At the end of every year, we at WineSpectator.com like to look back and see what were the biggest news stories, most popular tasting reports, hottest blog topics and favorite videos among our readers. This year brought a lot of serious topics to the forefront, such as fraudulent wines and the impact of the economic turmoil on the wine industry. And wine lovers can be a contentious bunch, engaging in friendly debates over corkage policies, whether sommeliers should taste the wine before serving, and how well riper-style wines go with food. But we and our readers also had a lot of fun, from discovering exciting new Napa Cabernets to watching funny wine videos for our annual contest to chatting with hot Spanish actresses. Check out what you missed in 2009 or just reminisce with us over your favorite items.
1. Robert Mondavi Dies at Age 94
The passing of the iconic vintner who helped lead California wine to international prominence was the biggest wine news story of the year, causing an outpouring of comments on our blogs from wine lovers and members of the global wine industry who admired or were inspired by him. Our tribute covered his eight decades in the business: his family's start in the Lodi wine business, the founding of Robert Mondavi Winery, the Opus One joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the expansion into a publicly traded corporation with several international joint ventures, the financial strains that led to the eventual sale of his beloved company and his family's move to start over with a Napa Cabernet label.
2. Brunello Under Fire
One of Americans' favorite Italian wines got caught up in a scandal in spring 2008 as Italy's financial police impounded several prominent producers' remaining 2003 Brunello di Montalcino, as well as subsequent vintages still aging in bottle or barrel, under suspicions that the wines contained grapes other than Sangiovese, the only variety permitted in Brunello under DOCG regulations. The seizure led Argiano to declassify its 2003 Brunello so it could sell the wine rather than waiting for a resolution in the case, and the U.S. government threatened to block Brunello imports unless the Italian government could guarantee the wines' authenticity. Eventually, the two governments reached an agreement to allow shipments, and Antinori's Pian delle Vigne Brunello 2003 was cleared, as were half of Frescobaldi's Castelgiocondo and most of Banfi's Brunello. But the matter has not yet been cleared up: In the fall, the investigator claimed that lab analysis confirmed that several wineries under investigation had violated Italian law and that about 122,000 cases of Brunello and 50,000 cases of Rosso di Montalcino did not contain 100 percent Sangiovese. Only limited details were released, and the names of the wineries, the number of wineries and the affected vintages were not provided. Expect to hear more in 2009.
3. Domaine Ponsot Proprietor Halts Sale of Fake Bottles
In April 2008, Acker Merrall & Condit paused an auction to announce that it was pulling 22 lots, totaling 107 bottles of red Burgundy from Domaine Ponsot, at the request of proprietor Laurent Ponsot, who believed they were fakes. The incident increased concerns among collectors over the apparent growth in wine counterfeiting, after 2007 brought a series of lawsuits filed against auction houses and a federal probe into wine counterfeiting.
|Montelena was almost purchased by Château Cos-d'Estournel's owner but the deal fell through.|
5. A Bubbly New Year in Three Bites
Almost all of us were happy to see tumultuous 2008 finally come to an end, and whether you were celebrating that by splurging on a great bottle or by resolving to stick to a tight budget, we had plenty of recommendations for great Champagnes and sparkling wines, plus three easy-to-make party snacks to match.
6. Neither Hail Nor Mildew Can Stay Beaujolais Nouveau
The hype over Nouveau may not reach the heights of years past, but wine lovers are still curious about the first French wines of the year. Thanks to excellent September weather after a challenging growing season, the 2008 Nouveaus have better balance and a bit more richness than recent vintages from Beaujolais, and our blind tasting of 9 samples (plus one Italian) found several cheap, tasty options for immediate drinking.
7. Didier Dagueneau Dies in Aircraft Crash at Age 52
The tragic death of this iconoclastic Loire Valley winemaker stunned many who loved his high-quality Pouilly-Fumés and respected his dedication to excellence and his rigorous vineyard management and winemaking techniques.
8. A Blind Tasting of Zinfandel
What do you get when you pull together several passionate winemakers for a blind tasting of Zinfandels from the 2005 vintage, one of the best for that variety in ages? Trouble. Or at least a wide range of opinions on which style is best, as columnist Tim Fish finds out.
|Spanish actress Claudia Bassols shares her favorite wines.|
9. Wine Talk: Claudia Bassols
Was it her beautiful smile or her newfound TV fame in the United States that made our interview with the Spanish actress so popular? Bassols—who appeared in the PBS television series Spain … On the Road Again with Gwyneth Paltrow, Mario Batali and Mark Bittman—spoke with WineSpectator.com about her favorite Spanish wines and her feelings about traditional and experimental cuisines.
10. 2008 Vintage Report Card
It's tough to be patient when you have a new vintage of wines to look forward to. So Wine Spectator's editors analyzed the season's conditions in key regions across the United States and Europe and gave each a preliminary grade. California faced a dramatic year, with frost, heat waves and wildfire smoke, but Oregon and Washington had an easier time. Much of Western Europe suffered cool, wet weather and a hard slog in the vineyards, though some areas recovered with a warm, sunny fall. The picture will be clearer once we taste the wines from barrel or bottle.
1. The Top 100 of 2008
It's no surprise that once again the most popular article of the year was our Top 100 package, but our annual list of the year's most exciting wines contained quite a few surprises amid the expected 2005 Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Papes: A Chilean wine snags the No. 1 spot for the first time, a dry Portuguese red comes in at No. 3 and a value-priced Zinfandel rounds out the top 10. Over the course of a week, we counted down the Top 10 wines, each 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 2008, capped of course by the unveiling of the Wine of the Year.
3. Tasting Highlights: California Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
In our twice-a-week series highlighting noteworthy wines from our editors' latest tastings, California Cabernet was far and away the most popular category. This article features seven classic ratings out of 13 new releases from the 2005 vintage and a late-release 2004, including wines from Paul Hobbs and the much anticipated Levy & McClellan and Ovid labels.
4. Tasting Highlights: Oregon Pinot Noir
Oregon's two newest vintages for Pinot Noir, 2006 and 2005, were both excellent, but they couldn't be more different in style due to the growing conditions. The wines from 2006 are ripe and generous, while 2005 delivers exquisite balance, finesse and class. Domaine Serene's high-end bottlings top this list of 10 outstanding examples from both vintages.
5. Retrospective: 1997 California Cabernets
From the get-go, California's 1997 Cabernets were showy wines, with rich fruit flavors and plush textures. The vintage overall earned a classic 99-point rating. The year also saw the largest grape crop in California history to that date, a rare combination of quality with quantity. A decade later, James Laube looked back at 89 of the 1997 Cabernets in a series of blind tastings. The top wines were still showing exceptionally well, but as in any retrospective tasting, there were surprises, both good and bad.
• James Laube: A Stunning New Napa Valley Cabernet
In his ongoing series of recommendations from his latest tastings, James Laube picks out some of California's boldest and brightest bottlings. Among the newcomers, the Rudius wines from Kenwood winemaker Jeff Ames stand in the spotlight as fabulous values.
• Kim Marcus: Going Upriver in the Douro for Quinto do Crasto's Fantastic 2007s
Through a lightning-quick race toward modernization, Portugal's red table wines are proving themselves more than noteworthy. Kim Marcus recounts one of the highlights from his latest visit to the Douro.
• James Molesworth: To Taste or Not to Taste? That is the Sommelier's Question
In restaurants, tasting each bottle opened is frequently part of wine service. Sommeliers want to ensure that the wine they are presenting is not flawed in any way. However, a recent Wine Spectator poll found that 84 percent of respondents did not want a sommelier to taste the wine they ordered before serving it to them. James Molesworth investigates both sides of this surprisingly controversial issue.
• Bruce Sanderson: The 2005s from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
In Burgundy, 2005 was for many the best young vintage since 1990. Of course, the exceptional growing season was not lost on the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which has some of the most renowned terroir in the region. Bruce Sanderson shares his notes from two non-blind tastings of the 2005 DRC collection, and in the harmony of these coveted wines, finds that the "vintage and terroir have reached a truce."
• Marvin Shanken: A Legend Lives On
Robert Mondavi's shoes will be large ones to fill. Marvin Shanken reminisces on the drive, passion and achievements of a California luminary.
• Harvey Steiman: Some Thoughts on Corkage
The BYO-saga continues: Is it a right or a privilege? Harvey Steiman explores the question of proper comportment when bringing a wine to a restaurant.
• James Suckling: Thoughts on Brunello's Witch Hunt
After news broke of the investigation into whether some Brunello di Montalicino wines were being produced illegally (by adding other varieties to a wine that is required to be 100 percent Sangiovese), James Suckling questions possible political motivations and says the real scandal is how the escalating Italian situation was handled.
• Winemaker Blogs: Are Winemakers Doing Drinkers a Disservice?
Many people argue that the place for wine is alongside food. Accordingly, some California winemakers are backing away from big, high-alcohol wines that some critics believe can overwhelm a meal. However, in light of the quick pace of modern American life, Siduri winemaker Adam Lee presents a contrarian defense of contemporary, riper-style wines.
Learn Wine: Inside Wine Spectator's Tasting Department
For anyone who has ever wondered exactly how Wine Spectator tasters evaluate more than 15,000 wines each year, we offer a behind-the-scenes tour with tasting director Bruce Sanderson and other staff, who explain the process from start to finish.
Learn Wine: How To: Taste Red Wine
The first in our How To series is aimed at newcomers to wine who want to learn how to taste like a pro and get more out of each sip. Why should you swirl? What flavors are you looking for? We answer all those questions and more.
Editors' Tastings: Tuscany's 100-Point Merlot
James Suckling sits down with Cinzia Merli, owner of La Macchiole winery in Tuscany, to taste and talk about her 2004 Messorio, a 100 percent Merlot from Bolgheri that earned a perfect 100 points in Suckling's blind tastings. Merli discusses the 2004 vintage in Bolgheri and the region's terroir, which she describes as "perfect for Merlot."
Special Reports: Bordeaux 2005, Part 1: A Perfect Season
Why did the vintage yield such concentrated, complex wines? Find out as James Suckling interviews Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux, Alexandre Thienpont of VCC and Le Pin and John Kolasa of Rauzan-Ségla in the first of a four-part series.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions