Every time I taste an amazing wine — one that surprises me with its complexity or the subtle way it evolves in the glass — time starts moving very slowly. I savor the nuances of those aromas and flavors, trying to imprint them on my brain. And in the days afterward, it makes me think of the other wines I’ve tasted that had this same effect. The result is a list of wines that I dream of experiencing again. Some of these are rare luxury wines that can be challenging to get your hands on, while others are quite affordable. But the quality they all share is the ability to produce intense pleasure.
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia White Reserva 1998 (Rioja, Spain)
Every year, I find one revelatory wine at the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting, where editors showcase their favorite wines from around the world. A friend promised that this 15-year-old white rioja would bring about a life-changing taste experience, and it did. This blend of viura and malvasía grapes was perfumed with honey and pineapple, dry and fresh, nutty and a little creamy, and utterly memorable.
Ideal pairing: Butter-poached lobster at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Per Se in New York.
Valle dell’Acate Il Frappato di Vittoria 2011 (Sicily, Italy)
Frappato is one of those mildly obscure grapes that can be fantastic if you catch the right one. I first tasted it during a luncheon at Il Duomo in the Sicilian town of Ragusa Ibla. At just €4 (US$5.37) a glass, it was vibrant with hints of mulberries and the aromatics of a young pinot noir. I hadn’t tasted one worth mentioning until just the other night, when this one surprised me with its aromas of roses and spice, like a pinot with a deep fruity core.
Ideal pairing: Porchetta at Cotogna in San Francisco.
Champagne Bollinger R.D. 1999 (Champagne, France)
Champagne Bollinger is pretty spectacular wine, with its combination of power and elegance. La Grande Année is the top blend created only in outstanding years. The R.D. — short for recently disgorged — is a Grande Année that’s aged even longer, giving the yeast time to add gorgeous texture and richer flavors that might remind you of eating buttery toasted brioche with apricot jam.
Ideal pairing: A Riedel Burgundy glass, and maybe some crisp and salty French fries at DBGB Kitchen and Bar in New York.
Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2011 (Rutherford, California)
If it seems like the nation’s wine lists are awash in California chardonnay, you’re right. This one stands out with its pitch-perfect balance between lively acidity and fruitiness and the deeper, slightly buttery notes immediately reminiscent of Meursault.
Ideal pairing: Roasted chicken at The NoMad in New York.
Scarecrow 2009 (Rutherford, California)
I’ve never been one to go crazy over pricey, unattainable Napa cabs; yes, in large part because they’re out of my price range. And, I generally find an aromatic pinot noir much more interesting. But this cabernet sauvignon — poured at a Pebble Beach Food & Wine dinner with chefs Christopher Kostow [of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Restaurant at Meadowood] and Pierre Gagnaire [of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Twist by Pierre Gagnaire] — was magnificent. With bright blackberry, elegant tannins and earthy complexity that make each sip a little different, this is a cult wine that matches its myth.
Ideal pairing: A nice piece of Miyazaki beef at Aubergine, the Restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2010 (Mosel, Germany)
Riesling is truly one of the great wines of the world — ask any sommelier — and the wines from this famous vineyard, known as “the sundial,” are especially magical. They’re layered with flowers, honey and stone fruit, as well as freshness and an intensity that seems like it shouldn’t exist in wines that are so light on the palate.
Ideal pairing: Roasted foie gras with a quince mille-feuille at Henri in Chicago.
Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis Rouge 2010 (Morey-Saint-Denis, France)
I’d been blissfully ignorant of Domaine Dujac, considered modern royalty in Burgundy, France, until I tasted this wine at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Grand Tasting. It’s the kind of wine that tells a quiet story; and as the aromas of soft red fruits and earth unfold, they speak to history of great terroir and winemaking tradition.
Ideal pairing: Tea-spiced Sonoma duck breast at Redd in Yountville, California.
Photo Courtesy of iStock-Hal Bergman