Joseph Phelps, Insignia (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Napa Valley, USA, 2010. (I really like this vintage of Insignia) 19/20
Rich, fine and engaging. Insignia at its majestic best.
Catena Alta, Historic Rows Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009. 18.5/20
This was just about perfect when opened a couple of months ago. Vibrant, pure yet profound.
Ridge, Lytton Springs (predominantly Zinfandel), Sonoma County, USA, 2009. 18/20
Zinfandel that is more than a one trick pony.
Pontet Canet, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2011. 18/20
I would happily drink this now. Forget the 2009s and 10’s and focus on the more ‘classic’ vintages of the last ten years (04, 06, 08, 11) to accompany the big bird.
Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo (Nebbiolo), Piedmont, Italy, 2004 (drinking very well now). 18/20
Jamet, Cote Rotie (Syrah), Northern Rhone, France, 2008. 17/20
I wish I could drink this kind of wine everyday, fresh, delicate and so very elegant.
La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 (predominantly Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 1998. 18/20
This or the 2001 make for perfect drinking now.
Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1 (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Yarra Valley, Australia. 18.5/20
The only Australian on the list this year, speaks more of the choice available in Taiwan than the quality coming from Oz.
Duemani, CiFRA (Cabernet Franc), Tuscany, Italy, 2011. 17/20
Like the Jamet, this is very much my kind of wine. Juicy, grippy but charming.
Groot Constantia, Gouverneur’s Reserve (predominantly Cabernet Franc), Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2011. 18/20
South Africa gives you some fruit that has clearly benefited from some warmth but also tannins that remind you of Europe, a winning combination.
Logodaj, Melnik 55 (100% Melnik). Struma Valley, Bulgaria, 2012. 17/20
This really opened my eyes to Bulgaria, I would be more than happy to drink this with my goose.
Chateau de la Font du Loup, Chateauneuf du Pape (predominantly Grenache), Southern Rhone, France, 2012. 18/20
This provides what I want from CNdP, pretty fruit, perfume but with some underlying grunt. Lovely.
Mas Amiel, A Alt 433M (predominantly Grenache), Maury Sec, Roussillon, France. 17/20
Wild, untamed and very good.
Marquis d’Angerville, 1er Cru les Champans, Volnay (Pinot Noir), Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
A lesson in what Volnay is meant to be about, delicacy, elegance and that ethereal Pinot charm.
Pieve Santa Restituta, Renina, Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese),
Tuscany, Italy, 2007 (delicious vintage from here). 18.5/20
Powerful but beautifully balanced, I loved this.
Clos Mogador (predominantly Garnacha and Carinena), Priorat, Spain, 2008. 18.5/20
Great wine from great people often tastes…well, great.
Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2008. 17.5/20
I really like the 2008 vintage, sleek and ripe enough and with grainy tannins that help this wine persist on the palate.
If someone asks me what I want for Christmas I hesitate to say wine because I know that people fear getting it ‘wrong’. The problem is that the amateur cannot look at a label and derive much needed information about the quality in the bottle. If, on the other hand, I want to buy my beloved a handbag, whether I know the relative merits of Fendi vs. Fiorelli is immaterial, my judgement on the suitability of the aesthetic is alone, the deciding factor (not that I am pretending that this purchasing decision is free of danger).
What follows therefore is a brief list of some of the wines that I have particularly enjoyed over the last year. I have not listed the wines by price (as typing the name of each into Google will give you a more accurate idea of their cost in your local market) and if you would like more detailed information, many have been reviewed on Sniff in the last few months. It is far from exhaustive and the criteria for appearing on this list was less about the score (I have left out many with similar ratings) and more about those wines that have forced me to engage with them, either as a result of their sheer gustatory pleasure or because of some beguiling complexity. These are, therefore, wines that should make any wine-lover happy (be it your Mum, manager or man-friend) and if you are lucky they may even share their gift with you, ensuring a happy Christmas for all concerned.
One last point – don’t fret too much about the vintage, I state if the vintage is hugely influential to the choice.
Ken Forrester, The FMC (100% Chenin Blanc) Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2010. 17.5/20
Rich and intense but with a seam of supporting acidity. Chenin at its South African best.
Hans Herzog, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ‘Sur lie’, New Zealand, 2009. 17/20
Quince, pineapple, marzipan and nettle form just part of this complex, very un-Marlborough like, Sauvignon.
Millton, Riverpoint Viognier, Gisborne, New Zealand, 2011. 17.5/20
Warm peach, lemon oil and honey. Vibrant for Viognier and with great length.
Henri Bourgeois, La Bourgeoise, Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Loire France, 2010. 18.5/20
My favourite Sauvignon of the year, as elegant as it gets.
Eric Morgat, Cuvee l’Enclos, Savennieres (Chenin Blanc), Loire, France, 2009. 18/20
Weighty but with that special mineral and salty line running through it which separates the great from the good.
Von Buhl, Forster Ungeheuer GG (‘Grosses Gewachs’ meaning a dry wine produced from the best vineyards), Riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 2011. 18/20
Full of tension and vitality.
Cantina Terlan, Winkl, Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige/Sudtirol, Italy, 2013. 17.5/20
The best producers of Italian Sauvignon?
Nik Weis, St. Urbans Hof, Laurentiuslay GG, Riesling trocken, Mosel, Germany, 2012 (I love this vintage here). 19/20
Stunning, the most arresting white I tried this year.
Domaine Labet, Fleur de Savagnin ‘en Chalasse’, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2012. 17.5/20
No need to chill this as the driving acidity and persistence make this feel like it is already chilled. Brilliant.
Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Clos du Four, (100% Chardonnay) Macon-Milly-Lamartine, Burgundy, France, 2011. (I love this vintage here) 18/20
Delicious, approachable and most importantly, highly affordable Burgundy.
Domaine Ramonet, 1er cru ‘les Caillerets’, Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
Delicious and approachable but you’ll pay a bit more for this classic than for the Macon.
Jean Bourdy, Chateau Chalon, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2005. 19/20
Flor influenced brilliance. Gob-smackingly fine with an intensity, complexity and persistence rarely found in any other white wine. Outstanding.
Sweet & Sparkling
Rolly Gassmann, Rotleibel de Rorschwihr, Pinot Gris, Alsace, France, 2008. 18/20
A little chubby but only in the most alluring way, I could drink a glass of this every day.
Grahams, The Stone Terraces, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 2011, (special vintage). 19/20
From the spectacular 2011 vintage, this is Graham’s newest addition to their line-up.
Dow’s, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 1994. 18/20
Perfect drinking now.
Chateau Pajzos, Tokaji Essencia, Hungary, 1999. 19.5/20
I had tears in my eyes on tasting this. The most mesmeric wine I tasted this year.
Bruno Paillard, NPU 1999, Champagne, France. 18.5/20
Very complex sparkler that deserves your full attention. Don’t waste this on a celebration, drink with your nearest and dearest.
Camel Valley, Pinot Noir Rose Brut, Cornwall, England, 2012. 17/20
Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve NV, Champagne, France. 18/20
Surely the best value Champagne on the market.
Blind tasting is controversial. As an importer it was the final and most critical part of my selection process. Having spent time visiting producers and tasting wines in situ; it was only on my return home that a reliable assessment could be made. The blind-tasting of wines of a particular price point or region against their neighbours or competitors, helped remove some of the bias to which I was prone. I never bought wines from people I didn’t like but blind tasting also prevented me from buying wines from people I really did. It removed the emotion and romanticism I might have attached to people and places and left the raw product exposed for what it was. It is this reason why so many returning from holiday clutching their favourite wine of the trip end up being disappointed. Most wine tastes good when the sun is high and the serotonin is flowing. In the more prosaic surroundings of home, these same vinous ‘joys’ are often much less rewarding.
In the classroom, blind-tastings are frequently used as a method of torture rather than one of learning. There should always be a clear reason as to why one is tasting blind otherwise it becomes a game with too many crestfallen ‘losers’ and no real ‘winner’ – not in an educational sense anyway. Last Sunday my class enjoyed a flight of four wines (conducted blind), that worked particularly well as an exercise in varietal differences. Attempting to ‘bench-mark’ varieties or regional expressions of certain grape types is not always successful, but the Syrah, Carmenere, Malbec and Cabernet/Merlot we tasted proved deliciously up to the task. As an MW student I am keenly aware of making tastings illuminating and relevant; and these four wines, none prohibitively expensive, are worthy of some home study of your own.
Marques de Casa Concha, Syrah, D.O Buin (Maipo), Chile, 2011, 14.5%
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: Classic Syrah. Blackberry fruit and fresh acidity that helps preserve this wine’s sense of purity. The oak does not get in the way and the ripe tannins complete the harmonious palate. Good value
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw
Marques de Casa Concha, Carmenere, D.O Peumo (Rapel), Chile, 2011, 14%
Wine-making: 18 months in French Oak
Note: There is a little pleasant herbaceousness here but no under-ripeness that can leave Carmenere feeling green and mean. Chocolatey and supple tannins with a touch of spice from the oak.
Available from: Creationwines.com.tw
Catena Alta, ‘Historic Rows’, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009, 14%
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: It is rare for me to drink any one wine more than a couple of times a year but this is one of the few I could happily have a glass of every day. It smells of cherry pie, vanilla, citrus peel and has silky, super-fine tannins. Persistent and delicious, exceptionally good.
Available from: icheers
Cape Mentelle, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Margaret River, Australia, 2012, 13.5%
Grape: 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 14 months in 20% new French oak
Note: Mint, chocolate and tar (three of my favourite smells) accompanied by a structure of fine-grained tannins help give this wine more than just a sheen of elegance. Very good value.
Available from: P9.com.tw