I’ve been waiting to put together this list hoping that some great wine might appear as the year comes to a close. Alas, I can wait no longer as the end of the year is nearly upon us and I doubt more beauties will find their way to me until the new year. This list reflects the five weeks devoted to tasting through Willamette Valley’s finest so it’s a bit Pinot Noir centered. Unfortunately I had to leave off many great wines I tasted there, some of them with big scores. But the ones on this list were memorable, the wines that brought me up short and really captured my attention. It also reflects my preference for aged wines. For quality wines, nothing does more to bring out nuances than time in the bottle. Thanks to The Sommelier Company for making some of these tastings possible.
1. Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva Ribero Del Duero 1998
An iconic wine often mentioned in the same breath as the famous Bordeaux Premier Cru, this may be the best wine I have ever tasted. Concentrated and energetic with a complex evolution on the palate that changes with every sip, after many years in the bottle the oak is fully integrated creating a wine of power and refinement. Sturdy but delicate it is a perfect illustration of how a wine embodies contradiction. It is mostly Tempranillo with a healthy percentage (20%) of Cabernet Sauvignon.
2. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
There is indeed nothing like a first kiss. The second one doesn’t quite measure up . So perhaps, since this is my second opportunity to taste this cult wine, I found the experience slightly less magical than my first although we are talking about very fine gradations of quality here. But nevertheless this is a gorgeous wine concentrated and deep but fresh with an ethereal, light texture and silky tannins that leave me speechless.
3. Romano Dal Forno Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008
Amarone is not my favorite style of wine. It’s often prune-like and a little sweet and is always high in alcohol. But this one overcomes all those limitations. Intensely aromatic and complex, massive but lively on the palate with fierce but fine-grained tannins. Put this on your bucket list—it’s really one of a kind.
4. Domaine Marcel Deiss Alsace Grand Cru Schoenenbourg White Blend 2010
The most unique and exotic wine I’ve had this year. It’s a field blend from a Grand Cru vineyard planted with 20+ varietals in mixed plots that including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and many members of the Pinot family. No one really knows what goes into this wine. It’s juicy, dense, off-dry and bristling with acidity and bursting with so many flavors and aromas it makes your head spin. Winemaker Marcel Deiss claims these multiple varieties ripen at the same time perhaps because the vines communicate with each other. A bit of woo but you can’t argue with results.
5. Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs 2013
Clear, precise, and complex, a stunning, beautiful wine. Dry but extremely well balanced. Gross Gewachs (meaning great growth) refers to the labeling of VDP wines. VDP is a membership organization that includes most of Germany’s top wine estates. Its members must adhere to more stringent standards than those set down in the German wine law. It is the most reliable indicator of quality for German wines.
6. Antica Terra Antikythera Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley 2012
Voluptuous because of a very warm year but exquisitely balanced, this has the texture of soft satin but a lengthy structured finish with pure fruit and nicely handled, subtle oak. Antica Terra is a small-production winery featuring winemaker Maggie Harrison, the former assistant at Sine Qua Non. I highly recommend their private seated tastings in which they taste inspirational wines from around the wine world in addition to their own bottlings.
7. Epoch Syrah Block B Paderewski Vineyard Paso Robles 2008
A big, blustery wine when young, with time in the bottle it is developing lovely and unusual flavor notes acquiring finesse and charm to balance the aggression. Epoch is a relatively new winery and is gaining a reputation for quality—a great example of Paso’s potential as a wine region.
8. Anderson Family Chardonnay Dundee Hills Willamette Valley 2009
The Anderson family has been growing grapes for top Willamette Valley wineries for over two decades on this gorgeous hillside in Dundee. They started making their small production, hand-crafted wines in 2002. This Chardonnay is stunning. It’s ripe and creamy with a lovely texture and developing intriguing earth notes on the nose due to bottle age.
9. Eyrie Vineyards Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir 1986
This wine spent two years in the barrel before bottling and that care shows. Full flavored with plenty of cherry left, apple, leather, and earth notes, and lovely fine tannins—still going strong after almost 30 years. Their wines are spare and austere when young but they age beautifully. An historic winery and one of the earliest producers in the Willamette Valley, they always have a library wine to taste in their tasting room. Several years ago, Eyrie began the process of opening, evaluating and resealing their library wines discarding bottles that were not aging well. The result is an extraordinary record of past vintages.
10. Seufert Winery Pinot Noir Zenith Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills AVA 2009
A small-production, off-the-radar producer occupying a storefront in Dayton, Oregon, this winery produces extraordinary wines that are unique in Willamette Valley in the pungent mushroom and coffee aromas they exude. This 2009 from Zenith Vineyard was pure silk on the palate. It is everything Pinot Noir should be.