Labels of Love

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A toast to 2021’s most delightful wines at least according to this master somm.

This is my annual best of the best, where I look back at the year in wine and highlight the highest heights of vinous
pleasure. It seems an easy task but honestly, it is often difficult because there are so many factors in the enjoyment of the wine: food, atmosphere and company just to name a few. Additionally, if there is more than one wine vying for the top spot and I choose one, perhaps the next day I may lean towards the other. Nonetheless, here is the short list of truly great wines that have blessed my palate in 2021 …

My top Champagne is the 1990 Krug. I can still remember tasting it when it was first released, but now it is blossoming into a sumptuously complex example of how well great Champagne can age. It combines the richness of the vintage, intensity of fruit and earth along with hints of toffee and nuts that are beginning to emerge after 31 years. A truly gorgeous Champagne — it’s one that I always look forward to drinking.

My top Italian wine is from the same vintage, 1990, but the Barolo from Bruno Giacosa. Such an array of aromatics from black fruit to dried herbs to flowers and wet stone. There is an energy here on the palate that lifts its structure and adds to its depth. It is seamless and seems to have everything in its place and plenty of flavor and sex appeal
— Mama mia!

I know I am going to take some heat for the next one, but admittedly, the best New World Cabernet I had this year was the 1999 Screaming Eagle. Yes, the hype is real. I kept looking back at my notes to find something that I liked more but kept reverting to this bottle. While it may not be the biggest or boldest Cabernet from California or Napa Valley for that matter, it brings this overall sense of calm and regal stature to the party. Perfectly ripe fruit, a velvety texture and a polish that would make a slippery slide feel coarse are part of the experience. The more of these I taste (which is not yet many) the more impressed I become.

Now for the top Old World Cabernet: I profess my love for the 1986 Château Haut-Brion. With all due respect to the 100-point First Growths that I drank this year, this Haut-Brion took my heart. This is a case of how well the wine is drinking right now. At 35 years young, it is hitting its apogee with a plethora of dark sweet fruit, gravel, hints of smoke, tobacco and açaí. Even hints of truffle, coffee and chocolate come wafting from the glass. The tannin is quite resolved and caresses the palate with a long embrace.

As you may already know, I am a Burgundy fanatic, so I could not bring myself to choose only one white Burgundy. However, I did select them from different regions within Burgundy. First is the 2002 Raveneau Clos. Is there a purer expression of Chardonnay on the planet? It is as if they squeezed the most delightfully ripe Chardonnay fruit essences from solid chalk. To some that may sound bizarre, but the aromatic profile here includes oyster shells, chalk, minerals melded together with a piquant and zesty apple, pear, lemon-lime fruitiness. The flavor lingers seemingly forever with a laser-like focus; an amazing example of the sense of place that wine can express. The other haunting example is the 2004 Domaine d’Auvenay Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru. The sheer hedonistic plea- sure this wine delivers is incredible. There is no wafting here, the aromatics soar and the flavors stain and penetrate the palate. Plump but lithe, viscous but not overbearing, this is a special example of the yin and yang that only the best wines can combine.

As for my top Red Burgun- dy, perhaps the most difficult selection this year, it is the 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Échezeaux. It has all the hallmarks of great Burgundy, the scintillating aromatics of tea, sandalwood, wild red fruit, earth and flowers. It is sexy and silky in the mouth with a most seductive texture. Wow, I can still remember the experience as I type. To borrow from Nat King Cole — Unforgettable!

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