Uncorked’s favorite wines of 2015
One of the spiffy aspects of being in the wine business is the opportunity to try many different wines — aka “research and development." This year, I sampled well over 1,000 wines. There were certainly a few duds that tasted like wet dishrag, burnt tar and garlic or an old hockey jersey, but most were good, and a few dozen were delicious.
Here are my top 10 favorite wines of the year that never made it into a City Pulse Uncorked column.
Castello di Ama Chianti Classico, 2007: Let’s be real. There are oceans of Chianti that are straight-up overpriced. But there are great deals, too. With Chianti, it’s usually best to find a wine-wise friend or wine store employee to snag your red-sauced pasta pairing. Castello di Ama may be my favorite Tuscan wine I tried this year.
Some words that come to mind: delicate, dense, brooding. It’s easy to get annoyingly verbose about wines that reinvigorate after being burned too many times by the overpriced stuff. Fear not with this one. It’s not cheap, but if you’re willing to spend a couple bucks more for an elegant Italian meal, this is a good place to turn. ($45)
Costa di Bussia barbera d’Alba, 2012: I’m a sucker for good charcuterie. I dig pate, galantine, sausage, rillettes, all of it. Costa di Bussia’s barbera d’Alba is a great pairing for this snacky fare. It is playful and fruity without too much tannin and just a bit of earthy tones. It lets the food be the star of the show. There’s much to fall in love with, including the price. ($15)
Duchessa Lia Barbaresco, 2012: The typical “tar and roses” of full-bodied Italian nebbiolo grapes is alive and well in this wine. Nebbiolo from Barbaresco and Barolo can be notoriously expensive. Not here. If you see this insane value on the shelf, don’t hesitate. It will be gone if you blink. ($25)
Gaierhof moscato giallo, 2014: Moscato is almost always undeniably sweet. The trick is to keep enough acid in the wine to prevent it from tasting like Robitussin cut with stale Fruit Roll- Ups. Success from Trentino, Italy! This is my favorite moscato of the year. ($20)
Gaston Chiquet “Special Club” Brut Champagne, 2007: Using the phrase “Special Club” sounds pretty lame, but there’s a pretty good reason behind it. Back in the early ‘70s, smaller producers in the French region of Champagne felt a bit cast out by the public, who favored the marketing giants of the region like Moet & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. These well known houses were often purchasers of grapes from all over the region, producing Champagnes that lacked site-specific traits. The “Special Club” was formed by several estates who bottled Champagne from their own grapes, effectively working together to create an “umbrella” brand.
Gaston Chiquet’s 2007 is stupefying in its complexity and depth. This chardonnay/pinot noir blend carries layers of dried apple blossoms, sourdough, porcini mushrooms and graceful tart apples for days. If you’re looking for a showstopper for your New Year’s Eve dinner — or for any other special occasion — check this out, pronto. ($85)
Gilbert Cellars “The Pilgrim” Red Blend, 2013: This Washington state blend of malbec, grenache, and pinot noir presses all the right buttons for the fruit-bomb fans. Subtle? No. But if you dig on bigness, this is for you. ($20)
Grochau Cellars “Commuter Cuvee” pinot noir, 2014: Pinot noir can be a bit one-note-y sometimes (cherries, cherries, cherries). While this wine from Oregon’s Willamette Valley isn’t giving anyone much reason to wax poetic, it feels refreshingly zippy and balanced. It’s light enough to taste like pinot noir should, both delicate and scrumptious. ($17)
La Spinetta vermentino, 2014: Look for the rhinoceros on the label of this savory, succulent white. This is the quintessential chicken/fish partner-incrime. ($19) Ridge “Three Valleys” zinfandel, 2012: Don’t be too cool for school and ditch a name brand just because you’ve seen their wines on grocery store shelves for a decade. Ridge’s day-to-day specialty is zinfandel. Ridge, along with Easton Winery, set the benchmark for affordable, full-bodied California zinfandel. If freezing temperatures don’t deter your grill fetish, keep this well stocked as a pairing. ($22)
Chateau Terrebert malbec/cabernet franc, 2012: This is my official burger wine of the winter. It’s delicious, and the chateau name rhymes with Care Bears. Sold. ($14)
What to look for in 2016: See you later, point ratings. The old guard in wine journalism provides great in-depth wine coverage, but slapping a “92 points” on a wine isn’t helping the buying public figure out what they like or don’t like. Blogs, friends and independent wine shops are slowly gaining more influence.
Red blends dominate. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the blend is. Fun packaging and a ripe style sell well and cater to those who dig on big, fruity wines. The regions of Bordeaux and Rhone have been doing this for hundreds of years, and the modern American trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Dry rosé on the rise. In recent years, white zinfandel has been soundly ass-whooped by moscato. Many folks, however, still crave wine both fruity and pink, even if they’re not so saccharine. The drier side of rosé has seen a large bump in sales nationwide, and it’s a safe bet that this trend will hit the Midwest in the spring and summer of 2016.
Justin King is a certified sommelier and resident of Williamston. He is partowner of Bridge Street Social, a restaurant opening this winter in DeWitt.
Email him your wines of the year at email@example.com. #dryrose4lyfe.