It’s been an intense year of traveling (I visited Spain five times!), tasting, and learning. And with our various locations in other Eastern US cities, I’ve been given the chance to taste limited wines that are exclusively available in their respective states, which, if anything, has reminded me that understanding wine is a giant task for those who don’t work in this field – because it’s a pretty large task for me, and I’ve been at it for 13 years. After spending so many years devoted to tasting and learning about wines, I can still be surprised, impressed, and sometimes completely blown away. There are always new (to me) grapes varieties, regions, farming and vinifying techniques, and I’m sure next year won’t disappoint me with a chance to discover something else unknown and worth it. Since I am closing up my 2014 tasting journals and looking forward to a new year of “explore-a-tasting,” I am sharing the 10 most striking wines I tasted for the first time in 2014.
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2012 Garnacha Blanca, Blanc d’Orto, Flor – Montsant, Spain $45
Garnacha Blanca is one of my favorite white wine grapes so this might be the top of the heap for me. It’s what I imagine liquid gold to taste like; round, minerally, soft and shiny. It is from biodynamically farmed grapes, and my first time trying it was last May with its proud farmers in Catalunya.
2011 Garnacha, Comando G, Las Umbrias – Madrid, Spain $90
This wine is as precocious as its makers, Daniel Jiminez-Landi and Fernando Garcia. Light color, delicate red fruit aromas, floral and leafy, with barely present tannins. Its subtlety redefines what Garnacha can achieve. From biodynamically farmed vineyards in Madrid, this wine is a superstar amongst overly extracted Spanish reds.
2011 Riesling, Bechtold, Engelberg, Grand Cru – Alsace, France $33
By no means new to the wine scene, but it was new to me this year. I think my first words after tasting this wine were, “come to mama.” This Riesling is ethereal, with seductive aromas, the right balance of acid and richness, and packed with umami. It’s undeniably tasty, and I wouldn’t trust someone who chose to dislike this wine.
1997 Viña Magaña, Reserva – Navarra, Spain [ Merlot / Cabernet / Tempranillo / Syrah ] $88
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are not new flavors, but the vines for this wine come from Pomerol cuttings planted in the 1970’s, long before these grapes were popular in Spain. This wine was aged at the winery for 17 years before being sold to us this year! It is a magnificent expression of well-aged Bordeaux grapes, with dark fruit, tobacco, leather, and insane silkiness.
2013 Bodegas Ponce, Buena Pinta – Manchuela, Spain [Moravia Agria/Garnacha] $18
I visited Juan Antonio Ponce’s bodega for the first time last June, and it remains one of my favorite visits of the year. I am enamored with all of his wines, but this gem is my go-to out of the line-up. Delicate, light fruits, zesty, soft tannins, silky texture, and pinot noir-like. It’s like a white wine in a red wine’s body.
2010 Monastrell, Elo – Yecla, Spain $39
I have never tasted a monstrell like this. Generally, it’s a grape that produces Spanish wines of good, but often forgettable, quality. However this one, made using whole cluster fermentation in old oak barrels, achieves rare elegance, brightness, and old world charm. It’s undeniably tasty and very thought provoking.
2007 Recaredo, Gran Reserva, Brut Nature – Penedes, Spain [ Xarel-lo/Macabeo/Parellada ] $32
It’s hard to summarize all the accolades of this producer, but here goes: certified biodynamic, hand riddled, hand disgorged, hand corked, long aged, no dosage, and breath-taking flavor depth. No one comes close to making Cava like Recaredo.
2010 Pinot Noir, Belle Pente, Belle Pente, Yamhill-Carlton – Willamette, Oregon $45
I don’t often get excited for New World wines, but when I tasted this Oregon zinger for the first time I was immediately drawn to it. Tasted it again six months later, and it still remains one of my favorite Pinot Noirs on the menu. It has a vibrancy of red fruit, smoky earth and spices that given its modest body, it is not a shy wine.
2013 Hondarribi Zuri, Maddy, Bizkaiko Txakolina – Pais Vasco, Spain $23
This was my new baby in 2014, discovered at the famous Alimentaria exhibition in Barcelona in March, and we received our first shipment into the US by June. This wine drinks like a young premier cru Chablis, with apple and stone fruit aromas, fresh acidity, and soft texture. Maddy will always be one of my proudest finds.
NV H. Billiot Fils, Rosé, Grand Cru, Brut – Champagne, France [ Pinot Noir / Chardonnay ] $56
I love Champagne, and am lucky enough to taste a fair amount of it. When in search of a new rosé ,I was introduced to Billiot and am still mentally seduced by this wine every time I re-approach the topic of Champagne. The depth of color and red fruit qualities are gorgeous, and it has just the right amount of dosage to keep it playful and easy-drinking. And it’s Grand Cru for an unbelievable price, to boot.
Gretchen Thomas, Wine and Spirits Director