It's list-making time again, the time when critics and columnists desperately try to recall what they liked (and sometimes loathed) during the course of the year. This year I thought I'd share the joy with some truly knowledgeable wine folks by asking this question: What wines, from your own shelves or portfolios (might as well be honest about it), do you think over-performed for their price points during the past year? I suggested bottles in the $20 range, but didn't limit responses to that figure. Here's some of what I got.
For a sparkler, Dale Blakenship of Favorite Brands suggested the Conde de Subirats Cava Brut ($16), saying, "It's really under the radar." His white pick was the Au Bon Climat pinot gris/pinot blanc blend at around $17 — "It's almost Alsatian with its gorgeous fruit and fleshiness." I actually tasted his red selection, the 2009 Sivas Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. "It's super-smooth with dark chocolate and black cherry, and it kills at Boudro's," he claimed. I don't know about the killing at Boudro's part, but the black cherry is certainly there, and the chocolate is equally dark. At about $16, it's a steal. As a modest after-dinner splurge, Blankenship suggests the $29 Nieport 10 year Tawny Port — "great for the money."
At Saglimbeni Fine Wines it seemed only fair to ask the man himself. Signor Saglimbeni's immediate white selection was the 2011 Cà da Meo Gavi DOCG, produced from the cortese grape ($16.99 on weekdays, less on weekends). "It tastes like two times the price," he said, so I bought a bottle — and loved it for its celery-like snappiness and wet-stone minerality. He had a harder time settling on a red but finally picked the 2009 Lorenzo e Luciano Sassetti Montecucco Sangiovese ($21.99 weekdays). "I like this better than Sassetti's higher-priced wines," he said.
While at Joe Sag's, I also managed to trap Felicia González of Serendipity Wine Imports. Her sparkling suggestion might surprise those not aware that South Africa makes bubbly, but it was the Graham Beck NV (non-vintage) Brut Rosé. At around $15, it's considered clean and dry with a hint of raspberry and a good match for food. As for red, she liked Saglimbeni's Monteccuco suggestion but also put forth a wine from New Zealand — fast becoming pinot noir paradise with offerings such as the 2011 Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Noir ($21.99 weekdays). Her white pick only confirmed the quality of a wine I recently wrote about, the 2011 Charles Gonnet Vin de Savoie Chignin ($20 weekdays). To pompously quote myself, "The nose was more one of green plum and Granny Smith apple, with hints of elderflower (think St. Germain liqueur). On the palate … green fig and apple along with a bit of mineral. Honeysuckle emerged as the wine warmed…"
A survey of this sort might lack credibility if two of the city's best wine palates weren't called into play. So I called Joe Baker of Gabriel's and Woody de Luna of Vintages 2.0. I don't know how he does this, but Baker immediately rattled off several bottles seemingly off the top of his head. White? Of course, the 2010 Château de la Greffière Mâcon-La Roche Vineuse ($17.88 credit card price, cash and debit lower). This is an old-vines wine, largely unoaked, that offers "yellow- to orange-toned fruit," according to Baker; it's also on this year's Wine Spectator Top 100 list. Italy scored again among the reds with the 2010 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($21.04). "2010 Tuscany is incredible, the fullest body ever … this is like a 'baby Brunello.'" Baker also suggested a rosé, the 2011 Château de Trinquevedel ($17.88) saying "It's off the charts, but it also improves with age, so look for the 2010 which some stores still have." Or cellar it yourself. (My pick for rosé would be the beautiful 2010 Domaine Vallon des Glauges Coteaux d'Aix en Provence at under $20.) Calling it "so improved," his sparkler selection was the non-vintage Scharffenberger Brut ($14) or Brut Rosé ($18.84). Purchased by Roederer a while back, it took a while for the new owners to make their mark on this California property, said Baker.
Only somewhat unpredictably for someone who has been called Mr. Riesling, de Luna's picks were all French. The 2010 Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux ($14 at Vintages 2.0), was his bid for bubbly. "It has real character, so fresh and inviting … and it's similar to a $40 French blanc de blanc." A 2011 Jean-Paul and Benoît Broin Chablis ($20) got the nod for white. "It's brilliant — everything you want in mineral and spice…" As for reds, he picked the 2009 Domaine Nicolas Rossignol Bourgogne Rouge ($20). "There's lovely wild cherry," said de Luna, "with a hint of earth and meat."
Regarding rosés, "Sorry they're all sold out," he claimed. After years of promoting rosé for San Antonio, that's the best year-end news yet.
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