I enjoy the author’s writing style, relaxed and concise - no flamboyancy in either the early chapters, written for someone new to wine, or in the tasting notes for each of the wines, 161 of which are new this time around. Lined space is provided below each wine for personal notes making this a handy diary to keep in the glove compartment or purse. Using it regularly encourages one to break the routine of buying the same ole stuff without risking bringing home too much plonk.
Of the 500 and excluding Rosés, Sparkling and sweet wines, 103 are rated 4½ - 5 Stars (90+), the system used by the author. Of the 103, sixty-nine are red and thirty-four are white. The majority of top wines are from California (20), Australia (17), Italy (16), France (14), Canada (14) and Chile (11). To bridge to 2010 refer to 500 Best 2010.
Also of the 103, 17 are rated 5 Stars (94+) with two of these being white, the rest reds. Not surprisingly, most of the top wines were rated highly in the 2010 edition although some had slipped to 4½ Stars. Seven ‘New’ wines made it into the top 17. I suggest that these leading vintners have maintained consistency over successive vintages or have adjusted blends and process to successfully produce quality wines. Seven of the top wines are priced above $20 suggesting that you pay for a highly rated wine. The challenge is to find low priced wines with high quality - that’s where value is.
With one exception the ratings of 4½ and 5 stars are equivalent to Wine Advocate’s range of 90 to 100. The exception is that a ½ Star, the equivalent of 2 to 3 points, can be added to represent a wine’s value. The Wine Advocate system leaves it up to the purchaser to determine value so only includes intrinsic parameters of colour, nose, flavour, finish and cellaring potential to be rated. This could mean that a low-priced wine rated 4½, if considered a good value by the author, may be rated as low as 87 using the Wine Advocate 100 point system. Such a wine although ‘very good quality’ may not be ‘outstanding’ except for your budget. Everyone’s taste can vary from the authors, as my ratings indicate, muting any effect of this minor difference.
The seven ’New’ 94+ wines are Vintages releases and from well established vintners. All appear to be locally available with the exception of the Perrin & Fils ‘les Sinards’. Just as well for two reasons: the price of the Perrin is out of my range & one review described it as "truly old-school Châteauneuf-du-Pape with complex notes of sheep manure, cow paddies and horse excrement". Simply not my 'cup of tea'. The vintages shown are at time of purchase.
THE LINEUP - grouped by reds, whites, sparkles and other:
- Sterling Vineyards Merlot 2005*, 95-3 -- V, California, #330241 $24.95
- E Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2006*, 92-3 -- V, Rhône, France, #259721 $16.95
- Mitolo ‘Jester’ Shiraz 2007, 91-2 -- V, Virginia, Australia, #659607 $21.95
- Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2008, 84 -- V, Sonoma County, California, #954834 $22.95
- (Perrin & Fils ‘les Sinards’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006, Ww -- V, Rhône, France, #926626 $38.95)
- Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2009, 94-3 -- V, Marlborough, NZ, #035386 $18.95
- J. Lohr ‘Riverstone’ Chardonnay 2009*, 83 -- V, San Jose, California, #258699 $18.95
MITOLO JESTER 'McLAREN VALE' SHIRAZ 2007, Virginia, South Australia, 14.5% D, #659607 $21.95 (Tasted October 19, 2010) CS
A Vintages release on May 19, 2010 rated 91 and described by Jay Miller (August 2008) as "... dark ruby/purple-colored with an alluring perfume of mineral, earth notes, blueberry, black cherry, and blackberry. Smooth-textured, ripe, and intensely flavored, the wine conceals enough structure to evolve for 4-6 years. The finish is lengthy and pure... " My notes:A deep purple ruby with a spicy blackberry and black currant aroma. Full-bodied as seen by the firm film and long slow legs. The first sip is full of spice warming the throat and filling the senses with black fruit fumes. A sipper with bold acids and firm tannins in sync with the fruit through a long dry tooth cleaning finish. Have with grilled beef or rack of lamb, tomato sauced pepperoni pizza of polish sausage on a bun. Three years cellared and still a few more left. 91
RODNEY STRONG ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2007, Sonoma County, California, 14.4% D, #954834 $24.95 (Tasted April 12, 2009) CS
A Vintages release on October 11, 2008 and re-released on May 15, 2010 described anonymously (undated) as “This silky smooth wine shows why the Russian River Valley is the 'go to' region for quality Pinot Noir in California. Seductive aromas of cherry, plum, cinnamon, and oak spice replay on the medium full-bodied palate. Dry and well-balanced, it's soft and smooth with a peppery finish. If you're not already a Pinot lover, you're about to become one. Try it with grilled salmon or veal tenderloin.” My notes: The 2005 vintage was tasted in Dec 2006 with the comment ‘Not a value - not recommended‘. The 2007 is a rich ruby with a strawberry glint and aroma of California strawberries, somewhat grassy. The film is firm with slow long legs and the first sip is silky smooth, tart with dregs of strawberry, red currant and a touch of rhubarb. Perhaps not a fruit bomb but there’s enough of everything in balance for an adequate sipper. It was light with bbq’d rack of lamb but OK. Should be better with planked salmon or grilled tuna. At peak now. 84.
STERLING VINEYARDS MERLOT 2005, California, USA, 13.5% D, #330241 $24.95 (Tasted November 19, 2010) CS
A Vintages release on May 15, 2010 described anonymously (undated) as “This classic Napa Merlot is rich and succulent with ripe blackberry and sweet cherry aromas. Dry and silky smooth, this medium-bodied Merlot has a ripe, juicy, fruity core that is accented by spice and toasty oak characters leading to a long, full-flavoured finish. Try it with roast chicken and herbed stuffing, or grilled tuna steaks.” My notes: A Ravenswood label. A strong scent of spicy blackberries on pouring and a deep ruby colour. The film is firm with many long slow legs, a strong acidity and firm tannins are the platform for intense spicy berries. Flavours dissipate slowly leaving a steely edge of dry fruit - I‘d guess from old vines. Bright and tannic: quaffing increases overall intensity and is both interesting and enjoyable if somewhat bold and unexpected for a Merlot. Have with grilled red beef, steaks, ribs, strips or full flavoured stews. Cellaring several years may mellow and bring forward potential depth to texture and flavours. 95
E. GUIGAL CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2006, Rhône, France, 13.0% XD, #259721 $16.95 (Tasted November 14, 2010) CS
A Vintages release on May 15, 2010 described anonymously (undated) as “A fine Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre blend featuring aromas of plum, dried herbs, torrefaction, black raspberry and pepper. Dry and fresh, with fruit coming through nicely in the centre. Medium bodied with a long, well-structured finale. Match it to grilled or barbecued tamari steaks… “ My notes: The 2003 vintage was rated 83 in February 2008 and not tried since. A subtle nose of stewed cherries against a background of garnet tinged ruby. Velvety with tang and tannins before evenly blended flavours of cherries, blackberry and mild pepper. A super sipper half way to the new world with soft allure, dryness of the finish leaves some chalk with a red currant brightness. Have with veal dishes, a beef crockpot or Mongolian beef strips. Might cellar a few more years but drinking well now. 92
PERRIN & FILS 'LES SINARDS' CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2007, Rhône, France, 14.0% XD, #926626 $38.95 (Tasted tbd) CS
A Vintages release on September 4, 2010 rated 92 and described by Robert Parker (Oct. 2009) as “Dense ruby, with liquorice, sweet cherry, and lavender notes, this full-bodied, admirably concentrated wine can be drunk now or over the next 10-12 years.” My notes: This is also available in half size (#005975 @ $19.95). (Dropped from Tastings)
J. LOHR RIVERSTONE CHARDONNAY 2009, San Jose, California, 13.5% D, #258699 $18.95 (Tasted November 21, 2010) CS
A Vintages release on May 15, 2010 described anonymously (undated) as “Bright medium-yellow Chardonnay with an enticing toasty/fruity nose (particularly apricot, apple and cranberry). Dry and quite clean with pretty oak tones surrounding the fruit. Medium-full bodied with a medium finish. An ideal Chardonnay for grilled herbed chicken or smoky prawns with mango salsa.” My notes: The 2007 vintage was tasted in November 2009 and rated 83 saying ‘nicely rounded with a touch of butterscotch … ‘. The colour of the 2009 is a vivid gold, not deep but bright in the bowl. The nose is almost perceptible with butterscotch and lemon tones - needs time to develop - and the first sip has lemon drop flavours, a balanced tang and soft butter flavour & feel leading into mostly lemon and butter fading quickly to a straw edged finish. Quaffing fills the mouth with rounded textures and lemon, pleasing on the palate - less than quaffing, not so much. Have with PC airy hors d’oeuvres, crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms or pairing with salmon filets would be suitable. 83
KIM CRAWFORD SAUVIGNON BLANC 2009, Marlborough, NZ, 13.5% XD, #035386 $18.95 (Tasted tbd) CS
A Vintages release on May 15, 2010 described anonymously (undated) as “… The 2007 and 2008 vintages each received 91 points from Wine Spectator! This lively wine exhibits aromas such as gooseberry, passion fruit, grass, nettle, mineral, and citrus. Tantalizing with steamed mussels or warm chicken salad.” My notes: Now part of the Constellation Corporation it’s difficult to know the level of Kim Crawford’s continued involvement. With the string of Golds on the label the marketing team is 'corporate' rather than 'artisan'. The crisp aroma of gooseberries and floral lemon wafts pleasing the nasal nodes. A golden blond brightens the glass for the first silky sip having enough biting acidity to refresh the buds - an appealing sipper for its refreshing fruitiness and hard to avoid quaffing. Lemon, a touch of grapefruit pulp and subtle gooseberry fruit makes for pairing flexibility: fresh oysters, crab pieces, fishes or white fowl - I plan to pair it with a coconut lime chicken stew. Cellaring up to five years is possible - try a year at a time. 94