Here are the top wines I sampled or drank in 2012. It was a hard task since I had tasting notes on over 500 wines this year. As an added bonus, I included my next 10 wines, but since they aren’t ranked, I’ll still call this my Top 10.
I set a couple of rules going in, the same winery couldn’t have more than one wine in the top 10 and could not have more than 2 in the top 20. This only came into play for one wine, causing a bottle to fall from the top 10 to the “number 11 to 20″ list. Sorry Carlisle.
Unfortunately, since most of the wines I open have been in my cellar for a number of years, most of these wines are not available to purchase today. Some are probably available on the auction sites, like WineBid. If you are interested in any specific wine, let me know and I can help you track down a bottle.
10 – 2001 Elyse Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard
This is perennially one of my favorite Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. The Elyse Morisoli Cab generally needs a few years in the cellar to fully open up and reveal all of its layers.
My Tasting Note
The wine is a very nice, deep ruby color, showing absolutely no sign of age. The outstanding nose has cassis, smoke, well worn leather, fresh ground coffee, dark chocolate, dried herbs, tobacco, and a faint hint of cedar. This is medium bodied with nice, ripe, integrated tannins and very nice acidity. The wine is very civilized and refined on the palate with a nice fruit to savory balance. The finish is long and full of cassis, dried herbs, and dark chocolate. Very food friendly, but I’m very much enjoying a post dinner glass. This can easily rest in the cellar for a few more years, but it is stunning today. (94 pts)
9 – 2007 Westerhold Family Vineyards Syrah Westerhold Vineyard
This was a new find for me early in the year. I bought a few bottle based purely on the fact Russell Bevan was the winemaker. As soon as I had a couple sips, I was online stocking up.
My Tasting Note
The wine is a deep maroon color. The irresistible nose has blackberries, smoked meat, black pepper, charcoal, dried herbs, melted licorice, baking spices, and a hint of violets. This is fairly full body with solid, ripe tannins and very good acidity. This is lush and ripe on the palate but not really pushing the ripeness to the edge. The palate shows nice peppery berries, licorice, and some smoked meat with baking spices and dried herbs in the background. The finish is very long and highlights the fruit initially but as the fruit slowly fades, the savory elements keep going. Still extremely young but already outstanding. (95 pts)
8 – 2004 Bodegas AAlto Ribera del Duero AAlto
I’ve been a big fan of this Ribera del Duero wine for several years. It took some cellar time but this outstanding vintage is just now coming out of its shell.
My Tasting Note
Decanted about 2.5 hrs. Deep maroon color. Blackberry liqueur, licorice, earthy underbrush, cedar, dried herbs, dark chocolate, and dark roasted coffee on the very open and inviting nose. Medium to full body with solid tannins and very nice acidity. Loads of spicy, sweet fruit on the palate with no over ripe notes. Long finish again full of spicy fruit. This will improve , perhaps quite a bit, with some additional cellar time but it is outstanding now with a couple hours of air. Delicious! (95 pts)
7 – 2002 Shafer Relentless
Another perennial favorite. With the current vintage’s number one ranking in the Wine Spectator Top 100 wines, I’m sure more people will come to appreciate this gem.
My Tasting Note
Deep, dark maroon color. Blackberries, smoked meat, black pepper, licorice, Asian spices, vanilla, dark chocolate, and fresh ground coffee on the very inviting and exotic nose. Medium to full body with fairly solid, ripe tannins and nice acidity. A big hit of berries on the palate then waves of savory elements grab the palate. Long, lingering finish with the spicy berries giving way to the dark chocolate and espresso. Outstanding! (95 pts)
6 – 2007 Saxum James Berry Vineyard
I’ve been a big fan since back when some of the major wine magazines hated this wine. This vintage was not only named the number 1, Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator but was bestowed very high scores by just about everyone who rates wines. In my opinion, it is outstanding but will benefit from some additional cellar time.
My Tasting Note
I decanted the wine for a couple hours before tasting. The wine is a deep, dark ruby color. The wine has an exotic nose full of blackberries, blueberries, Asian spices, smoky incense, potpourri, black cherries, minerals, cola, earthy underbrush and a touch of alcohol. This is fairly full bodied with solid, ripe tannins and bright acidity. On the palate the wine reveals itself in layers. First there is a solid hit of fruit with slowly building Asian spices. As the fruit begins to fade, some nice earthy elements slowly start to build, later a bit of dark chocolate starts to take over. The alcohol note on the nose is not noticeable on the palate or the long finish. 100 pts? Wine of the Year? I don’t know if I’d go that far at this point in its evolution, but there is still considerable upside. (95 pts)
5 – 2003 Carlisle Two Acres
This is another wine that tastes great upon release, but some cellar time is greatly rewarded. For all their early richness, Carlisle wines are balanced enough to improve in the cellar.
My Tasting Note
The wine is a deep, saturated maroon color with a touch of bricking at the edge. The very pleasing and inviting nose features blackberries, licorice, tree bark, leather, meat juices, dried herbs, violets, and a touch of Asian spices. The wine is fairly full bodied with nice, ripe tannins and good acidity. On the palate there are nice, spicy berries with just a touch of earthiness and a hit of dark chocolate. Even though the nose and palate are top notch, the finish is probably the best part of the wine. The finish is very long and loaded with berries, chocolate, dried herbs, and earthiness with just a bit of a meaty element. The length is incredible! There are absolutely no rough edges or any overly dominant taste or aromas in this wine. This wine is in a perfect drinking window, if I had more I’d recommend drinking over the next year or two. (95 pts)
4 – 2008 Melville Pinot Noir Carrie’s
This is a wine I grabbed off the shelf at my local wine store to try down the road. Now I wish I had opened it as soon as I got home so I could have stocked up.
My Tasting Note
The wine is a deep ruby color. An intoxicating nose with earthy underbrush, black cherry, raspberry, baking spices, vanilla, melted licorice, and violets. This has medium body with ripe tannins and very good acidity. Rich and plush on the palate with fantastic, earthy, spicy, fruit that slowly transforms to reveal a new nuance every couple of seconds. The finish never really seems to dissipate, seemingly lingering forever. One of the absolute best young California Pinot Noirs I have had the good fortune to enjoy. Absolutely stunning! (95 pts)
3 – 2003 Turley Petite Sirah Hayne Vineyard
For a long time, one of the upper echelon Petite Sirahs from California. Over the years other wineries have been able to duplicate Turley’s “formula” when it comes to Zinfandels, but no one has been able to replicate the power and finesse Turley generates from this Hayne Vineyard masterpiece.
My Tasting Note
Decanted an hour. Deep, dark, inky maroon color. An outstanding nose of blackberries, pepper, melted licorice, baking spices, dark chocolate, fresh ground espresso, with some vanilla, blueberry, and violets. Full bodied with solid, ripe tannins and very nice acidity. Rich and spicy on the palate with loads of dark fruit, pepper, and spice. Ripe tannins grab the palate coating it with velvety plushness. Long finish that just seems to go on and on, very slowly fading. One of the best Petite Sirahs I have ever had. This is still quite young but very drinkable now with some air. I’ll hold onto my other bottle for a special occasion. (95 pts)
2 – 2004 Jean Edwards Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard
Jean Edwards Cellars was another new find for me in 2012. In this case, my thanks goes to Twitter for leading me to this winery and the wonderful owners. Check them out on the internet, you can probably still get in on this action before the winery catches on in a big way making the wine extremely hard to get.
My Tasting Note
The wine is a fairly deep ruby to garnet color. The sensuous nose features cassis, cedar, tobacco, dried herbs, smoke, well worn leather, black cherry, and just a touch of earthiness. This has medium body with nice, ripe tannins and very good acidity. The wine is rich and velvety on the palate with dried herb laced berries and cherries up front and nice savory notes and spicy oak adding considerable depth and complexity. The long finish adds a touch of dark chocolate and earthiness to the fruit and dried herbs. The wine is in a perfect drinking window with absolutely no rough edges or over powering elements, but it should hold for at least a few more years if not longer. I’ll hold my remaining bottle for another couple years. (95 pts)
1 – 2007 Villa Creek High Road The Long Path James Berry Vineyard
I’ve been buying and very much enjoying the wines from Villa Creek for several years. This bottle, from a great vintage, and the magical James Berry Vineyard has propelled this wine to the top of my list for the year. I wish I had bought more of this but my couple bottles will have to make due.
My Tasting Note
The wine is a deep, dark maroon color. The nose on this wine is absolutely incredible with blackberries, intense stony minerals, violets, smoke, briny olives, blueberries, and dark, bittersweet chocolate with just a hint of earthiness. This is medium to full body with fairly solid, ripe tannins and very nice acidity. Like the nose, the palate on this wine is incredible, loaded with spicy, smoky, mineral laden berries with olives and dark chocolate in the background adding depth and complexity. The finish is very long, never seeming to end with spicy berries and just a bit of earthiness seeming to last forever. In a perfect world, this would be cellar worthy for a decade, but realistically it will be next to impossible to resist for more than a year or two in my cellar. (96 pts)
Number 11 to 20 by winery
2007 Big Basin Vineyards Odeon Black Ridge Vineyard
This was decanted for about 3 hours. The wine is a deep, dark, purple color. The very deep and interesting nose had cassis, blackberries, black cherries, baking spices, licorice, fresh ground espresso, dark chocolate, dried herbs, minerals, and some toasty oak. This is full bodied with a nice tannic backbone and good acidity. The wine explodes on your palate coating it with spicy fruit, dark chocolate, and dried herbs. There is a some nice, spicy oak providing some background “seasoning”. The wine has a long, lingering finish with just enough toast oak to add interest without over powering the fruit and dried herbs. This is a big, ripe, rich wine that perfectly conceals the alcohol. This wine has years of life ahead of it, but it is delicious today with some air. (94 pts)
2006 Carlisle Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard
Decanted about an hour. Deep, dark maroon color. Brambly berries, melted licorice, black pepper, smoke, dark chocolate, with a bit of vanilla on the fantastic nose. Full bodied with solid, ripe tannins and very nice acidity. Big, ripe, and bold on the palate with loads of juicy, peppery berries. Long, spicy finish. Wine still tastes young and has youthful tannins and very nice acidity, this could cellar for several more years. This is an absolutely stunning zinfandel, one of the best I have ever had. and I think it will still improve with some additional cellar time. (95 pts)
2005 Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Decanted about 2 hours. Deep, dark ruby color with just a touch of lightening at the edge. Black cherries, raspberries, loads of minerality, dried herbs, spices, scorched earth, a bit of underbrush, black pepper, and meat juices on the rich and luxurious nose. Medium body with solid but silky tannins and very nice acidity. On the palate the wine is rich, smooth, and velvety with no jagged edges or off notes, it just envelopes the palate with spicy, earthy fruit. Long, lingering finish. This may be very young, but with some air it is a knock out. Top rate and at under $30 a QPR masterpiece! (94 pts)
2003 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon
Decanted about an hour. Deep, saturated ruby color. Cassis, cherry, licorice, worn leather, cocoa, dried herbs, smoke, tobacco, and just a bit of cedar on the slightly reserved nose. Medium body with fairly solid but ripe tannins and very nice acidity. Much more expressive on the palate than on the nose, everything seems to be turned up a notch, with the rich and spicy fruit leading the way. Nice dried herbs are in the background with a bit of dark chocolate coming in on the backend. Long finish with the dried herbs and dark chocolate seeming to last forever. I think the nose will open up with another year or two in the cellar. Very nice now, probably even better in a year or two. (94 pts)
2007 Jacob Franklin Mon Chou #50 Napa Valley
Pretty much pop and pour due to a different wine being corked. The wine is a deep ruby to maroon color. The fantastic nose has cassis, dried herbs, licorice, baking spices, cherries, cigar box, smoke, and minerals. This had medium body with fairly solid, ripe tannins and very nice acidity. On the palate the wine shows very nice spicy fruit full of dried herbs and a touch of licorice. The wine has a long, lingering finish full of sweet berries, spices, and the dried herbs. This is the real deal, with no rough edges. This wine is very highly recommended. (94 pts)
2005 Jaffurs Petite Sirah Thompson Vineyard
The wine is a very dark purple color, almost black. The very inviting nose has blackberries, blueberries, white pepper, baking spices, melted licorice, violets, and some dark chocolate. This is medium to full bodied with solid, ripe tannins and very good acidity. Ripe, juicy, spicy berries dominate the palate with some very nice licorice and dark chocolate coming through on the backend. The bright acidity and tannins keep the wine in check and actually makes it seem a bit lighter in body than the 15.8% alcohol lead me to expect. The wine has a long finish with the juicy berries and spices slowly fading. The alcohol is surprisingly well hidden with just a touch peeking through on the finish. An outstanding Petite Sirah that is drinking perfectly today but with enough acidity and tannins to easily cellar for several more years. (94 pts)
2010 Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir “The Three”
Decanted about 2 hours. Deep ruby red color. Black cherries, blackberries, baking spices, white pepper, underbrush, and vanilla on the very intriguing nose. Medium to full body with fairly solid but ripe and silky tannins and very nice acidity. Big, rich, and spicy on the palate with loads of dark fruit and baking spices. Very nice length on the finish with the spicy fruit lingering for a long time. This is not a Pinot for Francophiles, VERY unique. I would call this hedonistic, even though I absolutely despise that term in a tasting note because it usually denotes an over ripe, sweet, syrupy wine, which this is not. Not for everyone, and not an everyday wine, but tonight I absolutely loved it. (94 pts)
1988 Schloss Schonborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Spatlese
The wine is a bright, golden yellow color. The very pleasing nose has petrol, apples, white peaches, honey, minerals, citrus zest, lime, and some white pepper. This has light to medium body with crisp acidity and nice sweetness. Very rich and smooth on the palate with most of the overt sugar having been incorporated into the magical elixir. The wine has a long, lingering finish full of peach, apples, honey, minerals, and lime. This actually still tastes young. (94 pts)
2000 Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile
A bright golden yellow color. Apple, peach, lemon zest, minerals, lime zest, petrol, and a touch of white pepper on the very luxurious nose. Light to medium body, dry with outstanding acidity. Tart and tangy white fruit and citrus on the palate with minerals and a bit of white pepper coming in on the back end. Long finish with mouthwatering citrus and spicy minerals seeming to last forever. An truly outstanding example of a dry Riesling. (94 pts)
2007 Villa Creek Willow Creek Cuvee
Decanted about an hour. Deep ruby color. Cherries, blackberries, white pepper, baking spices, some earthiness, licorice, and nice minerality on the very open and inviting nose. Medium to full body with solid, ripe tannins and very nice acidity. Rich fruit and solid peppery spice on the palate with some minerality and earthiness coming in on the back end. Long finish with the fruit, spice, minerality, and earthiness all lingering seemingly forever. I love this wine every vintage, but one seems to have that little something extra. This is special. (94 pts)
***** Shameless Self Promotion *****
Here is a link to a YouTube video of me getting “coal” from Santa for being named the “Nicest Person in Social Media” in 2012.
Remember to support your local wine store!
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Notes – I use the “official” Cellar Tracker name for the wines. I use Cellar Tracker to help manage and organize my cellar. I highly recommend checking it out at www.cellartracker.com. Loading you existing cellar is a lot less intimidating than it would first appear. There is a good chance 99% of your wine is already in the system, so you generally only need to enter part of the wine’s name and the system will find it for you.
Prices noted are the prices I paid at the time of purchase. I don’t shop around to find the best prices, but my local store is usually VERY competitive. I generally get case discounts, and since I work there part time, I get a 5% discount. Wines purchased direct from a winery do not include any shipping charges. None of the prices include the sales tax.
All wines that were sent to me free of charge to sample will be noted and I will show suggested prices when available.