T O P _ T E N

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T E N _ F A V O R I T E S _

Okay, it's a bit parochial, but I'm a compulsive listmaker, so here's another list for all you listophiles.

I have compiled a list of my DREAM LINEUP, chosen solely from among the wines I've taken notes on in the past couple years. What I've tried to do is pick a batch of ten that would represent a balanced evening of wines that span the spectrum from light, white and elegant to dark, inky and rich, dry to sweet, young to old, and so on.

Truthfully, it was quite difficult to narrow it down to ten, when I've been fortunate enough to have the chance to sample so many great wines. Fifteen would have been easier, twenty simpler still. Going from twelve down to ten was like telling two of the kids they wouldn't be going to DisneyWorld with the rest of us. It's all just a silly exercise, as any wine will only show as well as the food you have it with and the circumstances surrounding the individual bottle ("There are no great wines, only great bottles" is the old geek axiom), so it's fairly meaningless, but then again, what really has meaning, anyway?

To get the ball rolling I'd skip the usual bubbly and start with a demisec apertif, a Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demisec 1952 (Huet-A-Thon): Medium gold color, looks about ten years old. I take a sniff, and my nose-o-meter goes right off the scale. Not to use hyperbole, but this is the best smelling liquid in the history of the universe. Here's only a partial listing of the individual aroma components that one could discern with careful attention:

1) Beeswax, the kind in the comb;
2) Earl Grey tea;
3) Almonds (both raw and roasted);
4) Chalk;
5) Orange rind (navel and mandarin);
6) Marzipan;
7) Lemon;

and many more. But really, this one is much more than the sum of its parts. The aromas mingle and dance in the glass, changing hues and tones like a kaleidescope, shifting one way, then another, first almond dominating, then orange rind, then chalkiness, all interweaving and singing together like the final septet from Marriage of Figaro. The wine is very lightly but discernably sweet, has festive acidity, is balanced like a Wallenda (one of the non-falling ones), layered like a cliff in the Grand Canyon, and flows into a long, humming Earl Grey and mandarin-orange finish. Simply exquisite, still startlingly youthful and vibrant after almost fifty years, really and truly a marvel. (9/17/00)

It's hard to beat Huet for complexity and depth of flavor, but this '52 was in a place where I can't imagine it being any better. Striking and beautiful in all its layers of complexity.

Next I think I'd go for something more muscular, would be a Raveneau Chablis Valmur 1989 (Clash of the Ayatollahs): This wine comes around, and the heady flinty-chalky nose makes for an immediate pause in the action. "Radioactive," says Joe, which sounds about right to me. Really strong, deep aromas of minerals & burnished-steel white flowers. Rich and powerful tasting, quite racy but simply packed with dense flavors, it overpowers the lobster with pure lean hard muscle, but I don't mind a bit. (4/19/00)

This Raveneau was simply a mindblowing combination of intensity and supple-steel flexibility; a hard wine to put down.

We've too short a list to fill, so, sadly, that would be all for the whites. I'd start off the reds with one of my favorite things in the world, a delicate old Burgundy.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Échézeaux 1969: I hold my glass up to the light, and it's a muddy medium ruby color, flecked with little dark specks and ambering at the rim. I stick my sniffer in the glass and make a little involuntary bleating noise of pleasure... I'm a sucker for older, faded burgs... shake it off, shake it off... there's so much going on here, simply listing the parts won't do it justice, but what the hey: the first nosal impression is of a rich, muted red core of dark cherry-cranberry-beetroot accented fruit around which is nestled a slightly looser, red-brown penumbra of earthiness and mushroomy, orange rind and clovey-spicey hints, feathering, leathering and browning outwards. Glorious, simply glorious to drink in the the complexity and delicacy of these aromas. A sip, and it's a soft, light, earthy wine, still red at the core, with surprising strength amidst surprising delicacy. It's a bit faded, and the nose is a hard act to follow, but it's earthy, feathery and crisp, with a light finish that calls a post-holiday pomander to mind. Exquisite to smell, very nice to taste. I save a good portion of a glass and throughout the night it is passed around and smelled to the accompaniment of widened eyes, dreamy smiles and small moans. (6/14/00)

Old Burgundies seem to inspire people to flights of fancy like no other wine.

Then, just for fun, a younger red Burg... Rousseau Chambertin 1992($90)(Yo-ho for Pinot): Medium garnet. Rich, fun-smelling slightly stinky red fruity nose, cranberry-cherry-earth edged with manure, sweet red-velvet manure. Rich in the mouth as well, leathery red forest-floor notes dusted with spicy cooked-carrot hints and mushrooms. Very flavorful, very well balanced, earthy and silky. Superb Burgundy, drinking beautifully tonight. I wish I could drink this every night. My favorite so far, edging out the Charlopin-Parizot on the basis of complexity and a truly superior level of what the scientific types would call fun-smellingness. (3/19/00)

Then, for a change of pace, a young turk from California, Harlan Estate's Bordeaux-style blend, young and brawny yet beautifully balanced.

Harlan Estate Red Table Wine Napa Valley 1993 (75% cab s., 18% merlot, 7% cab f.)(Cult Madness): Mmm... this smells nice. Ripe smoky cassis with hints of leatheriness and a beguiling soft cooked-green-veggie/oregano note, complex and layered-smelling, a little different every time you stick your nose in the glass. The red fruit is smoky but not overtly oaky, and the flavors blend together in a seamless and balanced fashion. This is a large wine, but it has deft balance and delicacy as well as restraint. There is some consternation among the more hardened Harlunatics that this apparently 'lesser' vintage is showing as well as it is. Peter for one looks like he's going to tear his hair, as he gave up on this one based on earlier tastings and got rid of his bottles. I dunno much about how it's supposed to taste, but tonight this is a pretty and richly balanced wine, complex and muscularly butch without being flashy, although I am slightly disconcerted by the extent to which Lisa's eyes have widened upon tasting it. Boy, all our fragile household budget needs is for her to develop a jones for Harlan to go along with her peculiar fascination with Yquem. Anyway, the wine finishes beautifully, long and darkly cassisfruity. Very good stuff. (2/8/00)

Now an older Cal cab, a fine rich specimen from when Phelps ruled the Eisele Vineyard.

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard 1979: Slightly murky matte garnet, still looks fairly young, only a slight bricking at the rim; pretty, rich nose--plenty of smoky cassis here, along with hints of tar and oregano, delicate yet rich and beguiling. This is a beauty to taste, full of feathery, mineral-tinged smoky good cabernet fruit, clear and crisp and layered. Light-feeling in the mouth, well balanced with nice crispness, it settles slowly on my palate in soft waves of flavors leading up to a long, slow finish. Beautiful, really nice.

Château Haut-Brion Graves 1953 (Haut-Brion Ambush): This looks younger than the other '50s wines, slightly faded, but still a nice deep red color, with only a slight orangy hint at the rim; beautiful cassis-plum-clove-earth nose, velvety and rich-smelling. I like this. I like it a lot. Hard to believe this wine is forty-six years old. Tastes smoky and rich, beautifully balanced fruit and acidity, concentrated flavors, yet extremely elegant and restrained. This wine has real sustain--a long and rich flavor-hum that lasts long after the wine is swallowed. (12/4/99)

Château Latour Pauillac 1966 (Lisa's Birthday): The wine is a medium-dark ruby, bricking only slightly but with a deep dark core. Gorgeous, rich nose, full of rich red and black fruit, tobacco, plum, graphite, cedar and dark toasty notes that .sasha likens to roasted walnuts. Never having roasted a walnut I'll have to take his word, but I can see what he means. Lisa takes a sniff and says "Call me in an hour, I'll be in my glass...." Tastes dark and rich, a bit brooding, turning towards deep bass tones on the finish. This wine is showing some development, but clearly has many years ahead of it. Square-rigged, classic structure, yet plenty of lush, layered richness to flesh out the sturdy spars and masts, a three-decker of a wine under a full bloom of sail. (6/14/00)

Now a few sweeties for dessert, and I've got a sweet tooth, so it was especially difficult to whittle this category down...

Château Rieussec Sauternes 1988 : Fairly light yellow-gold color; this is, as Mr. Kane might say, 'Killer Stuff.' Bright, spritzy-lush nose of creamy lemon, apricot, hay and a mess o'botrytis. Vibrant smelling and fun to just sit and sniff the tropical-botrytisy aromas. Yum. Now this is tasty, a light and vivid mouthful of flavor, light hints of creamy oak flit about the midpalate, a perfect match with my creme brulŽe. An exciting young Sauternes. (12/12/99)

The Rieussec is silky and rich and a nice mix of elegance and strength. For a wine with no elegance whatsover but more strength than just about any dessert wine I've tasted, there's the Domaine des Petit Quarts Bonnezeaux Vendage Grain par Grain 1997 (Prodigal Hawaiians): Holy cats! Gold, deep gold. A whiff of this blows the doors off my mental Cadillac--just a Poltergeistish blast of pineapple-apricot, amazingly concentrated and dense. Whew. A taste, and whoa Nellie, it's crazily dense, absurdly sweet and shamelessly concentrated. This is a brazen hussy of a wine, sweet as all hell but with a sashaying backbone of acidity that drives me crazy. It takes me over the top like the waves at Pipeline, but I don't mind eating sand all that much when it's as golden and sweet as this. Amazing. (1/12/00)

And finally, what better way to end an evening than with a Vintage Porto with a few years under its belt?

Dow's Vintage Porto 1977 (Manuel and Josie): Is showing beautifully, pale ruby-amber and smelling of muted berry and caramel and earth. A sip, and it's a winner, medium-light and tangy in the mouth, lightly sweet with rich feathery-earthy clay-red berry fruit just sliding seductively across my tongue and down my gullet. This wine seems light, but sneaks up on you with a surprisingly powerful punch of multilayered flavors. Truly delicious. (4/23/00)

Hmmm... looking a bit closer now, it seems I miscounted and there are in fact eleven.

I think we can all live with that, don't you?

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