Here’s my annual summary of the year’s best wine experiences. Not just wines, but best wine experiences.
Often we open great wines, which score high marks for what’s in the bottle; but a great wine experience has as much to do with the person with whom you are enjoying the wine, or the setting, as the wine itself.
My Best Wine Experiences, in chronological order for the year:
The first wine experience of the year to grab me by the lapels occurred upon opening a 1970 Unfiltered Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet. The wine was made in Bob Mondavi’s forth year of production and it was the first year in which estate grapes were crushed.
My old friend Harry Grant, from Los Angeles, brought the wine to Napa Valley to celebrate our 41st anniversary – of having met at the Thorn Tree restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya. The year we met was 1970 – the same vintage as this Mondavi Cab. Harry and I bonded as youthful travelers in search of the inconsequential, and we spent a year on extended safari, traveling all through southern Africa.
From left to right; Harry Grant, from LA, who gave me the ’70 Mondavi Cab, and Rob Fanucci, my winery partner at Charter Oak, with whom we drank the wine. Not seen: Ken Miller, another friend, also present at the dinner.
I took the Mondavi Cab to dinner for a winemaker’s night out; we invited Rob Fanucci, my partner and winemaker at Charter Oak winery and another good friend, Ken Miller. We dined at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, in St. Helena, enjoying some of the best burgers of the year, which perfectly complemented the rich and elegant ‘70 Mondavi Cab.
The wine was pleasing and sweet upon pouring, not what I expected from a 41-year-old wine. As the wine rested in the glass, it gained body, weight and a silken texture; 20 minutes later, the wine was better than it had been upon pouring.
Initial flavors: cedar, tea, soy and ripe, older red fruit. Everything became more accentuated as the wine sat in the glass. A remarkable dowager wine, still strutting its stuff. 93 points.
Best Wine Night of the Year
This has never happened to me in 35+ years of drinking and rating wines; the serendipity of opening four bottles of wine – two whites and two reds – and finding each of them a perfect 100-point wine experience. That’s a 400-point night!
The setting: Rutherford friends Liz and Dave Berry came for dinner on a beautiful August night; Among the gems we pulled from our respective cellars were two sublime white Burgundies and two exquisite, perfect and perfectly aged Chateauneufs-du-Pape.
2005 Patrick Javillier Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru.
2006 Marius Delarche Corton-Charlemagne Reserve
White Burgundies don’t get better than this. The peculiar thing is that I have opened many bottles of these two wines and due to bottle variation, have never had what I would call an “Aha!” moment. How strange then (and how wonderful!), to open BOTH these wines and find them exhibiting 100-point perfection. Extremely elegant, beautifully textured, sublimely pleasing.
1998 Domaine de la Mordoree Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Wowie. Over time, I have opened bottles of this wine, to which I ascribed 98 and even 99 points, but not ever 100. This particular bottle, however, commands a perfect score. Close your eyes and it could be a sublime Vosne Romanee; it has balance, finesse, elegance, hints of garrigue, and a plush, lingering finish.
2000 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne
My last bottle of this exceptional wine. A perfect bottle, showing saddle sweat, leather, earth, and a myriad of ripe fruit flavors. The wine ends with a long, delicious finish. If I thought eternity were this sweet and alluring, I might consider signing up for the package.
Even after several hours in a decanter, this wine had tons of life left in it – behaving like a well-trained ultra-marathoner who dances into the 50-mile marker, with tons of reserve to get to the finish line at mile marker 130.
Let’s Not Forget the Italians!
It was a great year for whites. We found this extremely delicious, extremely rare white from Jermann while traveling in Capri in September. Very little of this wine is exported to the US, but I recently found it on the menu in our ‘hood – and even by the glass! – at Alex’s Italian Restaurant, in Rutherford, here in Napa Valley.
I knew Silvio Jermann when I lived in Toronto, Canada. In the late 70s, he said he was moving to Fruili, Italy, to start producing wines. We patted him on the back and wished him well.
Don’t think we needed to wish Silvio luck; the guy’s super-talented and makes some of the very best whites in all of Italy. Today, his family farms close to 250 acres of grapes.
There isn’t anything Jermann makes that I wouldn’t score in the mid-90s, including his sensational Ribolla Gialla, which he labels “Vinnae.”
This wine is filled with fresh, tropical flavors, hints of mango skin and sports lush tropical scents. Fully dry and fully delicious, too. A 93-pointer for sure. Hints of Riesling and Tocai Friulano in the blend add to the richness and character.
I loved this wine so much that before leaving Capri, where we discovered it, I hunted down the last three retail bottles on the island and schlepped them home.
May your New Year be filled with fun, good health, and many wonderful wine experiences.