One of my favorite stops on the annual wine calendar is the Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting, held each year at City View atop the Metreon in downtown San Francisco. This tasting brings together top producers from around the globe, each chosen for a particular wine that, according to W&S Editor and Publisher Joshua Greene, was chosen from the previous year’s blind tastings of more than 12,000 wines. Each winery pours two wines, their top-scoring label and one more of their own choosing.
After only a couple of years in this business, I’m still developing my own methods for getting the most out of these large public tastings. There are some writers – Alder Yarrow and Richard Jennings, I’m thinking of you – who are able to plow through these lineups with impressive speed and focus. Personally, I’ve not developed the capacity for that, at least not yet. This year, in a two-, maybe two-and-a-half-hour stretch, I was able to get to 32 of the 100 wineries presenting, but tasted only 52 of the 200 wines being offered. Maybe I talk too much. Maybe I think too much. Nah. Has to be the talking.
My method this year included a slightly new approach. I committed myself to tasting wines only from producers that I didn’t know at all. It would be a night for discovery; only new labels for me. Overall, I did pretty well, letting myself get pulled back to only ten familiar favorites. But, even those old friends had some surprises in store. As I write this I’m kicking myself a bit for not breaking this rule more often that night, especially when it came to the heavier reds at the end of the evening, which I largely ignored, due to both time and growing palate fatigue.
The wines I tasted covered the spectrum from impressive to, well, unimpressive. Almost all the wines were clean and well made, with few exceptions. One or two wines were a bit on the bretty side, and one sauvignon blanc I tasted took that well-worn descriptor “cat pee” to a staggering new level. While those wines stood out in all the wrong ways, there were a number of wines that impressed me for all the right reasons. Not unexpectedly, a portion of the wines suffered from “potted plant disease,” guilty of merely sitting there with nothing to offer. The word “meh” is overused these days, but those wines were exactly that.
What are some of the things that made me smile last Wednesday? Well, a crisp, bold malagousia from Domaine Gerovassilou, a wine that my local wine merchant has been urging me to try. A Dundee Hills pinot noir from Lange Estates offered entrancing perfumed aromas, making me want to learn more about their wines. The La Bruma Syrah from Peay Vineyards seemed to be giving an in-glass tutorial on what California syrah should smell, taste, and feel like: clean, bright, full of peppery aromas and savory flavors that had me rethinking many of the syrahs I’d had in recent months.
Given the wines and producers gathered that night, there were plenty of moments like the ones mentioned above. Below I’ve listed the wines that impressed me the most. There is no one scoring system that I’ve run across that I’m completely satisfied with. So, for my own purposes at this tasting, I used stars, pluses, minuses, dashes and circles to indicate the level of my approval. I’m looking forward already to next year’s tasting, when I’ll have a chance to improve my own numbers.
Domaine William Fèvre 2008 Chablis Grand Cru Bougros
Lange Estate 2009 Dundee Hills Lange Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir
Peay Vineyards 2009 Sonoma Coast La Bruma Syrah
Lamoreaux Landing 2011 Finger Lakes Red Oak Vineyard Riesling
Robert Weil 2010 Rheingau Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling Trocken
Domaine Leflaive 2009 Meursault 1er Cru Sous le Dos d’Âne
Bouchard Père et Fils 2006 Beaune Grèves 1er Cru Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus
Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine des Heritiers Louis Jadot
Michel Gay & Fils 2008 Beaune-Toussaints 1er Cru Vielles Vignes
R. Lopez de Heredia 2001 Rioja Reserva Viña Tondonia
Pago de los Capellanes 2009 Ribera del Duero Crianza
Damilano 2007 Barolo Cerequio
Roche del Manzoni 2005 Barolo Vigna Cappella di S. Stefano
Paul Jaboulet Âine 2008 Hermitage La Petite Chapelle
Domaine Gerovassiliou 2011 Epanomi Single Vineyard Malagousia
Undurraga 2011 Lo Abarca T.H. Sauvignon Blanc
Les Vins de Vienne 2010 Condreiu La Chambée
Vasse Felix 2010 Margaret River Heytesbury Chardonnay
Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles
Domaine William Fèvre 2011 Chablis
Felton Road 2010 Central Otago Block 3 Pinot Noir
Benanti 2007 Etna Blanco Superiore Pietramarina