As the year 2013 came to a close, the “Best Of” lists came out – people “in the know” trying to impress us with the breadth of their knowledge of some minutiae of life.
One of those lists was “Best Wines of 2013”.
I am always interested to see what wines are considered “best”. I glance at wine magazines from time to time, read wine blogs (see list of some of my favorites to the right), attend the occasional wine-tasting, and talk to others about what they like.
But here’s the thing: there are literally thousands of wine labels world-wide. For someone to claim “this wine is the best” simply means “this wine is the best one I’ve tasted”. It is not all-inclusive.
As a matter of fact, most of the time when I look at the lists of “best wines”, I see very few labels that I am familiar with and that I can get locally. I know the Robert Parkers of the world receive free samples from wineries around the world, but I dare say no wine critic can claim to have tasted them all in a given year. So how can they proclaim that one is “The Best”?
What’s more, as the attendant at a local wine-tasting once told me (after I spit out the wine he said was the best one he had): “To each his own.”
And he is right. What constitutes a good bottle of wine really comes down to one’s personal taste. Who is to say that one wine is better than another? And who’s to say that I’m necessarily going to enjoy what the so-called wine experts like?
Remember the 2004 movie “Sideways”? Throughout the film, Miles (a down-on-his-luck writer and wine snob) constantly puts down Merlot:
His preference is Pinot Noir:
“It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere, and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”
I think there’s a little bit of self-analysis going on there…
But not surprisingly, the sale of Merlot in America plummeted as a direct result of this movie!
I enjoyed the movie. But in 2004 I was drinking a lot of Merlot... and loving it!
Pinot Noir, not so much.
In fact, my wine preferences have matured over the past 30 years – from that fabled first bottle of Pink Chablis (only $3.99 for a 4-liter jug) to Michael David’s “Lust” Zinfandel the First Mate and I opened for our wedding anniversary last week. But I still enjoy a good Merlot.
Yes, there are bad ones out there too!
Now, even within a particular varietal there are hundreds of labels to choose from. So even if I narrowed my field and became an “expert” on, let’s say, Zinfandel, chances are good I still would not be able to sample them all within a given year. So again, how could I say one is “the best”?
I can say it’s “good”.
I can say it’s “great”.
I can say even say it’s my “favorite”.
But if I say it’s “the best”, understand that I am referring simply to ‘the best” wine I have tasted, not the best ever produced.
Another factor to consider: wine pairings. To simply “taste” a wine absent an appropriate food-pairing is worthless. When simply sampling wines while sitting at a desk writing a “Best Wines” blog, one could easily overlook an otherwise fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine and food were meant to go together. Some food brings out the best in wine… and sometimes the worst! Even the most expensive bottle of wine can be ruined if paired with the wrong foods.
Yes, drinking wine can get complicated.
Which is why some people stick to beer...
But there are connoisseurs of beer and Tequila out there too! While channel surfing one afternoon I came across an episode of Martha Stewart (follow link to video) in which she was tossing back shots of expensive Tequila with some Mexican guy under the guise of a “tasting”.
“Martha, put down the glue gun, back away, and nobody gets hurt!”
Where was I?
Okay, so with all that said, here’s my list of the best wines I drank in 2013:
10. Olabasi 2007 Shiraz (Suisun Valley). I don’t normally go for Shiraz, but this was sampled at a local wine tasting and I was pleasantly surprised.
9. 3 Girls Chardonnay 2011. You will see that most of my selections are reds, but with a diet leaning more toward chicken and fish these days, it has been necessary to find good white wines. This is one.
8. Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel 2010. You will see a lot of Zins on my list. Bogle makes a good, consistent product.
7. FATTORIA di LVCIGNANO Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2009. Truth be told, I bought it for the label. But it was wonderful with my spaghetti.
6. Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. This is my go-to white wine. It’s easy to drink. The bartender at my favorite sushi restaurant knows to start pouring this as soon as I finish my SoCo.
5. St. Francis Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. This is a great Cab to pair with a medium rare steak.
These last four are very close in my top favorites.
4. Brazin Zinfandel 2010. I had this in Denver paired with a venison steak that was out of this world! This Zin was a perfect complement to that meal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it when I returned home, but “Yay!” it’s here! (Now to find another good venison steak!)
3. Dead Man’s Hand Napa Valley Zinfandel 2007. As we were moving away from Memphis in 2011, I stocked up on this one – it is that good! Unfortunately, we’re down to our last bottle and it’s not sold locally.
2. Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2010. This one is so good we started buying it by the half-case… can’t afford a whole case at a time! But our local wine merchant has sold out, so we’re waiting for the 2011’s to come in, and praying they are just as good!
1. Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Red Label Zinfandel 2007. This one was a pleasant surprise. It was sitting on the shelf at a wine store at which I’ve had a couple bad experiences (spoiled wine). But I decided to take a chance and it was yummy! Unfortunately, when I went back to get more, they only had two bottles left. And when I left, they had none!
With all that said, if you check with Robert Parker or "Wine Spectator", you will probably discover that none of these are on their “Best” lists. And you may be saying to yourself, “I've had that wine; it tastes terrible!” I have a friend who calls all my reds “dirt wine” because she thinks they all taste like dirt!
And that’s okay. I enjoy them, and when sailing on the Banana Winds, isn’t that really all that matters?