Red, white and sweet! The ultimate wine list, according to yours truly.

One of the true luxuries in life is to partake in the world’s best wines. And I am blessed to be able to do so. So when anyone asks me about putting together a list of the “Best of the Best,” I start to salivate and reminisce about the great wines I have had the opportunity to share over the past year. Let me add one caveat here, as most would assume that the “Best of the Best” would be wines in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and they would be correct. And yet there are wines that make the best pairings for a particular dish or moment that need not be extravagant, but that I still hold as some of the best. But this really is about pleasure, isn’t it?

RED

I think I could write a whole chapter solely on the red wines that would be worthy of mention here, but I have to distill it down to just three, so I will include three different regions. First, I must go to Napa Valley for the 2008 Screaming Eagle. This wine has been so scrutinized for its price and rarity that few could possibly live up to its billing alone; and yet, this bottle that we had was simply gorgeous. Nothing was out of place. The aromas and flavors were ripe and rich, overflowing with intensity and opulence; and still, it retained balance. It also had a combination of flavors I rarely encounter in Napa Valley—or anywhere else—for that matter: a mélange of black, blue and red fruit.

Many Bordeaux have crossed my lips this year, including famed First Growths from heralded vintages, but the one I remember the most was the 1989 Château Lafleur. Perhaps because this bottle was a gift to me from a friend (who has since passed), and also that Lafleur has one of the most exotic aromas and flavors of all Bordeaux. There is a yin-yang play on savory, sweet aromas of herbs with currant, leaves and fruit, unique in the world of Bordeaux. The texture is ample but nowhere near heavy.

Additionally, a bottle of 1999 Colgin Cariad Estate was more than memorable.

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Bottles of Louis Roederer Champagne shine like gilded gemstones from within the cave

It imprinted itself on my memory with the succulence of a Napa Valley wine—but, at its age, it also touted character reminiscent of a First-Growth Bordeaux from the Right Bank. In fact, if I were to taste it blind, I don’t think my palate would think it came from Napa. In glorious intensity and openness, it had notes of mocha, dry herbs, stone and espresso. It is difficult to imagine a better Napa Valley red from this vintage.

Now let’s talk Pinot Noir. Great Pinot has been coming from Oregon for quite some time; though, I have not tasted one such as the 2012 Last Chapter Pinot Noir. The bouquet on this wine is more than enticing; it is seductive. Notes of sweet spices, black cherries and jasmine burst from the glass. It impresses even more on the palate—the rich texture that coats the mouth is amazing; it does not lack any grace or finesse. Stylistically, it is as sultry as an Oregon Pinot Noir gets, and in my book, one of the top.

My red list would not be complete without a red from Burgundy. And for this, there is no other choice than 1971 La Tâche. This wine is the epitome of seductiveness, silkiness and complexity. The aromas are so heady, they are like a perfume: sandalwood, nutmeg, cherries, chamomile tea, dried violets and moist Earth. The tannin is pure silk, and the flavors reside as much in your nose as in your mouth. This stunning wine is pure heaven.

WHITE

My list of best dry whites begins in Burgundy. The 2002 Domaine Francois Raveneau Les Clos from Chablis would be at the top of anyone’s list, and it was certainly thrilling. I told my friend it resembled liquid stones, replete with minerals, citrus, stone fruits and an interminable finish. It may be the best reflection of terroir in the wine world.

The 2001 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne is another stunning example of terroir. This wine’s aroma is penetrating, reminiscent of limestone, sweet white and yellow fruits and the most adept use of French oak. It will never be the “biggest” white on the palate, but the flavors stain the mouth. It is perfectly balanced, and even at 13 years old, seems to not be slowing down.

Rounding out my trio is the 1998 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. This wine amplifies its ripeness over the previous two. It has more vanilla and toast, and to no complaint. Many regard Montrachet as the greatest white wine vineyard in the world, and this bottle is a shining example.

SWEET AND SPARKLING

This has been an awesome year for sweet wines, too. The 1967 Château d’Yquem was from another world! It reminded me of dessert—”Which one?” you may ask—all, except chocolate! Crème brûlée, glacéed apricots, panettone, tea cakes, etc.

One of the wines of the year for me, in fact, a peerless wine. There is a wine from Domaine La Tour Vieille in Banyuls called Vin de Méditation from a solera started in 1953 which was also quite gorgeous: red fruit, toffee, caramel, espresso, coffee and more. The complexities here were off the chart.

When it comes to sparkling, I am an unabashed “Krugist,” so my first Champagne is 1979 Krug Vintage. This Krug is perfectly mature, exhibiting the beautiful warm fruit of the season, mixed with nut, toffee, Sauternes and earth complexities. I still remember keeping the glass throughout my meal, trying my best not to drink it all until the end of dinner (so I could savor every drop).

The best wine that no one has heard of is actually from a producer that everyone knows. It’s the 2008 Champagne Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs. This hails primarily from Grand Cru Vineyards (the same one its Cristal comes from), and only Chardonnay grapes. It is the ‘sleeper’ of the Roederer lineup, but when you taste this luxurious Champagne, you will see why many of the cognoscenti buy it for themselves.

If you ever come upon any of these wines, simply sit back—and enjoy. They are some of the finest that the wine world has to offer.

Photos courtesy of brands, unless otherwise noted