The Top 25 Wines of 2006

Over the course of 2006, I tasted over 500 wines, and trying to narrow those down to 25 was no easy task. In the end, picking my favorite wines released in 2006 that I had the opportunity to taste was about more then simply listing my top rated wines from top to bottom. As any serious-wine drinker knows, a moderately priced wine with above average qualities is often a better bet than an outrageously priced wine that is in a class of its own. I took this into consideration while breaking down my Top 25 Wines of 2006, and also looked at aging potential as well as the level of immediate excitement I felt when tasting the wine. Of course, there are still thousands of great wines out there that I didn’t get to taste, so these were my favorites of those I had the time, money and privilege to sample.

Two American wineries, Loring and Darioush, dominated my list as each placed three of their wines in the Top 25. The spectacular 2003 vintage of Bordeaux fared well also, placing seven wines on the list. In addition, wines from Spain, Italy, Australia, Argentina and others from California rounded out my favorites. Here they are:

#25: Darioush Viognier 2003 Napa Valley, 89 Points, $35

Extra credit was given here for having been my favorite white wine I tasted in 2006. Aromas of honey and lemon combine with hints of apricot. Strong citrus flavors of apricot, orange marmalade and lemon dominate with honey notes behind which are complemented by nice spice elements as well. The finish is smooth and crisp with a long fruity length. Spice lingers with hints of butterscotch, toffee and light sweetness.

#24: Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2003 Pauillac, 96 Points, $325

The most expensive wine I tasted was, not surprisingly, one of the best, although I am sorry to say I will probably never get to taste it again. Strong toasty oak elements are present on the nose as well as black fruit and hints of chocolate. A nice layer of toast and oak fill the mouth initially before big, intense flavors of currants and blackberries evolve. These are followed by a blast of cocoa powder, toffee and vanilla with the slighest hint of minerality hiding behind. Incredible layering and long length of toffee and vanilla oak which linger for minutes with the fruit and silky tannins. 

#23: Ornellaia Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2003 Tuscany, 93 Points, $135

A famous Super-Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (no Sangiovese, which is interesting for this region), which begins with aromas of blackberry, sugary spice and hints of earthy black olive. The full body conveys flavors of perfumey blackberry and black cherry layered with earth, light cocoa and olive. The long, spicy finish is dominated by chocolate and showcases impressive balance, complexity and a soft acidity.

#22: Numanthia-Termes Termanthia 2003 Toro, 95 Points, $150

I was pleased to taste this twice wine this year, with fairly consistent notes. The nose presents burnt chocolate, blackberry and tobacco smoke aromas with hints of leather, smoked bacon and fudge. Lively blackerry and black licorice flavors develop into incredibly dark smokey tobacco, leathery notes with loads of pepper, mocha and dark cocoa. Full, long finish, a monster!

#21: Chateau Cos D’Estornel 2003 St. Estephe, 95 Points, $175

A whopper of a wine with an opaque body and aromas of oak, chocolate, leather and black currant. Deep, dark, gorgeous mouthfeel provides and absolute explosion of black fruits followed by spice, minerally earth, chocolate and tar. Long, velvety, tannic finish layered with black fruit, spice, chocolate and tar. This was probably the fullest-bodied and certainly the darkest wine I tasted of the 2003 Bordeauxs and in my opinion has potential to be the best wine of the vintage, but needs some time to soften some more. An absolute monster.

#20: Staglin Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Napa Valley, 94 Points, $125

The top 100% cabernet I tasted of the challenging 2003 vintage was not surprisingly from a low-production, expensive winery. This wine shows elegant aromas of soft cassis, vanilla, black fruits and cocoa beans. The body is structured with the same elegance, bursting with flavors of lush blackberry and black cherry layered with chocolate, tobacco and earthy spice. An endless finish is held together nicely by gripping tannins, elements of chocolate and tobacco. The length literally lingers for minutes.

#19: Chateau Colon Segur 2003 St. Estephe, 93 Points, $90

One of many great wines from the 2003 Bordeaux vintage, this begins with deep currant aromas and notes of mineral, earth, oak and perfumey black licorice. Violet and black licorice and strong funky well-water mineral flavors are initially present along with earth, chocolate and hints of leather and oak. Oak and chocolate shine through the elegantly layered finish.

#18: Tapestry Shiraz 2003 McLaren Vale, 90 Points, $20

This wine is a widely available, inexpensive treasure that should improve with time. Powerful dark fruit aromas of blueberry, blackberry w/ notes of toasty oak and pepper are evident. Velvety, intense initial flavors of violet, plum and blueberry evolve into blackberry and vanilla with hints of pepper and black licorice. Long length, only moderately spicy but packed with juicy blue and black fruits.

#17: Chateau Pontet Canet 2003 Pauillac, 92 Points, $60

This relative bargain of a Bordeaux begins with complex aromas of blackberry, cherry, oak and light perfume dominating the nose. The flavor profile is full-bodied with intense blackberry fruit and notes of black licorice and perfumey black cherry. Layers of light chocolate add balance behind with notes of lightly toasty oak. The decidedly perfumey berry fruit lingers long with intensely gripping tannins.

#16: El Nido Clio 2003 Jumilla, 91 Points, $40

The second level entry from El Nido of the Cabernet Sauvignon-Monastrelle blend variety is the Clio. It begins with a full nose of perfume, black cherry, blackberry and bourbon barrel oak. Elegant flavors of black cherry, black licorice and blackberry develop into strong oak and toffee. Full finish, with oak and toffee lingering nicely.

#15: Loring Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Santa Lucia Highlands, 93 Points, $50

This was the first of three pinots from Loring that blew me away this year. The Gary’s Vineyard begins with aromas of toast and red cherry; a truly dense fruit nose. Flavors of dark plum, cherry and blackberry combine with pepper and hints of coffee and cocoa. Hints of smokey game assisted by firm tannins pull everything together in the full, long length. A muscular and concentrated pinot.

#14: St. Clement Orropas 2003 Napa Valley, 93 Points, $50

The flagship wine of personal favorite St. Clement was another 2003 that fared well, the Orropas being a meritage blend of primarily cabernet. Aromas of cassis, vanilla and hints of chocolate are evident on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, black plum and black cherry evolve with loads of dark chocolate and coffee lingering in the background. Hints of caramel, vanilla and coconut add complexity to the body. Very soft finish with impressive length as chocolate lingers behind the fruit.

#13: Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge Shiraz 2004 Barossa Valley, 91 Points, $18

This is the lowest priced wine on the list, and is probably the bargain of the year. It has potential to age well into the next decade. The nose begins with aromas of black fruit, vanilla oak and spice. Substantial fruit flavors of black plum, licorice, blackberry and black cherry develop layered with strong oak and toasty vanilla. The wine finishes with peppery spice, dark chocolate covered cherries and a long black raisiny length.

#12: Domaine Alfred Estate Chamisal Pinot Noir 2004 Edna Valley, 92 Points, $35

Deep, dark blackberry aromas with hints of black cherry, leather and chocolate. Dark and complex body for a pinot with an explosion of flavors including blackberry, mocha and caramel with hints of black cherry, spice and chocolate. Full, velvety mouthfeel with light leathery notes, impressively layered. Long, complex length with black fruit, coffee and chocolate lingering on and on. Soft finish with light spice elements.

#11: Darioush Red 2003 Napa Valley, 92 Points, $40

Darioush’s meritage blend is comprised of mostly cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Aromas of baked plum, cherries and perfume dominate the nose. Black cherry flavors with notes of wild raspberry and hints of blackberry are present initially with nice notes of black licorice, pepper spice and perfume adding complexity. The syrah really shows in this one. Full-bodied and deep finish with notes of licorice, chocolate and intense pepper spice. Long length with a complex layering of flavors.

#10: Catena Alta Malbec 2003 Mendoza, 92 Points, $40

This was easily the most exciting Malbec I tasted in 2006. Aggressive aromas of coffee, tar and black fruit elements are immediately seductive. Full-bodied flavors of blackberry combine with strong undertones of coffee, tar and mineral with a complex backbone of violet and blue fruit. The finish is thick, soft and long with blue fruit and coffee shining powerfully through the nicely balanced mineral elements.

#9: Cenit Zamora 2003 Toro, 92 Points, $40

This wine surprised me at a tasting, and turned out to be my favorite 100% Tempranillo of the year. Perfumey, floral violet aromas combine with notes of oaky vanilla, black cherry and blueberry on the nose. Complex blueberry and blackberry flavors intertwine with perfumey spice, chocolate and hints of black cherry. Refined and elegant, as chocolate and dark fruit shine behind incredible balance.

#8: Chateau La Grange 2003 St. Julien, 92 Points, $35

Scoop up as many of these as you can find, because this is an amazing wine for the value that should continue to improve for up to twenty years. Aromas of deep toast and oak combine with blueberry and chocolate. The flavors are initially chocolatey and oaky with strong toast elements before notes of blackberry, blueberry and licorice have their turn. Full-bodied, smooth and warm with violety fruit, chocolate, oak and mineral lingering long. A fantastic value.

#7: Loring Durrell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Sonoma County, 93 Points, $50

The first of Loring’s great pinots of the 2004 vintage that I tasted is cemented into my memory. The Durrell Vineyard pinot begins with giant aromas of earth, toast, wild berries and creamy chocolate. The body exhibits a creamy mouthfeel as red, wild and blackberry flavors lead into dominant, deep layers of cocoa and toasty vanilla oak. Elements of rose petals and hazelnut are layered behind. Long, smooth length with creamy vanilla lingering.

#6: Plumpjack St. Helena Cuvee 2004, 93 Points, $55

This is an extremely young 100% cabernet sauvignon that has incredible potential. The nose showcases dark, intense aromas of blackberry and blueberry pie. Strong initial flavors of the same develop along with black plum and black cherry followed by dark chocolate syrup. Very rich, concentrated black fruit flavors. Long, strong, seemingly endless finish, the longest of any cabernet I tasted in Napa. Black fruit and rich chocolate syrup linger on and on, very little tannin or dryness even at such a young age allows fruit complexity to shine, as the body is soft and loaded with flavor. I can’t imagine what this will taste like in five years.

#5: Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2003 St. Julien, 95 Points, $90

This is an extremely elegant wine with aromas of cassis, perfume and light minerality. The velvety body is loaded with dark blackberry fruit complexity which leads into layers of chocolate. Layers of thick black fruit and chocolate intertwine with very little oak in the way while firm tannins add grip. The finish is extradonary in its length and extremely smooth, allowing the black fruit and chocolate to linger effortlessly. Full-bodied and deep yet soft and elegant.

#4: El Nido 2003 Jumilla, 96 Points, $115

This expensive Spanish blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Monastrelle knocked me to the floor. Initial aromas of inky blackberry evolve into deep leather, tar, chocolate and black fruit. The flavors are full-bodied and creamy with layers of cassis, blackberry fruit and dark chocolate. Toasty, rich vanilla flavors lie underneath with dark hints of leather. This wine possesses amazing depth, length and complexity as the cassis and chocolate linger for an eternity.

#3: Darioush Signature Shiraz 2003 Napa Valley, 94 Points, $60

This was one of the few wines I tasted on my trip to Napa that literally stopped me in my tracks. It begins with inviting aromas of blackberry, licorice, tar, leather and chocolate. The velvety, extremely dark body offers a tremendous mouthfull of flavors including blackberry, blueberry and black licorice with hints of leather and a burst of black pepper laying behind. Smooth, silky and peppery finish with spice and black licorice lingering for what seems like a full minute.

#2: Loring Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Santa Lucia Highlands, 94 Points, $50

The best of the Loring pinots is the Rosella’s Vineyard. Aromas of earthy strawberry and dark fruits lead into hints of oaky cocoa. Peppery dark berry flavors combine with layers of chocolate and tar, smokey tobacco, oak and spiced game. Amazing structure, with firm, well-integrated tannins holding together the full and complex length. Heartstopping and everything a great pinot noir should be.

#1: Chateau DuCru Beaucaillou 2003 St. Julien, 97 Points, $125

An earth-shattering combination of elegance and strength, this wine was the star of the highly acclaimed 2003 Boredeaux vintage for me. It begins with inviting aromas of black currants and dark chocolate backed by notes of oak and perfume. Dark, mouth-coating chocolate and cocoa bean flavors combine with black cherry, blackberry and creamy oak. Strong tannins provide perfect amounts of dryness and the seemingly endless flavors of creamy chocolate and black fruits linger for minutes. Full-bodied and perfectly smooth with a simply gigantic flavor profile. This is likely the best wine I have ever tasted.

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