If I wax sentimental at all, it is usually over a wine that has fulfilled my expectations or one that brought a surprising pleasurable experience. Many wine publications and wine writers name their top 10 wines each year, but I find this difficult because I taste many spectacular wines from around the globe throughout the year.
This year, especially, such a task would be difficult because I spent time in Napa and Sonoma, tasting the best wines these regions offer. So instead of naming my top 10 wines of the year, listed below are some pleasurable wines that pleasantly surprised or exceeded expectations:
Butter 2010 Chardonnay. 2010 is sold out, but 2011 is available from Amazon for $16.99 plus shipping. (Yes, one wine phenomenon of 2012 is Amazon’s launch of online wine selling.)
Butter is a second less-pricey chardonnay released under the Jam Cellar label owned by John and Michelle Trushard, whose more expensive label is John Anthony Vineyards.
Smooth, rich chardonnay aged in a combination of new and neutral oak. It tastes like butter, darling. Lees aging and secondary malolactic fermentation lend richness.
Layer Cake 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. In the $15 range at the Wine Cellar on Quintard. I still smart when I hear the word “layer,” having been trapped for several days in the company of someone whose only incessant comment about every wine had to do with layers of flavor.
Personalities aside, this is a surprisingly good little wine from Jayson Woodbridge, who, in addition to making Layer Cake wines, owns and makes the uber-expensive cult wine Hundred Acre Cabernet.
Nicely balanced with lots of luscious fruit. Ready to be enjoyed upon release. A great pour for those who prefer a red starter.
White Oak Vineyards Southern Oak 2011 Norton. $16 at local winery White Oak Vineyards, on Dry Hollow Road, just off Highway 9.
Norton is likely a combination of a traditional wine grape and a native grape. Randal Wilson, owner and winemaker at White Oak, treats this wine like vinifera, aging it in oak and allowing it to rest in bottle before releasing this dry red wine reminiscent of syrah.
2010 Union Hill Napa Valley Cabernet. $25.50 at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs. From the Wine Liberation Society, a negociant group based in Birmingham. Sourced from some of the top vineyards in Napa, this wine is made by Sonoma winemaker Jeff Libarle.
This has all the bells and whistles of a more expensive Napa cab. Concentrated dark berry fruits. Balanced and approachable. Pleasant when tasted upon release in September, but subsequent bottles have only gotten better.
Salus Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Chardonnay Napa 2010. $49.99 from Amazon, shipped via K&L Wine Merchants. Exquisite chardonnay. Salus is the goddess of wellbeing, and I felt very well sipping this beautiful wine on the loggia overlooking Staglin’s Rutherford Vineyards.
Perfect chardonnay aged on its lees for an extended period in a combination of new and neutral oak. Portions go through malolactic fermentation, which contributes to the wine’s creaminess. Hints of tropical fruit, green apple and citrus, but these flavors meld into a subdued whole.
Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Rutherford Cabernet 2007. $185 from K&L Wine Merchants. Napa cabernet does not get any better than this, and those who dispense wine scores agree.
I tasted four outstanding cabernets at the winery this past summer. Out of a delicious line up, 2007 was my favorite. Intensely flavored with bold red and dark berry fruits. Nice balance of tannins to fruit. Almost too good to serve with food. Just savor it for its beauty.
Contact Pat Kettles at email@example.com.