’Tis the season of lists… Top 10 this, top 100 that. From movies to restaurants to eligible bachelors to wines, it’s the time of year when everything, it seems, gets ranked. At Wine Enthusiast, we do our part to keep these annual lists coming, and hopefully by now you’re familiar with our top Best Buys, Cellar Selections and the best overall wines, spirits and beers for 2015.
As the editor and wine critic for Spain and South America, I’ve reviewed dozens of wines featured throughout these compilations. However, I thought it would be both fun and useful to highlight five wines that made indelible marks on me this year.
- The Top of the Heap: Vega Sicilia 2004 Unico (Ribera del Duero); $450, 98 points. Yes, the suggested retail price on this iconic Tempranillo blend from Spain’s most iconic winery is prohibitive, but you can probably find it for less. Regardless, this is world-class juice, with excellent aging ability and a high level of elegance, finesse and complexity. In my personal (and professional) opinion, the ’04 Unico at $450 is a far better deal than a just-released, unaged Bordeaux first growth from 2013, a marginal vintage according to almost all reports.
- The Eye Opener: La Rioja Alta 2005 Gran Reserva 904 (Rioja); $48, 96 points. How many 96-point wines did I taste this year that are ready to drink now and sell for under $50? The answer is one…This one. Almost premature in its readiness, this precocious tawny colored, medium-bodied masterwork captures the essence of aged Rioja, and it’s only 10 years old. As I wrote in my tasting note after sampling this wonder: “One look, one whiff, one taste and you’re swooning.” Best of all, you don’t have to wait for it to come around; this is in fine drinking shape now.
- D’Artagnan: Alta Vista 2012 Single Vineyard Temis Malbec (Valle de Uco); $48, 95 points. Temis is the lead musketeer among Alta Vista’s three outstanding single-vineyard Malbecs; the other two are called Alizarine and Serenade. Stout, concentrated and a little fierce in its youth, this is the type of massive, black-fruited, fully oaked Malbec that Argentina has built its modern-day reputation on. Is there anything better than a wine like Temis served alongside a medium-rare, nicely charred rib-eye steak? I urge you to decide for yourself.
- Chile’s Perennial Powerhouse: Lapostolle 2012 Clos Apalta (Colchagua Valley); $135, 94 points. Year in and year out, this burly but benevolent blend of Carmenère, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon rises to the upper echelons of Chilean wine while exemplifying the best of Chilean terroir. That it’s made by a team of mostly Frenchmen, for demanding French owners, has proven to be an attribute rather than a case of fish out of water. More New World than Old in character, Clos Apalta generally reaches its prime about seven years after harvest, but in this case the wine is from a hot vintage, so it’s a little more ripe, fat and approachable than normal.
- Sweet On You: Alvear 2011 de Añada Pedro Ximénez (Montilla-Moriles); $23 (375ml), 94 points. Sweet dreams are made of this, and who am I to disagree? OK, enough Eurythmics, but point made, I hope. Lost in the ever-rising global sea of wine are the fortified dessert wines from this mountainous area near Córdoba in south-central Spain. Made from sun-dried, ultra-concentrated P.X. grapes, Alvear’s vintage sweetie, which is made in the Sherry style, delivers hauntingly delicious toffee-like flavors, the perfect creamy texture cut by vital acidity, and a price tag that leaves you asking, why doesn’t this cost more?
There you have it, my five favorite wines of 2015. Please let us know if you try (or have tried) any of them and what you think. Happy New Year and here’s to more great wines in 2016.