Even though many people have tried, I firmly believe that quantifying wine quality is not scientific at all. Yes, I do attach a numerical range to the wines that I taste (and have received a fair amount of criticism for that), but I do that to serve merely as a reference point. And let me be clear: it is my reference point and should not be mistaken for what I think other people should think about the wine.
There are times, though, when tasting a wine that I am compelled to utter the word “Whoa.” I can not describe the exact characteristics of a “Whoa Wine” but I know it as soon as I taste it. All the elements that I think are necessary to be considered an outstanding wine are there: fruit, structure, depth, balance. All of which come together beautifully. Whoa
2003 Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra N.P.U. Champagne: Retail $160. 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. 100% Grand Cru. This is dangerous. Whoa. Sherried, viscous and dark. Carameled Apple. Whoa. On the palate this has the aged champagne taste that I crave but it is paradoxically too young. This is not for the faint of heart as it is not your every day Champers. No. This is more, and on a completely different plane. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 97-99 Points.
2010 Nino Franco Grave di Stecca Brut: Retail $49. 100% Glera from the Grave di Stecca vineyard. 18k bottles produced in ’10 but only 6k in ’14 and ’15 due largely to the vagaries of weather. A single vineyard wine that is harvested earlier than other vineyards to maintain a high level of acidity. Left on lees for six months and then kept for another two years in bottle. Until 2007, interestingly, the grapes were used to make a still Prosecco (i.e., no bubbles) but in 2007 Primo started making a sparkling wine with the grapes. This wine does not bear either the name “Prosecco” nor the town of Valdobbiadene since it was declassified to “vino Spumante” as the appellation authorities found it to be atypical of the wines of the region. (They regret that decision now, but that is a story for another time). A bit darker and much more vinous with a bit of a sherry note. On the palate that sherried note is prominent. This is unlike any Prosecco I’ve ever had and really is fantastic. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 93-95 Points.
These next two wines I actually tasted last year, but I did not get around to writing about them until this past February, so I think they can technically still be included. Rules aside, they were fabulous.
2014 Kemmeter Wines Sheldrake Point 31: $24. This is the sweeter of the two. Both wines come from the same plot but separated into two fermenters. The first spontaneously fermented to drier. Brighter fruit it seems and a tad heavier, the fruit expression here is off the charts. This is not one of the best American Rieslings I have had, this is one of the best Rieslings I have had. Period. Double whoa. Outstanding Plus. 93-95 Points.
2013 Kemmeter Wines Sansan: $40. 375ml. 100% botrytis. Johannes said it is the equivalent of an auslese with single berry selection. Honeyed lemon zest and pineapple. Clean and wonderful. Rich but not opulent, sweet but far from cloying. Finish? I hope this stays with me for days and it just might. Outstanding Plus. 94-96 Points.
2013 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc The FMC: Retail $70. I tasted this as part of an online tasting hosted by the Wines of South Africa last winter. Here is what I wrote at the time: This is a special wine, there is no doubt about it. When I first twisted off the cap and poured, I was captivated by the intense apricot, vanilla, and honey on this wine. It’s body on the tongue is remarkable while maintaining a vibrant freshness. OK, this gets a whoa. Maybe two. Of all its remarkable attributes, perhaps the finish is the most noteworthy as the wonderful flavors stay en bouche for at least a minute or two. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2015 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio Trentino DOC: Retail $8. OK, technically, this wine did not get a “Whoa” but this just might be my wine of the year. Why? It is one of the best Pinot Grigios I have ever had (which, admittedly, is not saying all that much) and it only costs $8! Here is part of what I wrote for Snooth.com back in November: “Normally, I would eschew wines of this ilk: high production, wide distribution, usually found on the bottom shelf in a supermarket, but I am smitten with this wine. Great fruit, tartness, and considerable depth, I would not hesitate to recommend this wine to anyone. The best and worst part about this wine? The price: $8. Why is that a bad thing? Frankly, people might lump it in with all the other wines in that price range, but they shouldn’t, this is a serious wine that you can buy by the case (and I do).” Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2011 St. Urbans-Hof Laurentius Lay Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese: Retail? (Probably a lot). This past year, I had dinner with Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof in New York City and he brought a lot of really nice wines. This one, however, was the one that stood above the rest. 250 grams. Barrel sample. Brought over on the plane. Whoa. A bit cloudy, but viscous and golden. Holy cow. My goodness. Outstanding Plus. 96-99 Points potential.