When I look back on the year of wine in 2012, there are lots of great moments to recall. While I tasted about 370 wines in 2012, which is a bit below my yearly average, the quality of the top tier of those wines was among the best I’ve ever tried, and I can think of several moments worthy of recognition before I reveal the wine I have chosen as Wine of the Year.

In February, I took advantage of an opportunity to taste some of the higher end wines of the highly acclaimed 2009 Bordeaux Vintage at the Sheraton Hotel in the Streeterville area of Chicago. Along with sampling the Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere St. Emilion (95 Points) and Chateau Leoville Barton St. Julien (94 Points), both of which landed in the Wine Spectator’s Top 20, I was even more impressed by wines like the Chateau Troplong Mondot St. Emilion (96 Points) and the Chateau Smith Haut Lafite Pessac Leognan (97 Points).

My annual trip to Napa and Sonoma in July has reached legendary proportions in terms of anticipation, and this year I was dead set on getting my hands on a bottle of Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 2008 (96 Points) to sample before we left. Thanks to a friend in the business, I was able to secure three bottles of this, which has long been one of my very favorite California wines. I opened and drank one bottle on the last weekend in June, and while it stands to benefit even more from additional cellaring, this was still the best Relentless I’ve tasted, and I have tried every vintage since 2004, and actually awarded the 2007 edition as my Wine of the Year for 2011. Our trip to California Wine Country was fantastic as always, but nothing I tasted out there was able to top it. I was as excited as I’ve been in some time when, to my amazement (although I did predict it the day before), the Wine Spectator named this wine, so deserving of recognition for so long, as their Wine of The Year- the third consecutive California Red wine to secure that honor.

I enjoyed a unique sort of tasting trip more recently when we traveled to Porto, Portugal and hopped from wine lodge to wine lodge sipping that most delicious of all liquid beverages, port wine. It is hard to go wrong with any of it, but I was lucky enough to sample the exquisite 2009 Vintage Ports from Taylor Fladgate (94 Points) and Croft (94 Points), and brought back a bottle of the latter.

But even after all of that, when I look back on 2012, the day that I will always remember was the day we spent back in April with a private driver touring the Southern Rhone Valley. As we made our way through the rocky soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, we were able to sample plenty of wines from the highly acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages as we visited famous estates like Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Clos Des Papes, Domaine de la Charbonniere and Chateau de St. Cosme. At the latter, I managed to buy a bottle of the 2010 Gigondas (92 Points) for less than 15 Euros, a steal for a wine that was long gone in the U.S. well before being named the #2 Wine of the Year by the Wine Spectator. To my palate, it was delicious but way too intense to drink right now, hence the slightly lower rating, as it needs many years to soften and develop into its full potential.

Earlier that day, I entered Clos Des Papes for a tasting, and it would turn out to be the greatest tasting experience of my life. I posted full details back in April (Southern Rhone Tasting Recap), but during this tasting we were served full glass pours of three different vintages of their iconic Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge. The oldest of these wines, the Clos Des Papes 2004, earned a 98, which as of this writing and after tasting nearly 3500 wines, stands alone as the greatest wine I have ever tasted. Both the Clos Des Papes 2009 and Clos Des Papes 2010 scored 97 points while demonstrating completely different flavor profiles, a fascinating exploration of terroir and climate effects. Suffice to say, to score three wines that highly at the same tasting was an extraordinary moment for me, especially considering that I’d only ever given three scores of 97 over the 3000+ wines I’d tasted prior to that. Because that experience stood above all others in 2012, it would be foolish to look elsewhere for my Wine of the Year. Representing one of the best Rhone vintages in recent memory, I’ve decided to honor the youngest of these, a wine with amazing concentration, elegance and aging potential.



CLOS DES PAPES CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2010, 97 Points, $125, 5600 Cases Made- 

Elegant, inviting nose of dark raspberry and blackberry perfume. Deep, elegant mouthfeel of dark plum, blackberry, and chocolate with mineral spice underneath. Very rich and powerful with its dark currant and cocoa notes, yet amazingly balanced and creamy for its youth. Exotic spices linger long as the finish goes on for a solid minute. Texture is amazing, with firm tannins adding grip. A huge effort, and may be the best of the bunch with time. 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre.


JANUARY- Stefano Farina Chianti La Ginestra 2009, 90 Points, $10

FEBRUARY- Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva 2005, 91 Points, $25

MARCH- Chateau Tanunda Shiraz Barossa Valley Grand Barossa 2008, 93 Points, $18

APRIL- Shoofly Shiraz South Australia 2010, 89 Points, $10

MAY- Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini 2011, 90 Points, $20

JUNE- Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Barossa Valley 2009, 90 Points, $15

JULY- Penfolds Club Tawny Port Australia NV, 89 Points, $10

AUGUST- Antinori Villa Antinori Toscana Red 2008, 89 Points, $25

SEPTEMBER- M. Chapoutier Cotes du Roussillon-Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2010, 90 Points, $13

OCTOBER- Trivento Amado Sur Red Mendoza 2010, 90 Points, $15

NOVEMBER- Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley NV, 90 Points, $20

DECEMBER- Numanthia Termes Termes Toro 2009, 92 Points, $30


Clos Des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2004, 98 Points, $125

Clos Des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2010, 97 Points, $125

Clos Des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2009, 97 Points, $125

Chateau Smith Haut Lafite Pessac Leognan 2009, 97 Points, $110

Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 2008, 96 Points, $60

Chateau Troplong Mondot St. Emilion 2009, 96 Points, $140

Sadie Family Columella Swartland 2005, 95 Points, $80

Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere St. Emilion 2009, 95 Points, $95

Chateau Pavie Maquin St. Emilion 2009, 95 Points, $95

Chateau Lynch-Bages Pauillac 2009, 95 Points, $150

Chateau Pape Clement Pessac Leognan 2009, 95 Points, $150

Chateau La Conseillante Pomerol 2009, 95 Points, $245

Ruffino Modus Toscana 2007, 94 Points, $35

Chateau La Dominique Margaux 2009, 94 Points, $45

Chateau Prieure Lichine Margaux 2009, 94 Points, $50

John Anthony Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008, 94 Points, $65

Adobe Road Cabernet Sauvignon Bavarian Lion Knights Valley 2008, 94 Points, $75

Croft Vintage Port 2009, 94 Points, $80

Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2009, 94 Points, $100

Bibi Graetz Testamatta Riserva Toscana 2007, 94 Points, $115

Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac 2009, 94 Points, $80

Chateau Leoville Barton St. Julien 2009, 94 Points, $105

Clos Fourtet St. Emilion 2009, 94 Points, $105

Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron Pauillac 2009, 94 Points, $140

Chateau Clinet Pomerol 2009, 94 Points, $225

Terrabianco Campaccio Toscana 2007, 93 Points, $30

Sbragia Zinfandel Gino’s Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 2009, 93 Points, $30

Freeman Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley 2010, 93 Points, $44

Adobe Road Syrah Kemp Vineyard Dry Creek Valley 2009, 93 Points, $45

Domaine de la Charbonniere Cuvee Mourre des Pedrix 2009, 93 Points, $55

Ramos Pinto Quinta do Bom Retiro 20 Year Tawny NV, 93 Points, $70

Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2009, 93 Points, $75

Domaine de Chevalier Pessac Leognan 2009, 93 Points, $80

St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Armstrong Ranch Napa Valley 2008, 93 Points, $80

Adobe Road Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III Napa Valley, 93 Points, $95

Chateau Gazin Pomerol 2009, 93 Points, $95

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