Before the bottles start popping as we welcome 2013, I've got one more list to check off. (Check out my previous blog post for my list of California Winemakers Who Made a Difference.) Here are 10 wines from the Golden State that excited me for one reason or another in 2012. A couple made the Wine Spectator Top 100 list. Some of the linked reviews are from my colleagues, or older notes for reference. Pay less attention to the ratings. One could easily sort out the top-rated wines by numbers, but these go beyond ratings, so I've listed them alphabetically.
Kite Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Angel Hawk 2009 (94 points, $70)
This graceful Pinot Noir provides a glimpse into what the future holds for this grape in this bucolic Mendocino County valley. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner has a deft touch with all the wines he makes. Expect more Pinots on this level from Anderson Valley as more winemakers become more familiar with the terroir and fine-tune their winemaking.
St. Helena Estate Mixed Blacks Field Blend Napa Valley 2010 (92, $125)
This is a fruit bowl with great density and polish. It would be hard not to be impressed by the ingredients: Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Carignane, Mourvèdre and Alicante Bouschet. The move among Rhône Rangers is toward anything-goes blends. Yet for all its apparent size, it is elegant and supple.
Rompecabezas Amador County 2008 (95, $65)
This wine took me by complete surprise. Sure, the name is great (meaning "puzzle"), the winemaker fantastic (Andy Erickson), the vineyard special (Shake Ridge Ranch) and the appellation full of potential (Amador County). But in the end it's all about the wine, and this is phenomenal.
Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Martha's Vineyard 2007 (94, $200)
This wine is nostalgic, since a 1968 Martha's Vineyard was the first wine that really grabbed my attention when it came to the potential of Napa Valley Cabernet and this signature vineyard.
Meredith Mondeuse Mount Veeder 2010 (93, $42)
No, Mondeuse won't be the next big thing. Take it from Carole Meredith, it's a nightmare to grow. Still, this is so charming and smooth that it makes you wonder, what if …?
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Blue-Slide Ridge Vineyard 2007 (97, $90)
This has always been my favorite Pinot vineyard of the three made under the Marcassin label. It is gorgeous, deep, polished and refined. Marcassin is planning to drop this wine as it focuses on its estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Marcassin Blue-Slide Ridge will be missed.
Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Panek Vineyard 2009 (95, $75)
Consultant extraordinaire Thomas Brown has built more depth and richness into this Napa Cabernet. Earlier vintages were trimmer and lacked the density of this one.
Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select 2002 (97, $190)
This is what's supposed to happen when you lay down a wine for a decade. The Hillside Select has emerged as the Stags Leap Cabernet star and it is routinely one of the top bottlings on release each year. This gorgeous 10-year-old should go another 20 years.
Knoll Chardonnay Russian River Valley Buena Tierra Vineyard 2005 (97, $45)
This wine stunned me the first time I tried it several years ago, and I've had the great fortune to try it (and its fellow vintages) on several occasions. Beautifully polished, rich and flavorful, enhanced by its elegance and charm.
Selyem Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard 1992 (97, $50)
Burt Williams turned the California Pinot Noir world on its ear with glowing Pinots starting in the early 1980s. I found a "lost" bottle in my cellar this past year and it was stunning. Williams is the perfect example of an intuitive winemaker who has been leading the way for a long time.