The Marchesi di Grésy family has been sole owner of the Martinenga vineyard in the Barbaresco barbregion of Piedmont since 1797. The nebbiolo grapes for the newly released — to give the full name — Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010 derive from a small south-facing portion of the vineyard. It’s the first Riserva bottling in the estate’s roster of wines. The wine aged 12 months in French barriques, 12 months in 12.5-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks (330.2 gallons), with no new oak, and 26 months in bottle before release. It’s a wine of splendid beauty, elegance, tone and presence. The color is medium ruby shading to a light magenta rim; aromas of mint and iodine, graphite, spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants are touched by hints of smoke, lavender, violets and sandalwood; melding in the background are elements of loam and Lapsang Souchong tea. The Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010 offers a texture that sweeps the palate with a lithe and supple effect, enlivened by bright acidity and deepened by a strain of granitic minerality. Flavors of sour cherry and orange rind bear that same loamy, tea-like influence, along with a woodsy-herbal quality that persists through the depths of a slightly dusty, tannic finish. 14 percent alcohol. A model of balance, integrity and harmonious decorum, and a distinct pleasure to drink. Drink now through 2024 to 2030. Exceptional. About $106.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

We tend to know when a wine is great from the first sniff and taste, because it possesses that ineffable yet very real quality called charisma. Renewed sniffing and tasting confirm that assessment, while adding depth and character. These factors hold true whether a wine costs $19 or $350, the range represented in today’s 2015 edition of the annual “50 Great Wines” post. I wouldn’t pay $350 for a bottle of wine — though apparently some people would — but I appreciate the occasional opportunity to encounter one. Of the wines on today’s roster, 18 rate Exceptional and 32 rate Excellent. Often the dividing line between Excellent and Exceptional is fine indeed, with permutations and intimations running silent and deep in each direction, but since my inclination is toward distinctions, rankings and hierarchies — that’s what graduate school will do for you — I always include a rating for each wine reviewed on BTYH. On the other hand, I refuse to employ the famous 100-point system; I would rather leave room for some ambiguity and imagination.

A great wine satisfies every point of interest and essence that we desire from a wine, exuding a feeling of utter completion and comprehension. Each wine accomplishes this purpose in a different way, of course, and to varying degrees, necessitating different responses. Some of these wines I admire, gravely and humbly; others, I adore rather shamelessly. The ultimate test, I think, is that when we drink a bottle of great wine, our conclusion is thus: “I wouldn’t want it to be anything other than this,” a sentiment we might also share with works of art and love affairs.

Today’s roster is presented alphabetically. Where a wine is a blend of grapes, I include the percentages that compose the blend. I also mention the case production for wines released in limited quantities, of which many on this list, not surprisingly, are. I do not include alcohol levels or names of importers or technical, geographical or historical date That sort of information is available in the reviews. These wines were selected from examples that I wrote about during 2015. The preponderance were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries, importers and marketing people who sent them.

For whatever eccentricities this list of “50 Great Wines of 2015” embodies, blame them on my taste, knowledge, experience and intuition. That is all I — or any of us — have to go on.
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
Black Kite Cellars Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 200 cases. Excellent. About $60. (Not exactly the correct label, but this is what they look like.)
terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.

La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
post and vine
Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012, Mendocino County. 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane, 21 percent petite sirah. 143 cases. Excellent. About $28.
quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
sequoia grove cab
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. With 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot, 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Excellent. About $38.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

tanner dafoe
Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 141 cases. Exceptional. About $110.

Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.

If asked to enumerate the world’s greatest and most noble red wines, I think that winemakers, writers, critics and sommeliers would 11_barolo_castiglione1-232x686list the reds of Bordeaux (primarily cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc grapes); Burgundy (pinot noir); Chateauneuf-du-Pape (syrah and grenache); Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Hermitage (syrah); Brunello di Montalcino (sangiovese); and Barolo and Barbaresco (nebbiolo), as well as their counterparts produced in other countries and regions, like the cabernet sauvignon wines of Napa Valley and the shiraz (syrah) from Australia’s Barossa and Clare valleys. For Wine of the Day, No. 74, we turn to one of the least known of these noble efforts, Barolo, produced in a limited geographical range of steeps hillsides southwest of the beautiful city of Alba in the province of Piedmont in northwestern Italy. Barolo, made completely from nebbiolo grapes, can be a kingly wine, not only noble but aloof and austere for a great deal of its ideally long life; it can also provide a thrilling spectrum of scents, flavors and presence on the palate.

The Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011 was made by Luca Currado, a fifth-generation owner and winemaker of his family’s estate. In fact, the vintage of 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the region’s first single-vineyard Barolo, made by Alfredo Currado in 1961. The grapes for the Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011 derived from vineyards in four sub-regions of the appellation, from vines that range from seven to 35 years old. The component wines aged two years in large oak casks — no barriques — before being blended and aged an additional eight months in stainless steel tanks. The color is a dark but not intense or opaque ruby hue shading to garnet at the rim. As for the aromas — did I say “thrilling” in the previous paragraph? This may be the bouquet of the year. A ravishing core of intensely pungent violets, tar, truffles, graphite and black licorice expands to notes of spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums in a display of astonishing purity and concentration; a few minutes in the glass bring in exotic hints of sandalwood, oolong tea and loam. The wine is more rigorous in the mouth, as stalwart, dusty tannins and seething acidity bring structure, but the texture of the wine, lithe, supple, silky and energized, reflects the vintage, which is not in the brooding powerhouse long-lived category that 2010 occupies. Filled with polished and tasty black fruit, with touches of dried fruit and flowers, the Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011 manages to be delicious and architectural at the same time. 14.85 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to 2025 with venison, braised short ribs, roast beef or steak or dry aged cheeses. Excellent. About $50.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

I needed a lively, flavorful yet spare red wine to drink with a pasta dish made rich with guanciale and lots of Pecorino cheese. I found what I was looking for in the Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. Made by Luca Corrado, the estate’s fifth-generation owner, the wine serves as a kind of cadet version of Vietti’s Barolo Castiglione. The vines, averaging 35 years old, are treated in the same manner, though Perbacco represents a selection of younger vines and wines more suited to a shorter aging period. Perbacco, consisting of 100 percent nebbiolo grapes, ages four months in small oak barriques, 20 months in casks — that is to say, large barrels — and two months in stainless steel before bottling. The color is deep ruby shading to violet/brick red at the rim; aromas of dried currants and cherries are woven with notes of lavender and tobacco, briers and brambles, dried orange rind and black tea. While the black and red fruit flavors are generous, the wine’s structure is lean and racy, a bit rooty and branchy, and the wine benefits from clean acidity that feels chiseled for keeps. Nothing plush or voluptuous about the tannins either; the impression here is of a finely sifted and honed entity that can be depended on to contribute framing and foundation for the wine, no questions asked. The finish offers hints of tar, bitter chocolate and graphite. Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2012 is neither an oak-‘n’-tannin blockbuster nor a fruit bomb; rather, its spare, carefully calibrated elegance lends a sense of the grape’s rightful scale and character. It cut through the richness of the pasta dish like a plow through loam, like a prow through sea-spray, like a crow through an autumn breeze. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.

XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.

Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.

Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.

Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.

Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.

Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.

d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.

Randall Grahm sold the certified biodynamic Ca’ del Solo Vineyard in Soledad in 2009, so this Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007, Monterey County, is the next-to-last vintage. The vineyard’s name is a pun typical of Grahm’s well-known wit; though it sounds Italian, the name refers to the state penitentiary at Soledad, outside of whose gates the 160-acre vineyard lay, hence, House of Solo. (Ca is short for casa; the locution is common in Venice.) The presence of the prison also gave rise to Bonny Doon’s Big House brand of inexpensive wines, a label of which Grahm divested himself in 2007.

Not much nebbiolo is grown in The Golden State. According to the annual California Grape Acreage Report, in 2011 there were only 166 acres of nebbiolo, accounting for a crush of 380 tons; total number of tons of all red grapes crushed in 2011 was 1.9 million, so we can see that nebbiolo is a specialty, nurtured principally by devotees, if not fanatics.

Nothing heavily extracted here, the color of the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007 is a lovely, limpid cerise-scarlet color with a faint garnet rim. The bouquet offers aromas of dried currants and black and red cherries with spiced and macerated aspects and hints of black tea and dried orange zest with leather and rose petals. About half the grapes for this wine were air-dried before being crushed, lending subtle notes of fruitcake in the nose and succulence on the palate, though the wine is completely dry and far more elegant than obvious. The wine sees neither new wood nor small barrels (aging in tanks and puncheons of French oak), and we wish that more producers in Piedmont would return to this old-fashioned way of making Barolo and Barbaresco from their nebbiolo grapes, instead of being slaves to the allure of the barrique. Anyway, for a wine as spare and reticent as this is, it delivers juicy black and red fruit flavors supported by smooth and slightly dusty tannins that provide a bit of earthy grip on the finish; otherwise, this nebbiolo goes down like warm satin. Nor is the grape’s legendary acidity lacking; the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007 is lively and vibrant. 13.7 percent alcohol. Production was 765 cases. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.

This wine was a sample for review.

We drank the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007, Monterey County, with medium rare tri-tip roast cooked (with a slight variation) according to a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan, 2009). This requires you to coat the meat with salt, pepper, sweet paprika and piment d’Espelette, the latter made from ground chili peppers grown only in the French Basque commune of Espelette and which I could not find anywhere, so I substituted smoked sweet paprika, Urfa pepper and chili maresh. Anyway, you wrap the roast in plastic and leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours and take it out 30 minutes before it’s time to sear it in oil and butter with a smashed garlic, a sprig of rosemary and five thin lemon slices; the garlic, rosemary and lemon slices are placed on top of the roast and it all goes into a 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Be sure to let the roast rest on a plate or cutting board for half an hour before slicing to let the juices redistribute. Tri-tip is not the most tender cut (which is why it’s relatively inexpensive) but it delivers a lovely, mild meaty flavor, enhanced, in this recipe, by the piquant spiciness of the coating. If you don’t have the cookbook, the blog Rocket Lunch reproduced the recipe here. We ate the tri-tip, sliced thinly, with roasted potatoes and a succotash of fresh corn, edamame and red bell pepper. A great dinner and bottle of wine.

I know, you’re thinking, “F.K., why don’t you just call this weekly series Saturday Wine Sips, since you seem to have so much trouble getting the thing written and posted on Friday?” Well, because Friday is the lead-in to the weekend, and I think of this series as brief reviews of wines My Readers would like to find for their weekend (moderate) drinking enjoyment. So I miss by a day here and there! So what!

A group of Italian wines today, whites and reds from Tuscany and Piedmont, including one of the best wines made from vermentino grapes that I have encountered; there’s also an excellent Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, even when I post on Saturday, I deliberately keep matters brief and decisive by striking to the heart of the thing and eliminating the usual data about history, specific geographical matters, winery personnel and so on. What you read is what you get. The Poggiotondo wines were samples for review; the others were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
La Scolca White Label Gavi 2010, Piedmont. 13% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale straw-gold color, faint green highlights; spiced lemon with a touch of lemon balm, hints of almond and almond blossom, peach and pear; crisp, lively, alert; pleasing texture infused with limestone-and-shale-like minerality; spicy finish. Very attractive for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
Poggiotondo Vermentino 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 100% vermentino grapes. Radiant pale gold; fresh and floral as a spring garden; yellow plums and thyme, roasted lemon and pear; clean, bracing sea breeze and salt marsh astringency; quite spicy, very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality supporting ripe stone-fruit flavors; long spice-thronged finish. Now through 2013 or ’14. One of the best vermentino wines I have encountered. Excellent. About $20, a Notable Value.
Poggiotondo Rosso 2010, Toscana. 12.5% alc. 40% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 30% syrah. I was not as impressed by the Poggiotondo red wines as by the Vermentino, but I definitely liked the Rosso better than the Chianti. Simple and direct and tasty; gushes with spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors balanced by bright acidity and sleek, moderately chewy tannins; the finish adds leather, briers and brambles. A decent quaffer for red sauce pasta dishes, pizzas and burgers. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good. About $11.
Poggiotondo Chianti Cerro del Masso 2009, Toscano DOCG. 13% alc. 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, 5% each syrah and colorino. A curious marriage of bland and harsh; takes rusticity to the edge of roughshod. Sangiovese deserves better. Not recommended. About $15.
Marziano Abbona Dolcetto Dogliani “Papa Celso” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% dolcetto grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet-magenta cast; warm, fleshy, meaty floral bouquet, spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums, undertones of lavender and leather; quite earthy, with touches of moss and underbrush, a little spare and austere yet almost succulent in texture, almost velvety; a graphite-like strain of minerality through the finish keeps it in line. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba “Rinaldi” 2009, Piedmont. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby-purple; leather, plums and mulberries, briers and brambles, a little fleshy and floral; very dry, packed with dried spices and dried red and black fruit flavors; fairly foresty, burgeoning underbrush, austere from mid-palate back through the finish where it picks up some granite-like minerality and a bit of heat. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $30.
Marziano Abbona Nebbiolo d’Alba “Bricco Barone” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% nebbiolo grapes. Classic. Deep ruby-purple; tar, earth, violets and truffles, rosemary and its bit of resiny astringency, black currants and plums; full-bodied, dense, very dry, jammed with finely milled and sifted tannins, graphite elements and woody spices; touches of fruitcake, potpourri and bitter chocolate; long, spun-out finish. Demands rabbit fricassee, game birds, venison. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.

I included the Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006 in my Best Wines of 2010; I wouldn’t be surprised if the version for 2007 makes it onto my Best Wines of 2011.

There really is a marchesi at this property, and he is Alberto Cisa Asinari di Gresy, as charming and unassuming a personage as one could wish to meet or desire to emulate. The historic property. Monte Aribaldo (24.86 acres for dolcetto, chardonnay, sauvignon blamc), surrounds a 19th Century hunting lodge built by Alberto di Gresy’s grandfather in the commune of Treiso d’Alba. Alberto di Gresy, born in 1952, took over the operation of the property right out of university and began producing wine, instead of selling grapes to other producers, in 1973. Another vineyard nearby, Martinenga (59.28 acres, mainly nebbiolo, and the source of the wine we consider today), has been in the family since 1797; this is the location of the central winery. A third vineyard, La Serra consists of 27.21 acres of moscato, barbera and merlot, while the 6.38-acre Monte Colombo is for barbera and merlot.

My first note on the Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2007 is “how lovely.” Those are not the two words that one would apply to many Barbarescos these days, producers leaning instead toward hard tannins and blatant oak. And even though this wine aged six months in new French oak barrels and 14 months in Slavonian oak casts, it came out utterly smooth and mellow, balanced and integrated. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated red currants and plums and mulberries are wreathed with dried spice and potpourri, a touch of orange zest and black tea, and backnotes of violets and loamy earth. Lovely indeed. Vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate, lending the wine engaging vivacity while supporting elements of dried black and red fruit, cloves and sandalwood and a hint of nebbiolo’s tarry depths; fine-grained tannins and any oak influence are completely absorbed, giving the wine seductive firmness and suppleness yet not overwhelming its spare elegance. A beauty for drinking now through 2016 or ’17 with small roasted game birds or fricassee of rabbit, though I sipped a glass most happily with my cheese toast at lunch this week. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Excellent. About $50.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

Porcini risotto isn’t very photogenic, but I’ll include an image of LL’s triumph anyway, because what it may lack in picture-power it more than made up for in the intensity of flavor. Most recipes assume that the home chef in the United States of America is not working with fresh porcini mushrooms, but LL had ordered a pound of porcinis from Mikuni through, and they were delivered by UPS overnight. For broth, she used veal stock, though veal is usually verboten in her food philosophy, and she apologized profusely to the Gods of Baby Animals, but, prego, did it ever give the risotto deep richness and flavors to bolster the deeply earthy mushrooms. I think this was the best version of porcini risotto that LL has made, at least in my experience.

To drink with the porcini risotto, I went to a nearby wine and liquor store and bought a bottle of Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007. I first wrote about this wine, also a purchase, in December 2009. (Marc de Grazia Imports, Winston-Salem, N.C.) Here’s that review:

The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007, from Piedmont’s Langhe region, represents the entry level wine for the Minuto family’s Moccagatta estate, founded in 1952. Made from 100 percent nebbiolo grapes (from young vineyards) and aged a scant six months in old barriques, the wine offers the typical nebbiolo aromas of tar, smoke, violets, spiced plums, damp leaves and moss and gravel. Flavors of macerated black currants and blueberries are draped on a spare, taut structure whose bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Nothing opulent or easy here; the wine is an eloquent expression of a grape at a level of purity and intensity that’s especially gratifying from vines that are less than a decade old. Dried heather and thyme seep through the bouquet after a few minutes in the glass, as the wine gets increasingly spicy, dry and austere, with touches of old paper and dust. While the Moccagatta Nebbiolo ’07 doesn’t display the dimension or detail of Moccagatta’s more expensive single-vineyard Barbarescos, it’s an admirable statement of a grape variety and winemaking philosophy. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 to ’17. Bring on the pappardelle con coniglio. Excellent. About $25.

The first difference between the bottle we tried at the end of 2009 and the bottle we tried a few days ago is the price; initially $25, now it’s $23. The second difference is a subtle shifting in balance toward gracefulness, clarity and balance. Make no mistake, this is a nebbiolo wine deeply imbued with the grape’s signature smoky, tarry, dusty graphite-laden tannins and earthy-herbal-rooty character, yet give it a few minutes in the glass — I should have opened it 45 minutes before we sat down to sanctify ourselves at the altar of porcini risotto — and it delivers a bouquet so alluring that it’s practically deliriously seductive. As far as aromas go, one feels almost a sense of physical size to these packed-in elements of lavender and licorice, violets and sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake that generously expand to include macerated plums and blueberries. This sensuous panoply seems to seep inevitably into the wine’s dense, chewy structure, modulating somewhat the rigor of its mineral-flecked tannins and elevating acidity. One might even call it elegant, while not neglecting its fairly severe, leathery finish. The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007 was perfect with the porcini risotto; it was as if two earthy and elemental modes of being were speaking to each other in their disparate ways. This is what good eating and drinking are all about. Still Excellent. About $23.

Label image (modified) from

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