Time for me to add my favorite West Coast Wines of the Year to the chorus. This is hard for so many reasons. Do I include all the back vintages of wines I’ve enjoyed? If not, then how far back can I go? Good questions and best answered by creating a list of wines from the West Coast that you can buy now. Let me just say that I do not purport this short list to be anything more important than what it is: a short list of wines that I particularly liked and that are generally available.
What I’ve tried to do here is highlight a few wines that surprised me this year. In truth, a fair amount of wines surprise me and I’m not including those here, so a little 'splaining is in order. The wines on this list are wines that are readily available, well priced, and offer a special drinking experience. Best? Well, they’re not even my highest-rated wines, since many of those are distinctly neither affordable nor well priced.
These are West Coast Wines of the Year for specific reasons, and I’ve pointed those reasons out with each wine. You may, or may not, enjoy these wines. Perhaps you’ll enjoy some but not others. I hope you will enjoy at least a few of them, but these wines made the list because I enjoyed them. I found each of these wines to be special, unique and distinct, and worth buying and sharing. So, with no further ado, my list of West Coast Wines of the Year!
Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling 2008, $12
Riesling seems to be the grape variety that is always poised for greatness but never seems to break through, excepting of course with the geek crowd of self-proclaimed acid freaks -- oh, and then there's the folks that are just looking for something a bit sweet.
Well, this Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling will please both crowds, and so many more. It's bursting with fruit and has a sweet edge yet there is so much electric acidity here that the wine finishes zesty and dry. A superb summer sipper and a great wine for spicy, complex, acid rich foods.
Sausal Winery Zinfandel Family Estate 2007, $18
I'm a big fan of Zinfandel and have loved the wines for decades, but as those decades have passed, the wines have changed, and some more than others. Over time I've realized that I like some prominent American oak on my Zins, and Petite Sirahs as well. All that vanilla plays well with the rich fruit of Zinfandel and I've found that the briary, peppery qualities of Zin sometimes face too much competition from French oak.
I also like my Zin well balanced, and well behaved at the dinner table. This Sausal Zin hits all those buttons. It's fresh and balanced with red fruits and classic American oak notes. A bit of a throwback, but then again I like to throw them back!
Kenwood Jack London Syrah 2007, $20
Speaking of Syrah and all its varied glory, sometimes a wine from California will surprise me with its restraint. I think these are sometimes called failures by many California wine lovers, but it's great to have the choice of experiencing a fruit bomb (or not) or something more subtle.
The Kenwood Jack London Syrah is definitely more restrained, and even subtle. It's a sneaky wine that disarms you with a bit of savory funk before unleashing fresh black fruit flavors. I know it surprised me!
Valley of the Moon Pinot Noir 2009, $20
If we're talking about wines that may not find huge critical acclaim but meet one of my basic rules for ranking them well -- mainly that they are freaking delicious and fun to drink -- then we have to look no further than this somewhat off-center Pinot.
This is fresh, fruity, and seamless with blood orange and herbal tones adding some complexity, but complexity is not the point here. Having fun is, and if you don't have fun with this wine you should see a doctor. Your fun-o-meter is obviously broken.
Château Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, $20
We tend to fixate a bit on regionality a bit at a time. California for cabernet, Oregon for Pinot, and Washington for Syrah. Or, wait -- is it Washington for Merlot? No, that might be Long Island. Whatever.
Here is a Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, with 16% Syrah added -- so I might have been on to something there -- that manages to combine classic new world richness with excellent balance and real complexity from both grapes, as well as judicious use of oak.
Willakenzie Estate Pinot Blanc Estate Bottled 2009, $22
I mentioned earlier that I've never been much of a Chardonnay kind of guy. So, what have I been drinking? Well, among other things, I'm one of the very few adamant fans of Pinot Blanc/ Pinot Bianco!
If you're looking for a fun wine that's decidedly different yet somehow very familiar you owe it to yourself to try a few Pinot Blancs. Willakenzie's version is a wonderful example. The fruit is fresh and bold but the wine's strength is the terrific interplay between fruit, acid, and a subtle bitterness that makes this refreshing and oh-so-food friendly.
Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Soliloquy Vineyard Oakville 2008, $22
Sometimes we overlook some of the names that have been around for a while, since as wine geeks we're always hunting for the latest and the greatest. After a particularly impressive showing with Sangiovese, of all things, last year being followed up with this wonderful Sauvignon Blanc, it's time to tell folks to stop and take a new look at Flora Springs.
This is a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc. It's not trying to be anything but Californian and pulls that off with rich, complex fruit and lovely balance.
Find out more.