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One of the reasons why I love wine is that itís so personal. By that I mean, everyone experiences it differently; we donít all like the same wines; we often remember the same wine differently; and we all have our own stories to tell about a special bottle enjoyed with family or friends.
This personal nature of wine is the main reason why Iím always so perplexed as I read the various annual ďtop winesĒ lists put forward by the leading wine publications. Most of these lists proclaim to be an assembly of the best wines of the year in order of quality. But Iím not convinced that thereís an absolute scale of quality by which all wines can be ranked.
Now Iím not saying there arenít good wines and there arenít bad wines; there are definitely both. After all, if youíve ever taken one of my wine classes or listened to me talk about wine for even five minutes, youíve heard my fundamental belief on this matter: ďA good wine is a wine that is true to the grape from which it is made and true to the region from which it comes.Ē However, just because itís possible to distinguish a good wine from a bad wine does not mean itís possible to put all the good wines in a specific, numeric order of quality.
My prejudices about lists aside, though, Iím still willing to offer my own for 2012, but with a disclaimer. Although all of the wines Iíve chosen are ďgoodĒ wines, the list isnít an assembly of the very best wines I had in order of quality. Rather, these are simply the wines that have made the biggest impression on me in the past year.
You see, itís not always the quality of the wine that impressed me. Sometimes it was the experience that came with the wine, such as drinking it with the wine maker or at a special family event. Sometimes, it was because I was (and still am) shockingly impressed at how affordable a very good wine was. Other times, it was because the wine came alive in a perfect food and wine pairing. But whatever the reason, the wines on this list are the ones I remembered and loved from the year. Try them. You may like them, too.
10. 2011 Abacela Grenache Rosť (Oregon). I encountered this wine on a mini-vacation to Southern Oregon with my parents. This wine illustrates whatís best about good rosť wines: They represent the very best of summer ó light, fruity and inviting, but they arenít too simple. Wines like this one donít forget that they need some complexity to keep me interested.
9. Fonseca Bin 27 (Portugal). This one makes the list because of Downton Abbey. I managed to avoid Americaís addiction to this British period soap opera until 2012. Once I discovered it, it seemed so civilized to watch the fictionalized Crawley family and all their servants while drinking port. Fonsecaís Bin 27 has always been one of my favorite ports because of its balanced flavors and long finish. The fact that I now associate it with one of my favorite TV addictions means it will probably always be one of my favorite wines ó well, at least until the latest season of Downton Abbey ends.
8. Covey Run Red Blend (Washington). Looking for affordable wine to drink with a beef stew, I decided to take a chance on this $5 wine (usually about $8, it was on sale that day). I was pleasantly shocked at how much depth and elegance it had for such an inexpensive wine. It had dark berry, plum, and herbal flavors together with a hint of cedar and smoke.
7. Roederer Estate Brut (California). My favorite California sparkling wine (as it has been since we served it at my wedding 14 years ago) was new all over again when served with the first Dungeness Crab of the season. The crisp acidity of this beautiful wine complimented the delicate sweetness of the crab and cut the luscious heaviness of the accompanying butter.
6. 2001 Argyle Extended Tirage (Oregon). I enjoyed a taste of this sparkling wine at the winery as part of a birthday trip through Oregonís Dundee Hills. Though it was the seventh winery I visited that day, and I had already tasted a dozen extraordinary wines, my first sip of this wine caused me to drop my pen (I had been writing copious notes about each wine). The wine had super-fine bubbles, lovely floral and yeasty aromas and very complex flavors. I suspect that for the rest of my life, I will compare all sparkling wines I taste to this one.
5. 2008 DePonte Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir (Oregon). While this wine was a terrific expression of pinor noir from one of the best vintages ever in Oregon, it was likely the beautiful setting and the expert (and humorous) service I received from the wineryís staff that made this a truly memorable wine.
4. Maragas Swinging Zinfandel (Oregon). Iíll admit that part of the appeal of this wine is that itís made here in Central Oregon. But itís also true that every year, the Maragas wines get better. This wine shows all that zinfandel can be ó juicy berries, a hint of white pepper and a long finish. Chatting with the winemaker as I sipped was an added bonus.
3. 2010 Airfield Lightning (Washington). I discovered this winery on a day trip through Washington wine country. The story of the wineryís land intrigued me as much as the wine. The property served as a training base for American pilots during World War II, which explains the old airplane on the label. This wine is made from three grapes that are common in the Rhone Valley region of France, but are somewhat unusual in the United States -- viognier, roussanne and marsanne. Itís a complex blend of floral and fruit flavors with a fairly heavy body for a white wine. Best of all, it appeals to a nostalgia that I have for American history.
2. 2010 Vincenz Richter Meissner Kapitelberg Riesling (German). What made this wine special was that it was a gift from the family of our last exchange student. We drank it with our family as we toasted his.
1. 2003 Cave de Tain Hermitage (France). Hermitage is one of the rarest wines in the world. The problem is that the wine can only be made from grapes grown on the relatively small hill adjacent to the city Tain líHermitage. Itís said that the location, slope and soil of the hill are uniquely able to produce wines of uncommon richness and depth. Because of the small production, itís virtually impossible to find an affordable bottle of Hermitage. Until last year, I had resigned myself to never trying it. But sometimes you get lucky, and I found a great deal on this bottle. While the experience of drinking it was certainly enhanced by the company of my family (and my brother-in-lawís 2011 elk, expertly prepared by my personal chef, aka, my husband), the wine itself lived up to the hype. It was an amazingly harmonious blend of flavors, including black fruits, dark cocoa, herbs, mint and licorice. This wine didnít just impress me for 2012; it will be one of the wine experiences I remember for the rest of my life.
Laura Craska Cooper is a Bend attorney who lives and loves wine in Prineville. Initially self-taught by prowling the wineries of Sonoma and Napa and reading extensively, she has enhanced her knowledge with travel to many of the worldís wine regions. More recently she graduated from the prestigious Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London, England, where she received an intermediate certificate-a sought-after international credential held by professional sommeliers and wine merchants around the world. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org