With all of the standout wines I taste each month, it’s impossible to write enough columns or articles to highlight every one that consumers should be on the lookout for. From professional tastings and wine lunches to seminars, samples that arrive via mail, and the often obscure bottlings I taste during my travels, it is constantly driven home to me that great wine is being produced all over the place—and sometimes where you’d least expect it.
This month, then, I’ll be highlighting the most interesting or noteworthy wines that I’ve tasted over the past several months. That, rather than region, grape variety, or style, is the one thing that unites them all…aside from the fact that they are well worth seeking out and tasting for yourself.
And that, above all else, is the key to a happy, interesting wine life: Remaining open to wines both familiar and unexpected, and constantly tasting new bottlings.
Please note that a number of these tasting notes were first published on www.UncorkLife.com, the blog that I write for WineChateau.com, and which I update several times each week with tasting notes, wine news, and short videos.
Castello Banfi BelnerO 2005 – This Sangiovese-based Tuscan (it’s spruced up with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) is the result of extensive research into both Sangiovese and the terroir of the Castello Banfi estate. The outcome of all that labor is a wine that has both the potential to age as well as the ability to enhance a meal right now.
On the nose, I found aromas of leather and cherry, along with a solid note of cracked black pepper. The wine's presence on the palate, though, is what really won me over, its silky tannins and perfectly calibrated acid framing the darker cherries, cedar, and flowers beautifully. I've always been a big fan of Castello Banfi's wines, particularly their various Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcinos, and the BelnerO is a stellar addition to their already exceptional line-up of offerings.
Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard 2005 – Kosta Browne’s Pinots are notoriously difficult to find. But the effort required to track down a bottle for sale is well worth it. This particular bottling, from the Russian River Valley’s Amber Ridge Vineyard, managed to achieve a perfect balance between power and elegance. It smelled of warm strawberries with just the slightest fluttering of bubble gum in the background, and had a wonderfully supple palate bursting with juicy cherries, vanilla, and well-calibrated spiciness.
Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2005 – Portuguese reds are finally starting to get the credit they deserve. And it’s about time: For the money and the sheer drinking pleasure they provide, these wines are among the most exciting in the world right now.
The Quinta do Crasto 2005, in fact, is so well-crafted, and so flat-out enjoyable to drink, that its $20 price tag has to make it one of the best bargains on wine-store shelves. A nose of wild berry conserve leads to a palate of depth and vivacity, its crunchy red berry fruit and supporting note of vanilla expanding on the tongue even on the finish. This wine has it all: Length, freshness, sophistication, and, perhaps most important of all, an unarguable, indefinable sense of joy.
Domaine Leflaive Grand Cru Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet 2006 – This is a white Burgundy that can only be described as thoroughly complete, showing a rounded sense of minerality as well as flowers and crunchy persimmons. It fills up the entire palate, benefiting from both depth and concentration, and promises to evolve into a wine of subtle beauty by the time it reaches its peak. It’s amazing right now, but if I were to buy several bottles, I’d save at least two of them for sometime in the mid-2020’s.
Domaine Pierre Morey Grand Cru Batard-Montrachet 2006 – An amazingly seductive white Burgundy, even at this early stage in its evolution, that shows wonderfully integrated and perfumed oak, smoke, and toast notes on the nose. It’s immediately bright and lively on the attack, with a walnut-rich mid-palate and a finish that keeps coming on in mouth-watering waves. This is a wine for the long haul, and should keep on getting better for 15 – 20 years.
Fiddlehead Pinot Noir Seven Twenty Eight Fiddlestix Vineyard 2005 – Produced from multiple blocks in the Fiddlestix vineyard, this exceptionally pretty Santa Rita Hills Pinot has an earthy nose with hints of violets and lavender that presage flavors of cherries, blackberries, black raspberries, morels, and minerals. It’s still young, with several years of evolution remaining, but it’s impossible to resist right now, its fresh acidity and wonderfully integrated tannins dancing elegantly together, all of it lingering on in a finish that lasts for more than a minute.
Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer, wine educator, and food and wine consultant. He is Director of Education at The Wine School of Philadelphia (www.vinology.com), contributing editor at Philadelphia STYLE Magazine, and contributing writer for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet, as well as a number of other publications. He also writes the wine blog www.UncorkLife.com for www.WineChateau.com. Visit him online at www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.