Finest of the Cru

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The caves of Billercart-Salmon image courtesy Maison Billecart-Salmon).

‘Tis the season to look back on the year in wine and select my favorites. This year, I have categorized my “Wines of Year”: some are sorted by style or origin, others by a different measure. It is always a treat to revisit and reminisce–not only about how it tasted, but also how it affected me in a deeper, sensorial way: remembering who I had it with and where I was. It is the magic of these experiences that makes these wines more than mere beverages. It is what gives them a sense of time and place.

BEST NEW WORLD WINE: 2002 Colgin Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine may be flawless. It reeks of perfectly ripe fruit touched with just enough oak, earth tones and a seamlessness that very few wines in both Old or New World reach–and I still think this wine will improve over the next decade! By the way, it was savored next to some of the other greats from California: Screaming Eagle, Vérité, Araujo, Ovid, Schrader and Scarecrow, to name a few. And it shined above the rest!

BEST SPARKLING: 1990 Krug Champagne. This most recent bottle I tasted was thoroughly thrilling. It is wonderfully opulent for champagne: full of cream, with notes of crème brûlèe, biscuits, brioche and toffee, even white chocolate and honey. It may not be the most elegant of vintages, but it is so open and giving of itself that it is hard not to love it!

BEST SWEET: 1966 Château d’Yquem. Yes, I’ve had the 1967 several times, including once this year, but the 1966 is better right now. It has this amalgam of everything you can think of in a dessert– from custard to peaches, caramel to toffee, pineapple to kiwi. The complexity is stunning and kaleidoscopic. For me, is the summit of sweet wines this year.

BEST BORDEAUX: 1995 Château La Mission Haut-Brion is not the oldest Bordeaux, but it is finally starting to blossom after 24 years. It is another one of those wines that is perfectly seamless from beginning to end, filling your palate with gorgeous fruit with a velvety texture. It is also a wine that truly has that sense of place; the aromatic complexities of gravel and wet rock keep you coming back for more.

BEST BURGUNDY: This category is always hotly contested, as I drink a lot of Burgundy. For white, I selected the 2002 Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet. Its layers of complexity kept unfolding over the three hours I enjoyed it in good company at dinner. Not once did it shy away; beautiful tones of earth melded with a plethora of fruit and a touch of vanilla. I tasted a Ramonet Montrachet and Bouchard Chevalier-Montrachet in the same flight, and it is still my top white Burgundy of the year. Red, believe it or not, was not Grand Cru (!). It was a 1971 (yes, older than me) Bouchard Aîné et Fils Vosne-Romanée: a simple village wine. And yet, it was stunningly brilliant. Packed full of mature pinot noir flavors and aromas. It was so silky on the palate that it was as if the tannin was melted. At the height of its maturity and complexity, it is a wine that will continue to haunt my palate–and also one which I will hunt for the rest of my life.

BEST LARGE-FORMAT: I started the new year with a three-liter bottle of non-vintage Pol Roger which was delicious, but it was beat by a three-liter bottle of non-vintage Laurent-Perrier Brut that I’ve been holding onto for at least 10 years. (I popped it for my mother’s 70th birthday!) It was so creamy and elegant with brunch on a hot day. It exuded the elegance of champagne–and disappeared in the blink of an eye!

MOST MOVING: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. Not only is it one of the finest and most refined in its class, but it was also the champagne that got one of my dear friends into wine. He was one of the most generous and inspiring people in my life, and I miss him dearly. I shared a bottle with his widow and close friends in his memory.

MOST SURPRISING: 2004 Domaine Leroy Bourgogne Aligoté “Sous Châtelet.” So, aligoté is Burgundy’s “lesser cousin” to chardonnay. It dropped out of favor for chardonnay a couple of centuries ago. So, for one, it’s hard to find outside of Bouzeron, and two, no one really holds onto aligoté for aging purposes. But this wine was amazing! It was quite easily the greatest aligoté to cross my lips with the quality and hedonistic value of a Premier Cru white Burgundy!

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