Two Firsts in 2012’s Top 10 Wine List

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courtesy The Union Leader
December 25, 2012

So here we are at the year’s end. Last week we saw a list of my top 10 beers of 2012. That was the first time I have made such a foray in the beer world.

You have seen my top 10 wine list before – all good, all locally available. This year’s list brings two new developments: A New Hampshire wine in the top 10, and for the first time since I began writing this column, a white wine has staked out its place as No. 1. So here we go:

10. 2010 Leo Hillinger Eveline Pinot Noir, Burgenland, Austria, $23.99. 100% Pinot Noir from the southern Austrian wine making region of Burgenland. A ruby red Pinot with a nose of ripe raspberry, a dry palate of raspberry balanced with a light earthiness and a long finish. One word to describe this wine: Elegance. Want to buy a great American West Coast Pinot that runs $80 to $100 (say, a Dusky Goose) but the bank account won’t allow it? Here’s your answer. 91 points. Central European Pinot Noir, after a long period of development, is coming into its own, with extraordinary results.

9. LaBelle Blueberry, $18.99. What used to take hundreds of years of trial and error can now be done in a few decades, thanks to easily available books, the internet, and smart mentors. Now, some people turn their noses up at the very idea of fruit wine, conveniently forgetting that grapes are a fruit, and that pretty much any fruit out there can be fermented into wine. Labelle Winery and Vineyards, settling into its new home on Route 101 in Amherst, has gotten up to speed and begun to excel. So, you might ask, how can blueberries taste like anything except, well, blueberries? The same way grapes can taste like white fruit, stone fruit, tropical fruit, black fruit, red fruit and so on. The fermentation process brings out all kinds of interesting things that might not be evident when one is standing in front of a blueberry bush. The Labelle has a dark hue, a nose of blueberry, and a palate that included the blueberry, yes, but not only that. There is an earthy depth to this wine, with herbal background and good weight to make it interesting. Definitely not the one trick pony that some poorly made fruit wines can be. This was one of Amy’s first experiments with wine all those years ago, and a wonderful tradition that continues. Amy and Cesar, welcome to the top 10.

8. 2010 Steininger Sekt, Langenlois, Austria, $27.99. 100% Sauvignon Blanc in this Sekt (the German word for sparkling wine) – champagne, in other words, but you can only call it that if it’s made in the Champagne region of France. Golden colored, with a sharp, pleasing nose of white fruit; the palate is rich in white fruit, pear, apple, with floral flavors as well. The balance of components is pretty much perfect, and the finish is bright and refreshing. 90 points.

7. Alain Jaume Lirac Roquedon ’05, $36.99. 15% abv. 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, 5% Carignan. Some history: this is the vineyard from which France’s phylloxera epidemic is thought to have spread from the east to Bordeaux. They still haven’t forgiven them, but we can enjoy the wine. Dark purple in the glass, with in inky dark core, still looking young, developing nose. Dry palate, medium acidity, medium-plus tannin that calms down as it opens up, medium alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity of black fruit including blackberry, bramble. This is what they mean when they say “balance of components.” Medium-plus finish. 90 points.

6. 2009 The Offering, Santa Barbara County, California, $28.99. This is a red Rhone blend comprised of the classic Rhone varietals: 42% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre, 2% Viognier. The grapes came from the vineyards of Curt Schalchlin of Sans Liege Wines, sourced from seven different sites. 67 barrels of the Offering were produced (not inconsiderable when you think that a 55-gallon wooden wine barrel produces about 300 bottles of wine).

Thanks to the Mourvedre, the wine is deep purple with hues of ruby, moving out to a purple/pink rim – still young, but beginning to develop. Good legs, 15.6% abv thanks to those long California summers where the grapes hang on the vine accumulating sugar to be fermented into alcohol.

The nose is clean and complex, of medium-plus intensity, with aromas of black fruit including bramble and blackberry. The palate is dry, with mouth-watering acidity, medium-plus tannins that are sinewy, well-integrated and supple, medium alcohol that’s a touch warm when first opened but can calm down after it gets a little air, medium-plus to full bodied, with medium-plus flavor intensity of blackberry, bramble, black cherry, sweet spice and slight hints of pungent spice, some smoke from the oak, and an earthy background that gives this wine real depth and character.

The finish is long and brings forth all of the above mentioned flavors, finishing with a deep earthiness. Good balance, good length of finish, complex, intense. 91 points.

5. Sokol Blosser Evolution Red, Oregon, $19.99. Made from a blend of varietals, not all of them are revealed. It includes Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. The wine is purple in the glass, with a nose of black fruit, a very dry palate, and flavors of blackcurrant, black berry, ripe red fruit, medium acidity and tannin, medium alcohol, medium body, an overall ripe, rich palate, but not overwhelming in the sense of yes, you can drink it on a hot summer night. 91 points.

4. 2006 Acorn Zinfandel, Heritage Vines, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley, California, $38.99. 14% abv. Now here we have a blend: The field from which the grapes were drawn contains 78% Zinfandel, 10% Petit Syrah, 10% Alicante Boschuet. That leaves 2 percent, and this contains Carignane, Trousseau, Sangiovese, Petit Boschuet, Negrette, Syrah, Black Muscat, Cinsault and Grenache. Purple with a medium intensity core, some ruby hues beginning to show, a nose of black fruit, with some hints of red. The palate is dry, with medium body, good acidity, good balance of components, medium flavor intensity of blackberry, pencil shavings, subtle herbal notes. Long finish that maintains the profile to the end. 91 points.

3. 90+ 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Malborough, New Zealand, Lot 2, $9.99. Some of the 90+ thing is hype, for sure. And some of it is real. There are in fact some wines in their portfolio that deservingly score 90 points and above. But, if you have read this column with any regularity, you know that numbers alone aren’t enough. New Zealand is the place to go for world-class Sauvingon Blanc, a grape the Kiwis have made their own, and a benchmark for the rest of the world. Lemon green, pronounced nose of gooseberry and white fruit, dry palate, gooseberry, grapefruit, par, peach, pronounced flavors, long finish. 93 points.

2. Robert Young Merlot, 2006, California, $60.49. If you said to me, “Jim, when it comes to recognizing a truly great wine, who in New Hampshire has the best palate for it?”, one name that immediately comes to mind is Patrick Dunn, a distributor based right here in Manchester.

I met an old friend for dinner one night last week at Mangia Restaurant on Elm Street and who was sitting at the table next to us but Pat and Becky. Mangia is a BYOB restaurant, so, instead of saying “Hello” like a normal person, I said, “What are you drinking tonight?” Whatever his answer, I knew it would be superb, and worth seeking out. Pat has been bringing in the Robert Young wines – reds and whites – since he started his business, and I am always happy to see the new vintage arrive.

The ’06 Merlot is a deep purple wine with a medium dark core, slow fat tears, medium intensity nose, red and black fruit right up front, good balance of forward fruit and background earthiness. Developing yes, but still youthful. Dry palate with medium-plus lively acidity, medium tannin that’s fine grained, well-integrated, supple and well-rounded, medium alcohol, medium body, a full palate of very well defined fruit – plum, blackberry, blueberry hints, oak: vanilla and slight toasty hints, earthiness in the background. It passed the BLIC test with flying colors (balance, length, intensity, complexity). Long finish that preserved all the components right through to the end. 93 points.

1. 2010 Tegernseerhof/Mittelbach Terrassen, Wachau, Austria, $23.99. 100% Riesling, and the first white to top this list. This is a wine that is new to New Hampshire, brought in earlier this year by Crush Distributors (aka Megan Sleeper and Tabitha Blake). Recognizing something great, they have included a number of excellent Austrian wines in their portfolio, which is great, since we in New Hampshire haven’t seen a great number of Austrian wines – the Austrians, recognizing its high quality, drink most of it themselves. But, happily, this is changing.

This Austrian Riesling is a dry fruit-forward white from the noble grape, and has an extraordinary nose of petrol and honey you typically don’t see in Rieslings until they have aged considerably.

On the palate, a reappearance of the petrol, along with delicious white fruit, green apple, great acidity, medium-plus body, and a complex finish that reflects the nose and palate right to the end. 93 points.

So that’s it for this year. Many of these wines are still available now, and of the ones that have been bought out – the next vintage is on the way.

Contact local wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at