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Top Stories of 2009

Wine and sex, homeless grapes, James Bond and Julia Child … 2009 was full of hot topics, sobering news and great values

Stephanie Cain, Dana Nigro
Posted: December 29, 2009

With the global economy in turmoil, 2009 was full of uncertainties, and the world of wine was not immune: Wineries sold, grapes didn’t, and taxes continued to rise. And tainting the year further for some of Wine Spectator’s bloggers, corks seem to be as unreliable as ever.

It wasn’t all sour grapes, though. A stimulating new study found that red wine increased Tuscan women’s libidos, and thanks in part to everyone’s light wallets, high-quality value wines were more abundant than ever. With all parties declaring 2009 an excellent vintage across France, we reviewed some highly anticipated Beaujolais Nouveaus. And James Bond himself—Sir Sean Connery—chatted with Wine Spectator about Dom Pérignon and secret agent fashion. Here are our most popular news and feature articles, tasting reports, blogs and videos of 2009 (determined by page views or plays). Take a look back with us at the best of the vintage, and see what you may have missed along the way.

Top 10 Free News and Feature Articles

1. 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau
The third Thursday in November was a treat this year, as Wine Spectator tasted nine wines from what may be one of the best Beaujolais vintages on record. Leading the pack were the Jean Bererd & Fils Beaujolais-Villages Domaine de la Madone and Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais-Villages, but all of the wines in our tasting showed solidly in the good to very good score ranges, which is not always the case with Nouveau. In general, the wines displayed fresh acidity and good concentration. Plus, each is priced less than $20, the hottest price category in the current market. The showing bodes well for the upcoming release of Beaujolais early next year as well as for Cru Beaujolais next fall.

2. 12 Reds for the Thanksgiving Table
Wine Spectator helped you prep for the Thanksgiving holiday, providing a recipe for a roast turkey, tips on "wine-tuning" the bird to match different wine styles and a list of 12 recommended Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon. If you had a hankering for a white, we also suggested 12 Chardonnays to go with various side dishes—including Leek-Laced Mashed Potatoes, Celery Root Gratin and Herbed Pancetta and Chestnut Stuffing—plus more tips for tweaking the dishes to make harmonious wine matches.

3. New Owners for California Pinot Noir Star Kosta Browne
The owners of standout Pinot Noir winery Kosta Browne sold a controlling interest to Vincraft, a new wine group, for almost $40 million because some of their original investors wanted to cash out. Vincraft—started by former Beringer and Fosters executives Walt Klenz and Pete Scott, and winery owner Bill Price—acquired Kosta Browne as the first of several labels planned for a portfolio to include Napa Cabernet producers and Sonoma and Central Coast wineries. Kosta Browne winemaker Michael Browne, who started making wine with Dan Kosta in 1997, said no major changes are planned and expressed his excitement about the deal. “We met with many groups,” he said. “We wanted to find the right partner, the right fit, someone who would respect our vision and our culture.”

4. California Grapes May Go Homeless
Thanks to the recession, truckloads of California grapes, even Napa Cabernet and Sonoma Pinot, risked going homeless as the state faced its worst oversupply of fine-wine grapes in decades. While most top sites were not affected, even experienced growers like Andy Beckstoffer had some unsold grapes as of August. New and small growers were most at risk—they had to sell in bulk, make their own wine or let the grapes hang and lose the crop. However, consumers may see better $8 to $12 value wines, especially when the vintage reads 2009.

5. 2009 New York Wine Experience: The Top 10 Wines of 2008
At this year’s Wine Experience, guests had the opportunity to try all Top 10 wines of 2008—most long since sold out—in one sitting. The seminar reinforced one of the mottos of wine: It tastes better when shared. The three-day Wine Experience brought together famous winemakers, chefs, sommeliers and thousands of wine fans to taste the best from the entire world, with wines from the Barossa to Bordeaux, Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. As Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company in California said, “It’s hard to leave the tanks every year, but where else can you meet such amazing wine lovers?” Relive the event—or if you couldn’t be there, live it vicariously—through our photos, videos and articles.

6. 2009 Vintage Report Card
Wine Spectator offered an early peek at the quality of the newest vintage, with winemaker reports from key regions in the United States and Europe. With rain in California and New York, heat in Oregon and early frost in Washington, the 2009 U.S. vintage faced challenges but has plenty of bright spots. In France, every major growing region enjoyed a beautiful growing season, and much of the rest of Europe also benefited from a warm, dry summer.

7. Drinking Out Loud: Weighing Greatness Against Originality
Longtime Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer launched an exclusive online series in December called Drinking Out Loud, raising questions about the wine world with his usual brand of humor. His debut discussed the “Crazy Club”—winemakers pushing the boundaries of conventional winemaking. He described his visit with Frank Cornelissen, who makes wines on Sicily’s Mount Etna. Wild, weird and certainly original, Cornelissen’s wines had Kramer wondering: How do you define greatness?

8. Red Wine Improves Sex Lives of Tuscan Women
Need another excuse to enjoy a glass of great Brunello? Light to moderate consumption of red wine may lead to improved sexual function in women, according to a study published in the October issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The study, conducted at the University of Florence, showed that women who drank one or two glasses of red wine a day scored higher on a questionnaire about sexual health and enjoyment.

9. Six States Raise Wine Taxes
Apparently nothing is certain to capture wine lovers' attention like sex and taxes. Six state legislatures raised alcohol excise taxes from 11 cents to 62 cents a gallon as part of their efforts to balance budgets during the recession, a move that came at an inopportune time for wineries, as customers were already trading down on bottles. Eleven other states rejected increases; are “sin tax” hikes now out of vogue or will more states be eyeing them as their budget woes drag on?

10. Wine Talk: Sean Connery
Sir Sean Connery, the legendary face of secret agent James Bond, talked drinking and cellaring with Wine Spectator. He admitted that even though his Dr. No character was a wine connoisseur sipping Dom Pérignon, he hardly knew anything about it at the start.

Top 5 Tasting Reports

1. Top 100 of 2009
Our annual list of the year’s most exciting wines always sparks much discussion, and this year was no exception. Along with the mix of red wines from top regions in California, France and Italy, a Washington value name captured the No. 1 spot, a Spanish red from a little-known region claimed No. 2 and the highest-scoring California Sauvignon Blanc to date made a strong showing at No. 9. This year, we gave WineSpectator.com members a special treat with an advance look at the full Top 100 list online, before revealing details on the Top 10 to the rest of the world. Each of the 10 was accompanied by a video in which that region's lead taster explained what made the wine so special—and that entire lineup was our most popular set of videos for 2009.

2. 2008 Bordeaux Barrel Tastings
For those looking for some bargains on Bordeaux futures amid the recession, senior editor James Suckling provided scores and tasting notes for more than 300 red, white and sweet wines from barrel, along with detailed analysis of the 2008 vintage. The year was challenging for Bordeaux, though a warm, sunny September made it undoubtedly better than 2007. The best of the reds show lovely aromas, fruity palates, silky tannins and bright acidity. However, the weaker reds can be light, green and acidic. The dry whites and sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac can also be very good, with some exceptional examples.

3. Tasting Highlights: 20 Napa Cabernet Values
Nothing beats out California Cabernet Sauvignon for popularity in our twice-a-week series highlighting noteworthy wines from our editors' latest tastings. Add the word "values" and that often-pricey category becomes even more appealing. Senior editor James Laube picked out a set of excellent Cabernets from the 2006 vintage that ranged from $50 down to $15.

4. Tasting Highlights: 14 California Pinot Noirs and 15 Distinctive California Pinots
Pinot Noir from the Golden State made a run for Cabernet’s crown, consistently drawing a lot of attention each time James Laube provided an update on his tastings of the exceptional 2007 vintage and the 2008s that are beginning to appear. The batch of 14 came mostly from Santa Barbara and included familiar names such as Sea Smoke, Sanford and Siduri. The group of 15 came from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley—the mother lode of Pinot Noir in California, with its fresh, focused wines—and the neighboring Sonoma Coast, which is providing stiff competition.

5. Tasting Highlights: 24 Outstanding Wines from Oregon
Oregon has been picking up steam, earning a spot in our top 5 tasting reports for the second year in a row. Harvey Steiman picked out a baker’s dozen of outstanding Pinot Noirs from the newly released 2007 vintage; the best wines from this challenging year feature delicacy, red fruit and floral flavors with real elegance and finesse. Oregon’s whites have been coming on strong as well, ranging from Pinot Gris to Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Blanc. Here are 11 notable examples, with prices for many in the $15 to $25 range.

Top WineSpectator.com Blogs

Three of WineSpectator.com’s top blog posts this year share a theme: cork taint and what can be done to prevent the all-too-common “dump and cry” experience, as one commenter put it. Three other posts discuss more positive experiences—two editors shared their thoughts on tasting amazing wines (the value wine that made the 2009 Wine of the Year and a vertical of a cult Napa Cabernet Sauvignon), while our guest winemaker bloggers described bringing in what looks to be an incredible vintage.

• James Laube: Thoughts on Our Wine of the Year
Sure, he voted for the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet as our Wine of the Year, finding it “impossible to beat” in terms of value. But James Laube admits he is sometimes in the minority in the voting. He explains what he considers important in the selection process and shares some of his favorite bottles that came in close seconds (or lower).

• James Molesworth: Rearing Its Ugly Head Again: Another Cork Taint Episode
In his Rhône tastings, James Molesworth came across three consecutive “off” bottles of the same wine, from a new boutique label. Testing confirmed TCA taint, but two subsequent bottles were fine. Molesworth reports on why bad corks are such a headache for small wineries and what winemakers and cork makers do to prevent TCA taint during the production process.

• Bruce Sanderson: A Rare Taste of Screaming Eagle
What a way to kick off a weekend! Bruce Sanderson had the opportunity to taste a rare six-vintage vertical of the legendary Screaming Eagle during a seminar at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. He shared his tasting notes on the cult Napa Cabernet, rating all six wines as outstanding or classic.

• Harvey Steiman: When the Cork Goes Bad on Long-Cellared Wine
No one likes opening a bottle only to find it's been tainted by a bad cork—especially when you've been aging that wine for a decade or more. It’s too late to get a replacement. But must we write off those bottles as our loss, asks Harvey Steiman? With 10 percent of wine bottles adversely affected by corks, isn’t there a financial incentive for wineries to switch to screw caps?

• James Suckling: The Circus
James Suckling tasted the 1988 Sassicaia on two occasions this year, once in Florence and again in Las Vegas. First time, 97 points. Second time, possible cork taint. However, the restaurant’s sommelier did not agree. He asked: Isn’t the job of a sommelier to detect cork taint, no matter what the cost of the bottle? Plenty of readers weighed in.

• 2009 Harvest Winemakers: A Promising Year in Bordeaux
Could 2009 be in the same league as the classic vintages of 2000 and 2005? Overall, the growing season was marked by hot days and cool nights, ideal for a great vintage. As they reported on the harvest conditions, Bordeaux winemakers Alexander Van Beek of Giscours and du Tetre and Véronique Sanders of Haut-Bailly couldn't help but get excited.

Top 5 Videos

While the Top 10 countdown videos were our most popular of the year, here are the top views in other categories.

Video Contest: Paso Rap
For the third year in a row, we asked our readers to show off their film skills, creativity and passion by sending in their own wine videos. We picked nine finalists, which range in theme from Bollywood ("Wine Angels") to film noir ("Wine Detective"). Viewers’ votes determined the winner, a righteous rap about terroir and the (friendly) competition between the East and West sides of Paso Robles. The makers of "Paso Rap" won passes to the Wine Experience; the other eight contenders each earned a pair of tickets to a Grand Tasting or Grand Tour. Plus, don't miss our nine honorable mentions.

Wine Regions: Provence—The Heart of Rosé
Bright, crisp and refreshing, rosés are perfect for summer. Why is the French region of Provence so perfect for rosé, and how are its wines made? Get to the heart of the matter with a trio of wine people from Provence.

Learn Wine: How to Navigate Restaurant Wine Service
You're in a restaurant. The bottle you ordered arrives at your table, and the sommelier is standing there, waiting … Now what? The pros at award-winning Gramercy Tavern in New York walk you through the steps of wine service.

Special Reports: Inspired by Julia Child
For all those who have tried their hand at Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or loved the book/movie Julie and Julia, this series pays tribute to Julia Child, with stories (and impersonations) from her friends, an interview with author Julie Powell and Julia-inspired recipes from Emeril Lagasse and Thomas Keller.

Wine and Food Pairing: Cooking for Wine with Gavin Kaysen
How can you improve your pairings? Learn from Café Boulud executive chef Gavin Kaysen as he teaches you how to make a great new salad recipe in your home kitchen. In part 2, Kaysen and sommelier Michael Madrigale discuss the wine pairing for the escarole with grilled red onion, orange and hazelnut.

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