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Thursday Thorns
My Top Ten Wines of 2011

By Stephen Eliot

As Charlie explained in yesterday’s posting, we taste thousands of wines for review every year, and, I must confess that there are days when the job can be, well…a job. There are other times, however, when what we do is genuinely exciting, when a wine comes along that makes me sit up and take notice. It may be one that stuns with its strength or it may be one that slowly draws me in with its almost sneaky complexity, and these are wines that linger long in the mind after tasting is done and the glasses are put back on the shelf. They are wines that I would like to revisit again and again.

Here, then, are my most memorable wines tasted in 2011, my benchmarks for what was a fascinating year at the tasting table. They are the kinds of wines that simply make it impossible to get tired of doing what we do.

ALYSIAN Pinot Noir Rochioli River Block 2008
As graceful and wonderfully well-balanced as it is incisively fruity, Gary Farrell’s Rochioli River Block stands out as one of the very best of a surprisingly good bunch of 2008 Pinots from Russian River Valley’s west side.

DuMOL Pinot Noir Ryan 2008
DuMOL’s Pinots are generally among the richer efforts to be found, and, when at their finest as they are here, they are stunning wines of extraordinary concentration and depth.

FREESTONE Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2008
There is no question that Freestone has become an important winery to watch, and this beautifully balanced bottling exhibits the vibrancy and clarity of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay at its finest.

GRGICH HILLS Sauvignon Blanc Essence 2009
Year in and year out, this bottling remains the benchmark for California Sauvignon Blanc. None is better than Grgich Hills in consistently capturing the varietal’s freshness, focus and fruity energy, and the 2009 shows the winery in top form.

JOSEPH PHELPS Insignia 2008
Here is the latest in from a perennial favorite, and the wine’s hallmark combination of layered richness, polish and sheer beauty once again tag it as one of Napa Valley’s most stylish red wines.

TALLEY Pinot Noir Rosemary’s Vineyard 2008
Our tastings this past year were marked by an embarrassment of riches when it came to outstanding new Pinots, and this deep, impeccably balanced offering reminds that the North Coast does not have a monopoly in producing world-class examples.

MOONE-TSAI Cabernet Sauvignon Cor Leonis 2008
A top-ten selection on both Charlie’s and my scorecards, Moone-Tsai’s striking new Cabernet speaks directly to what Napa Valley does best, and it takes a place at the very head of the class.

RAVENSWOOD Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard 2008
Few winemakers have quite the touch with Zinfandel as winemaker Joel Peterson, and, while Joel earns a tip of the CGCW hat for his many single-vineyard bottlings, the 2008 Teldeschi is the most classic and compelling expression of the grape to be had.

The J. Schram Brut Rosé has turned up on the “best of the year” lists of a many wine writers, and there is a good reason why. It is a wine of incomparable richness and crafting, and it will make more than a few of its French cousins blush with envy.

SHAFER Syrah Relentless 2007
Always a wine of sheer strength and power, Shafer’s Relentless hits new heights in 2007. It is as deep and flavorful as ever, but its remarkable structure and uncanny balance make it, for me, the very best bottling to date.


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hey guys! HNY-
by Joel Butler
Posted on:1/1/2012 5:21:01 PM

See you all Jan 21 at UGCB tasting in SF.  Hope the next year is excellent.  Steve--what? no Syrahs in your top 10 list besides Shafer?

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