The top wines from our wine tasting classes. These are the bottles that excited and challenged us this year. And these aren’t just the expensive bottles, either: there are plenty here in the $20 price range, and only a few topping $100. All but one of the bottles are still available (as of this update). We included the current price ranges for your benefit.
#25. Locations NV “Corse”, Corsica
A Vermentino with textural complexity and beautiful quince and almond notes. One of be most interesting whites of the year. This bottle was discovered by Alana Zerbe and was a huge hit in one of her Exotica classes.
#24. Ronchi Di Cialla Cialla Bianco, Colli Orientali del Friuli
Technically an orange wine and primarily Ribolla Gialla. Fermented on the skins and just a touch oxidized, this bottle bursts with orange marmalade, wild strawberry, onion skin, and toasted hazelnuts. Founder Paolo Rapuzzi passed away this past summer. He will be greatly missed.
#23. Giribaldi Barbaresco
About a hundred and ten bottles of Barbaresco and Barolo are far more expensive than this bottle. This Barbaresco offers a kingly degree of varietal correctness and just enough oak dressing to put this squarely into our modern Nebbiolo throne.
#22. Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling, Spätlese Trocken
The most important wine style that Americans have not discovered yet. Let’s change that. Let’s dance with joy and sing in a graveyard. Let’s eat oysters and osso bucco and drink a Spätlese Trocken. Let’s not do all of that at once.
#21. Mas Doix Salanques Priorat
The most important wine region that still remains inaccessible to the average wine drinker. This is the bottle that seems to explain it all without becoming too simplistic or too scary. Sophisticated red fruit swallowed by a savage roar of mineral that softens into a suave gooseberry and leather crescendo.
#20. Domaine Vincent Paris “Granit 30” Cornas
Showing how beautiful and delicate Syrah can be. Almost Burgundian in its complexity and refinement, this bottle offers game and dark fruit benchmarks with an abundance of minerality. A wine for gray days and Sylvia Plath poetry.
#19. La Follette Chardonnay Manchester Ridge Vineyard
Chardonnay is dead. Long live Chardonnay. This is the rare argument that Cali Chards still deserve to be considered fine wine.
#18. Clos de los Siete Red.
Rich with slippery blackberry and fatty fig, the fruit flavors are followed by smoked vanilla and mocha. A note of fresh sage turns to ripe tannins and more complex fruit flavors that twist toward a tightening finish of mineral and burnt marshmallow. Intense and beautiful and full of everlasting joy. A wonderful bottle of wine.
#17. Locations NV F-2
Dave Phinney has two bottles on this list (Corse and this bottle) and earns the “Winemaker of the Year.” This bottle is the reason why. Despite being under $20, the F-2 shows a level of complexity and depth that only the hardest of hard-working winemakers can muster. His bottle Department 66 2011 L’Agent Grenache almost made a list, but it was too rare with only 30 cases made. That said, it is a deep pool of fruit with something scary swimming under the glassy surface. If you can find it, buy it.
#16. Zanzibar “Sandra” Red
Columbia Valley is our New World Wine region of the year, and this bottle is one of the main reasons. Very rarely does a wine at this price point manage to make its own statement on the origin of things. Notes of earl grey tea and jasmine come together in a rattling and rusty cage adorned with a plump pillow of cedar chips and blackberry jam.
#15. Celler de l’Encastell “Roquers de Porrera” Priorat
There are three bottles from Priorat on our list this year, and for a good reason. Our Old World wine region of the year and one we visited with a group of students.
One of the greatest winemaking villages in Priorat is Porrera. This bottling shows how the intense minerality can cut through a stranglehold of delicious fruit. I’ll let Steve Tanzer take this one home:
Lively and precise on the nose, offering ripe red fruit, floral qualities and a slow-building herbal essence. Much darker in profile on the palate, offering dense cherry and plum flavors and exotic medicinal herb and mineral qualities. The minerality adds urgency to the sweet, dark fruit-dominated finish, which clings tenaciously
#14. Gramercy Cellars “Inigo Montoya” Tempranillo
It is rare that it upholds the standards of an ancient winemaking culture and maintains its own identity. This bottle puts Columbia Valley Tempranillo on the map. It has the structure and core elements of a Reserva Rioja, in the style of Muga. However, it keeps its New World fruit sensibility and that frosty tone I love about Walla Walla.
#13. Tikves Barovo, Macedonia
This bottle puts Macedonia into the spotlight as the up-and-coming wine country. Made from two indigenous varietals Kratosija and Vranec. Kratosija, one of which is very likely an original clone of America’s beloved Zinfandel (and Italy’s Primitivo) and introduces a whole new side to that popular grape.
#12. Cristom Pinot Noir, Louise Vineyard, Eola Amity Hills
If a cranberry could shatter and each crack a doorway into a world full of cranberries, then you probably should stop taking drugs. Or have another bottle of this classic Eola Pinot. This is simply the finest Pinot Noir made today.
#11. Domaine Des Ardoisieres Argile Blanc, Savoie
The flavors and scents of this wine are truly transformative, pushing to a staggering poetic beauty. I’ll try to make sense of it in words, but this wine truly defies both words and logic. Bacchus Selections offered this when I was their National Sommelier, and it no longer available, except in wine classes.
#10. Cantina Terlan “Vorberg” Pinot Bianco Riserva, Alto Adige
Lemon sorbet and beeswax are the core notes in this bottle that manages the deft feat of being both linear and lush. This is a quiet wine that needs careful reflection. A varied palette of flavors and textures are at play in this wine, far above any other white wine tasted this year.
#9. Celler Cal Pla “Planots” Porrera, Priorat
Wild and undomesticated under a sophisticated layer of French oak. This bottle growls and speaks it’s own language, or possibly Catalan. $86 to $95
#8. Andrew Will 2010 Champoux Vineyard Red, Horse Heaven Hills
This bottle from Andrew Will Vineyards is impeccability tailored in a Bordeaux style. Subtle and complex, it stitches a carnal bed of fruit into a Downton Abbey level of structural perfection. $50 to $60
#7. Huerta de Albala 2006 Taberner #1
The greatest unknown in a list of unknowns. If Chateauneuf du Pape and Barossa Valley had a love child, it would be this bottle. Primarily Syrah with the balance of Cab and Merlot, this smells like sweat, smoked meat, and patchouli. That’s a BBQ I don’t want to be at, but in a wine it’s magical. $49 to $93
#6. Cos 2007 Maldafrica
A very reliable test for the cult status of any wine is to drop a millimeter onto Zach Morris’ tongue (the Wine School instructor, NOT the fictional TV character). If his eyes turn glassy and he starts talking about how many vintages he has in his wine cellar, the test is positive. This Cabernet from Cos keeps him rambling incoherently for nearly an hour. $31 to $43
#5. Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga
The Montelena Estate Cabernet is sinewy with tight and clear blackberry cut with burnt cedar. This is the first growth of Napa Valley and requires at least five years of cellaring.
#4. Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico
An exemplary bottle of Aglianico from Campania. Aromas of crushed violets, cherry, and licorice give way to burnt cedar and mineral. The palate offers dark fruit, wet stone, and cocoa that moves deeply into mineral until it veers toward fresh sage and dried fruit
#3. Contino Gran Reserva Rioja
The experience begins with a captivating aroma of cola, rust, and blackberry. The attack offers lean but substantial tannins that leadlead to blackberry cobbler notes, burning tobacco, and ocean air
#2. Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Lush texture and a dense core of thick black fruit are balanced by a freshness that balances between mountain air and wild fennel. The benchmark for Napa mountain wine.
#1. M. Chapoutier Le Pavillon Ermitage
Whatever your religion, you can add one more demigod or angel to the pantheon. This wine is an unknowable force of grace and power. It’s far and above the best wine we drank this year at the Wine School (and that’s a year that included an 86 Margaux and a 03 Lafite Rothschild).