My Top 10 at the Wines and Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries of 2010 9 min read

What goes up must come down… and back up again!

 

It was a glamorous and classy affair with well-heeled “winerati” sporting designer suites and walking purposefully with this unmistakable, European flair. I always find wine events in San Francisco such a departure from those in the wine country and not just strictly due their casual, relaxed vibe.

 

That said I have always liked this event a lot in the past (and it became a fun annual tradition of Champagne and oysters for me, as this somehow winds up being the only time all year that I consume oysters). This year definitely had an edge, partly due to the choice of venue, which was, incidentally, brilliant. I found the San Francisco Design Center to be a great facility that lends itself in a stellar fashion to a large wine event.

 

I felt it made a huge difference. Another noteworthy observation is that the food catered was exceptional this year.

 

The concept of categorizing the event into sparkling, white, lighter reds and on to heavy ones bespeaks intelligent planning. Each category was given a “floor” essentially, so theoretically you would start on the ground floor with whites and go one floor up to lighter reds and so on.

 

Incidentally if any of you believe that champagne and oysters is a romantic, “chick” thing, I have never seen so many guys line up and partake with vigor in the oyster bar, just an observation. This was a sort of event where one might find Bill Harlan stopping by, delicately poking in an oyster shell reminiscing his youth on the beach with his group of guys and gals… and he wasn’t even there for the Bond (although I spotted him later behind the table animatedly chatting with attendees.)

 

I also got a chance to catch up with James Ontiveros (the affable Abreu of Central Coast) who was in town, much to my surprise (it is Harvest time!) More on that later…

 

Art and Science

 

My understanding of the selection criteria for Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100, based upon some of Joshua Greene’s comments is that there are seven staff critics that do the choosing and a consensus is reached so that all involved stand behind each other’s choices. The groundwork is laid throughout the year and the wine selection is based upon the staff’s recommendations during the span of the year. Clearly not all wineries submit samples for potential review, a universal phenomena/potential dilemma for any wine publication, so presumably it is from the group of submitted samples that the editors select their top 100, a process that is likely more subjective than they would admit to. Incidentally I don’t have an issue with that, as this exercise by definition could never be an exact science as the precise criteria is almost always impossible to nail down with any of such “Top” lists… so let’s set science ambitions aside and focus on the art.

 

Each winery presented two wines, more often than not their top scoring wines of the year. There was no feasible way to taste all of the wines and have much of the insight (if you are familiar with my thoughts on palate fatigue), so I opted to strategize instead and developed a “game plan” I ended up following loosely with reasonable success.

 

Veuve-Dynamic-300x200Since the tasting lasted roughly 4 hours, after some oyster/Champagne indulgences I planned to first taste the offerings from some of the French producers I don’t get much exposure to anymore. That and Joshua Greene made quite a case for the 2008 Faiveley Bâtard-Montrachet … I also wanted to try some Spanish, Italian and Portuguese producers, and let’s not forget my beloved Aussies and NZ. Guiltily, I also promised myself to spend some time in the company of the U.S. producers with whom I am quite familiar yet just can’t seem to get enough of. This was definitely an interesting mix of Old World and New World wines, some fairly esoteric, which in itself is a treat!

 

So here are my highlights and lowlights, in terms of impressions, in no particular order.

 

The burgundy was not earth-shattering, (even though I would have really liked it to be, wishful thinking doesn’t work in life or in wine). A while back Burgundy was a bigger part of my wine life than nowadays and I know my epiphany when I taste it. Young, somewhat oak-centric at first, soft and pleasant fruit with promises of complexity yet frankly, a little muted overall. The Champagne offerings were very tasty darlings indeed and hit the spot perfectly, I would have been thrilled to spend a couple of hours at that portion of the event alone. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the wines presented by producers whom I normally closely associate with different grape variety (i.e. Craggy Range is all about Sauvignon Blanc to me and I love Drew Pinot Noirs, yet it was his Syrah that was rocking it out this time), and how well they showed. I thought the Rhones were lovely but again, a bit shy at this stage, I was, however very impressed by some Spanish Riojas, that were very robust and distinct. Reisling world is a bit of an enigma to me, but I knew enough to note that there were some very strong offerings presented.

 

Overall, there were definitely a few showstoppers for me, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

 

My top 10 in the top 100

 

CHAMPAGNE’s Casual Splendor

 

I came expecting the 100 point 2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut Rose to all but steal the entire show but I found myself quite enamored with 1988 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rare Vintage (95pts). To my palate it was very prominent and complex, with plush honeysuckle and floral characteristics framed by bright acidity.

 

I was in Champagne heaven and things were only going to get better from there.

 

PINOT NOIR

If you haven’t figured it out by now, here is a confession – I am a Pinot geek. I can’t stay away for long, even at the site of dozens of other producers who brought the most taste-worthy offerings… what can I say, it is a force akin to gravity. Pinot people have always held a very special spot in my heart.

 

It is a little wonder that I would up with three Pinot Producers on my list, the iconic Hartford and Willams Selyem. I have tasted (and drank) Keller’s Cruz a number of times and yet the wine seduced me all over again at this event so I had to mention it.

 

The elephant(s) in the room

Frankly, I don’t see why these two wines shouldn’t have been occupying an entire floor, they were certainly larger than life.

 

First I let it sink in that this is a SYRAH from Craggy Range, my adored Sauvignon Blanc source and guilty pleasure I have been known to go thru cases of through a hot summer.

 

Courtesy of the first ever viticulturalist and MW, Steve Smith, comes, or should I say, thunders in 2007 Hawkes Bay Le Sol Gimblett Gravels Syrah – Zenlike concentration in a body of a sumowrestler. Wow.

 

SHIRAZ 2007 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz.

Disclaimer, I am no stranger to this brand. I fell in love with 1998s from Brokenwood portfolio and they have since became one of my favorite Aussie producers that routinely turn out wines of great concentration coupled with some initial restraint that age beautifully.

 

This one was young yet… here are my notes:

 

“Warning – Run and hide unless you don’t mind being buried in red fruit up to your neck.” Starved for water, these vines struggle for dear life and it shows. Earthy, floral and startlingly elegant for a beastly creature, surprising yet refreshing minerality delivers great balance. Where is my steak?

 

[Digression. As most of you know I am not big on food/wine pairing rhetoric. This one made me wistful for a steak. Big juicy strip and a great philosophical conversation would have been just about perfect with it.]

 

TELL ME NO LIES! – 2005 Shafer Hillside Select

The event’s highlight for me.

 

(I know, I know, there goes the girl who came to discover and be wowed by new adventures and wound up gushing about one of her favorite brands of all time. I am as annoyed as you are. Yet here we are… remember the title…palates are always honest.)

 

Would it be wrong to just hang at this table all night, I wondered? I knew it would be, however it was most tempting.

 

Exquisite. Gorgeous. Outstanding… need I say more?! Okay, if you insist.

 

Precision. Balance. Strength. Substance. Depth of Flavor. Delineation. Complexity.

 

A Mile Long Finish.

If any of you are in possession of this wine feel free to invite me to your home, I know we’ll instantly become best friends.

 

Bonding with Bond

I have always had a love affair with Harlan wines but my relationship with Bond was a bit tense at times. I found some of the wines to be somewhat austere and closed however almost always meaningful, wise beyond their age. Both the 2006 Quella and the Plubirus, although very different from one another, had a tremendous presence and were perhaps the most intellectually stimulating wines of the evening.

 

So here is my short list of wines of the tasting:

 

  • 2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut Rose
  • 1988 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rare Vintage
  • 2007 Hartford Arrendel Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
  • 2007 Keller Estate La Cruz Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
  • 2007 Williams Selyem Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
  • 2007 Brokenwood Graveyard Hunter Valley Shiraz
  • 2007 Craggy Range Hawkes Bay Le Sol Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah
  • 2008 Drew Mendocino Ridge Valenti Vineyard Syrah
  • 2005 Shafer Hillside Select Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2006 Bond Quella Napa Valley

 

Honestly there were many, many other fantastic wines, this is just an insight into my palate and how it behaved that particular evening. Any other night this list may have been slightly different, which is the beauty of wine… like a river, it is fluid (pun intended), by the time you take your second step in the water it has already changed from the first…

 

In the end Wine & Spirits produced a terrific event with something for everyone’s palate. I wish I could have cloned mine that evening… looking forward to the next year’s event already.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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