Port


The “50 Great Wines of 2018” represent regions of France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina and various AVAs in California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and, of course, a wide range of grape varieties and styles of wine. Prices range from a fabulously low $15 to a pretty high $140, with plenty bottles falling into the sweet spot between about $20 and $30; a great wine does not have to be expensive. These are wines that I not only admired but loved during my reviewing last year. The roster could have been expanded by 10 or 12 wines, but I like to stick to 50 — as I have for many years — because that number forces me to be analytical as well as emotional and totally subjective. For the first time in preparing this annual list, I include snippets of the original reviews to lend My Readers some clues as to why I doted on particular wines. No technical information is included. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.

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Barton Family Wines “Holiday” Clairette Blanche 2017, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles, California. 94 cases. Excellent. About $32.
“very dry, spare, elegant, yet vibrant with bright acidity …”
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Berryessa Gap Rosé 2017, Yolo County, California. Equal parts grenache, barbera and zinfandel. 225 cases. Exceptional. About $15.
“not just a great rosé but a great wine.”
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Black Kite Cellars “Stony Terrace” Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $60.
“incredibly appealing and satisfying on the sensual level but gradually reveals depths of graphite, loam and forest floor …”
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Reserve Vin Gris de Cigare 2016, Central Coast, California. 50 percent grenache, 15 percent grenache blanc, 12 percent each cinsault and mourvedre, 8 carignane, 3 roussanne. 826 cases. Excellent. About $35.
“a savory, silken rosé, fresh as sun and rain …”
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Booker Pink 2017, Paso Robles, California. 92 percent grenache, 8 percent syrah. 250 cases. Excellent. About $30.
“unusual presence and resonance for a rosé. Don’t miss this one if you can get it.”
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Brovia Ciabot del Re Dolcetto d’Alba 2015, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $40.
“I can’t think of a Dolcetto I have tried that was better than this one.”
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Burgess Cellars Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 11 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $60.
“Classic Napa Valley.”
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Champagne Bruno Paillard Grand Cru Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, nv, France. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $70.
“… as steely and elegant, as refined and balletic as Champagne gets.”
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Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs 2012, Carneros, California. 100 percent chardonnay. Exceptional. About $115.
“A sparkling wine of impeccable class and sophistication.”
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Catena “La Consulta” Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $20.
“A superb example of the grape.”
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Churchill’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal. Excellent. About $80.
“A lovely evocation of earth and elegance and a joy to drink.”
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Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, Eagle Peak, Mendocino, California. 491 cases. Excellent. About $28.
“… bright and fresh, with seductive, spice-infused black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors, but a glittering edge of graphite, too…”
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Day Wines Johan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 450 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
“Amazing tone, shape and presence.”
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DeForville San Rocco Nebbiolo d’Alba 2014, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
“… fairly seethes with spare black fruit flavors that lead to a chiseled, faceted finish.”
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Donelan Family Wines “Nancie” Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, California. Exceptional. About $48.
“Rich? Oh, yes. Overdone, immodestly ripe and assertive? Certainly not. The balance, in fact, is risky and thrilling.”
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Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012, Douro, Portugal. Excellent. About $24.
“A powerful expression of the LBV style.”
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Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California. 317 cases. Exceptional. About $72.
“Altogether, a remarkable marriage of power and elegance.”
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Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc 2015, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California. Excellent. About $65.
“A terrific Napa Valley interpretation of the grape.”
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Ehrhart Domaine Saint-Remy Hengst Grand Cru Riesling 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $30.
“…sleek and suave, tremendous tone and presence but more spare and elegant than opulent.”
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The Farm Winery “Touchy-Feely” 2013, Adelaida District, Paso Robles. 80 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah. 241 cases. Excellent. About $60.
“… elegant and authoritative together, a silken texture emboldened by slightly sanded tannins and stirring acidity, all wrapped in a generous, chiseled, fine-spun granitic structure.”
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Chateau Faugeres 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc, 5 cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $45.
“Beautifully made, and perfect for a standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding.”
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Fields Family Wines Delu Vineyard Vermentino 2016, Alta Mesa, Lodi County, California. Fewer than 70 cases. Exceptional. About $21.
“A truly exquisite wine … scintillates with crystalline purity and intensity.”
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Forge Cellars “Les Allies” Dry Riesling 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. 262 cases. Excellent. About $28.
“… a potent riesling notable for clarity, crispness and depth.”
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Gamble Family Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Yountville, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $25.
“Always one of the best.”
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Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, California. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $31.
“… chiseled, faceted and crystalline with varietal purity and intensity and a feeling of connection to its vineyard, the sun and the wind.”
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Groth Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent merlot. Excellent. About $65.
“… a beautifully balanced and precise cabernet sauvignon that displays admirable equilibrium.”
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Halter Ranch Vineyard Grenache Blanc 2015, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, California. 80 percent grenache blanc, 14 percent picpoul, 4 roussanne, 2 viognier. Excellent. About $28.
“Well, this is just beautiful.”
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Highlands Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California. 350 cases. Excellent. About $75.
“… remarkably fresh, exact, dynamic and compelling.”
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Schloss Johannisberger “Gelblack” Riesling Feinherb 2014, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $25.
“… a lovely, golden, savory riesling, fresh and appealing…”
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Jordan Vineyard and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, California. 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13.7 percent merlot, 5.8 percent petit verdot, 1.2 percent malbec and 0.3 percent cabernet franc. Exceptional. About $56.
“… an intriguing marriage of power and elegance, finishing with faceted and chiseled granitic minerality.”
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Jordan Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Russian River Valley, California. Exceptional. About $33.
“… a chardonnay of shimmering purity and intensity that satisfies on every level.”
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Kreck Wines Del Barba Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2016, Contra Costa County, California. 45 cases. Excellent. About $42.
“… a surprising elegant and lithe structure that it feels as if it emits a special lightness of being.”
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Lafond Winery and Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, California. Exceptional. About $27.
“… a dense and chewy pinot noir that delivers considerable presence and power on the palate and an uplift of bright acidity.”
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Champagne Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, nv, France. 55 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir, seven years on the lees in bottle. Exceptional. About $140.
“… amazing presence on the palate, lovely, impressive, regal. ‘Grand,’ indeed.”
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Maryhill Proprietor’s Reserve Albariño 2017, Columbia Valley, Washington. 719 cases. Exceptional. About $20.
“… the finest albariño wine I have tasted… An extraordinary performance.”
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, California. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
“… lovely, almost sensual weight and heft on the palate with an elegant and refined feeling of weightlessness.”
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Onward Wines Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California. 139 cases. Exceptional. About $58.
“… combines the qualities of being elegant and ethereal with incisiveness and a definitely rigorous structure… Remarkable tone and presence.”
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Domaine Ostertag Muenchberg Riesling 2014, Alsace Grand Cru. Exceptional. About $42.
“… a golden wine that feels like liquid money on the tongue… A marvel of resonant personality and varietal character.”
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Ravenswood Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel 2015, Sonoma Valley, California. 96.8 percent zinfandel, 3.2 percent mixed black grapes. 900 cases. About $60.
“… plenty of depth and dimension and a hint of an untamed quality, but the emphasis is on exquisitely poised proportion.”
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Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, California. Exceptional About $25.
“My reaction … was, short of weeping, just to fall in love.”
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Roar Wines Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California. 449 cases. Excellent. About $60.
“… lovely purity and intensity, gaining dimension in the glass even as it offers ethereal elements of talc, violets and rose petals…”
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Sanford Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, California. Exceptional. About $35.
“… feels as impeccable as anyone could ask for.”
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Domaine Savary Premier Cru Vaillon 2017, Chablis, France. Excellent. About $35.
“For all that focus on structure, however, the wine projects innate delicacy and elegance.”
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Scheid Vineyards Gruner Veltliner 2016, Monterey County. 133 cases, Excellent. About $24.
“A fabulously attractive texture feels almost powdery on the palate, yet it remains light, lissome and elegant.”
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Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California. 850 cases. Exceptional. About $34.
“… amazing purity and intensity … crystalline tone and chiseled presence.”
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Tres Sabores Rutherford Zinfandel 2014, Napa Valley. California. 500 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
“… a remarkable, incisive, decisive wine of impeccable presence, integrity and allure.”
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Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc 2017, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 52 percent marsanne, 48 percent viognier. Excellent. About $25.
“An extraordinary wine, sleek with personality and character.”
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Wrath Wines Alta Loma Vineyard Grenache 2015, Monterey County. 82 cases. Exceptional. About $39.
“… you feel as if you’re drinking the vineyard.”
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Wrath Wines Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, California. 249 cases. Exceptional. About $49.
“… delivers gratifying depth and breadth in a package that feels wholly complete.”
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Yount Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.
“Just lovely.”
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Here’s a potion that will warm the cockles of your heart on these chilly eves. By the way, that old expression has nothing to do with “cockles and mussels, alive-alive oh,” but is a popular corruption of the Latin cochleae cordis, for the ventricles of the heart. Anyway, the Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012 is a large-framed, robust and supple-silky port that goes down like liquid embers. A quick explanation. Vintage Port, the real, rare and expensive stuff, rests two or three years in wood and then is bottled in its fiery, tannic youth to develop and mature over decades of slumber. LBV ages as long as four to six years after harvest in barrel, so by the time it’s bottled, the wine has already matured to a drinkable state. LBVs are priced more reasonably that true Vintage Ports. Grapes for Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2012 derive from the Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira vineyards that supply grapes for the Vintage Port from this venerable house, founded in 1798. This LBV 2012 offers a vivid dark ruby-magenta hue with a slightly softer rim; aromas of spiced and macerated plums and black currants burst from the glass in a welter of smoke, iodine and toasted almonds, licorice, lavender and flint. On the sweetness scale, this LBV ranks pretty low, its barely sweet entry segueing to a dry mid-palate and long, dry, dynamic finish. It’s dense and chewy yet, as I mentioned, quite supple and silky, founded on bastions of dusty, graphite-inflected tannins and lip-smacking acidity. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of fruit cake, with an array of baking spices and dried fruit, with, at the bottom, a trace of bittersweet chocolate. 19.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Premium Port Wines, San Francisco. A sample for review.

On Mother’s Day, I wrote about Champagne. For Father’s Day, the subject is Port. Who gets the better deal is up to you to decide, if such a decision is even necessary. Personally, I’ll take Champagne before dinner and Port after.

Port, made in Portugal’s Douro Valley, is a fortified wine, that is, fermentation is stopped with the addition of brandy or neutral grape spirits to the tanks or vats, leaving the wine with some (usually well-balanced) sweetness and an alcohol content of 19 or 20 percent. Young ports, especially fledgling vintage ports, can be powerful, fiery and tannic; old tawny ports lean toward mellow and ethereal. Port wines occur in many categories, some types fairly arcane, but the principle kinds are Ruby, Reserve, Late-Bottled Vintage, Vintage Port and Tawny. Ruby Ports are the youngest, the freshest and most fruity, typically aged in vats for two or three years. Reserve Ports are of higher quality and usually age a bit longer. Ruby and Reserve Ports are blends are several vineyards and vintages.

Vintage Ports are made only from grapes harvested in the same year and made only in the best vintages; the Port houses “declare” a vintage if it is good enough. These Ports age only about two years in vats and then are bottled, their fate to age in that bottle for 20, 30 or 40 years or more as they develop and gain maturity and eventually ease into gentle decline. While the production of Vintage Port is the smallest of the Port classifications, these are the wines that receive all the attention of the press and command high prices. Late-Bottled Vintage Port — usually abbreviated LBV — is designed to give consumers something like the Vintage Port experience but sooner. The point is that LVBs age in vat from four to six years, so they’re ready to drink when bottled.

Tawny Ports — my favorite category — age in oak casks for decades. The number of years stated on the label is an average; a 30-Year-Old Tawny Port may be a blend of ports that aged 10 to 50 years.

Some 30 grape varieties are allowed in Port, but realistically, the houses depend on five principal varieties: Tourga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Roriz (the Spanish tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. Each house blends these grapes in a fashion to suit its needs and particular style.

Today I offer six Ports for Father’s Day: two Reserves, one LBV and three Tawny Ports of 10, 20 and 30 years. No Vintage Porto; we want dear old Dad to enjoy his libation before he’s tottering in a walker.

Ports are traditionally served at the end of a meal with apples and pears, walnuts and aged cheeses, particularly Stilton and other cheddar cheeses. They can also be enjoyed with desserts like fruitcake or spice cake.

These products were samples for review.
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Warre’s Warrior Finest Reserve Porto. 20% alc. Deep ruby shading to a glowing magenta rim; very fresh and vibrant, with spiced and macerated plums and black cherries and penetrating elements of iodine and iron, highlighted by notes of cloves, allspice and cumin; sweetness on the entry tamed by vivid acidity and the passage across the palate to a finish that flares with blueberry tart and graphite. A superior Reserve Porto. Excellent. About $19, representing Fine Value.
Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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Graham’s River Quintas “Six Grapes” Reserve Port. 19.5% alc. Dense yet warm black-ruby with a transparent violet rim; blackberry jam and cassis, graphite and iodine, fruitcake, almond skin and bittersweet chocolate; intense and concentrated, with amazing presence and weight on the palate yet innate elegance and refinement; a dry, fiery, mineral-packed finish that extends to remarkable length. This one rated a “wow!” in my notebook for depth and dimension, personality and character. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $42.
Premium Port Wines, San Francisco.
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Dow’s LBV Porto 2011. 20% alc. Dark purple with a transparent magenta rim; very intense and concentrated compote of blackberries and black cherries infused by cloves and allspice and a hint of bittersweet chocolate; ferrous, feral and sanguinary, dense and dusty; elements of new leather, loam and graphite. A powerful expression of the LBV style. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $25.
Premium Port Wines, San Francisco.
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Warre’s “Otima 10” Ten Year Old Tawny Porto. 20% alc. A kind of russet, medium copper hue; fruitcake, walnuts and toasted almonds; woodsmoke and a hint of bitter chocolate; spice cake and toffee; sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the succulent finish animated by incisive acidity. Delicious. Excellent. About $30, for a 500-milliliter bottle.
Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto. 20% alc. Utterly transparent russet-pale copper hue, like faded apple skin; rich and autumnal; candied apple and blood orange, toffee and toasted almonds; old leather and lavender; reaches deep into the box of dried spices, especially cloves and sandalwood; quite vibrant and energetic, yet the finish is gentle and elegant. Excellent. About $65.
Premium Port Wines, San Francisco.
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Churchill’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port. 19.5% alc. Very pale and transparent amber-copper color; toffee, fruitcake, bittersweet chocolate; iodine and mint, plums and prunes; a line of dusty graphite; slumberous and autumnal, with smoke from burning leaves, peat; a touch of briers and brambles; sleek and supple, animated by vibrant acidity. A lovely evocation of earth and elegance and a joy to drink. Excellent. About $80.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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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.
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achaval-ferrer-CMendoza-2013
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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valadorna 09
Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

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Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
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sangioveto
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Benovia-2013-Russian-River-Valley-Pinot-Noir
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
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occultumlapidem2012us
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
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BlackKite
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.)
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terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
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Riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
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Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
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Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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cornerstone 11
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
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duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
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ehlers
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
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FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Jpeg Logo
Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
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FINAL 2013 ESS LABELb
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
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inman-rose
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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iron-horse-brut-x
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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jacquard
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
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laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
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lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
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ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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MFW_Rose_Face
MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
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mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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mcintyre
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Morgan_2012_Double_L_Chardonnay
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
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pfendler
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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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.
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quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
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innocent
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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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 11
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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

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taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
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joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
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two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
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Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
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Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, “greats” and also the single fathers, all you guys who are raising or helping to raise children or who did your job and now bask in the glory of watching your own children raise their off-spring. Typically, in the weeks and months before Father’s Day, I and the other wine writers and bloggers receive tons of PR material about Port, on the assumption that even though June marks the beginning of the hottest time of year, hordes of fathers will be sitting around in their smoking jackets sipping Port in wood-paneled libraries. Ha-ha, well, whatever, so today in honor of fathers everywhere I offer a stunning example of vintage port, one that will, admittedly, require some years of aging to shed its fiery youthful vigor. The Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012 is a single-vineyard Port produced by a venerable firm that dates its official founding to 1692. Wine director for Taylor Fladgate is David Guimaraens, who represents the sixth generation of his family in the Port business. Sixty percent of the Quita de Vargellas vineyard consists of vines 75 years old and older. Made very traditionally, this Port encompasses the grape varieties Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, completely foot-trodden; it aged two years in wooden vats before being bottled and released. The color is a deep opaque ruby-purple with a glowing magenta edge; aromas of incredibly ripe, rich and intense blueberries, blackberries and mulberries seem coated with the darkest of bitter chocolate, these elements infused with notes of loganberries, lavender and violets, graphite and iodine, with hints of mint, briers and brambles; the effect is hypnotic, intoxicating, feral and carnal. This is a Port that feels more minerally than spicy and is altogether powerful, intense and concentrated, animated by swingeing acidity and penetrating granite-etched tannins whose dusty velvet-like texture coats the palate. Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012 is characterized by amazing presence and weight and displays a piercing sense of confidence, conviction and authority; it’s the nexus where the torrentially sweet and the formidably dry coalesce. Alcohol content of this fortified wine is 20 percent. Drink from, say, 2020 or ’24 through 2036 to ’40 and beyond. Exceptional. About $53.

Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.

Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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Going to a holiday party that carries the responsibility of a host or hostess gift? Need a present for someone who appreciates fine wine and a sense of specialness? That’s why I’m here, My Readers, to remove from your troubled spirits the burden of choice. The only requirement is that the recipient does drink alcoholic beverages. Port, as you probably know, is produced in the Douro River valley in northern Portugal from a group of grape varieties grown almost exclusively in the region. It is a fortified wine, meaning that fermentation is stopped by the addition of brandy or some neutral spirit, leaving the wine sweet to a greater or lesser degree, though Port usually finishes dry. Vintage Ports, made only in the best years, used to be the darlings of the auction rooms because of their longevity, their power and their high prices. Other excellent, not to say fabulous Ports exist, however, and today I mention three that would make beautiful gifts for a friend, a loved one, a boss, a host — and don’t neglect a treat for yourself, because I know that you have been more nice than naughty this year, n’est-ce pas?

These wines were samples for review.
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The Graham’s Special Old Vines Edition “Six Grapes” Porto is a particular bottling that commemorates the company’s 100th anniversary of using the Six Grapes motif. Only 500 cases were produced of this tremendously impressive Port. “Old Vines Edition” means that some of the vineyards date back to the 1960s. The color is deep, vivid ruby purple; seductive aromas of blackberries, currants and plums are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, smoke and black licorice, toasted hazelnuts and a hint of marzipan, all wrapped in a haze of fruitcake and all that implies in terms of spices and dried and candied fruit and its subtle alcohol lift. This is an intense, concentrated and powerful Port that coats the mouth with supple dusty tannins, a keen graphite element and profoundly vibrant acidity; sweet and succulent black fruit flavors segue to dryness in mid-palate, leading to a major finish packed with iodine and iron. Incredible presence and tone. 19.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $42.

Imported by Premium Port Wines, San Francisco
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The “Late Bottled Vintage” designation means that instead of being bottled after two years in barrel, as is the case for Vintage Port, the product is typically bottled after five years in barrel, implying that it’s now ready to drink and needs no further aging. Vintage Ports from great years, of course, can age in the bottle for decades, undergoing marvelous development and maturity, and are much beloved by the dwindling pool of collectors who possess sufficient fiduciary prowess. Still, LBVs can be powerful wines that do not necessarily have to be consumed immediately. The Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2008 is a fathoms-deep dark ruby-purple color; spectacular aromas of black currants, black cherries and raspberries long steeped in spiced brandy are infused with lavender and licorice, with strong smoky oolong tea and roasted figs and prunes; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of figs and bitter chocolate-covered raisins. Pretty damned heady stuff, all right. On the palate, this LBV 08 is bold, intense and concentrated, sweet and juicy on the entry but segueing into dryness; riveting acidity maintains the tremendous tension among fruit, scintillating graphite minerality and dusty, leathery tannins; the finish is long, dynamic, supple and dense with spice and minerals. 20 percent alcohol. Hold for a few years, if you want, but once opened sip over the course of a week. One of the best LBVs I have encountered. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Kobrand Wine & Spirits, New York
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Only 1,000 bottles — fewer than 85 cases — were produced of the Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto, so mark it Worth a Search. It’s a blend of old vine tinto roriz, tinta amarela, tinta franca and other varieties, aged in very old 600-litre oak casts and other old oak vats. The age indication of a Tawny Port offers an average, so some of the ports in this blend could be younger than 20 years and some older. The color is glowing medium amber; enticing aromas and flavors of cloves, toasted almonds, toffee, coffee and toasted coconut are wreathed with notes of orange rind, dried citron, menthol, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and cigar smoke. While this Tawny Port is dense, vibrant and resonant on the palate, it is also silky smooth; towering acidity gives it plenty of nerve, a dynamic factor that does not detract from its innate delicacy and elegance. The finish brings in hints of maple syrup and pine resin. The entire effect is mellow and autumnal. 19.5 percent alcohol. Go classic here: a handful of walnuts, slices of apple, a segment of Stilton cheese. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif.
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The Grant and the Eddie of Grant Eddie Winery in North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, are Grant Ramey and Edward Shulten. Their label was called Ramey Shulten until a letter came from the well-known Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma County that said, in essence, “Oh no, boys, you’re treading on our trademark.” That’s when the brand became Grant Eddie. Ramey, a North Yuba native (on the right in this photo), was for many years the vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyards and Winery. He began making wine at home from selected sites among the Renaissance hilltop vineyards in 1986. Shulten, originally from the Netherlands, was a well-traveled winemaker and sommelier; he is now winemaker for Renaissance, replacing Gideon Beinstock, who concentrates on his Clos Saron project. Ramey, who knows the acres of Renaissance better than anyone, leases some of the best sections for cabaernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, grenache and other red varieties.

Production is tiny at Grant Eddie, perhaps 700 cases annually, and the quality is very high, especially in the red wines. Alcohol levels are kept below 14 percent; the words “new oak” are not uttered unless in disparagement, though Ramey and Shulten are too polite to be disparaging. Vineyards are tended organically; grapes are fermented naturally and sulfites are kept to a minimum. When I was in California’s Sierra Foothills region back in June, I sat down with Grant Ramey and tasted through a wide range of Grant Eddie wines. I would encourage My Readers to look for the syrahs and the grenache wines particularly, though the zinfandels and cabernets thoroughly reward consideration; the cabernets tend to need five to seven years to shed their tannins. The whites — fewer than 200 cases altogether each year — are highly individual wines that lean toward eccentricity yet are interesting enough to merit a try.

Where are these wines? Distribution is very limited outside California. The wines are available through the website — grantedwinery.com — or if you happen to be in the area, you can find Grant Ramey at local farmer’s markets on weekends. Yes, in the Golden State wineries can offer tastings and sales of wines at these institutions.
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First, the white wines, all made half in French oak, half in stainless steel, the lees stirred once a week for five or six months. The white production at Grant Eddie is so small — about 200 cases altogether — that the wines seem almost superfluous, though because of their individual, even idiosyncratic character they’re worth exploring, especially the Semillon 2012 and the White Pearl from 2010 and ’11.

Semillon 2012. Medium gold color; roasted lemon, yellow plum, figs, leafy and savory; very dry, dusty, notes of loam and limestone; lovely texture, almost lush but cut by tremendous acidity; super attractive for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
White Pearl 2010, a blend of 60 percent semillon and 40 percent sauvignon blanc that spent seven or eight months in two-to-four-year-old barrels. Medium gold color; very ripe, a little earthy; creamy fig, roasted lemon, a note of dried thyme; hint of creme brulee; quite dry, though, with a lovely moderately lush texture cut by fleet acidity; fairly austere on the finish. Excellent. About $22
White Pearl 2011. Moderate gold color, an idiosyncratic wine, highly individual and not quite fitting into any set of expectations; notes of roasted lemon, lime peel and and slightly over-ripe mango; very spicy, lively; very dry, with a taut acid-and-limestone structure, yet generous, yielding, a bit buxom. Very Good+. About $22.
Chardonnay 2013. Medium gold color; pineapple, grapefruit, mango; florid, bold, fairly tropical; quite dry, very spicy, doesn’t quite hang together. Very Good. About $22.
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Now the reds, first grenache, about 100 cases annually. From Ramey Mountain Vineyard.

Grenache 2011. Dark ruby, opaque; very earthy, briery and loamy; ripe, very spicy, a little wet-dog-funkiness; sweetly
ripe and intense blackberry-blueberry-raspberry flavors; fairly dense and chewy tannins but light on its feet; svelte, supple. Best after 2015, then to 2019 or ’20. Excellent.
Grenache 2010. Deep ruby color; intoxicating evocative bouquet of dried flowers, dried spices, fresh and macerated black and red fruit; clean and incisive, briers and brambles, loamy earthiness and graphite minerality; pinpoint acidity; dusty tannins; a supple, shapely grenache. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent.
Grenache 2007. Medium ruby hue; ripe, warm, spicy, a little fleshy; macerated and slightly roasted red and black currants and plums; lovely texture, sapid, savory; lip-smacking acidity in perfect balance with fruit, oak and gently dusty, leather-clad tannins; great length and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent.

Sangiovese, about 50 cases annually.

Sangiovese 2011. 13.3% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Dark ruby-purple; wholly tannic, needs three to four years to learn company manners. Very Good+. About $22.
Sangiovese 2007. 13.6% alc. Whitman’s Glen Vineyard. Medium ruby color; raspberries, red and black currants, cloves, orange rind, black tea, hint of olive; fresh, agile, elegant; lovely fluid texture; classic. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent.

Zinfandel, 50 to 60 cases annually.

Zinfandel 2012. 13.9% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Deep purple with a magenta rim; clean, fresh, lithe; very pure and intense; blackberries, blueberries, black currants with a vein of poignant graphite minerality; perfectly managed tannins for framing and foundation, a little austere on the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $27.
Zinfandel 2007. 13.5% alc. Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard. dark ruby with a garnet rim; ripe, meaty, fleshy, warm, spicy; macerated black fruit; vibrant, resonant structure, lively and vital, drinking beautifully. Through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.

Merlot, from Ramey Mountain Vineyard

Merlot 2011. 13.6% alc. Deep ruby-purple; very minerally, earthy and briery, distinct graphite and iodine element; large-framed, dense, dusty, chewy, fairly muscular tannins and bright acidity; will this evolve into something like merlot or more like cabernet? Try 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $27.
Merlot 2008. 13.6% alc. Deep ruby-purple color but softer and riper than the ’11, almost luscious, but cut by iron-like tannins and arrow-bright acidity; black currants, blueberries and plums; clove and allspice build in the background over lavender and biter chocolate; needs more time, say 2015 or ’16 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent.

Syrah, this winery’s strength. “Syrah takes a while to even come to the beginning of something,” Ramey told me. You have to work with nature and the demands it makes on you.”

Syrah 2009. 13.7% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Deep ruby color; incredible concentration and intensity of variety, confidence and purpose, though almost pure graphite and granitic minerality now and draped with dense dusty tannins; youthfully inchoate, needs three or four years to find balance, but the depths of character are apparent. Try from 2015 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $27.
Syrah 2007. 13.8% alc. Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard. Dark ruby with a slightly lighter garnet rim; a tad riper and more approachable than the ’09 but lots of dusty minerality, iron and iodine; the purity and intensity of black fruit are impressive and alluring; quite dry, the finish a bit austere. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent.
Ramey Schulten Syrah 2004. 13% alc. Meadow’s Knoll Vineyard. This is beautiful, such depth and layering, such a combination of character and personality, with pinpoint and vibrant fruit, acidity and graphite minerality; such a feeling of poise and expectation, though still huge, dense, chewy, with real edge, grit and glamor. A masterpiece, to drink through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional.

Cabernet sauvignon.

There are two Grant Eddie cabernet sauvignon wines for 2012, one that’s 100 percent cabernet, the second a blend that includes four percent merlot and three percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Not necessarily predictably but it turned out that the 100 percent version features an almost pure graphite-granitic-iron-and-iodine character with tannins that are hard, lithe and dusty but not punishing. Give this one until 2018 or ’20 and drink until 2028 or ’30. The alternate rendition is fairly burly and tannic but offers notes of cassis, black cherry, lavender and cloves as concession. Excellent potential for each, and each about $28. The 2009 and 2007, each from Ramey Mountain Vineyard and delivering 13.7 percent alcohol, and not nearly ready to drink, offering penetrating minerality and acidity. Give them three or four more years’ aging.
Let’s go back, however, to the Ramey Schulten Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent syrah and 15 percent each cabernet franc and merlot, for a wine of gorgeous shape and proportion that displays sweetly ripe black and red fruit scents and flavors, evocative spice and mild herbal qualities and deep foundational tannins and resonant acidity for essential structure. This and the Syrah 2004 were the best wines of an extraordinary tasting.

Grant Eddie also produces 75 to 100 cases of port (or port-like) wine every year, made from the classic Douro Valley grapes, of which the inky-purple California Port 2012 is young, bright, vigorous and intensely minerally, with soft elegant tannins (about $33); the Ramey-Schulten 2001 is lightly spiced and macerated, a bit sweet and plummy; and the gently faded Ramey Schulten 1992 — a real treat — offers notes of fruitcake, toffee, figs, cloves and orange zest in supple and mildly tannic structure.
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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.
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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.

One of the advantages of tawny port is that it has already been aged for you and is ready to drink when opened; another is that it tends to be less expensive, often much less, than the Vintage Porto that grabs all the headlines and is produced in small quantities. Tawny ports are left to age in barrels until they reach the desired point of maturity and character, so that, unlike Vintage Porto, they do not develop once they have been bottled. Tawny ports that carry age designations, usually 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, are typically made (or should be made) from high quality grapes to maintain a level of integrity. Those age designations are approximations, generally meaning an average; a 10-year-old tawny may be blended from wines from five to 15 years old. Remember that port is a fortified wine whose fermentation is stopped by the addition of pure spirits, resulting in sweetness and relatively high alcohol, about 19 to 20 percent.

Warre’s launched its Otima label a few years ago in an effort to modernize the rather staid image of port in general and tawnies in particular. The design is simple and stylish, and unlike most port bottles, the glass is clear rather than opaque. Warre’s, the oldest British Port house, established in 1670, is owned by the Symington family, which also owns Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Gould Campbell, Graham’s, Quarles Harris, Quinta do Vesuvio and Smith Woodhouse.

Warre’s Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Porto sports a radiant medium copper-amber color with a faintly lighter rim; as the case should be with a 10-year-old tawny, the nose is a subtle yet complex weaving of toasted coconut, toasted almonds, rum-soaked raisins and citrus fruit, and fruitcake with overtones of orange rind and a touch of the exotic in hints of cloves, sandalwood and mango. In the mouth, this tawny is fairly direct, rather fiery initially, and it slides over the palate with sleek ease; what it lacks in depth it makes up for with the suavity and smoothness of its brown-sugar-and-rum-tinged citrus, plum and fig flavors and the authority of its vibrant acidity; sweet on the intake, it turns quite dry by the finish. Made for sipping after dinner sitting out on the porch. 20 percent alcohol. Serve slightly chilled. Very Good+. About $26 for a 500ml bottle.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, American Canyon, Ca. A sample for review.

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