What, another list?
It's true, though we review wines for a living and taste everyday of the year so the passing of one year to the next is a perfect time for reflection. This year Treve and I decided to each select our twenty-five most memorable wines, wines that turned our heads and made a major impression on us in 2017. The notes, scores and pricing reflect our thinking at the time of tasting. This is certainly not a list of our top scoring wines of the year. We do note that scoring wines has become a huge issue in the global wine community with many calling for an end to awarding points. We think scoring can be relevant for those who do it daily, and follow the critics' palate and point of view, but we struggle constantly with so many ordinary wines enjoying inflated scores that flatter the winery, or the reviewer, and not the wine. We strive for honesty and transparancy in our reviews, just as we do in wine.
I also note that on several occasions it’s been suggested our scores at GOW are too low compared to our peers, to which I respond, "bring us better wines". We know our readers prefer less hype and more consistency, less style and more substance, so our plan is to stay the course, especially when scoring the quality of each wine within a global perspective. We don't consider price to be a factor when we are tasting and rating a wine, though we will mention if we think it is a killer value, or more of the hype and style that makes up the price. Of course, that final decision to you, your aims, and your budget.
Thank you, from all of us at GOW, for your continued support of wine culture. By learning, tasting, talking, writing and reading about the ever-changing world of wine, we all benefit.
2017 in Twenty-Five Wines
Wildfires were the big story in California this year but it’s hard not to notice the progression of some of the top red blends that are reshaping themselves by shedding some oak and smoke in favour of more red fruit flavours, brighter acidity and overall freshness. Winemaker Chris Carpenter is killing it in the mountains above Napa and Sonoma (via Cardinale, Lokoya, via working hard in Australia at Hickinbotham, plus his merlot makes me smile).
Closer to home, it tastes as if Michael Bartier (Bartier Bros) is squeezing stones to make his merlot, and the same for Clos du Soleil winemaker Michael Clark, whose sémillon blew us away in 2017. In fact, British Columbia continued to impress in 2017 due to a growing confidence among its winemakers. Nikki Callaway has reshaped the Quails’ Gate lineup into a serious collection of wines but still had time to toss us a Gamay Nouveaux to celebrate the harvest, honour the past, and point to the maturity of the Okanagan wine industry. Checkmate’s chardonnay and Le Vieux Pin syrah all made our list not only because they inspire but we are sure they are inspiring colleagues as well.
Montosoli Brunello is, well, Brunello, and who can drink enough of that? Vérité is all Pierre Seillan, and along with Chris Carpenter and Randy Ullom, are the brain trust at Jackson Family Wines, perhaps the most progressive wine company in the United States. Robert Hill Smith is still the vision at Yalumba, hence, The Caley.
La Craie is simply an amazing wine and a big part of the New Argentina, while the Garzon Tannat is a similar story in Uruguay. It’s all about confidence, and believing in your terroir. The Zind Humbrecht makes my list because it’s delicious, and Olivier has decided to make some wine in the Okanagan at Phantom Creek. The Spinetta is a nod to elegance, the Amadieu/Gigondas and the Howling Bluff Century Block are about being the best you can be and living within your site.
The Mondavis are back and the Raen pinots are dope. Speaking of the best, the Clos Lanson is all you could want in a Blanc de Blancs Champagne, although the Gosset grabbed us too. Surprises are the heights of the Rodney Strong (Sonoma) single vineyard series and Checkmate Chardonnay single site series. And speaking of site, is there anything better in the south of France than Terrasses de Larzac, Coteaux du Languedoc? Non.
Finally, Vardon Kennett reminds us that boasting generations in the wine business doesn’t mean you are set in your ways and the past. At Miguel Torres, we can only hope they are as successful at saving the earth as they have been producing this outstanding sparkling wine. Bring on 2018.
2017 in Twenty-Five Wines
When I look back at the 1000-ish wines I tasted this year for GOW, plus another easy triple that from travels, judging, tastings around the globe, I'm incredibly thankful. Not just for the opportunity to work in the industry that I love; it's the clarity that tasting this much provides. You see, the more you taste, the more you travel, the more you listen... the more you taste. What is most apparent, and most memorable, are how many correllations there are in the world of wine. I love when I taste a wine from the heights of southern Argentina that reminds me of a wine from the soils of northern France, and when I'm seeing folks making terroir-driven wines on slopes of the Willamette Valley that strike me the same was as the slopes of Adelaide Hills. Or Paardeberg. Or Bendigo. That vibrating energy from biodynamic wines of Italy is the same as Chile is the same as Italy is the same as Chablis is the same as Portugal. I'm regrettful the majority of the wines I've tasted this year are still filling notebooks, or judging spreadsheets, or the folds of my internal memory banks rather than published records. I will work harder to publish more of my notes in 2018 (ah, resolutions).
In 2017, I was most impressed by wines of place, time, and people. South Africa, England, Portugal, Ontario expressely impessed, and were amongst my very top wines. Southern Burgundy / Beaujolais reminded me of their understated purity and beauty, while new wave Argentina captured my attention. I applaud singluar wines from Northern Italy, cool kid Australia, and Basque Spain. I was reminded how amazing terroir-driven Cava can be, my growing craving for Jura and Sherry and Madeira, and how the future of Canadian wine may be in Nova Scotia (wow). Not to say that BC didn't impress. One of my favourite wines of the year was a humble, $25ish semillon from tiny Lock & Worth, closely tailed by a natural, organically grown chardonnay from LIttle Farm in the Okanagan Valley. These are wines from my 'hood that I'm proud to carry and share anywhere around the globe, and do. And of course, Champagne holds a place near and dear to my heart, and I continued to follow the growers, and houses, that were making wines of place rather than brand. It's easier than ever before, and I'm thrilled to watch Champagne's rudder turning. Sparkling wine globally is getting more impressive at a rapid rate, and I was struck by fizz from New Zealand, South Africa and England more than I expected.
So after tasting thousands of wines this year, what am I going to seek out more of in 2018? Easy: wabi-sabi wines, wines that are not points-perfect, but are charismatic and singular from where they are from, and who made them (people are part of terroir, after all). 100 Point Perfection bores me to death, as do the critics that continually rate average wines in the high 90's. I'm going to continue to taste and travel as widely as I can, seeking to share wines that need be championed for their autheicity, and story.