Every year, I am amazed at the wealth of new wines that find their way to the market. It opens my eyes to the potential of so many regions and varietals. This past year, so many wines made an impression on me. Some, new vintages of old friends. Others, brand new kids on the block making their way into my radar. What follows is what I feel were the best of their category (in my ever so humble opinion). They are the ones that stick out above the rest in 2011. (I have kept a somewhat realistic price point in mind, as I am honestly more impressed by lesser expensive wines that over deliver… It’s more of a challenge to be best when you are under $50+ per bottle.)
Best Overall: 1990 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia Gran Reserva ($175)–I mean, come on. Give me any wine in the world right now within reason, this is the one I will want to drink this one. Why? This winery always manages to beat everyone else, for it has the power to transfer you to another place and time. Wine is no longer made like this anymore. Like time stopped in 1889, these wines are haunting, saddled with stories, mysteries and family legend. They have a most unusual, identifiable aroma to them. I am at once nostalgic for what I cannot articulate. Sensational and moving, these wines evade a clear definition. They are the most memorable I have ever experienced. These wines, in fact, are an experience in themselves. I guess that’s the definition.
Best Old World Red: 2003 i Clivi Merlot ($26)–If this doesn’t redeem the ever-fallen Merlot varietal, I don’t know what will. I craved this wine often this year with a variety of foods, as it went perfectly with game, duck, rustic casseroles, pot roast, or simple cheese plates. Ripe, concentrated red fruits, spice and a respectful nod to the great wines of the right bank of Bordeaux, this Friulian find has been in the front line of recommendations for me. Rustic and wholesome, an uncompromising wine in its focused agenda to please yet be taken seriously.
Best New World Red: 2007 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant ($35)–A tired choice to some? Perhaps. But in all seriousness, trying it again this year a couple of times reminded me that it is truly an outstanding wine in so many ways. Incredibly complex for the price and indicating that bottle age will only unravel more facets, this Rhone blend is an outstanding wine from one of our country’s most gifted vintners.
Best Old World White: 2010 Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis ($21)—An absolute rockstar to keep an eye on, Piuze is like the soil whisperer. He has a way to take a region that already enjoys fame for its minerality and take it to an ever more pronounced level in his wines. No better way to prove it than with his entry level Petit– a region that is greatly overlooked for its lesser glorified Portlandian soil, he manages to give it an admirable face lift.
Best New World White: 2008 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Riverbrooke Riesling ($29)–I seldom bring in New Zealand Riesling, let alone higher end selections. They are a hard sell. This one had to, though. It is hard to put into words. I don’t worry that it might sit. It will only get better with time.
Best Champagne: 2002 Gaston Chiquet Special Club ($72)-–How people can drop $175 for Dom when a 1er Cru Vintage can be had for more than half the price less is beyond me. A simply superb buy from a true farmer, from the vine to the bottle.
Best Bubbles: Camille Braun Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($25)– A remarkable new addition to the Denver market, this rose has provoked more of a response from my customers (and myself) than any bubbly ever has. It is stunning. Near flawless. Only 300 cases made. And that is evident on the palate.
Most Eccentric: 2008 Penalba Cruz Bianco of Tempranillo/Sauvignon Blanc ($21)–An incredibly intriguing wine, for they remove skins from the red Tempranillo grape, blend it with Sauv Blanc then leave it in barrel to become a most unusual, profound substance. Delightfully rich and multidimensional.
Best Value: 2008 Chateau Valcombe Cote du Ventoux ($15)–An old favorite, this red has the rusticity of the Rhone with the finesse of Burgundy. Delicate layers and hidden aromatics will have you sniffing for hours.
Most Surprising Gem: 2004 Crooked Creek Meritage ($13)–Wow. Blindfold me, and I was guessing a well made, mid-priced ($25ish?) aged Cab from California, only to find it had a fair amount of Cab Franc from where else but Creede Colorado! Outstanding little blend.
Best Conversation Starter: 2008 Casalone Freisa ($17)–A winery that has been elevating every varietal in Piemonte other than Nebbiolo since the 1700s, including the rare Freisa grape. A light froth on this purple liquid might have you thinking sweet lambrusco, but you will find a savory sensation that is dying for cured meats and cheese to really shine.
Best Weekly Standby: 2008 Damiano Ciolli Silene Cesanese ($20)–Anyone who had me to dinner this year has probably tried this fascinating varietal from just outside Rome in the region of Lazio. This grower is bringing Cesanese back and showing everyone that it can be extremely complex. I cannot get enough.
Best Label Design: Lini 910 Lambrusco Bianco ($17)–If this were a place, it would be Williamsburg. Hip and edgy, it is pushing the envelope by refusing to be confined to a predictable definition. Dry, crisp, white and complex, this bubbly will have you scratching your head if you ever beheld Reunite.
Best Book on Wine: Reading Between the wines by Terry Theise ($20)–It doesn’t even take a wine lover to slip into this memoir. Terry Theise is a lover of language and his ability to arrange it in beautiful shapes is both refreshing and inspiring. A different way to consider wine.
Best Wine List in Town: Table 6–Best is Best. Whether I recommend them all the time or not. Come on Denver. Give them some competition. Bigger is not better. It’s the thoughtfulness that counts.
Best Night Cap: Vajra Chinato ($80)–An old recipe from Piemonte, it isn’t difficult to imagine this was an apothecary liquid to cure winter born illness. Christmas spices will warm you from the base of your body on up to your brain. A soothing voice manifests itself in this Barolo kissed digestif.
Best Aperitif: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth ($35)– On one massive rock with a twist of orange, and you just might start to hear an old jazz standard playing in the background of each sip.
Best of the Eco-Friendly: 2009 Nikolaihof ‘Hefeabzug’ Gruner Veltliner ($24)–2010 still a little too jazzed. This vintage is drinking perfectly from the oldest estate in Europe, first to be Demeter biodynamic certified.
Best of the Boxes: Caves de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet ($22)–This is just one of those gems I will never tire of, as it proves that a wine need not be pricey to impress an entire room of novices and know-it-alls alike. Fresh, zippy and playful.