These lists are tough to compile. Through group dinners, large wine tastings, winery visits, press samples, and the like, wine geeks taste an enormous amount of wine each year. So I've decided to limit my own list to those wines that I purchased myself.
And rather than put together a “best of” list, I’ve decided to name my most memorable wines of the year. Today, I'm naming my ten most memorable splurge wines -- those that cost around $50 to $75 each.
Wine image via Shutterstock
2010 Peay Pomarium Pinot Noir
Peay Vineyards is one of my favorite wineries in the world. In fact, it was the first mailing list I ever joined, and I've been buying wines from Peay for as long as I've been obsessed with wine.
I’m not alone in my affection for the winery. Way back in 2006, when Peay Vineyards was still a newcomer, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov wrote about the “rare intensity and precision” of the wines. It was the San Francisco Chronicle's 2009 Winery of the Year, and Alder Yarrow of Vinography has called all Peay’s wines "spectacularly good."
Peay's 2010 "Pomarium" Pinot Noir is the best it has ever made. The wine is intense, exotic, and refreshing -- one could easily fill an entire notebook with tasting notes on this wine. Orange rind, bright raspberries, tart cherries, Christmas spices, black tea, forest floor... the list goes on. It's a beautiful wine.
2008 Failla Estate Syrah
I credit Failla’s 2005 Estate Syrah for launching my obsession with wine. I tasted the 2008 Estate Syrah several times this year, and I'm glad that my tastes were refined from day one!
It's no surprise that Failla makes excellent Syrah. Its winemaker and owner, Ehren Jordan, learned to make wine in the Rhône Valley, where he worked two harvests under famed French winemaker Jean-Luc Columbo.
When Ehren returned to the United States, he was convinced that "Syrah should taste like it does in the northern Rhône." So when a “gorge-laced” parcel on the Sonoma Coast that reminded him of the northern Rhône went up for sale, he bit. Today, that property is home to miniscule plantings of Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir -- and they produce some of California's best wines.
Failla's Estate Syrah is a powerful wine with loads of fruit. But like the best wines of the northern Rhône, there's also something wild about it -- every vintage is marked by wild game, leather, black pepper, and even tomato.
N.V. Egly-Ouriet Champagne Brut "Les Vignes de Vrigny" 1er Cru
In recent years, wine enthusiasts have gone gaga over “Grower Champagne,” or wines made by the farmers who grow the grapes.
Just as we understand why an apple grown in Virginia tastes different from an apple grown in Massachusetts, we understand why a Sonoma Chardonnay tastes different from one produced in Napa. Champagne is no different. And Grower Champagne conveys that sense of place -- something that large producers simply can’t offer.
Egly-Ouriet is a Grower that's on every wine geek's list of top Champagne producers. And Egly-Ouriet's "Les Vignes de Vrigny" bottling is unique because it's comprised entirely of Pinot Meunier. Few Champagne producers make a 100% Pinot Meunier; fewer still plant Pinot Meunier on Premier Cru land. The wine is intense and loaded with exotic flavors. Plus, it's just plain cool.
2008 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Old Vines Summa
One of my buying strategies is to look for the personal labels of top winemakers. That's why I buy lots of wine from Rivers-Marie, the personal label of Napa Valley vintner Thomas Rivers Brown.
Thomas Brown is arguably the nation’s hottest winemaker. In 2008, he made history as the youngest winemaker to receive a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker – and he received two of them, for the 2006 Schrader “Old Sparky” and 2006 Schrader CCS Cabernet Sauvignons. The next vintage, with the same two wines, he again received two 100-point scores from Parker, and also received two 100-point scores from the Wine Spectator’s James Laube. He was Food & Wine’s “Winemaker of the Year” in 2010, and in addition to Schrader, he’s the winemaker behind hot labels like Outpost and Maybach.
Under Rivers-Marie, Brown produces excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. But his most highly regarded wine is his "Summa Old Vine" Pinot Noir, which routinely sells for high above its asking price at wine auctions.
The Summa Vineyard, which was recently acquired by Brown, is one of California's most lauded Pinot Noir sites. Planted in 1979, the vineyard is located just west of Occidental, California, about six miles from the Pacific Ocean. The grapes were used in many legendary Williams Selyem wines in the 1980s and 1990s, and Allen Meadows of Burghound once described the 2004 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir as "perhaps the finest California Pinot I have ever had the pleasure of drinking."
The 2008 Rivers-Marie bottling proves that the site is still one of California's finest. The wine is intoxicatingly floral and sweet, yet somehow shows elegance and restraint.
2007 Rudius Cabernet Sauvignon
Another top winemaker with his own label is Jeff Ames, who trained under Thomas Brown and has been making the impressive wines at Tor Kenward Family Wines since 2003. Jeff's label is Rudius, which was originally launched as a passion project focusing on Rhone varieties in 2005. The label has grown significantly since then.
The 2007 Rudius Cabernet Sauvignon bottling is big, muscular Napa Cabernet marked by rich notes of blackberries, boysenberries, twizzlers, and coffee. But it also displays lavender and other fresh herbs, silky tannins, and bright acid. In other words, it's almost perfect!