Jane Anson, Decanter contributing editor and weekly Decanter.com columnist, picks her favourite 10 fine wines of the year.
‘Looks like I picked the wrong year to quit drinking.’
Not for the first time Steve McCroskey from Airplane! says it better than anyone else. Luckily 2016 has, among its political landmines, delivered some stunning bottles of wine, and remembering them is the most enjoyable way to round up 2016 that I can think of.
It’s never easy to cut this list down to just 10 – and I put my hand up to say that each bottle was wonderful in itself, but also marked by some of the year’s best moments.
Jane Anson’s top fine wines of 2016
This article is part of Decanter.com’s best wines of 2016 series
Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon, Oenothèque, Brut Champagne 1996
I tasted this at a friend’s 50th birthday, where we drank several incredible 1966 Bordeaux (the standout being Cheval Blanc 1966 that could easily have featured here). This was of course much younger, but just a brilliant Champagne. Richly textured, perfectly toasted from its 12 years on the lees (it was disgorged in 2008 and these later disgorged bottles have a little less dosage than the 2004 version). Elegant and precise but with layers of lemon curd creaminess that adds to the impressive complexity on display. This is 20 years old but still almost impossibly vibrant and fresh, and has many years ahead of it. 12.5%abv. 98/100
Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac 1st Growth, Bordeaux 1996
I drank this first at the château with technical director Eric Kohler, and then again with friends when I finished the text for Andy Katz’s The Club of Nine book. Both times, it blew me away. Still reserved at first, then the aromatics gently build in power, filling the room with the allure of still-warm ash from a crackling wood fire. The gentle beginnings of tertiary truffles curl out of the glass even though the tannins are still tight and powerful. On the finish, the menthol notes are striking as is the dark fruit register. A blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, it is still so full of youth, a true mix of elegance and hidden power and gives you one of those moments that underline exactly why the First Growths are First Growths. 13%abv. 98/100
Penfolds, Kalimna Shiraz, Bin 28, South Australia 1992
I tasted the newly-released Penfolds Grange 2012 this year also, which is a clear 100 point wine for me, and should therefore be on this Top 10 list. But I am picking a bottle that I tasted on the same day, and then brought home with me. Both wines were first tried at the Penfolds re-corking clinic held in Upper East Side New York, which in itself was a reminder than the world of fine wine has its moments of pure, unadulterated fun. This 1992 is at its perfect moment for drinking, as the tannins have melted into the fruit and the result is soft, rich, exotically spicy. Everything you want from an Oz Shiraz with the right amount of bottle age. 13.5%abv. 95/100
We couldn’t find stockists for this wine, but keep an eye out for it coming up at auctions. Try Langton’s in Australia for starters.
Yves Cuilleron, L’Amarybelle, St Joseph, Rhône 2013
Not an expensive wine compared to many of this list, but just a perfect bottle of syrah from the northern Rhône, sappy fruit, slightly earthy, so utterly drinkable. It tastes, if this makes any sense, like real wine – honestly made, with great care, from a selection of old vines between 20 and 40 years old that give a dusting of black pepper to the dark red fruits. I have drunk this a few times over the course of the year, after first trying it at the brilliant Au Bistro restaurant in Bordeaux. It has never disappointed. 12.5%abv. 95/100
Weingut Bründlmayer, Grüner Veltiner, Vincents Spiegel, Kamptal Reserve 1, Austria 2014
I drank this in Shanghai at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, and enjoyed it so much that I brought it home. One of those wines that teaches you something – in this case what the tasting term ‘slate’ actually means. The whole structure just hums with tension, just an utterly delicious wine strewn with spiced quince, stone fruit and a lick of citrus minerality. Also a good story, as Willi Bründlmayer’s son Vincent has been working this particular spot of his family’s vineyard to flex his own creativity, and has been working it organically since 2011. The rest of the vineyard has now followed suit. 12.5%abv. 95/100
Tenuta San Guido, Sassicaia, Bolgheri, Tuscany 2006
To be honest I gave the Sassicaia 1985 a 100 points at the same tasting, but those notes have already been published, and it’s a vintage that has been celebrated plenty of times. Both bottles were from one of the standout tastings of the year – in Rome, a vertical of Sassicaia dating back over five decades. This 2006 has guts and glory, there is stuffing here. The exotic heat comes through like a pan-seared filet steak, nothing more than a flash fire that gives way to succulence. More exoticism with the dancing array of flavours, from plums, damson and spices to forest fruits and heather then the menthol kicks comes in. You just want to linger over this glass, pick apart the individual flavours and get to understand what it is saying. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc. 13.5%abv. 99/100
Château Pichon Longuevilłe Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac Second Growth, Bordeaux 1982
From one of my other tastings of the year (I know, 2016 really has had some highlights). This mini horizontal of eight Bordeaux 1982 wines saw Latour, Margaux and Pichon Comtesse all get a perfect 100 points, but this makes it into the Top Ten for performing just as well at a fraction (relatively speaking) of the price. Just an incredible, stunning wine that hit me right from the very first moment and held its grip with the most confident of touches. Very much holding its colour and integrity of its fruit, even at this ripe old age. Such intensity on the nose, with blueberry, blackcurrant and spicy mint, this is knock-your-socks-off great. The tannins are among the firmest of the lineup, suggesting many years ahead of it still. You feel the walls of this wine, the flesh of the grapes, the smile of its fruit. 13%abv. 100/100
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Riesling Brand Selection des Grains Nobles, Grand Cru, Alsace 2008
I spent a fascinating few days in Alsace in the early summer, and many of my contenders for best wines of the year came from this trip, among them a Schlossberg 2013 from Andrée Trapet, a Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2012 from Zusslin, and a 1945 Riesling Vendanges Tardive from Hugel. But I’m going to pick this 2008 Zind Humbrecht, for being one of the most intense and astonishing wines that I can remember. Rich, fragrant, layered, spiced and yet with ripples of steel. Huge persistency, it goes without saying. In fact I can still remember every nuance, six months on. Complexity doesn’t even come close. 172g/l of residual sugar, and yet searing acidity that makes the whole thing float five feet above the ground. 9.5%abv. 100/100
Château Canon, Premier Cru Classé, St-Emilion, Bordeaux 2015
It’s going to be another few months before this wine is available to buy, but what a wonderful bottle it is shaping up to be, easily one of my wines of the year. Concentrated damson fruit on the nose, stunning success that combines purity of fruit delivery with a rich silky texture, a flourish of black pepper spice and an uplifting finish despite the clear ripeness of the vintage and the tight grip of the tannins. Such a lovely wine, a near perfect example of how the limestone of St-Emilion can craft Merlot and Cabernet Franc into something quite astonishing. 14%abv. 97/100
See James Lawther MW’s Bordeaux en primeur note for Château Canon 2015
Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux 2005
I had two wines on the night of my birthday this year, shared among four of us on the terrace of Rouge bar at Sources de Caudalie hotel in Martillac. The first was Château Oliver 2014, a white wine that I have long championed as being one of the best in Bordeaux. Both were beautiful, but this Smith Haut Lafitte stood out for its grace, and its generosity of spirit. A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot, the tannins were sweet, softened but still confident, rich with autumnal fruits, just the right dash of chocolate and liquorice without straying over the line. A wonderful bottle shared with some of my dearest friends, is there anything better? Oh, and the date of my birthday by the way, June 22nd. The day before the EU referendum. Somehow the year seemed more peaceful then – and it makes this wine all the sweeter. 13.5%abv. 95/100
Editing by Chris Mercer
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