Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year in Review: My Top Wines of 2014

It’s that time again. 2014 is coming to a close, and the holidays are in full swing. I’m sorting through recipes for Christmas Eve, Christmas parties and New Year’s bashes. However, before I get too deep into things, I love to look back over the past year and my 500+ tasting notes for my top wines of the year. This isn’t a list that’s built through politicking or overthinking the subject. Instead, these are my favorite wines of the year in four categories: mid-priced gems, top-shelf wines, vintage wines and eye-opening experiences. You may notice that I don’t have a value wine section, but that’s because my article “Give the gift of wine for Christmas” spells out many of the best value wines I’ve had this year.

Looking over this list, I’m not surprised to see such a large representation of Riesling, as this year my eyes were truly opened to the heights of which they are capable. If you happen to be looking for a vinous New Year’s resolution—I would highly recommend exploring this amazing variety.

Italian wine continues to amaze me for both quality and value. Nowhere else can such world-class wine be had for the relative value Italian wines represent. However, I’m also very happy to see wines from Burgundy (a region I’m only now beginning to truly understand), Austria and California. I've tried to include links wherever possible, but unfortunately, the greatest winemakers of the world don't always have the best websites.

All kidding aside, there’s something for everyone here. This is truly my “best of the best” list. I would love to put any of these wines in my cellar.

To Continue Reading Visit: The Cellar Table

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nebbiolo Beyond Barolo and Barbaresco

2010 Barolo is driving me broke!

In years past, I’d usually have no less than three cases of Barolo in the cellar by now. Unfortunately, with the average 20% increase on my typical value-buys, and my beloved single vineyard wines up about 50% or more, I’ve been forced to cut back in a big way. So where does this leave the Nebbiolo lover? You could turn to Barbaresco, but even there the prices are starting to creep up. So why don’t we look outside of Barolo and Barbaresco for our Nebbiolo fix…? Do I hear silence? Why, because you once tried an Alto Piedmonte wine that came off as too light, acidic or just plain disinteresting? I think we’ve all been there before, but I am telling you now that it’s time to take a second look at Nebbiolo outside of Barolo, and I’ll tell you why... Keep Reading at the new home of The V.I.P. Table; 
The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Burgundy: Further Down The Rabbit Hole

As a warning, the following prose and tasting notes detail an experience which could be described as a wine lover’s dream come true. The path to understanding Burgundy may result in a life-long obsession, which could take priority over everything else you hold dear. Readers Beware!

Wine in its essence is a very personal thing, sometimes even sensual. A good wine will provide enjoyment, relax the soul, and help bring down barriers between fellow tasters. However, a great wine—a great wine leaves a mark on you. Like your first love, a great wine imprints itself into your memory and stays with you for the rest of your life. Finding a great wine takes work, as many of the best things in life often do. Yet all of this work is instantly rewarded when the moment of greatness is realized.... Keep reading at the new home of my blog: The Cellar Table

I’m very pleased to announce my official move to The Morrell Wine group. I’ve been tasked with writing content, blogs, tasting notes and print materials for their website and catalogs. It’s an exciting move which presents amazing tasting opportunities and the ability to work with some of the most talented and intelligent people in the industry.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Looking to the Future with Morrell Wine

I’m very pleased to announce my official move to The Morrell Wine group. I’ve been tasked with writing content, blogs, tasting notes and print materials for their website and catalogs. It’s an exciting move which presents amazing tasting opportunities and the ability to work with some of the most talented and intelligent people in the industry.

What does this mean for The V.I.P. Table?

My focus going forward will be with Morrell. That said, my work continues on The Morrell Wine Blog, and you can already find new content there. The newest post -- Gaja: History in a Bottle has my name written all over it. I invite you to check it out, as it will be updated regularly with content from tastings, dinners, and events with Morrell. I am determined to continue providing you with the same detailed reviews and coverage that my readers have grown to expect.

Burgundy can be intimidating, or so they say

I spend a lot of time cruising the aisles of wine shops. In fact, I’d say it’s something of a hobby of mine. These trips often result in great conversations regarding wine, spirits and even life. However, one of the most common topics is about Burgundy and how most wine lovers are simply too intimidated to even start. What’s ironic is how often I also hear long-time collectors state that it all ends in Burgundy, meaning if only they knew then what they know now, they would have bought a lot more in their youth... Keep reading at: The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine

I'll see you at Morrell
Eric Guido

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Sweet Spot: Trocken & Feinherb

An all-time favorite Riesling pairing:
Tagliatelle in Truffle Cream Sauce
I believe I have finally found my German Riesling sweet spot, and that is within the amazing styles of Trocken and Feinherb. It’s been quite a journey, arriving at this decision, and many thanks go to a couple of friends who put some amazing wines in front of me. I’m not saying that I haven’t loved and lusted after a number of Spätlese and Auslese level wines. However, it’s the racy style of a good Trocken and the almost impossible balance found in Feinherb that sings to my soul.

If you’re not already familiar with these terms, just started getting into Riesling, or have given up on Riesling because you think they are all just sweet wines, then let me give you a little background. First and foremost, you may be surprised to learn that the preferred style of Riesling in Germany these days are of bone-dry wines. Many of the sweet and incredibly ripe Rieslings you see on store shelves are being produced for our benefit. If sweet wine isn’t your thing, then you owe it to yourself to find a Trocken (Dry) Riesling. Trocken is a bone-dry style of Riesling that’s crisp and fresh with precise and focused fruit and minerals. They can be achingly enjoyable, as the acid seems to almost sear your gums, but then coaxes your taste buds to water, releasing an intense wave of fruit. The experience is one like you may have never before witnessed in your wine-drinking life. For me, finding a wine that produces this effect is truly thrilling—as was my recent experience with the 2011 Keller Nierstein Riesling Trocken.

Then there is Feinherb, a relatively new term in German wine, which could be compared to the designation Halbtrocken (half-dry). However, what Feinherb is all about is finding a perfect balance. The fruit is intense with all the minerals and acid that I love in Riesling. Yet, there’s also a small dose of balancing sweetness which give these wines a truly jubilant feel. They are not sweet, they are not dry—what they are is perfectly balanced. In many cases, like with the 2012 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese Feinherb Ur Alte Reben, the intensity in the glass is simply incredible, and you can feel the weight of the riper fruit on your palate, but it stays within the lines and never bubbles over. Instead, it’s a wine that’s teetering on the edge, and it’s on that edge where I find the most enjoyment.

I beg you to seek out these wines. You owe it to yourself, especially if you’ve given up on (or never even started) tasting German Riesling. Admittedly, some of these will not be easy to find—but that can be part of the fun.  My advise would be to seek out the Selbach-Oster or Spreitzer, and go from there.  Enjoy!

On to the wines:

2011 Stein St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen Riesling Spätlese feinherb - Aromas jumped from the glass of this young Riesling, showing ripe pear, peach skins, wet mineral laden stone and hints of lemon. On the palate, there was a yin yang of fruit, acidity and minerality. Grapefruit was foremost with an equal doses of acidity as expected from taking a bite, note the sprinkle of sugar on top. Ripe peach flavor and weight added balance, along with gorgeous saline minerals, which poured out as the mouth began to water. The finish made the cheeks pucker with slight lemon pith, hints of fresh honeycomb and inner floral notes. To say i enjoyed this wine would be an understatement. (92 points) Producer Website! (German Only)

2011 Weingut Keller Nierstein Riesling Trocken - An intense and pulsating wine with power and verve. On the nose it was highly expressive with peach and apricot fruit, lemon oil, minty herbal tones, and wet stone. It showed razor-like focus on the palate, like a bullet train, yet then suddenly blossomed into an explosion of tart orange and tangerine. The finish lingered long as the mouth began to water and lemon pith flavors turned to mineral stone. It's a beautiful wine. (93 points) Producer Website(German Only)

2012 Weingut Spreitzer Oestricher Lenchen Rosengarten Riesling Großes Gewächs - The nose was enticing, showing intense spiced-apple with lemon accents, sweet yellow floral tones and moist minerals in a focused, yet fruit forward expression. The more time it spent in the glass, the more its fruit seemed to ripen and I found it difficult to pull myself away. On the palate, I found green apple, grapefruit, lime and wet stone, with sharp acidity contrasted by silky textures. Notes of bitter citrus peel seemed to coat the entire palate through the long finish along with herbal hints. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2012 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese feinherb Ur Alte Reben - A beautiful and truly seductive Riesling, the 2012 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Ur” Alte Reben explodes from the glass with aromas of ripe pear, yellow flowers, roasted walnut, saline minerals, and hints of brie. On the palate, it’s silky yet fresh with sweet and sour tropical fruit, lemon pith, slate and a hint if green olive. Lemon zest lingered long on the finish, as the mouth watered, slowly melting away the oily textures revealing a note of pineapple left behind. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger Riesling - The nose showed ripe peach, grapefruit, sweet spice, wax, and yellow florals in an airy yet gorgeously ripe expression. On the palate it played a sweet and sour act with grapefruit, grapefruit and more grapefruit, mineral stone and lemon pith with rich textures balanced by piercing acidity. The finish seemed to create a vacuum of flavor, which suddenly exploded into a rush of tropical fruits, spice and sweet inner floral notes. In a word, WOW! (94 points) Producer Website!

Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dueling Blind Barolo Vintages

Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido

2001 & 1999 Barolo
Two classic vintages, both in need of time, yet just starting to show their early maturity. Why not put 2001 against 1999 in a blind tasting? We all have our preconceptions, which in some cases were shattered as we unveiled these wines. What’s more, recent reports on 2001 have called it uneven in its maturity, and some have raised the question of if it will go on to be considered a great vintage down the road.

On thing this tasting certainly proved is that there should be no fear that 2001 Barolo from the top producers will go on to be prolific, classic wines. Of course, as noted, these are the top wines of any vintage and finding a reference point here can be difficult. In fact, I don’t recall the last time I saw such a collection of the who’s who in Piedmont. If you’re looking to put something special in the cellar, you can’t go wrong here.

As for 99’s, it’s all been recently said. A retrospective tasting from two years ago put me on the hunt to acquire as much ’99 Barolo as possible. There have been naysayers, yet as time goes by, and more collectors and critics taste these wines, it is becoming apparent that 1999 will go down as one of the top vintages of the nineties—it may even surpass 1996 one day. What I truly love about these wines is their rich, ripe character contrasted by firm classic tannin structure. I taste a ’99 Barolo, even in this young stage, and receive so much satisfaction from not only its current state, but also the imagining of what it will one day become. These are beautiful wines worthy of our cellars.

Flight 1: This was a wonderful performance from the 2001 Bartolo, a wine that I have always been weary of. Inconsistency in this wine’s history, confirmed in the tasting notes of many other writers, leads me to believe an experience like the one below is in no way guaranteed. I couldn’t call out the producer in this flight, but I was sure I guessed the vintages right from their performances. Imagine my surprise to find the results were the exact opposite of my expectations.

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose was classic, showing dusty cherry, cedar, crushed fall leaves moist earth and dried spice. On the palate, it was lean on entry with tart cherry and inner floral tones yet grew richer as it coated the senses with noble tannin. The finish was youthful with an acid, tannin tug across the palate, accentuated by lingering notes of dry red fruit, minerals and soil tones. Beautiful. (94 Points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose was dark and inviting with black cherry, cranberry, hints of menthol and dusty, dark earth tones. Tart red berries clenched the palate in a tense, tightly wound expression of Nebbiolo, along with notes of cinnamon and inner floral tones. Tannin held the palate firm on the finish, with tart berry lingering long, yet drying out the senses. (92 pointsFind it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 2: For me, the most striking thing about this flight was how completely different the 2001 Ca d’Morissio was from the straight 2001 Monprivato. However, they were both equally enjoyable, for completely different reasons.

2001 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Ca d'Morissio Riserva Monprivato – The 2001 Ca d'Morissio was a dark beast of a wine, with intense crushed raspberry, herbs, wood smoke, raw beef and soil laden minerals. On the palate, it was rich yet with a truly classic feel. Tart cherry and autumnal spices penetrated the senses, yet held firm, restrained—clenched. On the finish, lingering dark-red tart berry fruit and inner floral notes lasted long against its formidable structure. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose was striking in its expression of bright, ripe red fruit, rosy floral tones, cinnamon and a lifting note of menthol. On the palate, it showed as a classic mid-weight Barolo, with soft yet focused red fruit and mineral tones. Tannin coated the senses throughout the finish, yet that red berry note continued to ring true. It would seem that there are many years of development ahead for this wine. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

1999 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose was beautiful, with dark, spiced cherry sauce, dusty minerals and a hint of VA. Yet on the palate, this wine took a downturn for me, as it was tight, ungiving and seeming almost diluted. The finish showed hints of red fruit yet remained unyielding. Maybe this was a bad bottle, yet others at the tasting seemed less bothered by its performance. (N/A) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 3: The 1999 Brunate Le Coste was a game changer within this tasting and really made me stop and think. The taster next to me called this flight as G. Rinaldi only moments before I was about to come to the same conclusion. They were both unique and beautiful wines.

1999 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste – The nose was exotic and dark, inciting excitement over reaching deeper into the glass as ripe black cherry, cinnamon spice, sweet balsamic tones and a hint of mint created a gorgeous bouquet. On the palate, it was dark, ripe, intense, juicy—lovely. Showing dark red fruit, accentuated by exotic spice and dried floral notes with a classic tug of Nebbiolo tannin. The finish was long with dried fruits, yet youthful and restrained. There are many years of development ahead of this wine; I only wish I had some in the cellar. (95 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste – Spiced cherry, licorice and sweet rosey floral notes make up the bouquet of the 2001 Brunate Le Coste. On the palate, it is still tightly wound in its structure, yet showing intense tart black cherry fruit and savory herbs. The finish was tight as a drum, youthful yet satisfying as the fruit clung to the center-palate. (92 points) Find it on Wine-searcher!

Flight 4: I was very happy to be able to call this flight as Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia, although I did mistake the vintages. They were both beautiful, classic wines in need of considerable time in the cellar. I will say, that if you wanted to cellar one wine from this tasting, over the long term, the ’99 Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia would be my pick.

1999 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – The nose was dark and enticing with an exotic twist and all the iron, mineral-laden Serralunga character you could ever hope for. A mix of ripe strawberry, brown sugar, orange peel, tea leafs, iron and rich dark soil tones formed the bouquet. On the palate, it was firm yet crystalline focused, showing dried red fruits, dark soil tones, and a hint of grapefruit. Tannin continued to build throughout the finish nearly masking its tightly coiled fruit and permeating notes of dried florals and fall leaves. It was an unbelievably beautiful wine. (96 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – Even darker and richer than the ’99, the nose on the 2001 Cascina Francia pulled me in, showing red berry, moist black soil, floral rose, rosemary and minerals. On the palate, it was youthfully lean with sour red fruit, yet gained momentum and focus as ripe strawberry developed along with inner floral notes and savory spice. The finish continued to impress with its saturating red fruits, inner floral tones and lingering minerals yet remained clenched in need of more time in the cellar. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 5: This flight was a total mystery to me. Giacosa has a way of throwing me for a loop, especially in a blind format. As such, I have stayed with my initial impressions with these tasting notes to avoid any sway the labels may have had after the unveiling.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose was rich and intense with dark red fruits, cinnamon, cedar, and hints of herbs. On the palate, red berry fruit played a sweet and sour act on the senses, while inner floral and tobacco notes completed the experience. Tannin shut down the finish, allowing only a hint of red berry fruit to linger. (93 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose was earthy and somewhat vegetal with tart red berry, sweet peas, and parchment. With time the fruit became sweeter and dark, yet a formidable earthiness remained. On the palate, it was lean showing tart red berry and spice, which lingered throughout the finish with stern structural components tugging at the cheeks. (90 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

Flight 6: I was very happy to correctly guess the first wine as the ’99 Giacosa Le Rocche del Falletto; what I didn’t realize is that the second wine was the exact same thing—ouch! (Originally there were three wines in this flight.) Going back to my notes, they were extremely similar; I’m guessing it was probably differences in conditions of the bottles and time of double-decant, which may explain the slight differences. I went with my first tasting note, as I believe it was the best representation of the wine.

1999 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose was all at once intense, yet elegant and truly radiant. A bouquet of dark red fruits, plum, rosy florals, dusty spice and minerals wafted up from the glass without any coaxing. On the palate, it opened with bitter cherry, yet fleshed out turning riper and softer with a savory meatiness, dry spice, saline minerals and inner floral tones. The finish was tight yet focused with red fruit, cinnamon and gorgeous autumnal character. (97 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!

2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba – The nose showed a ripe mix of crushed berries, dry spice, menthol, leather and hints of herbs in a dark, warm and inviting bouquet. On the palate, it started youthfully lean with tart cherry, gaining mass and riper character as it wrapped around the senses. A woody balsamic note lingered long with sweet exotic spice and violet floral tones. The finish was the epitome of dried flowers and fruit with dry spice lingering long. (98 points) Find it on: Wine-searcher!
It was a tasting of epic proportions!

Check out: The Fine Wine Geek, for more notes and photos.

In closing, I would be remiss not to mention the excellent service and location provided for this tasting by New York Vintners. New York Vintners is a specialty wine shop in Downtown Manhattan, which appears small upon entry, yet as you pass behind a curtain separating the wine selection from the rest of the store, you come to realize that this is much more than a simple retail location.

New York Vintners has a full kitchen with tasting table within sight. As well as two floors below where they hold educational classes, their wine cellar, and a cellar tasting room (seen in the photo). The food, prepared by Chef Ryan Smith, was a perfect companion to help us through tasting these youthful wines. It was truly a culmination of vinous and culinary perfection.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Macari Revisited: The 2010 Cab Franc

By Eric Guido

You have to give credit where credit is due. This is the phrase that comes to mind while tasting the 2010 Macari Cabernet Franc. Why? Well, for one thing, I’ve spent the last few years thinking that Cabernet Franc in the North Fork was a lost cause. I found much more enjoyment from Merlot and various white wines from the region. Still, I work hard to leave all preconceptions behind when tasting wine. And it's a good thing that i did so tonight, because tonight, I was schooled.

Granted, this is Macari, whose praise I have sung in the past, yet never for the Cabernet Franc. Keep in mind, if you’re a fan of mineral and soil laden Chinon, this may not be for you. However, when putting this against some of the most interesting Cab Franc from California, you quickly come to see its qualities and its value.  There are no dank soil or bell pepper notes to be found here; just fruit, character and balance. Which makes me think--it may be time to revisit the North Fork of Long Island again.

What’s more, this is not to be classified as a big wine. Although my tasting note may speak of a velvety palate and almost confectionary bouquet, this wine would still pair beautifully with food due to its balance. What it really comes down to is that Macari really hit it out of the park with the 2010 Cabernet Franc. It’s not easy to impress me with a ripe and forward styled wine, but this really did the trick.

2010 Macari Cabernet Franc - The nose was rich, almost confectionary and wonderfully expressive with spiced black cherry, fig and cola, fresh rosemary and an almost dusty gravel-mineral note, which kept it seated in reality. On the palate, I found this to be velvety smooth, like a dark wave washing over the senses with saturating blackberry fruit, wild herbs and balanced acidity. The finish lasted on the palate with hints of tannin tingling and tugging at the senses. Did this really come from the North Fork--Oh yes it did! (92+ points)

For more information and tasting notes, check out the Marcari website or my post from 2011: Producer Spotlight: Macari Vineyards

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Summer of Swirling: V.I.P. Table Favorites

Article & Reviews by: Eric Guido

An amazing tasting at one of my favorite restaurants
of the summer: Danny Brown
It has been a summer full of fine foods, good friends and some absolutely beautiful bottles of wine. It has also been one of my busiest summers to date. My workload has been tremendous, hence the lack of updates here on the blog, but that doesn’t mean my focus and dedication have waivered. I feel it’s time to do a little summer recap and introduce my readers to some of the great bottles I’ve enjoyed—before they are all gone.  What’s more, autumn is right around the corner, and there are some red wines here that simply need to be retasted for optimal enjoyment as the weather cools.

Best Values

Let’s jump right into it with some of the best values I’ve found and work our way up to the vintage wines and highest scorers. Spain, Italy and Germany were on full display in my house this summer and for very good reason. These regions represent some of the best values in the wine world.

The Castillo de Monseran Carinena was new to me and a big surprise. The grape is Grenache, but not what you’d usually expect. If you’ve ever wondered what a Southern Rhone Grenache would taste like with more finesse and minerality, look no further.

2009 Castillo de Monseran Cariñena 50 Year Old Vines - The nose was ripe, yet characterful, showing dark fruit, ripe strawberry, mint, and a hint of oak. On the palate, it was rich and deeply rooted in brambly, earthy fruit with blackberry, currant, hints of stem and minerals. The texture was full yet grainy with tannin that tugged at your already black-fruit saturated palate. A solid vein of acidity kept it fresh enough for the dinner table, yet fun enough for the back porch. The finish was tart, with a slightly syrupy, lip-smacking quality--yet fresh. An excellent bottle of wine and a great value. (91 points) Monseran Website!

If there was a repeating theme this summer, it was my desire to drink more Riesling. Each time I opened the cellar door, I would start to think about these refreshing, acid-driven, mineral-laced and fruity wines. The Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Kabinett was without a doubt the best Quality-Price-Ratio Riesling of the bunch.

2012 Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett - The nose showed a light spritz of lemon and lime with moist minerals and hints of fresh cut grass. On the palate, there was a striking cut of acidity, lending tremendous freshness and a mouthwatering quality which nearly masked its ripe fruit; yet the fruit was still there and quite enjoyable. Peach, cherry and citrus notes lingered on the palate with stony minerals as the mouth continued to water. It was fresh and fruity with great minerality, a great QPR--what more could I ask for? (90 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

And then there’s Sardinia, an island off of the Italian mainland which too few of us wine lovers are exploring. Some of the most interesting Italian wines I’ve enjoyed over the years have come from this dramatically different region of Italy. In fact, two wines from Sardinia made today’s list of summer favorites. Here, it’s a little known grape named Carignano which is showcased in this racy and exotic value wine.

2010 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT - The nose was exotic, showing dark red berry, currant, Indian spice and chalky minerals. On the palate, it was ripe yet racy and balanced with dark savory fruit tones and a rich chewy mouth feel. Tart red berry and hints of spice lingered long, turning darker and firmer with time. A very enjoyable bottle of wine! (90 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

Going back to Riesling for a moment, and a great wine for those of you who prefer the drier and more rock and mineral style, there’s the Stein St. Aldeguner Palmberg. This wine takes some time in the glass to come to life, but once it does—hold on to your chair. It’s rich yet racy and tense with gobs of mouthwatering intensity. A great relative value, as it’s not necessarily cheap, but worth every penny.

2011 Stein St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen Riesling Spätlese feinherb - Aromas jumped from the glass of this young Riesling, showing ripe pear, peach skins, wet mineral laden stone and hints of lemon. On the palate, there was a yin yang of fruit, acidity and minerality. Grapefruit was foremost with equal doses of acidity, as expected from a bite, and the sprinkle of sugar on top. Ripe peach flavor and weight added balance, along with gorgeous saline minerals, which poured out as the mouth began to water. The finish made the cheeks pucker with slight lemon pith, hints of fresh honeycomb and inner floral notes. To say I enjoyed this wine would be an understatement. (92 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

Could a summer favorites list exist without a bottle of Ridge? In my book, if there’s one red wine that must be stocked up for every summer and fall—it’s Ridge Zinfandel. These wines are just perfect for anything you can throw at them. Hot weather, sitting by the grill, barbecue, pool side, big steaks, spicy Mexican… the list can go on and on.

2011 Ridge Zinfandel Pagani Ranch - The nose was ripe and slightly rustic with intense wild berry fruit, candied black cherry, spiced vanilla and cola. It saturated the palate with ripe dark fruits, smokehouse wood and mineral-laden, black stone. Its intensity was well matched by a balancing acidity that kept it juicy--it was hard to believe this is 14.7% alc. The finish was loaded with dark fruit, yet clean and fresh; a really great effort, yet I feel it's an earlier drinking wine than the back label boasts. I honestly don't see this improving over the next seven to eight years--but that's because it's just so darn good now, why wait? (91 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

2006 Dettori Tuderi in the glass
Top Wines

On to some of my favorites. There were some great wines on the table this summer. Some of them young and many of them just entering their maturity. Most of these can still be found by the crafty shopper.

One of the big performers this summer was the 1999 Monsanto Nemo. I have sung its praises in the past and I’ll go down this road again. Tuscan Cabernet can be amazing, and Monsanto makes one of the best around.

These wines age beautifully and are a perfect marriage of Cabernet fruit and Tuscan character. If you’ve never tried one—seek them out, but look for one with a little age, because these beauties can go two decades and just keep getting better and better.

1999 Castello di Monsanto Nemo Toscana IGT - The nose was dark and brooding with crushed plum, raspberry and currants, as notes of spiced tobacco, graphite, and mineral stone provided depth. On the palate, intense, rich, and somewhat savory fruit was kept fresh by balanced acidity as notes of dark red and black fruit, tobacco, and cedar covered the senses. The tannins here were perfectly integrated and provided a peak drinking experience. The finish seemed to slowly melt away from the palate with saturating plum, spice and lingering notes of tobacco. I’ve enjoyed Nemo many times; this was one of the best ones that I’ve had the pleasure to taste. (95 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

Revelatory would be the word to describe my experience with the 2005 Carlisle Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard. I’ve had some great Zinfandel in my day, but this was a thing of beauty. The nose alone was worth the price of entry, and it was so unique and exotic with a finesse that was unbelievable. If you’re willing to spend up to the $45+ range for a Zinfandel, I highly recommend Carlisle.

2005 Carlisle Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard - The nose was intense and constantly evolving with ripe yet fresh fruits, showing stemmed strawberry and cherry, sweet floral tones, exotic spice and minerals. On the palate, it was fresh yet expanded to cover all the senses in spirited ripe cherry, plum and dark chocolate. Juicy, ripe, spiced red fruits lingered on the finish. This wine was incredible and a new experience in Zinfandel for me. (94 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

If you read my blog or have ever had a chat with me about Barolo, then I’m sure the name Giacomo Conterno won’t be new to you. Giacomo Conterno makes some of the best Barolo you can buy, and boy does it cost. However, this house also happens to produce one of the most amazing Barbera you could possibly find. It’s not cheap, but great wine hardly ever is. These are big and burly in their youth with incredible intensity—yet they age into beautifully elegant wines of class. I turned some heads with this bottle, and at $40, you can’t go wrong.

2005 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba Cascina Francia - The nose was autumnal, showing dried leaves and cherry, sweet spice and hints of citrus peel. On the palate, dried red fruits with a bitter twang, licorice and mineral soil tones swirled around the senses in a mouthwatering, slightly angular yet truly refined expression of Barbera. The finish was long and palate-staining with red berry, yet it was truly fresh. This was my last of six bottles, and I must say that I’ve enjoyed the development of this wine more than almost any other. (93 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

Back to Sardinia with a wine that’s so good, it scares me. So much so that I raced back to buy another but they were already gone. Tenute Dettori makes uber organic wines which require patience and the right taster. What I mean by this is you can’t just open one of these and drink it down like a soft drink. Each experience I’ve had with Dettori has been so much better after the bottle has been allowed to breathe between 1 – 24 hours—no joke. The fact that this is one of their entry-level wines makes it all the more attractive. This is serious juice.

2006 Tenute Dettori Tuderi Romangia IGT - The color was translucent ruby with a bouquet that literally jumped from the glass without a swirl to show ripe notes of crushed cherry, sweet floral tones and cinnamon tea--yet then traverses toward the mineral and savory realm as hints of iron, smoke and animal musk join the fray. On the palate, it entered like cherry juice, but quickly firmed up and fleshed out in all directions, showing spiced herbal tea, wild blueberry, nutmeg, and with a tart grapefruit-like twist of acidity. The finish lingered long with flavors of tart cherry and spiced blood orange, which lingered on the back of my tongue. (93 pointsFind it on: Wine-Searcher!

* Dettori Tuderi is an uber-natural wine which demands decanting and will reward the patient taster. (15.5% alcohol, but oh so balanced)

Another Riesling? I did say it was one of my most reached-for wines of the summer. However, this one is another animal entirely. What’s more, it’s just a baby. Some may call this a sweet wine, but you’d have to taste it to understand that the balance is so perfect that you could drink this any day and at any time—but be prepared to be blown away. It’s amazingly fresh, perfectly ripe, detailed and layered. It soothes the palate, yet also excites it while sending veins of electric-like flavor enhancing acidity across your senses. If you think you don’t like sweet Riesling, then you must try the Selbach-Oster Rotlay. It will make you a believer.

2010 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling 'Rotlay' - The nose was insanely beautiful, showing sweet spices and floral notes, lemon curd, ripe peach with hints orange and green grass. On the palate, it was all about perfectly balanced intensity. The weight and sweetness of this wine is at first perceptible, but then is swept away by a burst of green apple acidity, leaving a slightly oily texture with tropical fruit and citrus notes which seem to last for over a minute throughout the finish. This is a sweet wine, balancing its girth as if on the point of a needle, swinging this way and that--yet never tipping over. Love it. (94 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher