The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016

Holy shnikies!

We have arrived at the ninth (!) annual recap of the most interesting wines of the year. I feel old. Really, really, f*cking old.

Anyway, while I am coming to grips with the fact that there have been nine (!) incarnations of this list, you can check out the previous entries for 2015, 2014, 2013 (parts 1 & 2), 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 & 2008.

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016

“What the sh*t?!??” It’ll make sense in a few minutes…

I have written about the process behind the garnering of this list nine (!) times, but it’s worth repeating for those of you who might be knew to this particular little game of mine:

These are not the “best” or “highest rated” wines, they are the wines I tasted which most stuck with me during the entire year, those that I felt offered the most geeky, thought-provoking experiences. Please note, these are not necessarily wines released during the year, they are releases that I tasted during the year. Also, I once again attempted to select only wines that you’d have at least some modicum of hope of obtaining. The final ranking is my own, and is totally subjective.

Once again, we have a tie. Actually, we have two ties, so the list is really a top 12 rather than a top 10. Once again, the list has some very expensive wines on it. Having said that, there are several bargains that made the MIW list this year, specifically because I found their QPR to be incredible.

In the words of Bugs Bunny: “Okay, Smokey, roll ’em!”…

The Most Interesting Wines Of 201610) TIE!

2013 Quinta de la Rosa DOC Estate Red (Douro, $20)


2013 Domaine Fourrey Cote de Lechet Chablis Premier Cru (Chablis, $28)

The simple matter here is that both of these wines are stunning values. In the case of the first, you have an age-worthy, complex, food-friendly introduction to the high-end of what the Douro can produce when it comes to still reds. Think brambly herbs, chewy tannins, and juicy, dark red fruits. There’s magic in those terraced Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz vines that here make a compelling argument that all Douro reds ought to be blends.

In the case of the latter, my first reaction was the same as Deadpool’s when he found out Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s superhero name: “WHAT THE SH*T?!??” This lively, lemony, stone-crusted wonder might just be one of the best bargains running when it comes to Chablis’ second tier offerings.

9) 2012 Taylors Wakefield The Pioneer Exceptional Parcel Release Shiraz (Clare Valley, $200)

OK, so much for the bargains, right? We can and should show the Aussies some love when they achieve the creation of wines like this one. My mini-review of The Pioneer: “Like inhaling the entire finals of a barbecue competition.” C’mon, that’s wine review gold right there… I don’t know any carnivores among us who wouldn’t at least want to try this wine based on that description, just to see if I was right…

The Most Interesting Wines Of 20168) TIE!

2014 Ktima Biblia Chora Ovilos White Assyrtico-Semillon (Pangeon, $35)

Not since Alexander the Great has this much ass been kicked by a Macedonian. Of this white blend, I wrote that “oil & water don’t mix, but oily & piquant sure as hell do, based on this.” So, despite the fact that it clocks in at almost $40, you’re getting a white that is mineral, zesty, floral, substantial, and serious enough to think that it was a white Bordeaux that happened to be vacationing in Greece.


2009 Miklus Natural Art Ribolla Gialla (Friuli, $40)

Holy crap. A natural wine actually made this list, which has even a skeptic like me rethinking his wine worldview (but I’m not growing a hipster beard just yet, ok?). I tasted this Ribolla at Vino2016 in NYC towards the early part of 2016, and never forgot about it as the months of the year carried on (and on… and on…). As I wrote back in March:

“This, my friends, is what a ‘natural’ wine ought to be. Generally speaking, I’ve nothing against natural wines, but I struggle to think of examples of skin-fermented whites in that category of which I’d like to drink an entire glass, let alone have a second one poured. Too often, natural white wines – even when expertly-made – become more intellectual curiosity and experiment that delightful drinking experience. Not so with Miklus’ Natural Art Ribolla, which is aged two years in large-format barrels. There’s the natural-wine-copper color that puts people like me on their guard, but there’s still some fresh citric fruit on the nose and the palate, along with dried lemon peel, exotic tea, cloves, and wood spices. I’m not going to call myself a natural wine convert just yet, but I’m not gonna complain if more delightful, elegant natural wines like this one keep getting crafted.”

7) 2008 Donnafugata Ben Rye Edizione Limitata (Passito Di Pantelleria, $NA)

Good luck finding this one (sorry), but even better luck for you if you do. I hesitated to include this, considering how many times a Donnafugata wine has made this list, but I couldn’t shake the memory of it, and so it felt disingenuous to exclude it. Bronze, luxuriant, focused, complex, haughty, & probably very expensive (as it’s available in standard 750ml bottles), this special edition of their famous dried dessert wine demonstrates just how magical fig-tasting nectar from this southern Italian island can be.

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016

Pantelleria… home of wind, capers, and dessert wines that you would likely kill someone for…

6) 2012 Williams Seylem Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, $80)

And to think, I really wanted to hate these guys, and write about them being epic douchebags with overly-hyped wines. Except, they were not at al l douchebaggy, and their wines lived up to all of the accolades, so I was forced to become a Williams Seylem fanboy just like everybody else. My take on the Rochioli Riverblock Pinot: “Daaaaaaaammmmnnnnn. Red plums, funky earth, perfumed florals… this is serious, seriously delicious stuff. The mouthfeel is just as gorgeous, fantastic, and take-no-prisoners as the nose; structured, with great scaffolding for aging, both in tannic framework and lively acids.” It’s the kind of wine that puts the pleasure in “guilty pleasure.”

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016

Lake Garda sunset. Go ahead, hate me.

5) 2002 Cà Lojera Lugana Superiore (Lombardy, $50)

An older vintage, but as far as I’m concerned it’s still eligible for the list because it’s still available in the marketplace; and, if stored properly, it’s still absolutely, amazingly, incredibly drinkable.  My sojourn to Lake Garda earlier this year was a revelation, primarily because it (finally) exposed me to this, from what is probably Lugana’s most storied producer. On the nose, it;s all toasted nuts, candied lemon peel, dried white flowers, and sweet biscuits. On the palate, it’s citrus, mineral, saline, pith, and dried tropical fruits. The wine is linear, lovely, focused, and downright gorgeous. This is what aged Turbiana (or Trebbiano di Lugana, or Verdicchio Bianco, or whatever name they are calling it this year) is all about. Anyway, if this entry being an older vintage pisses you off, just wait until you see what’s in the #1 slot…

4) 2013 Dutton-Goldfield Walker Hill Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, $50)

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016I hope, for your sake, that you’re able to find this gem, because at $50 it’s actually a bargain. Yeah, I mean that. Yeah, I’m sober. At the 2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction, I ran into some of their winemaking staff, and asked them about this wine, and if they understood what they had on their hands with it. They told me sure, they understood how good it was, but I know that’s a lie because if they did, they would be asking $90 for a bottle of it. This is one of the most stunning, balanced, nuanced, and, yes, interesting Chardonnay varietal wines on the market, a star of RRV, and a minor triumph of the vintage.

3) 2013 Schoffit Riesling Rangen de Thann Clos Saint-Théobald (Alsace Grand Cru, $60)

I tasted this one at Riesling Rendezvous 2016 in Seattle, making the trip well worth putting up with the region’s Seahawks fans. My take: “Flowers, lemons, peaches, flint, lemon peel, and smoke all contribute to a beautiful, lovely nose. The palate is ebullient, lifted, toasty, and enticing. I’d compare the experience to a good Les Clos Chablis, which for me is the white wine equivalent of comparing a coffee high to smoking crack cocaine. So, yeah, I kind of liked this one.” I’m already trying to work my way onto a press trip to Alsace in 2017, specifically to get my ass to its southernmost GC of Rangen, and get more of this into my bloodstream as quickly as possible.

The Most Interesting Wines Of 20162) 2014 Ciro Picariello Fiano di Avellino (Fiano di Avellino, $30)

Probably an odd choice so high up on this list, right? Actually, probably an odd choice, period. Another wine that I was lucky enough to taste at Vino2016 in NYC. Del Posto’s Jeff Porter picked this one during one of the event’s panel tastings/discussions, and it’s a stellar pick and one of those examples of how a $30 wine from the right under-appreciated grape, and the right under-appreciated region can simply wow the thong off of you.

There are apple and citrus fruits galore in this, plus more exciting elements like sage and toast, along with a refreshing structure that, according to my tasting notes, “challenges, and then sort of engulfs you.” This Fiano is still “excitingly young” and yet also instantly delicious, which is kind of the modern Holy Grail of winemaking.

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016

Madeira coastline. Take me back. Please.

1) 1927 D’Oliveiras Bastardo Reserva Madeira (Portugal, about $600)

Well, this one is gonna throw the average MIW 2017 price per bottle way the f*ck off, but I had to go with this one. Given my love affair with Madeira, and penchant for giving it (very) high placement on the MIW lists, along with the fact that I finally got to get my feet on the ground of that island this year… well, if this one comes a shocker to any long-time 1WD readers, then those readers probably aren’t sober right now.

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2016

The author in his happy place (photo: Madeira Wine Institute)

There are way too many emotional tie-ins for me on this pick. Not only is it a rare breed in terms of grape variety, production volume, and vintage, it also shares the same birth year as my dearest relative, who is still kicking, sassy, and apt to curse at the Philadelphia Phillies when watching them lost on television. And, she got to try this amazing stuff on her birthday (and, hopefully, will get another crack at it when they both turn 90). As I wrote previously, in a region chock-full of incredibly unique wines, this Bastardo especially stood out to me; which is about the highest MIW-related praise that I can give it.

Following is an ultimate cop-out – me quoting my tasting note for this incredible senior citizen of a wine the third freakin’ time on this website:

“Founded in 1850, the family-owned D’Oliveiras is sitting on some of the largest stock of older Madeira wine available, and has justifiably become famous for the quality of their oldest vintage releases, including rarities such as this Bastardo (a grape which has declined on the island due to its susceptibility to the oidium which thrives in Madeira’s humid climate). Cigar, dried herbs, black pepper, and both dried and fresh berry aromas nearly explode from the glass; the wine is fruity, zesty, nutty, and almost freakishly delicious at 89 years young.”


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The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015

Here we go again! It’s time for the 2015 edition of the Most Interesting Wines of the Year. Yeah, it’s late, but given that this list is an indulgent exercise in subjective arbitrariness (or is that arbitrary subjectivity?), who cares?

A few teasers: the 2015 MIW list includes four dessert wines, is heavily dominated by Old World beauties, is technically a list of 11 wines instead of 10 (because we had a tie), and has an average bottle price at a whopping $157 (sorry)!

It’s a bit difficult for me to fully come to terms with this, but 2015 marks the eighth incarnation of this annual round-up. If you want to check out the MIW history, see the versions from 2014, 2013 (parts 1 & 2), 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 & 2008.

Since not a damned thing about how this list is inspired has changed since 2014, I quote last year’s preamble/background on how the wines were selected:

“These are not the “best” or “highest rated” wines, they are the wines I tasted which most stuck with me during the entire year, those that I felt offered the most geeky, thought-provoking experiences. Please note, these are not necessarily wines released during the year, they are releases that I tasted during the year. Also, I once again attempted to select only wines that you’d have at least some modicum of hope of obtaining.” I’ll only add that the final ranking is my own, and is totally subjective.

So, in the immortal words of Joseph II of Austria, “there it is.” Let’s get to it!…

10) 2011 Woodward Canyon Washington State Chardonnay (Walla Walla, $45)

At $45, this ought to be damned good, but this Chardonnay has that extra bit of barely-definable something that pushes it into 12th-man/home-field-advantage/you’ve-got-soul-bro territory. It’s probably the harmonious balancing act between age, youth, vibrancy, fruitiness, and verve that got me; that’s a lot of fulcrum points to manage, and yet this wine handles them all with panache. As I wrote in the mini-review for this stunner, “elegantly sings & raps over strong beats, drops the mic, & struts away.” That sound you hear next is either me plunking down the empty bottle onto the table, or this wine dropping the mic (probably both).


The Most Interesting Wines Of 20159) 2014 Crivelli Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont, $25)

Much more on the somewhat obscure Ruchè grape and some of its more colorful producers will be coming to you soon when the feature on my 2015 Piedmont jaunt is published over at Palate Press. For now, here’s the wine that most stuck with me from that trip (but hey, I was eating fried cow brain and drinking during that, so who knows what the hell actually happened). Maybe it was the exotic spice on the nose of this red, its pure red berry fruit flavors, its hints of roses, its delicate and graceful palate entry, its indomitable spirit, or the power of winemaker Marco Crivelli’s crazy eyebrows. In any case, it’s the one Ruchè that I’d advise wine geeks to try first if they want a pure sense of the grape.


8) 2013 Donnafugata Ben Ryé (Passito di Pantelleria, $50)

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015

Just a couple of Ben Rye vintages…


Speaking of Palate Press, and of Italy, my first 2015 jaunt to Sicily yielded an overview of (almost) every vintage of Donnafugata’s celebrated passito dessert wine Ben Ryé for Palate Press, courtesy of a first-of-its-kind retrospective tasting in Marsala. Donnafugata and Ben Ryé are getting to be staples here on the MIW list, but given the circumstances of that tasting I’m not sure that too much blame could be leveled at me for the vinous imprints that were made in my brain regarding both the producer and the wine in 2015. As I wrote about this particular Ben Ryé vintage in, it “appears to be on its way to being a blockbuster, similar to the 2008. Aromatically, there’s apricot, candied citrus, and even notes of tea. It’s silky, richly fruity, and amped up on the palate, with high levels of sweetness, freshness, and power; it’s probably best attempted with bitter dark chocolate in hand.”


The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015TIE!!!

7) 2010 Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Knights Valley, $80)

Ah, Pierre Seillan’s other “baby.” As I wrote about this in August of 2015, “[the vineyard is] mountain fellow territory, verging on the rugged. And in the case of this Cabernet, that is almost perfectly reflected in the wine itself. I was fortunate enough to get my lips on this twice: once in the form of a tasting with Helene and Monique Seillan, and another at home several months later. I write ‘lucky’ because I struggle to think of one example of a Knights Valley Cabernet that can stand toe-to-toe with this wine. Simply put, it’s stunning. And also maddening.”

7) 1983 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Gran Reserva (Montilla-Moriles, $52)

I know that it kind of sucks to have a tie in here, but I just could not let this one go, people. I’m not sure that I can improve on the mini-review that summarized my experience with this half-bottle of dessert wine magic: ” Imagine serving rich, dense caramel sweets to Greek gods & goddesses.” So… yeah… it basically was kind of like that. Even at over $50 for a halfer, this PX is an absolute steal, because you can’t buy the kind of memorable experience that sipping luscious action such as this can impart to you.


6) 2013 Graci Etna Bianco Arcurìa (Etna Bianco, $30)

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015

Send us Carricante, oh great volcanic mountain gods!

I fell madly in love with the white Carricante grape when I attended Sicilia En Primeur 2015. And this wine, for me, exemplified some of the best of what can be expected from that grape when grown on the foothills of Etna. Here’s my take from the Sicilia En Primeur 2015 write-up: “Of all of my new-found luuurv Carricantes at Sicilia en Primeur 2015, this might have been my personal fave. Complex, elegant, and lively, there are hints of yeast, toast, and cream among the white peach, flowers, and citrus. There’s even some saline, too, and a mineral, citric palate that’s gorgeously long. We need more wines like this on restaurant lists in the States, people!”


The Most Interesting Wines Of 20155) 2007 Beres Tokaji Eszencia (Tokaj-Hegyalja, $270)

Yeah, I know the price point, relative scarcity, and likely extreme difficulty of obtaining this in the USA have already pissed you off… but just wait until you get to the #1 slot!

In 2015, I once again toured Tokaj and some of the surrounding areas as part of my video work with the fantastic FurmintUSA project. One of the last places that we filmed was Beres, which has an incredible view (see inset pic), some lovely folks running the place, and thankfully equally stunning and lovely wines across the board of their lineup. The one that hit me the hardest in the geek organ, however, was their ultra-rich, yet somehow still zesty and focused `07 Eszencia. You’ll only be able to take this nectar in very small, syrupy doses, but those tea-and-honey-infused doses will be all you need to retain fond memories of it.


The Most Interesting Wines Of 20154) NV Jacques Lassaigne “La Colline Inspirée” Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (Champagne, $65)

It was not an easy task to whittle down the list of memorable bubbles tasted during my 2015 tour of Champagne, and any number of wines from that trek could have made their way into this slot. Ultimately, I decided to go with what I considered the most purely complex, which turned out to be this little Jacques Lassaigne number (hipster somms, rejoice!). As I wrote about the wine in September of 2015: “This is a fascinating bottle of bubbles, peeps. There are so many familiar and odd things going on here that one struggles to capture it all. Stones, citrus, lemon verbena, biscuit, chalk, ginger, green apple, and… ferns. Yeah, I really do mean that last one. The elegant, fresh, textural presentation in the mouth is matched by face-ripping acidity, and flavors of lemons that are explosive, creating a palate firework display that is attention-grabbing, in a China-tries-to-blow-your-mind-at-the-Olympics-opening-ceremony kind of way.”


3) 2012 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Merlot (Napa Valley, $85)

Here’s how I described this wine last November:

The polar opposite of “svelte.” Also quite the polar opposite of “short” & “sucks.”

Adding a bit more detail, I’m kind of shocked that a wine this lush, large, and chock-full-of-alcohol could be this exceptional; and yet it is. Bold, black fruits, power and force, yet coupled with lift, precision, and the telltale black olive and dried herb action that shows its true colors. Merlot-haters can take this one and shove it up their bunghole, folks, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with a grape that can deliver this kind of hedonistic pleasure paired with this kind of overall quality.


2) 2012 Louis Jadot “Les Demoiselles” Chevalier-Montrachet (Burgundy, $375) 

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015Tasted during a seminar when I did some speaking gig work with the genuinely fantastic human being Evan Goldstein (and his also fantastic business, Full Circle Wine Solutions). From my event recap:

“This one is Montrachet all the way (it spent about 18 months in oak), with rich creaminess evident at first sip. The nose, after being given a few minutes to shake is dust off, is about equal parts honey, white flowers, toast, minerals, and pungent citrus fruitiness. As enticing as that aromatic package is, it’s the tease of a texture of this wine in the mouth that seals the deal (and reveals just how much of a mere infant this Chardonnay is at the moment). There’s an intriguing interplay – no, that’s too tame a word, actually… it’s more like a serious, energetic, well-choreographed dance, with hints of joy and melancholy – between beer creamy breadth and focused, lemony tang. The finish is toasty, long, and thoroughly elegant, and… almost sad… damn, why didn’t we just wait another twenty, twenty-five years before opening this…? F*ck!!!! I know, it’s kind of rare, and more than kind of expensive. It’s also that friggin’ good.”


1) 1901 D’Oliveiras Malvasia Reserva Vintage Madeira (Madeira, $650 – no, that’s not a typo)

The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015

Check it, beeaaatches, on the far right!

Told you that you were gonna hate this one. But… technically, it’s the most interesting wine that I tasted in 2015, and technically, you can actually buy it. Also, technically, this is not the oldest wine that I’ve ever had, but it’s damn close to being the oldest, and also one of the most intriguing.

Here’s how I summarized the experience previously when recapping the Madeira Wine Institute’s visit to Philly in 2015: “Part of the fun of Madeira is witnessing its nigh-indestructible nature up-close; hell, part of the fun of being in the wine media biz is getting to taste old Madeira, period. I drank this more so than I tasted it, because, well, f*cking 1901. There’s more rancio, roasted walnut, coffee, spice, and marmalade action on these older D’Oliveiras wines, but the thing that stands out most to me in this case is the intensity; you’re just unlikely to have anything kick your ass (in a good way) as thoroughly and completely as this.”



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Copyright © 2015. Originally at The Most Interesting Wines Of 2015 from - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!