What could be more straightforward than that? Not that all lists aren’t arbitrary in some degree, but after going through all the posts from 2010 on this blog several times and doing some cogitating and sighing and reluctant winnowing, here they are, The 50 Best Wines of 2010, as experienced by me and written about last year. Wines that I tasted in 2010 but haven’t written about yet will not show up on this list, nor will older vintages that I was lucky enough to taste, which I do damned little enough anyway. The order is wines I rated Exceptional, alphabetically, followed by wines I rated Excellent, alphabetically. Where I think such factors might be helpful, I list percentages of grapes and, for limited edition wines, the case production, if I know it. Prices begin at about $25 and go up to $200, with most, however, in the $30s, $40s and $50s.
<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

<>Catena Alta Adrianna Chardonnay 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $35. (Winebow, New York)

<>Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007, Chablis, France. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Exceptional. About $72. (Dreydus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $150, though prices around the country range up to $225. (Winebow, New York)

<>Vincent Girardin Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007, Burgundy, France. Exceptional. About $70. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

<>Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $38. (USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 974 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

<>Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

<>Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 275 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

<>Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

<>Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 490 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
<>Alma Negra Misterio 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. The red grapes in this blend are never revealed, but count on malbec, cabernet franc and bonarda. Excellent. About $30-$33. (Winbow, New York)

<>Benovia Bella Una Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 195 cases. Excellent. About $58.

<>Francois Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Reserve Brut Cépage Chardonnay (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $60. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.)

<>Brovia Sorí del Drago Barbera d’Asti 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $20-$28. (Neal Rosenthal, New York)

<>Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches (blanc) 2007, Burgundy, France. 600 cases imported. Excellent. $100-$110. (Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Easton Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, Amador County. “Old Vines” meaning back to 1865. Excellent. About $28.

<>Egly-Ouriet Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” (nonvintage). Champagne, France. Made, unusually, from all pinot meunier grapes. Excellent. About $70. (North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,993 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Bodegas Fariña Gran Dama de Toro 2004, Toro, Spain. Tempranillo with six percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45. (Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.)

<>Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $30. (Kobrand, New York)

<>Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot noir with a dollop of chardonnay. Excellent. About $55. (Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 407 cases. Excellent. About $46.

<>Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $45-$55. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Haton et Fils “Cuvée Rene Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $62. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 154 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Petillant 2002, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $30-$35. (Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York)

<>Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. 81 percent pinot noir/19 percent chardonnay. 950 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. With 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $52.

<>Kruger-Rumf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008, Nahe, Germany. Excellent. About $22-$25. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, New York.)

<>Margerum Rosé 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 100 cases. Excellent. About $21.

<>Mendel Semillon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Excellent. About $25. (Vine Connection, Sausalito, Cal.)

<>Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. 75 cases. Excellent. About $28.

<>Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005, Napa Valley. With 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. 393 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $90.

<>Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. about $200.

<>Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. Renaissance holds wines longer than any other winery; this dessert wine was released in 2008. Production was 364 cases of half-bottles. Excellent. About $35.

<>Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. 63 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $22.

<>St. Urban-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Piesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Excellent. About $55. (HB Wine Merchants, New York)

<>Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $42.

<>Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $25.

<>Tardieu-Laurent Les Becs Fins 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, France. 50 percent syrah/50 percent grenache. 1,008 cases imported. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.)

<>Chateau Tour de Farges Vin Doux Natural 2006, Muscat de Lunel, France. Excellent. About $24. (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal.)

<>V. Sattui Black-Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 400 cases. Available at the winery or mail order. Excellent. About $40.

<>Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia. 500 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29. (Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.)
Coming Next: 25 Fantastic Wine Bargains.

Sparkling pinot noir from Piedmont?

This is a new product from Vigne Regali, founded as Bruzzone Cellars in 1860 in Strevi, a town in northeast Piedmont. The Mariani family, of Castello Banfi, in the Brunello di Montalcino region of Tuscany, purchased Bruzzone in 1979. The winery is best known for its enchanting sparkling red wine Rosa Regale, made from the brachetto grape.

The Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé is made from pinot noir grapes grown in Piedmont’s Alta Langa region. This tantalizing sparkler is fashioned in the tradizionale classico or champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, after which it rests for a two-year period of yeast contact followed by the traditional hand-riddling — gradually turning the bottles so that the neck is pointing down — and the final disgorgement, that is the expelling of the yeast residue.

This is an incredibly charming and elegant sparkling wine. The color is lightly tarnished copper over silver salmon scale; the foaming surge of tiny glinting bubbles is hypnotic. First one sniffs smoke, red raspberry and dried red currants; then come orange rind, a touch of lime sherbet, melon ball and a slight yeasty, bready element. The wine is crisp, dry, lively, clean and fresh, a tissue of delicacies that add up to a supple, engaging structure — close to pert yet almost creamy — buoyed by an increasingly prominent limestone minerality. The finish brings in hints of cloves and pomegranate and a smooth conjunction where limestone turns into damp shale; do I imagine a beguiling whiff of rose and lilac? No, it’s there. Completely delightful but not at all frivolous. 11.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y. A sample for review.

During my excursion in Piedmont back in March, lo these many weeks ago, I naturally tasted primarily red wines, 400 or so. Barbera, nebbiolo and dolcetto are the grapes that have made the region famous, though nebbiolo, particularly in the form of Barolo and Barbaresco, has made it immortal. Piedmont cultivates white grapes too, however, and I tried a number of white wines that deserve to be better known, which is to say, marketed in America. The most interesting of these are made from arneis (“are-nay-eez” but usually slurred to “are-nayz”) and nascetta (“nas-chetta”) grapes.

Nascetta does not rate a mention in the 3rd edition on Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine or in Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes, a situation that does not deter Valter Fissone from being the grape’s champion and, he claims, the first (in 1994) to bottle it as a legitimate variety, though as a Vino da Tavola, meaning that the wine did not fit into the official D.O.C. registry of Italian wines. Now nascetta has a D.O.C. as Langhe Bianco.

Fissone married Nadia Cogno and is now the winemaker for the Elvio Cogno estate that occupies a stunning situation in an 18th century manor house atop the hill called Bricco Ravera, near the village of Novella in the Langhe area. Snow still lay over the vineyards on the shady hillsides the morning my group visited the estate, and it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the spectacular view. We did, of course, because we wanted to taste Elvio Cogno’s Barolo wines.

Before the reds, though, Fissone introduced us to his nascettas. First we tried a tank-sample of the six-month-old 2009. Fissone has given the wine a brand-name now: Anas-Cëttá. A strong sulfur component blew off in a few moments to reveal a full-bodied and fairly spicy wine that burst with elements of roasted lemons and pears, camellia and limestone and a touch of heat from 14 percent alcohol. By the time the wine is released, it should have found lovely balance and integration.

Then Fissone, in a generous and sacrificial mood, opened the last bottle of his Nascetta 2001, the last bottle left of some 4,500 to 5,000 cases. This was a reminder of what I always tell you, My Readers, about giving wine a chance and about storing wine well so it might develop into something unanticipated. The color was radiant medium gold; notes of dried thyme, honeysuckle, limestone, sage and petrol wreathed an irresistible bouquet that was almost savory. Rich and supple, quite dry and lively, the wine opened into layers of ginger and quince, candied grapefruit and a hint of crème brûlée and a contrasting touch of grassy bitterness on the finish. Wow, who knew such a wine even existed? This was a real privilege. The wines of Elvio Cogno are imported to the US by Vias Imports in New York. The Anas-cetta is about $25.

We also tried the the Matiré Nascetta Langhe Bianco 2008 at Rivetto, whose Barolos I wrote about in a previous post. This ’08 is the first vintage in which Rivetto produced a nascetta wine, but they’re off to a good start. The color is an attractive mild gold; aromas of roasted lemon and pear are twined with almond and acacia and a touch of greengage plum. Sleek acidity and high notes of leafy fig and lemon balm make the wine feel almost transparent in the mouth, while a finish of shimmering limestone minerality projects a sense of absolute freshness and clarity. Another revelation. The wines of Rivetto come to these shores through several importers. This Matiré Nascetta 2008 runs about $19 to $22.

Better known than nascetta is the arneis grape. Grown mainly in the Langhe and Roero zones of Piedmont, south of the town of Alba, arneis, which does not take well to the burden of oak, is capable of making floral wines of attractive delicacy that is some cases approach real elegance. Roero is the best area for the grape, and those versions may receive a designation of Roereo Arneis D.O.C. Falchetto makes a charming and refreshing Arneis Langhe 2009, nicely balanced among grapefruit and lime peel, jasmine and honeysuckle and spirited acidity. More complex was the Arneis 2009 from the noted Barolo producer Brovia; this offered ripe peaches and pears, with green apple, tangerine and honeysuckle, all layered with limestone and enlivened with tingling acidity. An example that could age five or six years is the Perdaudin Roero Arneis 2009 from the venerable Angelo Negro estate, which goes back to 1670. The wine is very spicy and minerally (in the limestone shale range) and quite forward in its assay of lemon characteristics — bright lemon, savory roasted lemon, redolent lemon balm — with lime peel and grapefruit infused with smoke and acacia blossom, all ensconced is a super-seductive texture that melds crispness with pillowy lushness. Just terrific. The wines of Angelo Negro are not imported to the U.S., but the products of Brovia (Neal Rosenthal) and Falchetto (Direct Wine Imports in Houston) are.

All of those wines were tasted in Piedmont, but within the past two weeks I tasted two more widely available versions of the arneis grape.

It diminishes the qualities of the Ceretto Blangè 2009, Langhe Arneis, not a whit to say that it is delightful from beginning to end. It’s one of the cleanest, freshest and most refreshing wines I have tried in ages, even embodying a touch of spritz to add to its invigorating charm. Think of lemon, lemon, lemon and then almond and almond blossom, and think then of a little smoke, a touch of lilac and lavender and a minute strain of dried thyme. The wine deepens slightly with notes of baked pear and apple, developing moderate richness to balance the spareness and elegance of its crystalline, thirst-quenching, palest gold character. The alcohol content is a modest 12.5 percent. Irresistible for summertime sipping or with light snacks and appetizers. Very Good+. About $26.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena Cal. A sample for review.

We see a slightly different nature in the Vietti Roero Arneis 2009. Of course it’s clean as a whistle and fresh as a daisy (and stop me before I hit all the cliché buttons), but it also develops a line of subtleties that center on orange rind and lime peel with a tinge of candied grapefruit before broadening into a multiplicity of lemon effects that in turn bottom out in spiced tea, lemongrass and limestone. The acidity is keen and blade-like; the texture is supple and lithe, sort of winsomely sinuous, and it all goes down very easily indeed. Yes, it’s as enticing and charming as it sounds. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. A great picnic wine or for a first course at a dinner party, say with parsnip-ginger soup, which I made recently. Very Good+. About $23.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal. Tasted at a trade event and the following week at a restaurant, where LL and I each had a glass with grilled octopus.

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