It's been a year of discovery. New regions, new wines . . . the need to tighten up budgets played a big factor in the wines I drank in 2011, especially towards the end, but budgeting also gives the opportunity to go outside the tried and true.
Looking back, it's been a year of Italian wines. Lots of great discoveries, especially in more obscure whites and reds. We started the year off with a trio of the most amazing vintage ports - a 1994 Delaforce, a 1985 Smith Woodhouse, and a 1983 Gould Campbell. Lots of memories from our 2 weeks in Paris, in late April, from the culture seemingly bursting from every inch of the city to our dinner at Philou, to the bottle of Marcel Lapierre Morgon we drank, a few months after his death.
Mature Champagne, also a highlight. Made all the more meaningful after our visit in May to Champagne, visiting a few houses. Finally walking (and tasting) Clos des Goisses . . . wandering the cellars of Dom Ruinart . . . experiencing at the crass commercialism of Moët & Chandon . . . spending 4 hours in the dining room of the ** Le Parc Les Crayères.
Aside from March's Burgundy tasting, there hasn't been much space in the wallet for any Chambolle-Musigny or Volnay . . . gut-wrenching. But we did manage to drink quite extensively through Le Clos Jordanne, both pinot noir and chardonnay.
My aunt visited us in August, bringing carefully wrapped packages of the most amazing cuts of A5 and A4 grade wagyu beef. To balance it out, she also brought fresh aji and sanma fish. And because she loves me so much, and because she walks through airport security like a boss, she also brought along a bottle of Daiginjo sake. Always regarded as a curiosity in my house, this bottle reminded why, as stupidly clichéd as it is, what grows together goes together. The last few months of the year saw me consumed with (positive) curiosity to learn and taste more of this infinitely delicate, complex, and intellectual drink.
The year ended quietly. I had 2 dozen or so wines prepared for the holidays, and we did succeed in drinking most of them. Humble wines all, save for a bottle of rosé Champagne, and all the 2006 Le Clos Jordanne single vineyard pinot noirs I wanted to drink with some (close) friends. Ended the year at a friends house, where I managed to toe the fine line between tipsy (but still fun), and passed-out drunk.
These are the wines that have taught me the most . . . I think of them as reference points for the palate. They're not the most well-known or heralded wines; certainly not the most expensive. But they've been instrumental in guiding my tastes, and continuing my education in wine. So here's to another year of wine, and may all of 2012's bottles be exciting and TCA-free!
2008 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir | VQA Niagara Peninsula: Starting the year with LCJ, simple but with character.
1994 Delaforce Vintage Port | DOC Douro: From that grand vintage, still youthful, and delicious with dinner.
1997 Brochet-Hervieux HBH Cuvée Spéciale 1er Cru Brut | Ecueil: A bit of a gamble - a grower Champagne that really doesn't show character until it hits maturity. Rewarded, as the wine is beginning to mature, showing depth and richness.
1985 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port | DOC Douro: Followed up the Brochet-Hervieux with this - so rich, so amazingly youthful for a wine a year older than me. Superb.
2005 Marziano Abbona La Pieve | DOCG Barolo: This producer is a star. Their most humble bottling, no less of that inimitable nebbiolo character.
2008 Marziano Abbona Papà Celso | DOCG Dogliani: I can't say enough about Abbona. Even the humble dolcetto in their hands turns into something profound.
1983 Gould Campbell Vintage Port | DOC Douro: So complex, so much character, so alive. A 50 year wine, as epic as they come.
2003 Azienda Agricola Svoltacarozze di Meoni Sebastiana Vino Rosso | IGT Toscana: A surprise for me, and a learning experience. A superTuscan, primarily cabernet sauvignon. yet somehow still tastes Tuscan. From a hot vintage too, alcohol perfectly integrated, fruit fading but still alive.
2009 Michele Chiarlo Le Marne | DOCG Gavi: Arneis, that beautiful, noble, kingly grape of the north. So rich, so dense, so exquisitely textured.
2010 Marcel Lapierre Morgon: One of the most emotional wine experiences I ever had. Sitting in the most amazing Parisian bistro, my first taste of this jewel of a wine. Intellectual and pure, going right through you.
1996 Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut | Le Mesnil sur Oger: We were sitting in the exquisite dining room of Le Parc Les Crayères in Champagne. Had to take a deep breath after looking at price, but it was worth eating simply for the next 3 days. A grower from the finest village in Champagne, from the finest vintage in the last 20 years.
2000 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses | Mareuil sur Aÿ: My first taste of Clos des Goisses. As Nicoletta, our host, so eloquently put it, If you want to taste Clos des Goisses, you must walk Clos des Goisses.
2009 Pinot Noirs of Lailey Vineyard: This will be an excellent vintage for Niagara pinot noirs. Not super concentrated, but that's not what those wines are meant to be. Absolutely pure, showing what I think of as true pinot character.
2009 Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Reisling | VQA Vinemount Ridge: As a riesling fiend, I can't support this guy enough. The most amazing, perfectly extracted rieslings this side of the Mosel.
2007 R de Rieussec | AC Bordeaux Blanc Sec: Dry white Bordeaux, how I love thee. Let me count (the endless) ways.
2007 Château Ferran Blanc | AC Pessac-Léognan: Racy acidity, dry extract you have to taste to believe - I can't wait until these wines turn 10.
Hakutsuru Daiginjo Sake: Sake, a curiosity for this Shaoxing wine drinker, but daiginjo bottles prove that these are as complex and intellectual as any wine.
1999 Charles Ellner Séduction Brut | AC Champagne: What to drink with wagyu, the most amazing beef on earth? High acid, yes. No tannins. Richness, a must. The bubbles just bring it all together. What else, than a bottle of maturing Champagne?
2006 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir | VQA Niagara Peninsula: The wine now forever immortalized in my heart . . . and my kitchen wall. My first vintage of LCJ in the cellar.
2006 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay | VQA Twenty Mile Bench: Beautifully alive, still youthful, mineral and all that. A great success.
1996 Château La Gorce | AC Médoc Cru Bourgeois: A previous bottle was terrible. This one was sublime, classic, and mature claret. Just be patient.
2003 Château Dasvin-Bel-Air | AC Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois: At a moment when my confidence in the wisdom of stockpiling so much Bordeaux was at an all-time low, this bottle shows up and proves, in a single taste, how delicious a well-made claret can be. And in the heat-wave vintage too!
Rihaku Wandering Poet Junmai Ginjo | Shimane Prefecture: So delicate, so fine, so intangible - at a loss for words, but I just know it was good.
2004 Terre del Barolo Monvigliero | DOCG Barolo: I want to replace all my classified growth Bordeaux with Barolo. All of it.
2008 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Riesling | Adelaide: Don't buy Australian red wines. Just don't. Save yourself some money, it's all jam and alcohol. The dry rieslings on the other hand . . .
1997 Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs | Ambonnay: For my father's birthday, a vintage blanc de noirs. Still youthful, wound up. Good that I have another bottle put away.
1999 Lornano | DOC Vin Santo del Chianti Classico: My first vinsanto. So complex, so balanced - a great find.
2007 S|K|N Chardonnay | Napa Valley: Yes to sub-$20 Napa chardonnay that's balanced and varietal and delicious!
2001 Señorío De P. Peciña Reserva | DOCa Rioja: A reminder that in traditional hands, nothing . . . NOTHING compares to 10 year old Rioja.
The sakes of Izumi Ontario Spring Water Sake Co.: A surprise, and totally unexpected. Out for a Christmas market day with the office, to stumble on an Ontario sake brewery that makes the most amazing rice wines. Not traditional sake to say the least, but as perfect a rice wine as I've ever tasted.
2006 Valiano Poggio Teo Castelnuovo Berardenga | DOCG Chianti Classico: A conversation and 3 Chianti's. Maybe I need to taste a few more, after months and months of avoiding them. Under $20, these are still true sangiovese wines.
Tamanohikari Omachi Junmai Daiginjo | Kyoto Prefecture: The finest, purest, most ethereal sake I've ever tasted.
2007 Podere l'aja | DOCG Chianti Classico: Yes to Chianti, if they all taste like this. Dusty, earthy, ripe cherries.
Le Clos Jordanne's 2006 single vineyard pinot noirs: What more can be said about these wines; the only thing that was greater than getting to taste them all together was being able to share it with good friends over a great meal to close out the year.