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Red Wine Please! Top 25 Wines of 2015

Top 25 2015 GoldThere is no shortage of lists each year touting the top wines of the previous 12 months. Every major wine publication does one. What is somewhat amazing is how little they seem to agree, and you can read more about that here. In their defense it must be hard to pick, as they sample from tens of thousands of wines with teams of editors and tasters. After reading through this year’s versions it seemed about time to offer our own. The question was how to go about it. Everyone else seems to use very logical criteria such as a minimum quality based on score, value, availability and probably most importantly the “wow” factor that some wines just bring. The Wine Spectator calls it the “X Factor”, as does the Wine Enthusiast, also terming it a certain “je ne sais qois” which literally translates into ‘I don’t know what.”

In our case we considered using numerical scores and bringing in our crack staff of regional editors to compare notes and vote. We don’t use numerical scores however, so that wasn’t going to work. We then remembered we don’t have any regional editors. We have a writer, me, and an editor, Cheri. That would have to do. Availability is important but this is our list and it’s going to be about the best wines we tried this year. If they are not available we apologize, but most of these should be at some level.  So that leaves us with one major criterion, the X-Factor or what we call the “wow” factor. It’s when you taste a wine for the first time and you sort of hold the glass up and look at it and think “wow, this is amazing”. With our budget we like to keep our amazings below $100, generally way below, so that is also a criterion. These are excellent quality wines, or you don’t get the wow. We think they are all values in their respective price ranges, so everything here has value built in.  In some cases the value is so extremely high it provides the “wow”.

So this list represents the wines that were most memorable for us in 2015. In most cases they leapt to mind from the hundreds we tried. The #1 wine was easy, and both Cheri and I immediately came up with it independently. The others took a bit more thought, but this is not something we spent weeks on. They either had made a lasting impression or they hadn’t.  Interestingly, in keeping with the trend of the other lists we’ve seen only one of our wines finds it’s way into the Top 100 from the major publications, that being the 2012 Chappellet Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon which the Wine Spectator has at #65.  Our #1 wine, the 2010 Petrolo Galatrona is represented by extension, as James Sucking has the 2013 vintage on his list at #61.  We actually have tasted James’ #1 wine, the Castelgiocondo Brunello, but think the Argiano is the superior wine and included it below.

The wines will range from almost $100 all the way down to $3.95, and pretty much everywhere in between. There’s something for everyone, and even some whites! After each wine you’ll see our original tasting note, and in some cases a comment or two in addition.

Here they are – the Red Wine Please! Top 25 Wines of 2015!

  1. 2010 Petrolo Galatrona – 100% Merlot from the Chianti region of Tuscany. It is full bodied, IMG_1793lean and rich at the same time. The flavor profile just transforms constantly, bringing an amazing level of complexity to the palate. Blueberry, spices, dark fruits and more. Very world class wine here. Maybe a Masetto for those of us with more normal incomes, at 1/6 the price. Wow! About $85.
  2. 2011 Raats Cabernet Franc – This wine displays a dark cherry color, and cherry is the predominant aroma and flavor to the wine.  It really IMG_1055carries an amazing core of fruit, along with anise, spice and some savory notes.  The nose is downright explosive.  It’s very long, and you can feel it for at least a minute as it warms your throat.  Big legs on the glass accompany a medium+ bodied wine, but it is the core of cherry that just mesmerizes you.  This is great wine.  With a suggested retail of $35, it is probably available for less.  On the Value List it goes.  In the $20 to $40 range this is a no brainer.  World class Cabernet Franc here.
  3. 2009 Allegrini Amarone – classic higher end Amarone, where the fruits are not over the top ripe and the raisiny tendencies don’t overpower.  Deep, deep red in color it presents rich fruit, full body and a finish that won’t quit.  Incredibly pure.  Fantastic wine.  Retails around $70.
  4. 2006 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon – a library wine here you can still buy, which I GRGICH Wineswas excited to try after having others from this vintage recently and being pretty impressed.  This did not disappoint.  It’s really dark purple red.  There is the slightest touch of amber at the edges, but it does not look old by any means.  The nose is big, full of dark fruits, coffee and mocha.  Very full bodied the wine is luxurious and rich, but still fresh and not jammy.  It’s the proverbial rose in the iron fist, elegant and powerful.  We loved this and bought some to put in the cellar for a special occasion.  About $60 and not a lot of it available.
  5. 2013 WALT La Brisa Pinot Noir – HALL/WALT always makes great wines, and this is no exception. We drink more Pinot Noir than we used to, and it’s becoming a favorite of Cheri’s. IMG_1817We ran into this early on Saturday at the Newport Mansions and just knew it would end up near the top. From four different vineyards in Sonoma (two in Green Valley and two in Sonoma Coast) this is a fruity and rich Pinot Noir with nice layers and a long finish. $37 list and a value there.
  6. 2010 Eponymous MacAllister Red Wine – this is a brilliant, dark ruby wine with a complex nose of berries (raspberry and currant), spice and orange. It’s a full bodied wine with nice acid balance, keeping it fresh and vibrant.  Solid IMG_1120tannins promise a long life ahead.  It’s very long.  The second day this tasted like blueberry pie, it was kind of crazy and amazingly delicious.  This is a luscious and, again, a beautifully pure wine, and by that we mean the flavors are clean and precise.  This is no muddled mix.  Truly outstanding stuff.  A blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc and 21% Merlot. Sonoma fruit.  $45 and a very good value there.
  7. 2013 Larkin Cabernet Franc – Sean Larkin took home #1 last year at Newport with his 2012 Cab Franc. He was pouring that as well, but the 2013 is the better wine. Sean thinks it is the best he has ever made, so we’ll take his word on it. It’s great, really. With 85% Cab Franc the wine is still a little tight, the tannins are a little brisk, but the stuff is all there. Give this some time, either in the decanter or in the cellar and revel in world class Cab Franc. We need to get on his mailing list. $75 and Value List at that price. Could easily have been #1 again.
  8. 2013 DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc – This is light straw colored.  We found it to be quite complex, with great aromas of pear and orange, then honey joining in on the palate.  IMG_1065Cheri described it as delicate and substantial, all at the same time, and declared it one of her favorite whites ever.  This is very complex, very different and carries you through an amazing finish.  Quite unlike anything we’ve had before.  Suggested retail of $34.99.  Pretty spectacular white wine here, and another example of why we love Chenin Blanc.
  9. 2012 Arkenstone Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – all the fruit here is from mountain sites, and all blocks are fermented and aged 11 months in IMG_1841barrel prior to blending. The blend goes back in oak for about another year. The result is a pure expression of Cabernet which is rich yet fresh, with a nice acid balance and a long finish. Very drinkable now and age worthy. Well done. $75
  10. 2009 Tenuta Santa Maria Decima Aurea – they take part of the grapes and put them through a 30 day appassimento treatment, drying out IMG_1828and concentrating the sugars and flavors.  The rest hang on the vine until over ripe.  Fermented and mixed they create a great wine which drinks like a right bank Bordeaux from a great vintage.  This is another outstanding wine.  Retails about $45.
  11. 2010 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino –also deep ruby, this wine is more powerful than the La Poderina.  There are deep fruit flavors, with IMG_1294cherry mixing in with the oak.  It’s less integrated as well, but don’t take that the wrong way.  The pieces are stronger, and it will take a bit more time to reach it’s pinnacle.  That’s something worth waiting for, as this is rather stunning. About $60 and widely available.
  12. 2010 Frescobaldi Lamaione – 100% Merlot, complex and layered.  A great wine, just a baby and needs some time but what a bottle.  $80 and world class.  Splurge wine for sure, but delicious and probably worth it.
  13. 2012 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel – a Zin has never appeared this high on our lists. In fact I’m not sure one has ever appeared on our lists at all, but this one deserves it. The jammy tones of traditional Zin are veiled under the savory nose and dark fruits. It’s rich and long and very full bodied. In spite of our admitted prejudice against Zin this had to be recognized. Must have been really good. $42 and Value List.
  14. 2012 Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc – This wine is a pretty serious white, with a light but brilliant golden color.  One hundred percent Chenin Blanc, the nose brings pear, melon (we gotIMG_1053 cantaloupe specifically, and quite distinctly) and honeyed notes.  On the palate it is dry, medium bodied and highlights the pear as well as some citrusy, tropical fruit flavors.  There are some complex notes as well.  At first opening the oak was a little aggressive, but that faded and the second day the oak was quite in the background.  This is another wine that anyone who likes Burgundian Chardonnay should try.  Not Chardonnay, but very elegant and very good.  Suggested retail of $25.
  15. 2012 Bagueri SIVI Pinot Grigio – the SIVI is maybe the best Pinot Grigio I have ever had. It’s not a wine I generally reach for, as I don’t associate the everyday varieties we see in the U.S. with a serious wine that brings complexity and structure to the fruit party. This one does, although the Bagueri line is not terribly inexpensive and many might find the price more than they’re used to paying for Pinot Grigio.  Do yourself a favor and see what this grape is capable of in the hands of a master. $25 or so.
  16. 2012 Conn Creek Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Cherry and currant flavors lead to a very long finish. Around $30. Serious value wine here considering this is Napa Cab from a great vintage.
  17. 2012 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – from another consistently excellent producer, this Cab is a classic Napa Cab, with currant and blackberry, a rich profile and excellent balance. Always good, and exceptionally so in 2012. $50
  18. 2014 Blackbird Dissonance – this is new, and the first white wine from Blackbird. If you’re going to wait this long you might as well do it right, and they certainly did. Here we have a IMG_1836traditional Bordeaux white, comprised of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon. The Semillon rounds it out nicely. It’s clean and crisp but still complex and structured. Tee up a half dozen oysters and enjoy. Just sip it and enjoy. $35
  19. 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is a dark, deep red with purple tinges. The nose is very expressive, with currants and plum IMG_1334aromas. On the palate the tannins are stiff, and this needs time to reach its peak, but it is still very approachable right now. It’s full bodied and rich, especially for a 2011 Napa Cab. There’s a great acid balance in this wine, and it worked superbly with a grilled hangar steak. A very long finish caps off a very excellent experience. This is really good Cabernet.
  20. 2013 J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay – another wine from the Arroyo Seco Valley, this is unusual in that we don’t generally love Chardonnay. Even Cheri loved this, and she almost never even likes Chardonnay. It’s valley floor fruit and sees 100% malolactic fermentation, so I was expecting a big, flabby butter bomb. Not even close, as this is beautifully clean and smooth with just the right amount of acid to clean off your palate and leave you wanting another sip. Really good and $23.
  21. 2012 Galerie Plenair Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – more brilliant than the IMG_1899sister Knight’s Valley cab, this is dark purple red with a big nose of dark fruits.  There’s some spice notes as well.  On the palate the wine is rich, with the fruit dominating but the spice and subtle oak are really nice as well.  It’s very long, and the tannins while approachable are very present.  Nice acid here too.  This is going to last a while and is going to get better.  Cheri describes it as luxurious. $50
  22. 2013 Colliano Cuvee White – another Slovenian white, and a wine I personally really like. It’s a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignonasse and oak aged Chardonnay. What you end up with IMG_1874is a complex wine you could substitute for your everyday white burgundy. Quite excellent and about $15.
  23. Pierre Sparr Cremant D’Alsace Brut Reserve – so much fruit with a little toast on the nose, this is clean and crisp. Bright fruit on the palate, with some lemon notes. A very high quality Cremant. Well under $20 and a great value there.
  24. 2010 Simonsig Redhills Pinotage – After tasting this wine, we can definitively say that there is Pinotage, and then there is Pinotage.  This wine is fabulous.  Where the previous, regular bottling muddled the fruit into the gamey notes, this wine has a IMG_0995purity of fruit that is just beautiful.  It is very dark and purply red out of the bottle.  The nose brings waves of blackberries and plum, and that profile caries into the palate.  The tannins are rich and well integrated, and the oak is not a major factor.  Everything works in harmony and leaves you with one word to sum it up: delicious.  The second day it was even deeper, and some mint and vanilla notes had appeared.  It’s complex.  $35.99 recommended retail, maybe available for less, and worth it.  Don’t write off Pinotage until you try this wine.
  25. Bodega Lanzarina 2012 Monte Cepas Torrontes – the wine is pale golden yellow and quite brilliant.  On the nose I got lemon or maybe orange.  There was a lot more there as well, so out came the wine aroma kit and soon we had added Red Currant Bud and Muscat to the list.  This is not a simple summer quaffer.  The palate brings citrus fruit.  While it is lighter in body it has a good mouthfeel and presents clean and long.  This wine is really very good. We paid $3.95, seriously.  Unbelievably value here.

For us 2015 was a great year overall, with some pretty spectacular wines.  We’re looking forward to more great things in 2016.

You can’t go wrong with anything on this list.

A votre santé!

 

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