My Top 15 Wines in 2011

RJ and group enjoying great Italian wines at Incanto

RJ and group enjoying great Italian wines at Incanto

I am really looking forward to 2012, but 2011 was a productive wine writing year for me, as well as another year of memorable tastings.

This year I wrote 148 blog posts. The blog was nominated for best writing and best overall blog at the Wine Blog Awards. (This is likely the last year it gets nominated by that entity, however, as I’ve become a very vocal critic of the organizers of the American Wine Bloggers Conference, and they now own the awards.) Since late November, I started writing my Wednesday blogs also for Palo Alto Patch, where they’re known as “Wine Wednesday.” Those are being picked up by other local Patches, and one of my blogs was also picked up by the San Francisco edition of Huffington Post. And visits to doubled this year according to Google Analytics, going from an average of 3500 visitors a month to 7,000 monthly visitors. WordPress stats show over 775,000 hits to the site for the year. I also became the most favorited tasting note writer on CellarTracker this year, with over 1100 members having favorited me there.

By the time I enter all my tasting notes for 2011 in CellarTracker, I will have over 6,750 tasting notes for the year—a new annual record for me. (Yes, that does work out to about 18.5 wines per day. And your point would be???)

I also really enjoyed participating in IntoWineTV’s panel, with Bartholomew Broadbent and Michael Cervin, this year. We taped 13 segments, on various wine topics, this past summer. Those segments, which appear monthly on, can be accessed here.

I did experience a major distraction that got me behind on my writing for the last quarter of the year. I started looking for a house to buy in September, then found one, had to pack and move, and have spent the last several weeks doing a lot of painting and remodeling. I love the new place, though, and it’s much quieter and roomier than my previous digs, so significantly more conducive to future wine writing. I also have room to do regular focus tastings here, which I am looking forward to.

Wine wise, I made it to even more trade tasting events this year, which helped me blow past my record of almost 5,000 wines tasted last year, as well as some spectacular tastings of rare wines with significant age on them. I got to taste amazing older California wines (thank you Richard and Fred!), old Châteauneuf-du-Papes (many thanks to Harry Karis), old Riojas (thank you Mannie) and lots of old Barolos.

 great old Chateauneuf-du-Papes collected by Harry Karis

great old Chateauneuf-du-Papes collected by Harry Karis

So what were my top wines of the year? Out of over 6,750 wines tasted, I rated 15 at 97 points or higher. (Last year I had a somewhat bloated “top 21” list, because I rated 21 wines at 97 points or higher. That was after participating in Roy Hersh’s fifth anniversary “best of the best” trip to some of the Douro and Madeira’s greatest producers, so it was a heavily Port and Madeira dominated list.) This year’s list is much more geographically spread out, but does reveal my continuing obsession with old Barolos, which comprise five of my top 15 wines. After Barolo comes Burgundy, with three wines—two whites and one red. The remaining seven wines are one each from Bordeaux, California, Champagne, the Rhone, Sauternes, Spain and Port. Mmmm, sounds like a delicious lineup for a dinner.

magnificent old Barolos at Bipin Desai lunch

magnificent old Barolos at Bipin Desai lunch

My highest rated wine of the year, at 99 points, is the amazing Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial that was released this year. It’s the multi-year blend of Unico vintages that are at least ten years old that Vega Sicilia releases in very small quantities. This year’s blend comes from the ’91, ’94 and ’98 vintages, and contains 85% Tempranillo, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot. It’s quite spectacular—complex and hedonistic—and will benefit from four to five years of bottle age. I am indebted to Stewart for bringing it to Jeff Leve’s day-after-Thanksgiving wine and food potluck in Los Angeles, which is where I got to try it (and where it outshone a few 1989 First Growth Bordeaux).

My second favorite wine of the year, at 98 points, was the soul-satisfying, beautifully made 2001 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières at a wine dinner with my San Francisco gang on April Fool’s Day.

 Coche-Dury Meursaults

Coche-Dury Meursaults

The next two wines on my list, which each rated 97+ points, are Barolos from two outstanding Barolo vintages—1958 and 1964—and from two of the greatest traditional producers: Giacomo Borgogno and Giacomo Conterno.

1958 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo

1958 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo

I actually tasted the 1958 Borgogno Riserva twice this year, but it was the second bottle that was really outstanding, probably because it received Mannie Berk’s recommended 3-4 hour decant whereas the first bottle was merely popped and poured (a criminal way to serve old Barolo, IMHO). With older wines, of course, bottle variation is a basic fact of life, leading to the common saying, “There are no great old wines, only great bottles.” There are just so many factors that can affect a delicate bottle of wine over the course of 30, 40 or more years, that it always seems like a gift when a very old wine turns out to be quite sound. I was fortunate that my second bottle of the ’58 Borgogno Riserva was one of those great bottles.

My list continues with the 2000 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, the 1983 Chateau Margaux (which I’ve had many times—the latest one happened to be another of those great bottles) and a 1978 Dom Pérignon. There is one repeat producer on my list–both the 1964 and 1967 Giacomo Conterno Barolos scored 97 points or more with me. And there is even a younger Barolo on the list–the stunning 2006 Domenico Clerico Ciabot Mentin–although it’s much too young for drinking now.

For my tasting notes on those and all of the rest of the wines, see below.

I am deeply indebted to those who brought these wines to tastings. Only one of these amazing wines did I purchase myself—the 1943 Eredi Virginia Ferrero Barolo Classico Extra Vechio. I bought it out of an unusual large collection of older Piedmont wines that was sold through I had no expectation that it would be as fabulous as it was. We had to pop and pour it, unfortunately, but since there were only four of us at dinner (and seven wines we ended up opening), it had a chance to open up and fully reveal itself over the course of our more than three-hour meal. I had expected a 1947 Giacomo Borgogno Cannubi Riserva to be the star that night, but the 1943 Ferrero left it in the dust. (The 1947 Borgogno, unfortunately, just wasn’t one of those great old bottles, even though other bottles of that wine can be phenomenal.)

Here’s wishing all my readers a delightful New Year, and a fabulous 2012! May all our old bottles be great ones.

My Top 15 Wines of 2011

  • 2011 Bodegas Vega-Sicilia Ribera del Duero Unico Reserva Especial – Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero (11/25/2011)
    Very dark red violet color; rich, amazing, effusive, mulberry, dried berry, black raspberry, floral, violet nose; rich, youthful, hedonistic and complex, dried berry, mulberry, lavender, blackberry palate; needs 5-plus years; long finish (99 points)
  • 2001 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru (4/1/2011)
    Light golden yellow color; reticent, lemon, almond, butter nose; silky textured, buttery, totally delicious, rich, lemon custard, tart lemon, almond palate, needs 2-3 years yet; medium-plus finish (98 points)
  • 1958 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Riserva – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (8/3/2011)
    Bricked medium red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, mature, ethereal, cigar box, roses, mint nose; lovely, silky textured, mature but still relatively youthful, ripe cherry, dried cherry, raspberry, roses, cigar box palate; has 25+ more years to go; long finish 97+ points (a truly satisfying, and remarkably youthful, mature, traditional Barolo; decanted for 3 hours, which helps explain why it showed so much better than the non-decanted bottle I had at a Bipin Desai tasting earlier in the year; original bottling, not a reconditioned bottle) (97 points)
  • 1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (3/20/2011)
    Bricked light medium orange color with 10 millimeter clear meniscus; subtle roses, light beef jus nose with lovely, subtle mushroom notes underneath; tasty, poised, dried berry, roses, venison jus palate, very sexy; long finish 97+ points (97 points)
  • 1983 Palmer and Margaux

    1983 Palmer and Margaux

  • 1983 Château Margaux – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux (4/1/2011)
    Slightly bricking medium dark red violet color; lovely tart cassis, mushroom, rich berry, blackberry, violets nose; tasty, youthful, rich, complex, tart blackberry, black fruit palate, with decades to go, an excellent bottle; long finish (group’s and my WOTF) (97 points)
  • 1972 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (4/21/2011)
    Bricking dark red violet color; mint, cassis, eucalyptus nose; rich, gorgeous, cassis, mint palate with sweet tannins; drinking perfectly; medium-plus finish (97 points)
  • 2006 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (1/8/2011)
    Very dark red violet color; huge, appealing, dried fig, dried berry, plum, lavender, lavender soap, ginger cake nose; rich, tasty, lavender, dried berry, dried plum, ginger cake palate, accessible and sexy now, but needs 8-10 years to fully integrate and shine; long finish (97 points)
  • 1967 Giacomo Conterno Barolo – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (1/19/2011)
    Bricked medium brown color with ruby lights; classic tar, roses, tea nose; wonderful, balanced, sweet, mature, elegant, dried cherry, raspberry palate with grip, should easily go for another 20 more years; long finish (97 points)
  • 1989 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (2/1/2011)
    Bricking medium red violet color with clear meniscus; nice charcoal, subtle garrigue, anise, smoke, dried berry, chocolate nose; lovely, youthful, dried berry, garrigue, anise, chocolate palate, a hedonistic delight; long finish (one of the cleaner, most brett-free, bottles of ’89 I’ve tried) (97 points)
  • 2000 La Tache center

    2000 La Tache center

  • 2000 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, La Tâche Grand Cru (2/18/2011)
    Slightly bricking medium red color with ten millimeter clear meniscus; sexy, roses, sous bois, cigar box, dried cherry nose; grippy, dried cherry, cigar box, spice box, green herb stems, mineral palate, delicious now but will go 15-20 years; long finish (97 points)
  • 1970 Fonseca Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto (3/29/2011)
    Very dark red violet color; rich berry, blackberry, VA, baked plum nose; tasty, rich, elegant, black plum, berry, baked berry, blackberry palate; long finish (97 points)
  • Dom Perignon flight

    Dom Perignon flight

  • 1978 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon – France, Champagne (4/1/2011)
    Light medium apricot gold color; beeswax, tart lemon, baked citrus, honey nose; tasty, gorgeous, medium bodied, rich, tart lemon, tart kumquat, mineral, tart apricot palate with great balance; long finish (in a flight of four Doms, this was the group’s WOTF) (97 points)
  • 1970 Château Guiraud – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes (12/1/2011)
    Medium orange color with ruby lights and 1 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, blood orange cream, honeyed, mature, mushroom nose; tasty, rich, poised, silky textured, baked apricot, baked cherry palate; long finish (astonishingly good and balanced) (97 points)
  • old Barolos including '43 Eredi Virginia Ferrero

    old Barolos including ’43 Eredi Virginia Ferrero

  • 1943 Eredi Virginia Ferrero Barolo Classico Extra Vechio – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (12/3/2011)
    Bricked light orange red color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; soaring, lovely, ripe, sweet cherry, dried cherry, fennel nose; delicious, silky textured, dried cherry, ripe cherry, light fennel palate; long finish (kept developing in the glass throughout our 3-hour dinner) (97 points)
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    6 Responses to My Top 15 Wines in 2011

    1. I enjoyed the read, Richard. Impressive array of wine experiences! Keep up the good blog, and Happy New Year! Best, Gary.

      • Richard Jennings says:

        Thank you for the kind good wishes. I hope you and your family have another fabulous year ahead (and that you don’t have to work quite so hard).
        All the best,

    2. RJ…Congratulations on a great year! You’re my wine tasting hero! All the best in 2012!

    3. Pingback: Terroirist » Daily Wine News: A New Year

    4. Jon Troutman says:

      May 2012 hold many more great bottles! Great write up of some iconic wines.

    5. Steve Pollack says:

      Happy new year, Richard. I recently had the 1958 Borgogno and agree with your opinion. I decanted for about 3 hours, and that did the trick as I actually thought it was DOA when I first opened the bottle. Fantastic wine and a great value. Hope to see you soon. Best, Steve

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