This year was one of excessive travel and in the coming year, I hope to travel much less. The most memorable wines of this year were all related to the places I visited and it was extremely difficult to select my top ten; even top 50 would have been challenging. I did manage to narrow down my selection from the 3,000+ wine notes I took this year. The following is just a handful of my most memorable wine and travel highlights in 2011: 2011 was a year of many firsts for me. In early January this year, I flew more than 36 hours to Chile for my very first visit to this beautiful country. The wines were as impressive as the scenery. I enjoyed judging at the Wines of Chile with other wine professionals such as Oz Clarke, Steven Spurrier and Andreas Larsson. I was impressed at how much the country was moving in the direction of cool climate wine making with new coastal regions being planted as well as higher elevation vineyards. Some of my favourite wines included: 2003 Almaviva, 2007 Tabali Payen Syrah, 2007 Vinedo Chadwick, 2007 Don Melchor, 2007 Neyen Cabernet Carmenere blend, 2008 Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay, 2007 Montes Purple Angel and Vina Leyda whites. A few weeks later in January, I was in Central Otago as a special guest for their Pinot Noir Celebration. I found many New Zealand Pinot Noirs, not just those from Central Otago, charming and well-made. Some of my favourites included Ata Rangi, Kusuda, Seifried, Archangel, Akarua, Doctor’s Flat, Felton Road Block 3, Gibbston Le Maitre, Waipara Hills and Maude. It was through the verticals of Quartz Reef, Mt Difficulty and Felton Road Block 3 that I was able to understand just how well these wines can age. Cellar them in cool conditions and ten years is no problem for many of these top New Zealand Pinots. February 2012 was another first-ever trip to a new country – Israel. After extensive security checks, I was allowed to board the flight to Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem I was moved by the energy and spirituality that one can almost touch and feel. In this country, I found passionate winemakers like Eli Ben Zaken who pour their heart into crafting genuine wines that have soul – a vertical of Domaine du Castel going back to 1993 showed how good Israeli wines can be. I would highly recommend Castel’s following vintages: 1996, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007 and their best Chardonnay vintages are 2005 and 2008. Another highly recommended Israel winery is Margalit Winery and Golan Heights Yarden range, especially their Cabernet and Syrah. My numerous trips to Japan this year diverged slightly from wine. I visited many sake breweries to prepare for my day-long Master Sake Sommelier exam which I passed early this year. I fell in love with many new sake producers including Nechi and Tengumai, who were both thankfully unaffected by the earthquake and the tsunami that followed. I would highly recommend Tengumai Junmai Daiginjo from the rice variety called Omachi and also their Junmai Ginjo which is also very complex and lean. Nechi makes vintage sake and their 2005 and 2009 Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo have aged beautifully. When I was sitting the exam on March 9th, just two days before the earthquake, I felt my table and the sake samples shaking for at least 30 minutes and the buildings outside swaying back and forth. I left Tokyo the day before the earthquake and the following day I was mesmerized in front of the television watching in shock as the country experienced one devastation after another. I donated all the proceeds from a speaking event I had in Japan later this year to the Rentai Tohoku Foundation to help the victims from this horrible natural disaster. There were many wonderful verticals from Bordeaux this year including Chateau Gruaud Larose, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Giscours, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and Chateau du Tetre. However, the one that was most memorable was a Chateau Latour dinner at their chateau. We were a small group of 12 people who drew from lots to determine which vintages we would enjoy that night. I drew the oldest bottle in their cellar – an 1863! It was wonderful, ethereal and gentle when it was first opened but after about thirty minutes, quickly started to fade. The best Latour vintages were 1947, 1945 & 1909. One of the most disappointing vintages was the 1961 (tasted several times at Latour), which I find good but certainly not one that lives up to its reputation. From Bordeaux 2010 en primeur tasting, there was one wine that was so gorgeous that it nearly brought tears to my eyes – Chateau Ausone 2010! I was in Burgundy twice this year and loved the 2010s. I made a few new discoveries including a domaine called Fichet where their Meursaults just dance on the tongue, they are so minerally and bright. Also Benjamin Laroux is a talented young winemaker making very detailed wines. Domaine Arlaud was all about purity, with wine that had sharp, fine lines. Of course the traditional stars like Domaine de la Romanee-Conti’s made exceptional wines in 2010 with Romanee-Conti making me shed a tear. Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue had a fantastic year, the focus on finesse matched the style of the vintage which called for detail and finely etched styles. The year ended with some exceptional wines – two vintages of Ingelnook Cabernet Sauvignon, one a 1963 and another 1965, both in top notch condition (no rebottling). They showed how gracefully the best Napa Cabernets can age, even after nearly 50 years in bottle. Other older wines I enjoyed were a 1981 Henri Jayer Echezeaux which was spectacular; a 1940 Yalumba Special Reserve Tawny that was layered with a very long finish. Most of the wines mentioned above had very high marks from me. I gave out more 100 points this year than I have ever done before. Two wines that stand out as clear 100 point wines for me this year at the prime of their life are 1992 Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne & 1990 Armand Rousseau Chambertin. Wishing you all a healthy, happy, prosperous and vinous-filled 2012!
Reprinted with permission from South China Morning Post