It’s almost over and I’m not complaining. There have been high points in 2019 but there’s nothing like a new beginning. And since the past week has been all about moving house, a whole new beginning awaits, but that’s another story.
This column is about my top 10 wines of the year. Like many other top 10 lists of books, music and films of the year, this column is one perspective, but although the list is mine, it has been informed by tastings almost every day of the year with wine professionals whose palates and minds are aligned to mine – and also challenge me to think outside the square, which is where many of these wines are coming from.
It’s a list, which, interestingly for some readers, does not feature solely New Zealand wines, despite the fact that the majority of wines I taste are from this country. This list reflects the fact that wine is incredibly multi faceted, which is what makes it so stimulating, interesting and ever changing for those of us who have been bitten by the global wine bug. So there are no apologies for sharing a small snapshot of the vast number of great bottles that come my way.
This list is not solely about about my highest scoring wines but is about the wines that have given me the most pleasure – wines that are, in most cases, widely available and affordable to any wine lover.
So here, without further ado, is my top 10 wines of the year.
Wine of the year
Cayetano Palo Cortado
(Despite all of the above, this wine is not readily available.)
Winemakers give the best recommendations and usually put their money where their mouths are, as the talented and visionary Marcel Giesen and his partner, Sherwyn Veldhuisen, did when they imported small quantities of this high quality palo cortado sherry. Palo is the rarest type of sherry and is the hardest to track down in New Zealand.
The name comes from the vertical line, known as a palo, which is made on a sherry cask chosen to be used to make palo cortado. This sherry is hazy amber, full bodied and dry with richly flavoursome aromas of sandalwood (that’s the part that gets me straight away), caramel, dried apricots, peach, apple, spice and a long, fresh finish.
Complex doesn’t even touch the sides. If you can get it, try it.
Best Riesling of 2019
2016 J J Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese $55-ish
Last year I cycled past the vineyard that this wine is made from; this year I enjoyed the wine from one of the great vintages in the Mosel, 2016. And it wasn’t just any old time I enjoyed this wine either – it was at the celebration of Raymond Chan’s life, held at another great winery – Ata Rangi in Martinborough. Raymond is the man who turned on the Riesling light switch for me and this great white was a fitting drink in his honour – made from grapes grown on one of the best (and steepest) pieces of viticultural real estate on Earth.
Most frequently enjoyed wine of the year – organically certified
Quartz Reef Brut NV $29-$34
If I had to name one wine of the year, it would have to be all about Pinot Noir, but not as you usually know it. This sparkling wine from Central Otago is my favourite New Zealand bubbly, not only because it’s insanely delicious but it’s also deliciously affordable and widely available. It’s also an accurate reflection of the region it’s from, Central Otago, where Pinot Noir rules the vineyard area with 78% of the land planted in vines. This bubbly is 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay. It was aged on lees for two years following its second fermentation in bottle. It was then riddled, disgorged and bottled by hand by the small team at the unassuming Quartz Reef winery in Cromwell, Central Otago. It is organically certified and punches significantly above the weight that its modest price suggests.
Most affordable wine of the year
2016 Main Divide Riesling $20.99
If greatness can be determined by enjoyment, availability, affordability, then meet this stunningly concentrated, richly flavoursome Riesling harvested between 24 April and 30 May in 2016 in North Canterbury – a region that is now fourth biggest in New Zealand wine production but remains under the radar in so many ways. The depth of flavour, spritzy character and moderate alcohol of 12% ABV make this medium sweet Riesling a winner – especially with its vibrant zesty punchiness and length.
Most surprising Pinot Noir of the year
2015 Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Marlborough Pinot Noir $29 to $34
Not that I don’t love the great Pinot Noirs from Marlborough – and there are a growing number – but this wine was a total surprise due to its sheer depth of flavour and earthy, spicy aromas, full body, elegance, length. What more could you ask for in Pinot Noir? I have loved so many from Central Otago, North Canterbury and the Wairarapa but this one was a delicious surprise.
Best French wine of the year
2016 Chateauneuf du Pape Beaurenard $87.99
Ask anyone from this family owned southern French winery about organics and they cut straight to the chase – “We don’t mess around with organics – we decided to go all the way and become biodynamic.” And the proof of their exacting work comes through in the outstanding taste of their wines. This classic Chateauneuf du Pape is 70% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Cinsault (and can include smidgeons of other permitted grape varieties, such as Grenache Blanc).
Deep ruby, dry, full bodied with refreshing acidity to carry the bigness of the fruit and provide this wine with its long finish. Stunning.
Best Italian wine of the year
2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Muncagota $92.99
This is a 100% wine in every way; it’s 100% Nebbiolo, in keeping with the exacting rules of the small, hilly Barbaresco appellation (DOCG) in Piemonte in north west Italy and it was 100% satisfying. Pale in colour, dry, full bodied and powerful in flavour – it rivals the Palo Cortado in this line up for best overall wine of the year. It was a stunning, velvety, silky, spicy, red fruit, savoury, earthy expression of one of my favourite grapes.
Best alternative fizz of the year
Villa Sandi Superiore di Cartizze NV DOCG $62.99
This wine is a step up. Light on body, big in flavour. Refreshing and zesty with a long finish and surprising purity of lemon-y zing about it. It’s a big wine from a big winery; Villa Sandi is an old established winery situated in the heart of Prosecco country in north east Italy and while the majority of its production is light bodied fizz. This sparkling Italian shows Prosecco in a new light.
Best Aussie wine of the year
2012 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay $30.99
This bubbly was made from grapes grown on one of the coolest vineyards in Victoria, 800 metres above sea level in the upper King Valley in northern Victoria, Australia. It’s ablend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and was aged on tirage for six years following its second fermentation in bottle. Toasty, rich, full bodied and super fresh. No wonder it’s so damned tasty.
Best Sauvignon of the year
2016 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon $33
We all have our comfort slippers but mine are a little edgy in taste, as is this full bodied, bone dry, zesty and creamy expression of Bordeaux’ classic white grapes – Sauvignon and Semillon. Only in this wine, the grapes come from the Waipara Valley in the heart of North Canterbury. If you’re looking for a surprise dry white with creamy flavours, a full body and green fruit aromas, here it is.
PS: I have also loved Champagne Lallier Rosé (absolutely stunning), 2016 Mount Edward Pinot Noir, 2007 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, 2014 Te Kairanga John Martin Pinot Noir, 2016 Craggy Range Te Muna Pinot Noir, 2012 Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir, 2017 Dog Point Chardonnay, 2016 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir and many, many more wines. Just in case you noticed a few that didn’t seem to make the incredibly limited cut.
Next year it will be a top 100 wines of 2020 from yours truly.
In the meantime, have a great and happy New Year. Bring on 2020.
All prices are in New Zealand dollars and may vary.