Wine industry publications have been busy rolling out their best-est wines of the year articles. While I enjoy flipping through these lists in hopes that my favorite wineries were mentioned, I find them to be somewhat unsatisfying. They seem to divorce the wine from the context in which it was consumed, and it’s often the context (where you drank the wine, who you were with, what you were eating, etc.) that make for the more interesting story.
Instead of adding to the throng of “best of” lists, I decided to pick out the most memorable sparkling, white, and red wines I’ve had over the past 12 months. These aren’t uber-baller wines or super-geeky wines. I didn’t select them to make you think that I’m some sort of wine bad ass. And they aren’t necessarily “the best” wines I had all year. They are simply wines that now have a personal story for me. And I hope that as you look back over 2011, you also have some wines that will remind you about a special time, place, or person.
Agrapart & Fils Les 7 Crus Brut Blanc de Blancs
Prior to leaving for my European wine journey, I stayed with my friends Ben and Maggie and gave them a bottle of Agrapart to thank them for their hospitality. A few weeks later, during a 10am train ride from Paris to Reims, I received an email from them which read, “Thanks for the champagne! As you can see from the attached photo, we’re putting it to the best possible of uses!” They also attached a picture of the two of them, with Maggie holding the bottle of Champagne.
I was so excited because out of pure dumb luck, I was drinking the exact same wine to launch my pending travels through the Champagne region. I quickly fired off an email, telling them I was also enjoying the Agrapart, and wishing them well. Realizing that I was a little slow on the uptake, they then sent the following Photoshoped picture to highlight the shiny new engagement ring that Maggie was sporting (and which I had entirely overlooked in the initial email).
I will always remember this wine for allowing me to celebrate along with Ben and Mags despite being separated by thousands of miles.
2007 Dom. Lucie et Auguste Lignier Les Chaffots
Have you ever had a day when everything seems to be going your way? Where every nerve in your body seems to be working on a heightened level of awareness and you are acutely aware of everything you see, hear, and taste? I had one of those days while working harvest in Burgundy at Domaine Lucie et Auguste Lignier.
After sorting grapes, hosing down bins, walking through vineyards, and then breaking down and cleaning the destemmer and other equipment, I strolled over to a small hill overlooking the winery, lay down, and opened a bottle of Les Chaffots. My body was exhausted, but I had adrenaline still pulsing through my veins. The night sky was stunning. A deep dark-blue curtain dotted with shimmering stars.
As much as I had loved my twelve weeks in Europe and experience working harvest in Burgundy, I was starting to look forward to what was next — a harvest internship in California. I wasn’t sad that my European wine travels were coming to an end because somehow, this all felt like the start of something new and exciting.
I stayed on that hill for a good hour before deciding it was time to head home. We drove south on RN 74 from Morey St. Denis to Savigny Les Beaune listening to Wilco and Billy Bragg sing California Stars .
I’d like to rest / my heavy head tonight on a bed / of California stars;
I’d like to lay / my weary bones tonight on a bed / of California stars;
I’d love to feel / your hand touching mine;
Tell me why / I must keep working on;
Yes I’d give my life / to lay my head tonight on a bed / of California stars.
The memory of the elegance and grace of the Les Chaffots still lingered as we wound our way through France’s most storied vineyards. It was a great way to end what was one of the most perfect days of the past year.
2010 Arnot-Roberts Watson Ranch Napa Valley Chardonnay
Yup. Say it with me. Cal-ee-for-nee-uh Char-dawn-aye. You’re about to delete this aren’t you? You’re about to doubt my palate because one of the most memorable wines I had all year was a Cali Chard — the stuff of cougar juice and buttery/oaky nightmares. But hear me out.
On the first Sunday of June, I met up with a friend for a day of decadence. We started off with a chicken/waffle Champagne brunch at The Front Porch. But because that was clearly not enough food, we decided to stumble over to Cochon 555 — an event that promised 5 chefs each preparing a full heritage hogs. The organizers also had invited an all star lineup of wineries to pour at the event. Although there were a ton of great Syrah and Pinot served that day, the wine that made my head spin was the Arnot-Roberts Watson Ranch Chardonnay. It had the roundness you expect from a Chard, but a laser-like acidity and minerality that I typically find in Chablis. Now, I had tried Arnot-Roberts Syrah and Cab before, and both of which I liked a lot. But it was this wine (from a varietal I had entirely written off) that made me think that Arnot-Roberts was at the forefront of a new style of California wine–wines focused on balance and energy instead of fruit and power.
After that tasting, I decided that if I could swing it, I would love to work harvest at Arnot-Roberts. A few months later, I found myself in Healdsburg, working with Duncan and Nathan, and taking care of a tank filled with the 2011 Watson Ranch Chard (and guarded by a picture of Chablis’ François Raveneau).