Rosso di Montalcinos. Soon after, Frederic Barnier, the technical director of Louis Jadot, guided us through a remarkable showing of terroir along with a detailed explanation of the 2016 vintage, where success came down to harvest dates.
Rieslingfeier was… well, Rieslingfeier. This is an event that’s hard to encapsulate into words, with rare vintage Riesling and unicorn wines appearing one after another. It was also an honor to be sitting at the Peter Lauer table with Florian Lauer. Florian doesn’t have much of a stock of back vintages, which is apparently public knowledge, and so a good number of Reisling collectors decided to share rare wines that had been produced in the days of his father.
Then there was La Festa del Barolo, a favorite event of mine year after year. However, this year it was even more exciting, because the master class featured the 2013 vintage. Granted, many of these wines were already sold out by the time this tasting took place, yet it confirmed just how great 2013 was as a vintage. Attendees left this event searching for the wines. For me, the biggest takeaway was how close in quality many of the “good” or up-and-coming producers were to the “great” producers–the best example being Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate versus Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate.
Next up was my first of two vertical tastings this year with Francesco Rapaccioli of Canalicchio di Sopra. The first tasting was held at Maialino (a must-visit restaurant in NYC and one of my all-time favorites), and showcased vintages from 1998 through 2013. The second tasting, which actually took place this November, was held at Marea and covered 1995 through 2014. With two opportunities to taste these wines in one year, I feel secure in saying that Canalicchio di Sopra deserves all of the attention they’ve been receiving lately.
It’s amazing what this winery has accomplished in only a small amount of time. If you go back to only ten years ago, the wines were considered good but far from great, yet today, Canalicchio di Sopra stands among Montalcino’s elite.
For the Barolo and Barbaresco Lover
One thing I knew from the start of 2018 was that our “Vinous” Barolo tasting group would be doing some Barolo retrospectives, as we always like to look back on the wines 10, 20 and even 30 years post vintage. This year, we managed to do 2008 and 1998, which were both great tastings. With the 2008 Retrospective, we found a young vintage that’s built on tremendous energy and spicy, zesty fruit. The wines already show a level of approachability due to their high acidity, yet they will continue to age beautifully. If you don’t already own some, look for G.D. Vajra’s Bricco delle Viole, which was easily the best QPR (quality-price-ratio) wine of the event.
As for the 1998 Retrospective, I was honored to welcome Ian D’Agata to our table at Ai Fiori (another must-try NYC restaurant that is easily in my top three). Ian literally came directly from the airport to join us and taste. As for the vintage, it’s a year that I don’t own many bottles from, because they have been drinking great for so long now. However, I do regret that I didn’t buy more. 1998 may not be considered one of the greatest years for the region, but it was a solid performer, and for the most part, the wines are holding up beautifully. There were some surprises and some letdowns, yet this tasting will forever be listed among my favorites, especially since we were able to enjoy it with Ian, who couldn’t help but give us a litany of invaluable information on the wines as we tasted them. Here, the wine that impressed the most was surprisingly the Vietti Barolo Brunate, which I only say “surprisingly” because it was produced at a very different and more modern-leaning time for Vietti. The Brunate showed all of the calling cards of this great vineyard along with the dark richness of the vintage, which was beautiful to enjoy.
Then there was Giuseppe Mascarello, with a vertical tasting of Monprivato from 1979 through 2013. I must point out that I was humbled by the amount of great Barolo that was available for me to taste this year. The Mascarello tasting was eye-opening, with Elena Mascarello present to taste with us and talk. This also inspired me to write my deep-dive on Monprivato, and how the family has evolved along with the vineyard over the decades, “Whatever Happened To Mascarello Monprivato“. It’s no secret that this wine comes across as very different today than it has in the past, now showing much more lifted, pretty and feminine. The standout here was the remarkable 2006 Barolo Monprivato, which to me seemed to be the last year of the old-style expression; it also happened to be one of my highest-scored wines of the year.
On the Road… Again
Which brings me to this year’s travel, which spanned nearly the entire month of June, with just a small pitstop back home for Father’s Day before flying back out. I even went to the extent of putting myself on a European sleep schedule to help with the back and forth.
My travels started in Bordeaux, touring with the who’s who of the region. This was my first time in Bordeaux, making it a non-stop overload of information, sights, tastings and meeting new faces. When I think back to the most impactful moments of the trip, the first thing that comes to mind is how laid-back and welcoming most of the Bordelaise can be. I for one didn’t expect this, as it’s hard to know what to expect when visiting this region full of Grand Chateaux and wines that seldom cost below $100. As for events that stood out, hands down it was dinner with Bruno Borie of Ducru-Beaucaillou, who actually cooked for my group, that ranks as first place. What’s more, I happened to be there on my birthday, which prompted Bruno to open a 1976 magnum. Granted, my birth year is 1977, yet as he explained, ‘77 was a very bad year for Bordeaux, and so he would instead open a “conception” year wine. The food was amazing, as were the wines, and there were more standouts than I can recount.
Another magical moment was our visit to Leoville Las Cases for a tasting and lunch with Monsieur Delon himself. This tasting featured a number of back vintages which seemed to appear out of nowhere. Forgive me for not taking detailed notes during this event, but it was simply a sensory overload of amazing moments.
I will remark on one sad thing about my Bordeaux trip, and that was how I managed to lose ten pounds while there. Unfortunately, Gluten Free doesn’t translate well in Bordeaux, and if you share my issues with Celiac, I highly recommend establishing the importance of your diet with whoever organizes your trip.
Next it was off to Italy with two stops. The first was in the gorgeous region of Monferrato, where I was spending time with producers of Barbera, Ruche, Grignolino and Friesa. This is a region of Piedmont that’s positioned to go far, as Barolo and Barbaresco continue to rip up their plantings of these “lesser” varieties while they make way for more Nebbiolo. It was fantastic, especially to realize the value offered by these wines and producers. Keep in mind that Monferrato has its own diverse terroir, and some of it is very special. In this region, they use the best locations for Barbera and Ruche, creating wines that are in some cases far superior to their competition. If you’re not already familiar with the town of Nizza, put it on your map.
Next was my annual visit to Barolo to attend this year’s Collisioni festival. This is now the third year that I’ve attended the event, and it still hasn’t gotten old. Nowhere else can you taste such a wide spectrum of Italian wines, often with the producer in attendance, and in a seated environment. When I talk about the abundance of tasting notes that I was able to collect this year, much of it had to do with having the ability to sit and taste with my laptop on the table at Collisioni. This was also the year that I decided that I would spend a lot more time hiking (literally hiking) through the vineyards. What more, this trip gave me the opportunity to visit with a number of my favorite producers.
I was able to walk Bric del Fiasc with Elisa Scavino and taste through her cellar, which is full of surprises and gems that will be released over the next few vintages. Tasting with Lorenzo Scavino at Azeila was equally impressive, yet here it was the 2015s from bottle that wow’d me, along with a guest visit by Silvia Altare to show me some gorgeous wines, which included the brilliant 2012 Cerretta Riserva.
Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any better, a stop of Giacomo Conterno provided the opportunity to taste with Roberto, going through upcoming vintages of Monfortino, Cascina Francia and the incredibly rare Arione barrels. Heading off from there, I hooked up with Luca and Elena Currado of Vietti, retasting their atypical 2014s (some of the best wines of the vintage), as well as the sexy 2015s and utterly classic 2016s from barrel. Frankly, Vietti is without a doubt my desert island producer.
Lastly, it was visiting Luca Roagna that completed my day, as he literally ran me around the Pira vineyard as I watched him digging in the soil, pulling out flowers, herbs and all forms of organic materials for me to smell and sift through. Our run ended with a tasting of the unbelievably good 2013s, and a vertical, believe it or not, of Crichet Paje Barbaresco. Let’s just say that I was floored by the generosity, hospitality and wonderful experiences that I was allowed to share with each of these producers. Fans of Barolo have so much to look forward to in the next few vintages, as the region has truly entered a golden age.
Home Again Means Catalog Time
And suddenly, I was back to the States after a month of traveling Europe and living on their schedule. Coming home also meant that it was time to start work on Morrell’s annual catalog, which is a serious labor of love. As always, we look to outdo the previous year’s work, and I’d like to think that I accomplished that. The catalog was a work that spanned from mid-July to mid-October, nearly enveloping every free moment of time. I’m sure this has a lot to do with how fast these years appear to fly by, with three months spent tasting, confirming placements and deliveries, and then writing about and photographing it all. When it’s done, the whole world suddenly feels like a brighter place, and every step I take feels significantly lighter. The 4th edition of the Morrell catalog is available, a work I am very proud of, and if you don’t already have one, please reach out and let me know.
‘Tis The Holiday Season
Which brings us to the holidays, and ultimately the final weeks of December, as I sit here and think back on the year. To list every great event would be impossible, but I think I did a pretty good job of summarizing. In between all this were a number of great tastings with my Barolo group, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime tasting with friends in November, where we were able to put the 1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda (a total unicorn wine and my highest-scored wine of the year at 99 points!) against the extremely limited 2014 Ester Canale Barolo Vigna Rionda. Fete du Champagne deserves recognition, yet my favorite wine from the event happened to be a 1990 Chave Hermitage, and not a Champagne. And, of course, Morrell’s annual Magnum Bash, which is a party for staff and customers that always brings out some of the year’s best wines.
In closing, 2018 is a year that I will never forget, but more for the non-stop intensity than any one single moment. However, through it all, I’d say that I enjoyed more great wines than any year prior. Looking at my tasting notes, I scored 1 wine at 99 points, 4 wines at 98 points, 20 wines at 97 points, 46 wines at 96 points, and an amazing 100 wines at 95 points. You can imagine that building this list was not easy, but also keep in mind that I don’t only go by score. My hope is to present you with a list of wines that you may be able to find and afford, not just a bunch of unicorns to hunt for.
Top Wines of 2018 by Region
Top Wine from Italy
It’s extremely rare that I find the most highly-rated wines to live up to the hype, but that’s exactly what happened with the 2013 Castello Dei Rampolla d’Alceo. I may not have been able to bring myself to score as high as Antonio Galloni’s 100 points, but this wine sure came close. Castello dei Rampolla is a Tuscan property that I have followed for years, but usually through their Chianti Classico, which is a benchmark for the category. This property is forward-thinking, organic, focused on terroir and always willing to experiment. The most exciting part will be watching this wine evolve over the decades, because it’s just a baby today.
Castello dei Rampolla d’Alceo 2013 – The nose was dark with haunting blue violet florals up front, giving way to crushed blackberry, black cherry, brown spice, licorice, sweet minerals, and hints of spiced orange. On the palate, I found silky, enveloping textures, giving way to depths of dark red fruits, as acid-driven spices and minerality slowly gave way to fine young tannin. A twang of wild herbs added depth to the finish, segueing into a complex web of tannin, showing hints of dried blackberry and cherry, with lingering minerals and spice tones. I can’t say for sure if this will be a 100-point wine one day, but tonight it’s damn close. (98 points)
Top Domestic Wine
This year I was able to taste a lot of great wines from the United States. I couldn’t be happier with the way that vineyard practices have changed, along with the new emphasis on cooler locations, which has resulted in outstanding purity and balance. Unfortunately, many of my top-scoring wines happen to come with some pretty high price tags, and so I thought hard about what I felt was my top domestic wine that delivered the goods without costing an arm and a leg. In the end, it came down to two.
From the Sonoma Coast, I chose the Peay vineyards Syrah, which if you closed your eyes, took a sniff, and taste, would transport you to the Northern Rhone. I spent a night with my nose in this glass, loving it for all of its black fruit and smoky spice. Seriously, if you love Syrah but have been disappointed by what you found domestically, give Peay a shot.
Peay Vineyards Syrah Les Titans 2014 – The nose showed crushed blackberry up front with dark earthy minerals, sweet herbs, crushed violets, and smoke. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures with masses of black fruit offset by saline-minerality with energizing acidity, as inner purple floral tones and sweet herbs filled the senses. It finished remarkably fresh and long on peppery dark fruits, sweet herbs and lasting mineral tones. (94 points)
Next we go to one of my favorite wine regions in the states, and that is the Santa Cruz Mountains, to revisit a benchmark producer that just can’t help but put seriously good juice in a really affordable bottle–and that’s Ridge.
These days, the Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon estate comes 100% from the Monte Bello vineyard, which also produces their flagship wine. However, while Ridge Monte Bello takes decades to mature, the Cabernet estate delivers the goods already, yet it has an easy decade of evolution in store for the patient collector. I’ve loved this wine many times in the past, but the 2015 is simply on another level.
Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2015 – The nose was wonderfully dark and floral, showing savory spices, crushed red and black berries, wild herbs, violets, and crushed stone minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by firm, youthful structure, showing notes of mineral-infused red berries, savory herbal tones, dark spices and inner florals. The finish was wonderfully long, as youthful tannin tugged at the senses, while tart berry tones slowly faded. (94 points)
Top Wine from France
I truly hope that you can still find my top wine from France, because I know that Morrell sold out once the staff had a chance to taste it for themselves and relay the information to their clients. I’ve talked a lot about the 2016 vintage in the Southern Rhone, as it’s a vintage that really has lived up to the high scores that the critics bestowed upon it. However, I was totally floored by my tasting of the 2016 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This traditionally-styled producer has been fine-tuning things in the winery and vineyards for the last few vintages, and apparently it was just in time for 2016. They have always represented great value, but in 2016, it’s gone beyond anything I’ve ever tasted from here. There are a lot of wines to love from the Rhone in 2016, but if you can get your hands on the Le Vieux Donjon, don’t hesitate.
2016 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape – The nose was lifted and zesty with ripe strawberry and spiced dusty floral tones up front, giving way to asian spices with marine-inspired minerality, and finally, crushed violet candies. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures which seemed to envelope the senses with purple-tinged florals and fleshy strawberry fruit, balanced by brisk acidity, as notes of violet pastille and masses of exotic inner florals resonated throughout–like sweet liquid violet florals. A mix of tannin and fruit extract seemed to collect on the senses, caking them with purple floral-tinged minerality on the long dark fruit finish. I was able to follow this wine over six hours, and with each new pour, it gained in complexity–wow. (96 points)
Top Wine from Spain
Welcome to the new Ribera del Duero, and one of the most interesting and unique wines that I’ve tasted in a long time. The producer is Dominio del Aguila, and the wine is their 2014 Riserva. Dominio del Aguila is doing things in Ribera that I had not experienced prior to tasting the wines, and while the Riserva isn’t cheap, it performs at a level well above its price point. What’s more, I was able to watch this wine evolve over the course of an entire day, and it simply got better and better. What’s the difference between other Ribera wines? It’s a combination of elevation and soils, along with using only local grape varieties and neutral wood in the cellar–in other words, completely different from what most other producers are doing.
Dominio del Águila Ribera del Duero Reserva 2014 – The nose was dark with savory minerals up front, crushed stone and animal musk, as peppery herbal tones emerged. On the palate, I found silky textures, yet energetic, with saturating dark blue and red fruits, smoky crushed stone, ashen-earth, sweet herbal and spice tones. The finish was long, displaying masses of lingering minerals, marine-inspired florals, building tannin and fresh woodland berries. This wine took three hours to really open up, but it was well worth the wait. (95 points)
Top Wine from South America
This year, I’ve added South America in place of Germany. I’m sorry to all of the Riesling fans, but 2018 simply wasn’t the year for me to throw my opinions around, because there weren’t enough opportunities to taste. That said, what I was able to taste were some fantastic wines from South America, making the decision of which one to feature here quite difficult.
In the end, the wine I picked was one that really surprised me when I first tasted it, not just because of the region, but also the variety. The country is Chile, from the Casablanca Valley, and the variety is Pinot Noir from the producer, Montsecano. I kid you not when I say that this is like no Pinot Noir you have ever tasted. The Montsecano winery is made up of terroir fanatics, who want you to taste and smell nothing other than the earth and the varietal in the glass. The 2014 Pinot does just that. There’s so much depth and minerality to be found, it simply keeps you coming back to the glass over and over.
Montsecano Pinot Noir 2016 – The nose was dark, earthy and intense with crushed stone minerality, smoke, and moist soil tones up front, as masses of black raspberry and savory spice developed in the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures, showing floral-infused raspberry and black cherry with saline-minerals, zesty spice and acidity, adding vibrancy while grippy tannins firmed up the experience. The finish was long with tart depths of red and black fruits, spice and framed by grippy tannin. The ‘16 Montsecano really caught me by surprise; what an amazing bottle of terroir-driven Pinot. (95 points)
Top Wines of 2018 by Category
To pay some credit where credit is due, and for those that think less regional and more varietal, I’ve also listed some of my top wines by category. Enjoy!
My Top Champagne
As much as I love cheering on the “little guy”, I still must give credit where credit is due, and Taittinger, for as big as they are, have really come a long way to make the Comtes de Champagne a serious contender in the world of fine wine. Here there is power, grace, and the ability to mature for decades in the cellar, yet all for a relatively reasonable price. Yes, $148 isn’t cheap, but when you consider that cost against the top houses and scoring Champagne, it suddenly doesn’t look that bad.
Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 2007 – The 2007 Comtes de Champagne has everything I ever wanted from this cuvee: energy, tension, fruit, minerals and depth. The nose was intense with lifting minerality and dried florals up front, followed by yellow apple and hints of saline-gingery spice. On the palate, it showed its youth and its structure, with sizzling acidity up front followed by young stone fruits giving way to savory herbal and saline-mineral tones. The finish seemed to go on and on, lingering on dried yellow fruits, hints of dusty earth and lingering acids. This needs time to settle down, yet it will be amazing once it does. (95 points)
My Top Pinot Noir
The fact is that the Pinot Noir of today is very different than from only five years ago, and I’ll go as far as saying that it applies to Burgundy as well. Today they are fresher, more energetic and show fantastic purity of fruit. My top Pinot of the year happens to be a Burg, and a producer that I wish I had found out about sooner, Domaine Arlaud. Arlaud is Organic-Biodynamic and focused on terroir above all else. However, don’t worry, because prices have yet to skyrocket here to “Burgundy” prices, especially for this Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin. That said, if you still don’t want to pay up, there’s no harm in looking to Arlaud’s village-level wines either.
Domaine Arlaud Charmes-Chambertin 2016 – The nose was dark with crushed stone minerals up front, giving way to hints of animal musk, followed by exotic floral and herbal tones, black cherry and spice. On the palate, I found silky, elegant textures with pure ripe black cherry fruits, mixed with minerals and spice, as inner florals created lift. The finish was wonderfully long and pretty with lingering spiced cherry, hints of savory herbs and grippy tannin. (95 points)
My Top Sangiovese
Somehow, this year’s top Sangiovese happens to be another 2006 (just like last year), but this time it’s from Montalcino, and the producer who seems to be turning heads from every direction, Canalicchio di Sopra. The best part about the 2006 Brunello di Montalcino from Canalicchio is that it is only just entering its drinking window. There are easily two more decades of positive evolution ahead of this wine. Beware, though, as prices have been rising, especially since Canalicchio is now receiving so much attention. In the end, this is a wine that any Sangiovese or Brunello lover should not be without.
Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino 2006 – The 2006 Canalicchio Brunello is on another level entirely. Here I found a layered and rich display of dark fruits, with blackberry and black cherry, giving way to dark soil tones, tomato leaf, and over time, crushed stone minerality. On the palate, I found dense, silky textures ushering in ripe cherry and blackberry fruit, as zesty acids swayed the experience toward the tart side of the fruit spectrum, adding lift with savory herbs and saline-minerality. The finish was long with plum fruit, a zesty twang of acidity and medium-resolved tannins. The 2006 is a few years away from early maturity, and a real keeper for the cellar. (96 points)
My Top Bordeaux
The 2015 vintage from Bordeaux may not have been successful across the entire region, but the producers that did well, did incredibly well. I was so happy to see Rauzan-Segla as one of my top wines from this year’s tastings. I’ve been a fan of this property for years, yet the 2015 takes things up to another level, showing a balance of intensity, primary fruit and structure that will carry it for decades. However, it’s already pretty amazing with a good decanting. If you had to choose one 2015 Bordeaux (a hard choice), then this would be among my top three recommendations, and easily the one I’d pick for my own tastes.
2015 Château Rauzan-Ségla – The ‘15 Rauzan-Segla, to me, was the wine of the tasting. The nose was dark, animal, mineral, and intense, as crushed blackberry and raspberry tones gave way to infectious spice, minerals and dark earth. On the palate, I found rich, silky textures offset by a balanced acid and tannin mix, as dark fruits and inner florals tones saturated the senses. The finish was long with lasting minerality and fine tannin. The first thing I did following the tasting was to check where I could buy some for my own cellar. (97 points)
My Top White Wine
I am very proud to say that my top white wine of the year is a Bordeaux Blanc. I’m proud, because it’s a category that I’ve found a lot to like from over the years, yet seems to be heavily passed over by many consumers in the United States. In my opinion, it’s because most people don’t know what they’re buying. In most cases, a Bordeaux Blanc is a Sauvignon Blanc dominated wine (often blended with Semillon) and barrel aged. The result is a rich white wine contrasted by teaming acidity and vibrant fruit. They are a joy to drink and pair well with a variety of foods.
As for my top white of the year, it is from the renowned producer of Sauternes, Chateau de Y’quem. The “Y” was once a house wine of the Chateau, produced from the leftover grapes that didn’t make it into the Sauternes, which were fermented to dryness. However, it was discovered that there was a tremendous demand for this wine, and also that the terroir surrounding De Y’quem could yield superior results if the grapes were picked at perfect ripeness. Hence, “Y” was born, a rare wine with a price that is almost prohibitive, yet worth every penny in my book. The 2017, was amazing!
Y de Yquem 2017 – This is easily my favorite vintage of Y to date. The 2017 was gorgeous from start to finish, displaying a rich and zesty bouquet of lemon curd mixed with ripe crushed apple, spiced orange, and sweet herbs. It was soft and silky on the palate, made vibrant through stunning brisk acidity, with notes of rich citrus tones, ripe stone fruits, sweet herbs, and mounting mineraltiy, which defined the incredibly long finish, where a caking of minerals seemed to slowly crackle and dissolved, leaving sweet and sour tropical citrus. Wow, just wow! (96 points)
My Top Value (Best Bang for Your Buck)
I’m so happy to announce my top value wine of the year, because it’s a wine that I’ve enjoyed over the course of many vintages, yet some kind of magic took place during their 2015 vintage. The fact is that I find the Southern Rhone village of Gigondas to often offer amazing value, as I’ve been collecting the wines since the 2007 vintage. Here we find Grenache-based blends that give a respectful nod to their neighbors in Chateauneuf du Pape, yet add a floral elegance and minerality that sets them apart. They also age tremendously well in the cellar. But on top of that, this producer is really quite special: Domaine du Gour de Chaulé.
Here we find a blend of old-vine Grenache (about 85% in any given vintage), with Syrah and Mourvedre. The grapes are all picked by hand and fermented whole-cluster. In the winery, the juice doesn’t see any new oak, as it’s raised in neutral barrels, and bottles are released a full year after most other producers in the region. What you get is one of the most characterful expressions of Gigondas that you can imagine. It’s a wine that continues to open up in the glass over the course of hours, and it should age beautifully for many years to come. The best part is the cost, at around $35.
Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas Cuvée Tradition 2015 – Here I found crushed stone giving way to violet candies and blackberry, with notes of smoked meats, lavender and garrigue. On the palate, soft, silky textures were offset by brisk acidity, giving life to a sweet mix of blackberry, spiced citrus, floral pastilles, saline-minerality and hints of grippy tannin. The finish was long, leaving a coating of dry-concentrated blackberry and sweet violet candies, with a fresh twang of citrus and caking minerality. (93 points)
My Top Scoring Wine of the Year
I have only ever scored three wines at 99 points in my life. It’s a hard number to achieve, and considering I’ve never gone up to 100, a 99-pointer carries weight in my book. Of course, this just so happens to be a wine that many people would say is one of the greatest ever produced in Italy and from a location that has only recently been rediscovered. Granted, finding a bottle of Bruno Giacosa Collina Rionda is not easy and will cost you a pretty penny, but if you have the means, buy it on sight. What an amazing wine. Also, if you want to read the full story about why this wine is so special, I suggest checking out my blog post: Resurrecting Collina Rionda.
1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda – The bouquet was remarkably deep and layered with masses of pure black cherry and ripe strawberry fruit giving way to a mix of sweet mineral-infused Indian spice, hints of balsamic, and smoky crushed stone. On the palate, I found the most silky, fine textures imaginable, like a veil being pulled across the senses, ushering in vibrant, fleshy cherry fruit, offset by savory minerals and spice, with inner rose and cedar notes, as hints of fine tannin slowly mounted. The finish was long, showing the first signs of the ‘89’s twenty-nine years, as savory minerals, moist earth, and dried floral tones resonated amidst saturating dried cherries and spice. I am in awe of how the ‘89 Collina Rionda has lived up to all of the hype. (99 points)
In Closing, Credits and Resources
So there it is. This is always one of the hardest blog posts to write, especially when trying to decide which wines will fill these spots, but when it’s done, it certainly feels good. Reliving these moments while writing this was a lot of fun, and I only hope that I can take some of my own advice, and put as many of these wines in my own cellar that I can afford.
I’ll see you all in 2019.
Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year
Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos (unless otherwise noted) by Eric Guido
Thank you to Mikhail Lipyanskiy Photography for photos of Eric in Action
Visit Morrell Wine & Spirits for a vast selection of fine wine including many of my top wines of the year.