Sunday, February 2, 2014

Top 20 Wines of 2013

Top 20 Wines of 2013

Another year has come and gone.  2013 marks the 5th year that I have written my top wines of the year list. I only hope that in writing a list, it continues to educate people on how to approach, purchase or collect wines.  Or perhaps I continue to do this totally as a reminder to myself just how much fun I have when getting together with friends & family to consume the GRAPE. Every time we get together we share stories. We give opinions. We crack jokes.  We state how much we love this wine or we state how much we hate it.  That is what makes wine tasting so much fun.  This year is no different than any other.  Several of the bottles I tasted or consumed made my list solely for personal reasons.  It didn’t matter what anybody else thought.  I made a connection to the wine that brought about good feelings inside of me. Is this what drinking or tasting wines all about?? For me the answer is YES.  Always & forever will my goal be to have a great wine moment. I guess that’s the reason for purchasing wines already 25 years old.  So I give you my Top 20 Wines of 2013.
Lets Roll~~~~~~

1967 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste Bordeaux
This wine made my list for one reason only.  It is REALLY freaking old. A French wine older than me by 1 year.  That makes it one of the oldest Bordeaux that I have ever tasted.  Brought out by a member of my Padres Panel group, the bottle seemed to have been stored very well.  The label & cork were intact!  There were some of my favorite Bordeaux characteristics there.  Graphite, Band Aid, Pencil Shavings, and Acid!  But to quote the Great Robert Parker and his review of this wine “The wine is quite brown, with a decaying, leafy aroma, and shallow, feeble flavors”.  You the man Robert!  You nailed it.  Then again, I will never forget that old bottle of Bordeaux. That is until one even older comes along.

2010 Carucci Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
When you consume and taste as much wine as I do, half the fun is finding someone or something new.  In 2013 an email came across my inbox describing a new wine project.  It was a project that I had never heard of before.  Now whenever a wine related email shows up, I generally will take a look at it.  It is my nature after all.  So I went to the website and checked out the purchase window.  Hmmmmm, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir at a very reasonable price.  SRH Pinots will always be my favorite.  I’ll take 2 please!  It can’t hurt to give an upstart winery a try.  There were only 2 problems!  The first was that the wine was really good.  All of your typical SRH characteristics were there.  The wine had nice round tannins, powerful cherry components, and great acidity. The nose is a mix of berry and forest floor. The finish lingers on your palate for a solid amount of time.  So what was the second problem??  I bought the last 2 bottles!  I am very hopeful for this upstart winemaker!  I am betting that he has a very bright future.

2008 No Girls Grenache
Grenache is such a great wine varietal, typically sweet with hints of tobacco. Washington is a bit foreign to me when it comes to wine, but Christophe Baron of Cayuse fame is changing all that.  This Grenache was bright & fresh with tons of red raspberries, hints of cedar & tobacco.  Just the way I like it.  This wine may have evolved with a few more years of cellaring, but I only owned the 1 bottle and I couldn’t resist popping it for my friends 65th birthday. Then again, I do have 2009 resting in the cellar and 2010 joining in February 2014.  I’ll try holding them back for 5 year this time. Who am I kidding~~

2004 Isole e Olena Cepparello
I am always thankful for the generosity of all my wine friends.  Making new ones that bring 2004 BADASS Sangiovese? “PRICELESS”.  I will always state how my real Achilles heel in wine is the country of Italy.  There are just too many wines & varietals from too many different areas of the country.  Perhaps someday I will ride a motorcycle across Italy from one point to another tasting wine after wine after wine.  Then and only then will I start to understand. Although our Wednesday Wellness group consumed this wine very quickly!  I really liked everything about it.  Deep Ruby Color in the glass. Well integrated wood, lots of red cherry fruit and earthy notes. Loads & loads of acidity! On the palate the wine lingered for what seemed forever.  I now have a mission to thank our new wine friend Steve for his major contributions & huge generosity to our little wine club. 

1988 Tinto Pesquera Reserva Tempranillo
2013 & 1988 have lots in common as will be told a bit later in the program.  I am glad that I picked up this bottle from an auction house to celebrate with close friends and the staff of my favorite pinot producer in Sta. Rita Hills.  That Pinot producer has always been so generous in allowing me and my family to come up for visits.  I thought it was about time that I gave something back to them.  I have always thought that tasting really old Tempranillo is like tasting Pinot Noir or Burgundy with some age.  Think acid, and lots of it.  The cork came out moist and in one piece.  Beautiful acid, dusty tannins & cherry fruit were there. The wine had good color with just a slight amount of rust around the edges.  I was very pleased with the outcome and I believe all my friends were as well.  It definitely was a great way to start 45/25 in Wine Country. 

2002 Sea Smoke Botella
Speaking of that favorite Sta. Rita Hills Pinot producer, why not finally pop the oldest bottle that I own for a friend’s 49th birthday.  Although Botella is there entry level wine I still managed to hold onto a pair of these since there release in 2004.  In 2014 Sea Smoke will release there 2012 wines.  I will then pop my last bottle of 2002 right alongside the 2012 counterpart.  I am already fairly certain both of those wines make my top 20 list.  I was not disappointed with this 02 Botella at all.  The wine had beautiful color and beautiful SRH aromas from the get go.  Forest Floor and sweet red cherry fruit on the nose.  As typical with SRH Pinot the wine aromas shut down 5 minutes after opening.  Decanting is essential for SRH Pinot, but in this case the wine was consumed rather quickly.  On the palate the oak & alcohol were very integrated which made the wine smooth and delicious. More red cherry fruit and spice with a tiny amount of vanilla.  Overall this bottle of wine delivered a very good experience from a winery dear to my heart. I guess that is why I have been purchasing it the last 9 years.     

1994 Fisher Vineyards Merlot
A beautiful old wine from the early days of my collection.  Gifted to me by my older brother way back when.  Why not share with him and several of my wine friends.  Just another of the many great wine dinners I had in 2013.  So many good bottles get consumed on nights like this.  Medium Body with firm tannins on this wine.  Beautiful color with no oxidation.  On the palate were simple but pleasant flavors of earth and cocoa powder. A classic California Merlot.  Never believe what wine critics might say about the longevity of a bottle of wine.  You may just be surprised with the results.  

2007 Buil & Giné Joan Giné Priorat
Priorat wines are starting to grow on me.  Then again, what Spanish wine doesn’t?  Here you have a great example of Cabernet, Carignan and Grenache blended together at a fair and reasonable price of $35.00.  A very non-typical blend.  When good ole US of A attempts this, either price and or quality go out the door.  It just seems to work best only in Spain.  Big Acid with good tannins “Carignan” followed by layers of dark chocolate “Cabernet” with red raspberry and Menthol “Grenache”.  Not weird at all!  Just really different and delicious.  God bless the country of Spain.  They continue to produce brilliant wines at great prices. 

2012 Cotes de Provence Minuty Rosé
God bless the country of France.  Believe it or not, they too manage to somehow produce brilliant & delicious wines as well.  Especially when it comes to Rosé wines.  No one and I really mean no one can seem to make a perfectly balanced Rosé with razor like acidity, beautiful salmon color, simple yet distinctive fruit aromas & flavors, low alcohol and a great price.  That is unless you are the country of France.  Hence the reason I consumed several bottles of Minuty Rosé in 2013.  Every other wine producing country makes Rosé wines.  Sometimes they are tasty, but expensive.  Sometimes they are horrible but dirt cheap.  Perhaps one day I will find one that can rival France.

2009 Domaine Du Grand Tinel Alexis Establet Chateauneuf Du Pape
It took 14 months of mourning the loss of my beloved Beagle to finally get the strength to find another dog.  My family and I wanted to do the right thing and rescue one from a shelter this time. We searched & visited shelters and only found that we couldn’t rescue them all.  Then a fateful day searching Craigslist I came across an add from a family that just couldn’t take care of a Jack Russell Terrier named Milo that they rescued from a local Shelter 2 months prior near my home. They were about to turn him back over to the shelter.  Jack Russell Terrier, or Terrorist as they are sometimes called.  Highly intelligent, high strung and very vocal.  Sounds kinda like me.  I sent my family to meet him as I was busy tasting wine on that Wednesday.  Thoughts crept into my head whether getting a dog at this time was the right move.  It didn’t matter what I thought.  My family quickly made that decision for themselves after meeting him.  That night when I got home I was greeted not by a high strung & vocal dog, but by the perfect lap dog that only craved love and affection.  He doesn’t bark much. He does really well living inside our home.  He gets along with every member of my family.  Okay! Maybe not my daughters pet rats, but then again he is a terrier.  One week later that small working Terrier first bred by Reverend John Russell, a Parson and hunting enthusiast back in 1795 officially became the new Rodriguez wine dog.  Let me celebrate with a glass of Chateauneuf Du Pape.  Highly intelligent are CDP wines.  A bit high strung & young in the glass that is until they age gracefully.  Very vocal aromas & flavors.  Hey! sounds kinda like both of us.    

2003 White Hawk Syrah
The longer I collect wines, the more I want to consume them with age.  This wine was a great find at $20.00 per bottle.  Produced by a very reputable vineyard that several high end wine makers & wineries source there fruit from.  It is nice to see wineries hold back wines for 10 years before releasing them.  They didn’t have to take up room in my cellar and collect dust for those 10 years.  Mushroom, earth, leather and smoked meat in the glass.  The wine had vibrant fruit with a medium mouth feel.  Old world in style this wine comes off.  What a pleasant surprise for a California Rhone wine.  Perhaps my State does have the ability to age out Rhone varietals for decades.  I did buy a few bottles.  I guess another 10 years of aging & dust can’t hurt. 

2005 Krupp Brothers Joshua
I have always had a fondness for Krupp Brother wines.  I can remember always stopping at their booth with my brother to taste the wines.  I have never really collected them, but can’t recall ever tasting or drinking one that was bad or I didn’t like.  Joshua was no different.  Then again how can I say that a wine with my sons name on the label be bad?  On the nose come layers of black fruit & vanilla.  This big boy has flavors of cherry pie and pencil shavings and a mouth feel that seems to go on & on. Krupp produces another great bottle of wine from the great Stagecoach vineyard. Well done Mr. Stanton.  Well done indeed~  

2004 L’Ermitage Sparkling Wine
First time I tried L’Ermitage was the 2002 vintage several years back at Vinatero Wine Shop.  In October of 2013, that beloved little wine shop in Whittier, California that is dear to my heart closed their doors.  Why not make the last bottle of wine that I purchase from them be 2004 L’Ermitage sparkling wine.  I will never claim to be a champagne or bubbles aficionado.  I will leave that title to my beloved wife.  Where did she learn to appreciate them?  Vinatero Wine Shop of course.  Ernie & Lisa Ceja, Bad Idea Bears indeed.  Many a great bottle of wine was purchased from Vinatero over the last 6½ years.  There were some great Spanish, French, Italian, American, German, South American, Australian, etc, etc, etc.  But some of the most memorable have to be Champagne or Sparkling wines.  Perhaps it was 1998 Cuvee Louie Ernie & Lisa brought to my home, or 1999 Vranken I purchased for my wife’s birthday. Or maybe it was that very special non vintage Bollinger last year.  Some of my wife and I’s greatest memories at Vinatero will always be those tiny little bubbles that make you a bit giddy.  Did I teach my wife to step outside from only drinking sweet wines or did my friend’s wine shop and their love for Champagne have something to do with it?  On their final day of business tasting & drinking that 2004 L’Ermitage was hard.  We barely made it back from a wine trip just before they closed their doors.  The trip was planned months before and couldn’t be changed.  But my wife and I just couldn’t miss being there even if it was only for a few hours.  I really did enjoy that last glass.  It brought back all the good memories that I had over the last 6½ years.  The dinners, parties and wines we shared.  From the infamous wienerschnitzel trip, ice Cream Man, iPod night, to that concert tee shirts that I squeezed into.  The music!  I will never forget the music Mr. Ceja.  Always the right tune at that perfect moment.  I made some great friends that I will never forget because I walked in that door in 2007. Thank you! Ernie & Lisa.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  CHEERS~

2010 Paul Lato Syrah Larner Vineyard
Wednesday wellness was started at a little wine shop in Monrovia California back in 2007. It is there where I met several new wine friends that share the same passion for the little fruit we call the GRAPE. 6½ years later and hundreds upon hundreds of bottles of wine consumed, our entire wellness group owes a debt of gratitude to the proprietors of California wine and cheese Tom & Janet Dugan. If it wasn't for Tom & Janet and there wonderful staff, I may never have walked up to the bar, sat down, turned my head to the left or right and met all the wonderful wine people that I know today. In 2013 one of our many wellness meetings was to visit Tom at his shop and purchase a bottle of wine from the store then head back to Chateau Blanc our meeting place to enjoy them. More than a dozen bottles were purchased & consumed, but the most important one has to be the bottle that Tom Dugan brought himself to the party. 2010 Paul Lato Syrah. The wine was delicious but to young and probably could of used a few years of cellaring.  Then again Tom’s business does have the saying painted on the wall that states "true wine enthusiasts don't collect wines. They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family". Those are some famous words that I will always stand & live by.  In November of 2013 Tom closed California Wine & Cheese for good.  I lost my 2 favorite wine bars on earth in a span of 2 weeks.  I am going to miss your business Tom, but look forward to you & Janet becoming permanent members of our Wednesday Wellness Team~ Thank you for sharing this beautiful wine and thank you for introducing me to so many new friends.  CHEERS~

2010 Peter Michael Belle Cote Chardonnay
In San Francisco sits Zuni Café.  It’s a famous restaurant with a famous chef that I had the chance to dine at twice.  The first time was in 2001. The last time was in 2013. I will never forget either experience. In 2001 I had to assist my older brother with moving back to Los Angeles. He lived 3 blocks away from Zuni on Laguna. This was his hang out. He popped the greatest bottle of red wine I have ever tasted. It was a bottle of 1986 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux. We paired that bottle of wine with Chef Judy Rodgers wood fired oven roast chicken. It was an emotional day for my brother as he was saying goodbye to San Francisco moving back to LA in order to spend time with our mother before her passing. To this day Judy's roast chicken ranks as the greatest chicken dish to ever cross my lips. But was that bottle of Bordeaux the best food & wine pairing?  In 2013 my wife & I decided to take a road trip to visit some friends in Reno Nevada.  I packed several bottles of wine for the trip including 2010 Peter Michael Belle Cote Chardonnay.  We spent 2 days enjoying the city of Reno and the company or our friends Robert & Don. Great food, Great Wine and Great Friends will always be my wife & I’s motto.  We couldn’t ask for a better trip.  The weather was perfect, but the wine and company even better.  My original plan was to head home south back towards the city of Mammoth California and spend the last day or our trip gazing at stars and sipping that 2010 Peter Michael Chardonnay.  Then over brunch in Reno Nevada my thoughts turned toward San Francisco and eating Judy Rodgers famous Roast Chicken one more time.  My wife had never been to Zuni and this time I had the perfect bottle of wine to pair with that roast chicken.  12 years later and nothing has changed.  Chef Judy Rodgers and Zuni Café delivered the greatest roast chicken to ever cross my lips again.  This time my wife was there to enjoy it with me.  This time the food & wine pairing were perfect.  The Peter Michael Chardonnay has light oak characteristics to counterbalance the wood fired oven flavors produced at Zuni Cafe.  Great acidity and mild butter flavors of the wine made the white meat, dark meat, lightly salted crispy skin and the lightly dressed bread salad taste oh so good. 3 months after visiting Zuni and eating that meal.  Cancer took the life of Chef Judy Rodgers.  Although I never got to meet her in person, I am so thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to eat her food.  Who really knows how many great food & wine pairing moments you will get to have in a lifetime.  I only wish that I could of met Mrs. Rodgers and told her myself before she passed away.  Cheers to Zuni Café and RIP Judy Rodgers.    

2003 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Howell Mountain
Randy Dunn produces some of the most brilliant wines in California.  Like Spottswoode or Ridge Monte Bello, I can’t recall having ever tasted a bad bottle.  Of those three wine producers, Dunn’s wines truly have the longest shelf life. You can drink em young.  I did pop a 2007 as well in 2013.  It was delicious. But when you put just a little bit of age on these wines especially Howell Mountain, they evolve into gorgeous expressions of what California winemaking should always be.  This wine was dark and opaque.  It had aromas of blackberries, vanilla and cedar.  Rich spicy flavors of leather, mushroom and a tiny bit of graphite.  Overall this wine is still a baby and should have the ability to age for 10 more years easily.  I hope that my last bottle in 2023 doesn’t disappoint.     

1996 Clos Des Cortons Faiveley Burgundy
My new Wednesday Wellness mate does it again.  This time it’s Burgundy.  We all know how bad I am with that region of the world.  I tasted several Burgundies this year.  None had what I call the California personality.  My palate doesn’t know any better.  I am truly ashamed.  Hopefully someday money will rain down from the sky and then I will hit up every high end wine store and auction house purchasing every high end Grand Cru I can find.  Then again I can always just go visit France once a year and get my fill.  Then come back to good ole USA to buy the Sea Smokes and Rivers Marie’s of the state.  Gotta stick to what you love.  This wine had everything right going for it.  It produced firm Tannins, perfect acidity, velvety texture and a long finish.  Earth & forest floor were there with no barnyard.  Kinda sounds a bit like them Cali wines I talk up so much.  There is only one problem with that.  I haven’t really tasted a lot of mid nineties California Pinot and this Grand Cru was so polished that perhaps another 15 years might barely get her into a great groove.  A 30 year old California Pinot??  I don’t think so.  Not yet at least.      

1988 Chateau Latour Bordeaux
A 25 year old first growth Bordeaux, life is good.  I have tasted a few first growth Bordeaux.  I think they are the best wines in the world.  Nothing else I believe can compare to its quality & structure.  I love the wines from my beautiful state of California but I cherish the wines from France.  Especially Bordeaux.  My wine friends are the most generous people I know.  How can I repay them back when they gift me bottles of wine that were not only bought at release but actually bought as futures.  This wine still had the original price tag stuck to it. Something tells me that I won’t find another bottle of 88 Chateau Latour for the low low price of $79.99. What did $79.99 get me? Why a perfect food & wine moment of course.  Shared with another couple at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Santa Ynez California, the Bordeaux “sang” with grilled lamb chops.  The wine had quintessential band-aid, lead pencil & cigar box on the nose.  There were perfectly balanced hints of truffle, chocolate, aniseed and white pepper on the palate.  1988 is considered an off year for winemaking in France.  If this is a bad year, just think what a great year would taste like. 

2001 Chateau Pavie Bordeaux
Another Bordeaux???? Why oh why did I allow my big brother to teach me about Bordeaux so many years ago! It is and will always be the most interesting wine on a table.  It is and will always be the most talked about wine of the night.  Whether it’s Good or Bad! It will always have the greatest aging potential.  Like my #3 wine, French Bordeaux will always create a “perfect” wine moment.  How generous of my big brother to pop his one and only bottle of 01 Chateau Pavie.  This was a great wine the minute your nose hit the glass. It offered up intense aromas of cigar box, cherries, blackberries, mushrooms, graphite. The palate is powerful but elegant with great length and a soft mouth feel. Even though we consumed this wine up against some other great wines from the United States, Italy and Spain, to me this French Bordeaux shined above them all.  Thank You! big brother for training my palate with the ability to know the difference between a great wine and a brilliant one.  Thank you for popping this wine from your own collection.  You have also taught me that “one” most important lesson about wine.  You can’t take them with you.  You might as well enjoy them at the right time with the right food and right friends.

And my #1 Wine is????

How do you put your life’s story into perspective over the last 25 years?  Is it done while sitting at a bar in a restaurant with friends eating a meal and sipping a glass of wine?  You remember handing over the promise ring and asking your girlfriend to marry you only to have her drop it to the ground and roll under the stove.  You remember the drive to Las Vegas and the wedding that only 2 people attended because we had no money for a real wedding.  It didn’t matter to either of us.  You remember your first wedding anniversary and your wife allowing you a night out with friends to celebrate your 21st birthday.  There was no jealousy or selfishness on her part.  You remember the birth of your first & second child and the happiness on her face and yours. Seeing them both grow up with good heads on their shoulders.  You remember the 10th, 15th, 20th anniversaries that have come and gone.  You remember the family members that have passed away but had no worries because they knew your life was in good hands thanks to her.  You remember all the prayers to guide the surgeon’s hands, because you would be lost without her.  You remember the millions of times she said “I love you” and you answered her or the millions of times that you didn’t.  Marriage is always a work in progress.  You remember that there are still the 30th, 40th, 50th anniversaries to come.  Did you remember that just last night you made sure to kiss her goodnight when you both went to bed?

Was I thinking about all these things while sitting in that restaurant and sipping on 1988 Chateau de Beaucastel
Chateauneuf Du Pape for my 25th wedding anniversary? Were my emotions getting the best of me?  1988 may have been a tough year for growing grapes in France but it sure had great growth potential for a young couple with ambitions & dreams!

Thanx Partner

Sunday, February 24, 2013

TOP 20 WINES OF 2012

Top 20 Wines of 2012
Cheers! To 2012!  What a year.  I am glad it’s behind me.  It has been a roller coaster of a year with emotional Highs & Lows.  From my beloved pet passing away in March.  To the last of my children graduating from High School and off to College.  To my wife’s second Cancer scare.  A glass of wine makes all the bad things in your life seem distant and all the good things in your life seem that much more important! I had a glass of wine when my dog passed away.  I shared a glass of wine with my son when he graduated.  My wife and I had a glass of wine when her oncologist told her that she needed surgery and we shared a special bottle of Champagne when it was all behind us.  Another year Gone!
Here are my Top 20 Wines of the 2012~

1990 Chateau L’Arrosee Bordeaux
We started the year off exactly where we ended 2011, sharing a bottle of 1990 Bordeaux.  I will always cherish birth year wines.  They are just one of the many reasons I drink wine.  This Bordeaux delivered soft tannins and earth notes with the typical cigar box and lead pencil included.  A very intense nose of red fruit, and cherries.  Pleasant mouth feel, and medium bodied.  The wine was starting to show its age, but still in prime drinking form.

2003 Cayuse Flying Pig
 From an elegant Bordeaux, to a MONSTER Bordeaux blend. I am getting soft in my older age.  Perhaps that Robert Parker effect is starting to kick in.  This wine was beautiful though.  More Cigar Box, and Menthol. Bordeaux in style I guess.  This wine was very layered & super rich on the palate.   I tasted this wine late into a big wine event, but I kept wanting to go back to it.  My first taste of a Cayuse wine.  Many thanx Mr. Stanton~

2003 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf Du Pape
Okay, I am back in my comfort zone.  France! I don’t have as much experience with CDP’s as I do with Bordeaux.  That is changing as the years go by.  Probably because all of my close friends are just now starting to bring out there Chateauneuf’s.  Many thanx close friends! This wine was “Pruney” at the start, but that quickly blew off to evolve into a powerful, full bodied wine.  Huge pepper, huge plum with smooth tannins.  Tasted from a brown bag, I guessed the age of this wine to be a 2008.  Pleasantly surprised on how young it still tasted.  I only wish that I would of bought more Pape wines in my lifetime.  I guess that is what wine auctions are for.

2003 Pago de Los Cappelanes Crianza
Consistently one of my all time favorites Spanish wines.  Consistently have bought several vintages of this wine.  All 3 wines, Joven, Crianza and Reserva from the 2003 vintage I have owned and or drank.  It is both a sad and happy day when you drink your last bottle of wine from a certain vintage. You can only hope that someday another bottle will cross your path at a tasting or restaurant.  The 2003 Crianza ­has plenty of dark red fruit with layered floral components on the nose.  Huge mouth feel, with plenty of acidity.  Everything that I LOVE from a Spanish wine.  I guess that is why a few others have made my list~

2008 Alban Syrah Patrina
Back to monster land we go!  DAMN you Robert Parker! Alban wines I have only gotten into in the last 2 years.  They are huge and need lots & lots of time in the bottle.  Again, because of the generosity of my fellow wine friends have I gotten that chance to try them!  This was an intense wine.  All the California syrah characteristics were there.  Deep rich color, animal fat, blackberry, and pepper.  The tannins were almost too soft for a 2008.  The wine has weight yet stays fresh on the palate due to its good acidity.  I am looking forward to tasting more of these wines in the near future~

2006 Saxum Broken Stones  
Battle of the Monsters!  Godzilla vs King Kong.  First Alban now Saxum? It was soooo tasty though. I just couldn’t resist.  I also couldn’t resist buying a few of these wines this year.  I hope that it is worth it down the road.  Spicy & complex this wine was! I wish there was more of it to go around.  I guess I will have to wait till I pop my own perhaps later this year. 

1998 Leda Viñas Viejas
Okay back to reality!  The old Country, Spain!  Year after year, Spanish wines will always make my list.  If you don’t know me by now, I love to cook!  I must thank Grandmother for that. I also love to entertain.  Having friends over is always part of the fun.  Digging through my cellar, I always try to pull the right bottle for the right moment.  On this day 4 of my dearest friends came over and I thought of my son!  He was about to graduate from High School in a few weeks, so why not pull a bottle of wine from the year that he actually starting going to school.  This wine showed great balance.  Dark fruit, candied cherry, cedar, spice and integrated oak.  What more can a man ask for when he is entertaining his friends. 

1996 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon
Once again! I am truly blessed to have the friends that I have.  They know exactly what I like.  “Spottswoode”  My favorite California Cabernet!  How could I say no!  Hanging out with some great friends and eating Lamb Chops with that bottle of Spottswoode~  Oh Yeah!  The wine showed impressive body, with layers of spice, cocoa, pepper, and hints of mineral, graphite and earth.  Structure was excellent, with all components in balance.  What more can I ask for from my favorite Cali Cab.  Many thanx, Mr. & Mrs Branham!

2004 Turnbull Napa Valley Cabernet
Another beautiful example of Napa Valley fruit! Another great wine brought by one of my fellow Padres Panel members.  Mountains of chocolate & cedar with beautiful tannins.  I guessed this wine to be much younger than 2004.  It was a pleasure to drink!

2009 M Etain Cabernet
Did someone mention monster chocolate?  I think I got just that when I popped my bottle of M Etain for my 44th birthday bash.  This was the first time that a Scarecrow wine crossed my lips.  I got every pennies worth.  Almost black in color, but with a super smooth mouthfeel.  The tannins are already very integrated even though it is so young.  I can only hope that my backup bottle develops that much more over the next decade.  I plan to be patient~

1999 Ridge Monte Bello
Down the home stretch and I am back in my comfort zone.  One night I entertained myself by logging onto a live chat forum with Paul Draper who is the owner of Ridge Wines.  Paul is a legend in his craft.  Someday I hope that I can shake his hand and thank him personally for all the beautiful wine that has crossed my lips coming from his winery.  First thing I stated to the person running the chat forum was that I have never ever had a bad bottle of Monte Bello.  I have been very blessed and lucky to have tried several vintages of Monte Bello.  The oldest being a 1982 vintage about 10 years ago.  I own a few bottles of early 90s Monte Bello’s.  They age so gracefully that time can only do them good. When this bottle appeared at a wine party I quickly bolted to make sure that I had a chance to taste it.  I was not disappointed!  Silky on the palate, with sweet black fruit, plums, and cocoa.   The fruit is still primary with the hints of oak in the background.   Keep making one of the best wines ever Mr. Draper!  I will keep bolting to taste or buy them.

2009 Ridge Estate Monte Bello
Estate Monte Bello???  Yes another winery decided to make a second label from existing estate grapes.  I am sure you have heard that before.  Only problem with this is its Monte Bello and it was really really tasty!  I guess if anybody was going to produce a second label there resume should start with the name Paul Draper. The man can do no wrong.  This was my best buy of the year.  Purchased early on in the year and tasted blind for my Padres Panel group.  No one was disappointed in this wine for less than half the price of regular Monte Bello! My only problem was that I didn’t buy more than one and after tasting it, I couldn’t find anybody carrying it.  Most places sold out very quickly. A bit more fruit forward than big brother.  That will always be the case with a young wine.  My thought is that this wine would probably develop quite well for many years.  I will continue to kick myself over and over for not buying more.  Oh well there is always the 2010 vintage.  Where do I buy it???

2008 Roland Lavantureux Chablis
The only white wine to make my list this year.  Sorry!  I find it soooo hard to choose bitchen white wines over red ones.  Trust me, there were some tasty ones consumed.  This one stuck out as the very best, not to mention that it is Chardonnay!  Not typically my grape of choice.  Minerals galore on this wine.  High levels of acidity with oak waaaaay in the background.  I only wish that all Chardonnay could taste like this.  To me France makes the best white wines in the world.  I am a fan~

2009 Herman Story Casual Encounters
I fell in love with this winery to the point that I bought some this year.  I am getting soft!  Yes, I have stated that several times now. I flip flop from the wonderful old world style of France & Spain to the over the top opulence of Paso Robles.  Why? Why?  Perhaps I am still a California boy at heart with dreams that someday California will become the greatest wine producing place on earth.  Nah~  Never gonna happen!  Lets just agree to disagree~  Drink French Cotes Du Rhones when the time is right or drink Paso Robles GSM big bombers when there is a need.  Herman Story has just grown on me!  How can a wine with 15% plus alcohol hide the fact so well.  Pure fruit expressions with density and power. The wine is very focused in the mouth, where the balance and texture were perfect. The finish was long, complex and exciting with loads of raspberry, blackberry, spiced meat, baking spice, and earth. Look out France California GSM’s are coming ~

2007 Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet
Every day that I continue to consume wine another friend will show generosity beyond my ability to pay back.  I show up at a friends house another friend happens to be there.  He happens to pop open a beautiful magnum of Pride Cabernet.  We talk for awhile about our favorites.  We sip and taste the wine.  Everything is integrated and balanced. The color is dark magenta. The nose is plum, blueberry pie, violets, and vanilla. The Bottle disappears for awhile!  We talk some more about other favorites and other wines we may get a chance to share someday.  The Bottle reappears! He offers me the very last pour.  I gladly decline and say “Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to taste this beautiful wine.  That last pour is yours”.  In my mind, I would of done the very same thing, gladly given up my last pour from my own bottle of wine.  This is the sign of a true wine lover!  You the man Tony~

2001 Gloria de Ostatu Rioja
The greatest contribution I made all year.  A bottle of Spanish Rioja?  Yes I did bring it to our first Wednesday Wellness Charity Wine Tasting, but the real contribution was knowing that our Wednesday group raised over $1600.00 for the Wounded Warrior Project. Forget talking about how good the wines were at this event.  Yes!  They were that good!  Having some of our members organize this tasting with such a great turnout makes it all worth while.  I look forward to doing it all over again next year.  Cheers to you~ Ken Rushworth – Thad Brennan – Dave Buckley

2004 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf Du Pape
Arrive at the Wounded Warrior Charity Wine Tasting Event!  Pop Open 2004 Chateau de Beaucastel CDP.  Taste the Wine!  Tight!  Closed Up!  Wait another Half Hour and revisit Wine! Tight! Still Closed Up!  Come back and taste the wine one last time. 3 hours later!  Wine is starting to show hints of its full range, with licorice, graphite and mocha.  I didn’t get any more of that Beaucastel, but oh how it lingers in my mind just how good Chateauneuf Du Pape’s age and last forever~

2005 Muga Reserva Rioja
My favorite varietal of all time is still Cabernet!  Yes I do love Bordeaux which can consist of several different varietals, but my second favorite Single Varietal is Tempranillo.  Spanish Tempranillo.  I love you California, but please stop screwing up this beautiful wine grape.  I beg you. This was just another Tuesday brown bag/Padres Panel event.  Tasted this beautiful offering from one of my fellow group members.  Quickly answered! Tempranillo from Spain.  Probably 05-06 or 07! It is light yet elegant with the natural acid of a well made Tempranillo!  The only thing that was missing was the Cuban Roast Pork with Yuca Mash!  If only my grandmother were still alive to cook that meal for me.  The fun I would have with all of the different Tempranillo wines that I have in my own collection.

Bollinger Champagne NV Special Cuvee
Cancer reared its ugly head again in 2012.  After a 5 year absent from my wife’s life again she required surgery to freeze cancer cells in the most sensitive of places.  In February of 2007 she had a full hysterectomy and still carries the battle scars to prove it.  5 years of testing every 3 months and she was clean and cancer free.  5 months later Cancer once again appeared.  My wife and I have always thought that laughter is the best medicine for major events that happen in our lives.  6 years ago we went out for wine the same night she found out that she had cancer.  We laughed about it while we drank.  Unfortunately stress and fear are very real, and the day she had surgery we cried and worried.  I cannot live without my partner.  I would trade places with her in a second if I could.  Moving forward to 2012 we are 5 years older and the worry & fear are very real.  Yet we still laughed thanx in part to social media which played a huge role in the healing process.  So many well wishes from so many friends! The laughter of the “POP” youTube video that so many friends helped me send to her.
The taste of a great Champagne! It was the first time my wife and I had ever tried Bollinger.  In late December, after the surgery was behind us that bottle of Champagne helped us celebrate life for one more day!


Lets face it!  I am an emotional guy when it comes to drinking special bottles of wine.  Like last years #1 wine.   It had an emotional connection with me because of the fact that it was my Daughters 21st Birthday.  No other wine had a chance.  In 2012, I would of gladly chosen The Bollinger as the greatest emotional connection I had to a bottle of wine all year. It was just that, but I can’t stress enough the generosity of all my friends every year.  Year in year out you continue to overwhelm me.  So when my best friend whom I have known for almost 40 years popped open 1996 Cardinale prior to my birthday.  I knew we were in for a special night.  Perhaps it’s the fact that it was just me and him.  That means more wine for us.  Yeah sometimes it is okay to be a hog.  We sat at the dining room table talking about life – family and wine. There it is again.  That emotional connection!  I will never forget it. Perfect timing! Only problem was that this wine truly was the greatest bottle that I drank all year.  It was far more superior to me than any other bottle I tasted all year.  Dark purple color. A nose of chocolate and caramel.  Loads of dark berries, yet very elegant and extremely balanced. Still plenty of life left too as the tannin structure was one word “perfect”.  Then again this was my friends one an only bottle of 1996 Cardinale and he shared it with me and me only.  I truly am one lucky wine lover~!
Thanx J Brother

Another Great Wine Year in the Books~

Thank you again; Jr. Duarte - Jon Jilg - Ken Rushworth - Dick Stanton - Thad Brennan – Dave Buckley - Greg Lee - Brad Barker - John Walker - Tony Hawk - Thomas & Janet Dugan - Ernie & Lisa Ceja - Randy & Celeste Branam and the rest of my Wednesday Wellness Group!