So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5
Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.


Eve’s Cidery was founded in 2002, occupying a site south of the Finger Lakes region of New York, home-tree_01near the town of Van Etten (pop., 1,557). This is in Chemung County, the lower line of which runs along the border with Pennsylvania. The proprietors of Eve’s Cidery are James Cummins, Autumn Stoscheck and Ezra Sherman. From a wide variety of heirloom apples, the names of which sound like a roll-call of militia from the Revolutionary War, they fashion a series of sparkling and still ciders that range from tasty and engaging to downright profound. I recently went through three sparkling and one still cider from the 2014 harvest and a dessert wine from 2013 and found them to be striking for their integrity and individuality. I’m informed that the ciders from 2015 are in the process of being released. Except for the dessert wine, the ciders are packaged in standard 750-milliliter bottles. The sparkling ciders are produced in the classic Champagne Method of second fermentation in the bottle.

Samples for review. The website is
eve beckhorn
Eve’s Cidery Beckhorn Hollow Traditional Method Sparkling Cider consists of a blend of aromatic, sharp and heirloom apples: Golden Russet, Wealthy, Wixson, Cox Orange Pippin, Northern Spy, Manchurian Crab, Spigold and Idared. It offers a bright golden-yellow hue and is quite fresh and appealing, sporting mild yet persistent effervescence and a pure apple scent with a back-note of spiced pear. The finish is woodsy and peppery, and the whole presentation vibrates to a real malic tang. 8.5 percent alcohol. Production was 310 cases. Excellent. About $19.
The apples that go into Eve’s Cidery Darling Creek Off-Dry, Traditional Method Sparkling Cider eve darling creekare the English bittersweets Ellis Bitter, Ashton Bitter, Major and Bulmers Norman, wild seedlings, balanced with the aromatics and slightly lusher tone of McIntosh and Idared. The residual sugar — the level of sugar remaining after fermentation — for Darling Creek is 1.8 percent, as compared to 0.0 percent r.s. for the Beckhorn Hollow. (Many so-called dry table wines have r.s. around 1.5 to 2 percent.) I found the sweetness here, though, as just a hint of softness and ripeness at the entry, because the cider shades immediately to dryness on the palate. The color is pure medium gold with a faint green tinge, and the cider is animated by a light petillance of effervescence. A knock-out bouquet of fresh apples unfurls a touch of pears with elusive elements of bosky mushroomy spice and a touch of riesling-like petrol. There’s a note of foresty apple-skin tannin and dryness in the finish that only adds complexity to an utterly fresh, charming and beguiling package. 8 percent alcohol. 201 cases. World-class cider. Excellent. About $19.
Eve’s Cidery Autumn’s Gold Dry Traditional Method Sparkling Cider combines tannic English eve autumnbittersweets Dabinett, Bulmer’s Norman, Major, Ellis Bitter and Somerset Redstreak with elements of Golden Russet, Akane, Goldrush and Idared. The color is bright medium gold, the effervescence delicate and prickly. Autumn’s Gold is the spiciest of these ciders, as if it were infused with Thanksgiving pies, yet it also embodies the bracing bitterness of apple peel and almond skin, with hints of dried apples and apricots. It’s also the only one of these ciders to display a mineral element, just a touch of iodine and iron, as if those apple trees pulled up ore from the depths of the orchards. 8.5 percent alcohol. Production was 424 cases. Excellent. About $19.
eve albee
I tasted the Eve’s Cidery Albee Hill Still Dry Cider after the three sparkling ciders mentioned above, and I probably should have reversed the order. The delicate spritzy nature of the sparkling ciders lends a natural appeal that’s irresistible. Still, this one seems to tap into the essence of the orchard and its soil and bedrock in a real and authentic manner. The blend is 51 percent Golden Russet, 22 percent Yarlington Mill, 10 Goldrush, 10 Esophus Spitzenburg, 4 Northern Spy, 3 Bedan. It’s the driest, the most austere and autumnal of these ciders, with a sense of apples, pears and melons spiced, macerated and slightly roasted, a hint of burning leaves and a tannic presence of the finish. 8.5 percent alcohol. 226 cases. Excellent. About $15 or $16.
Here’s the real surprise. The Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider comes in at 15.5 percent residual eve essence
sugar, a true dessert wine that’s balanced by swingeing acidity and a hint of apple skin tannins. Made from the juices of late season dessert apples — Idared, Jonagold, Melrose, Mutsu and Fuji — cryo-concentrated in winter, this cider offers a medium golden amber hue and seductive aromas of baked apples, apricot and apple tart, bolstered by notes of cloves and sandalwood, smoke, toffee and bittersweet chocolate, peat and heather, all these elements segueing smoothly onto the palate with a distinct honeyed and roasted character and where it feels dense, viscous, supple, succulent and as luscious as money flowing on the tongue. 10 percent alcohol. A remarkable performance. 390 cases. Exceptional. About $26 to $28.

I don’t often use the word “charming” to describe a chardonnay wine, but I’ll unlimber that EQ_Chardonnay_Labelcritical term for the Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2014, from Chile’s San Antonio Valley. The wine region is south of the well-known Casablanca Valley, about 55 miles west of Santiago and in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The grapes are certified organic and were fermented with native yeast in French oak barrels of various sizes, only 15 percent new oak; a minimal percentage of malolactic fermentation occurred, while the wine aged in barrels for 11 months. The result is a chardonnay that displays a pale straw-gold hue and lively aromas of green apple, roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit, elevated by subtle notes of cloves, mango and damp flint. It strikes the palate in a clean, fresh and engaging manner, offering bright acidity and a spare, lithe texture that grows more dense as the moments pass; this is a very dry chardonnay, animated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors that burgeon with quince and ginger, all leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk. 14 percent alcohol. Drink this enticing chardonnay, lightly shaded by oak, through 2017 or ’18 with seafood risottos, shrimp or chicken salad, grilled or seared fish. Excellent. About $26.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

In the French language, the word is cidre, and it’s a tradition in Normandy and Brittany going back thousands of years. Those areas in northwest France, by the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel, are inhospitable to wine grapes but perfect for apples. Cider-applesmaking began with the Celts and continued with the Romans in a heritage that passes through Charlemagne — a cider-loving sovereign — almost unbroken through the history of France and northern Europe and England unto the present age, anywhere that apple orchards thrive, including North America. Cider is fermented apple juice, as wine is fermented grape juice. The reality, of course, is rather more complicated, but today’s post is a suggestion, not a treatise, though a few basic facts can’t hurt. First, the best apples for cider-making are sour and bitter, the “spitters,” in terms of your mouth’s reaction to biting into one. The best ciders, however, are made from a combination of many different types of apples, to lend balance and depth. Cider tends to be lower in alcohol than wine because even the sweetest apples embody less sugar than grapes. Finally, only in America is a distinction made between “cider” and “hard cider,” the first being just apple juice, the second being the mildly alcoholic beverage that the rest of the world terms “cider.”

Today, we look at six examples of cider — or cidre — from Normandy and Brittany, the heartland of cider-making. These ciders issue from small, family-owned farm-orchards and represent a level of character that might startle those used to commercial or factory-produced ciders in America. All are sparkling ciders marketed in the standard 750 milliliter bottle. I thought they were all intriguing, elemental, highly individual and excellent.

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd, Niles, Ill.; samples for review. Apple image from
Brittany, the thumb of France that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, is represented here by Le Brun de Bretagne, which has been brun ciderproducing cider by traditional methods since 1955. The names of apples are as exotic as the names of roses or tomatoes. For these two ciders from Le Brun, the apples are Kermerrien, Marie Ménard, Douce Moên, Peau de Chien (“skin of the dog”) and Douce Coëtligné. The Le Brun Brut Cidre is a clean, brassy-gold color and offers mild and pleasing effervescence. Twist the cork — carefully — and a swoonable aroma of ripe apples bursts from the bottle. There’s something a bit fleshy and floral about this cider, a little musky and autumnal, like damp straw, apple peel and almond skin, and the finish offers a tinge of fresh wood shavings. Lovely, crisp, very dry. 5.5 percent alcohol. About $9. Le Brun Organic Cidre is certified organic by Ecocert. This is a demi-sec or medium dry cider, which to my palate is still pretty darned dry. You feel the tannins rummaging through your taste buds, though they are soften by notes of spiced and baked apple, apple skin and a hint of lemony cloves. The finish brings in a touch of elemental bitterness and rootiness. 4 percent alcohol. About $10.
Domaine de la Minotière is a 37-acre single domain of apple orchards in Normandy — or 15 acres, depending on which piece of paper one minotiere ciderlooks at. Anyway, the orchards are cultivated completely under certified organic practices. The Cidre Fermier Brut Bio displays a bright gold color, a frothy head quick to elapse and aromas of ripe apples, orange peel, apple blossom and what cider devotees call “horse blanket,” which I assume refers to what I perceive as a musty, sweaty, feral aspect that is not unpleasant; in my notes, I wrote, “smells like apples & trees & leaves & earth.” Quite dry and with tannins to pucker the palate, this cider is crisp, lively and almost viscous. 5 percent alcohol. About $11. The stablemate is the Cidre Fermier Bio Doux, which for a cider marked beyond “Medium Sweet” and into the lower end of “Sweet” felt pretty dry to my sensibility, though a softening of the dry, tannic edge was distinctly perceivable. Here the bright bronze-gold color is tinged with green highlights, and the scents and flavors of cedar, orange peel, slightly musty jasmine and spiced pear are very attractive. 3 percent alcohol. I could drink this cider with duck a l’orange, rabbit terrine with fig sauce or a selection of soft cheeses. About $11.
The Manoir de Grandouet is a third generation farm run by Stephane and Lucile Grandval in Normandy’s Pays d’Auge region. In addition manoir ciderto cider, the Grandvals make Calvados, a brandy distilled from apples. The couple recommends keeping their ciders for up to two years, well-stored, to allow them to develop the aromas further. Their Cidre Fermier Brut — dry farmhouse cider — exhibits a clean, brassy gold hue and beguiling scents of apples, orchards, roots, autumn leaves and a slightly wilted floral arrangement. It’s very dry, dense, almost chewy yet with a sleek lithe structure; close to the best part of it is its dazzling balance among tannin, acid, fruit and the hint of leathery, leafy bitterness that enlivens the finish. 5 percent alcohol. About $11, and My Favorite of this sextet. The Cambremer Cidre de tradition Pays d’Auge is billed as demi-sec but felt fairly dry to my palate. The color is radiant medium-gold, and the bouquet is ripe, musky, dusty and foresty, with notes of heather, mashed and slightly cooked apples and spiced pears. Tannins feel soft and finely sifted. About $13.

If Randall Grahm, proprietor of Bonny Doon Vineyards, were going to tackle cider, his reputation alone would tell us that he would do so in a contrarian manner. Thus was born ¿querry?, a sort of inquiry into the proposition that one could blend pears (58 percent) apples (33 percent) and quince (nine percent) — 91 percent of the fruit from California, 9 percent from Oregon — and come up with a lightly sparkling, low-alcohol beverage that would not only be different from but perhaps better than regular apple cider. Better than? I don’t know about that. Splendid ciders are certainly available. Different from? A definite “yes” to that. Produced in a normal 750 milliliter Burgundy-type bottle, ¿querry? offers a mild, medium gold color and an appealing bouquet that wreathes fresh aromas dominated by apples and spiced pears bound by a mineral cut and a hint of the ephemerally autumnal. This is tasty stuff but quite dry and jazzed by the bright acidity of apples and the puckery, gingery character of quince. Though made in California, there’s something of Yankee spareness and rigor about this slightly austere cider that finishes with a touch of apple-peel bitterness. Nonetheless, it’s surprisingly versatile. I had a glass at one lunch with cheese toast and the following day with scrambled eggs; it was a winner both times, though it seems to me that its supreme moments would be with charcuterie or roasted chicken. 6.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,639 cases. Drink over the next 12 months. Excellent. About $16.

A sample for review.