Here's a list of the ten best wines that I enjoyed last year. Since I don't believe in trying to compare Oregon Pinot Gris head-to-head with California Cabernet Franc or Australian Shiraz, I'm just presenting these in alphabetical order.
2006 Bodega Abel Mendoza Seleccion Personal, Rioja - I typically don't gravitate towards Rioja since most of it is aged in inexpensive American oak barrels that impart a lot of dill and Bourbon notes. But I really liked this wine for its smoke, vanilla and raspberry fruit. This was served with grilled venison backstrap with a red wine/red currant reduction sauce. My father-in-law picked this one up on clearance; regularly $60, marked down to $15.
2008 Austrian Pepper Gruner Veltliner, Niederosterreich - I've had precious few examples of this varietal, but this one really impressed me with its beautiful green apple, candle wax and petroleum notes, waxy texture and electrifying acidity. And yes, there's a subtle hint of black pepper that gets you right on the tip of the tongue. About $15.
2008 Four Vines Heretic Petite Sirah, Paso Robles - Uncanny blackberry jam, cream and French roast coffee leap from the glass. Unctuous, gelatinous texture features loads of dark cocoa and blackberry liqueur. Another great pairing with venison, this time with a blackberry pan sauce. Purchased on sale for $30, regularly $40.
1995 Chateau de la Gardine Cuvee des Generations "Gaston Philippe", AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape - I had high expectations for this wine, but I had no idea how well it would show against the 1995 and 1998 Chateau Beaucastel. Deep black fruit with a Barolo-like nose of roses, tar and fennel bulb. Absolutely stunning. I think I paid about $75 for this back on release.
2008 Justin Vineyards Justification, Paso Robles. This blend of 65% Cabernet Franc and 35% Merlot out-dueled the delicious 2008 Dunning Cabernet Franc. The sugary, blueberry cobbler nose and tremendous blue and black fruits immediately took me back to one of my all-time favorites, the 1994 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon. Another bargain bin closeout steal ($20, normally $50) compliments of my father-in-law.
2008 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris, Oregon - My good friend Alex and his wife brought this one over for a Memorial Day paella party. I believe they purchased this at the winery. With its layers of yeast, mineral and orange-tinted fruit it was easily the best domestic Pinot Gris I have ever had. Pricey at $40, but quite a treat.
2006 Alois Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvee, Burgenland - This is the only wine on the list that I enjoyed at a restaurant last year. This was paired with Mahon cheese, kumquat jelly and housemade black pepper crackers at Atlanta's Miller Union. The wine's sweet apricot and truffle notes were absolute perfection with the buttery, pungent cheese. One of the more memorable desserts I have ever had.
2006 Linne Calodo Nemesis, Paso Robles This blend of 82% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre and 4% Grenache beat out numerous Rhone Rangers from the likes of Dunning, Tablas Creek and Terry Hoage to make the list. Chocolate-covered cherries, fresh-cracked black pepper, camphor and sweet resinous herbs burst from the glass. Uncanny balance. With grilled flank steak and charmoula sauce. About $50
1994 Penfolds Grange Shiraz, South Australia - Fine-grain American oak, mint, eucalyptus and roasted meat with a mouth-coating texture and a finish that can be measured with a sundial. A true "iron fist in a velvet glove." About $150 on release and built to last forever.
2004 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno, IGT Tuscany - I drank a lot of middling Italian wines and a couple of big disappointments. But our friends Ron and Suzy really blew me away with this Sangiovese/Cabernet/Merlot blend. Bewildering aroma of blueberry cobbler and fresh rosemary with ferocious tannins. Great pairing with grilled filet and shiitake risotto. Currently sells for about $100.
Wow. Looking back, I can't help but marvel at how many great wines I've been fortunate to enjoy with so many great people last year. My business partner Chris and his wife. My father-in-law. My wife's sister and her husband in Atlanta. My dear friend Alex and his wife, Kerri. My wife's college roommate Suzy and her husband Ron, also in Atlanta. And, of course, my wife. I can only hope that 2013 is as full of great wine and great friendship as last year was. Now, if you'll excuse me, we're having venison tenderloin with a selection of Chateauneufs-du-Pape this evening......