I don't write a lot of checks anymore, but in the old days it was nearly March by the time I stopped writing in the old year. So if I waited until after the New Year to look back on 2011 and forward to 2012, I'm almost ahead of myself, right?
If that works for you, it works for me. 2011 was certainly an interesting year and 2012 being an election year, anything can happen. The world of wine right now is a microcosm of the rest of America. Business is picking up, and some people are doing dandy and price is no object but most are still trying to finagle the best deals they can. Here are a few thoughts about California wine in 2012:
• After several vintages of small crops, the glut of wine on the bulk market is drying up. That's a good sign for California producers, but it means that consumers looking for value will have to shop more carefully. That $8 bottle of Chardonnay that supposedly has $25 juice in it will be harder to find.
• There's still plenty of unsold wine looking for buyers, but supplies are beginning to dwindle. While most of the large producers are beginning to sell through their backlog of wines, many small and medium-size wineries are still overstocked and continue to offer steep discounts to retailers and restaurants.
• Look for a surge in the sales of wineries. If you thought 2011 was busy, it will be nothing compared to 2012. The number of California wineries quietly on the market—or looking for new investors—is astounding.
• This last one is more of an observation than a prediction. At Wine Spectator we recommend the wines we believe are worth drinking, but there seems to be a lot of chatter on the net about the wines you shouldn't drink. It's one thing to check out a recommended bottle, it's another to let someone tell you not to drink entire categories of wine. In 2012, be suspicious about that sort of advice.
And now to look back on 2011. My main tasting beats for Wine Spectator are Zinfandel, Merlot and California sparkling wine, and below is a list of my favorite wines I reviewed in blind tastings last year, but I wouldn't be much of a wine writer if that's all I tasted.
One of the most impressive wines I drank in 2011 was Château Latour 2008 but then I'm a sucker for the Latour style. Two other great wines couldn't have been more different, the rich and massive Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2009 and the deftly complex Tollot-Beaut Corton-Bressandes 2009. Two California wines that I tasted non-blind were knockouts: Dehlinger Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 and Rochioli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Little Hill 2009.
One of the perks of the job is the chance to drink older vintages, and 2011 was a good year on that front. I tasted some great 10- and 20-year-old Zins and Carol Shelton Zinfandel Russian River Valley Karma Zin Old Vines 2001 was one of the best. The 1975 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque Commande Spéciale was a delicate beauty, and the Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 1981 showed exceptional life and finesse after 30 years. I've only tasted a few perfect wines in my day, but the Château Margaux 1989 that I tasted at the Wine Experience rated 100 with room to spare.
Buehler Zinfandel Napa Valley 2009 (91 points / $18 / 4,200 cases made)
Carlisle Zinfandel Russian River Valley Papera Ranch 2008 (95 / $43 / 349 cases made)
Domaine de la Terre Rouge Vin Gris D'Amador Sierra Foothills 2009 (90 / $16 / 400 cases made)
Hartford Family Zinfandel Russian River Valley Highwire Vineyard Old Vine 2009 (94 / $50 / 393 cases made)
Hourglass Merlot Napa Valley Blueline Vineyard 2008 (93 / $75 / 408 cases made)
Mumm Napa DVX Napa Valley 2003 (93 / $55 / 1,000 cases made)
Pride Claret Reserve Sonoma-Napa Counties 2008 (94 / $130 / 518 cases made)
Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L'Ermitage 2003 (93 / $45 / 5,251 cases made)
Seghesio Zinfandel Alexander Valley Home Ranch 2009 (95 / $38 / 2,500 cases made)
Switchback Ridge Merlot Napa Valley Peterson Family Vineyard 2008 (92 / $56 / 620 cases made)
Joe-janelle Becerra — Burlingame, CA — January 4, 2012 12:04pm ET
Mike Olszewski — Newcastle, WA, USA — January 4, 2012 3:13pm ET
John Wilen — Texas — January 4, 2012 6:03pm ET
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