It’s a tough job selecting only six wines from the many thousands tasted throughout 2016 but Peter Dean recommends a half dozen that would fill any wine lover with pure excitement and belongs on all wine lists.
The wines that were left out of this ‘six of the best’ include aged wines from every category, but one of the criteria chosen was availability so you could acquire some.
Apart from having to visit the dentist a lot more, as a result of so many tastings of young wine, my 2016 was noteworthy for other senses being opened up to wines I had never tasted before or perhaps never considered tasting.
As with everyone’s wine reviews of the year, there is very little chance that I can fully reflect the enormous amount of exceptional wines that I have tasted this year so I apologise in advance for any exclusions.
Another point. As with everyone’s wine reviews of the year there is very little consensus on what the best wines actually are.
Unlike books or films or great sporting events, where there is always about 50% crossover between different critics, with wine there is virtually none. How many of Neal Martin’s wines of 2016, for example, would anyone reading have actually tasted?
Even amongst The Buyer’s tasting team there are virtually no wines duplicated.
Apart from access and context, then, there is the sheer volume of wines on show and the complete subjectivity. Even the same bottle of wine with the same reviewer can show differently if he or she is tasting in the morning, with/ without food, solus/ in a flight, spitting/ swallowing, with/ without the winemaker present and whether or not the wines were tasted alongside wines of a similar provenance.
I managed to get my highly selective shortlist down to 31 whites, 32 reds, 9 rosés, 10 fortified and 16 sparkling, and I mean being rigorous with what I discounted. Then to get that list to six wines only.
The criteria for selecting my best wines of 2016 was pure excitement – wines that were jaw-droppingly good.
The wine had to be ‘best in class’, of unsurpassable quality, for sure, but I asked myself whether these wines were ones that got me aching for more, that got me immediately on Wine Searcher desperate to get hold of some so that I could taste them again with close friends and family (which I have done in most of the cases).
The wines I chose had me awake at night, calling friends at anti-social hours, changing holiday plans to accommodate visiting the wineries.
I tried also to keep my list to wines that are new releases this year, because at The Buyer we are trying to help sommeliers and wine buyers of every shape and size acquire the best, most interesting wines available. So sadly wines like the 1923 Musigny from Louis Jadot and such like that I have enjoyed this year (and were off the scale) I have not included as I want this to be of practical value.
My best white wines of 2016
- Clos des Carmes, 2009, Domaine Guiberteau
No table white wine blew me away as much as this chenin blanc from Saumur.
I had tried an entry level from Guiberteau from a Noble Rot tasting pack and that whetted my appetite. I had tried some as a wine flight at Ducasse at the Dorchester. But this was my first bottle of the single vineyard sites in Saumur.
I found this in a bottle shop in Paris. A head-turner of a chenin blanc. Multi-layered, massive acidity and a taste journey happening within your mouth the second the liquid touches your lips.
What further age will do to these wines is a thing of sleepless nights.
- Les Choix, 2012, Turner Pageot
Turner Pageot’s range was the highlight for me of this year’s Millésime-Bio fair in Montpellier.
This husband/ wife team of Karen Turner and Emmanuel Pageot are doing some extraordinary things in the Languedoc and none more so than with their top cuvée, a 100% Marsanne fermented like a red – full bunch, on the skins for two weeks – which gives it a bronze colour and heady nose and palate of fresh and dried yellow stone fruit, almonds and spices.
Like a mature Palo Cortado it has a complex dryness to the wine that might clash with the sweetness of the nose in lesser hands but here it works quite brilliantly.
Sweet or dry, you decide, hence the name and the image of the scarecrow, inspired by Wizard of Oz, pointing in two opposite directions.
My best red wine of 2016
- Kusuda Pinot Noir 2014, Martinborough
Some have likened this to a young La Tâche. My DRC tasting is limited but what I do know is that I couldn’t stop thinking about this wine, nor indeed tasting this wine for the rest of the day.
I think I was also marginally aggressive about buying a case as well, but hey ho needs must.
This is a more acidity-driven style of New World Pinot than lush fruit. Elegant and precise, it is quite shy at first with layers of red fruit and a savoury edge that then opens out with clipped, fine tannins keeping everything in check.
There is a lot of mystique that surrounds the wine (the volunteers from Japan with special scissors who fly down for each harvest) but what is in the glass is what counts and it is outstanding in its finesse.
My best rosé wine of 2016
- Beyaz Kalecik Karasi, Blanc de Noir 2015, Kayra
I noticed that my favourite wines of the year were also ones that re-appeared at other tastings and second or third tastings confirmed my initial excitement.
I’ve tried some terrific rosé this year from Gauby’s weird and wonderful dry muscat rosé that tasted of peppermint and will set you back €80 to Suprematism, 2015, Castel Del Monte Bombino Nero that was truly outstanding and is sadly unavailable in the UK.
Kayra’s superb BdN has everything you want from a ‘proper’ rosé – freshness and fruit, but with real texture and complexity. Some of the flavours of grapefruit peel and ginger spice up the palate, along with notes of wild strawberry and other ripe red fruits. Pale in colour, this Turkish wine has many uses both on its own or with food pairing. A sommelier’s dream.
My best sparkling wine of 2016
- Exton Park Pinot Meunier Rosé NV
I’ve tasted some of the world’s top fizz this year, including aged top end cuvées from Dom Perignon and the like but nothing got me as excited as the range and quality of sparkling wine at this year’s English Wine Tasting event.
For me it was the first time that I could see a real discernible English style in the acidity and the fresh citrus quality of the wines and a real reason for people to stop comparing these wines to the C-word.
There were so many good wines on show but for me this 100% NV Pinot Meunier had it all – beautiful flowers and peach on the nose, a tight, pure palate with nicely-defined mousse and summer fruit flavours. Hits the boundary.
My best fortified wine of 2016
- Colheita 1937 Tawny Port, Quinta do Noval
Another difficult category. If it was for ‘new’ fortified I would have awarded this to The Collector Vermouth which makes the best Negroni ever and can also be drunk as a dessert wine.
I tried some cracking aged fortifieds in 2016 including a Kopke Colheita, 1966, white port and a Bual 1962 Madeira but this 1937 Colheita Tawny from Quinta do Noval was just mind-blowing.
This was pure, liquid figs on the nose and palate with such complexity and freshness it got me to break all my rules and save a little glass for sunrise, which I duly did at the quinta.
Memories of great fine wine are made of such things. And yes, it is still available to buy.