Against my better judgment (which is usually bad, thus here I go), here are the top white wines that I tasted this year. In order to be considered, the wine had to be received as a sample, rated well into the “Outstanding” category, and earned a “Whoa” (or at least came really close). No attention was paid to price, region, or whether it had a ridiculously heavy bottle (although those B.A.B. might be excluded in the future).
2012 Borra Vineyards Intuition Field Blend White, Lodi, CA: Retail $22. I received this bottle from Markus Niggli whom I met on my first-ever press trip, which was to Lodi, California, was the winemaker for Borra (I say “was” because I am pretty sure the fine folks at Borra have retired). He sent it to me to show how these varieties can age. He wrote on the bottle that this was the same blend as his 2012 Nimmo, which is a unique mélange of 60% Kerner, 20 % Riesling, and 20% Gewürztraminer. Still a pale straw in the glass with a decided German Riesling nose of citrus, white peach, and petrol. The palate is decidedly fresh and tart—one would be hard-pressed to identify this as a 6-7-year-old white, particularly since the acidity, the fruit, and the finish are all incredible. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2016 DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $40. 68% Sauvignon Blanc, 32% Sémillon. I have always felt that the whites from Bordeaux do not get enough attention. The reds steal the show in the minds of most and the whites, primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blends, are relegated to the background. Way, way, way back there. And that is too bad, particularly those that are well made. While this wine does not hail from perhaps the most hallowed wine region in the world, it would certainly give the top white Bordeaux wines a run. Golden straw in the glass with yellow apple, paraffin wax, citrus, and, curiously, sage, which works well with the other aromas. The palate is tart, yet voluptuous with a multitude of flavors and a lingering finish. Yowza. And a Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley: Retail $35. I would venture to say that there are not many Rieslings with a Napa Valley designation. What does not take much deliberation, though, is the fact that there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best such appellated Riesling. Lemon zest and a touch of petrol, with mineralogy and verve. Use the word “verve” a lot on this site, but it has never been so apt a description. Tart and vibrant on the palate with that lemon (although subtle compared to the nose), intense minerality, and a finish that persists long after I have looked up a synonym for verve (none are fitting). Really close to a Whoa. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2017 Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali, Italy: Retail $27. I have known the fine people at Terlato for several years now and I have enjoyed many of the wines that they import into the U.S. (Piper-Heidsieck, Nino Franco, etc.), but the first time they offered me a bottle of their eponymous Pinot Grigio, I was not all that intrigued–I knew they knew the importing “game” but did that translate into winemaking? After a bit of research, I was surprised to discover that they had been producing this wine for well over a decade. The first vintage I tried was the 2014, and it was very good, maybe more. But when I tried the 2016 vintage, I stopped dead in my tracks. It was phenomenal. This 2017? Tree (peach and pear) and citrus fruit lead to a luscious mouthfeel–great weight, coating the mouth, but plenty of acidity and depth. Another stellar PG from Terlato, and as one who typically avoids Pinot Grigio, as a rule, this is simply fantastic. Excellent to Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2017 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. James MacPhail is a study in contrast. Shy, quiet, and seemingly avoiding attention, his wines are big, boisterous, and in your face. This Chardonnay certainly fits with that description as it is rich, fleshy, and explosive. While there is oak, it is held in check, or perhaps more accurately, the oak is overwhelmed by the fruit. Golden in the glass with intense lemon curd oozing over the rim. That fruit is the story past the lips, but there is also ample acidity and depth. Whoa. While this wine could not be much further from James’ rather demure demeanor, it does more closely match his wife Kerry’s personality—bold but never brash, fun and fresh, but never flippant. Hmmm. Am I on to something here? Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2017 Westwood Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Roberts Road, Sonoma Coast: Retail $50. When I see “Sangiacomo Vineyard” on a label, I have to be honest: I get as giddy as a virgin on prom night. Sure, there is no guarantee that everything is going to go as planned, but the odds are certainly in my favor. While many American vineyards claim to be of “Grand Cru” status, only a few actually are. Sangiacomo Vineyard is one. While Pinot grabs most of the accolades, for me, this is one of the premier Chardonnay vineyards in Sonoma (along with Dutton, Hirsch, Rochioli, and Clos Pepe–OK the last of those is not in Sonoma, but damn does it produce killer Chard). Quite light in color (at best a pale straw), but vibrant in aromas: lemon curd and peach, with dashes of honey and wet rock. The palate is even more delectable with said peach and lemon, but also a (slight) buttery and (even slighter) oaky goodness. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
My White Wine of the Year
This is the first time, I believe, that I have singled out one wine as a “Wine of the Year” but this year it seemed appropriate (and it also seems as though everyone is doing it, so in typical sheep fashion…). Yes, it is a second wine from James and Kerry MacPhail at Tongue Dancer and while I might be alone in this opinion, it validates my assertion that renowned Pinot producer James MacPhail makes even better Chardonnays.
2017 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. OK. Full disclosure. I consider James and Kerry Forbes MacPhail friends. We have been known to email, instant message, text. I would like to think that despite our “relationship” I remain fairly objective. Having said that, this is good. Very Good. Excellent. Outstanding. Maybe more. Pale straw in the glass with lemon, a bit of vanilla, and ripe green apple. The palate? Whoa. I spent a bit of time trying to determine if this is more Chassagne or Puligny (or maybe Corton Grand Cru?). Regardless, this is baller, gangster, and/or killer depending on your generational bent. Simply? Whoa. And that is an objective assertion (I’m pretty sure). Excellent to Outstanding. 93-95 Points.