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Best wines of the year - 2020 Edition

While I know there are a few big drinking days left this year, I’ve very much hit reflection mode this afternoon. Simple question (ha!) - What are your personal top 3 wines of the year? Can be any combination of quality/price/situation/whatever other factors you’d like.

It’s been an odd choice for me this year. As you’ve probably all picked up my taste in wine tends to be in the PIGS part of the world (as a Greek friend describes it) so to find two wines from the Rhone in my list is as much a surprise to me as to anyone.

I’ve waxed as lyrically as my mediocre vocabulary will allow me to about this. Wine number one is unquestionably the 2014 St Cosme Cote Rotie. It was the point in lockdown number one where we decided **** it, let’s just drink the good stuff combined with me getting a new decanter for my birthday. It was clearly at the very start of its drinking window and I know a lot of people would consider it infanticide, but wow. Tar. Graphite. Sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack (thankfully no fishing boats).

Celebrating out 6th year together we cracked open the only 2014 we had in; a 2014 Exhibition Hermitage Blanc, which I got in my Lockdown Mystery Case (fancy-pants edition). This is a wine! (who knew?). Lovely fresh and dried white peach, hazelnuts and lemon on the nose. Incredibly rich/glycerolly with all that plus melon, white flowers and musky notes on the pallet, really long finish with a surprise pear note at the end. Did what the exhibition range is supposed to (in my book) as it was a great “typical” Hermitage Blanc. The only slight downside to this is it was a typical Hermitage Blanc and both of us occasionally went silent trying to work out the complexity of it all rather than sitting and enjoying our dinner/company. As good a celebration as was possible this year.

Wine number 3 is more familiar territory for me. Gravonia 2009. I am a full fledged member of the cult of Gravonia. It’s one of my all time favourite wines, so why does it make this years top 3 (again? it might have been in the list last year too!)? My friend Ryan’s birthday! We over to Borough Market, Ryan and his wife walked over to Borough Market. We bought cheese and bread and ham. We had a picnic! It was the first time we’d seen people we knew in person for such a long time!

There’s plenty of others that could have made this list: Conde de Haro on sheer volume, Most of the rest of the mystery case, Bin #005, the 2010 Gravonia I drank on zoom for my birthday (wasn’t as good as the 2009), the Domaine Barou Viognier which was the first EP bought wine I actually got to drink, everything that went into my @strawpig mixed case, the 1979 Chablis from the “is it dead?” tasting, the 2020 bottling of the Tio Pepe En Rama Fino.

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It’s difficult.

I’ve done a report of Cellar Tracker and see that I’ve had 50 different varieties this year as varietals, plus ‘red blends’, Bordeaux and Rhone Blends and White Blends. Also Champagne Blends but I’m counting that combination as a varietal.

My favourite wine is, as always, the next one. I cannot ever drink the same wine I’ve had in the past.

But, the 10 wines that remain highest in my memory this year are:

N.V. Domi Moreau Champagne Cuvée d’ Argent (France, Champagne)

  • this was served by friends at a socially distanced barbecue (the only one in 2020) this summer and I was so wowed with it I found the stockist and bought a case.

2016 Beyerskloof Pinotage Winemakers Reserve (South Africa, Stellenbosch)

  • I read about this wine but its available only at the winery so when we were dining there with our son and his SO we had it. Lovely stuff and lovely memories.

2019 Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc Ferricrete Woolworths Reserve Collection (South Africa, Elgin)

  • Another knockout enjoyed during our Covid truncated time in the Cape.

2018 Kanonkop Cape Blend Kadette (South Africa, Stellenbosch)

  • Punching well above it’s weight, I was really impressed with this when the son served it to me in Criccieth in the late summer between lockdowns, so much so I bought a case from Sainsbury’s at 25% off. Also available from TWS in magnum…

2017 Antech Blanquette de Limoux Réserve Brut (France, Languedoc, Blanquette de Limoux)

  • We drink a lot of fizz, and this traditional method one is super. I bought 6 from TWS when it was discounted and went back and got more even though the discount had ended.

2017 Domaine Jones Fitou Vieilles Vignes (France, Fitou)

  • I’ve been getting into Carignan this year and this is splendid example from a splendid lady that give a very good Zoom show.

2018 Definition for Majestic Chenin Blanc (South Africa, Stellenbosch)
2018 Delheim Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment (South Africa, , Stellenbosch)

  • two remarkable dry Chenins. The first was made by De Morgenzon, the second by a family owned winery we visit every year. I was so disappointed when TWS sold out of it so quickly and I couldn’t get more.

2015 Birichino Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard ( California, Lodi Mokelumne River)

  • I’ve been disappointed with most of the varietal Cinsaut I’ve had, but this was a gamechanger

N.V. Blandy’s Madeira Bual 10 Years (Portugal, Madeira)

  • This is the year I’ve got into Madeira, and this the best (so far).
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Good point, well put.

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Looking through my notes, my favourite wines were:

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV - Light yellow, gold. Fine mousse. Persistent. Clean nose. Intense. Brioche. Mature ripe fruit. Lemon, grapefruit. Clean palate. Dry. High acidity. Rich. Biscuity. Delicious. Long finish. Lovely champagne that clearly includes a good portion of aged wine.

Alto de la Ballena, Maldonado, Uruguay Merlot Reserva 2015 - Deep red, opaque centre. Red rim. Instant legs on glass. Intense, perfumed nose. Plum and black currants. Herbaceous notes. Green pepper. Hints of cigar box and vanilla. On the palate ripe fruit give impression of sweetness but finish dry. Medium plus acidity. Smooth tannins. The acidity brings forward fruits such as raspberry, blackberries and black currant. Plummy. Vanilla. Long finish.

Val de Flores 2011, Uco Valley, Argentina. M Rolland - Opaque centre with a surprisingly looking red/purple rim. Bought direct from Bodega so perhaps stored in cool conditions. Intense nose. Black fruit and plum. Blueberry. Tabacco. Hints of mint and eucalyptus. Soft vanilla. Full, rich palate. Ripe fruit. Firm tannins. Fresh acidity. Big wine - plum, black currants and charcoal. Chocolate. Long finish. Great Malbec dominated wine that is drinking with a surprisingly youth for its age.

Chanar Punco 2014 Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina - Opaque centre, deep red rim. Immediate ‘legs’ around the glass. Intense nose. Perfumed, cedar and black fruit. Black currant. Vanilla. Reminded me of a very good Margaux from Bordeaux. Full but fresh palate. Good fruit, tannin and acidity balance. Again, ripe black fruit and vanilla. Rounded tannins. Long finish.

Trapiche Terroir Series Laborde Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza - Opaque centre. Deep red rim. Intense, velvety nose. Black currant. Vanilla. Herbaceous. Mint. Lovely. Rich palate. Dry. Firm tannins. Fresh acidity. Hint of maturity. Dark fruit combined with vanilla. Black currant. Bramble. Long finish. Great Cabernet Sauvignon from La Consulta.

Zuccardi Polígonos Sauvignon Blanc, Uco Valley, Mendoza - Very pale. Hints of yellow and green. Intense nose. Grass. Gooseberry. Asparagus. Herbaceous - black currant leaf. Quite a rich palate. High acidity but matched by fruit. Dry. Soft peach and apricot - has part of this wine passed through malolactic fermentation? Has a creamy element that I was not expecting. Nicely rounded in the mouth. Long finish. Lovely Sauvignon Blanc in a richer style.

Zaha Toko Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2017 - Red centre, medium red rim. Medium nose. Black fruit, brambles and classic vegetal notes. Hint of vanilla and green pepper. Rich palate. Fresh acidity. Dry. Lovely balance between ripe fruit, tannins and acidity. Again, brambles and black currant. Long finish. Excellent example of Cabernet Franc from Argentina.

El Esteco Old Vines Torrontes 2018, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina - Pale lemon, gold. Medium plus nose. Spice, rose petal, orange peel and musk. Medium palate. Although there is an initial suggestion of off dry, it finish dry. Fresh acidity - more rounded than the first bottle of this vintage I had earlier this year. Spice, lychee. Honey. Hints of apricot. Medium plus finish.

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Very difficult to pick specific wines as the “best” of the year but I have to nominate Xinomavro Jeunes Vignes, Thymiopoulos as the “find” of the year. Such a lovely wine.

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I feel slightly shifty that I can’t think of any wine which stood out for me this year. I mean I had a few nice bottles of port, some lovely champagne, even a very sound Cote Rotie, but nothing that was head and shoulders above the crowd.

I will consult my notebook.

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A quick look through notes indicates that my best-liked wines were all ones bought at the producer, partly because I am more likely to spend more when I have had a chance to taste the wine, but mainly, of course, because I am more likely to be make a good choice after tasting. 2 Mosel Riesling and a Franken Fruhburgunder and 2 Alsace Gewurztraminer (as I have complained before, TWS Alsace and German lists are very limited). And a couple of Burgundy and a Rhone. Some Argentine and Australian reds could have made the list.

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Best wines from me this year are:

Daterra Viticultores “Portelado do Vento” 2016, (Laura Lorenzo is the maker) 95% Mencia, 50 year old vines, 350-400m, Total SO2 15mg/l. 11 months 4000l new French oak. (website all in Spanish so my translation may be poor). Classy red, very elegant and beautifully balanced.

Laura Lorenzo grows vines at high altitude in the rocky area of Riberra Sacra. NW Spain. Very tough area. She could not get anyone to help her for 4 years until some guy turned up who only lasted 2 days before he said it was all too difficult. So hats off to a tough, determined lady who makes fantastic wines.

De Moor Chablis, Coteau de Rosette, 2018, again low sulfur, natural yeast fermentation, 16 months old oak and stainless steel.

Veronica Ortega, “Quite” Mencia, not much info. but lovely rich velvet and black/red fruit. Veronica Ortega is terrific, worked in NZ and then spells at DRC and Comte Armand in Burgundy and a period with Raul Perez. Now struck out on her own. Her wines are terrific.

Finally, two great Greek reds, one old vine from Alpha Estate, and a second from Domaine Dalamara, Paliokalis, 2016. Very old vines.

Happy 2021 everyone. I bought the Noble Rot book “wines from another Galaxy”, several wines I have mentioned above are to be found highly praised in this magnificent book. Well recommended.

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Checking my notes I have had two stand out wines and one close runner-up this year:


Which was just lovely and bought after being blown away by it at a Roam the Rhone tasting in Autumn 2019. Sadly I have no more of this; when on the list earlier this year my finances were too uncertain to risk :frowning:
Bought three years ago and one comment in my notes was “Rioja flavoured cream.” I only have an '09 and '10 now so a bit of a wait to get them at the top of their game.

The Runner up was a 2010 Chasse Spleen (not bought from TWS) which was everything I could hope for from a Moulis, if still a little young. I have one more '10, a '09 and some younger vintages.

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Those Mencia both sound very up my street. Shall have to investigate!

Looking back at my less than extensive notes these are the three we enjoyed the most.

“Superb! Oily richness, amazing nose and flavours of peaches and apricots in a mouth coating mouthful.” Not very elegantly put I’m afraid!

A 1994 Urbina Gran Reserva Especial which I described as “ripe, smooth, vanilla fading to leather.”

Our Christmas Day red, a 2009 Domaine de la Charbonniere Cuvee Mourre des Perdrix CNDP. Silky smooth, almost Pinot Noir like, mature yet still full of life and fruit. Just lovely and perfect with our meal of roast goose.

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We’ve drunk some excellent wines this year, but more than ever, the circumstances around the drinking often mattered more than the wine itself.

  • Albert Boxler Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling 2011. Drunk for Mrs Robertd’s birthday in April, right in the middle of the first lockdown. On objective criteria (as much as anything of that nature makes sense for such a subjective thing), I would say that this was the best in terms of judging just the wine. Far more evolved than I expected, full of mature riesling petrol and spice, but none of the bitter notes that can creep in, and still holding onto its fruit. Intense, complex and satisfying.

  • Ernest Burn “Les Tulipes” Muscat, 2016. It’s an excellent wine - fragrant, lifted, floral - but it was the circumstances that truly made it, as we sat in the sunshine on the terrace, on our first evening in Alsace following lockdown. It all seems like another world now…

  • The Hans Wirsching Iphofer Kronsberg Mixed Case. A slight lockdown punt (I’d only had a couple of wines from the region before). But what a discovery as a result! Purity of fruit allied to a mineral backbone. I’ve never had Scheurebe before - just lovely. And it led to the best of our lockdown Zoom dinner parties, sharing a case with others, as they shared the joy of discovery.

It’s been a unique year. Let’s hope for something a bit more normal in 2021.

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Laura Lorenzo’s wines are very hard to find in UK. Veronica Ortega’s are much easier to buy over here.

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I had three wines in mind to list here when thinking back on the year, then checked Cellartracker that confirmed the original three. Surprisingly, two Californian wines and less surprisingly my Christmas red Burgundy (no doubt also benefitting from being not long ago).

2016 Paul Lato, Malvasia Bianca Batana, Larner Vineyard
1974 Heitz Cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard
2015 Bruno Desaunay-Bissey, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru, Les Rouges Vieilles Vignes

Some honorable mentions:

2006 Henschke, Mount Edelstone
2019 Pepe Mendoza Alicante Pureza (Moscatel)
2015 Domaine d’Ardhuy Beaune PC Teurons Petit Clos Blanc
2017 Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos de Mosny
2015 Jane Eyre Côte de Nuits Villages
2014 Hubert Lamy Chassagne-Montrachet Le Concis du Champs
2016 Rocche Costamagna Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata
2018 Weingut Keller Silvaner Feuervogel
2016 Mas del Périé Cahors Block B763
2015 Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly

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Looking back at my cellar-tracker records I’ve spotted three standout wines:
La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Selección Especial 2010
Pauillac Ulysse 2010
Clos Floridene Blanc, Graves 2015

Unsurprisingly these are all wines I’ve followed through several vintages, they rarely disappoint.

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That’s such a tough question to answer I had to pick five wines !

Despite all the difficulties this year, or perhaps because of, this year has been the best of my drinking life.

Burgundy can often be an expensive disappointment but when it’s as breathtakingly good as the two underneath the price of entry almost seems worth it…

…enjoyed on Xmas Day with a game roulade. An expensive treat for sure but it was everything and more that I hoped for.

…from way back in March ( with halibut apparently ). The concluding note was 'the lingering finish just goes on and on and on…worth the money.

Wines of the year though were the two below as they were a third of the price of the wines above but every bit as stunning…

…drank earlier this month. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe its complexity and flavour adequately but the experience remained in my mind for days afterwards, but in a word, wow !

…which had breadth and depth of flavour combined with beautifully elegant balance thanks to its brisk acidity. The long and memorably salty finish had a thrilling intensity that raised and redefined my expectations of what albarino is capable of. Edit - soft and creamy isn’t how I’d describe it though.

And finally…

…opened prematurely due to evidence of cork seepage. A perfect Mosel Spatlese. Like all the wines above it caused an audible, probably potty mouthed, exclamation from me when first tasted !

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