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Friday Fishwrap
We Reveal Our “Best Wines of The Year”
    --A Strictly Hedonistic Listing

By Stephen Eliot and Charles Olken

The retrospective culling of the year’s high and low points seems almost obligatory on the part of journalists this time of year. The same with speculative prediction. They are very much a part of the holiday season for those who report on everything from movies and politics to restaurants and wine, and they seem somehow appropriate as the remaining days of one year grow short and a new year draws nigh. They most assuredly are inescapable, and we are in no way immune or exempt.

Now, outside of trying to find consensus among winemakers about what a new vintage might mean, we do not spend a great deal of time in predicting what lies around the next corner or over the next hill. While we enjoy tasting wines from barrel, we regard them as no more than incomplete works in progress and will not review them. We are and have always been concerned with what is in the bottle and on the shelf now. That is after all, the point of a consumer guide.

We do, however, like to engage in lengthy looks back at the ways California wines have come, and, yes, we annually compile a short roster of favorites and will typically name a winery and wine of the year. We do not sit down and sift through our notes for the several thousand wines we have tasted during the course of the year and make our selections based simply on the number of “points” that they may have been awarded. There are simply just too many good wines, yet, for each of us, certain wines just seem to stand out in our memories having left an indelible and unquantifiable mark, and our rosters of the year’s best are never exactly the same. We nonetheless found ourselves in easy agreement as to the most memorable bottling of the last twelve months.

The complex, wonderfully vital and wholly involving 2010 Stolpmann “La Croce”, a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Syrah gets the nod this year and was as unexpected as it was downright delicious. Frankly we were unaware of its existence until making its acquaintance during a week-long visit to Santa Barbara County last summer. While we were very much taken with the wine during an enlightening day spent with Peter Stolpmann, winemaker Sashi Moorman and vineyard manager, Ruben Solorzano, we never review wines tasted at wineries and rate them solely their performance in blind, peer-to-peer tastings conducted at our home base here in Alameda. Not once, but twice, “La Croce” performed brilliantly here at home, and, in all truth, we found ourselves talking about it months after the fact.

Of the thousands of wines we review each year, only a handful (less than two percent) earn our three-star award (95 points and up in our very tight scale of ratings). In choosing the best of those very successful wines, there are many exceptional wines left out, but there are always some, like La Croce, that simply leave an indelible marker of great joy in our tasting memories. Here then, our Best of The Best. Enjoy.

And Merry Christmas.

STEPHEN ELIOT'S Best of the Wines
BEEKEEPER Zinfandel Madrone Spring Vineyard 2009
FREESTONE Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard 2009
J. SCHRAM Sparkling Wine 2005
KOSTA BROWNE Pinot Noir Gap's Crown Vineyard 2010
MERRY EDWARDS Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2009
OJAI VINEYARD Syrah Presidio Vineyard 2006
RAVENSWOOD Zinfandel Old Hill 2009
STOLPMAN Syrah/Sangiovese "La Croce" 2010
RIDGE Zinfandel Lytton Springs 2009
TREFETHEN Cabernet Sauvignon HaLo 2006

CHARLES OLKEN'S Best of the Wines
CHAPPELLET Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill 2009
DuMOL Pinot Noir estate Russian River Valley 2009
DRAGONETTE Pinot Noir Black Label (Reserve) 2010
FREESTONE Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard 2009
J Brut Late Disgorged Russian River 2001
LAETITIA Pinot Noir La Coupelle Arroyo Grande 2008
OLSON OGDEN Syrah Unti Vineyard Dry Creek 2009
LEWIS Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010
STOLPMAN Syrah/Sangiovese "La Croce" 2010
STORYBOOK MTN Estate Reserve 2009


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Best of the Year
by Mike Dunne
Posted on:12/21/2012 9:00:33 PM

You know, after looking at these lists I think I prefer the Dan Berger model - skip town during the last two weeks of the year and forget this kind of exercise altogether. How anyone can prefer the Lytton Springs zinfandel over the Ponzi zinfandel is a mystery whose solution might best be left to the folks who stock the shelves at Total Wine. The Stolpman syrah/sangiovese, on the other hand, shows that there's hope in the new year. Seriously, appreciate your commentaries and look forward to your provocative insights in 2013, now that it appears we have survived better than the Mayans.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/21/2012 9:32:09 PM

Hi Mike--

Thanks for the note.

La Croce was not our highest pointed wine of the year, but it is the wine that came as the biggest and most exciting surprise.

It is not a great surprise when a wonderful Cab appears or when the J. Schram bubbly leads the way and gets an incredibly enthusiastic recommendation.

Who would have thought that a Sangiovese/Syrah blend would turn out to be incredibly exciting? As you well appreciate, those kinds of "wow" moments make our jobs even more fun.

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