2013 has been the year of the bubble. Champagne has long occupied a special place in my heart and liver, but outside of this beguiling region, remarkable sparkling wines are being made for less money.
The Loire Valley gave us two superb sparkling rosés, Pinon’s Touraine Rose Petillant ($22) and Jousset Cuvee Rose a Lies ($24), with the former having a more yeasty character and the latter being downright effusive. Domaine Belluard Ayse Brut ($25) from Savoie is composed entirely from gringet, an ancient grape. Stateside, the 2011 Teutonic Wine Company Sparkling Rosé Brut, Wahlstrom Vineyard ($35), from the Willamette Valley is a rare gem, with only 84 cases being made per year. Bright, with subtle red berries and a firm mineral undercurrent, it holds its own against top-quality rosé Champagne.
Moving on to still white wines, the other night I found one of my all-time favorite wines being poured by the glass at 20 Spot: Maximin Grünhäuser Riesling Kabinett, Abtsberg, 2006 ($14 per glass). A collage of honey; stone fruit; green apples; and a searing, slate minerality, it gets better with every sip. I’ve watched the 2012 Dirty and Rowdy Skin and Concrete Egg Fermented Semillon ($27) evolve, sometimes circuitously, since May. Not only has it changed in the past six months, but it morphs in the glass for hours as it goes from green peppers to grapefruit to wax to something else and back to grapefruit.
This may also have been the year of Sancerre for me. So many good ones have crossed my lips that I fear mentioning one is unfair to the rest. But the 2011 Gaudry Sancerre, L’Esprit de Rudolf ($33), a biodynamic wine fermented in older Burgundy barrels, marvels. It has hints of grapefruit, Meyer lemon, toasted sesame seeds and grape seed oil intertwined with a minerality that is so alive you might think a stone is in your glass. I could not think of a better example of this increasingly popular region’s greatness.
As for reds, I took a big shine to the 2012 Harrington Trousseau, Siletto Vineyard over the summer when I tried it with owner and winemaker Brian Harrington during a marathon tasting at his Hunters Point winery. He said it might actually be cabernet pfeffer but his sentiment, “I don’t give a s***, I just love this wine,” is one that I share with gusto. I’ve tried it again a couple of times since and the array of sandalwood, juniper, violets, blueberries and spice, all held together with a fragile grip, has been deliciously reconfirmed.
There is one red that really sticks out for me not just because of its pedigree but also for its historical significance. I had a blind grenache tasting in July and threw in the 1984 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant, the first vintage ever made of this legendary wine. While it was undoubtedly fresher earlier in its life, it was far from dead with noticeable balsamic, tobacco, spice, coffee, chervil, mint and stewed fruit (I cheated here and looked at my tasting note). The first Rhone blend made in California to have received high acclaim, it was gratifying to taste it after all of these years and commemorate the early brilliance, vision and influence of Bonny Doon and its founder, Randall Grahm.
This seems like the perfect way to end the year, with a stroll down memory lane and a look ahead toward the first column of 2014 that will focus on what we can expect to see in the coming year.
Please be safe and have a happy and healthy 2014.
These wines can be found at Arlequin Wine Merchant, Bi-Rite Grocery, Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, K & L Wine Merchant and Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.