When reviewing 2016, I can’t help but think only one thing – what a shitty year for the world. Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen died, Donald Trump became president of the US, refugee crises overflowed the news, people still think that sweet wines are cheap rubbish that should solely be paired with poor life decisions. Oh well, at least true wine lovers have been drinking some nice stuff to drown their sorrows and enter 2017 in style, like Kanye West did at the MTV Awards a few years back. But before you go anywhere and start analyzing the trends of next year (which you probably won’t follow), allow me to introduce you to the first Grape Nomad annual recap! Here, you’ll read about MY highest rated wines of 2016, wines that have blown me away with their sexiness and helped me rethink the complexity of this business. Because I decided to discover Italy in detail this year, you’ll see that their wines are pretty dominant in the selection. As a side-note, these are not bottles necessarily released during the year, nor are the scores something you have to blindly follow. I urge you to explore, be open and enjoy whatever gems you find from these top 10 picks.
Vicelić Dingač 2011
Dingač, Pelješac, Croatia
Some amateur critics never believed that this wine would explode with complexity and that it’s depth would be revealed after so many years. What a way to prove them wrong. Ruby red color of medium depth. Medium nose with light tones of red fruit (cranberry, sweet cherry), Mediterranean herbs, cocoa, roasted coffee, blueberry and blackcurrant leaf. Dry, huge concentration of black fruit (blackcurrant, dried plum, blueberry), going more on jammy tones rather than fresh fruit. High tannins, paired with a lovely interplay of acidity and alcohol. Long aftertaste with a whole specter of excitement, progressing from overripe plum to freshly rolled Cuban cigar. Nothing missing, bravo. What a treat. Heart emojis all around.
Average price: 20 EUR
Antinori Solaia 2012
I would write speechless, but that wouldn’t be fun now, would it? I’ll jot down my tasting note, but if you need to re-evaluate your life and get closer to the meaning of it, I urge you, for the love of Dionysus, to try this wine whenever you get the chance. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (75%), Sangiovese (20%) and Cabernet Franc (5%), 2012’s Solaia offers deep ruby red and a medium nose displaying notes of cooked black fruit, mint, vanilla, wet soil and a splash of minerality. Dry with a humongous concentration and grippy tannins. If you like them big and bold, this is your bottle.
Average price: 195 EUR
Antinori Tignanello 2013
This was the first Sangiovese to be aged in barriques and the first red wine to be blended with international grapes. It’s quite surprising that a wine from a single estate and vineyard of this quality is produced in a series of 300.000 bottles, which is huge in comparison to smaller wine regions which have an annual production this big. The first question you ask yourself is – how do the winemakers of Antinori maintain this epochal quality vintage after vintage? Well, some G.O.A.T. winemakers are unquestionably working on this capo di tutti capi and clearly don’t let anything slip. The 2013, listed in the top 10 wines of 2016 by Wine Spectator, shows deep ruby red with violet hues and is still very tight on the nose. Tones of red and black fruit (sour cherry, raspberry), violets, sweet spices, wet soil and leather. The palate is dry with a huge structure, sexy raw fruit and an unforgettable finish. It’s a true shame to open this bottle now and live the illusion that you got everything out of it. Drink from 2018 through the next 20 years.
Average price: 80 EUR
Cascina Lo Zoccolaio Barolo 2008
Barolo, Piemonte, Italy
Clear medium tawny red. Big earthy funk blends beautifully with sweet maraschino, tar and fresh leather. The complexity is immediately detectable on the nose, but this Barolo shows its true character with the very first sip. Abrasive tannins carry the whole structure of expressed acidity and high alcohol across the finish line. Solid fruit comes in in the shape of raspberry and dried fig. Dense and wonderful structure which simply begs for a juicy beef steak and large doses of hedonism.
Average price: 35 EUR
Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico Irpinia Aglianico 2004
Irpinia, Campania, Italy
A wine produced from 100+-year-old vines always intrigues with excitement and apprehension. This one is characterized by a deep garnet red color. Complexity is detectable immediately on the nose – notes of overripe cherry, chocolate, sweet spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla) and dried plum all followed by tertiary tones of rooibos tea, leather and wet soil. Dry, extraordinarily fresh and balanced for a 12-year-old wine. Pronounced acidity, juicy ripe tannins and a true expression of terroir, showing the essence of Campania. Long finish showing a sea of different tones with a significant highlight on tobacco, Asian spices and game. This one has it all – even more potential, titan structure, depth and complexity. Would pair beautifully with wild boar and baked potatoes. Watch out for Aglianico, it’s a grape that’s taking over the world one wine at a time.
Average price: 40 EUR
Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé 2014
Medium amber color. BOOM! Apricot jam at its finest on the nose followed by notes of more stone fruit – peach compote and ripe nectarine. Hints of yellow apple and white flowers. Even though this was the tenth and final wine we tasted, it was like a calling from another planet. Lusciously sweet with a medium acidity and medium (-) alcohol. Magnificent balance with all elements in formation. A wine to spoon-feed your infant instead of milk and honey.
Average price: 50 EUR
Château de l’Auche Brut Cuvée du Chapitre NV
Montagne de Reims, Champagne, France
Now, imagine yourself in a bakery, eating some fresh pastry, drinking a lager and gulping down on aspirins. Just imagine that, don’t try it at home (nor in your local bakery). This is how Château de l’Auche Brut Cuvée du Chapitre NV tastes like. Golden in the glass, from color to taste, showing spectacular aromas of dough, granola, cashew, green apple, pear, tropical fruit (lychee, mango) and splashes of chalk and wet stone. Dry with striking acidity, medium alcohol and a beautiful structure. Not too pushy with the fruit-yeast combo and complexity, but showing exquisite regional expression (mistake this for a Prosecco or Cava and you’re heading towards a red card). How much I cherish the minerality this wine is showing cannot be put into words. With this element prevailing through the whole experience, you can really imagine yourself drinking it on the chateau’s limestone-chalk terrain, while listening to Black’s Wonderful Life, surrendering to the ocean breezes and letting them air-dry your hair. Girl, sit down. I just got started. When taking into consideration food pairings, I know some of you will scoff me for choosing a raspberry fruit cake with a brut instead of a demi-sec, but hey, it was my 26th birthday, so I can pair it with cream cheese foie gras dipped in Satan’s blood if I damn well please.
Average price: 35 EUR
Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2011
Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Little dark one did it again! In this case, it’s a shame to call Brunello little because it has tons to offer including elements that will blow you away for eternity. Medium garnet red. Subtle nose showing top-level aromas of black/red fruit (sour cherry, raspberry, blackcurrant, plum), leather, dark chocolate and sweet spices. Dry with an opulent structure, medium (+) acidity and generous tannins. Deep, complex, well-balanced with a long finish that gives the spotlight to secondary aromas and a hint of bitterness. If you can’t resist, drink it now, but to truly understand what this Tuscan classic has to offer, leave it in the cellar for 10-15 years.
Average price: 45 EUR
Cantine san Marzano Primitivo di Manduria Talo 2013
Deep ruby red. Subtle nose showing notes of black fruit and sweet spices with a hint of hot alcohol. Dry with a bit of residual sugar (maybe 3-3.5 g/L?). Medium acidity, high alcohol, displaying a magnificent syrupy texture. Very well-balanced in the mouth with medium tannins and a long finish. If you want to comprehend topography, this is it – a great reflection of heavily Mediterranean-influenced Puglia cooled down constantly by sea breezes and a high diurnal range. Spread this wine on your toast instead of blueberry jam in the morning. IWC silver medal, ridiculous price tag, a definite must-try.
Average price: 11 EUR
Librandi Ciro Bianco 2015
Ciro, Calabria, Italy
Pale lemon. Great nose reminiscent of late spring – white flowers, minerality, citrus fruit and green apple. Dry with a medium acidity, smooth texture, medium alcohol and superb balance. On the palate, the wine seems to last for an eternity (I wish it did that in the cellar too). Crisp finish and pronounced green fruit with a hint of bitterness that’s surprisingly well-integrated. This white Greco gets a significant place in my book, because it’s the first white from southern Italy (after cca 50 tasted wines) that I truly enjoyed. Alongside that, overthinking a food pairing is not an issue here, because the generic white meat-white wine match applies perfectly here. Greco Bianco, you the real MVP.
Average price: 7 EUR
Written by Aleksandar Draganić.
I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad