Buried in the tome of paperwork for a recent new doctor’s appointment, one of the questions asked,”How often do you drink alcoholic beverages?” After I checked the box for “everyday”, I scoured the page for a comment area where I could explain why I do that. I wouldn’t want the doctor to think I need it, or abuse it or anything. I fall somewhere in this realm, but felt this frank consumption statement could be misconstrued by someone who just doesn’t understand. But my new doctor spared me any embarrassment — he’s quite the wine drinker himself. Gotta love Life in California.
So with such a prolific wine tasting habit, distilling the thousands I evaluate every year down to nine is a tough challenge. (Thankfully, however, I keep track by placing these in the “Almost Perfect” section of my Wine Review pull down menu). But, like finishing the five pages of medical paperwork, I did it.
My top nine of 2011, in no particular order, but all judged by their price/value ratio:
1. Zind Humbrecht 2009 Pinot Gris (France)
Of all the French wine regions, Alsace is the easiest to understand. Unlike other regions, it labels its bottles by varietal name, making the selection — and pronunciation — less problematic. I’m a rabid fan of Zind Humbrecht wines. They aren’t particularly cheap but always worth every penny. This wine is absolutely gorgeous. 5 out of 5 stars. Read the full review of Zind Humbrecht 2009 Pinot Gris.
2. Montecillo 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva (Spain)
In Europe, gender equality in the wine world still hovers in the Middle Ages, but strong-willed females have made progress. In 1975, Montecillo’s Maria Martinez, a warm-hearted yet tough survivor, began her wine career in Spain’s Rioja region. After only four years of working in the cellars, she earned her spot among the esteemed winemaker ranks, and has since been crowned “the Queen of Rioja” as the head winemaker at highly respected, 135-year-old Bodegas Montecillo. Read the full review of Montecillo 2001 Gran Riserva.
3. Mulderbosch 2008 Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch (South Africa)
In new world regions like South Africa, French ex pat Chenin Blanc transforms. They often call this white grape “Steen” in South Africa. And the Mulderbosch Chenin was mistaken for a White Burgundy at a blind tasting… embarrassing all the certified sommeliers in attendance. Read the full review of Mulderbosch 2008 Chenin Blanc.
4. Buried Cane 2009 Whiteline Chardonnay (Unoaked) (Washington)
There’s a bit of a backlash with oaky/buttery California Chardonnays now. A new found love of the unadorned version — labeled “Unoaked”, “Virgin”, “Naked” or “Stainless Steel” — can be witnessed on retail shelves and on restaurant wine lists. The taste difference between oak-aged and/or fermented Chardonnay and those that don’t see wood can normally be summed up in one word: minerality. Washington State’s Buried Cane is on to something. Read the full review of Buried Cane 2009 Whiteline Chardonnay.
5. Elena Walch 2010 Lagrein Alto Adige (Italy)
For a few years now, the Alto Adige wine region in northeastern Italy has been a darling of mine. With a cooler climate than the rest of the heated Italian countrysides, the Pinot Grigios taste crisper, the eclectic reds are more refined and they grow a whole slew of interesting grapes from this rich, historic soil. Like Lagrein, an unknown red. Read the full review of Elena Walch 2010 Lagrein.
6. Quivira 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (California)
I was a bit hesitant to write about Quivira’s Zin that I recently tasted blind, since I reviewed the 2008 vintage in April of this year. But I thought, what the hell, they deserve to get kudos twice in one year. These guys rock the Zinfandel. And, farming biodynamically, they’re stewards of the earth. Read the full review of Quivira 2009 Zinfandel.
7. Castello d’Albola 2007 Chianti Classico (Italy)
Chianti is one of the classic food wines of Italy. In this wine-soaked country, regional foods are designed to pair with regional wines. Like Garanimals back in the day. In Tuscany, the locals sip Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva with red sauces, long-simmered bean dishes and slow-roasted meats. The higher acidity of the Sangiovese grape complements the high acidity of tomato sauces but also contrasts with the delicious fat of the meat dishes. Matches made in foodie heaven. Read the full review of Castello d’Albola 2007 Chianti Classico.
8. Penfolds Bin 128 2008 Shiraz Coonawarra
Most consumers have heard of Penfold’s, and unfortunately have mostly tasted their somewhat generic, everyday Cabernet and Shiraz blends. But their Bin Series bottlings, made from a more exclusive, higher tier of fruit, are simply breathtaking (and worth the extra $8 or so). Established in 1962, Penfold’s Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz series is made from grapes grown on Penfold’s-owned land and produces a consistently tasty wine vintage after vintage. Read the full review of Penfolds Bin 128 2008 Shiraz.
9. Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Brut (Italy)
Used to be bubbles were out of reach for everyday drinking, but then quality Italian Prosecco came along. Like the Sorelle Bronca Prosecco that I tasted at a wine bar in Santa Rosa in Northern California. By the glass for $8. An absolute steal. Read the full review of Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Brut.