2012 has come and gone. I don't know which was more laughable: the threat of the Mayan Apocalypse or Mitt Romney. Either way, here we are: we survived another year on planet Earth. Today, January 3rd, is my ten year anniversary in Asheville, NC.
As you can imagine, I've tasted quite a few delicious and astounding grape-based beverages over the past year. While there are plenty of truly great wines that I have been fortunate enough to experience, what follows is a smattering of those that have really stuck with me. Just for clarification, these are not necessarily the "best" wines I've come across, as much as those that seem to have truly resonated with me.
Cascina Vano Barbaresco Canova 2000
2012 was the year I fell in love with Piemonte, Italy - both in spirit and in glass. While I had tasted plenty of wines from the region before, and certainly enjoyed them, this was the year that I actually "got" Piemonte. This Cascina Vano was one of the "a-ha" wines that cemented my feelings for the region. My colleague Dave Erickson brought the bottle to one of our wine group tastings, and it was just a stunner. I think that it also stuck with me because it was one of my first experiences with a properly aged wine from a region that is known for requiring patience. Needless to say, there are some Barbarescos and Barolos in my tiny winy celler now. My notes include: "honeyed, honeycomb, gorgeous!, plentiful raspberry, sweet and rounded."
I am a modestly paid retailer without any kind of big showy cellar or rich friends. While I've been fortunate to taste a handful of things that are well out of my price range, its an uncommon occurrence. A really exciting, well-made, and complex $25 bottle from some weird pocket of France holds more allure to me than all the cult-y, expensive, Napa cabs you can think of. That being said, this wine made me understand why people who have money are willing to spend it for certain wines. This wine made me wish I was rich.
While relatively inexpensive by top-echelon Burgundy standards (I think the original retail was something like $100/bottle), the Domaine Leroy Bourgogne 2004 was easily the best burgundy I have tasted. I hate to admit how I had the chance to do so: a customer of ours, who purchased it long ago and has stored it properly for years, returned it to the store, thinking there was something wrong with it. The boss happily bought his remaining bottles back, and of course, kept them for himself. But we got to taste the two that were returned uncorked.
Without boring you with the details, this is declassified pinot noir from that hallowed region, the Vosne-Romaneé in Burgundy, and from a superstar producer. My tasting notes read: "Murky, dirty brown color. Unreal complexity. Still vibrant with fruit. Dusty red cherry, forest floor, mushrooms, brown spices. Can't wrap my mind around all of it. Finish that goes on for minutes. Holy Shit."
My employer likes champagne as much as I do. One thing I like, no, love about my employer is that he likes to share wonderful things from his cellar with his employees from time to time. He brought this out at the end of the shift on the day before Thanksgiving, a day which requires more kick-ass and brute strength than non-retailers will ever know. While, certainly, there are better champagnes produced, this is the first I have had that was over two decades in age. In case you didn't know, or couldn't tell, I adore Champagne.
Tasting notes: "Rich and absolutely bracing in the same breath. Attractive oxidative notes. Caramel. Dried figs, dried dates. Reminiscent of a dry Sercial Madeira with bubbles."
A Flight of 1995 Bordeaux: Chateau Rauzan-Segla Margaux, Chateau l'Eglise-Clinet Pomerol, Chateau Clerc-Milon Pauillac
I have worked for my employer for two and a half years now, and our employee Christmas "party" (which is actually just a big, awesome dinner) has become the food and wine highlight of the year. This year we had a special menu prepared for us at Rezaz, which is arguably one of the best joints in Asheville. We started the meal with some great wines - a single-vineyard Riesling sparkler from Steininger in Austria, Champagne, Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling...
And then the lamb course came. And then came a trio of 1995 Bordeaux from Margaux, Pomerol, and Pauillac. This was such an amazing treat for little 'ol me. While I was too busy enjoying a lovely meal with my colleagues to stop and take notes, this is my recollection: "The Rauzan-Segla had a lot of cedar, licorice, underbrush, and red fruit character, with a vibrant acidity. The Clerc-Milon came afterwards and was much bigger, more brooding and dark-fruited. The l'Eglise-Clinet at the end had the most gorgeous, round and velvety mouthfeel."
Looking back on these wines, and at the dates on the bottles, I am reminded of a word that I have found myself using repeatedly this year: Context.
Context (Merriam-Webster): 1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning; 2: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting
I am approaching a decade in the wine industry. I have seen friends and colleagues move about the varying tiers of retail, wholesale, and supplier. I have chosen to stick to the decidedly unglamourous retail side, for my own reasons. Working for the particular caliber of retailer as I do affords a certain education and a context that is virtually unavailable elsewhere, and that's where the 1990 Alfred Gratien comes in, as well as all those 95 Bordeauxs: Context.
Its just one of those things. Like nebbiolo....you might get it, you might not.