Sorting through all the stunning foreign wines available to U.S. consumers to find the absolute best in a single year would ordinarily be a daunting task, ultimately coming down to a matter of personal preference in that sea of glorious wines.
My "Wine Talk" pick for 2018 import wine of the year is a superb Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany's Castello Banfi. I readily admit a fondness for Brunello. In a world where the price of collectible Bordeaux and Burgundy is insane, Brunello is a beautiful alternative. The finest vintages can improve in the cellar for 15, 20 or even 30 years. And though not inexpensive, the prices are lower than even a modest Bordeaux from a so-so vintage.
So, settling upon the 2013 Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino was a relatively easy call, aided by the fact that the wine also won raves from a brilliant panel of professional sommeliers at the 2018 Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition and received the highest score of 98 points. The suggested retail price of $100 is modest for a wine of such great potential and quality — and far less that you would pay for a first-growth Bordeaux.
Poggio alle Mura is a special bottling of Brunello sourced from the vineyards surrounding the castle on the Banfi estate. Its stiffest competition for wine of the year was another Banfi Brunello, the 2013 "normale," or regular Banfi Brunello from the outstanding 2013 vintage. Those looking for added value should note that the normale retails for about $20 a bottle less than the Poggio alle Mura.
Next week: domestic wine of the year.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Karolyi Estate 2017 Gruner Veltliner, Pannon, Hungary ($11.99) — If the Karolyi Estate is indicative of Hungarian gruner in general, Hungarian gruner seems to be leaner than Austrian gruner. That's not to say it isn't a beautiful, delicious wine. The 2017 gruner veltliner from Karolyi is clean and crisp, with attractive lime citrus notes and surprising length. It's a steal at the price. Rating: 90.
Spottswoode 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa County/Sonoma County ($42) — This is the aristocracy of domestic sauvignon blanc, a sauvignon so fine that price is no deterrent. In fact, compared with sauvignon-based Bordeaux blanc prices, even at $42 the Spottswoode represents extraordinary value. Using stainless steel tanks for fermentation and lees stirring to develop richness and texture, the Spootswoode sauvignon gets the sort of TLC that makes a huge difference in the finished product. The 2017 Spottswoode offers complex aromas and flavors, and shows notes of white peach and lime, with exquisite balance and impressive length. Rating: 96.
Landmark 2016 Pinot Noir, Hop Kiln Estate, Russian River Valley ($40) — The 2016 Hop Kiln Estate pinot from Landmark exhibits the classic weight and depth of a Russian River Valley pinot, with lifted cherry, raspberry and strawberry notes and an attractive touch of wood spice. The balance is exquisite and the fruit purity and palate length impressive. Rating: 92.
The Vineyard House 2016 Chardonnay, Oakville, Napa Valley ($75) — While the 2016 vintage is leaner than the beautiful 2015 chardonnay from The Vineyard House, the difference in age could well account for the difference in perception of richness. The 2016 no doubt will flesh out and evolve in more complex ways with an additional year in the bottle, and it could well rival the 2015. Whether it does or not, winemaker William Ballentine is to be applauded for his restraint. The 2016 allows the fruit to shine and shows a light hand on the oak, a trend that more California winemakers are following in recent vintages. Rating: 92.
Domaine de Bila-Haut 2016 'Occultum Lapidem,' Cotes du Roussillon Villages, Latour de France ($26.99) — Michel Chapoutier, famous for his wines from the Rhone Valley of France, produces Bila-Haut and manages to transfer his brilliance to the Languedoc, where the Cotes du Roussillon is very hospitable to the grape varieties of the Rhone. This red blend offers rich notes of blackberry and black raspberry, and a savory note of pepper and wood spice. Well-balanced and fresh despite its 15 percent alcohol, the Occultum Lapidem should be served with rich stews, game dishes, grilled meats or savory cheeses. Rating: 91.
Odfjell 2017 Carignan 'Orzada,' Maule Valley, Chile ($23) — Carignan doesn't often make a stand-alone wine outside of the south of France, so commercially it's a bit of a gamble — a good gamble, as it turns out for Odfjell. Its Orzada carignan delivers a darkly fruited red that is rich and earthy and well-balanced. Rating: 90.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]