Posted by: David Stewart | December 15, 2014

Most exciting wines of 2014

Since it’s December, it’s time for the end-of-the-year parade of listicles. I combed through my tasting notes for the year and culled out the wines which were most exciting and interesting to me. Most of these represent some kind of a surprise for me or education for me. I list the price I paid for these wines, though your price and availability may very.

10. 2010 Snowy Peak Élevé – ($21) – Probably the biggest surprise is that it’s from Colorado. Who knew they made decent wines there? Snowy Peak makes their wine in Estes Park, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Their Élevé is a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Viognier. We found it an excellent food wine. Although I suspect it’s not readily available outside Colorado, it’s worth looking up if you can find them, and the tasting room is a nice visit in Estes Park.

9. 2011 Domaine Saint-Damien Gigondas “Vieilles Vignes” ($27) – Gigondas is a village in the Provence region of France, in the foothills below the Dentilles, not far from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Because this is the southern Rhone, this blend is very strong in Grenache, and “Vielles Vignes” means “old vines” in French. There is an energy and complexity in this wine which is at once fresh and ancient. I ran across it locally in a wine shop so it should be available still.

8. 2012 D’Anu by Joe at Carlton Cellars Sangiovese Seven Hills Vineyard ($23) – Alaskan Joe Williams makes an amazing and very reasonably priced 2012 Pinot Noir, but his Washington Sangio was a hit with me and my wife and daughter at a recent tasting event. This is not an overly tannic wine but fruity and delicious. I got some of his Pinot but the Sangio was the surprise.

7. 2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($27 in volume) – While everyone has been swooning over the luscious and opulent 2012 vintage of Oregon Pinots, the surprise is venerable Domaine Drouhin Oregon releasing a value-priced 2013. This release is marked “Willamette Valley” which means there are grapes sourced from outside their Dundee Hills estate. Immediately my mind went to “Eola-Amity”, since DDO bought a new vineyard last year from that appellation. The surprise is a more value-oriented wine from DDO with their classic winemaking style. (I can’t seem to find this wine on their website, so you may need to call the winery to get any.)

6. NV Kramer Vineyards Müller-Thurgau Celebrate ($22) – It’s fairly rare to see much sparkling wine in Oregon, even though our grapes are the same which traditionally go into Champagne. Kramer is one of those long-time Willamette Valley winemakers that have been around since the 1980s. But the surprise is this bubbly is made with Müller-Thurgau. When we first move to Oregon in the 1980s, white wine made with the Müller-Thurgau grape was fairly common, but today it’s nearly unheard of. These are refreshing and reasonably-priced bubbles and a definite surprise.

5. 2012 Antiquum Farm Pinot Noir Juel ($37) – As I’m writing this, I happened to speak with someone who claims they have never had a bad Pinot Noir. I think he was doing it to get a reaction out of me (and he succeeded), but I told him I’ve had to kiss a lot of frogs along the way to find a prince or two. That said, the 2012 vintage of Pinot Noir is so tasty, I have not found a frog in the bunch yet. But out of all of the 2012 wines I have tasted so far, the Antiquum Farms

4. 2009 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($49) I’m fairly late to the party, since Heitz is one of the oldest wineries in Napa. But I finally got a chance to hang out for a while this year and talk to their staff. The Martha’s Vineyard grapes are unique because the resulting wine has a kind of minty smell, supposedly from the Eucalyptus that grows nearby.  Their general Napa Valley designated blend includes some of those grapes, so there is a hint of mint in the nose. This is more expensive than wines I would usually buy, but it seems like all Napa Cabernets are steep.

3. 2012 Maysara Pinot Noir Jamsheed ($23) – Of the many excellent 2012 Pinots, this is probably one of my favorites and quite reasonably priced. Maybe it’s because I love the American success story of the Momtazi family and perhaps I got carried away by their amazing new winery facility. But of all the 2012 Momtazi Vineyard wines I tried at a recent tasting event of seven different wineries, this one hit the right notes of quality and price.

2. 2012 Acrobat Cellars Pinot Noir ($13) – Every year, Wine Spectator picks its top 100 wines of the year, and then does a kind of strip tease, announcing another of the top 10 every day. The full list of 100 wines for 2014 only had three wines from Oregon. Imagine my surprise when one of those three wines was a sub-$20 Pinot from the far southern reaches of the Willamette Valley! King Estate is a treat to visit if you are down in the Eugene area, with a sweeping view of the valley. This wine is not only affordable, it’s complex and interesting and worthy of your table – or cellar!

1. 2012 Arterberry Maresh Pinot Noir Dundee Hills ($22) – These vines are some of the oldest in the Dundee Hills planted back in the 1970s. I remember the Arterberry Maresh label from the 1980s when we first moved to Oregon, but it disappeared from view until the last year or so. This wine has some of the most interesting aromas I have ever gotten off of a Pinot Noir – apricot, mint and barnyard. When I bought some and brought it home, there was the smell of bananas. I was told that in some years there is a freak of nature, and the nose turns into something very unique for a Pinot. I look for good things from these guys with this very historic label.

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