Best of 2016: Mark Squires
I'm sure every reviewer finds these limited selections really hard to make because there are SO many options. So, sometimes (not always), I pick things to make a point or spotlight a winery or region, rather than just toss out the highest-scoring wines from the same places over and over again. I have agendas. ;-) And they are not always about the numbers. Either way, these all have something special.
Best of Table Wines (current releases, in no particular order)
Portugal has so many terrific producers that don't get as much attention as they should out of the country. Here are three examples:
- 2015 Conceito "Unico" Branco: Something different from this super producer—rounder and richer.
- 2012 Quinta do Monte d'Oiro "Ex Aequo": Portugal's best Syrah producer. This is not 100% Syrah, but it is exceptional. Up and down the lineup, they don't make bad wine. There are good values, too.
- 2011 Herdade do Mouchão Tinto: One of Portugal's iconic estates, in fine form in a great vintage.
Best of Fortified Wines (current releases, in no particular order)
- 2001 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port Nacional: This late release is a current release. It was held back because, in part, it was so powerful. It still isn't close to being ready.
- 1994 Dow's Vintage Port: (Symington, re-release) This is not only a great wine, but a great value.
- NV Quinta das Carvalhas Memorias 19th Century Tawny Port: This was actually written up last year, but it was not on the market yet. It is now.
Value Table Wines (in no particular order)
If it is difficult to pick "best of" lists, it is nearly impossible to pick value wines in Portugal. There are so many in so many regions and so many categories. Random thoughts follow, with prices representing "suggested retail," meaning they may actually be cheaper on the shelf.
- 2015 Quinta de Soalheiro Alvarinho: In 2015, Vinho Verde had one of its finest vintages and the top producers delivered as well. If well stored, don't be surprised if this "Classico," meaning the regular, unoaked bottling, holds for 20 years. Seriously. $19
- 2015 Quinta do Ameal Loureiro: Maybe the best unoaked Loureiro that this benchmark producer has made. Lighter and more subtle than an Alvarinho, never rich or fat, but always precise, pure, lingering and transparent. And it can age for well over a decade, probably quite a bit more, if well stored. $17
- 2011 Herdade do Mouchão Tinto "Ponte das Canas": Well, we have to have a red wine. Alentejo is always a good choice for values. Look at this beauty. $26
Value Fortified Wines
- 2012 Domingos Alves de Sousa Late Bottled Vintage Port Quinta da Gaivosa: Traditional, and in this case, traditionally-styled LBVs are perhaps the best value in Port, which is perhaps the best value in wine. So, take a hint there. This underrated producer did a great job here and it is good to call some attention to them. $30
- 2011 Duorum Late Bottled Vintage Port: Continuing with my LBV theme and putting the spotlight on lesser-known producers, here is another. Duorum is relatively new. The guiding lights here, two of Portugal's most famous winemakers (João Portugal Ramos, the famed Southern Portuguese winemaker; and José Maria Soares Franco, the distinguished former winemaker for Barca Velha), are not. The traditional LBVs here have been stunning. $30
- 2002 Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal Superior: Okay, I spent a lot of time on this region over the last year or so (the latest focus article was in October Issue 227). There has to be one representative, out of many good choices. This will be in the December Issue 228. Consider this a preview and a tease. Most of these come in 500-milliliter bottles or the like. This is the price for a 750-milliliter. $30
Best of Wines (in no particular order and subject to disclaimer at the top of this article)
- 2015 Estate Argyros Santorini Estate: As Santorini matures as a wine region, the great producers there are really strutting their stuff. How high will the scores go? The Hatzidakis, and perhaps a couple of others in this vintage from the most usual suspects like Sigalas and Gai'a (and newbie Tselepos), were at around the same level—e.g. 2015 Hatzidakis Assyrtiko de Mylos Vielles Vignes—but I felt like I needed to limit myself to one Santorini, while working some others in with creative cheating. :-) As wonderful as they are, some other regions need attention, too.
- 2011 Kir-Yianni Diaporos Block 5: If Assyrtiko, Greece's cult white grape, doesn't ring your bell, try the soon-to-be cult red grape Xinomavro. This stunning example was part of my big Great Red North focus article. I love this grape!
- 2015 Alpha Estate Sauvignon Blanc "Barrel Fermented" Kalyvia Vineyard: I hate to encourage the Greeks in their occasional fixation on French grapes, but it is hard to deny that Alpha Estate has become a terrific producer of them, not just Xinomavro. Take this as a bone thrown at the French grape producers. It is also one my favorite whites in Northern Greece, where I tend to fixate much more on the reds, especially in Alpha's terroir.
Value Wines (in no particular order)
- 2015 Domaine Sigalas Aa: Sigalas' blend, Assyrtiko-dominated, has become a fine wine in its own right. $17
- 2011 Foundi Xinomavro "Naoussea": Continuing the trend from Santorini to Xinomavro, this elegant, very Burgundian wine is the easier, more understated one in the lineup—but it still hit an outstanding score. Or, try the 2008 Estate Xinomavro, for just $28 also with an outstanding score. (And the 2007 was even better!) Xinomavro is a good value at the moment. That won't last forever. $20
- 2015 Nasiakos Mantinia: Sure, there are others that performed as well in this price range, because the top producers in Mantinia do nice work with Moschofilero, one of my favorite summer whites these days. But let's give a little love this time to Nasiakos (which markets now under Semeli in Greece) and expand the knowledge base a bit. $19
As always, there are many choices, but these represent some wines to which I'd like to call attention for various reasons besides just their scores.
Best of Wines (in no particular order)
- 2012 Tulip Black Tulip: Tulip flies under the radar. This, its Big Boy, is in fine form this year.
- 2015 Domaine du Castel Chardonnay Blanc du Castel: On the right track, deep and rather rich, but nicely balanced (this wine will appear in our December Issue 228).
- 2005 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve: This wasn't a new release, but it was one of the stars of my big April retrospective, gorgeous and classic. While this isn't old per se, it has shown that it is capable of improving and developing in a very traditional fashion. That's a good sign for both Flam and Israeli wines in general, since one question about Israeli wines has traditionally been: How will they age?
Value Wines (in no particular order)
Israel is not the best value region in the world, but there are some that are reasonable.
- 2015 Montefiore Red: This lighter "summer red" is fresh, exuberant and well-structured for the price level. I liked it a lot. $20
- 2014 Maia Mare White: A charming white, in the "drink me early" category, but nonetheless. $24
- 2014 1848 Winery Cabernet Sauvignon "Second Generation": This is a nice pick for a structured red that will serve well as a house pour. $24
East Coast, USA
The biggest article this year was Welcome to New York, with a lot of great picks and oldies. The East Coast, particularly meaning New York and Virginia, aren't getting enough national respect. There are a lot of very fine wines coming from these regions these days. Whether you focus on a specialty (like Barboursville's Nebbiolo) or a category (like Riesling and the Finger Lakes; Merlot and Long Island; Virginia and Petit Manseng), there's a lot to like. It was pretty painful to limit this to three picks, so take this as just some representative offerings.
Best of Wines (in no particular order)
- 2014 Herman J Wiemer Riesling "HJW Vineyard": Since this was probably my best single tasting from 2016 on the East Coast, there has to be one Wiemer representative. There could've been many.
- 2014 Anthony Road Riesling "Art Series": This winery also partners with Red Newt and Fox Run to make Tierce. All three producers are wonderful, as is Tierce. So, I played this pick into a three-fer, or four-fer, depending on how you view Tierce. There are too many great Riesling (and other) producers in the Finger Lakes to mention here. Other regions need attention. I did sneak in that creative cheating again, though.
- 2013 Wölffer Estate Fatalis Fatum: This was a great vintage on Long Island. No one did better than Wölffer in it. This may not even have been the best wine, but considering the more modest price point, it is a good representative for them.
Value Wines (in no particular order)
- 2013 Wagner Vineyards Riesling Select: Riesling and value—the Finger Lakes (FLX) should be a destination. Wagner typically punches above its weight, offering values in waves. There were so many values to point out in this category, that I could've added dozens more, from Wagner and others, but Wagner is a fine value producer in general and a particularly good representative of how nice inexpensive FLX Riesling can be. $13
- 2013 Wölffer Estate Cabernet Franc "Caya": This is higher in price than I usually like for values, but with such an outstanding score and at $35 (just like the Fatalis Fatum, above; they were interchangeable in categories), it might be worth a mention.
- 2014 Damiani Wine Cellars Chardonnay "Barrel Fermented": The Finger Lakes does make wine other than Riesling. Of those producers, Damiani is among the more prominent, so here's some recognition for them. This is a pretty nice, cool-climate Chard at a price that won't break the bank. $18
Best Dinner of the Year
O Gaveto | Matosinhos, Portugal (about 15 minutes outside of Porto by taxi)
The town of Matosinhos in general and this restaurant, particularly, is where the Portuguese in the Porto area go for fresh seafood. The added attraction for wine lovers is a long, long wine list with about every famous Portuguese producer you can think of (and quite a few others) that doesn't seem far from retail pricing. Not to mention that, considering the seafood emphasis, a lot of relatively inexpensive wines like Alvarinho are perfect choices (but if you want pricey whites like Quinta Nova's Mirabilis, you can get that, too). Add that dynamic to the already-low prices and you can drink very well here for very little. Plus, frequently, there will be producers in the room. I guess they know where to go.
Best Vertical/Retrospective Tasting of the Year
There were a lot of good choices. Call it a tie for the Bussaco onslaught in the October Issue 227 and the Ramos Pinto Ports (beginning with 1880) in the Port article for that issue. But there also has to be an honorable mention for the group of oldies produced by Hermann J. Wiemer in the Finger Lakes and those offered up by Kir-Yianni in Naoussa, Greece.
Best 'Get-a-Life Outside of Wine' Things of the Year
- Susie Suh, The Bakman Tapes: She has a new album out (mostly; there's an EP tease at the moment), but I just discovered one of her older works. Favorite track - In the Moonlight.
- Norah Jones, Day Breaks: Does she ever do anything bad?
- Cloves, XII (not to be confused with "The Cloves"): Some good tracks - Frail Love, Don't Forget About Me. Get in on the ground floor. She doesn't even have a complete album yet, this is just an EP.
- Whitehorse, Leave No Bridge Unburned: Try "Downtown." The type of music where sitting still is not an option. I'm not always soft and fuzzy.
- Tideland, Terry Gilliam: Okay, it's about ten years old, but I'd never before seen it. Grim, bizarre and uplifting.
- He Named Me Malala: Everyone should see this documentary. Enough serious stuff? Okay then.
- The House at the End of Time, A. Hidalgo: one of my favorite supernatural offerings of late.
- The Martian, Andy Weir: Old school sci-fi.
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