Friday, January 20, 2006

20 January 2006 - Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I'll remember 2005 for Champagne -- the first time in years Jacquesson and Billecart-Salmon were both available, with their freshest cuves, in Maryland, in a long time; and for the incredible 1996s...which reminds me, my favorite Champagne of 2005 was Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 1995. I'm guessing their 1996 will come out sometime this year -- I can't wait!

I'll also remember 2005 for the Perrin brothers' Chateau de Beaucastel, which released three of the best wines they've ever made, all 2003s: Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, Blanc anc Blanc Vieilles Vignes (100% Roussanne). Looking ahead, 2003 at Beaucastel could mark the beginning of the most memorable three year run ever at this domaine -- stay tuned for the '04s at the end of 2006 and the '05s at the end of 2007. The other memorable wine from the Perrin's released in 2005 was the 2002 Les Sinards Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge -- essentially declassified Beaucastel, it was a great achievement, and a terrific value, in an extremely difficult vintage.

Somehing's happening in Paso Robles, California. Years of hard work are paying off at Tablas Creek (another Perrin project), and a new name popped up this month: L'Aventure, with an especially decadent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (2001). That makes three properties that I know of in Paso Robles with heavy French influence (the other is owned by Jean-Noel Formeaux, formerly of Chateau Potelle).

Spain continues its explosive growth in the USA. It's incredible to think that less than 20 years ago there was one notable new importer of Spanish wine (Classical Wines - Stephen Metzler and Almudena de Lugano) who was struggling just to get people to think past Rioja, and to consider for the first time a wine made from indigenous varietals in a backwater known as Ribera del Duero. Besides Classical Wines, another Spanish importer to look for on those back labels is Grapes of Spain (Aurelio Cabestraro) -- their selections always seem to nail the essence of a grape variety or a place.

2005 was the year I realized we have a tremendous winemaking talent right here in Maryland. Paul Roberts at Deep Creek Cellars in Garrett County makes interesting, compelling wine by cobbling together grapes (and occasionally fruit like pear and blueberry) from disparate sources (California, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland). I know that I've always maintained that wine is 90% made in the vineyard, and I'm sticking to it, but Paul imagines a wine from a variety of sources that works out better than I could ever imagine. It makes my head hurt to think about how he does it, so I don't bother, I just enjoy.

A couple of importers stood out in '05. Kermit Lynch and Vineyard Brands both brought in so many terrific French wines, I couldn't make room for all of them. Vineyard Brands is also responsible for Los Cardos (Mendoza, Argentina), our best-selling "house wines." Louis/Dressner leads the way in off-the-beaten-track wines, especially Renardat's Bugey Cerdon and an amazing pink Pineau d'Aunis from Domaine Belliviere; and a couple of marvelous, under-appreciated producers in the Loire: Pinon in Vouvray and Pepiere in Muscadet. Another name to look for on the back labels of some of my favorite new French producers is Thomas Calder. Calder is responsible for Le Roc des Anges (Roussillon-Villages), Les Hauts Chassis (Crozes-Hermitage) and Tissot (Cremant de Jura) -- all three are big stars here.

Two great new names in California emerged in 2005: Kamen, Sonoma Valley, and Brown Estate, Napa Valley. Both make distinctively good Cabernet Sauvignon, while Brown also makes marvelous Zinfandel. In a few years Kamen and Brown will hopefully join Chateau Montelena, Ridge, Viader, Hendry and Flowers on my short list of consistently, reliably top-notch California producers.

I'm sure there's more -- this is far from a coherent, well-thought-out overview...stay tuned for updates. Have a great 2006!


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