Now that 2016 has come to a close, some wines had a lasting impression and are truly stellar. Between wine tastings, wineries visited, and countries traveled over the last year, here is a list of exceptional wines and wineries I discovered throughout this past year. Furthermore, there is no particular order; the wines chosen are only those that I wrote about during this past year. These are all wines that wowed me during the past year.
Here are the wines that stood out as very memorable for 2016:
Without a doubt, the wine that ended 2016 was spectacular and merits no category as it was most noteworthy. My family wanted to taste an oldie but goodie, and whenever we venture into the 1980s or 1990s, we always include a backup wine. In this case, oldies were just that.
Moving on, it was the backup wine that proved to be extraordinary. It was the 2012 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is made up of 79% Cabernet, 18% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was very together and ready to drink. It was smooth and balanced with cherry aromas you could sense at a distance. The flavors were cherry with hints of mocha. All I could think while sampling this wine was “What a wine to end the year with.”
Masottina Le Rive Di Ogliano Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry delivers not only an excellent value but also a tasty almost sweet and savory wine to toast any event. It is easy drinking with fresh and youthful aromas and flavors of almond and honey.
Cellardoor Winery 2012 Vendange is an unusual blend of hybrids, Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and Seyval. Created in the Methode Champenoise, the wine is moderately complex with intense flavors of berries, especially Raspberry. The Marquette grape is one of the few red hybrids with tannin, and this sparkling wine has some underlying tannin that enhances the flavors. This sparkling wine is a very crisp, dry, and fruity sparkling Rosé.
Claiborne and Churchill 2015 Gewurztraminer is a dry wine with lots of florals on the nose. It is fresh with flavors of white flower, orange blossom, peach, and citrus, especially Tangelo and orange. There are subtle spices on the finish, making this a very light yet drinkable Gewurztraminer. Its subtleties bring forth a very elegant wine for the varietal.
Not everyone can get their hands on Idaho wines but if you can Huston 2013 Riesling is an excellent example of the quality of wine produced in Idaho. This well-balanced, fresh wine delivers flavors of apricot and citrus yet has the texture of Chardonnay.
Arrow and Branch 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is quite sensational. With it tropical flavors combining pineapple and citrus in a very Bordeaux styled wine. The aromas are herbaceous with white flowers. There is a nice spice, perhaps ginger on the finish. This wine is very well balanced and partially aged in new and used French Oak.
Flying Cloud is the second label of Stephen Ross. It is their more affordable line of wine. Named after a small airport in Minnesota, which is where Stephen Ross grew up, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc has aromas of grass and peach with flavors of tropical fruit and stone fruit. I found a bright, fresh wine that exudes a delicate balance and perfect minerality. There are hints of grass but not overpowering as often seen in Sauvignon Blancs. The wine is clean, crisp, and very refreshing.
Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc has aromas of fresh banana and some notes of white flower. Although there are some citrus flavors, there I also found tropical flavors of pineapple and banana along with pear and stone fruit. There are some marvelous sweet flavors not typically associated with Sauvignon Blanc, which sets this wine apart from what is typical of the varietal and makes this an exceptional wine.
Riverbench 2015 Riesling is an off-dry wine with floral and peach aromas. The flavors include white flower, white peaches, and white nectarines.
A favorite is the Domaine Paul Mas Côte Mas Sud de France Rosé Aurore 2015. A blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah this wine from the Languedoc region of southern France is perfect to cap off the summer. Enticing with its pale salmon pink color and the bright, vibrant label that beckons you with the beauty of the South of France and its Mediterranean influences. A traditional Mediterranean blend, on the nose there are florals especially rose. The wine displays red fruit, peach and is bright, refreshing, and a great summer wine.
Another very colorful Rosé, Castello di Amorosa 2015 Gioia Rosato di Sangiovese is a very refreshing and fruity Rosé and definitely a summer wine. The color is that of raspberries with flavors of berries, raspberries, and Maraschino cherry. You might call this a bolder Rosé and is absolutely one not to miss.
Artesana Rosé of Tannat from the Calelones region of Uruguay is bright, fresh, and easy drinking with the feminine touch.
A wine that truly wowed me was Don Melchor 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Vineyard. The wine speaks for itself with aromas of currants, black cherry, vanilla, and cardamom. The flavors are plum, blackberry, vanilla, and stewed fruit. The wine is bright and smoothly balanced. It is earthy exuding its dark fruits yet rich and velvety in texture. This Cabernet Sauvignon is smoothly balanced, well-integrated, and consistent.
Ehlers Estate’s 2013 1886 is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon combined with small percentages of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. I found a full-bodied fruit-forward wine. Most impressive is the wine’s balance. Its bright cherry flavors give way to subtle spicy nuances. This wine is divine and is not only drinkable today but also has marvelous aging potential.
There are not many Cabernet Francs that knock one’s socks off, but the Ehlers Estate Cab Franc is one of those that ranks up there with the likes of Crocker & Starr as well as Lang & Reed. The 2013 is 100% Cabernet Franc and delivers a full-body wine that is rich and velvety with aromas of currants, flavors of cherry and at the same time maintaining earthy qualities that are inherent in this varietal.
The 2014 Mercer Malbec consists of 88% Malbec and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. The addition of Cabernet softens the wine. One finds the wine has a vicious and powerful quality yet is rich and velvety. Flavors are predominately plum with hints of mocha and vanilla. While the wine ferments in an oak tank, the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon ages separately in new and used French oak barrels for 18 months.
By far the best value of the year was the incredibly delicious red wine called Feudo Zirtari from Sicily. This wine is a combination of Nero d’Avola and Syrah. You can really sense a European elegance of the Syrah. The wine exemplifies the meeting of two worlds, the traditional old world, and the innovative new world. One immediately senses the cherry red fruit aromas, and the wine delivers the sweetness of cherry on the palate. I found the wine bright and balanced with hints of licorice on the finish. This wine is a winner at $14.
The Rombauer Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 showcases the best lots from Stags Leap, Calistoga, Atlas Peak, St. Helena and Howell Mountain AVAs. The wine is aged 18 months in new French Oak. The wine has aromas of mocha, dark fruit, tobacco, dried herbs, and vanilla. The flavors of this well-balanced and bright wine are predominately plum with some blackberry and currant. As a friend described, “it is plum delicious.”
Arcudi Wine’s first release is the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Sears Vineyard Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. The Black Sears Vineyard is the highest on Howell Mountain. The Arcudi Cabernet is rich and velvety yet earthy with a complex textural quality. The aromas are licorice and blackberry pie. The flavors are stewed fruit, plums, and blackberries. On the finish, one finds some hints of anise. The wine has fine tannins, not overly oaked, and is nicely balanced. Tony describes his wine as having “the ripeness of California and the structure of French wine.
A big full-bodied red wine Castello di Amorosa’s 2012 La Castellana Super Tuscan Blend is superb. Created like the Italian Bordeaux Sangiovese blends, this wine utilizes Cabernet Sauvignon primarily with Sangiovese and Merlot. This wine is also known as “Lady of the Castle.” The wine has a velvety texture with aromas of cherry, tobacco, mocha, and a hint of tomatoes. Find a rich fruit-forward California styled wine that exudes the flavors of cherries.
Castello di Amorosa 2012 Sangiovese is a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5 % Merlot. One will find flavors of cedar, balsamic, violets, dark cherry and white pepper. This well-balanced wine is very European in style. Kudos to the winemakers for creating a Sangiovese that is not typical of California.
From the Colli Euganei Region of Italy comes the Le Volpi Rosso, a well-balanced, smooth blend of mostly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with its nice spices and bright cherry flavors. This wine is a real winner.
Another Colli Euganei winery is Vignalta. The 2011 Gemola is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. A well-integrated wine and the flagship of Vignalta’s portfolio and displays flavors of Cherry and white pepper.
A favorite for barbeques is the 2011 Bodegas Emilio Moro Malleolus, a wine from the Ribera Del Duero region of Spain. This outstanding wine reflects the traditions of this 3rd generation winery. Malleolus means a small vineyard that lay in the Pesquera de Duero. This Tempranillo is superb with it a viscous, rich, velvety texture, aromas of mocha, plum and black fruit and flavors of plum and stewed fruit.
A dessert wine from Castello Della Sala was a real stand out. Muffato Della Sala is what I would call a lively and bright dessert wine. It is not as heavy as some of the Passitos, making this wine quite appealing. The wine is mostly botrytized Sauvignon Blanc combined with Grechetto, Traminer, and Riesling. One immediately senses the floral aromas from the Riesling. The flavors are honey and orange. My immediate impression after tasting the Muffato was, “This wine is alive.” It truly has a unique expression.
Four Brix tribute to port is Porteau. Made from 100% Grenache Banyuls, the 2012 Porteau is lighter in style to port. It is a lighter wine that exudes flavors of blueberries. A delightful dessert wine that is not too sweet and will just hit the spot to end any meal.
The Vignalta 2013 Alpiane is another excellent example of Passito with its apricot flavors that are not too sweet.
Many more wines tickled my fancy, but these are just a few that made a very lasting impression. I am looking forward to exploring new wines, wineries and visiting new places in 2017. Discovering the new gems of the wine industry is an exhilarating and challenging way to start off the year.
Happy New Year!