Almost daily, I’m tasting a wide range of spirits, wines and beers, whether at restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries, breweries or as samples crossing my desk. This Spring, here are my top 10 wines tasted.
1. O. Lemasson Pineau D’Aunis “Poivre et Sel” at Tofino Wines
O. Lemasson Pineau D’Aunis Poivre et Sel — translating to “pepper and salt” ($14 by the glass) — is one of the more exciting red wines I’ve tasted in awhile. Turned on to the wine, thanks to April Sack and Mark Nevin at stellar new wine shop and bar Tofino Wines, I delighted in the fantastic green strawberry, spice and black pepper notes of this sold out wine from a former sommelier, Olivier Lemasson, who began making small batch, unfiltered, natural wines in Touraine in France’s Loire Valley. Poivre et Sel is a blend of Gamay and Pineau d’Aunis grapes and tastes amazing slightly chilled.
2. Villet Cuvee Tradition Arbois Blanc at Tofino Wines
As does any sommelier I know, I’m crazy about the unique, often funky wines, from France’s Jura region. So it makes sense that one of the standout wines after tasting through much of the ever-changing wine menu at the new Tofino Wines was Villet Cuvee Tradition Arbois Blanc ($16 a glass). A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Savagnin grapes, the wine is orange-tinged, dry and even sherry-esque with funky, savory notes. Though pricy, due to being rare and small production, it’s tough to top the unexpected flavors and joys of a great Jura wine.
3. 2012 Wachstum Bodenstein Weingut Prager Smaragd Riesling on Crystal Symphony Cruise Ship
A special dinner on Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony ship (more focused on quality drink and food than your typical cruise ship) took place in the Vintage Room, focused on winemaker dinners. During this dinner, I tasted through a cross-section of international wines selected by their on-ship head sommelier Cristian Mondaca. I was immediately delighted to see one of my favorite wine regions, Austria’s Wachau, on the list, particularly a Smaragd Riesling.
The 2012 Wachstum Bodenstein Weingut Prager Smaragd Riesling is produced by Toni Bodenstein, son-in-law of winemaking legend Franz Prager. This gorgeous, mineral, crisp Riesling is from the top Smaragd classification farmed over 24 terraces at varying elevations.
4. 2013 Domaine Pattes Loup “Vent d’Ange” Chablis at 1760
Among the ever-stellar offerings on the wine list at 1760, a recent treat is 2013 Domaine Pattes Loup “Vent d’Ange” Chablis made by young winemaker Thomas Pico, who converted one plot of his family’s vineyards to organic vines from which he produced this steely, citrus-laden complex Chardonnay from Burgundy, France. This kind of small production goodness typifies Gianpaolo Paterlini’s excellent wine list at 1760.
5. Matthiasson’s Orange Wine at Octavia
At Melissa Perello’s (of Frances) delightful new Octavia boasts a wine list and vermouth menu from none other than beverage director Paul Einbund (formerly of Coi). The thoughtful wine list is grouped in cheeky categories like “White Wine: Crisp Clean Mouth-Cleansing Delight!” or “Red Wine: Big Smooth & Anything But Whimpy.” Initially, I adore a funky, complex pour of Matthiasson‘s (from Napa) vibrant orange wine, gorgeous on the rocks as an a apéritif.
6. 2014 Liquid Farm Rosé Mourvédre at Tofino Wines
Another quality Tofino Wines find is from Santa Barbara’s Liquid Farms, an up-and-coming winemaker beloved for their Burgundy-esque, balanced Chardonnay. It’s also well worth trying their 2014 Liquid Farm Rosé Mourvédre ($24.99 a bottle at Tofino). Made from Mourvédre grapes, it’s a mineral rosé with a crisp salinity and bright berry notes.
7. 2012 Domaine Cabirau Maury Sec Serge & Nicolas at Sous Beurre Kitchen
The wine selection at Sous Beurre Kitchen (open in February) is one of the highlights of the restaurant. They offer a generous rosé section (love the 2013 Domaine Les Luquettes Mont de Caume Rosé from France’s Bandol region using Mourvedre grapes), with a balanced French Roussillon/red blend that paired beautifully with rich dishes like cassoulet: 2012 Domaine Cabirau Maury Sec Serge & Nicolas ($15 a glass/$50 bottle) is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes with the right amount of rich fruit and berry balanced by acidity.
8. 2014 Oak Farms Sauvignon Blanc
The whites from Lodi continue to increase in quality (my piece last year on Lodi’s whites and rosés). A recent standout from the region was 2014 Oak Farms Sauvignon Blanc ($19 a bottle, available for online order). It has won a number of awards and shines at home with Asian food or salads given its subtle grassiness, crisp acidity, lemongrass and honeydew notes.
9. 2005 Joseph Phelps Insignia on Crystal Symphony Cruise Ship
Another standout from the Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony Vintage Room was a bottle of 2005 Joseph Phelps Insignia from Napa, which is now going for nearly $200 a bottle. This balanced blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot grapes is deep, earthy, redolent of black cherry and anise with floral whispers. It felt an appropriate tribute given the sad news of the passing of Joseph Phelps this April.
10. 2013 Lacrima Di Morro D’Alba Rose at Montesacro
At the fantastic new escape to Rome in SoMa, Montesacro, Italian wines pair best with ancient Roman-style pinsa (pizza-esque peasant flatbread). A robust 2013 Lacrima Di Morro D’Alba Rosé, from Giusti in Italy’s Marche region ($10 per glass/$40 per bottle), is a dry, crisp rosé that exhibits notes from the clay and limestone earth the grapes grow in, tasting of roses, apples, even banana.