I recently read the view of an esteemed wine editor that they are not keen on listing their “wines of the year” because they like to enjoy what is good about every wine they drink. I can agree with that sentiment, but at the same time it’s nice to sort of sum up the year’s drinking highs. It feels a nice way to begin 2018, to look back at 2017, which was certainly a great wine year for me, if not so great in some other respects.
Every year visitors to Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages site are invited to participate in listing their wines of the year, which Tom publishes, and my list is loosely based around what I contributed there, using the same categories but with a little more freedom. Of course, it’s almost impossible to come up with a definitive list. For a start, my memory is far from perfect, and in at least one category the wine I chose could well have been superceded between Christmas (when I submitted my list) and the end of the year.
WINES OF THE YEAR 2017
Red Wine: a very difficult category to choose one wine for. Austria figured with quite a few possibilities, as did Catalonia and Piemonte. A wonderful 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Paje, Produttori Barbaresco taken by a friend to dinner at Brunswick House made a strong impression, greater than many bigger names, and this helps synthesise the reasons for selecting any particular wine. We are not necessarily looking for greatness. Personality comes into it, for me, and sometimes (as with my white choice), so does finally getting to taste a wine after a long time searching.
So the winner here in the “red” category is Meinklang Graupert Zweigelt 2013, Burgenland. This marvelous producer makes so many great wines it’s even difficult to choose among them, let alone all the reds I drank last year, but this “wild vine” red from the southern end of the Neusiedlersee in Eastern Austria deserves the accolade. Concentrated black fruits from tiny berries on tangled, unrestrained, vines, highly perfumed and concentrated, with a good lick of slightly abrasive acidity and mouthfeel. Personality! That’s what puts it here.
White Wine: This choice was, by contrast, less difficult. Three white wines kind of stood out for me in 2017. The one which misses out, just, was the most astonishing wine I tasted at the Real Wine Fair last May, and then managed to drink a couple of glasses of at a Solent Cellar event in the summer (when I was also able to buy some for myself). That is COS Zibibbo in Pithos 2014, which was only bottled in magnums. I also cannot fail to mention a rather wonderful Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Blanco 1973.
But the winner is a wine I’ve been wanting to try for a couple of years and which had thus far eluded me until a friend brought one to a spectacular lunch at The Draper’s Arms in Barnsbury just one month ago. Domaine des Miroirs Chardonnay Mizuiro 2013, “Les Saugettes” is grown on Limestone and Marl near Grusse, in the southern part of the Jura Region. Kenjiro and Mayumi Kagami are, as I said in the article about that lunch, almost impossible to visit and their wines are tantalisingly difficult to track down. This one was ever so slightly cloudy, all saline citrus, which doesn’t suggest complexity. And yet it has such a unique personality. A very personal choice, perhaps, but I think it is an astoundingingly good wine if you are open to it. Arigato gozaimasu!
Budget Red: The winner here established itself early and every subsequent bottle just delivered. A simple wine, but just fantastic in that simplicity. Claus Preisinger Puszta Libre 2015 is labelled as a mere Austrian Rotwein, and is a blend of Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and St-Laurent, which Claus suggests serving chilled. Simple raspberry and cherry fruit with a touch of spice, and just 12% abv. It goes down a treat.
Already this year I’ve drunk a similarly beguiling simple wine, Martha Stoumen’s Post Flirtation Napa red blend. Whether that wins out by the end of 2018, who knows, but this kind of gluggable juice never fails to thrill.
Budget White: This wine stands up on its own, but I won’t deny there is another reason I chose it. The world of wine does have its dark corners, but generally wine people are incredibly supportive of each other. When the De Moors of Chablis suffered terribly from the appalling conditions of the 2016 growing season, friends in the South of France let them have some grapes with which to make at least something. The resulting wine, Le Vendangeur Masque “Melting Potes” 2016 is the first cuvée (of three, I think) which expresses their thanks.
Blended from Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Viognier, not varieties which I suppose Alice was all too familiar with, this is just lovely. “Budget” is stretching it a little, but it is a genuine tribute to their potes. And writing this has reminded me I still have one left!
Rosé: I’m quite partial to wines of pinkish hue, I must admit. Olivier Horiot Rosé des Riceys “En Valingrain” 2006 came close to this slot, but despite its name I wonder whether “Riceys” is really a rosé, rather than a pale red? But for the second year running I’m giving this accolade to Clos Cibonne Tibouren 2014 , a “Cru Classé” of the Côtes de Provence. I think it helps that this is from magnum but who says pink wine cannot age? Well, obviously no one who knows Château Simone, Musar, and this (okay, and Rosé des Riceys, which absolutely needs to age). It has all the freshness of a pink plus complexity and (perhaps more so) character, which comes from this unusual and rare variety.
Sparkling Wine: The toughest choice lay here. Somehow I have to fit in Champagne, other sparkling wines and the innumerable pét-nats I could have listed. After considering a very fine Piper Rare 2002, and from the same vintage, a stunning (if still not fully mature) Pierre Peters “Les Chetillons” 2002, I awarded the gong to a unique sparkler, Clos Lentiscus Sumoll Ferèstec Reserva Familia 2010, Bodega Can Ramon from Catalonia.
I love Sumoll, both red and white. This rare wine usually manages to fill between 300 and a touch over 700 bottles, depending on vintage. This superb 2010 was disgorged in 2016, and local honey is used in the dosage. Pale bronze, quite rich and mature, we might be in the territory of Selosse or Prévost. Not your simple Cava (indeed, it’s not a Cava at all), it is richly complex, but with a direct, if elegant, acidity.
In the days before New Year, Clos Lentiscus was, if I’m being objective, surpassed by Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1996. This is nicely mature and drinking wonderfully well right now. I won’t try to describe this legendary vintage for “Winston”. When I said on social media that this was my best wine of the holidays, someone replied “er, ever”, which did pretty well sum it up. Not my best wine ever, not quite, but they had the right idea. It was all the more appreciated, as it was after an impromptu visit to very good friends following a bracing dog walk when the cork was popped.
I’ve not even mentioned any pétillant naturel wines, and I drank dozens in 2017, a style I find both attractive and at the same time so perfect once it’s warm enough to venture outdoors. I can’t list them all, but one I always adore is Domaine des Bodines Red Bulles. Arbois Ploussard which tastes to me of concentrated pomegranate, redcurrant and raspberry, all enveloped in a gentle fizz and froth. I managed a whole two bottles of this in 2017 (it’s not easy to procure, even were I not obsessed with drinking widely). I do try to have some at home if at all possible.
Sweet Wine: We are moving decidedly upmarket here. We went to a wedding in Tokyo in the summer and the bride’s father had set aside a bottle from his daughter’s birth year specifically to open on this occasion. It was Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1988 served from a 5 litre format (followed by a number of ordinary bottles, just in case anyone hadn’t managed to get a third or fourth glass). Nothing else came close. I’ve never actually got drunk on Yquem before (though the beer, Champagne, gin and red Bordeaux throughout the dinner helped) and I was glad we were only staying a mere four very humid minutes’ walk from the wedding venue. I wasn’t so drunk as to be unable to remember it, and the experience will linger for many years.
Fortified Wine: I don’t drink masses of Palo Cortado, though it’s a Sherry style I’m coming to appreciate more and more as I get older. It explains why I didn’t buy this wine on release, but that has been rectified to a degree – as I type I’m waiting for a single bottle to be delivered this afternoon.
Equipo Navazos Palo Cortado Bota 75 is possibly the most elegant Palo Cortado I’ve ever drunk. It was sourced from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín in Sanlúcar, and in fact is the same liquid that went into the first bottling of the Equipo Navazos table wine, Florpower. It is smooth in the middle and prettily floral on the finish. It lacks that incredible intensity you often get with a EN Palo Cortado, yet makes up for it with such finesse. Mind blowing…to me, at least.
On the Wine Pages WOTY entry you get the chance to list a “Thing” (wine related or not). I chose Champagne by Peter Liem, which I have already written about (30 November 2017). It was my wine book of the year, not least for its concentration on terroir wines, and for the unrivalled Larmat maps of the region (reproduced separately in a drawer, for the first time since their original and very limited release in 1944). Yet there were a couple more wine-related things which I’d like to mention, both vineyard visits.
After a few years of very much wanting to go, I managed a visit to Emilie Porteret and her Domaine des Bodines on the edge of Arbois in late October. It was in fact just days after wonderful visits to Jean-Pierre Rietsch in Mittelbergheim and to Fritz Becker Junior in Schweigen, and indeed it preceded a visit to my favourite Champagne producer, Bérêche, at Craon de Ludes, just three days later. I’ve been drinking Domaine des Bodines for several years and they have crept into my absolute top six Jura addresses. To actually visit and to feel the wonderful energy going into the vineyard and the wines here was a very special experience.
In 2017 I also visited my first ever Japanese vineyard, Domaine Sogga, outside Obuse in the Nagano Region (on Japan’s main island, Honshu). It doesn’t count as the most obscure vineyard/winery I’ve ever visited (that would go to what at the time was Nepal’s only real wine producer, Pataleban Vineyard, west of Kathmandu). But Domaine Sogga, which grows mainly vinifera varieties, from Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and Albariño to Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, makes surprisingly good wines. In fact I was so taken with some of these wines (within context) that I was quite relieved and gratified, on returning to the UK, to discover quite how in such high esteem their winemaker (Sogga fils) is held by those experts here who know Japanese wine. I do plan to return.
Individually protected bunches at Obuse (Nagano, Japan); Emilie Porteret in her tiny barrel cellar in Arbois; and Peter Liem’s Champagne masterpiece
In a world where more and more wines continue to astonish me with their personalities, all of the above provided inspirational moments, reminding me why I’m so passionate about wine, and why I want to continue to share that passion. I hope I can continue to do just that through 2018 and beyond. Happy New Year!