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Wine makers tasting J. Selbach and KR Schaefer (photo courtesy Selbach-Oster, by Jens Luebkemann)

When it comes to wines, it was a very good year for this somm …

As fun as this may seem, it is going to be difficult for me to choose my top wines of the year (cue the violins playing). I travel frequently, I have many very generous friends and am truly blessed to be able to visit some of the finest producers of wine the world over. So how do I choose? What are the “best wines” of the year for me?

These are not objective selections. I can be objective, but that list could be entirely different. Life and wine need context. The context of where I had them, why they were so magical and, of course, what they taste like. Like peaks in the Swiss Alps, each one is magical and represents a very special moment in time for me.

January of this year began with a blowout birthday dinner for a dear friend. And when I say “blowout,” I mean, cr?me de la cr?me wines flowed. Cristal, Vog?? Musigny, Montrachet, DRC Richebourg and Rousseau Clos de B?ze. These are all wines that make somms the world over jump out of bed. But there was one wine that sang the most enchanted song. It was the 2001 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne. This is one of those “unicorn” wines—something drinkers hear about, see rarely and almost never drink. And yet, there it was in its full regalia. The nose was the most delicious m?lange of wet stone and perfectly ripe fruit, a hint of vanilla, spice and white flowers. It was seamless and energetic with a scintillating aftertaste that can only be described like reaching the summit of a mountain trail. It was true magic, a wine with a pure sense of place and hedonistic pleasure. I felt like this wasn’t just a celebration for my friend but a happy birthday to all of us who drank it. What a way to start the year.

This Father’s Day, I was actually traveling with friends in France – Burgundy, of course. It was lunch at Georges Blanc, one of France’s three-star Michelin restaurants in the cozy village of Vonnas. There were two wines there that are etched into my palate memory for all time. The first was the 2011 Sauzet Montrachet. This is the greatest Chardonnay vineyard in the world to me, and one of its greatest producers. It was soft and sexy a hybrid of lace and cotton candy. The aromas were sweet and heady, lined with wet earth and butter-scotch. It felt like a cloud on the palate but delivers such penetrating flavors it defies physics. How can a wine feel so light, yet be so intense? It was mesmerizing. The second was a 1972 Vosne-Roman?e Beaux-Monts 1er Cru from Domaine G. Grivot. What is so impressive about this wine is that it is not supposed to be any good. The 1972 is a ‘light’ vintage, and this is not grand cru stuff. Who keeps this stuff lying around? Lucky for us, someone does because the nose of this wine was stunning; replete with spiced wild cherries and strawberries, crushed limestone and rock candy. It was simply silk on the palate with a sassafrasand red-fruit finish that feels like a gentle kiss. What an amazing treat.

In Paris at Carr? des Feuillants, magic struck again. After just visiting the ancient cellars of Bouchard P?re et Fils in Beaune a few days prior we had a bottle of 1966 Bouchard Chambertin Clos de B?ze. I’m guessing this wine is older than most of you reading this piece. And what an amazing experience it was. It took a good half an hour opened for it to reveal its full self, just brimming with plump wild berries, oak spices and even a hint of truffle. Not shy, it explodes on the palate with red fleshy fruit, Asian tea spices and a luxurious texture that I can still feel. Paris is magical in itself and this meal only added to its charm.

In August, we celebrated our friends’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was an unforgettable moment in time. There were some great producers—Clape, Coche, Vieux Chateau Certan, Tempier but two wines rose above. One was the 2005 Raveneau Clos Chablis. Talk about a wine with a sense of place! It screams of chalk, oyster shells and white fruit. The soil literally shines through this wine. It has a kinetic energy pulsing through it that connects you to the earth from which it came. Amazing and delicious. It was equaled if not surpassed by a bottle of 1971 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling from Berres in the Mosel. This wine was a potpourri of desserts –
white chocolate, glac?e apricots, honey, espresso, pineapple and mango. It was sweet but superbly balanced with one of the longest aftertastes I have ever encountered.

Finally at another friend’s birthday, there were some New World gems that could not be kept off this list. 1996 Harlan Estate is one of the New World’s best Cabernets without question. This wine was scintillatingly rich, powerful, yet not over-the-top or sweet. It has this hammer-in-a-velvet-glove quality that is elusive for so many, and a wine that will undoubtedly last another dozen years and more. At the same party, was an unforgettable bottle of 1992 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz made from some of the oldest vines in Australia. This wine has character that is akin to Bordeaux with a harmonious and complex fruit array, red currants, black berry, with deep tones of cocoa nibs and vanilla spice; all in the right doses. The texture was so sultry, like no other Shiraz around and the best Shiraz of the year for me.

Yes, I hope to drink all of these wines again and to have even more of these pinnacle moments in time. May you find your own top wines and magical moments.