My Top 10 “Top 10 Wines of 2011” Lists of 2011: A List 12/22/11
December is, perhaps more than any other, a month of reflection – and I’m not just saying this because it rhymes with the month that comes before it. As 2011 draws to a close, people everywhere have begun to make their resolutions for 2012, but looking forward is only half of the battle. Eager though we may be to put 2011 behind us, it seems that everybody has at least a thought or two to spare in recollection of the waning year as well – or at least, everybody with a wine blog (I don’t talk to any other people).
Since the dawn of time, man has loved to make lists. They help to organize and simplify the vast, often chaotic world in which we live, reminding reader and writer alike of what’s really important and what, by contrast, sucks. Of course, the list has evolved perhaps as much as humankind itself since that fateful day on which some insightful Neanderthal first thought to sit down and delineate his Top 10 Cave Wall Etchings and Top 5 Places Not to Get Eaten By a Saber-Toothed Tiger.
If you read other wine blogs (or anything with periodic updates, really), you’ve probably noticed that more or less all of them seem to be posting their top picks of the year around now. There are a few different ways to go about it, but when finally faced with the predicament of how best to assemble my own year-end list, I realized I had no original ideas at all. So instead I just fell back on one of my favorite adages, coined by the inimitable Charlie Kaufman: “When in doubt, go meta!”
Here’s what I did: instead of creating a list of wines like everybody else, I’ve compiled a list of lists, from everybody else! And now, dear readers, in no particular order, I proudly present my top 10 “Top 10 Wines of 2011” lists of 2011. There were plenty to choose from, but these 10 stand above the rest, and will almost certainly occupy prominent places in list history (or “listory” for you purists).
Why these lists over innumerable others? Well I’m getting to that; hang on.
Why I Like It– It should come as no surprise that many of my favorite lists were compiled by individuals on my blogroll. Joe Roberts is no exception, having chosen to highlight his top 10 most interesting wines of 2011 as opposed to simply the highest scorers. More importantly, he has a different rationale for each of his picks, whether divergence from regional stereotypes, exceptional quality-price ratio, or (my personal favorite) being made from unusual grapes.
The Wine I Want Most – Though it may seem like a cop-out, my most-desired wine from 1WineDude’s list is his #1: the 2008 De Martino “Limávida” Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines, for $40. A Malbec-dominant blend, this wine comes from Chile, which makes it pretty unusual already. Even at the massive Taste Chile event this summer, I only tasted one Malbec – but even the few sips I had were enough to convince me I needed to find more. And with this one being described as “a truly stunning representation of place – an actual, honest-to-goodness achievement of terroir – at a fraction of the cost of what that kind of wine will normally run you,” I think I’ve found my target.
Why I Like It – This list, the result of an interview with the cellar master of BevMo, was featured on the Internet iteration of the magazine Drink Me. It’s concise but informative, spanning a nice range of grapes with none of them repeated. Price information would have been a nice addition here, but that’s nothing Google can’t take care of for us, right?
The Wine I Want Most – I don’t drink too much sparkling wine, I’ve resolved to amend that in 2012. The 2000 Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine Carneros Cuvee is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, staying true to the permitted grapes of Champagne despite the freedom not to do so. It’s also from a vintage, which in sparkling wine is usually a pretty good indicator of quality. At $45 (Thanks Google!), it isn’t cheap by any means, but still quite a bit more affordable than vintage Champagne would run you, so I may just have to bite the bullet here. Then wash it down with a vintage Champagne-approximant.
Why I Like It – Tom Wark can be one of the more controversial wine bloggers out there (just recently he posted a delightfully incendiary piece explaining why wine is not art, with which I’m still uncertain whether I agree or not), but he sure has devised a top 10 list worth mentioning. The best feature of Wark’s list is that rather than pinpointing his favorite individual bottles, he takes a step back and considers the year from a broader perspective, resulting in a list of styles rather than wines. By doing this he’s greatly increased the odds that readers will be able to find an example of what he’s talking about – a move which I especially appreciate, being stranded in the veritable vinic desert of Pennsylvania.
The Wine I Want Most – (Good) Vermouth. Having tested the waters of Madeira for the first time not even a month ago, my voyage through the fortified family would have no doubt led me to its next member eventually. But after finding Vermouth at the #3 slot, I may have to move my date with destiny up a bit. Vermouth is probably best known as a mixing component in Manhattans and Martinis, but Wark assures us that “Over ice the better, artisan vermouths are simply beautiful drinks,” and frankly that’s enough of an endorsement for me. Not that I usually require very much of one…
Why I Like It – Hailing from another blog I’m unfamiliar with, I came across this list in the course of my desultory stumblings through the Internet. What makes this list stand out isn’t the way it’s split into separate lists of 10 for reds and whites, but rather the emphasis placed on a wine’s availability in determining its worthiness for inclusion. Also, by virtue of the blog’s theme, all of these wines are affordable to mortals like you and me, another definite plus.
The Wine I Want Most – Far be it from me to zero in on a white, but the Crios De Susana Balbo Torrontes 2010 sounds like an example of Torrontes, the signature white grape of Argentina, that was made in the style I prefer: chock full of florality. The icing on the cake? I think I can probably find this one, penned into Pennsylvania though I am.
Why I Like It – I link to a lot of Richard Auffrey’s articles here; he’s been a trusted source for Champagne and sake info in particular. What makes his list noteworthy is that it isn’t a Top 10 so much as a Top 30, split into three lists based on price: under $15, $15-50, and over $50. This just strikes me as the most logical way to acknowledge all of one’s favorite wines while still being considerate of those readers who won’t be touching $50+ wine anytime soon and might feel cheated if the best wines of the year were all out of reach.
The Wine I Want Most – On the $15-50 list is a certain Muscadet, admittedly more expensive than any I’ve encountered: the L D’or de Luneau-Papin ‘Cuvee Medaillee’ Muscadet Sevre et Maine. The reason? It’s from 1999, which would actually make it older than any white I’ve tried to date. But the allure of this Muscadet comes not merely from the fact that it’s an old wine, but the concurrent realization that this must be an altogether different expression of the Melon grape than the crisp, clean, youthful style I know and love; I’ve never seen a Muscadet for sale over three years old. And still $25? You can bet I’d be all over this one, if I ever found it. Fingers crossed.
Why I Like It – I don’t really know anything about this blog or blogger, but I recognize a good list when I see one. The strongest point is how transparent he is with his criteria for inclusion: a three-point heuristic that balances quality and value with his own personal preference (the strongest factor), for a nice blend of objective and subjective rationale in his decision-making – something I strive for on my own blog (though not with much consistency).
The Wine I Want Most – It’s no secret that I have a thing for Chilean wine, and Carmenere in particular. The 2007 Montes Purple Angel Carmenere has been on my radar for some time, and to see it top a list doesn’t come so much as a surprise as a call to action. I’m running out of excuses for not having tried this one yet (well, aside from the obvious “it costs $55” thing).
Why I Like It – Okay, not all of these lists are from blogs. But as with all things in life, especially wine, it’s important to keep an open mind to new ideas, lest they pass you by and leave you rotting away in ignorance like some poorly educated zombie.
This list also admittedly features 100 entries rather than 10, but it’s prefaced by an introduction that’s just so damn thoughtful that it would have pained me to exclude it from my considerations – I’m a real sucker for musings on the nature of greatness. Furthermore, the 100 wines are broken down by category (Sparkling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rhone-style Reds, etc.) for easy digestibility, with brief but substantial descriptions of each selection.
The Wine I Want Most – California may be the birthplace of the vast majority of US wines I see for sale – to the point that it’s kind of trite, honestly – but the 2009 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly El Dorado County Gamay Noir has me incorrigibly intrigued, namely because it’s a Gamay that isn’t from the Beaujolais region of France (or hell, any region of France): a beast I’ve yet to encounter. “Pleasantly rooty and huckleberry-powered,” and under $20, I’ll really be keeping my eyes out for this one.
Why I Like It – Taking a different approach to the list is the Washington Times, which chose to highlight the top ten wine trends of 2011 rather than specific bottles, regions and/or styles. A somewhat nostalgic trip down recent memory lane, the list concurrently portends some things to come in 2012, because most of these trends have been gaining momentum.
The Wine I Want Most – This doesn’t really apply here, but my favorites of the ten presented trends are #2 and #4: “Wine Delivered to Your Door” and “Think and Drink Local.” As a quasi-vocal advocate of PA wine, and a slightly more vocal detractor of PA wine laws, I find these two trends perfectly epitomize the plight of the present-day Pennsylvanian. The liquor control board has a monopoly on all wine sold in-state, giving them ample opportunity to promote local wines. And yet, they don’t.
Why I Like It – There’s something refreshing about Wine.com’s approach to ranking the top wines of the year, and I think it’s the complete and total absence of authorial input. Another list of 100 rather than 10 (which I’m just ignoring, if you haven’t realized yet), this simply features the best-selling wines of 2011. As Wine.com is the Internet’s largest wine retailer, this list will tell you what the people, by and large, are drinking; so if you’re like me, you’ll know exactly what to avoid in order to make yourself appear more sophisticated.
The Wine I Want Most – Bearing the notable distinction of being the only wine here that I actually have (though I’ve yet to open it), the
La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial 2001 convinced me to buy it for two reasons. It’s ten years old, which already makes it older than what I usually have access to; but more importantly, the drinking window proposed by the Wine Advocate doesn’t even begin for another five years, and extends through 2036. I trust this will be well worth the $30 it cost me, provided it survives the looming Zombie Apocalypse of 2022 without – well, I’ve said too much already.
Why I Like It – In deciding what should occupy the last place on my list list, there were two major contenders: Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, two of the industry’s leading wine publications, both of which released year-end top 100 lists. Enthusiast won out in the end because they published three such lists, one with every selection clocking in at $15 or less, one focusing on long-term ageability, and another overall list based on a mixture of factors.
The Wine I Want Most – Okay, I admit it, I chose something from the expensive list. But how could I possibly focus on anything at all after noticing the Le Macchiole 2007 Paleo Cabernet Franc, a $125 (yeah, ouch) selection from Italy crafted from one of my all-time favorite grapes? Despite my enthusiasm for varietal Cabernet Franc and Italian wine in general, I’ve only seen one Italian Cab Franc to date (which I reviewed here). As enjoyable as that one was, somehow I think this one, described as “a drop dead gorgeous wine with amazing intensity and purity of aromas,” would please me even more. Of course, being a $125 wine, this one’s a bit beyond my reach for now.
So there you have it: my top 10 “Top 10 Wines of 2011” lists of 2011 list. May it serve you well.
Oh, and…I’d like to apologize for that lie I told earlier. These were in alphabetical order, and I knew it all along.