Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is the time of the year when I pour over notes on the thousands of wines that I have tried the past year to find the best wines that have passed through my palate. I compile them and offer you a chance to taste what I thought were the highest quality wines that were offered to me this year. Wines from France and California dominate this year’s list with a smattering of South Africa, Italy, and Germany. This list is in no particular order except for my TOP PICK OF THE YEAR, which is at the bottom of this blog. Thank you ever so much for being a part of this blog and allowing me to guide you through the flavorful world of wine. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!!!
Domaine Pegau Red Blend 2008
Chateauneuf du Pape, France
Cash Price $90.99
Pegau is a highly acclaimed, organic producer in one of my favorite regions, the Rhone Valley. Laurence Feraud is a brilliant wine maker that molds wines of massive structure, yet with an elegant mouth feel. The wine is 80% Grenache with bits of Syrah and Mourvedre that are all hand picked. This wine is traditional in style with flavors of black berry, stewed black cherry, and ripe currant. The mid palate has medium plus tannins and medium tannins. Notes of fig and briar waft through dark notes of tar, espresso, and molasses. The finish is long lasting with hints of truffle, cocoa, and baking spices. Pegau is a classic producer that over achieved with this dynamic and exquisite gem.
Francois Mikulski ‘Limozin’ Chardonnay 2011
Cash Price $84.99
Francois Mikulski has been producing high quality Meursault since 1992. The vineyards are low yielding and the crushed grapes start fermentation with natural yeast which gives the wine the unique flavor profile of Meursault. I decided to make this a year of Burgundy for me as I sought to try as much red and white from this iconic region as I could get my hands on. This estate bottled wine is aged for twelve months on new and used French oak. Divine flavors of baked green apples and melon flow into light nuances nectarine and citrus blossom. The mid palate offers creamy oak complexity combined with nutty notes of lees aging. The core of the wine is quite opulent with a creamy richness that is restrained nicely with a backbone of acidity. The finish is shows hints of butter and toffee that are balanced by a minerality of crushed wet stones. Exquisite Chardonnay!
Illuminati ‘Zanna’ Reserva Montepulciano Colline Teramane DOCG 2008
Cash Price $38.94
The best expression of Montepulciano comes from the DOCG region of Colline Teramane. I often akin this grape to the flavor profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. It has massive structure with full tannins and acids that are helped with oak aging. Illuminati is family owned and beginning to garner accolades from around the world. This is causing a buzz in the wine world as wine critics are beginning to make Montepulciano the next ‘darling’ grape. I am proud to say that I have been an advocate of this varietal and region for many years now (Marramiero’s Inferi Montepulicano 2007 was my Top Pick of 2011). I have found this winery to over deliver on the price point and Wine Advocate agrees with 4 straight years of 90+ ratings. Zanna offers flavors of black plum and blue berry are integrated in medium plus tannins and medium acids. Notes of dried herbs and garrigue move deftly through the palate with touches of dried fig and nutmeg. The finish shows notes of currant with tinges of crushed coffee beans and smoke. Oak is present but not overtly and adds a textural mouth feel. This is a great meal wine!
Tetra Red Blend 2009
Napa Valley, California
Cash Price $56.99
Tetra is comprised of four ‘noble’ Bordeaux varietals grown in four distinct vineyards in Napa Valley. This Cabernet Sauvignon based red was meticulously crafted by Richard Sowalsky. The grapes are sourced from Broken Rock, Coombsville, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and Suscol Bench. Rich and full bodied, Tetra exudes brilliance from start to finish. The opulent 2009 vintage really shows in the fruit structure of the wine. Flavors of black cherry and raspberry combine with layers of ripe fruit and dense tannins. The wine is deliciously complex and continues to unfold in the glass. Notes of fresh leather and mocha sinew through hints of cedar, vanilla, and milk chocolate. Tetra is fabulously constructed!
Robert Weil ‘Traditional’ Riesling 2011
Cash Price $19.94
Robert Weil is considered one of the best in all of Germany, and I am quite excited to be able to offer you this excellent Riesling! As you know, I recently visited Germany and found some excellent Dry and off Dry Riesling that exuded excellence from start to finish. This winery is located in Kiedrich and produces wine from one of Germany’s best vineyards, Kiedrich Grafenberg. In fact, Robert Weil was focused by Wine and Spirits magazine as a ‘Top 100 Winery’ in 2012 and 2013. This wine is truly a delight. It is off dry with just a hint of residual sugar that is easily integrated into the dynamic minerality that soaks into the palate. Flavors of fresh green apples and stone fruits play into sleek acids and licks of honey dew. Notes of jasmine and white plum sink into wet pebbles with just a touch of peach. This wine displays a true complexity that keeps the palate begging for more!
Chateau La Confession Red Blend 2006
St. Emilion, France
Cash Price $50.99
I re-tasted this gem several months ago and was astounded at how well it was drinking. The 2006 vintage is often over looked because of the massive commercial outpouring of the 2005 vintage. I have found many wines in this vintage that I would consider ‘steals’ because of the price point. Jean Philippe Janoueix, former assistant to Michel Rolland, is making some of the best Right Bank wines in all of Bordeaux. This St. Emilion Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and just a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon The wine is unfined and unfiltered. The fruits are offering baked plum, stewed black berry and cassis. The mid palate is beautifully full bodied with medium tannins plus and medium acids. Notes of graphite and licorice play into roasted nuts and mocha. The finish offers plenty of oak, which helps tame the vivacious tannins. This wine is a beauty to behold. Enjoy!
Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc 2011
Pessac Leognan, France
Cash Price $47.49
Chateau Carbonnieux is one of my favorite white wine producers in the world and this vintage is absolutely stellar. The Chateau has history dating back to the 12th century which makes it one of the most historic estates in all of Bordeaux. The wine is Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon based from 30-60 year old vines. It is 100% barrel fermented and yet does not carry much oak on the palate. Flavors of grapefruit, cactus, and green apples are encompassed by zesty acids that are slightly tamed by the round mouth feel with barrel aging. Notes of wild white flowers sing through the mid palate with touches of white peach and citrus lemon peel. The finish offers crushed rocks and just a kiss of oak with hints of pear and honey dew. This wine has excellent potential for aging, but is also drinking quite well right now!
Blue Rock ‘Baby Blue’ Red Blend 2012
Alexander Valley, California
Cash Price $25.99
Blue Rock winery has gained a reputation for producing silky smooth reds from their 100 acre estate in the famed AVA of Alexander Valley. The 2012 vintage was a dream come true for vintners in California. The previous vintage was a disaster, but this one exceeded expectations and has been regarded as one of the best in recent history. This Cabernet based blend is dangerously approachable from the pop of the cork. Flavors of blueberry, boysenberry and red currant explode on the palate with a core of milk chocolate. The tannins are elegant and integrated with easy acids that play into the gracious amount of fruit. Notes of toasted oak and vanilla sink into hints of violet and granola. The finish is soft and plush with a plethora of fruit and oak. By the way, this winery is next door to Silver Oak!
Summers Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Knights Valley, California
Cash Price $32.99 But
Only $29.99 with your Spec’s Key through the end of the year
Knights Valley is the warmest part of Sonoma and is a perfect climate for producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Summers produces several Cabernets throughout Napa and Sonoma that are all very well made, but I have found this 2012 Knights Valley version to be the best of them all. This wine is exquisite from the pop of the cork. Lush, yet structured flavors of black cherry and currant flow seamlessly through the palate with silky, integrated tannins. The mid palate is rich and plush with a textured and round mouth feel. Notes of sweet dark berries move through milk chocolate, cinnamon, and creamy vanilla beans. The finish is opulent and long lasting with hints of toasted oak and cigar box. This is a Cabernet lover’s Cab!
Ampelos Pinot Noir 2013
Sta. Rita Hills, California
Cash Price $23.99
Ampelos quality comes from the amazing care that is given to the vines. Starting with the proper care of the soil, which leads to strong vines that work hard and struggle beautifully, which leads to amazingly concentrated grapes. One would think that is all that needs to be done, but Peter and Rebecca Work’s team strive to create elegant and structured wines that reflect the gorgeous Sta. Rita Hills AVA. They backed up their tireless ethics to conserve and better the earth by becoming Certified Sustainable In Practice, Certified Biodynamic, and also USDA Organic Certified. Ampelos is about as ‘GREEN’ as they come! This puts them on the upper echelon of quality wines….and a quiet gem to be sought out! Ampelos is situated near the Highly Esteemed Sea Smoke Vineyards at which Peter’s son, Don, is the current wine-maker. Kris Curran (former Sea Smoke wine-maker) was a consulting wine-maker with Ampelos. So, these guys have some history with making some of the best Pinot Noir in the world! Ampelos has been one of my favorite California producers for many years. The grapes were hand harvested and allowed to start a natural fermentation. The wine is un-fined, unfiltered, and 100% Pinot Noir. Flavors of dark cherries and raspberry sing into a rich cola and brown molasses core. Notes of wild red berries meld with medium acids and minimal tannins. The finish offers hints of Asian spice and Moreno cherries with a touch of butterscotch and vanilla from French oak aging. Rock Solid Wine!
Waterford ‘Kevin Arnold’ Shiraz 2009
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Cash Price $29.99
I recently poured this at a tasting and absolutely stunned the people. They couldn’t believe how good this South African wine tasted. I find South Africa to be a hidden gem in the wine world. Their wines typically offer an abundance of fruit, yet give true essence of terroir. This wine offers immense fruit from the start. Powerful flavors of red currants and red cherries enrich the palate with stewed fruits. The mid palate is seamless with integrated tannins and acids that play into notes of savory meat and garrigue. The finish is full bodied with 26 months of French oak aging that show hints of sage, clove and cedar with just a dollop of vanilla. Impressive!
Vassal de Mercues Malbec 2011
Cash Price $11.99
Vassal is the 2nd label of Chateau de Mercues and is owned by highly touted producer Georges Vigouroux in the birth place of Malbec, which is Cahors, France. This wine is meant to be drunk early and often! Almost neon in color, Vassal offers flavors of dense plum and currant that seep through the palate with medium tannins and acids. The mid palate is well structured and offers notes of red cherry and hints of cranberry with a creamy texture. The finish is filled with spices of black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom. I think this wine has more character than most of the Argentinian offerings. Fall in love with French Malbec!
JAMES BARLOW’S ‘TOP PICK’ OF 2014
Roblet Monnot ‘St. Francois’ Pinot Noir 2011
Cash Price $56.99
Pascal Monnot can trace his roots in Volnay back to the 1600’s. He produces very low yield, but extremely high quality wines from only 6 hectares in the small commune of Volnay in the Cote de Beaune. He has held the reins to the domaine since 1990. He implements bio-dynamic practices, even going so far as to use horses to plow the vineyards. The perfumed and expressive wines of this small town have been enjoyed by kings for centuries. The St. Francois is blended from several vineyards with some coming from the premier cru sites of Robardelle and Mitans. Pascal tends the vineyards mostly by himself so one can taste his meticulous nature of farming in his wines. I tried this particular wine early this year and it inspired me to expand my Burgundy portfolio ten fold. It was THAT GOOD! Monnot’s 100% Pinot Noir is de-stemmed prior to fermentation and aged for twenty four month in French oak. Vibrant flavors of ripe red cherries and cranberry flow through soft, silky tannins and vivacious acids. The mid palate offers a core of creamy vanilla bean encompassed by framboise, red berries and infused with cola. The finish gives notes of toasted oak, hazelnuts, and light baking spices. Monnot’s wines are precise, yet give elegance and finesse of stunning quality.
James C. Barlow
Certified Wine Educator