TCS Daily

Grape Expectations

By Stephen Bainbridge - December 29, 2005 12:00 AM

As the years ends, top 10 wine lists -- and even top 100 lists -- abound. Most focus on current releases, which is what most newspaper and magazine columnists almost exclusively cover. In contrast, over at my wine blog, I review whatever I happen to be drinking at the time, no matter how old or how deep it was buried in my cellar.

In selecting my top 10 for 2005, however, I wanted to make it at least somewhat useful for my readers, so I erred on the side of selecting recent releases. Most of these wines therefore should still be available at better wine dealers. A few older wines stood out far enough that they demanded inclusion. These wines should be available at auction houses.

The list reflects a California bias, of course, since I'm an unapologetic California chauvinist.

10. Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (Sonoma County) 2000. Big nose and lots of fruit flavor. Black cherry, blackberry, olive, chocolate, and sage. Lots of (relatively smooth and well-rounded) tannins and good acidity make it fairly easy to drink now but suggest medium-term cellaring would be rewarded.

9. Spencer Roloson Sueño Vineyard Viognier (Lodi) 2003. Excellent. Good acidity makes it very food friendly. Lightly oaked. Nice mix of honey (trace), apricots and peaches, and flint. Very highly recommended.

8. Fattoria di Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico (Tuscany) 2000. Delicious, although it tastes more like a claret than Chianti. Leather, cedar, currants, black cherries. Very highly recommended at $20/bottle.

7. Magito (North Coast) 2003. A Zinfandel-based blend with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and a touch of Cabernet Franc. Intense fruit seasoned with oriental spices. Yummy. A little hot on the finish (14.9% alcohol), but otherwise easy to drink and easy to like. This is one of the best Zinfandel-based wines I've had in a long time.

6. Joseph Phelps Le Mistral (Montery County) 2002. An excellent Syrah and Grenache-based Rhone-styled red wine. Young in appearance on the palate, but easy to drink now. Intense strawberry flavor and aroma, plus cherry, chocolate, pepper, and allspice. A very, very good food wine-delicious and versatile.

5. Pahlmeyer Red (Napa Valley) 2001. Delicious. Rich currant, blackberry, and cedar flavors. Big nose. Very enjoyable now but has plenty of tannins and acids for extended aging.

4. Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill (Napa Valley) 1986. At age 20 (almost), this is a profound example of what an age-worthy California cabernet can achieve with time. The bottle was in excellent shape. The wine was still in the neck and while the cork was somewhat stained, there was no evidence of seepage. Still a remarkably deep ruby, albeit showing some brick-red coloration at the rim. A huge bouquet of anise, leather, tobacco, cedar, and prunes. A tad light on the palate and a relatively short finish, however. Even so, it offers tasty fruit leather, dried currant, and cedar flavors. All told, however, this was one of those wines where your time is best spent savoring the spectacular nose.

3. Piña Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown (Napa Valley) 2001. A limited production wine sourced from Howell Mountain grapes and very reasonably priced at around $50. Earth, cigar box, dark berrries, mocha java, and sage. Lots of toasty new oak. Very drinkable now, especially if given a double decanting, but the firm structure suggests laying a few bottles down for the usual 8-15 year aging of quality California Cabernet.

2. Joseph Phelps Eisrebe (Napa Valley) 2004. This is consistently one of California's very best dessert wines. It's vinified from the relatively obscure Scheurebe grape and grown in an estate vineyard near St. Helena. Unlike German or Canadian ice wines, where the grapes can be left on the vines until they freeze, Phelps uses commercial refrigeration to freeze the grapes before pressing. The resulting must is so high in sugar that the wine ends up with about 8% alcohol and 25% residual sugar. Intense apricot aromas and flavors. A deliciously sweet, unctuous wine, which still has enough acidity to avoid cloying on the palate.

1. Silver Oak (Alexander Valley) 2001. A stunning wine. Big nose of cassis, lead pencil shavings, and toasty American oak (vanilla and dill). Medium to full bodied, the palate offers clean and forward flavors of currants, black cherries, olives, sage, and dill. One of the best young California cabernets I've tasted in ages.


1 Comment

Top 10 wines

I'm especially pleased to see the 2001 Silver Oak Alexander Valley at the top of your list. It has been my good fortune to receive a bottle as a gift this very week. I'm planning to un-cork it as my new year's eve wine to usher in 2006.

I hope you find many more good bottles in 2006, and not one is corked!

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