For wine, “best” has little meaning.
Ideally, every bottle opened will be the right one for that particular occasion, whether it is a $20 Oregon gamay or a $100 Champagne splurge. I’ve had a lot of best bottles this year, though not every one was memorable.
Memorable wines strike notes beyond the glass. They stir emotions that forever link the wine and the occasion. They ought to be delicious, though not necessarily profound or brilliant.
I have been lucky enough to have had some truly wonderful wines in 2017. Here are 10 of the most memorable, in no particular order.
1. After I returned from covering the fires in California wine country in October, I opened a bottle at home in New York, a 2013 Napa Valley charbono from Calder Wine Company, to drink as an expression of solidarity.
The charbono grape has a proud history in California, most notably in some excellent midcentury bottles from Inglenook, the historic Napa Valley winery that has been restored by Francis Ford Coppola. A mere 70 acres or so of charbono are left in California, much of it in the Calistoga area.
Calder’s Rory Williams makes wine with his father, John Williams, at Frog’s Leap, and with his mother, Julie Johnson, at Tres Sabores. His own label is dedicated to exploring what he calls Napa’s “cultural terroir,” in an effort to better understand the region’s winemaking heritage, of which grapes like charbono, riesling and chenin blanc are certainly part.
This wine was vibrant and pure, deliciously fruity with an underlying bitterness that refreshed and invited the next sip. It seemed to capture past and future, sadness and sweet hope. It is a much better memory than the wildfire smoke that will forever be imprinted in my memory.
2. Lambrusco, at its best, is a humble farmhouse wine, and I say that with sincere esteem. The 2015 Rosso Viola from Luciano Saetti is a great example.
It is made of the salamino grape, one of several used for Lambrusco. In the hands of Mr. Saetti, who farms organically, the wine is dry, earthy and meaty — not complex — and extraordinarily delicious. I’ve had it maybe a half-dozen times in 2017, and always I am shocked by how much I love it.
This wine, by the way, is made without any sulfur dioxide, the common stabilizer shunned by many natural wine producers. I have never had a flawed bottle. The salamino grape takes its name from its elongated shape, which resembles a small salami, another thing about the wine that makes me happy.
3. Domaine Roulot is one of the world’s great producers of white wines, renowned for its Meursaults and other Burgundies. But the wine I could not forget was Roulot’s 2007 aligoté, Burgundy’s often forgotten other white grape.
I was in the Roulot cellar with Jean-Marc Roulot tasting aligotés when he pulled out the ’07. By reputation, aligoté is thin, acidic and simple, with little capacity to age or display the nuances of place. Many heralded Burgundy producers like Mr. Roulot continue to make aligoté because it is part of a revered heritage.
His aligotés are exceptional, but even he does not expect too much of them. They are meant to be unpretentious. “There’s no shame in that,” Mr. Roulot told me. The 2007, at 10 years old, was rich, deep and still fresh, with savory, salty flavors. “It’s less recognizable as aligoté,” Mr. Roulot said.
When a wine no longer tastes like a grape and tastes like a place instead, that is memorable.
4. Of all the wine regions I have visited, Colares on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, the westernmost wine region in continental Europe, is the most unusual. To protect against the incessant salty wind, the vines are trained low over what is essentially beach sand.
The red ramisco and the white malvasia de Colares grapes are superbly adapted to this singular environment; they thrive nowhere else. Not surprisingly, this tiny region produces utterly distinctive wines.
The reds are powerfully tannic, high in acid and low in alcohol, just about 12.5 percent. They must mellow for years before they can be sold. The current vintage on the market is 2008. I drank a bottle from the local cooperative, the Adega Regional de Colares, with the winemaker, Francisco Figueiredo. It was savory and spicy, with an almost balsamic character, structured yet graceful. There is no other wine like it.
5. For reasons of history, politics and economics, some historic wine regions can be virtually forgotten. One is Pécharmant in the Bergerac region of southwestern France, which I visited while reporting on the writer Martin Walker, whose Bruno mysteries are set in the small, fictional town of St.-Denis in the Périgord.
Bruno is the chief of police in this world where much of life centers on food and wine. Just as in the culinary realm, the conflicts in St.-Denis often stem from the collisions between local traditions and globalization. Indeed, while the characters in the Bruno novels have access to all the great wines of the world, they often choose to drink their local bottles, like one of Bruno’s favorites, Château de Tiregand in Pécharmant, which also happens to be one of Mr. Walker’s favorites.
Together, we visited Tiregand, where we had lunch with the proprietor, François-Xavier de Saint-Exupéry (a distant cousin of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), and drank several older bottles. I was most struck by the 2005 Pécharmant. These reds are made from the same grapes as Bordeaux, the powerful neighbor on the coast, grown in similarly gravelly soils. It was earthy and lovely, intense and refreshing. At 12 years of age, the youthful fruitiness was just beginning to give way to complex minerality.
“We like to hunt, we like mushrooms, we like a glass of wine,” Mr. Saint-Exupéry said, speaking to traditions that have sustained Pécharmant for centuries.
6. In Portugal this June, my wife and I sealed some new friendships over a simple and extraordinarily delicious lunch at Solar dos Pintor, a restaurant and wine bar outside Lisbon. Before the dessert we all drank a glass of Madeira, Blandy’s malmsey, 1992.
In Madeira years, this was a baby. It will live for decades, if not centuries. It was already thrilling, striking a delicate equilibrium of sweetness and acidity, complexity and sheer refreshment. Wines like this are inspiring, giving birth to ideas and relationships. Unforgettable.
7. While in Burgundy in May, I had dinner at a simple wine bar in Beaune. Along with wild asparagus (gathered that morning by the chef’s father) and charcuterie, we drank a bottle of Beaune Premier Cru Les Theurons 2008, from a producer I had never seen in the United States, Régis Rossignol-Changarnier.
The wines of Beaune are often among the most overlooked of Burgundies, and therefore can be relatively good values. This one was honest, old-fashioned, a bit rustic and delicious, a reminder of the days before billionaires started to buy grand cru vineyards, when the top wines were still affordable.
I am not saying this Burgundy was better, nor did it diminish my reverence for the great wines. Still, it was refreshing in every sense and offered a useful moment of clarity.
8. Another Burgundy, consumed at a dinner in Chappaqua, N.Y., where the centerpiece was spit-roasted lamb. My friend Bill brought a 1999 Clos de la Roche from Domaine Dujac.
A bottle of grand cru Burgundy like this one is always a privilege to drink, especially one from a great producer at a peak moment. It was beautifully focused and precise, still young, with aromas and flavors that flowed in a linear, lasting progression. It smelled of exotic red fruits. On the palate the fruit gave way to a stony minerality that is often characteristic of the vineyard — “pure rock,” I wrote at the time.
That wasn’t the only time in 2017 I swooned over a Clos de la Roche. I remember tasting Domaine Arlaud’s superb 2014 Clos de la Roche with the producer earlier in the year. The lamb dinner was a chance to drink it, which made all the difference.
9. One last Burgundy, which I tasted in February at La Paulée de New York, a Burgundy celebration held once every two years. I was poured a glass of one of the more coveted wines in the world, a grand cru Musigny 2002 from Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier.
I cannot remember a wine that so captured the magical Burgundian formula of weightless intensity. This wine was ethereal — very much in keeping with the elegant style of Mugnier — yet powerfully deep, resonating long after swallowing. I still feel the echo today.
10. Back in January I went to a lunch organized by Levi Dalton, host of the I’ll Drink to That podcasts, which focused on the nebbiolo rosé grape, once thought to be a clone of nebbiolo, and now known to be genetically different though closely related.
It used to be widely planted in the vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco. Today, it is mostly gone, though patches remain here and there. It made a pale-colored wine that, though gorgeously perfumed, was out of fashion in an era in which powerful, dark wines were prized.
Of the fascinating wines we drank, one stuck in my memory: the 1970 Barbaresco Podere del Pajorè from Giovannini Moresco. Gorgeous, with a color of pale brick red, the wine had aromas of truffles and spices, and flavors of tobacco and herbs with citrus highlights.
This producer no longer exists. The Podere del Pajorè vineyard is now owned by Angelo Gaja, who — in Ian D’Agata’s book “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” — dismisses the notion that the vineyard ever contained nebbiolo rosé. So we do not know for sure whether this wine was nebbiolo rosé. But it certainly was good.
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