My Top 10 Wines in 2012

December 18th, 2012

1. Chateau Malescot-St.-Exupery Margaux 2009 98 points

2. Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Altero 2007 98 points

3. Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2007 98 points

4. Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Sergio Zenato Riserva 2006 98 points

5. Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Leognan 2009 97 points

6. Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2008 97 points

7. Casaloste Toscana Inversus 2009 96 points  

 8. Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Freestone Vineyards 2009 95 points

 9. Best’s Shiraz Great Western Bin 1 2011 95 points

10. Pyramid Valley Canterbury Pinot Noir Angel Flower 2010 95 points


I spent a lot of time deciding on my 10 Best Wines in 2012. I tasted close to 4,000 wines officially for this website and the Asia Tatler magazine group, which has monthly luxury magazines in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand.

It was hard to decide on just 10 wines. I just tasted too many outstanding wines this year – mostly Italian and Bordeaux, but a good number of Australian, Californian, and New Zealand as well as selected wines from other parts of the world. It was a fun and exciting year of tasting that lead to many discoveries and confirmed many of my thoughts from before.

All the wines on this list were tasted in 2012 and were new releases.

I tried to come up with a list of wines that represented relatively good values for the quality. Most wines are around $100 or slightly less. Some are really excellent values, such as the Best’s Shiraz Great Western Bin 1 2011 (96 points, about $30), Casaloste Toscana Inversus 2009 (96, less than $50), and Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Freestone Vineyards 2009 (95, about $40).

My Wine of the Year is certainly more expensive – about $120 in many US retail shops as well as Hong Kong. The Malescot St. Exupery Margaux 2009 (98) was always one of my favorite wines from the extraordinary vintage of 2009 in Bordeaux. It’s always shown such fabulous complexity and balance regardless of when I first tasted it in the barrel, and now in the bottle.

I should add that I have done much more than tasted it in recent months. I have consumed numerous bottles of the wine in Bordeaux as well as Hong Kong in the last few months, and the wine is absolutely delicious as well as shows fabulous structure. It underlines what I learned at an early stage of tasting great Bordeaux in the 1980s, when the late winemaker Emile Peynaud pointed out that a great wine is always great to taste or even drink – regardless if it is a barrel sample, bottled wine, or mature bottle. The 2009 Malescot is that sort of wine.

Of course, I included two 2007 Brunello di Montalcinos on my list. Everyone knows how much I appreciate Brunello and 2007 is an exceptional vintage, perhaps not as structured and aromatic as 2006, but equally impressive with more fruit and flesh. The Poggio Antico (No. 2) and Valdicava (No. 3) are two superb 2007 Brunellos, and still very well priced considering the quality.

I had to include the 2006 Amarone della Vapolicella from Zenato at No. 4. It’s a gorgeous vintage for this great red of the Veneto, and the Zenato’s made a balanced and refined rendition of this wine. Amarone is an area I am focusing more on in 2013.

Domaine de Chevalier is at No. 5. It’s one of the “flyers” in Bordeaux for me at the moment with the dedication to quality of owner Olivier Bernard, and many of the replantings of vineyards at the estate now coming into their own. The beauty and refinement of the 2009 DC red reminds me of some great old wines from the estate such as 1970 and 1959.

Barolo is always on my list of great wines any year. And the 2008 single vineyard Ornato from Pio Cesare (No. 6) nails the wonderful aromatics, harmony and structure of the vintage for Barolo. It’s well priced and readily available.

The Casaloste Toscana Inversus 2009 at No. 7 shows how Tuscany’s Chianti Classico region makes superlative reds. This is a blend of Merlot and Sangiovese from organically grown grapes. The winery is near the town of Panzano – arguably Tuscany’s answer to the great Brugundy village of Vosne-Romanee. There are so many excellent wineries in and around Panzano.

I didn’t taste many California wines in 2012, but I wanted to include a gorgeous and well-priced Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This is one of my favorite areas for the grape from my home state, along with parts of the Central Coast. I prefer Sonoma Coast to Russian River Valley. The Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Freestone Vineyards 2009 (95) at No. 8 was one of my favorites I tasted from the area.

Most readers are not going to be able to find the Best’s Shiraz Great Western Bin 1 2011 (95). It was the top wine in this fall’s Royal Melbourne Wine Show, where I was an international judge. It won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy. Regardless if you can't find it, the wine underlines how the best Shiraz of Oz are no longer the undrinkable, monstrous, and jammy reds many think of. I found that all of the Aussie winemakers I tasted with at the RMWS despised such wines and judged them severely. Real Aussie Shiraz is balanced and refined, emphasizing drinkability and terroir.

Finally, I included a wonderful Pinot Noir from a zany American in New Zealand. I went to the country on my own in October, and spent some time visiting with and talking to Mike Weersing and his wife Claudia at Pyramid Valley near Canterbury. Their Pinots on their tiny chalk-soiled hillside vineyards underline the superb quality and amazing future the grape has in New Zealand. But most of you probably already know that.

I hope you enjoy my Top 10 wines for 2012. Enjoy the holidays.




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