There's still time to review top vintages

December 3, 2012

Great ideas for your grantee who would like to know about wine. These are easy-to-acquire gift ideas. A short finder’s guide, reference list of three separate web pages follows:,, and lastly last is a tool I use with great success in wine-tasting classes I conduct.  It's a pricey place to start, but an absolute must for serious cellarers and those who wish to fully inform their nose and palate. The number of scents provided drives the price.

Think of it as a collection of half-ounce bottles of carefully made perfume. If you go this route, don’t be penny wise. The minimum is the 24, but the 54 is a tremendous value.

The little scent bottles provide for 20 years when proper care is taken. The only problem I had was frequent washing removed the lacquered-on numbers. I have owned Le Nez du Vin since 1981. Since then, I have only replaced the 12 bottles used most.

See if you can guess which. I’ll give you the easier ones: vanilla, apple, smoke, currant, tobacco and cherry . Now you pick the other four.

Snooth published its top 24 in the $25-50 premium category. In one easy read: from the joy of victory - 19 were reviewed here this year - to the agony of defeat that means I missed five.  

“Well, let me tell you, Pilgrim,” there’s still time, and I will seek out and review them before the end of the year. La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 has been on my things to do list, but Voillot Volnay 1er Cru 2001, Numanthia Toro and the Renwood Amador Ice Zinfandel 2009 were not. The Amador write-up claims, “This dessert wine has aromas of watermelon and cinnamon; the flavors are rich, complex, balanced and lush.” I don’t think I will be spending $60 to find out.

D’ Arenberg Dead Arm Syrah 2009 was in the wings. You know my thinking on that. Quirky name, confident winemaker. This is a McLaren Vale Shiraz, which take coaxing when young to allow them to open. Dark violet, inky with potent, very complex bouquet of fennel, flowers, ripe dark fruits and black pepper touched by oak. These are muted and allow fruit, rhubarb, earthy notes, dried herbs, and some tones of savory (an herb) to develop. The palate is also very complex with grippy tannins, tight acidity, anise, black pepper, dark cherries and minerals in the front and mulberry, plum, licorice and Asian spice through a pleasing long finish.  Typically WE and WS don’t rate this vineyard as well as my favs: Jancis Robinson, Tanzer, Oliver and Halliday. They all say 93 or better and WE and WS say 90-91. Smart buyers here will order the 2006, rated 95 points by McD, Robinson and Halliday, and 93 by Tanzer,  and enjoy a great, complex wine in 2014. The 2009 needs lots of cellar.

For the arborists out there, "dead arm” was considered a problem related to a disease named Eutypa Lata, which may infect vines where recent pruning has occurred. Viticulturists discovered it also results from phomopsis viticola.

These diseases also affect trees such as cherry, apple, plum and walnut. The disease was formerly considered a terrible blight, but the folks at D’Arenberg figured out that the death of branches actually concentrated the juice without having deleterious effects on the wine, but rather enhancing it. This same dead-arm syndrome rarely turns out well in baseball pitchers.

With the holidays coming, you may wish to lay in some bubbly. Stop groaning, regulars, I’m not touting Cliquot. Many say I’m in love with the “old lady” and I am. However, in the interest of diversity and an eye for festivities to come, this season I’m touting a beautiful salmon-colored Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV. This Champagne is the color of smoked salmon. Strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose, with hints of soy sauce. The palate is rich and creamy, with elegant tiny bead. On the palate, strawberries with cream, spice cake, proper acidity and a nice, clean finish. As most are aware, NV Champagne is a blend, and its flavor profile is the same every bottling.

Therefore you will find no vintage date on the bottle. This wine is a bit pricey, but it is perfect with sashimi or sushi; 92 points when priced under $75.

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