At the end of each year, publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast announce their top 100 wines of the year. It makes for interesting reading, but I can’t help think what a bummer it must be to be selected 101st.
I have no idea how publications like those pare down their annual choices from the thousands of wines that their editors and writers sample. But it seems unfair that smaller wineries that can’t afford to send samples to wine writers—as well as those that just don’t want to play the ratings game—are overlooked in the annual roundups.
For me, things are a lot simpler: I buy most of the wines I taste and write about. And, I’m not sampling thousands of them. So, my list of top wines of the year is a more straightforward matter. There are a handful of wines that really rocked me in 2013. Are they the best wines released this year? Probably not, especially since I didn’t get to taste about 99 percent of those that would be eligible. But, these are the three (as opposed to 100) wines this year that left the most powerful impression on my palate: my favorites.
3. Yes, I’m a sucker for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Still, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Château Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2009 ($47.99), given that the hot 2009 vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape resulted from the region’s second lowest rainfall in 46 years—a “difficult” vintage. Picking the grapes early, but not too early, and then a laser-like focus on tannin management by the Mont-Redon winemakers resulted in a powerful, complex wine that tastes awfully impressive right now, but will mature beautifully for many years to come.
The 2009 Mont-Redon CDP is made from 60 percent Grenache, 30 percent Syrah and 8 percent Mourvèdre; the rest is small amounts of Cinsault, Counoise, Mouscardin, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir. Each varietal was hand-picked and fermented separately, with the final blend crafted from the best of each. The wine is rich, with intense, ripe black-fruit flavors. If you drink it now, I suggest decanting the wine and exposing it to air for at least an hour or so before imbibing. It should really start to hit its stride with about a decade of aging. Put this one away for a rainy day in 2020.
2. For the low price of $18.99, A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2011 is damned hard to beat. Oregon’s A to Z Wineworks is made up of an all-star winemaking dream team with a simple but straightforward strategy: Grow the best fruit possible and create an irresistible blend. The 2011 Pinot Noir is such a wine. It’s brimming with ripe bing cherry, raspberry and strawberry aromas. The tannins are ripe and refined, and on the palate, there are succulent dark-fruit flavors combined with hints of spice and cola. Do I taste Dr Pepper in there? It’s a killer Pinot Noir, and will be for the next 10 to 12 years.
1. 2011 Chateau Montelena Winery Napa Valley Chardonnay ($47.99) is as good a reason as any not to believe everything you read about vintages. Critics were underwhelmed by the 2011 Napa vintage, and yet this 2011 Chardonnay, according to Montelena winemaker Cameron Parry, is “an excellent example” of Chardonnay’s stylistic target. That is, it’s of the style that resulted in Montelena’s Chardonnay winning the infamous Paris Tasting of 1976. I didn’t get to taste that vintage, but if it was half as delectable, elegant and well-structured as the 2011, I’m not surprised that it blew people’s minds in Paris.