It's Monday 01st December and in less than four weeks I will be celebrating my fourth anniversary in wine journalism. Only four years and yet it seems like so much longer because so much has happened and I have been fortunate enough to work with such gifted and passionate winemakers, cider-masters and distillers.
It is because of their passion, and the way that this passion has inspired me, that I have decided to create The Chef and The Grape Top Wines and Spirits: a tribute to quality, value and passion.
My friends, we live in the Golden Age of Wine. Consumers have never in the history of (hu)Mankind had access to such a dizzying array of wines, of such rare calibre of excellence, from such distant corners of the world. And for a pittance! For a fraction of what one might have spent 100 years ago. We are blessed.
And here am I, perched in my corner of the office, where the vista unfolds at the base of the mountains; swaths of frozen gossamer already sheath the peaks and I can start to sense where the tree-tops, jade bristle-brushes waving in the winter breeze, will soon be sporting new coats of glistening ice-gems. And my mind wanders back through the year: the 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival, California Wine Fest, New Zealand Wine Fair and the amazing excursion from Oltrepo Pavese, Italy to name a few momentous tastings... yes, as I said, I am blessed.
These wines have been chosen out of about 2000 tasted in 2014 and have been chosen as much for Value as for sheer Excellence. That is to say, don't be surprised to see a $20 wine beat a $100 wine: to my mind, a $100 should be getting 92+points and if it doesn't then it's providing poor value. Just as a $20 wine that does score 92 points is providing amazing value.
Full descriptions are provided below:
TOP WINES AND SPIRITS 2014
1. Cristalino Cava, Rose, Spain... 91+ points, $15+ CAD, $10-$12 USD
2. Summerhill "Ariel", Kelowna, BC, Canada... 93 points, $85 CAD
3. Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc-de-Noirs, Champagne, France... 93 points, $100+ CAD
honorable mention: Marques de Gelida, Gran Reserva Cava "CLAROR" (bio-dynamic), Spain... 92 points
1. Louis Latour 2010 Corton Charlemagne, Grand Cru, Burgundy... 94+ points, $120-$160+ USD
2. Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek micro-cuvee, BC, Canada... 93+ points, $65 CAD
3. M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette Hermitage Blanc, Cotes-du-Rhone, France... 93+ points, $85 USD
honorable mention: Mudhouse single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand... 92+/93 points
1. David Akiyoshi 2012 Sangiovese rosé, Lodi, California... 92+ points, $18 USD
2. Haywire 2012 Gamay Noir rosé, BC, Canada... 92 points, $25 CAD
3. Cà del Gè Muscato Frizzante, Oltrepo Pavese, Italy... 92 points, €9
1. Black Hills 2010 Carmenere, BC, Canada... 95 points, $50 CAD (300 cases only)
2. Thorn-Clarke "William Randell" Shiraz (Syrah), Barossa Valley, South Australia... 93+/94 points, $70+ CAD
3. Bodega VistAlba Corte "A", Mendoza, Argentina... 93+ points, $65+ CAD
honorable mention: Painted Rock 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Skaha Lake, BC, Canada... 91+ points, $40 CAD
1. Málaga Jorge Ordóñez "Old Vines", Portugal... 94 points, $75+ USD
2. José Maria da Fonseca 20-year Moscatel de Setúbal, the Peninsula of Setúbal, Portugal... 93+ points, $65+ USD
3. Dalva 1963 Colheita white-port, Duoro, Portugal... 93 points, $115++ USD
honorable mention: Hainle Vineyards 2010 Gewürztraminer Icewine, Peachland, BC, Canada... 93 points, $85++ CAD
1. Marcel Trépout 1968 Armagnac, France... 94+ points, $150+ USD
2. Pusser's 15-year, British Virgin Islands, West Indies... 93+ points, $90+ CAD
3. Luksusowa potato Wódka (Vodka), Poland... 91 points, $25 CAD or less!
And now the chance to explain why I chose what I did...
... small surprise to regular readers that Cristalino Cava has taken top place - AGAIN: absolutely stunning value for the money, this bubbly has garnered awards around the world and stunned sommeliers/judges everywhere. All you need to remember is that Wine and Spirit Magazine has given this their Value Award 3 years in a row - do I hear 4??
... Summerhill winery's "Ariel" may be the most eloquent, elegant expression of sparkling wine I have ever had. I prefer this to Cristal and Dom Perignon, and consider it more on the level of Veuve Cliquet "La Grande Dame" but about $100 less per bottle! This is for lovers of mature sparkling wine (I just raised my hand) and carries nuanced tones of dried apricot, almonds and nougat, fresh baguette and cold, crisp, clean minerality amongst others.
... Nicolas Feuillatte may have crafted near-perfection with their 2012 Blanc-de-Noirs... I was overwhelmed by the levels, the concentration, the balance. This is one of the most beautiful expressions of Pinot Noir in Champagne I've had for years and, remember, 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival was themed on Sparkling Wine... I tasted more then a few :)
... I do love Cava, to be certain. That to one side, this offering from Marques de Gelida moves past the "limitations" of Cava and begins to express flavors and aromas most often only found in offerings from northern France for substantially more money! I was wholeheartedly impressed not only with craftsmanship but with the extreme value as this bubbly runs about $20 USD.
... Louis Latour is a legend. This wine explains why: stunning layers, concentration, balance... the words are pitifully weak next to the wine. This is truly one of the most beautiful wines I've had in years and, hard for some to believe, is an Excellent Value at $150 USD. If one could find a Bordeaux red of this calibre, it would fetch $500++USD with ease and even a Champagne of this quality would be $300 USD. No - if you are a wine-lover, forget whether you love red or white. If I was a dinosaur I would be a "Bordeaux-a-saur" and yet even I acquiesce to this wines' greatness. If you do enjoy it, make room in your cellar for Chateau Musar white as well... a must!
... I never expected to find one of the best values in Burgundy in Canada. Ever. And yet here I am telling you that, after working with Maison Jadot only last year, if you want fantastic value in Burgundian precision, Burgundian elegance, Burgundian intellect focused behind a purely Canadian terroir... pick up a case of the MFV micro-cuvee for about the price of 2 bottles of equivalent quality from Burgundy. An easy decision for me! Listen to the interview in the linked article above and, afterwards, you can ask Jak Meyer what Steven Spurrier thought of the wines if you don't believe me...
... wine has been grown in Hermitage for almost 2000 years. It took winemakers like Michel Chapoutier to turn that into #WorldClass product. This is, perhaps, not a record-setting year for scores from this region - but it is a singularly expressive vintage. This wine speaks with great verve of France, of region and of the varietal: 100% Marsanne in this case. If you see this on a wine-merchant's shelf, purchase it - it is it's own reward.
... honorable mention went to Mudhouse and their inimitable winemaking duo for crafting the most eloquent expression of Sauvignon Blanc I have ever had. What Nadine Worley and Ben Glover have done is craft something so singular that it stands as an example of what is possible when people Believe. This carries depth and dimension far beyond its modest price-point and belongs to something far more grandiose. Small wonder Ben and Nadine, both, are recognized around the world for setting the highest standards for production and elocution.
... David Akiyoshi was a name I had never heard before 2014, but a name that I shall now never forget. David is, to me, one of the most skilled winemakers I have (never) met. I've only tasted two of his wines; both were, shall we say, unusual to the marketplace - and yet utterly #WorldClass. This is one of the best Sangiovese I've ever had (for the price especially) and certainly one of the best rosé. If you haven't tried his wines yet then you simply haven't experienced the new taste of California!
... Haywire wines have been blazing a trail across British Columbia and Canada. To some (the un-learned) this means little. To those in the know, it means that these fine folks are kicking ass in one of the most progressive and competitive wine-regions on Earth. Smaller production than Algeria, BC is winning top honors around the world... and Haywire is winning awards amongst British Columbians. Will this be to your taste? I haven't the foggiest... but no one could try this and say it was anything less than superbly crafted.
... The first time I tasted the wines of the Oltrepo Pavese I was stunned into speechlessness (which
rarely, never happens). These "under-dogs" of the Italian winemaking community have been battling not only a growing international marketplace but, also, disdain from their own brethren. It seems as though Italians consider this region to be a "lesser" producer... to which all I can say is that genius is rarely recognized at home! Though I was mightily impressed with many wines, this rosé stood out as something unique and worthy of notice.
... I'll perhaps never know if that sample bottle of Carmenere was really intended for me when my media pack was mixed with that of an older, more learned colleague - but I'll always be grateful for the confusion! For this was the second time I got to try the 2012 Black Hills Carmenere and I knew - I knew - that it wasn't a fluke! This was one of the best red wines I have ever had in my life. And it was from Canada! Well throw out the rule-books and let's approach wine with an open mind because now anything is possible my friends! Graham Pierce (winemaker) and his team are pushing the boundaries of what is possible and they are doing this in a BIG way - expect greatness from subsequent vintages.
... After five generations of winemaking, I could expect competence, and hope for great professionalism - but who could predict that this family from South Australia would scoop award after award after award?! Well, anyone who is familiar with the portfolio could have... these guys are serious about their wine. The Thorne-Clarke "William Randell" takes Syrah/Shiraz to a new level that few wineries in the world can compete with and none can replicate. Ask me what I love most about it? I know that next year they'll put out the same level of product - or better. And the year after. And the year after that. And the year after that...
... Bordeaux is the standard by which all "Big Boys" measure their red-blends: Cab-Sauv, Merlot and perhaps Cab-Franc... except in Argentina where some bold wineries are including Malbec (one of the original Bordeaux varietals). In this we find Malbec with CabSauv and Bonarda... unexpectedly full of dimension, elegance and concentration this has the capacity to become a Mover-and-Shaker in the world of wine. For now expect to find this for a fraction of its true worth, and enjoy!
... my bias for BC wines comes not from being a native of British Columbia, because I'm not. My bias comes from the earnest toil that wineries are devoting to these new plantings; the absolute dedication to learning their land and coming to a fuller understanding of what the Land wants to express. None are taking that ideology more to heart than John Skinner and the team at Painted Rock on the bluffs above Skaha Lake in the Okanagan Valley DVA, British Columbia. This is not the best Cab-Sauv I had all year but it was so personal that the memory of that tasting has haunted me for months. Having watched the evolution of this winery's Chardonnay into what I consider Premier Cru level (in only a few years) I have no doubt that the development of this wine will be equally formidable. I advise purchasing sooner rather than later: the Red Icon (Bordeaux style blend) already sells in Singapore for $900/bottle.
... before this tasting I had never had a Málaga before: this spoiled me in the most beautiful way possible. The incredible concentration of flavors and aromas was staggering: warm Christmas spices like warm apple-cinnamon loaf fresh from the oven, grilled pineapple, pear chutney, fresh honeysuckle under a summer sun... and then there was the balance! Impeccable! Ripe sugars played off a near perfect harmony of lemon-balm full acid. For the price, this may be the finest dessert wine I have ever had.
... Moscatel de Setúbal is, much like any other grape, capable of greatness in the right hands. In the hands of José Maria it has grown beyond greatness and into something transcendent; this is an example to other winemakers of the power that comes with generations working towards a common goal. It is no flattery to say that this wine is on a level of craftsmanship and expression of region that many wineries may never reach: Christmas spices mixing with a hint of Raz-el-Hanout, baked earth, crusty bread fresh from the oven, almonds toasting in a pan... the aromas and flavors are so pure, so concentrated that they must be experienced to be believed.
... White Port. White Port?! Surely a joke; that's what I thought when I saw a winery owner at a stunning Portuguese wine-tasting with an aged white-port. I had always been taught that white ports were sub-standard; lacking in any true depth of flavor, concentration or finesse. I tasted the wine to be polite and was rewarded with one of the most unexpectedly decadent flavors of the year: rich nougatty-goodness with complimentary tones of slightly burnt honey, orange marmalade and orange blossom tea with the perkiest, most vibrant acid to balance the high levels of sugar. Harmonious. And this was my introduction to Dalva wines; producers of excellence and true pioneers in the crafting of vintage white port.
... I gave honorable mention to the Hainle vineyards Gewürztraminer icewine, and, small wonder; being the first producers of icewine in North America. This particular cuvée is named "Clare's vintage" in our house for it was purchased in honor of the birth of my daughter and what a spectacular way to celebrate it! Decadently sensual aromas of fresh apricot marmalade cooling in the window, over-ripe peaches dripping their honey-liquer on fingers as we devour them with gusto and an entire garden of summer flowers wafting through the room: yellow roses, daffodils, peonies, asters and dahlias. Brilliantly balanced, this will cellar for decades and reward the faithful.
... I've met them: the snobs. Those who say that only Cognac is capable of true grace, balance and articulation. To them I quote the immortal John Cleese "phhhlllllllltttttttt" as I stick out my tongue. And then, were I in a graceful mood, I would pour them a dram of this heavenly elixir. The team at Marcel Trepout have been crafting some of the finest distillate in the world, and doing so for a very very long time. Remember that Armagnac was being produced 200 years before Cognac ever got started, and practice makes perfect! Aromas that blend and intertwine so seductively as to make the word “bouquet” utterly inept: salt-water toffee, white truffle shavings, a cacophony of Summer flowers melding into potpourri with fresh peaches/nectarines/pears and hints of wild thyme/bay leaf/sage/lavender growing on the hill... this is an Experience.
... I'm a rum fan, no doubt about it. And, I've been an advocate for the craftsmanship of Pusser's rum; also, no question. But if someone would have told me that Pusser's 15-year would, in my mind, be challenging 18-year and 21-year Caribbean rums of long pedigree I would have been quick to argue: "I've been to Cuba!" I'ld state. "I've had brilliant examples of this work from some of the finest producers in the world!". A select group to which, for me, Pusser's now belongs without hesitation or reserve. For under $100 CAD this has been one of the finest spirits I have ever tasted: a harmony of orange zest, molasses, warm nutmeg and vanilla like a Christmas pudding just pulled from the oven and a big mug of black tea beside it... sublime. And it gives back to the community? Well that's like having your cake and eating it too :) Rhum-cake that is.
... bartenders everywhere are nodding their heads in agreement with me on my choice for third place; Luksusowa Wódka is most likely the finest quality spirit of it's class and out-performs competitors much more expensive than it is. My ultimate test for distillates is to taste them straight and at room temperature... a test for which most $20-something vodkas would make me cringe. The Luksusowa is beautiful! Crisp, clean and without any of the "petrol" notes one finds in many spirits under a certain price. I've had the pleasure of creating stunning infusions with it as well as many classic cocktails. I have never found a vodka for anywhere near the price that competes. #StunningValue
I sincerely hope that this enlightens you to some of the great treasures out there in the world of wine and spirits in 2014. To the winemakers, distillers, agents and importers I worked with: many thanks again for your time and generosity throughout the year. It has been my great privilege to work with each and every one of you and I look forward to being able to share more of your stories, on an even larger media platform, in the coming year.
Chef Kristof Gillese
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