The Wine House SF
Our Top Ten Wines Of 2015
As we begin to settle in to 2016, we look forward to all of the new wines and new discoveries that await us. But before we head full-steam into the new year, a brief recap of 2015 in the form of a list of our Top Ten Wines is in order! Here at TWH, over the course of a year, we taste thousands of wines made by hundreds of producers. From all of these tastings, one can only imagine the difficulty in choosing which wines to import and/or to stock on our shelves. A very small percentage indeed. Taking all that into consideration, paring the list of those wines down to a neat Top Ten is quite the challenge. So many wines deserve a mention, but one important criterion consistent in each year’s Top Ten is this: A good story. After all, a bottle of wine is a living thing. And so are we. Good wine is meant to be shared, and that is the only tidbit of instruction that we offer to accompany this list. Life is short. Live a little. Share your wine. Smile. Repeat as often as you can.
For a look at our previous lists, here are links to our Top Ten Wines from:
A few of these wines have sold out, but deserve to be mentioned on their merits. In no particular order, here are our Top Ten Wines of 2015:
2010 Domaine Sainte Barbe
Perle de Roche
Crémant de Bourgogne
We begin with bubbles. How can we not? With New Year’s Day festivities in our wake, it just makes sense. The 2010 Perle de Roche Crémant de Bourgogne from Domaine Sainte Barbe is very special indeed. In the day and age of mega-corporate Champagne producers flooding the market with their hundreds of millions of bottles, it’s refreshing to come across a small producer in Burgundy who cares for their Crémant like artisanal Grower-Champagne producers do. This fizz is dry, as only 4g/l of sugar are used, which is much lower than most wines labeled as “Brut.” Stony minerals are at its core, and its zippy nerve leads to a crisp, elegant finish. Winemaker Jean-Marie Chaland has not made this wine since his 2011 (which was produced in tiny quantities), and currently there isn’t any new Crémant in the pipeline. So what is left is all there is. For now.
2012 Domaine du Pegau Cuvée Réservée
Truly a Châteauneuf-du-Pape lovers’ CdP, Domaine du Pegau is a standard bearer for traditional, old-school wines from the wine capital of the southern Rhône. The Wine Advocate’s Jeb Dunnuck puts it thusly, “Without a doubt, Domaine du Pegau is one of the top reference point estates for traditionally made Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
He goes on to describe the wine, “One of my favorite wines, the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée is a classic. Beautiful on the nose, with notions of ground pepper, wild herbs, minerality and smoked plum and dark fruit, it’s medium to full-bodied, nicely concentrated and has plenty of tannin that comes through on the finish. Similar in style to a lighter-weight 2010, drink this beauty anytime over the coming 12-15 years. 94 points”
2012 Scherrer Sonoma County Grenache
On a field trip last summer, Anya paid a visit to the Scherrer winery during their annual open house. Having been on their mailing list since the winery’s early days in the 1990’s, she was very familiar with their various bottlings of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. After another fine visit and tasting, as she was saying her good-byes, Fred Scherrer asked if she had time to taste one more wine. That’s a proposition that few wine geeks can resist, and Anya wasn’t about to buck the trend. He reached behind a barrel and revealed his 2012 Sonoma County Grenache. Knowing a bit about our selections of Grenache-based Rhône wines, Fred felt his Grenache would be a good fit with our customers. It is literally a single-vineyard bottling from Kick Ranch. Let’s just say that it went over so well that we are all in agreement about the wine’s ability to integrate the liveliness of southern Rhône Grenache with the juicy fruit expression of Sonoma County. We’re very happy to include the Scherrers in our Top Ten of 2015!
2012 Gabriel Billard Pommard Les Vaumuriens
It’s all in the family. Laurence Jobard and her sister, Miraille own Domaine Gabriel Billard. You may be familiar with Laurence from her 30 year tenure as oenologist at Maison Joseph Drouhin. The sisters now entrust Laurence’s daughter, Claudie with winemaking duty. Claudie has hit TWH’s Top Ten in the past, and does so again with this 2012 stunner. The domaine is a bit of a secret; they do not submit samples to any well-known publication or critic, and production is remarkably low.
After doing the research (delish!), and composing the write-up for the June 2015 Taste Of Burgundy, I asked David the rhetorical question, “I should have some of this in my cellar, shouldn’t I?” We popped a bottle at the end of a busy Friday during the Anniversary Sale/Holiday frenzy. I think Anya summed it up best when she said, “You know, I always love the inexpensive wines that we have in abundance here. I take a bottle of Gavi or a bottle of Côtes du Rhône home for dinner, and they always deliver, making me think, wow, what a goldmine. But then I taste a wine like this one and I get it. This is in another league; this is special.” The 2012 Pommard Vaumuriens is, for all intents and purposes, sold out. We do have a few bottles left of the 2012 Gabriel Billard Pommard 1er Cru Charmots, which is a qualitative upgrade from the Vaumuriens; but ultimately it’s about 2012 red Burgundy and the Jobard family magic!
2012 Domaine Stéphane Pichat Côte Rôtie Champon’s
The hits just keep coming! As the story goes, a sample bottle of the 2012 Domaine Stéphane Pichat Côte Rôtie Champon’s went out on a sales call to some fancy restaurants, and
when the remains showed back up in the shop after we closed that day, Chris and I were treated to more of that “another league” special kind of wine! Layers of all of the goodness a quality Côte Rôtie can provide, smoky, meaty, gamey, dark savory fruit, spice, and earthiness in a glass! It took every bit of willpower we had to not finish the bottle in order for Anya and Tom to get a taste the following day, and after they did, our euphoria for this wine is unanimous! The 2012 has sold out, but we still have some 2011 in stock, and 2013 on the way. I’m building a vertical of this one!
Here’s what The Wine Advocate’s Jeb Dunnuck had to say about the 2012 Pichat Champon’s, “Aged two years in 30% new oak, the 2012 Côte Rôtie le Champon exhibits gorgeous notes of black raspberry, sweet black cherry, smoked earth, herbs and dark chocolate. Pure, fine, elegant and layered, with medium to full-bodied richness, it too has a modern ting, but still has plenty of Côte Rôtie style. Drink it over the coming decade. 93 points”
And the 2011, “Comprised all of Syrah and aged 24 months in 40% new French oak, the 2011 Cote Rotie Champon’s exhibits a perfumed, complex bouquet of black raspberry, smoke, incense, saddle leather, violets and underbrush. This is followed by a medium to full-bodied, supple, elegant and pure 2011 that can be consumed any time over the coming 10-15 years. 92 points”
2012 Brick & Mortar Pinot Noir
Sometimes you never know what might be coming your way; so it’s a good idea to be open to new things. Introduced to us by David through a connection made via one of his tasting groups, winemaker Matthew Iaconis visited TWH last year and introduced us to Brick & Mortar. By the time he left, we were all convinced that we were on to something. And that’s the beauty of small, family-style run wine shops – If you’re new and under-the-radar, have a good story, and bottle a quality wine, folks like us are approachable. We don’t need fancy marketing, big scores, or any other bells and whistles. If the wine is high in quality and represents good value, bam; everyone wins. Especially our customers! Speaking of which, I took a look at the list of customers who bought the 2012 Brick & Mortar Pinot Noir, and it reads like a who’s who of Pinot Noir-centric customers who appreciate small production, off the radar, quality wines (a handful of which were in on Anthill Farms in the days before they caught on). We were delighted with the 2012 Brick & Mortar Pinot Noir (and their other wines too!), and are looking forward to the next vintage!
2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole
The 2010 vintage for Barolo was an outstanding one. But hold on folks – Rather than gushing about the perfect conditions, we’d like to mention the challenges. First off, winter did not go away easily. Frosty conditions continued through March which delayed the start of the growing season. Temperatures remained cool throughout the spring and summer, and a fair amount of rain fell in June and October. Most estates harvested around mid-October which made for a long growing/ripening season. What we’ve got here is a modern classic vintage. Wines that will age very well and reward those with patience.
Giuseppe Vajra paid us a visit last year and poured some exquisite wines for us, including the 2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole. Taking all that into consideration, this is yet another wine begging the rhetorical question, “I should have some of this in my cellar, shouldn’t I?”
2013 Antonio Sanguineti Cannonau di Sardegna
Island wines. Who knew? We heard quite a bit about island wines in 2015. And when we purchased and subsequently offered the 2013 Antonio Sanguineti Cannonau di Sardegna, we had no idea what was about to happen! First off, we sold through our stocks in record time. Then, we continued to receive inquiries in hopes that we could acquire more wine. Then, this posting received the most hits of the year on our blog. We ordered this wine on pre-arrival, so what was shipped to us was all there was going to be. The good news: All being said, we will be getting the next vintage soon. Stay tuned.
Cannonau is what they call Grenache in Sardinia. As written above, we are big fans of Grenache-based wines, both from the southern Rhône Valley and Sonoma County. Well, we can add another place of origin to the list as this island Cannonau exhibits wonderful round cherry fruit with layers of earth and herbs. Taking all of its quality into consideration, coupled with its value price, it’s no wonder that it was literally swept up in less than a week! Island wines? Now we know.
2012 Château Carbonnieux, Pessac-Léognan Blanc
The 2012 Château Carbonnieux Blanc underlines one of our more important strategies when scouting for wines to import. Upon tasting Bordeaux’s 2012 vintage En Primeur in the spring of 2013, I visited negociants, the UGC Tastings, and had several appointments at some fancy chateaux. It takes a lot of concentration to not let bias and perceived quality differences distract from being in the moment and appraising what is in the glass at any given time. It is well documented that I am fond of dry white Bordeaux, though one can probably say that about all styles of wine from the region. Sticking with the dry whites, I usually taste samples of Haut Brion, La Mission Blanc, Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clement, and several others; wines that will retail for close to $100. In the case of the first two I mentioned, it’s more like $700 per bottle. So yeah, the quality/price model is a bit out of whack here, so uncovering great value is a challenge. I vividly remember tasting the 2012 Carbonnieux Blanc out of barrel at the UGC tasting at Château Olivier. It had the structure and balance that I look for in a barrel sample. In the back of my mind, I had an idea of what its approximate price would be, and had it on a short list of must haves.
Later that same day, I was sitting at dinner at my favorite chateau, when I was asked by the other guests to “defend” a wine. I mentioned how dry white Bordeaux may be a bit underappreciated. Citing the tiny production, significant demand, the overall quality and ability to age well, I called out the 2012 Carbonnieux Blanc as a dynamite value from a sector known for pricy wines. After the wine arrived here in our warehouse last summer, I was happy to read of The New York Times’ Eric Asimov’s endorsement of the 2012 Château Carbonnieux Blanc.This article, of course, helped the wine sell out. Last spring, I tasted the 2014 Carbonnieux Blanc and I liked it every bit as much. With the stronger dollar, the 2014 Carbonnieux Blanc is an even better value! Hmmm. Perhaps one of the Top Ten Wines of 2017?
2012 Château d’Issan, Margaux
Red Bordeaux. Margaux. The 2012 Château d’Issan. It’s funny. I never think about our Top Ten Wines list when I’m out tasting. But this one goes all the way back to the spring of 2013 and Bordeaux’s En Primeur tastings. I tasted this at a large negociant tasting, as Château d’Issan does not participate in the UGC tastings. Tasting at this negociant’s can be quite overwhelming as there are literally hundreds of wines available. I try to pass on most of the wines that I will have other opportunities to taste in order to get to as many as possible. The barrel sample of 2012 d’Issan floored me. Using descriptors such as classy, silky, sexy, expressive, and nothing overboard meant this wine was a textbook example of a great barrel sample. My note ends with, “The star so far.” I was asked several times during this tasting by various members of the negociant’s staff what my impressions were and if I had any favorites. I pointed them all to the d’Issan and witnessed their happy reactions after tasting. When I returned from Bordeaux, I sat down with David to discuss the 2012 vintage. I told him that I liked the reds and whites from Pessac-Léognan, the wines from Barsac, Margaux, and Pomerol. David answered that yes, he had read about Pessac and Pomerol, but regarding Margaux, he said, “You’re kind of on your own here, because nothing I’ve read had anything great to say about Margaux.” Hey, what can I say; I taste what I taste. Maybe it was the d’Issan in particular, though there were other Margaux wines that I felt confident enough in to include the appellation among my favorites.
Fast forward to November of 2014. Augustin Lacaille from Château d’Issan visited us here at TWH and poured a few wines including the newly bottled 2012. My expectations were not in line with reality. Fortunately, neither was the wine. It’s off the charts! The best thing is that it isn’t off the charts when it comes to price. Bravo to the team at Château d’Issan for their outstanding 2012!
And there you have it. Another exciting year in wine has passed, another new year awaits. Well, we’re not waiting. It’s only the 13th of January, but we’re already out there tasting new wines to stock on our shelves. Trips to Europe are being planned, and of course, the Bordeaux UGC tastings of the 2013 vintage are set to hit the US at the end of the month. There’s no rest in the wine biz. All the best for a great 2016! – Peter Zavialoff