2009 was a great year for wines. Some of the best wines came from a few surprising sources and there are also some changes from the norm that appear as favorites of wine enthusiasts this year. Reds, whites and even rosés are among the top wines this year. As a wine enthusiast myself, I can only attest to the wineries that held my attention. My picks for the top 10 wine makers and vineyards for 2009 are:
Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards was established nearly 30 years ago in California’s Santa Rita Hills. They specialize in pinot noir and chardonnay grapes but have a variety of different wines including pinot gris and pinot blanc. Of particular note is the 2008 chardonnay which retails for under $20. This wine is crisp, fresh, with a hint of oak and citrus undertones.
Argyle Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was established in the early 1970’s and in recent years has started to attract the attention of wine enthusiasts everywhere. Famous for their pinot noir, chardonnay, Riesling and sparkling wines, one sparkling wine consistently stood out this year. The 1999 Extended Tirage Brut received Wine Spectator honors and at a mere $50 retail makes it not only delicious but affordable. Citrus, apple and vanilla make up this complex sparkling wine that should not be missed.
Bacchant Wines is the result of a collaboration between the Pisoni family and Master Sommelier Sara Floyd. The 2008 Lucia Pinot Noir is a standout this year for affordable reds, retailing at $20.
Dominus Estate is a fairly new vineyard, established in 1983. The grapes that are featured change depending on the year and climate conditions. Careful consideration is made each year which makes their latest release, the 2006 red, particularly appealing. It has a rich deep flavor but at $130 per bottle is not your ordinary table wine.
Etude Wines was established a quarter century ago and their grape growing philosophy has managed some superior vintages throughout the years. Famous for their pinot noir grapes, this year’s surprise choice in featured wines is their pinot rosé. Rosé wines are making a come back in recent years and at $20, the 2008 Etude Pinot Noir Rosé certainly holds its own. It has subtle strawberry and stone fruit accents with a smooth, creamy finish.
Anthill Farms is located in Healdsburg, California and has been making wine for a number of years. In previous years, they have made top lists for their top Pinot wines of various vintages and often have been considered a one trick pony in the wine world. However, their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has won quite a bit of praise. The vines have been growing since 1963 and Anthill’s patience with these vines has produced a phenomenal product that belies the $25 per bottle price point for this wine. The wine boasts subtle tannins, a flowery plum and smoky bay leaf flavor. This wine is one for the ages, as it may be a single run vintage. The weather and concentrated flavor from the few grapes that grew makes this a special wine from a stellar vineyard.
A Donkey and Goat Winery is located in Berkley, California and boasts a number of natural and organic wines that all win awards. Using grapes from vineyards around California, including the Sierra Foothills, Monterrey and Mendocino County, they produce an excellent and eclectic variety of wines. They use foot stomping to crush their grapes, avoid plastics while producing their wine, utilize wild yeasts and no nutrients or enhancers are used in the production of the wine. Their Mourvedre, which they call The Prospector, from 2007 is a much sought after wine which runs about $25 a bottle. Its maceration was 23 days and was aged in neutral Hungarian casks. A unique wine, it has bold and edgy flavor with licorice, boysenberry and herbal touches, a mineral tinge and a finish of dark fruits.
Clos Saron winery is located in Oregon House, California and is an established maker of excellent high-elevation Pinot Noir wines that use grapes from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. They have also begun creating some excellent cuvees, or blended wines. Their approach to making these blends was the product, not to use formulas or traditional blends from other regions. Their Cuvee Mysteriuse was their first and arguably their best Cuvee to date. A 2005 Clos Saron Cuvee Mysterieus will hard to find as it was really a small run wine but at $35 dollars a bottle is well worth the money should you have the opportunity to find a bottle for sale. This Cuvee is a blend of Syrah and Merlot grapes, with a bit of Cabernet and Viognier grapes as well. Its sappy, salty, pungent and plumy, with nice and fierce tannins.
Varner Winery is located in Menlo Park, CA and has quite a selection of wines that they make. From Cabernet-Sauvignons to Zinfadels, this winery has a wine for just about any pairing and many of their wines receive excellent scores from tasters. Their 2007 Chardonnay is especially good and its $39 price is quite a bargain, tasting better and scoring better than wines that cost twice as much. When tasting, it begins with a sharp mineral taste with roasted lemon and quince. There is a nice texture and a oak flavor. The finish is long lasting, with a nice lime flavor.
Pleasant Hill Winery in Brenham, Texas has been coming up with excellent wines for the past few years. They grow grapes for their award winning Blanc du Bois on premise at the winery as well as grapes for a couple other popular wines which they sell. Their focus is on wines made of Texas grapes; which means grape varieties that are less commonly known than the Cabernets and Zinfandels of the world. Though not as well known, their wines are excellent and complex. Their Rosso Forte Port, at $23 a bottle is an excellent value for an excellent port. With complex flavors and excellent sweetness, this is a great pairing for chocolates and aromatic cheeses. A rich flavor of nuts, chocolate and caramel, it makes an excellent dessert wine. They also sell chocolate made locally that are infused with the same port and make the absolute perfect pairing.