The Wine House SF: Our Top Ten Wines Of 2013

Where does the time go? It doesn’t seem like it’s been 4 years since we listed our first Top Ten Wines of the Year in January 2010, but it has! 2014 promises to be a great year of discovery, as we have plans to receive more wine from producers new to us. Let us not forget our stalwarts, we’ll have plenty from them as well. We’re expecting visits from some of our friends overseas, keep on the look-out for information about winemaker dinners and events coming soon. All in all, 2014 is shaping up to look like a very exciting year!Before we blaze further into the new year, let’s relive our Top Ten Wines of 2013.

 Again, we taste a lot of wine here at TWH throughout the year, and we enjoy the exercise of reminiscing our tasting experiences. Our first Top Ten listing was for the year 2009. We have continued the tradition, and you can view our Top Ten lists from 2010, 2011, or 2012 by clicking on each year. It’s not an easy exercise, as we taste so much throughout the year, and it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. But somehow we manage. Here at TWH, for our Top Ten Wines of the year, it’s not about highest scoring, most well-known, big names, nor big prices. It’s about quality, it’s about diversity, it’s about value, it’s about wines that we all love! Some of the wines are sold out, but have earned a place on our list due to their merits. Here it is folks, TWH SF’s Top Ten Wines of 2013:

2012 Chateau Armurey Bordeaux Clairet
This one was two years in the making! Back in 2011, our former teammate Emily asked if I had ever tasted Bordeaux Clairet. Not only hadn’t I tasted it, I had no idea it existed! A little research revealed that Bordeaux Clairet is a light red wine, almost like a heavy Rosé that is rarely seen outside Bordeaux. The wine is made in the style of the Bordeaux wines shipped to England during the middle ages. Rumor has it that it was Bordeaux Clairet that inspired the contemporary English term, Claret. Having been on our radar since 2011, we were excited to see it listed on a negoce’s price list in December 2012. We had a sample shipped. We tasted it. We loved it. Now the tricky part; how much should we order? Well, we slightly missed the mark on that one. It sold out way too fast! Not only was it a huge hit for our customers, members of our staff snapped it up a case at a time. What’s not to like? 12.5% alcohol, fresh, crisp, refreshing light red wine (served chilled) for less than $10? I’m responsible for the depletion of over 2 cases. We’ll be tasting the 2013 soon. If it’s anything like the 2012, we can all look forward to cooling our palates this summer with more Château Armurey Bordeaux Clairet!

2011 Claudie Jobard Rully ‘Montagne La Folie’ 
White Burgundy. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? We love white Burgundy, and when we find one of high quality in the sub $30 range, we get very excited. We welcomed Claudie Jobard to TWH family in 2013 via two bottlings of Pommard that she makes for her aunt and her mother at Domaine Gabriel Billard. Her mother being Laurence Jobard, head oenologist at Domaine Drouhin for over 30 years. Taking a step back, Laurence has tasked her daughter to make the wine for the domaine. If Claudie is good enough to make wine for her celebrated mother, she’s certainly good enough for us!  Claudie also bottles red and white Burgundy from vineyards she’s been handed down from her father’s side of the family in Rully. As far as price to quality goes, the wines are in the sweet spot. When Anya wrote the wine up last May, she observed that Claudie’s 2011 Rully Montagne La Folie was what many California Chardonnay producers are shooting for, but “miss the mark.” With the case price, it’s actually less than $25 per bottle! However you see it, it’s terrific white Burgundy, deserving its spot in our Top Ten. Welcome to TWH family, Claudie!
2011 Claudie Jobard Rully Montagne La Folie
White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
$28.99
Add to Cart

2009 Grange des Rouquette Syrah ‘Agrippa’ 
Now for one from a couple of our longtime friends, Thierry and Véronique Boudinaud. We’ve been representing Thierry and Véronique for many years, first as their California distributor, and now as their importer. They make a range of wines, but they’re mainly good quality, inexpensive country French wines. Wines that you would expect to be poured at any of the bistros, cafés, and brasseries that dot the southern French landscape. A year ago, on a visit to their property, David was poured a barrel sample of something Thierry called Agrippa. The wine is, in essence, a reserve wine. Thierry doesn’t make it every year, and when he does, he only makes 10-15 barrels. Well, David was impressed! If you love northern Rhône Syrah, you owe it to yourself to give the Agrippa a try. This 100% Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel of 20+ year old vines planted in sandy loess soils, similar to those in the north.

I had a surprise, aha moment with this wine one night. As the day grew to a close, I grabbed a couple of random bottles and put them in my wine bag. Once in the wine bag, you can’t see their labels, but I had thought that the bottle of red wine that I grabbed was a 2010 Boudinaud Syrah/Grenache. I put my groceries away, and grabbed a couple of pots, ready to get dinner started. With my concentration entirely on what I was preparing, I grabbed my corkscrew and opened the bottle of red. I poured a glass, went back to the stove to stir some onions and garlic, and then I took a sip. Whoa! That’s not inexpensive French country wine, that was something entirely different. A closer look at the bottle revealed that it was indeed the Agrippa, and my love affair with this wine began. But ask any of us, the 2009 Boudinaud Agrippa Syrah is a special wine. If you factor in the $16.14 case price, it is pretty much unbeatable.

2009 Vignobles Boudinaud Syrah Agrippa Vin du Pays d’Oc
Red Wine; Syrah/Shiraz; Languedoc-Roussillon;
$18.99
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2011 Palmina Dolcetto
There has been such a buzz lately amongst wine industry people in regard to winemaker Steve Clifton and the wines from Palmina! A recent trip to SF restauranteur Bruce Hill’s revamped Fog City revealed that Palmina is well represented on Gregory Altzman’s list; both by the glass and by the bottle. Well, Anya was on to the concept quite a while ago, as the wines are indeed made for those interested in Italian varietals from California rather than the “Cal-Ital” crowd. The 2011 Dolcetto is sublime, it has Old World character, with just enough fruit to balance out its rich complexity. Medium in body, it’s the kind of wine that pairs well with all of the dishes you would imagine. From a simple Pizza Margherita to a more serious Osso Buco. We’re so pleased with the full line of wines that we received this year from Palmina, but the Dolcetto, that’s something very special indeed!

Warning: Less than a case of the 2011 is left. We will soon be moving on to the 2012. Stay tuned for that.

2011 Palmina Dolcetto Santa Barbara County
Red Wine; Dolcetto; Central Coast;
$15.98
Add to Cart

2010 Domaine Pernot-Belicard Meursault 
Another of David’s solid recent discoveries was not entirely a “new” discovery. How do you classify that exactly? He’s (fairly) new to us, but he’s the grandson of one of our stalwarts. We’re talking about Philippe Pernot, who in addition to helping his grandfather (and father) at Domaine Paul Pernot et ses fils, makes his own wine sourced from vineyards acquired from his wife’s family. The young Pernot has 5 hectares of vines in 9 different climats, but get this, his Meursault comes from a single parcel and the vines are 65-70 years old! Talk about layered and complex! We were all wowed by this wine when it first arrived, and continue to be. If you love Meursault, and who doesn’t, we recommend you taste the 2010 Pernot-Belicard Meursault.
2010 Domaine Pernot Belicard Meursault
White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
$49.99
Add to Cart
2011 Domaine Pernot Belicard Meursault
White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
$50.99
Add to Cart
Just in!!! Philippe’s 2011! Build a vertical.

2011 Domaine Pichat Cote Rotie ‘Loss’
During a recent conversation with another importer, we came to the conclusion that discovering new producers who make high-quality, value wine was nearly impossible. Especially when it comes to famous wine regions whose production is severely limited. It’s a theory, yes, with a boatload of truth and logic to back it up. David has been working diligently with his friends and various agents looking specifically for a “new” Côte Rôtie producer for several years now. That means he’s tried a bunch of them over the years, but in each case, graciously said no. Well, that has changed now. He’s liked what he’s tasted from Domaine Pichat for several vintages, and that’s what it takes for him to graciously say yes! When the Pichat wines landed we all got to taste them, and they are indeed special wines with that signature smoky, meaty goodness that Syrah exhibits when originating from the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie. It was unanimous amongst us, the fancier cuvées were great, and will be spectacular wines someday, showing immense concentration, texture and structure. When we tasted the Löss, we were blown away by its balance and drinkability. The complexity was dazzling, and we could swear that Stéphane used some new barrel on it as well, but were assured no, only neutral barrel is used for this wine. Proving again that Syrah is “a ballerina who can kick-box”, Pichat’s 2011 Löss delivers plush, dark plum and red berry flavors framed in a classic smoky, meaty structure. Another great discovery; this time from an almost impossible source!
2011 Domaine Pichat Cote-Rotie Loss
Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Rhone;
$51.99
Add to Cart

2011 Domaine Sebastien Dampt Chablis 1er Cru ‘Cote de Lechet’
It was during that same conversation with the other importer where a modicum of possibility did emerge: find someone new or someone young. Sure, that doesn’t guarantee quality, but if you’re going to find the diamond in the rough of unclaimed producers, that’s the place to look. Chablis is much bigger than Côte Rôtie, yes, but finding the new producer wasn’t easy.  Patience is a virtue, because after graciously saying no several times, David found us a bona fide all star, Sébastien Dampt! My, my, what a fine line of wines. The youngster’s family has been making wine for over 150 years! Sébastien had been working with his brother, Vincent, together with their father at his eponymous Domaine Daniel Dampt before setting off on his own in 2007. What this young winemaker can do with Chardonnay is astounding! His 2011 Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet wowed us at first whiff! Its fresh, focused white fruit, floral, and mineral aromas were captivating; the palate was as bright and nervy as expected; the finish long and harmonious. The very fair price, a result of patience and direct importation. Bravo!

The 2011 Côte de Léchet has sold out, but its stablemate, the Premier Cru Les Vaillons is another outstanding example of what this young winemaker does with Premier Cru fruit!

2011 Sebastien Dampt Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons
White Wine; Chardonnay; Burgundy;
$26.99
Add to Cart

2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules ‘La Bolida’
Making her second appearance in a TWH SF Top Ten is our pal in Costières de Nîmes, Diane Puymorin with her 100% old vine Mourvèdre La Bolida. Old vine? Yes, these twisted, weathered vines are between 80 and 100 years old!  Crazy, right? This has always been a prized bottling for our staff as many of us squirrel away a few each year, as they deliver much joy after only a short time in the cellar. Her 2009 La Bolida is all that and more! Mourvèdre has the reputation for yielding big, powerful wines that, in many cases, need cellar time. This is true with many of the wines coming from Bandol. It is a very late ripening grape and only flourishes in a handful of locales around the world. One place it flourishes is in Diane’s vineyard! When discussing La Bolida, she often points to the juxtaposition between the wine’s power and its roundness. It definitely has the stuffing to go the long haul, but is short of any hard edges that may interfere with its charm. The southern Rhône has had a string of successful vintages, and 2009 was one of the best. 
2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules Costieres de Nimes Bolida Rouge
Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Other France;
$36.99
Add to Cart
2009 Chateau d’Or et de Gueules Costieres de Nimes Bolida Rouge (in magnum)
Red Wine; Rhone Blend; Languedoc-Roussillon;
$73.99
Add to Cart

2010 Opalie de Chateau Coutet
Talk about new discoveries … how about a first time EVER wine? The team at Château Coutet had been working on a secret project for a couple of vintages: to make a top-flight dry white Bordeaux. With the assistance of Philippe Dhalluin and his team at Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Mouton), two particular plots of their Barsac/Sauternes First Growth vineyard were chosen as the source for the new wine. As the wine from the 2010 vintage developed, it was determined that the quality was outstanding and it was time to unveil Opalie de Château Coutet to the world! The Wine House San Francisco were the first merchants in the world to offer the wine on a pre-arrival basis in the summer of 2012. As other merchants in the world began to offer the wine for sale, Decanter Magazine listed us as its exclusive US merchant. It was shipped to us in 2013 and was a huge hit with staff and customers alike. It is a wine of pedigree and refinement, brimming with opulence and richness, yet finishing dry and crisp.

The 2010 sold out long ago, however, we are now offering the 2011 Opalie de Coutet, also on pre-arrival. Warning: we have already sold half of our allocation of the 2011. The wine is due to be shipped to us sometime in the spring of 2014.

2011 Chateau Coutet Opalie de Chateau Coutet (Pre-Arrival)
White Wine; other white varietal; Bordeaux;
$44.00
Add to Cart
Full Case of 12 Bottles 2011 Opalie de Chateau Coutet (Pre-Arrival)
$499.00
Add to Cart

2010 Chateau Fleur Cardinale
In the red Bordeaux department, 2010 was a stellar vintage. It was a great follow-up to 2009, a spectacular vintage in its own right, but 2010 was spectacular for a different reason. Sadly, this of course, meant higher prices, which turned more and more Americans away from the wines from Bordeaux. Aha, but let’s not let those who now bottle commodities rather than wine spoil the party for us wine drinkers! It has been reported here, once or twice that a chateau in St. Emilion was not only cranking out fantastic wine, vintage after vintage, but they were pricing their wines where they could be enjoyed by people who love Bordeaux. Since taking over the property beginning with the 2001 vintage, Dominique and Florence Decoster have turned this St. Emilion property into a champion in the quality to price department. They have been on a great run of consecutive vintage successes, and then came 2010. Arguably, their finest vintage to date, the 2010 Château Fleur Cardinale is representative of the hard work and investment made by the Decosters and their team. Their motive is simple. Dominique once told me that if you are going to make wine and travel the world pouring it, you’re going to have to drink it a lot. So make something good! Bravo, Dominique and Florence!

Sadly, we sold out of the 2010 weeks ago, but we are selling the 2011 Château Fleur Cardinale on pre-arrival for an unbelievable price. This is quality juice, folks, take it from me.

Or, if you would like Robert Parker’s synopsis, “Another top-notch success, the 2011 (70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) hit 15% natural alcohol. Yields were a low 30 hectoliters per hectare, and the harvest occurred quite late. The result is a dense purple-colored wine with a stunning bouquet of blackberry jam, graphite, charcoal and blueberries. With superb density and purity as well as a multidimensional mouthfeel, this intense St.-Emilion is a sleeper of the vintage, although consumers are catching on to the exquisite quality emerging from La Fleur Cardinale. The 2011 should drink well for 15+ years. (92-94 points)”

2011 Chateau Fleur Cardinale Saint-Emilion (Pre-Arrival)
Red Wine; Merlot; Bordeaux;
$36.00
Add to Cart

So there you have it. We’re a month into 2014, and we’re already making more vinous discoveries! Many 2011 Bordeaux (now in bottle) were tasted at the UGC tasting in Los Angeles last week. We’ve got winemakers and property owners from wineries in France and Italy lined up to visit us in the first part of this year, and the samples keep coming! We’ll try to stay in front of the onslaught, forever echoing our sentiments here for you all. Or as Anya says, “We taste a lot of bad wine so you don’t have to!” Happy 2014. – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under 2010 Bordeaux, Barsac, Bordeaux Clairet, Costieres de Nimes, Peter Zavialoff, Rully, St. Emilion, Top Ten Wines Of The Year

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