Wine Blog

Top 10 ‘Aha!’ Wines of 2012

With more than its share of compelling wines, 2012 richly deserves to debut an annual ‘Top 10’ list!

These are not necessarily my ‘most delicious’ wines of the year, or even the ‘best’ (how could one rate that?) – but instead, the 10 wines (in no particular order) which opened up a whole new way of thinking, a fresh perspective on a region, style, flavor, or historical tradition; wines that light a spark of curiosity in one’s eyes, make them glisten with the pleasure of a new horizon, and elicit a grateful sigh (‘Aha!’) of humility.

A ‘Top 10’ list as a paean to the truth that knowledge is not a finite commodity, and that wine will always elude our ‘mastery’.

Dominique Derain 2005 ‘Voile Not?’ Chardonnay, Vin de France (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy)
Bottled from a single cask (acquired from Stephane Tissot in the Jura) in January 2011, after 5+ years underneath a veil of yeast.  That’s right, a Jurassien/Jereziano ‘flor’-style wine from Burgundy!  Remarkably elegant plushness, soft acidity, lush fruit, and a keen set of baking spices; only 200 bottles produced.

Theo Minges 2010 ‘Froschkönig’ Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Pfalz, Germany
Left untouched to ferment with spontaneous yeast until February of the year after harvest, Minges’ ‘Froschkönig’ (‘Frog King’) Riesling is necessarily bottled with a different sweetness designation every year, providing a unique profile of the vintage.  This wine flies in the face of the increasingly stringent regulation of German wines these days, and was so delicious I couldn’t help but wonder why more estates don’t take this route, with at least one of their bottlings…

Pyramid Valley 2010 ‘Twin Valley’ Savagnin Rosé, Marlborough, New Zealand
Despite its dusky skin color, the incredibly rare Savagnin Rosé is classed as a white wine grape; of the aromatic Traminer family, it’s mostly known under the Klevener de Heiligenstein designation in the Bas-Rhin of Alsace, France.  A few years ago, vineyard owners Peter & Anne Reed called Pyramid Valley’s supremely talented winemaker, Mike Weersing to discuss their old-vine parcel of this varietal, and, excited at the chance, Mike crafted a gorgeous wine from this – or rather, let it craft itself, the only wine of its kind from Down Under, with native yeast in 500-liter puncheons. 

Chartogne-Taillet NV ‘Cuvée Heurtebise’ Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, Montagne de Reims, Champagne
Plenty of superlatives have been bestowed on Alexandre Chartogne, the current scion for this tiny family estate; I don’t need to add to them here… This ‘Heurtebise’ is part of a new series of wines for him, focusing on single varietals & sites, and I can easily say that this is the coolest, clearest, most memorable 100% Chardonnay from the Montagne de Reims.

Cave du Vieux-Moulin 2010 ‘L’Amignonne’ Amigne Brut, Vétroz, Valais, Switzerland // Michel Gahier 2011 ‘Zipounette’ Pétillant Naturel, Jura, France
Both of these wines made me sit up and exclaim ‘Whaat!?!’  Who knew that Amigne could provide for such a complex SPARKLING wine, or that Gahier made a Trousseau-based Petillant Naturel rosé of such charm and quaffability?

La Cigarrera, Amontillado VOS (Viejo), Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain
From the ‘Sacrista’, or ‘sacred’ family cellar, this comes from a tiny private collection of Cigarrera’s oldest sherries.  Never sold before, it carries a complexity and persistence – the finish lasts a full 10 minutes and more – that raises the bar for gauging sherry quality. 

Salon 1985 Blanc de Blancs, Le Mesnil, Côte de Blancs, Champagne
This wine is a testament to what glorious surprises old Champagne can keep.  I tasted it this December for the third time in 7 years:  at my first experience, it came across tightly wound and almost too intense for words; my second experience, a couple of years back, it felt totally washed-out, tired, and thin; this year, it could be said to have ‘bounced back’; it’s now very alive and vivid, with even petillance, springy acidity and an intriguing balance of fruit and spice.

Channing Daughters 2009 ‘Meditazione’ White Table Wine, Long Island, New York
Though very much from the New World, this Muscat-driven field blend clearly harks back to wines from ancient days.  Fermented together with the skins for 30 days, then aged for over a year in Slovenian oak and barrique, it’s an ‘orange wine’ by all definitions; mahogany-colored in the glass, and deeply evocative and richly textured on the palate.  Supremely versatile as a food pairing, it’s another one of those wines that makes one wonder, ‘Why don’t more people make wine this way?’

Cantine Francoli 1967 Spanna, Piedmont, Italy
This was another reminder that wines have a life of their own.  1967 was hailed by most as ‘the vintage of the decade’ soon after release, similar to 1964; by others, it was rated ‘uninspiring’.   I had no idea what to expect from this bottle (acquired from a private cellar), and was rewarded with a lean, medium-acid delight whose latent tarry beefiness and delicate yet firm tannin reminded me a bit of older Gevrey-Chambertin…

Casa de Mouraz 2010 ‘Biotite’ Vinho Verde, Portugal
Vinho Verde is my standard go-to for cold, inexpensive summer refreshment and as a year-round oyster partner – I value it precisely for its unthinking simplicity, not necessarily for its expression of place.  This bottling from Mouraz, however, conveys both a sense of place and a generous drinkability, and leads one to rethink what Vinho Verde can be.  Biotite is a type of dark mica soil to which these vines are planted, and I would venture that the stone’s prismatic hardness contributes to the length and fineness of the finish, if only in the imagination…

Cheers to 2013!

- jeremy quinn