Monday, October 19, 2009

Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting

I suppose I have to comment on last week's Wine & Spirits Top 100 winery tasting because the magazine used my effusive praise in its marketing material.

I feel a little sheepish for being that bubbly. Reading the quote, I imagined myself handwriting it with little hearts for the o's, and maybe a unicorn for the exclamation point.

Fortunately, the tasting didn't disappoint. The lineup of wineries ranged from the exotic (Movia) to the sublime (Krug). So many great wines were poured that I tasted for four hours and felt immense regret when the event ended, and I never even sampled all the food items.

My friend Alder Yarrow, as always, managed to taste everything. He doesn't take tasting notes, which helps, but I'm still in awe of his speed. I ran out of time before I ever got to the Cabernets, partly because I saw so many winemakers and other friends in the industry there, and I just couldn't stop yakking about all the great wines around us.

The picture is of David Ramey, who reminded me that the last time I spoke with him, I was coy about whether or not I was going to take a buyout from the San Francisco Chronicle (because I already had). Ravenswood's Joel Peterson, another great guy to chat with, will probably come to pour his wine at any old clambake, but David Ramey won't.

I won't attempt to do a comprehensive list: that's why I gave the link to Alder's site, and of course you can read about the wineries at the Wine & Spirits website. Instead, here's a list of a few of my favorite wines from this year's fest.

And a memo to Josh Greene: You can use that quote again next year. You earned it. But please, no unicorns, OK?

Tasting notes

Gramona Brut Nature Gran Reserva III Lustros Cava 2001 ($45)
A rare medium-sized (42,000 case), family-run Cava producer delivers one of the best Cavas I've ever tasted. Five years of bottle aging give it a nutty, Sherry-like aroma. The flavors are dried apricot and persimmon fruit; I love the long, Sherry-like finish. Comparable to a tete-de-cuvee Champagne, which makes it great value, even at $45. Wine & Spirits gave this 92 points, but I say 94.

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Blanc de Blancs Brut Gastronome Premier Cru Champagne 2004 ($64)
It's actually the fils de les fils, because Pierre Gimonnet started the label in 1935 and his grandsons now run the 20,000 case estate. The Gimonnets believe in old vines, unusual in Champagne. The Gastronome is bottled at lower-than-usual pressure, intended to match fine cuisine rather than toast the New Year. It's aromatic, with notes of yeast, Sherry and almonds, and it finishes savory with a delightfully chalky mouthfeel. 93

Aveleda Vinho Verde Quinta de Aveleda 2008 ($9)
Is Vinho Verde the best value in the wine world right now? If you're buying from Aveleda, it certainly is. Wine & Spirits preferred this winery's 100% Alvarinho bottling, but I liked this blend for its complexity: peach fruit with notes of lavender, and a round mouthfeel despite refreshing acidity. I could drink this all night long and never get tired, in either sense, because of its 11.5% alcohol. 92

Gaia Santorini Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2008 ($35)

This was the buzz wine of the event for wine geeks, and it's a shame that there are only 30 6-packs in the U.S., all at New York restaurants. Winemaker Yiannis Paraskevopoulos discovered that 18 different wild yeasts lived in his winery and vineyards, so he let them ferment the Assyrtiko -- one of Greece's best wine grapes -- on their own. Some of the wine he later poured down the drain. The tanks that he kept, he aged in barrels made not of oak, but of acacia wood, which is native to Santorini, giving the wine an even greater sense of terroir. I loved this wine: It tastes of Parma ham, white pepper, lemon, sage, lees and sea salt. It's both delicious and intellectually pleasing. You lucky, lucky New York diners. 97

Gaia Santorini Thalassitis 2008 ($28)

Also made from 100% Assyrtiko, this wine has lemon fruit with a foresty aroma, some peppery notes, and some Parma ham on the long finish. Love that pine/eucalyptus note. Since you can order it online, it's reasonable consolation for all of us unable to get the wild fermented wine above. 92

Sheldrake Point Finger Lakes Riesling Ice Wine ($65)
Owner Bob Madill seemed sheepish to be in this company; he felt the need to explain where New York is, and that the Riesling is good there. This wine speaks for itself: rich, but good acidity, with peach fruit and strong floral notes and a long finish. I didn't taste a better dessert wine. 94

Nigl Kremstal Kremsleiten Riesling 2007 ($46)
I think of this Austrian winery for its Gruner Veltliner, which is popular with Bay Area sommeliers. This was the first time I tried the Riesling, and it's impressive: spicy and peppery, with apricot fruit and a pleasantly stony minerality. This wine made me hungry, and that's a good thing. 93

Donnhoff Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Spatlese 2006 ($48)

This was the first vintage where Donnhoff separated out grapes from the highest-elevation portion of this vineyard and made a separate, more expensive wine. Wine & Spirits liked that one better, but I preferred this one: Bright apricot fruit, characteristic diesel aroma, strong slate minerality and wonderful floral notes. It's also more widely available. 93

Domaine Faiveley Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 ($305)
I didn't know the price when I tasted this; I just thought, wow, very nice wine, with lemon fruit, toast, a round mouthfeel and above all, excellent balance. Of course, for $305, it ought to be nice, and I ought to have used pricier descriptors ("kissed by sunlight, with elegant flavors of garden-grown Meyer lemon and sumptuous blah blah blah"). But I have to tell you that plenty of times very expensive wines at these tastings don't stand out above their cheaper peers. This one did. 94

Ramey Hyde Vineyard Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay ($62)
Ever wonder what liquid toast tastes like? Throw in some ripe green and golden apple and you've got this wine, which clearly shows why, for Chardonnay, toast is good but butter is bad. The mouthfeel is just the right balance of rich but not over the top; plenty of acidity keeps you coming back for sip after sip. No wonder, when I asked Jay McInerney if he ever drank California wines anymore, he said, "I always have room for a Ramey Chardonnay." 92

Lioco Klindt Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2007 ($45)
Natural wine purists, Lioco is best known for their Chardonnays, but I prefer their reds. I tasted through all the red Burgundies on offer and then immediately tasted this wine, and it showed what California has to offer in Pinot Noir: very bright raspberry fruit with a lovely nose and gentle mouthfeel. Burgundy has great complexity and all that interesting barnyard stuff, but it's hard not to love fruit this pure at a price that gets you only a village wine from Burgundy. 92

Peay Scallop Shelf Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007 ($52)

This wine from extremely cold-climate vineyards out-Burgundied the Burgundies. It's very savory, with smoked meat and fish sauce notes and very dry raspberry fruit. This is the kind of wine that would be great to spend an evening with. 93

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