Best of 2016: Jeb Dunnuck

Top 3 Most Outstanding New or Current Releases of the Year
Apologizes for the length, but there’s ten regions on which to report!

Washington

  1. 2013 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon – Talk about consistency, Quilceda Creek produces a damn near perfect Cabernet Sauvignon in just about every vintage. The 2013 is more elegant than the blockbuster 2012.
  2. 2013 K Vintners Syrah Royal City – Washington State makes a bevy of brilliant Syrahs in a multitude of different styles. This beast of a wine from Charles Smith is about as sexy and mouth-filling as they come, yet has class as well.
  3. 2013 Cayuse Impulsivo – I don’t think anyone else in the New World making a Tempranillo comes close to the one from Christophe Baron. In addition, this has a track record and ages beautifully.
    Special Mentions: 2013 Betz Family La Cote Patriarche, 2013 Force Majeure Estate Syrah.

Paso Robles

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2014 Saxum James Berry Vineyard

  1. 2014 l’Aventure For Her – Made by Bordeaux transplant Stephan Asseo, this 2014 For Her (58% Syrah, 32% Mourvèdre and 10% Viognier) is easily one of the greatest wines to come out of these limestone soils on the west side of Paso Robles.
  2. 2014 Saxum James Berry Vineyard – This needs a few years of bottle age, but it’s the closest thing to rivaling the otherworldly 2007 out there.
  3. 2014 Booker Vineyard The Ones Syrah – I only tasted this once - from barrel no less - but I still remember it vividly. There’s only four barrels of this beauty…but I’m sure it’s worth the effort to track down.

Special Mentions: 2014 Booker The Ripper (Grenache), 2014 Daou Vineyard Patrimony, 2014 l’Aventure Estate Cuvée, 2014 Denner Vineyards The Ditch Digger, 2014 Epoch Block B.

Santa Barbara County

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2012 Sine Qua Non Syrah Touché

  1. 2013 Hammell Wine Alliance True Believer – Another upstart that’s making killer wines, Chris Hammell (the superstar vineyard manager for Bien Nacido…the guy knows what he’s doing) planted a small parcel of vines in Santa Maria and makes a tiny amount of Syrah, Petite Sirah and a Grenache blend called True Believer. This crazy good juice gets my nod for the most exciting new release from Santa Barbara County!
  2. 2013 Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir Hapgood – The 2013s Pinot Noirs from Greg Brewer are stacked efforts that aren’t for those looking for lightweight aromas and flavors. He’s one of the few winemakers still willing to push the envelope, and hats off to him!
  3. 2013 Andremily No 2 – I included winemaker Jim Binns 2012 No. 1 cuvée last year, and his 2013 is even better.
  4. 2012 Sine Qua Non Syrah Touché – This is the extended-aging Syrah from Manfred Krankl, and this beauty blew me away when I tasted it just on release. It’s closed up slightly since then, but is still a sensational Syrah. Give it some time.

Special Mentions: 2014 Peake Ranch Pinot Noir John Sebastiano Vineyard, 2014 Paul Lato Chardonnay Belle de Jour Duvarita Vineyard, 2014 Clos Solene Cuvée Jean.

Santa Lucia Highlands

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  1. 2014 Cattleya Syrah Soberanes Vineyard – This is the personal label of one of the rising superstars in California, Bibiana Gonzalez Rave. The consulting winemaker at Pahlmeyer and Wayfarer, she makes a classic, elegant style of wine that isn’t afraid to say it’s from California. While the Santa Lucia Highlands is primarily Pinot Noir country, they make incredible Syrahs. This is one of the finest I’ve ever tasted from the region.
  2. 2014 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard – One of the most stacked lineups I tasted from Cali this year was from the team at Kosta Browne. You can’t go wrong with any of these latest releases, and this Garys’ Vineyard is one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve tasted from this vineyard.
  3. 2014 Pisoni Pinot Noir Estate – The Pisoni family’s estate wine, this is year in and year out, one of the most impressive Pinot Noirs from California. It comes from rocky, granite soils and even you Burg lovers will dig it.

Special Mentions: 2014 Paul Lato Pinot Noir Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard, 2014 Walt Wines Pinot Noir Sierra Mar Vineyard, 2014 Testarossa Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard.

Santa Cruz Mountains

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  1. 2013 Ridge Monte Bello – I rated this 95+ right on release, but retasted it this year, muttered to myself that I was an idiot, then fixed the review, rating it 97 points. This is even better than the 2012 and will have 3-4 decades of life.
  2. 2014 Rhys Vineyards Pinot Noir Swan Terrace – All the wines from Rhys need to be on any Pinot Noir lover's short list. Their Swan Terrace cuvée comes from a tiny parcel of the Alpine Vineyard, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and tastes like the straight Alpine Vineyard—yet on steroids. This was tannic and structured on release, and I wouldn’t open a bottle for another year or three.
  3. 2013 Mount Eden Pinot Noir Estate - A Burgundian, elegant and nuanced style of wine - yet unquestionably from California - this beauty is made by Jeffrey Patterson and is one of the few Pinot Noirs from the region that has a proven track record with regards to aging.
  4. 2014 Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noir Rapley Trail Vineyard Henry Ayrton’s Block – A winery that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, Thomas Fogarty (the wines are made by the young, yet undeniably talented, Nathan Kandler) produces several brilliant single vineyard Pinot Noirs, as well as Bordeaux blends under their Lexington label. The Rapley Train vineyard is a steep, east-facing parcel, and the Henry Ayrton’s Block is named after Tommy Fogarty’s son. It comes from the very bottom section of the vineyard and is a brilliant, pure and elegant wine.

Special Mentions: 2014 Rhys Vineyards Pinot Noir Horseshoe Hillside Vineyard, 2014 Varner Chardonnay Bee Block Spring Ridge Vineyard, 2014 Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noir Mindego Ridge Vineyard, 2014 Mindego Ridge Chardonnay.

Châteauneuf du Pape
While there’s plenty of good 2014s from Châteauneuf du Pape out there, they pale in comparison to the 2015s—hence I’ve opted to highlight the most recent vintage. All the below reds were tasted as barrel samples. The quality of the whites from the southern Rhône has sky rocketed over the past decade as well, so I’ve split the whites out as well to highlight some gems. Aside from the Saint Prefert, all the whites were tasted from bottle. And since I break the region up into two parts, one focused on Châteauneuf du Pape and one for the other appellations, I’ve included a “Best of” list for each of the reports. The more the merrier!

• Reds

  1. 2015 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Châteauneuf du Pape Reserve – This wine is almost impossible to find (and if I found it, I couldn’t afford it), but it’s clearly one of the top wines in the Southern Rhône (hell, I’d put this up against any wine in the world).
  2. 2015 Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin – Here’s another wine that’s out of my personal zip code, yet represents the crème de la crème of the region. I know the MO on this wine is to squire it away, but man do they deliver pleasure in their youth. The 2007 today is off the charts.
  3. 2015 Domaine Ferrando Châteauneuf du Pape Colombis – If you’re a Grenache lover (and I am), don’t miss this red from superstar winemaker Isabel Ferrando.

• Whites

  1. 2015 Château de Vaudieu Châteauneuf du Pape Les Vieilles Roussanne – If you’re not already on this estate’s bandwagon, now’s the time. Old vine Roussanne, single parcel, concentrated and unctuous, yet graceful.
  2. 2015 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Prestige Blanc – While mostly known for their reds, the incredible quality of the whites from Domaine de la Janasse is one of the best kept secrets in the Southern Rhône. In addition, they often pour older vintages of their whites during my visit, and these have decades of prime drinking!
  3. 2015 Domaine de Saint Prefert Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Special Vieilles Vignes – This 100% Clairette cuvée was first made in 2009, and it’s been one of my favorite whites in just about every vintage since.

Roussillon

  1. 2014 Department 66 Côtes Catalanes Pharaon – This is the top wine of the estate and is made by Richard Case, who’s the talent behind a bevy of brilliant wines. A barrel selection of Grenache and Syrah, it’s probably the most concentrated wine in the vintage, yet still shows beautiful purity and freshness.
  2. 2014 Domaine de Bila Haut Lesquerde Ri – I’ve tasted this wine twice from barrel, it’s without a doubt one of the gems of what was a cool, difficult vintage for the Roussillon. Made from 100% Syrah, all from granite soils (a la Hermitage) and aged over two years in demi-muids, it’s a serious, mineral-laced wine that’s well worth seeking out. There’s just 200 cases made.
  3. 2014 Gilles Troullier Boreal – Previously working for Chapoutier (Bila Haut in the Roussillon), Gilles Troullier is unquestionably one of the star winemakers of the region.
  4. 2014 Charles Perez les Aspres Bergerie du Camps de Nyils – I had to add an extra line in the list just to make sure I had this wine/estate in here. The young Charles Perez is one of the most promising vignerons out there, and he makes a bevy of brilliant wines from his estate in the les Aspres region of the Roussillon. This is a guy who visits other wine regions, tastes as extensively as possible, always questions, and is already one of the leaders in the Roussillon. Other vignerons should take note, and consumers should buy his wines.

Special mention to the sweet wines from the region (the VDN wines), with the 1948 and 1965 Rivesaltes Ambre from Domaine Rancy being two of the most incredible fortified wines I was able to taste this year.

Languedoc

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  1. 2014 Chateau de la Negly Clos des Truffières – There’s not a more singular wine from the Languedoc than the Clos des Truffières from Chateau de la Negly. While 2014 was a difficult vintage for the Rhône Valley, it improves as you move into the Languedoc. This 2014 is a full-bodied, powerhouse of a wine that’s mostly like the wine of the vintage.
  2. 2014 Chateau Puech Haut Languedoc Saint Drezery Reboussier – Along with Chateau de la Negly, Chateau Puech Haut is one of the leading estates in the Languedoc. This is a large property, with lots of vines to pull from, and they use that to their advantage, making numerous special cuvées when the quality is there, and less when it’s not. Philippe Cambie consults here, and the 2014s are upfront, hedonistic wines that are going to offer tons of pleasure in their youth.
  3. 2014 Chateau Ollieux-Romanis Corbières Boutenac Cuvée Or – Coming from the heart of the Corbières, the Boutenac Cru, this beauty stood out in my tastings this year and is a gem of a wine. A blend of 44% Carignan, 23% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre and the rest Syrah, aged in 70% new French oak, it needs a year to integrate its oak, but will keep for a decade or more. This is a great estate.

Special Mentions: 2014 Chateau Puech Haut Languedoc Pic Saint Loup Closerie Saint Mathieu Blanc, 2014 La Peira Terrasses du Larzac la Peira, 2014 La Peira Terrasses du Larzac La Peira Blanc, 2014 Maxime Magnon Corbières Campagnes, 2014 Domaine Anne Gros Minervois les Carretals.

Southern Rhône – (Reviewed in Issue 228)
These notes will be published Friday, December 30th.

  • 2015 Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas Le Claux
  • 2015 Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas La Colline
  • 2015 Domaine de Longue Toque Gigondas Hommage a Gabriel Meffre

Northern Rhône Reds – (Reviewed in Issue 228)
These notes will be published Friday, December 30th.

2014s

  • 2014 Chapoutier Hermitage l’Ermite
  • 2014 Domaine Tunnel Cornas Pur Noir
  • 2014 Jamet Côte Rôtie Côte Brune
  • 2014 Chave Hermitage
  • 2014 Johann Michel Cornas Jana

2015s

  • 2015 Stephane Ogier Côte Rôtie Belle Helene
  • 2015 Guigal Côte Rôtie la Mouline
  • 2015 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage la Chapelle
  • 2015 Chapoutier Ermitage le Pavillon
  • 2015 Chapoutier St Joseph le Clos – best St Joseph ever made?

Northern Rhône Whites – (Reviewed in Issue 228)
These notes will be published Friday, December 30th.

  • 2015 Chapoutier Le Meal Blanc
  • 2015 Chave Hermitage Blanc
  • 2015 Guigal Condrieu la Doriane
  • 2015 Andre Perret Condrieu Chery

Greatest Value Wines of the Year

  1. 2015 Calendal Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu
  2. 2015 Domaine Lafage Collioure Arqueta
  3. 2014 Melville Syrah Estate

Special Mentions: 2015 Chateau de l’Ou Côtes Catalanes Infiniment de l’Ou, 2015 Domaine de Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem, 2015 Chateau Pesquié Ventoux Terrasses, 2015 Daou Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 Tensley Syrah Tensley Vineyard, 2014 Chateau Puech-Haut Pic Saint Loup Closerie du Pic, 2014 Domaine Vindemio Ventoux Amadeus, 
2014 Beau Mistral Rasteau.

Greatest Wine Drinking Experiences

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I’m feeling indecisive, so here’s a list of wines I’ve had this year that made a serious impression.

Best Dinner of the Year

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My waistline (and pathetic cycling times…I’m embarrassed to turn on Strava) are ample evidence I’ve had way too many ‘Best Dinner’ meals this year. If judging on a tip-top dining experience, a dinner with a friend at Celler de Can Roca in Girona easily takes the top spot for the year. However, I’m a bistro type of guy at heart, and I’d take a meal at l’Ami Louis in Paris (which I do about 4-5 times a year) any day—and twice on Sunday.

Other notable restaurants/dinners this year include: Le Mangevins (Tain l’Hermitage, France), L’Oustalet (Gigondas, France), les Florets (Gigondas, France), La Table de Sorgues (Sorgues, France), Villa Madie (Cassis, France), Le Petit Nice (Marseille, France), Bistro Paul Bert (Paris, France), le Dôme (Paris, France), Le Train Bleu (Paris, France), Blackberry Farm (Walland, Tennessee), Wild Ginger (Seattle, Washington), Le Divil (Perpignan, France), La Tupin (Bordeaux, France), Laredo (Madrid, France), Flagstaff House (Boulder, CO), Frasca (Boulder, CO), Press (Napa, CA), Jade Palace (Singapore), The China Club (Hong Kong).

Best Vertical/Retrospective Tasting of the Year

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The hardest part of this 2007 retrospective was not drinking all the wines.

I continue to spend a lot of time on retrospectives and older wines/vintages from my regions. These are just as much about the history of an estate as they are about the wine, and it’s always an honor and privilege to take part. Some of the standouts include:

Best ‘Get-a-Life Outside of Wine’ Things of the Year

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Abby Dunnuck 2004 - 2016

We lost our sweet girl, Abby (pictured above), earlier this year to cancer. And while it made the entire year difficult, one highlight was going back through all the photos and videos, remembering the hikes, camping trips, long road trips, and wet-tongue wake up calls, as well as all the daily small - and large - things she did to brighten our lives over the past 12 years. If you have pets, give them a squeeze for me. And take lots of videos and photos - you’ll thank me later.

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While pushing the boundary on the ‘Outside of Wine’ theme, Traci and I went on a Bourbon/Whiskey trip this last year or two and have visited distilleries, blown a ton of money and drank way too much Whiskey for our own good. Nevertheless, we’ve had a blast. Some great Bourbons this year (among others) include the Old Blowhard 26, Elijah Craig 18, Four Roses Small Batch, Rhetoric Orphan Barrel, Pappy Van Winkle (10, 20 & 23), Blanton’s Single Barrel, Willett Pot Still Reserve, Jim Beam Distiller Masterpiece and Jefferson Reserve Small Batch. I’m going to sneak in a Bourbon (maybe Cognac!) report sometime soon…

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Lastly, our nephew visited over the summer and we hung out at Keystone doing some serious downhill mountain biking runs. I struggled to hang with the little whipper snapper, but made it through the day and was, again, reminded of why I love Colorado!

Thanks for reading!


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