2012 in Review: 10 Noteworthy High End Wines

Okay, let's cut to the chase.  These are ten very memorable wines from the past year.  Many of these are out of reach for most of us, except for special occasions.  That said, these are risk-free bottlings that offer nothing short than extraordinary experiences - and there are a couple of notable values here, too.

CHARDONNAY #1:  2009 Carte Blanche Chardonnay Sonoma Coast $75
This is the drink of kings.  Golden hued and as aromatic as any red wine, there is no mistaking this Chardonnay's greatness.  Rich, powerful, and unapologetically Californian, it represents the very best of what this grape can do beyond Burgundy.  Concentrated and focused, yet replete with layered and delicate acid framing, you'll be hard pressed not to swoon over this elegant beast.  Likely the best Chardonnay I've had in three-plus years.  Sensational!

CHARDONNAY #2: 2010 Domaine Moery Coffinet Chassagne Montrachet Burgundy 'Les Houlleres' $55
Purest expression of ultra-premium Chardonnay.  Generously outfitted with elegant fruit and subtle, balanced acidity.  Attention-commanding.  One thought immediately comes to mind when tasting this stupendous Chardonnay: when can I have more?
PINOT NOIR: 2009 La Follette Pinot Noir Van Der Kamp Vineyard $38
Enthralling and superbly executed.  Greg LaFollette's biodynamic approach in the vineyards and light touch in the cellar strike a brilliant chord in this wine.  Brooding and profound, this Pinot has character aplenty that reveals itself in layer after layer of swinging notes that captivate. Voluptuous and mind-bendingly delicious.  Hard to find, but worth the search and a screaming value given its quality.

CABERNET #1: 2009 Carte Blanche Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $125
Uncompromising and absolutely extraordinary.  As serious as the quality is here, it does not drink like a formal, stodgy wine.  Instead, the inviting, easily-knit texture draws you in with charm and leaves you speechless with its impact.  Friendly and inviting from the cork's pull, it benefits from decanting at this young age, but certainly doesn't depend on it. Surprisingly accessible.  The nose is generous and voluptuous.  The majestic Cabernet fruit is complemented by perfectly integrated soft oak that flatters the dense body.  And while full, it manages to be simultaneously lush, velvety, gentle, and confident.  A wine that will spoil you for all others.

CABERNET #2:  2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Reserve $135
A zero-risk special occasion wine that jumps out of the glass with aromatics. Incredible class, finesse, and accessibility. Romantic and luscious.  Decanted for four or so hours, it opens into a seductive splendor that stops conversation.  While expensive, it delivers incredible dollar-for-dollar drinking enjoyment.  Simply sublime.  Paired with fatty grilled lamb chops and it will push you over the edge into gastronomic ecstasy. 

OTHER RED: 2009 Andrew Murray Vineyards Esperance Central Coast $25
This is an attention-commanding wine that requires little guesswork. Big, brash flavors come on like a spring thunderstorm; strong, swift, decisive, and replenishing. Still, it manages to chisel subtleties into the layered structure that make this wine an intricate thinker - if you are able to pause long enough. More tightly knit than previous vintages, but four-six hours in the decanter soften the initially staunch tannins and heat considerably. Australian lineage is more than just hinted at here. Despite being in the middle tier (cost wise) of the winery's lineup, this could well represent the very best of what AMV does. A stellar value.

ZINFANDEL: 2009 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley $40
More of just a great all around wine than exceptional Zin, there's a lot to love about this wine.  Terrifically balanced, restrained in delivery (though not in alcohol), and structured like a Swiss watch.  Zinfandel continues to suffer from an identity crisis, and while this one doesn't do anything to clear that up, it certainly provides ample drinking enjoyment.

FRENCH RED: 2010 Domaine Tour Saint-Michel Chateauneuf-du-Pape 'Feminessance' $70
Haunting and beyond extraordinary - and almost as lovely as the winemaker, Mireille Porte, herself.  This highly sophisticated wine is both powerful and feminine at the same time.  Rich, full, sexy, and universally appealing.  Surprisingly accessible yet promising of ageworthiness, this eye-popping beauty represents an terrific value - even at a retail price of $70.

ITALIAN RED: 2007 Giuseppe Campagnola Amarone $33
Exquisite balance and finesse wrap itself around your heart and squeeze.  A relative bargain given the lofty prices many Amarones demand.  This refined wine oozes polish without pretentiousness.  Plop this next to a plate of saltimboca and call it a night.

DESSERT: 1994 Prager Royal Escort Port Napa Valley $65 (on release)
Among the greatest ports from anywhere.  At nearly 20 years old, it practically vibrates with youthfulness and expressive fruit.  Multi-layered, attention-commanding, and inescapably sensational.  Could easily go another decade or two.  Worth every penny.  Occasionally available on auction sites.