July 19, 2006
10 Best Wines of the Year, So Far

In the Dunne on Wine column in the Taste section of today's Sacramento Bee, I list my "10 best bargain wines of the year, so far." This exercise reminded me that I need to update my list of the "10 best wines of the year, so far," originally posted here May 26. Here's the latest version, with two new additions, both from Australia:

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery 2003 Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel ($25): .Zinfandels out of the Sierra foothills typically are intensely ripe, chewy and warm, and while this interpretation doesn’t back down from that kind of muscularity it is packaged with unusual balance and even elegance for the region.

Clos du Val 2000 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($95): A classic Napa Valley take on cabernet sauvignon – extravagant with sweet cherry fruit, eucalyptus, cocoa, cedar and mint, with tannins that while obvious nonetheless don't erect a barrier to enjoying the wine today, though it should age handsomely for many years to come.

Forefathers Wine 2004 McLaren Valey Shiraz ($23): By day, globetrotting Nick Goldschmidt is executive winemaker for Beam Wine Estates. The rest of the time he oversees his personal labels, Goldschmidt Vineyards and Forefathers Wine. For Forefathers, he seeks out choice vineyards in appellations recognized for doing especially well by specific varietals, such as sauvignon blanc in New Zealand's Marlborough district. The fruit for his shiraz comes from a 15-acre vineyard in South Australia's McLaren Vale. It could be the most aromatic wine I'll smell all year, shot through with tantalizing hints of blueberries, eucalyptus, licorice, cedar and oak. On the palate, it's all silk, with subdued tannins and breezy acidity. This is one lush yet lively shiraz, drinkable now but with the structure and balance to age confidently for several more years.

Taltarni Vineyards Lalla Gully 2005 Tasmania Riesling ($20): More fine wines are showing up in bottles with screwcaps, and this is one of the finer examples, a riesling so juicy with peach flavor you suspect some of the wine may dribble down your chin as you sip it. It's just a little sweet, but with the kind of gripping acidity that masks much of the sugar. The Lalla Gully vineyard is in the Pipers River region of northeast Tasmania. Not many wines arrive here from there, but this is one worth seeking.

Merry Edwards 2003 Sonoma Coast Meredith Estate Pinot Noir ($48): I had a hunch this wine would be special, so I opened it for dinner on Valentine’s Day, and it delivered with an amplitude rare for California, even though the state is producing more and more pinot noirs of complexity and resonance. This one had a kind of papal richness about it – authority, tradition, grandeur – starting with alluring berry, cherry and deli-case aromas, swaggering with assurance in its bloodline, finishing with flavors that seemed as if they would last all year, and so far they have, at least in memory.

Mumm Napa 2001 Blanc de Blancs ($25): Sparkling wines rarely win the sweepstakes award at a major wine judging. They may be perfectly fine wines, but they tend to be too light against what generally is pretty heavy competition. At the final round of the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition in San Bernardino this spring, however, the Mumm Napa 2001 Blanc de Blancs, which has the classic dry fruitiness and trademark toastiness of Champagne, won the top honor. An unusual blend of two-thirds chardonnay and one-third pinot gris, the wine offers a stony foundation topped with feathery bubbles, crisp acidity and refreshing fruit.

Philip Shaw Wines No. 89 2004 Orange Shiraz Viognier ($45): Legendary Australian winemaker Philip Shaw finally is starting to show up in the American market with his own label. His lineup includes this exceptionally rich, juicy and complex interpretation of Australia’s flagship varietal. Only one percent of the wine is viognier, added to help tone down shiraz’s striking white-pepper spiciness when the grape is grown in a cool area like Orange.

Rancho Zabaco 2003 Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Toreador Zinfandel ($50): OK, so it has a whopping 15.9 percent alcohol, but it also has the fruit, oak and body to balance it all out, showing that even high-alcohol table wines can be elegant. It’s a monster, all right, but lovable for its ripe and spicy raspberry and blackberry flavors, punctuated with licorice and rhubarb. Just 174 cases were made.

Robert Pecota Winery 2005 Napa Valley L’Artiste Sauvignon Blanc ($15): I taste a lot of sauvignon blanc, and am especially keen on examples of the varietal from New Zealand. This sauvignon blanc, however, shows that California can produce a style that doesn’t just mimic the grapefruit and lime zestiness of the New Zealanders. The Pecota is equally as aromatic, vivacious and refreshing, but it has more structure and sinew, and a fruitiness that says peaches more than citrus.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 2002 Napa Valley Estate Caberent Sauvignon ($50): Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is muscular; that’s a given. Rarely is that power presented as gracefully as it is here, however. Think the weather is too warm for a hefty red? Not when it is as lithe and lively as this one, with its lip-smacking flavor of ripe and dewy Bing cherries and blackberries, with hints of chocolate and eucalyptus.

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