“Better late than never!” people say, hoping that adage is correct. Perhaps being only midway through two-faced January it’s all right to offer this annual story now rather than immediately after the turn of the year as usual. So be it.

To arrive at the “50 Great Wines of 2009,” I went back through all the posts for last year, read all the reviews, made notes, looked again, made more notes, thought hard, and came up with a list of candidates numbering 70. Now the difficult part began; how to eliminate 20 very worthy wines? First, any wine rated Exceptional is assured of a place. After that step, it’s a matter of fine-tuning and dealing with nuances that involve the commitment of the reviews, the excitement conveyed by the language and the implication of the ratings. If there are, for example, two pinot noirs that cost $25 and each rates Excellent but of one I said, “and also great value for the price,” or words to that effect, then that’s the wine that makes the list. If there are three cabernets at $45, and two rate Excellent and one rates Exceptional, well, I discard the two with the Excellent ratings.

Readers, this takes days, and it’s with genuine sorrow that some of the wines have to be eliminated from the roster, but 50 wines is what I’m after and 50 it has to be. Sort of like an audition for “A Chorus Line.”

The order here is Exceptional wines, from highest to lowest price, then Excellent wines, also from highest to lowest price. There is no hierarchy, no “No. 1 Wine,” no “Best Wine of the Year.” Not included are a few older wines I was fortunate enough to taste here and there, like older rieslings in Germany or Ports in the Douro Valley. The point is that these are current releases, or they were when I tasted and wrote about them. Notice that great wines don’t have to be expensive. This list begins at $19, and quite a few bottles cluster in the $20s, $30s and $40s. If a wine is limited in availability, I’ll mention the case production, if I have that information.

First, though, a category in which one wine does get singular attention.
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Best Debut Wine of 2009

Trivium is a collaboration of Napa Valley grape-grower Doug Wright, winemaker Jack Stuart and marketer Stu Harrison. The winery’s debut product is Trivium Les Ivrettes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, St. Helena. Composed of 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, the wine spent 19 months in oak, 85 percent French barrels, 60 percent new. This is a great Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, this wine of awesome purity and intensity beautifully balances elegance and power and seems to draw for its dense and concentrated character upon the nature of the soil and strata on which the vineyard stands. A terrific achievement that devotees of classic Napa cabernet won’t want to miss. Best from 2010 through 2015 or ‘16. Production was 318 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Now, 50 Great Wines of 2009.

<>Mount Veeder Reserve Red Wine 2004, Napa Valley. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot, 3% malbec. Exceptional. About $80.

<>St. Supéry Élu 2004, Napa Valley. 66% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Exceptional. About $70.

<>William Humbert Jalifa Rare Old Dry Amontillado Solera Especial, Jerez, Portugal. Exceptional. About $70. (Kindred Spirits of North America)

<>Roland Champion Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne. Exceptional. About $65. (Kysela Père et Fils)

<>Two Hands “Harry & Edward’s Garden” Shiraz 2006, Langhorne Creek, South Australia. Exceptional. About $65. (Terlato Wines International)

<>Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 600 cases. Exceptional. About $62.

<>Black Kite Cellars “River Turn” Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 195 cases. Exceptional. About $52.

<>Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Porto 2007. Exceptional. About $50, following by several big question marks. (Vintus)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

<>Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2006, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Peter Jakob Kühn Oestrich Doosberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau. Exceptional. About $38. (Domaine Select Wine Estates)

<>Renaissance Roussanne 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. 76 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

<>Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2006, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. $29.

<>Frankland Estate “Poison Hill” Riesling 2008, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28. (USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Frankland Estate “Isolation Ridge” Riesling 2008, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28. (USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Smith-Madrone Riesling 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

<>Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $23.

<>Mt. Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2006, Clare Valley, South Australia. Exceptional. About $19. (USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Joseph Drouhin Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2007, Burgundy. 60 cases imported. Excellent. About $172.

<>Mongeard-Mugneret Grands-Echézeaux Grand Cru 2007, Burgundy. Excellent. About $163. (Vineyard Brands)

<>Henri Gouges Nuit-Saint-Georges Les Saint-Georges Premier Cru 2007, Burgundy. Excellent. About $147. (Vineyard Brands)

<>Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Malhadinha Tinto 2004, Alendejo, Portugal. 45% aragonês (tempranillo), 40% alicante bouschet, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $90. (Quintessential)

<>Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.

<>Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Champagne. Excellent. About $85. (Laurent-Perrier USA)

<>Quinta do Vale Meao Douro Red 2005, Douro Valley. Excellent. About $75. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons)

<>Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Champagne. Excellent. About $65> (William-Harrison Imports)

<>Reale Andrea Borgo di Gete 2005, Colli di Salerno. 100% tintore grapes. Excellent. About $55. (Domenico Selections)

<>Eddy Family Wines Elodian Pinot Noir 2007, Yamhill-Carleton District, Willamette Valley. 580 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Black Kite Cellars Kite’s Rest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 726 cases. Excellent. About $42.

<>Sanford Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Rita Hills. Excellent. About $40.

<>Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.

<>Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2006, North Coast. Excellent. About $40.

<>Benovia Zinfandel 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 197 cases. Excellent. About $38.

<>Merryvale Merlot 2005, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 2007, Napa Valley. 399 cases. Excellent. About $35.

<>Kühling Gillot Ölberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2007, Rheinhessen, Germany. Excellent. About $32.50. (Domaine Select Wine Estates)

<>Jackson Estate “Vintage Widow” Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $32. (Avanti Fine Wine Selections)

<>Clos du Val Pinot Noir 2007, Carneros. Excellent. About $30.

<>Domaine de la Mordorée Rosé 2008, Tavel, Rhone Valley. Excellent. About $30. (Kysela Père et Fils)

<>Gargiulo Vineyards Money Road Ranch Rosato di Sangiovese 2008, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 450 cases. Excellent. About $30.

<>Sbragia Family Gino’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2006, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $28.

<>Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2007, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.

<>Judd’s Hill San Ysidro Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Central Coast. 668 cases. Excellent. About $26.

<>Two Angels Divinity 2006, High Valley, Lake County. 52% syrah, 22% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 6% petite sirah. Excellent. About $25.

<>Loan Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia. Excellent. About $22. (The Grateful Palate)

<>Potel-Aviron Fleurie 2007, Cru Beaujolais. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson Daniels)

<>Serre del Prete Aglianico del Vulture 2007, Basilicata, Italy. Excellent. About $22. (Domenico Selections)

<>Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $21.

<>Moulin de Chauvigné Clos Brochard Savennières 2007. Excellent. About $20. (Fruits of the Vine)

<>Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
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In a few days, I’ll post “25 Great Bargains of 2009″
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