Of the 2,108 Wines I Tasted This Year, These 10 Were the Best
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- I taste far more than my fair share of the world’s great wines, so it’s never easy to pick my annual 10 best experiences.
Usually, though, they happen in winery cellars, tasting rooms, vineyards, and restaurants in some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Not this year.
After the first 2 1/2 months, with visits to Paris, Reims, New York, and elsewhere, I began pouring from bottles in my home office. Winemakers joined me via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, and more, and sometimes took notes at my own dinner table.
Nonetheless, more than 2,000 wines—2,108 to be exact, but who’s counting?—crossed my lips. Old vintages of fine Bordeaux vied with barrel samples of the superb 2019. New Champagne cuvées and vintages 2008 and 2012 are stellar. In the mix were surprises from new grapes and regions, as well as California reds and whites from wineries celebrating their 40th and 50th anniversaries.
Many of them wowed me, but those that I prize most this year made me see wine in a new light and conjured memories of happier times.
My top 10 range from one of the world’s greatest Champagnes to a $23 white from a very rare, exotic grape—and beyond, to a fabulous Brunello from one of Italy’s legendary winemakers.
$200 and Under
2019 Diamantakos Preknadi
My wine discovery of the year is this fascinating white made from an almost extinct local grape in Naoussa, a wine region in northern Greece best known for reds. The wine’s floral honeyed aromas, yellow fruit flavors, and round texture resemble viognier, but with a drier, chalkier, brighter side. Grape rescuer George Diamantakos poured it at the WineParis trade show in February, alongside 11 producers who champion unusual varieties that may hold the secret to great wines in a warmer future. $23
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas Blanc
This showstopping California blend of five white Rhône varieties from Paso Robles is a vivid reminder that you don’t have to compromise on quality to support wineries consciously working to make the world a better place. The stunning Esprit de Tablas white has salty minerality; zesty acidity; rich, complex flavors; and serious aging potential—a grand wine for a reasonable price. Tablas Creek became the world’s first Regenerative Organic Certified winery this year, embracing a new comprehensive program that includes social responsibility for its workers. $45
2003 Château Suduiraut
A great wine experience often goes beyond what’s in the glass. I savored this opulent sweet sauternes in hedonistic surroundings: the Château de Versailles, the setting for a gala dinner celebrating the 70th anniversary of Bordeaux’s Commanderie de Bontemps, an association of top châteaus. We walked under sparkly chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors in the splendid, art-packed, 390-foot long Galerie des Batailles. The dessert wine, suffused with caramelized citrus, honey, and ginger notes, was the perfect final sip, alongside a Delacroix painting of a swashbuckling battle scene. $60
2010 Château Haut-Bailly
The chance to compare 20 vintages of one of my favorite Bordeaux grands crus was a must-attend event. The tasting at a Manhattan loft was an homage to American owner Robert Wilmers, who purchased the Graves region estate in 1998 and oversaw constant improvements until his death in 2017. I was torn between the concentrated, plush, and polished 2016, and the violet- and cigar-scented 2010, with its fresh tobacco and spice power, but I gave the edge to 2010—it’s what to drink now. $149
2016 Sandrone le Vigne
As a Barolo devotee, I’m always looking for the “wow” years, like 2016, that remind wine lovers why they should collect these age-worthy Italian reds. Sandrone le Vigne, with its vivid core of cedar, cherry, and spice flavors, surpassed the dozens of other terrific options from 2016 that I sipped at an in-depth Barolo event in February. It’s a profound vino serioso that lingers on your palate. Luckily, the prices aren’t yet at Burgundy’s level, but collectors are beginning to dive in. $200
2016 Larkmead Solari
I was all-in when Larkmead winemaker Dan Petroski promised lunch at New York’s Union Square Café with insider data, deep discussion, and 11 vintages of Solari, a cabernet sauvignon produced from a single parcel of vines at the historic Napa winery. For me, the big reveal was how the style of the wines had shifted from super ripe and fleshy to savory and structured. My favorite was the powerful 2016 vintage in which the elements of the new direction come together seamlessly. $224
2012 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Only 39 vintages of Biondi-Santi Brunello Riserva have been released since the first one in 1888, so I eagerly joined a virtual tasting with Chief Executive Officer Giampiero Bertolini to try the most recent, from 2012. The wine shows all the new leather, crushed herb, velvety licorice, and red cherry-berry richness that has made this riserva so famous. The 2012 vintage has an added emotional element: It is the last one overseen by legendary winemaker Franco Biondi Santi, whose family created Brunello, and is dedicated to his memory. From $450
2006 Krug Clos du Mesnil
The new vintage of this crystalline all-chardonnay Champagne is the ultimate in sophisticated elegance: my finest—and rarest—fizz of 2020. It comes from a small, walled plot of vines in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Although 2006 was a warm year, this layered bubbly hums with energy and combines fresh baked brioche aromas; a crisp, flinty, preserved lemon character; and a sumptuous creamy texture. I sipped it (no spitting) with Krug-provided music pairings by 3D music pioneer Ozark Henry. $1,195
Taylor Fladgate Very Old Tawny Port, Kingsman Edition
A sample of this unique blend of rare tawny port arrived in a tiny glass tube inside a fancy wooden box that could have held a collectible fountain pen. Still, there was enough liquid to revel in its seductive flavor starburst of candied citrus, sugared nuts, dried figs, and butterscotch, all tied together with a luxurious texture. And there’s the frisson of a movie tie-in—it was created to celebrate spy action-comedy The King’s Man, which will debut in February. The U.S. gets only 100 crystal decanters of it. $3,800
2017 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti
A week before the coronavirus lockdown in March, I was 60 stories above lower Manhattan at the Manhatta restaurant for the annual Domaine de la Romanée-Conti pre-release tasting—what ended up as my last wine event in the city for 2020. All the domaine’s seven reds and one white, are, as expected, superb. What to highlight? Although I loved the exceptionally concentrated and rich white Montrachet ($9,600), this complex, rose-petal-scented, ultra-rare Romanée-Conti is the ultimate red Burgundy. $15,500
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