I'm just gonna go ahead and jump on the whole bandwagon of year-end wrap-up blog-posts and use the dawn of a new year as an excuse for me to start writing again. My absence comes amidst a whirlwind of experiences, much of which was spent in the humble suburbs of Minneapolis teaching my lovely clientele about QUALITY value-driven wine. I was, however, blessed with an opportunity of a lifetime which saw me spend two and a half months in a wine-geek's dream-of-a-location: Burgundy. My 'stage' as the French would call it, or internship for those of us who speak English was, for lack of a better description, LIFE-CHANGING.
The home of Pinot Noir (my inanimate love if I ever had one) and Chardonnay welcomed me with open arms as I worked my fat butt off lending a hand in the production of some of the better wines from the region. (Ever seen Mondovino? Hubert De Montille, the bald-headed gem of a man on the cover was the patron of the winery I worked at and we spent many nights together discussing the finer points, like why Grand-Cru Corton Charlemagne is the ONLY choice to pair with the regional cheese Epoisses).
I met amazing people from around the world, ate like an emperor, and obviously drank quite well. I was spoiled, to say the least, drinking some pretty...searching for words, heady wine with each and every meal. As a wine-geek, some of these wines literally changed my life and the way I view the fermented product of grapes. My palate has had a hard time recovering now stateside as my wallet can't match my desires, compounded with the fact that much of what I loved in France is not even available in my home market. Even so, I've found some wines since being back that have excited me beyond belief and I'd like to share those with you.
What follows is my, @feelthewine's top ten wines I drank in 2011. Some are back vintages and not available at all, some are current and affordable. I'm not a big fan at all of 'ratings' from the big wine writers or magazines. They are helpful, in a sense, to direct oneself towards good buys, but when it all comes down, the setting in which you sip a wine and the people you are with have just as much bearing as anything else on how the wine will taste to you. For this reason, I'll also sum up where I was or what I was doing when the bottle was uncorked.
10. Mirth Chardonnay: From Washington state, this wine wins my pick for domestic Chardonnay, as well as 'sexiest wine label of the year'. I fell in love with the banana and pineapple aromas upon first examination. I brought this wine to a number of blind tastings and recommended it to my Chard-loving mother and upon each and every examination, the wine received heavy praise. It's a WHITE WINE BEST BUY!
9. Boomtown Syrah: Two guys from Wisconsin moved to Washington to make wine...it's the start of a joke I suppose, but their finished product is the stuff domestic wine dreams are made of. I had the chance to meet the winemaker on a number of occasions this year, and besides the fact that I was immediately comforted by his calm demeanor and ambition, his wine was a bitchin' example of Washington Syrah. It's a RED WINE BEST BUY! P.S. Syrah doesn't suck.
8. Opolo Sangiovese 2009: Chianti is the home of the distinctive grape Sangiovese and oftentimes produces an overly acidic wine meant only for food (see: tomato-based dishes). In California, many producers have tried to reproduce the 'old world' wine in a climate that doesn't suit it and end up bastardizing Sangiovese with waaaaaaay too much oak. Opolo has done it right! All the lovely fruit characteristics come out in this bottling with just a touch of oak that tells you, 'this wine is meant for food, but if you want to sip it by the glass, your mind will be blown'.
7. Stephen Ross Central Coast Pinot Noir 2008: When I got back from Burgundy, to be perfectly honest, I was really only drinking new craft beers because nothing I could afford came close to the wines I drank abroad. A refreshing tide of energy soon hit me when I tasted the said wine. Steve Dooley, originally of Mankato, MN (Midwest represent) crafts his Pinot Noir in a style unlike many others in the state of California. Lower alcohol levels and extraction lead to a gorgeous Pinot Noir that stands alone in its category. Given the fact that 2008 was a tough vintage for Pinot producers in California, this wine is sexy as hell on its own, but begs for a nice roast or vegetable stew. It's only a matter of time before I meet Mr. Dooley and probe him for the secrets to his success.
6. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2009: I had never heard of the wines of Graillot until I set foot in France (apparently I was out of the loop). I tasted a 2005 Crozes-Hermitage from the winery one night at dinner with some roasted beef and was absolutely blown away. After harvest was over, some friends and I took a road trip south from Burgundy to explore the Rhone region of wine. On our last day there we got lost in the vineyard backroads of Tain L'Hermitage and much to our luck found the Domaine Graillot thanks to the direction of a vineyard worker we consulted for direction. Second generation winemaker and son, Maxime, graciously tasted us through past, present, and future releases with astounding insight and passion. He praised, and praised, and praised the 2009 vintage in the Rhone, and I must agree, the wine shows oh so well now, but will definitely develop over 10 to 15 years. If you have the cash to buy and cellar a wine, THIS IS IT!
5. Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon Cote-du-py 1999: Beaujolais. Most of us only know the name thanks to the obnoxiously acidic and tacky 'Nouveau' wine that comes out every year on the third Thursday of November. There is actually WAY more to this region than I previously thought. Beaujolais 'cru's' are the wines that come from each of the single towns within the region. For the price, one can't go wrong. I've never been able to put my mind around why these wines are so much cheaper than their counterparts to the north in Burgundy. This single vineyard wine, from 12 years prior, was absolutely mind blowing, and just coming into its own. The abundance of ripe red fruits and tongue pleasing acidity was astounding. Beaujolais is my BEST PICK for region of the year.
4. Comte Georges de Vogue Chambolle Musigny 1999: While I became deeply enamored with all the wines of Burgundy during my stay, the wines of the village Chambolle Musigny particularly stuck out in my mind. The northern half of Burgundy, the Cote de Nuits, tends to produce Pinot Noir of a much heavier body and masculine characteristic, as many will say. The wines of Chambolle, however, tend to shy away from this stereotype and those of Comte de Vogue shine on. 1999 was a 'classic' vintage in the region and I was blessed to find this wine for cheap. I took a weekend getaway to Chablis with some winery colleagues and we snatched this bottle off the list during a four hour lunch at a local hole in the wall restaurant. Soft and supple, elegant, beautiful. This wine was Liquid Velvet.
3. J.M. Roulot Meursault Les Tillets 1999: 'I came to Burgundy for Pinot Noir, but I stayed for Chardonnay'. It's a quote I heard uttered time and time again from foreigners who had settled in the Cote d'Or as winemakers. This bottle sums it all up for me. 1999: Sexy Vintage. Jean Marc Roulot, an actor turned winemaker to carry on the family name, got it right and keeps on getting it right. I'd say this is the white Burgundy that changed my mind and might never let me go back to sipping California Chardonnay without a chip on my shoulder. The bottle was a magnum at our 'Paulee' or end of harvest party. The food cooked by our Israeli chef Nir (mad props to Nir) and the extremely diverse group of friends and colleagues, from a SF based venture capitalist, to the rough and tumble French seasonal pickers, my fellow winery interns to Mr. Hubert De Montille himself all made the experience one in a trillion!
2. Domaine De Montille Pommard Rugiens 1985: It's pretty rare that a French winemaker tells you to go down into his cellar of back vintages and pick any bottle you please. I was blessed with the opportunity during our second 'Paulee' and I chose a bottle from my birth year from what had become one of my favorite Burgundy vineyards. Amongst the 30 plus bottles that were opened that night, dating back to 1969 in Burgundy and further from around the world, it became apparent that my 1985 was something special (a group consensus). The integration of fruit, acid, body and tannins that were living and breathing as if never before was astonishing. The wine tasted young! But oh so sexy and smooth, like a new-ish world Pinot bottled in the past few years. It gets me thinking that maybe all the lab-work and analysis of today might not be all too necessary. Letting the vineyards do the work (with minor manipulation) is one of the tenets of my learning in France.
1. J.L. Chave Hermitage White 2002: Old(er) white wine. It's something I'd never really experienced before and white wine from the Rhone was also foreign. It's fair to say that this staple of a wine from a staple of a producer LITERALLY changed my life and left me speechless. The ripe concentrated honey and Asian spice notes were synthesized from a heavy, voluptuous mouthfeel to a needle-point accuracy on the tongue, that once again unfolded into minutes and minutes of pure bliss on the finish. I've never tasted anything like it and quite honestly hope it will be a while before I do again.
Happy New Year!