The Wine Experience is a celebration of diversity, and few tastings could show that better than the Top 10 Wines of 2011. Guests tasted wines from the Rhône and Loire valleys of France; Tuscany and Piedmont in Italy; the Douro in Portugal; and Washington, Napa and Sonoma in the United States.
“These represent the elite tier of the 2011 Top 100 wines,” said editor at large Harvey Steiman, who moderated the tasting with managing editor Kim Marcus. “Each of these wines represents the region, the vintage and the personality of the winemaker.”
Each of the 10 wines was presented by a winemaker or vintner who offered a glimpse of the story behind the wine. To best showcase them, the wines were served in a logical tasting progression by weight or type rather than counting down to No. 1.
The Italian contingent included Luciano Racca of Domenico Clerico in Piedmont, who poured Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra 2006 (96 points, $90, No. 8), and Leonardo Bellaccini of Campogiovanni in Tuscany, with the winery's Brunello di Montalcino 2006 (96, $50, No. 4). Bellaccini told the crowd one key to Campogiovanni’s success: “We treat each vine as a single individual.”
Two wines came from the Rhône Valley, one northern, one southern. Maxime Graillot, having taken over winemaking at the domaine from his father, offered the Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude 2009 (94, $55, No. 9). As the audience tasted the Château de St.-Cosme Gigondas Valbelle 2009 (94, $58, No. 10), Louis Barruol noted that it was the first Gigondas on the Top 10. “For me,” he said in honor of his neighboring winegrowers, “this is a collective achievement.”
The dry wines of Portugal continue to make a splash in the wine world, and Quinta do Vallado co-owner João Ribeiro discussed the rich history of winemaking in the country as the audience tasted the Touriga Nacional Douro 2008 (95, $55, No. 7).
Chenin Blanc made a rare appearance on the Top 10 with the sweet Domaine Huët Vouvray Moelleux Clos du Bourg Première Trie 2009 (96, $69, No. 3), presented at the end of the tasting by Jean-Bernard Berthomé, appointed lead winemaker this year after 33 years with the Loire winery.
Four wines from the United States made the list. Lisa Baer said she was surprised when her late brother, Lance, started Baer winery in Washington in 2000 because their family had no vineyards or tradition in winemaking. “We found that we could start our own legacy and traditions,” she said as she shared the Bordeaux-style blend Baer Ursa Columbia Valley 2008 (95, $35, No. 6).
Speaking about the Hall Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kathryn Hall 2008 (96, $90, No. 2), Kathryn Hall gave credit to the land. “As any farmer will tell you, no one really owns a piece of the earth. We just take care of it a while.”
Veteran Sonoma County winemaker Tom Dehlinger recalled what a salesman told him about his first Pinot Noir some 30 years ago: “I think we can sell it but don’t plant any more of it.” The Dehlinger Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 (95, $50, No. 5) was proof that Dehlinger wisely stuck to his guns.
Winemaker Michael Browne, who was making his third Top 10 stage appearance in six years, poured the Wine of the Year of 2011, the Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009 (95, $52, No. 1). Noting that he and partner Dan Kosta owed a debt to Sonoma Pinot pioneers such as Rochioli, Williams Selyem and Dehlinger, Browne said, “Thanks for leading the way.”
Wrapping up the tasting, executive editor Thomas Matthews said he was amazed by the diversity on display. “These wines don’t try to taste like each other. They taste like themselves.”
For more background, read the profiles of the Top 100 Wines of 2011 in our Dec. 31, 2011 issue.