The best wines of 2006: A banner year for the vine

This is supposed to be a Top 10 wines column, but, shit, I can’t choose only 10. This year, the wines I tasted seemed better than last, more posh and luxurious, like a trip to Saks rather than Pier 1. They were more concentrated, elegant and yummy, as if winemakers worldwide had made a secret pact to perk up last year’s quality. But variation makes wine interesting and challenging … and we’re the lucky test dummies. Drink well, be safe, and have a wonderful New Year.

Frank Family Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (California) Headed up by a wine geek from Hollywood and winemaker Koerner Rombauer, Frank Family Vineyards has won my heart. I haven’t had a disappointing bottle yet. Their cab is elegance embodied. Tootsie Roll flavors, laced with caramel, vanilla and honeysuckle … backed up with white pepper, blackberry and a slight smokiness. Sw = 1. $55. 5 stars (Issue date 12/06/06)

Long Shadows 2004 Sequel Syrah Columbia Valley (Washington) Soft and silky, like that negligee every woman loves. Gorgeous, roasted black cherry and elegant blueberry seduce your palate into submission. Amazing, amazing wine, but might be hard to find. Worth every penny of $55. Sw = 1. 5 stars (Issue date 10/04/06)

2004 Zinfandel Lytton Springs (California) Two words: fucking beautiful. Same character as the Geyserville, but more acid/tannin balance, more elegant, more flowery and more forthcoming with flavor. Let it sit in your glass for 15 minutes and it glows even more. Sw = 2. $30. 5 stars (Issue date 5/17/06)

Domaine Carneros 2003 Brut (California) This California offering from Taittinger certainly won me over. Smells floral, with honeysuckle, green apple and peaches on your tongue. Fantastic value. Sw = 2. $24. 4.5 stars. (Issue date 11/29/06)

Cristom 2002 Pinot Noir Reserve (Oregon) Wow … elegance embodied. Vibrant cherry, lush raspberry and an earthy, mushroomy finish. Layers upon layers of flavor that give ’til it feels so good. Sw = 2. $32. 4.5 stars (Issue date 5/10/06)

Clos La Chance 2003 Buff Bellied Zinfandel Central Coast (California) Named after a hummingbird found in Northern California, this wine is rich, hearty and fruit-forward. It impresses with its luscious black cherry/blackberry combo. Subtle hints of herbs and white pepper, too. Multilayered wine that keeps giving the whole sip. Sw = 3. $15. 4.5 stars (Issue date 9/20/06)

Grande Cassagne Rosé2005 Languedoc (France) This wine exudes perfumey red fruit like raspberries and strawberries. Also has a great backbone of sharp yet pleasant acidity. All day drinkable. Sw = 1. $11. 4.5 stars (Issue date 8/02/06)

Martin and Weyrich 2005 Moscato Allegro California A refreshingly honest, sweet wine. Perfumey with roses, cotton candy and overripe pears. Rich with just-picked apricots. Kinda tastes like a really, really good Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler. Sw = 6. $12. 4.5 stars (Issue date 3/29/06)

Domaine Louis Moreau 2003 Chablis (France) Not the jug wine you’ll find mislabeled from California, this is the real French Chardonnay Chablis. Complex with streams of well-balanced flavors that woo you, like toffee, orange and cloves. Sophisticated and classy, with a touch of acidity. Sw = 2. $21. 4.5 stars (Issue date 1/25/06)

Seven Hills 2004 Pinot Gris Oregon This Washington winery gets these grapes from the coast of neighboring Oregon, but it doesn’t matter. Loads of fruit explode in your mouth, with gorgeous tangerine, vanilla and honeysuckle finishing dry and refreshing. Sw = 3. $14. 4.5 stars (Issue date 2/15/06)

Girard 2004 Petite Sirah Napa Valley (California) Gushingly rich and ripe blackberries, licorice and strong-brewed espresso. Brawny tannins that smooth out with some air and would cellar nicely. Sw = 1. $24. 4.5 stars (Issue date 11/01/06)

Catena 2003 Malbec Mendoza (Argentina) Smells like sugar cookies with a blueberry and blackberry compote. Tastes smooth, elegant and raspberry-jammy. Delicious wine that’s worth much more than you’re paying. Sw = 3. $20. 4.5 stars (Issue date 4/19/06)


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