A few years back, I started trying to replace “this is the best” proclamations with “this is my favorite.” “Best” is so hard to define, especially if one hasn’t encountered all the movies or World Series or wines out there. And since being 100-percent “objective” is nigh onto impossible, I opted for the subjective route.
So here are my favorite wines from the last 11-plus months, in no particular order:
• One of the notes I scribbled a few hours after becoming utterly enveloped in the 1998 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne was “stupidly complex.” Not sure why I wrote that —perhaps because the wine’s endless layers with each small sip left me grasping mightily for words until I smartly just let its bounteous wonders flow — but it seems to fit. Or at least I can’t come up with anything better.
• Context and setting are, of course, often major components of wine enjoyment, and nowhere was that more true this year than on a top-of-the-world-Ma patio in the impossibly lovely town of Ravello on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It was there that my way better half and I savored every drop of a luscious but bracing white called Ettore Sammarco Selva Della Monache. We were delighted to learn that the winery was right across the street from our hotel, so we got four bottles for the rest of our trip. But we’re smart enough not to try to replicate the experience here in Tundraland.
• We don’t drink as much California cabernet as we used to. Not because we don’t
like love it, because we do, but because we love so much other stuff. Plus having one of the world’s great wines only occasionally helps us appreciate it more, I think. Case in point: the 2007 Shafer “Hillside Select” that my pal Joe brought to our 60th birthday party. Deep, dark and everything a California cabernet should be. You can have Harlan; I’ll take this.
• Chablis is always a treat, but it wasn’t until this year that a Vincent Dauvissat passed my lips. Such energy, such cut, such flavor! I don’t know if 2007 is an especially good vintage from that parcel of France, but I’m pretty sure the vintage doesn’t matter when the label includes the word “Dauvissat.”
• Mark Vlossak is one of my favorite people in the wine world, and when Joe and I got to spend nigh onto four hours with him in June, it even exceeded my lofty expectations. His 2012 St. Innocent pinots out of barrel were stupendous. But the highlight for me was sipping his 2012 Oeil de Perdrix in the tasting room. This pink beauty was filled with fab red-berry flavors and incredible sweet-dry yin-yang, but it was the father-like pride showing on Mark’s face as we drank it that made the moment indelible.
• On the same trip, we got to find out what all the fuss over Thomas Pinot Noir is all about. Made by a recluse and very hard to find, this is one of those wines that manages to be intense yet elegant, and also deftly navigates “silky” and “robust” on the texture side. Both the 2007 and the 2010 savored on this trip provide both myriad details and endless mystique. I’d love to try one alongside a grand cru Echézeaux.
• Maybe it was how utterly charming Erin Chave (left) had been. Maybe it was sitting among some of my favorite people (Reid, Annette [right], Mike, Cass and, yes, Joe). But I’m pretty sure the 2008 Domaine Chave Hermitage Blanc would have proven spectacular out of a paper bag at home alone. Perhaps the headiest nose I encountered all year was followed by an endless back and forth between power and grace, plus seriously delicious fruit.
• On one of those perfect Minnesota summer nights, the memories of which sustain us during stretches like this one (today’s high: -1), we were enjoying some 1985 wines to mark the birth year of a local wholesaler. The undisputed star of the show was, of all things, a white Bordeaux. The Chateau Laville-Haut Brion Graves evoked a rare “holy shit!” in my tasting notes, refined and sumptuous, with a finish I almost can call up to this day. Another note read “alive!” and this wine still has plenty of life ahead of it. I just hope I do, so I can savor its likes for many years to come.