Happy 2017, everyone! I’ll admit, I’ve got something of a soft spot for the sentiments brought about by the New Year. It’s nice to pause for a moment and take stock of the year that’s passed to set the stage for the coming one. In that spirit, I’ve been thinking about the wines I drank over the course of 2016 that stood out from the pack. Here are five that really sang, in quasi-ranked order:
5. 2006 Château Léoville Poyferré Bordeaux
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to taste a selection of 2006 Bordeaux wines to see where they were 10 years from vintage date. The standout from a star-studded line-up was this bad boy from St.-Julien, a region that is often described with synonyms for “underrated.” At $100 per bottle, it sure isn’t cheap, but it’s not too bad as far a Second Growth Bordeaux goes. Suffice it to say that I don’t get to taste classified Bordeaux too often, but the Poyferré tasted precisely the way I’d envisioned a Bordeaux with that pedigree ought to taste. The beautiful, dark cassis and blueberry flavors, the oakiness, and the soft but pronounced tannins balanced each other perfectly, and the finish was a lingering, lip-smacking delight. It’s not undrinkable now, but I’m planning to wait another year or more with my stash. It’ll really scream with a ribeye starting around mid-2018.
4. 2012 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph Céleste
First New Year’s resolution for 2017: Drink more white wines from the Rhone. I’m always bowled over whenever I drink white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but those can go for $40, $50, $60 or more per bottle, so it’s not an everyday thing. But up the valley in the Saint-Joseph region, they’re making wines that are awfully reminiscent of their southern cousins, and they cost about half the price. If I’d tasted this bottle blind I’d have sworn it was from Châteauneuf. It had that same stunning complexity and a rich body that’s heavier than a lot of reds, yet it only cost me $25 bucks and two years of patience following the 2014 release. I served this with halibut but that underestimated the wine’s raw strength. A veal cutlet would have been perfect.
3. Cameron Rouge de Gris
Cameron has been my favorite Oregon winery ever since I realized I had a favorite Oregon winery, and the Rouge de Gris is the latest example of winemaker John Paul’s pure wizardry. For several years John Paul has experimented with techniques to make the rather mundane Pinot Gris grape more interesting, and his latest effort is this red wine made from the nominally gray grape. Yeah, I didn’t know you could do that either. It’s every bit as trippy as it sounds, from its presence in the glass—a red hue that’s deep but translucent with big slow legs—to its sublime weirdness on the palette, with notes of cherry jello and bubble gum along with a soft, silky mouthfeel. It’s a true mindfuck that would go equally well with either chicken cacciatore or pot brownies.
2. 2005 Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino
Perhaps there’s a bit of recency bias in ranking this fantastic Brunello at #2, as this is the wine with which I bid a fond adieu (or, really, a good riddance) to 2016. But damned if this thing didn’t add some real fireworks to my New Year’s Eve dinner party. Since there’s really no wine that goes better with a pasta and ragù, I’m a big Brunello fan, but for some reason I haven’t had Costanti’s take terribly often. I’m going to have to change that, because everything about this wine just clicked. I mean, it just worked. It was drinking absolutely perfectly at age 11, with sour cherry, tobacco, and leather aromas that perfectly epitomize the varietal. Served with garganelli and duck ragù, the 2005 Costanti was spectacular in the role Brunello was born to play.
1. 2014 Pillot Volnay
I waxed poetic about the 2014 Pillot Volnay after I found it to be the standout from a flight of red Burgundies despite being one of the least pedigreed of the line-up. The impression this wine left turned out to have serious staying power, as I find myself still obsessing over it three months later. I’ll usually drink a few bottles of Burgundy over the holiday season—they’re fantastic with turkey, duck, and similar festive fare—but this year I almost felt guilty doing so, because everything I opened seemed like a mere stand in for the Volnay. The combination of dark fruit, chocolate, and soil funk in this wine really spoke to me, and I can’t wait to drink more. There are a few bottles ultimately headed to my stash, but sadly they rang in the New Year somewhere on the cold, dark North Atlantic. I hope they don’t develop too bad a case of bottle shock from the journey, because I will not be able to wait long to uncork one once they arrive.