Wine has the power to transform both time and place, and to etch a memory that will last forever.
But how many times have you found yourself at your nearest wine shop trying to remember that wine you had just a week ago. Oh, the memory is vivid of who you were with, where you were, what you had to eat, but you can’t quite put your finger on the name of that great wine you enjoyed so much.
That’s because wine is a catalyst, a prop in our lives that shares the good times and the bad, but it isn’t necessarily the centerpiece of an event.
Chances are the greatest wine you ever tried is memorable because of the great time you had while you were drinking it, whether with a loved one or friends, or during a magical moment on some tropical island, or in celebration of one of life’s many milestones.
Memorable wines don’t have to be the most expensive. In fact, the ones I will never forget have little to do with cost and everything to do with time and place.
This past year I tried many that cost in excess of $300 a bottle. They were good — some great, in fact — but for various reasons, not necessarily the most memorable.
So, here we go — my most memorable wines of 2012, in no particular order.
Bodegas Castano Hecula Old Vines Monastrell 2009, Yecla ($12, LCBO) — As a wine writer and reviewer, I receive at my door all manner of wine samples from around the world at all price points. I taste each with an open mind (regardless of cost) and rate them how I taste them. In general terms, you get what you pay for. But when I opened up this beauty from Spain’s Yecla region, my jaw dropped. What a gorgeous wine with a bold nose of raspberry, violets, light spice and a touch of blueberry. It’s rich and complex on the palate with bountiful fruit and subtle spices. And then I noticed the price: $12. Now that’s memorable!
Domaine Barmès Buecher Hengst Riesling 2008 ($25, if you can find it in Canada) — After three solid days of tasting the best wines of Burgundy during a press trip to that region, a small group of us broke away from our handlers to take in a highly geeky tasting of biodynamic/organic wines in a small space in the centre of Beaune. The Domaine Barmès Buecher table from Alsace, France, caught my eye and I found myself entranced by this Grand Cru Riesling from a small family producer. The wines were poured by the lovely Sophie Barmès, who spoke passionately about her family’s farm, which has roots back to the 17th century. And it showed in the wines — such personality and flavour — and this one is now forever etched in my memory bank.
Kistler Sonoma Mountain Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2007 ($70, Vintages) — Les Noisetiers is the epitome of the buttery style of Chardonnay. This California producer has always been a favourite of mine, and I will dig deep to buy it whenever I see it. It shows a cacophony of fruit on the nose, from apple, pear and melon to secondary notes of bread dough, minerals, and almonds, all slathered in buttery goodness. It’s simply gorgeous in the mouth with ripe fruits that work so well with fine oak, spice, nuts, and flavours that are layered and sublime. It is made even more memorable with a fresh hunk of wild Pacific Coho salmon grilled on a cedar plank on the BBQ.
Château Beychevelle 1989 and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1989 — I purchased these two top Bordeaux wines from a guy who was just trying to get rid of his cellared wines when an illness meant he had to stop drinking alcohol. It was my lucky day. This is one of the most sought-after vintages in Bordeaux, and these are two of the most collectible wines from that region. I brought both to a dinner party that was catered by Niagara’s most famous chef, Stephen Treadwell. I can still taste these bold red blends with the braised Cumbrae’s beef short ribs with truffle potato purée and farmer David Irish’s late summer vegetables.
Louis Jadot Bâtard-Montrachet 1982 — I was treated to a tasting of the finest wines of Burgundy at a spectacular display of Grand Crus at the historic Château du Clos de Vougeot in Côte de Nuits last March. The castle, built in 1551, is surrounded by the 50.6-hectare Clos de Vougeot vineyard. But the most memorable wine of the evening was the Louis Jadot Bâtard-Montrachet 1982 (yes, 1982!), paired with a regional cheese plate. The Chardonnay oozed minerality and buckwheat honey, lanoline, slate, charred wood, warm apple, and candied citrus notes. A truly hedonistic wine-and-food pairing.
Anthony Road Art Series Riesling 2010 ($24, Finger Lakes, New York) — Sometimes I am in a tasting room in a region I’m not all that familiar with, and when the wine crosses my lips it makes me do a double take. This is one of those wines. The Finger Lakes region is quickly becoming known for exceptionally well-made Rieslings, and this one is from one of the best producers in the region. It is wild-fermented and shows honeysuckle, beeswax, citrus and apple notes on the nose. It’s complex and layered on the palate, with a range of citrus and apple fruit to go with white pepper, and rousing minerality in a structured, almost viscous style through a long finish.
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Estate Blanc de Blanc ‘Carte Blanche’ 2007 ($45, Vintages) — Niagara is just now catching on to the beauty of vintage-dated sparkling wines. This first effort from Henry of Pelham, a blanc de blanc (100% Chardonnay), has been aged for 60 months after partial barrel fermentation.
The tête de cuvée was made to celebrate the winery’s 25th anniversary of winemaking.
Paul Speck said the family wanted to do something special with its sparkling program and decided on a vintage-dated, traditionally made style of wine that would highlight the Chardonnay fruit from its estate Short Hills Vineyard.
“We are looking for a bigger style in this wine,” he said. “We pick them a little riper. We’re really excited about the wine. It was such a long wait.”
In a lot of ways, the first vintage-dated sparkling wine from Henry of Pelham reflects the warmth of the 2007 season, even though the Chardonnay grapes for sparkling wines are picked much earlier in the season to preserve freshness and acidity. The nose shows warm bread, toasty brioche, complex citrus, stone fruit and lemon curd. The mousse is soft and luscious on the palate, with baked apple, lemon-citrus and creamy quince fruits to go with pastry, toasted hazelnuts and enough juicy acidity to carry the flavours through a long finish. This is a fleshy sparkler, to be sure, but it’s what you want from a wine that’s already five years old.
Rick VanSickle is the publisher of www.WinesInNiagara.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickwine