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Wine and Food Wednesday
My Top Ten Wines of 2011

By Charles Olken

Top ten lists are pretty easy to come by these days. They are like noses. Everybody has one. This one is special—because it’s mine.

We taste thousands of wines each year for Connoisseurs’ Guide reviews, and thousands more at tastings we attend as way of getting ahead on new releases and keeping up with wines from all around the world. But, in compiling this list of my top wines for the past year, I am limiting myself to wines that I tasted blind for review. Tasting wines for review is what we do professionally, and this list contains only wines tasted in the neutral circumstances of blind, peer-to-peer comparisons at the Connoisseurs’ Guide table.

Each of the wines presented below earned three stars in Connoisseurs’ Guide. That is our equivalent of 95-98 points in our version of the 100-point system. Since we do not give 99 or 100 points and rarely give 98s, one could argue that these are our 97-100 point wines if one were to compare them to the scores that appear virtually everywhere else. It will turn out, of course, that many or even most of these wines are to near impossible to find today. In that, we share in the disadvantage that every year-end list possesses. Still, if you want the best, it is always harder to find than the average.

Each of the wines below is presented with brief commentary. These pithy bits of information are not meant to be full tasting notes. For that, I refer you to the pages of Connoisseurs’ Guide where these wines have been reviewed in depth and detail during the course of the past year.

MY TOP TEN (in alphabetical order)

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE LH Riesling Ethos 2007
Held long enough at the winery to develop real varietal expression along with the rich opulence and classic balance of exceptional dessert Riesling.

GRGICH HILLS Sauvignon Blanc Essence 2009
For a couple of decades now, Grgich Hills has made Sauvignon Blanc that is incredibly well-balanced, wonderfully deep and focused and capable of aging for ten years and more. This is such a wine, and it proves that Sauvignon Blanc in California can produce wines of real majesty.

JC CELLARS Syrah Buffalo Hill 2008
Jeff Cohn told us that this about-to-be planted vineyard located at the western edge of the Rockpile AVA would become his best because the exposure and the soils were going to make it so. And right he was. Power, solid fruit and layered complexity allow this full-bodied wine to shine.

KOSTA-BROWNE Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2009
Pinot Noir in the hands of Kosta Browne tops our charts year in and year out. This one is my choice among the winery’s several brilliant bottlings.

MOONE-TSAI Cabernet Sauvignon Cor Leonis 2008
Heart of the lion, indeed. With so many superb Napa Cabernets from which to choose, I have found this compelling effort to be my most exciting Cab discovery of 2011.

PRIDE Reserve Claret 2007
Merlot-dominated and solid in every dimension, this complex effort wraps succulent, keenly focused fruit in a Cabernet-like blanket. Look for it to age two decades.

RAVENSWOOD Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard 2008
The deep and energetic berryish fruit married to a touches of spice and sympathetic oak is perfectly supported by firm but not intrusive acidity and adds up to a Zinfandel with great flavor and great manners.

I admit it. I like bubbles. And, it does not get much better than this in sparkling wine no matter on which side of the Atlantic it is grown.

STAGLIN Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Purists will argue that this wine cannot be treated like royalty because it is too ripe. I say, “Nonsense”. Taste the wine, not the label statement, and discover one of the most pure statements of West Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon available anywhere.

WILLIAMS SELYEM Pinot Noir Westside Road Neighbors 2009
Williams Selyem, like Kosta Browne, makes a basketful of superb Pinots—most of which are vineyard designates. But this wine, from several properties along Westside Road, arguably the first home of superb Russian River Pinot, seems always to be spot on when it comes to my markers for Pinot.


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by Jacqueline Peiffer
Posted on:12/29/2011 10:28:48 AM

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by Bryce I. Morrice
Posted on:1/9/2012 8:14:08 PM

I hate what you've done to Connoisseurs' Guide! Iused to get my beloved issue in the mail every month and savore it for a m0nth, go out and buy some wine, including afew bottles of your more highly rated selections, and wait for the next issue. At the rate of my ability to pull up backed and missed issues and even new issues, I will not be renewing my subscription after 22 years as a loyal subscriber. 

by Charles Olken
Posted on:1/9/2012 8:20:54 PM

Dear Mr. Morrice:

In the notification for the January Issue that arrived in your in box just after New Year's Day, there was a link for you to print the issue.

If you click on the that link every month, you will get your issue about two weeks earlier than you were getting it in the past. Also, as a subscriber, you can also follow the link in the left hand column of the Home Page. You can also print from there as soon as the issue goes live (in this case, on Dec 31).

So, now you can have your issue and the database as well. Please give it a try. I think you will see that you have gained new services, not lost any old ones. And you now get your issue two weeks earlier.

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