One of a wine lover’s greatest joys is to pick up a glass of wine, swirl it, sniff it, tip it for that first, tentative swallow and just say, “Wow.”
Top grape growers and winemakers go to almost absurd lengths to create that epiphany.
They search the world for the best vines, hire experts to choose the most suitable land, send out workers to pick off individual leaves from bunches of grapes to get that perfect sun exposure, send up drones to monitor vineyards for pests and disease, buy the best oak barrels and season them at home, and, finally, choose the best of their vineyard’s fruit for their wines, selling off the rest to lesser producers.
It’s up to us, then, to tease out the best wine/food pairings — butter-poached lobster for a voluptuous chardonnay, charcoal-scarred rare, red meat for a powerful cabernet sauvignon, and so on.
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Being fanatics, we choose a wine and then build a meal around it rather than the vice-versa method of those less smitten. And then we talk about it for weeks. I’ve tasted a lot of wines in 2014, very occasionally experiencing that peak experience. Here are some of the best:
1. 2011 Shafer “Relentless” Red Wine, Napa Valley (91 percent syrah, 9 percent petite sirah): a masterpiece of power and subtlety, with flavors of black raspberries, licorice and earth, hearty, ripe and rich, long, smooth finish; a wine for roast duck, prime rib of beef and hard cheeses; from foothills of the Vaca Mountains just south of Stag’s Leap District, aged 30 months in barrel and another eight in bottle; $80.
2. 2012 DCB “Estate Block 10” Chardonnay, by Dry Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley: lush and rich yet nicely crisp, aromas of toasty oak, yeast and vanilla, tropical fruit flavors, long, creamy finish, made from the top 10 percent of the estate’s grapes, aged in French oak barrels; a wine for creamy pasta Alfredo, rich chicken pot pie; $30.
3. 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, “Gianoli Vineyard,” Mendocino Ridge (100 percent zinfandel): deep, dark purple hue, spicy, complex flavors of black cherry jam, truffles and bittersweet chocolate, full body, big, ripe tannins; a single-vineyard wine grown on a Mendocino Ridge peak called “islands in the clouds” because it pokes up through the morning Pacific Ocean fog; a wine for hearty, spicy foods like pulled pork, barbecued chicken, spicy beef chili; $31.
4. 2012 Geyser Peak “Pluto’s Fury” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley (100 percent pinot noir): light red hue, toasty aromas, very varietal flavors of tart cherries and red plums, light body, crisp and lean; grown in the cool Russian River Valley blanketed almost daily by Pacific Ocean fog; a wine for grilled salmon, roast pork or goose, coq au vin; $28.
5. 2013 “The Bernard Series” Old Vine Chenin Blanc, by Bellingham, Origin Coastal Region, South Africa: light body, zingy, spicy and rich, very slightly sweet, with aromas and flavors of vanilla, ripe apricots and tropical fruit, long finish; from old vines growing 50 miles from Cape Town, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet; a wine for roast salmon and shrimp, richly sauced chicken and turkey dishes, risotto and cheese soufflés; $22.
6. 2012 “The Hunt” Red Blend, by Biltmore Wines, Sonoma County (40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 35 percent cabernet franc, 25 percent merlot): inky hue, ripe, smooth tannins, flavors of black raspberries, vanilla and milk chocolate, long finish; aged 18 months in French and American oak barrels; a wine for duck, wild game, beef stews, meat lasagna, $40.
7. 2008 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino, by Marchese di Frescobaldi, Montalcino DOCG (sangiovese): hearty, spicy black plum and earth aromas and flavors, powerful fruit, mellow tannins, smooth finish; made of the brunello grape, a top clone of sangiovese, the chianti grape at a 700-year-old winery in Tuscany, 60 miles south of Florence; a wine for prime rib, Tuscany’s famous balsamic-scented steak, hearty pasta dishes with red sauces, $69.
8. Nonvintage J Vineyards & Winery Brut Rosé sparkling wine, Sonoma County (69 percent pinot noir, 29 percent chardonnay, 2 percent pinot meunier): tiny, lively bubbles, crisp, fruity flavors of strawberries, citrus and toast; grapes from Sonoma’s chilly Russian River Valley; a versatile wine for drinking all by itself, with chicken, salmon, ham, fruit salads; $38.
9. 2012 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco, Dolomiti IGT: brilliant yellow-green color, light body, flavors of ripe peaches and pears; made of grapes from Dolomiti mountain range in far northern Italy, near the Swiss border, in part from grapes biodynamically grown grapes in cool, high altitude vineyards; a wine for sipping alone, with appetizers, salads, seafood and light pasta dishes; $14.
10. 2012 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin, AOC Côte de Nuits, Burgundy: dark color, complex, shifting aromas and flavors of boysenberries and earth, big, ripe tannins, long finish; from chalky soil where grapes have grown since 630 AD; age-worthy, a wine for beef Burgundy, prime rib, roast goose, powerful cheeses; $65.
11. 2009 Cune Reserva, Rioja Alta (85 percent tempranillo, 5 percent mazuelo, 5 percent graciano, 5 percent garnacha tinta): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and licorice, long, smooth finish; grown in cool high altitudes; a great pairing for roasted lamb, beef and pork; $28.