The Wine House SF – Top 10 Wines of 2014
It started out as a concept brought to light while fighting off a bout of insomnia, but after five years, it seems to have stuck. A Top Ten Wines of the Year list. We taste so, so many wines each year – whether in the form of reps pouring samples on site, to airfreighted samples that arrive from overseas, the occasional trade tasting, here in SF, LA, Chicago, or New York, or the litany of wines that come at us on tasting trips overseas. Add them up, and we’re talking about thousands of wines made by hundreds of producers! Keeping that in mind, just making the selections as to which wines to stock is a fairly severe exercise which endorses a paltry few bottles compared to all that we taste. Now, take those wines and choose our ten favorites; that is a tough assignment! For a look at our previous lists, here are links to our Top Ten Wine lists from 2013,
There are no rules. They don’t need to cost an arm and a leg. They don’t need some sort of numerical justification from someone who prefers Pepsi over Coca-Cola. They could be surprise packages from unusual locales, well established producers with an exceptional vintage, terrific expressions of terroir, or the ineffable. Favorites are favorites. Some of the wines have sold out, but deserve to be listed due to their merits. Not in any particular order, The Wine House San Francisco’s Top Ten Wines of 2014:
NV Pascal Doquet
Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Champagne
Starting things off the same way we recently kick-started our annual Post-Holiday Party. With Grower Champagne. Grand Cru, no less. Laure and Pascal Doquet own and run this 8.66 hectare estate which includes plantings in some of the finest Grand and Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte de Blancs. Pascal’s dedication to quality is relentless. Pascal took the reins of the family’s domaine in 1995, and since 2004, he and Laure are the sole proprietors. Pulling the curtain aside, Pascal shares a great deal of information about his wines on their back labels, such as disgorgement date and contents. For our current stock of Non-Vintage Grand Cru Le Mesnil, it is made up of the following vintages: 2003 (40%), 2002 (40%), and 2001 (20%). We taste a lot of Champagne during the year, and we chose to serve this one at our party! Life’s too short not to enjoy fine Grower Champagne like Doquet’s.
2012 Domaine Raimbault Sancerre “Apud Sariacum”
The phantom. Depending on your timing, you may have seen it on our sales floor, or maybe not. You see, the “Apud Sariacum” Sancerre has been the darling of a high-profile, wine-centric restaurant in the Los Angeles area for a few years. Funny thing is, this resto is known for switching out its wine list often, yet the “Apud” resided there for FOUR VINTAGES! Yep, it’s that people-pleasing. It was a difficult task making sure that there was enough to keep them pouring it continuously, many times resulting in our pulling it from the sales floor. All good things must come to an end, and after a very long ride, the restaurant’s policy of mixing it up resulted in the “Apud’s” replacement. That’s good news for the rest of us! A phantom no more. This bright, refreshing Sancerre is full of life with its zesty citrus aromas framed in stony minerality. Easy to like, you can pour it as an aperitif, or pair it with those dishes that beg for a zippy Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
2012 Domaine Sainte Barbe Macon-Burgy “Terres Rouges”
Throughout the course of each calendar year, we receive over a handful of containers packed with wines from France and Italy. The arrival of each one is highly anticipated as there are always ‘little secrets’ on board. I say ‘little secrets’ because that’s what it’s like when we taste something new overseas, and return home only to wait for what sometimes feels like a long, long time before we can put it in your hands. We waited patiently for this one to arrive, but once it did, patience flew out the window. David continues to find cool new wines from producers familiar to us and beyond. He hit paydirt with this little red from Macon. Wait. Red wine from Macon?? Yes, indeed. Made from Gamay Noir, we all got a big kick out of Sainte Barbe’s “Terres Rouges”, and if you like Old World charm and sour cherry, wine-geeky Gamay, you will too.
2012 Orgo Saperavi
If you’d have asked any of us last year if there would be a wine from the Republic of Georgia in our annual top ten, we may have reacted inquisitively, as in “really?” As you probably already know, we look all over the world for wines to stock here in our shop. And when we say all over, we mean ALL OVER! The Orgo Saperavi took us by storm with its juxtaposition of softness and solid structure. Kind of reminds us of the “fist in a velvet glove” analogy. It comes with a great story too. I love it when a wine gets us talking about history, clay kveri, and Teinturier grapes!
2011 Domaine Stephane Magnien Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru
As David continues to travel to Burgundy (and beyond!) in search of new wines and producers, we are collectively excited at the prospect of welcoming them to our shelves! If you think about it, it takes a lot of work. On these road trips, one tastes a lot of wine. Those outside the wine business make light of this with quips like, “tough job,” “it must be nice,” and “somebody’s got to do it.” Let’s just say that finding wines to bring back home takes a lot of time and patience. One thing that David does regarding new producers is he tastes several vintages before pulling the trigger. He tasted young Stephane Magnien’s wines again and again, and after a few years, bam! Here they are. The entire line is impressive, as Stephane’s holdings include some fancy locales! But we were all quite taken by the 2011 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Aux Petites Noix.” One thing that is never looked for, yet always mentioned in my tasting notes when present is “X-tra D,” or extra dimension. This one has it.
2012 Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
And from right here in our own backyard, from the Sonoma Coast, we were introduced to a new wine made by some old friends. The celebrated vintner Steve Kistler and business partner Mark Bixler teamed up once again to produce an amazing Pinot Noir under the Occidental label. There isn’t a whole lot of production, so when we saw the chance to get our hands on a teeny-tiny allocation, we jumped at it. You should have been in the tasting room when we all tasted the sample, it was poured into one glass, each of us taking tiny sips and emerging with wide eyes and happy disbelief! We weren’t the only ones who jumped at the chance. The Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir disappeared from our shelves literally hours after they were placed there!
2012 Domaine des Hauts de Sanziers Saumur Rouge
This one was an example of a wine coming to us! Though there are wine reps here pouring wines multiple times per week for Anya, it is a rare occasion when a rep pours for Anya, Chris, Tom, and myself collectively. This meeting was set up by David, who knew of the 7 or 8 samples to be poured, and strongly advised us to pay close attention to the 2012 Saumur Rouge from Hauts de Sanziers. In retrospect, he didn’t need to mention it. However, mentioning it did create an expectation level that was not only met, but surpassed! It’s a light-styled herbaceous Cabernet Franc from Saumur that has a Burgundian feel, and as Anya once said, “It’s light, but without being thin.” More wine-geek wine here. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is not for everybody, but if you like the woodsy herbal quality one finds in them, this one’s for you too.
2012 Domaine Michel-Andreotti Montagny 1er Cru
We were already on board with Michel-Andreotti courtesy of their “Les Guignottes” bottling which landed them in our Top Ten list in their rookie year! Back in early 2014, before the move, we noticed a slightly different label coming from a box of their Montagny. Upon further investigation, we discovered that they make a Premier Cru wine called “Les Coères.” It swept us off our feet! Plenty of fresh, fleshy white fruit, a pleasant caress on the palate, sturdy structure, and a zippy, complex finish. Factor in the price, and it’s no wonder that it’s all gone.
2011 Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg
For red Bordeaux, 2011 was not like 2010 nor 2009, but just as each vintage is its own, there are almost always some successful efforts. 2011 was like that. A sensational vintage for the dry whites and gold wines, things were a little challenging for those who made Claret. Having tasted the wines out of barrel in the spring of 2012 and again from bottle in 2014, there were several wines that I would like in my cellar. None more than François Mitjavile’s Roc de Cambes. I vividly recall tasting this wine from barrel in François’ cellar in 2012. Interesting note, François chose to present the Roc de Cambes sample AFTER his Tertre Roteboeuf sample … something he hasn’t done for me before nor since. He knew the potential of this wine back then. When I tasted it out of bottle last spring, it stole the show. Considering that it’s roughly 1/3 the price of Tertre Roteboeuf, it’s always a great opportunity to taste one of Bordeaux’s most charismatic winemaker’s wines without paying full fare. The 2009 and 2010 Roc de Cambes were both stellar, the former coming in a close 2nd to the latter in a local wine society’s annual taste-off in 2014. The 2011 Roc de Cambes will give both a run for their money!
2011 Château Coutet, Barsac
Since April of 2012, I had a feeling that we would get here. It is fairly well documented that I am a fan of Château Coutet. Their terroir and style suit my palate to a T. They are not alone. There are several Bordeaux chateaux that I count as favorites in most vintages. Any kind of pre-conceived notion of liking something before I taste it goes right out the proverbial window once the time comes to actually taste. I’ve been disappointed plenty of times when a château that I fancy comes up short in a particular vintage, and Coutet is not immune to that. But when I tasted the 2011 Coutet out of barrel, sparks flew. All of the components I look for in a barrel sample were right there! As mentioned above, 2011 was a sensational vintage for white and gold Bordeaux, and from that day up until I tasted it out of bottle in January 2014, all I could say about it was, “best Coutet barrel sample I’ve ever tasted.” The 2011 Coutet was the hit of the UGC tasting for me, but I was nowhere near being alone on this. Glowing reviews and huge scores from wine critics followed, topped by The Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth, who gushed forth with a 97 point review. In his review, Molesworth said, “This just makes you feel special when you drink it.” We concur. A week or so after the UGC tasting, when we all were here, we popped a bottle of 2011 Château Coutet, and it was a smash hit with all of us, leading Anya to pen this post. One for the cellar, I hope to enjoy this wine for many years to come!
So there we are, already well into 2015! The UGC de Bordeaux passed through town pouring the 2012’s from bottle back at the end of January. 2012 is not a “vintage of the century,” but a solid one with plenty of wines to like. There are containers on the water. David will be headed to France next month, and I will follow shortly thereafter. All of that means we are hard at work, not only looking for our Top Ten of 2015, but for a fine stable of solid wines that we can present for your enjoyment. Onwards and upwards!! – Peter Zavialoff