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A Wine Writer’s Top 10 Wines Of 2023

20:54, Friday, 22 December, 2023
A Wine Writer’s Top 10 Wines Of 2023

When I think of the qualities that make a wine “the best” I think of the bottles that brought happiness, surprise, or delight—scores and ratings rarely come into play. Yet, I must confess to feeling validated when one of my favored wines also has a high score or rating, so there’s that. To keep it simple I prefer to think like Ernest Hemingway, who summed up the essence of wine so nicely in A Moveable Feast: “we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”


    
     This year’s list features a new Champagne from Moet & Chandon, a wine that might be the last bottling ever of its kind, a surprisingly delicate Syrah from Napa and a dark horse from Armenia. Buy a bottle or three, dust off your Hemingway novel and raise a glass to another great year of drinking wine.


     Nicolas - Jay Own Rooted Pinot Noir, OR, 2021: In Oregon there are still a handful of pre-phylloxera ungrafted vineyards, and Nicolas-Jay Winery owns one of them. It is only a matter of time before the insidious phylloxera pest will destroy the vines—until then, every bottling is a precious artifact. There are very few wines left in the world made from original rootstock; after phylloxera invaded Europe’s vineyards, they were all replanted with grafted vines. This bottling was so impressive winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo snuck a bottle into a blind tasting organized by top Burgundy collectors—a tasting that consisted of Grand and Premier Cru Burgundies, and Nicolas-Jay’s Oregon ringer. It was rated #2 – and none of the collectors could believe it was from Oregon (but of course they all wanted a bottle). It sells quickly (and phylloxera could arrive at any time) so if you want to taste the indulgent cherry fruit, silky tannins and bewitchingly complex character of this wine, better act fast.

Moet & Chandon Collection Impériale Création No. 1, FR: This is an exciting new bubbly from a legendary Champagne producer that honors the purest expression of Champagne with a zero dosage finish—I found it to be intellectual and serious but also decadent and joyful. This first-ever release took almost 23 years from conception to bottling—it’s a harmonious blend of seven different vintages, each one aged through a different maturation process and then blended to achieve harmony. Cellar Master Benoit Gouez describes it as “the ultimate expression of Moet & Chandon. To enjoy this you need time, the luxury of time, if you have only five seconds for this wine then it is not for you. We crafted it for the luxury of time.” Take a breath, buy a bottle and savor it with special friends.

Il Conte Villa Prandone IX Prandone, IT, 2022: Made of 100% merlot aged for 15 months in barrel and 15 months in concrete, this richly textured expression comes from Italy’s less well-known Marche region—one that is full of gems to discover such as this one. The nose is ripe with morello cherry and red fruit notes, and on the palate you’ll get warm spices, cassis and a savory note that keeps the wine interesting. Best to open and let breathe in a decanter, or a wine glass, for an hour or so to get the best expression. It is polished and powerful—indeed, the winery notes that it can age up to 50 years. Buy one to sip and one to store. $80

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     Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, AU, 2021: The winemaking at Penfolds specializes in composition—putting together the best parcels of grapes to make a near-perfect, artfully balanced wine. This cabernet-shiraz blend brings in fruit from several wine districts which then see aging American oak. The nose alone has a perfume so wickedly seductive you’ll swoon. The first sip reveals layers upon layers of plush fruit tempered by a finish is almost architectural—brilliant structure with polished tannins and remarkable balance. The wine’s nickname “Baby Grange” is for good reason—for $80 this wine delivers a world-class blend of taste and refinement.Spottswoode Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon, CA 2020: Spottswoode remains one of the few family-owned wineries still left in Napa, where the Novak family has been working the estate for over 50 years. Today, Spottswood is a solar-powered B-Corp dedicated to organic and biodynamic viticulture. This attentiveness to the land shines through in the wines. The Lyndenhurst is a world-class deal, delivering concentrated flavor in an elegant and polished structure. Slightly dusty tannins, ripe notes of black cherry and cocoa and a finish of currant and spice make this a wine to enjoy today or cellar for 5 -7 years. $89

Sea Smoke Grand Pinot Noir, 2016: Another new wine makes the list this year—this one a rich expression of estate pinot noir hand-harvested and blended from the most exquisite lots of the 2016 growing season. A wine that bottles the ultimate expression of the Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard—blending the best of the best for the purest expression of character, complexity, and age-worthiness. Aged 16 months in barrel and cellared for an additional five years in bottle, the final wine opens with silky, elegant fruit tempered with old world notes of dried herb, black tea –all of which is integrated into a ripe, lush palate of black cherry and strawberry notes. $400

Haynes Vineyard Syrah, Forgeron, Coombsville, Napa Valley, 2021: There are few surprises left in Napa as the region has so firmly rooted itself as the land of Bordeaux varietals, with Cabernet Sauvignon at the top. But this silky, seductive Syrah from the cooler Coombsville appellation totally surprised me with its delicacy, freshness and concentration. The blue-black fruit is succulent, and the tannins have a nice polish but the core of the wine is earthy and nicely structured. Even bigger surprise, the fact that Coombsville sits on the vestiges of a collapsed caldera of an ancient volcano. $149.95

Monteabellon Finca-Matambres Ribera del Duero, 2017: The numerous gold medals awarded to this wine are testament to its overall quality, but it still must taste good and this spicy, soulful expression of Tempranillo from Spain’s Ribera del Duero region delivers on flavor, richness and complexity. I love it’s dark morello cherry richness and the earthy core accented with notes of cedar and cassis. This is a wine you can be serious with, or sip with family by the fire, but what you’ll love most about this wine is the price—avg. $29.99 online—now that is a wine that truly surprises and delights in the best way.

Keush Extremis Sparkling Wine, Armenia, 2018: Established in 2013, this winery produces is the first method champenoise sparkling wine made with indigenous Armenian varietals. Crafted from high-elevation 120 year-old bush vines that have never been grafted, this delicate bubbly brings notes of peach raspberry with biscuity notes and a whiff of lemon cream. Made 100% Areni grapes are sourced from various growers in Khachik. $39.99

Source: forbes
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