1 – Château Pavie, 2005 France
This beauty has been the leader in my clubhouse for two straight years! It is no secret that I am much more attracted to the merlot-reliant right bank (Pomerol and Saint-Emilion) Bordeauxs than the left bank cabernet-reliant Bordeauxs. Château Pavie is not only my favorite right banker but might also be my favorite Bordeaux period, including first-growth Bordeauxs like Latour and Rothchild. I’ve had 1998, 2000, 2005, and 2010 and they have all been special… phenomenal really! I find Pavie to be on the lighter side of the Bordeaux spectrum, but its elegance is undeniable. Dense, intense, concentrated, yet elegant fruit with a deep beautiful color and wonderful aromatics. As always, Pavie is ridiculously perfectly balanced with well-defined fruit and an exceptional silky-smooth finish.
2 – Château Pavie, 2010 France
What can I say that has not already been said? This is a mouth-watering wine! 2010, despite its youthful spirit, was still dense and intense yet elegant and displayed that silky smooth finish.
3 – Château Angelus, 2009 France
Another Saint-Emilion beauty! This one had been on my bucket list for some time. So when I saw it on the wine list at Klaw Miami, I had to order it. Props to Kevin, the restaurant’s manager, for discounting the bottle a bit so I could sleep better that night. Ridiculous fruit, this full-bodied Bordeaux displayed silky smooth tannins with low acidity… a staple in high-end Saint-Emilion bottles. I am in love!
4 – Sine Qua Non Le Chemin Vers l’Heresie Grenache, 2015 USA
Further evidence that no one makes grenache in the USA like SQN! In fact, in my opinion, this is now a world-class grenache! This beauty presents as 75% grenache, deep radiant purple, and an absolute stud on the nose. Notes of black cherry and black olives controlled the palate. This is a bottle that, no doubt, had at least another decade to go to stretch its legs fully. As with most SQNs, I enjoyed this one at home. I find that decanting SQN for at least 3hrs is best, and that is practically impossible to do in a restaurant, not even at Michelin-starred Per Se restaurant! (A story for another day).
5 – Pluribus Bond, 2005 USA
“Holy shit” is all I have to say! Brought by a friend to celebrate my birthday (we all need friends like this), this fantastic vino was the most impressive 2005 cabernet I have ever had. In my humble opinion, 2005 Napa cabernets are nearly undrinkable unless accompanied by a thick steak. So fruit and alcohol forward, this vintage has disappointed repeatedly with its unnecessary boldness and unbalanced finish. Yet, the Pluribus was the best 2005 I have ever had, drinking more like a bottle of 5+ years older. Incredible composure with an unusual licorice finish usually reserved for a Bordeaux from Medoc.
6 – Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, 2010 France
This producer makes my absolute favorite Bordeaux from St. Julien. Yeah… yeah… yeah… I should have waited another decade before opening this puppy. Well, you know what? I am glad I didn’t. First, it was stunning. Second, I have had 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintages of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, and it may have been the best I’ve had from this Château. Always two grapes and two grapes only: 90-95% cabernet and 5-10% merlot. Sometimes perfection means simplicity.
7 – Promontory, 2008 USA
Give me Cardinale, Hundred Acre, Bond, or Promontory, and I am a happy man when it comes to Napa cabernet sauvignon. I believe this 2008 was the first vintage released by Promontory, made in the most beautiful winery in Napa Valley off the hills of Oakville. Bold, high in tannins, and purposefully dry; this is easily the best vintage of Promontory I have ever had (and The Whet Palette’s favorite cab).
8 – Hundred Acre Precious, 2005 USA
Another surprisingly beautiful cabernet from 2005. Mr. Robert Parker once described this vintage as “powerful and gorgeous” and, despite my past experiences with 2005 Napa cabs, I have to agree with him regarding the 2005 Bond and Hundred Acre.
9 – Kapcsandy State Lane Vineyard Estate Cuvee, 2008 USA
I am a fan! After visiting their winery early in the year, I can’t get enough of this wine producer. It presents as a 68% cabernet with 22% merlot, and it’s the definition of Napa elegance with hints of chocolate and blackberries and a world-class finish.
10 – Domaine Michel Magnien Morey-Saint-Denis 1st Cru Aux Charmes, 2001 France
This Burgundy was stunning in every way. Unreal structure with a hint of a spicy finish. We paired it with some of the best omakase in the USA, and it was every bit as good as we could have imagined. Moreover, although I have not confirmed, I believe this bottle was certified organic.
QUICK NOTE: Unpredictably, my top 10 was not as French-heavy as I expected, with only five of the top 10 coming from the 2nd place-finishing country at the World Cup. But I did have some American whales this year with Bond, Promontory, Hundred Acre, SQN, and Kapcsandy. To my Mbappe fans, relax. You will not find any Argentinean wines on my list this year.
11 – Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 USA
I know. I know! How can this bottle be ranked ahead of some of the amazing wines listed below? Sometimes, our palates work better than on other days, which may be what happened this night. But, sometimes, a particular bottle shows up in a way it never has before. I have had at least 20 bottles of Cardinale cabernet sauvignon in my lifetime. I love this winemaker, and as far as Napa cabernets go, few have surpassed this beauty. On this night, with my perfect NY Strip, courtesy of Chef Fenton of Bourbon Steak in Aventura (FL), this bottle showed up in the best of ways. Just a brilliant representation of what a Napa cabernet can be if done right, with patience, love, attention to detail, and with a hint of merlot (9%) to bring in that rich color and structure.
12 – Château Haut-Bailly, 2009 France
In easy terms to understand, it is perfection! Rich, complex, delicate, refined, with an extraordinary finish. I can go on and on, as Robert Parker did when he gave this puppy 100pts.
13 – Château Batailley, 2005 France
So good that a month later, we were at Fiola in DC, and, having seen this same vintage in their wine list, we jumped all over it. And I am glad we did as it was every bit as good, which often is not the case, given our palates are not always functioning the same. I happen to love wines from Pauillac due to the firm structure they present themselves in, and, almost always, this region offers some of the best aromatic wines from the left bank of Bordeaux. Again, over 20% merlot provides that impressive structure yet softness we have all become accustomed to in wines from Pauillac. Thank you, Adrian Lopez, the sommelier at Ariete, for the fantastic recommendation! I got home that night and ordered five bottles from an auction house in NYC.
14 – Napa Valley Reserve by Harlan, 2003 USA
If you don’t know about Napa Valley Reserve, it is a very exclusive club with 500+ members. One of the perks is that the members enjoy exclusive bottles made only for them by some of the better winemakers in the valley. As Bill Harlan once said: “Capturing the whole season of work in a bottle of wine is a fulfilling one that all members across the globe will be able to enjoy many years down the road.” This unique and exclusive bottle, made under the William Harlan label, was the best representation of what a Napa cabernet can be. Bold yet elegant. Dry yet playful. Fruity yet not overly sweet, all largely due to the perfect balance achieved between acidity (sour aspect of a wine) and tannins (bitterness of a wine). Sadly, a balance so many Napa cabernets lack.
15 – Antinori Solaia, 1998 Italy
It’s not common for an Italian wine to crack my list, but this intense and complex Tuscan blend perfectly balanced softer tannins and a generous finish. I truly enjoyed the complex layers that this wine presented for us.
16 – Hundred Acre Ark, 2008 USA
My buddy not only brought the Pluribus (see above) from Bond but also this gorgeous 2008 Ark. I don’t even know what to say about Hundred Acre, or my thoughtful friend for that matter, anymore. Every bottle I have ever opened has been worth its price of admission, which admittedly is not cheap. Always massive, bold, yet perfectly balanced, and always presenting an extraordinary nose. This winemaker has been hitting it out of the park for the last two decades, unlike my Yankees in the post-season.
17 – Château L’Evangile, 2008 France
Another right banker from Pomerol! Presents as 88% merlot and 12 cabernet franc, this is a beautiful dark and dense wine, with a fuller-than-usual body, especially given its very soft yet dense tannins. A stunner!
18 – Promontory, 2012 USA
A much softer vintage than, say, 2008 (and 2010 I had in 2021), it lacked a bit of depth in the layers, but this heavy-plumed full-bodied cabernet was delicate and balanced, delivering a phenomenal long finish.
19 – Schrader Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, 2005 USA
Powerful comes to mind. A concentrated bomb that, once allowed to take in some oxygen, relaxed considerably, allowing those tannins to soften and provide a strong yet delicate finish.
20 – Dal Forno Romano Amarone della Valpolicella, 2013 Italy
This amarone was everything I have always heard an amarone should be yet never had been. So when I dished out $325 for this bottle, I had my reservations. But I am glad I did, as I had been enjoying the $90-$120 Dal Forno wines for years and wanted to try this one. Most Americans drink amarone for the boldness of the wine that compares similarly to the average Napa cabernet sauvignon. Most amarone wines I had before were too bold, almost repulsive (like spicy food that gets its flavor from an added ingredient at the end of the process rather than from a slow-cooked element that seeps into the food creating a balanced attack on our taste buds). With this amarone, I got that slow-cooked and beautiful peppery notes with a hint of cinnamon. Well balanced, no doubt, but I recommend that this wine be consumed with food. As a standalone, it might be too bold with no room for error.
QUICK NOTE: Two Italian wines cracked my top 20 this year. Not surprisingly, 2022 marked our return to Italia after more than two decades. Now, if they could just qualify for a World Cup!
21 – Cappellano Otin Fiorin Nebioli, 2004 Italy
Another Italian wine? I had the 2016 about a month earlier in Piedmont, Italy, and I wasn’t as impressed. The wine drank extremely young, lacking complexity and finish. This 2004 was so different, displaying unique floral aromas yet drinking extremely earthy and delicate. So good I am left searching for this hard-to-get wine; I must have some!
22 – Bond Vecina, 2006 USA
Near perfection Bordeaux blend from the hills of Oakville, Napa Valley. Perfect balance between the dark black fruit and delicate finish. Outstanding blend from the Harlan family.
23 – Tenuta Dell Ornellaia, 1998 Italy
I will say that I drank this one side-by-side with the 1998 Masseto, and the Oernellaia was ridiculous. Immediately my palate took me to Château L’Evangile in Pomerol, France. How could that be? I later found out that not only was this the wine’s best vintage, but per Wine Spectator, 1998 displayed an unusual Pomerol-like minerality with that velvety smooth Pomerol-like finish. My palate is getting better!
24 – Château Montrose, 2008 (Magnum) France
I may be mistaken, but this is one of those producers that seems to have doubled their prices in the last 6-8 years. So, when I went to one of my favorite Coral Gables restaurants (Fiola), and they had a magnum for less than $300, I jumped all over that motherfucker… and boy, I did not regret it. As you might have noticed, the first thing I look for in a wine is structure, which is the balance between the nose, the body, and the finish of the vino. If I love a particular bottle from Bordeaux (left bank) or Napa, it seems as if it always contains a decent level of merlot. This vintage was 30% merlot, so I am not surprised I loved every minute of it. Fiola’s sommelier, Daniel Bishop, is always on point, and he did not disappoint in recommending this vintage.
25 – Château Figeac, 2009 France
Blown away by this wine’s aromatic complexity. Instant gratification before even putting a single ounce in my mouth! On the palate, just a wonderfully balanced wine. Lots of fresh fruit and, once again, that remarkable merlot contributing to a clean, silky finish. Fun fact: In 2022, Chateau Figeac received the much sought-after and coveted promotion to Premier Grand Cru Classe (Class) A. The only other Classe A vino from St. Emilion? Château Pavie, of course!
26 – Castello di Ama L’Apparita, 1996 Italy
Another Italian? Who am I? I guess it’s what happens when you travel to Italia. This merlot from Tuscany was so great I chose it as best in show in a tasting that had a 1998 Masseto. Dark fruit, a hint of cedar, and a beautiful finish.
27 – Cos D’Estournel, 2004 France
Another beauty from St. Estephe appellation. This region of Bordeaux seems to create wines with intense aromas of chocolate and, in some cases, licorice. This left bank beauty is mostly cabernet, although it typically contains 20-25% merlot, which explains its near-perfect structure as merlot is often used to add body yet softness to a blend. A very earthy wine with a very long finish though I expected more for this price point. After some research, I discovered this was not a great vintage for Cos, which is not surprising as it was part of a very expensive wine pairing at a two Michelin-starred restaurant. I often find restaurants don’t usually offer the best representation/vintage. Probably because 100pt vintages are harder to find and more expensive to acquire, which means a smaller profit margin for the restaurant.
28 – Château Le Bon Pasteur, 1994 France
A very inexpensive Bordeaux blend from Pomerol, this wine aged so gracefully with rich and complex fruit making a strong yet not overpowering presence. The finish was opulent, but the overall wine drank elegantly.
29 – Alzero Cabernet Jeneto, 2012 Italy
I am officially in love with producer Giuseppe Quintarelli. I couldn’t quite place what this winemaker was going for at first, given the boldness surrounding this blend. The next day, I did some research, only to find out that this producer has a unique way of making this bottle: passing its grapes (cabernet, merlot, and cabernet franc) through the life cycle of the Quintarelli’s amarone technique, producing a very unusually deep blend of red wine. Meaning a much bolder representation, like an amarone, of what one comes to expect from a blend. Six months later, we traveled to Piedmont, went to Quintarelli, and had the 2014. Not as stunning but did present with much softer tannins.
30 – Colgin, 2010 USA
Pretty rare these days that you’ll find me drinking Napa cabernets. But when a buddy brought Colgin, I had to try it. As a first-time Colgin drinker, the first thing that came to mind was…who is winemaker Allison Tauziet and does she make wines that are not $400+? This one was a beauty! Of course, Robert Parker would give this vintage 100pts. But, my lord, it was layers upon layers of flavors all working harmoniously to create a studly cabernet. Spectacular representation of what a Napa cabernet can be, but more often than is not.
QUICK NOTE: Italian wines dominated the next ten with four entries. If anyone reading this can get me some Cappellano Otin, I will be very appreciative.
31 – Tenuta Guado al Tasso, 1997 Italy
Another Italian wine! Compared to the 2000 Guado I had a few weeks earlier in Piedmont, Italy, this vintage was a stunning Bordeaux blend displaying intense cherry fruit with a perfectly balanced finish. I very much enjoyed the 2000 vintage in Alba. But this 1997 was much more complex and had an even better finish.
32 – Domaine Alain Michelot, La Richemone, Nuits-Saint-Georges, 2015 France
Another home run by sommelier Daniel Bishop of Fiola. I am a Burgundy rookie, but I love the exploratory process. I am finding that anything from Nuits-Saint-Georges will agree with my tastebuds, as has been the case thus far.
33 – Château Lafite-Rothschild, 1975 France
Surprisingly, the wine had plenty of fruit left. I say surprisingly because this was a 47-year-old bottle. We acquired this vino via auction and immediately put it to rest with the intent of drinking it two to three months down the road. While in the cellar, the cork gave out, and it began to leak. By the time we noticed, we had lost half the juice. We stood it up, and three hours later, we consumed it. The fruit was not the problem. In fact, it was one of the better experiences I’ve ever had with a bottle. It was the consistency that was a bit unpleasant. We filtered it the best we could, but it was still murky and thick. Perhaps we didn’t know how to do it right. The good thing is we bought two at auction!
34 – Château Branaire-Ducru, 2009 France
Based on 70% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, and the rest cabernet franc and petit verdot, this wine has a huge nose. Full-bodied, broad, expansive, and layered on the palate, it builds nicely with time in the glass, has sweet tannins, no hard edges, and a blockbuster finish—lovely wine at a great price point.
35 – Continuum, 2007 USA
Rich, aromatic, balanced, and outstanding! This proprietary red wine comes from the To Kalon vineyard, with a good percentage of its fruit coming from Pritchard Hill. This blend is dominated by 60% cabernet and drinks fresh with layers of complexity. Tim Mondavi making his father proud!
36 – Château Pontet-Canet, 2003 France
Always been a favorite of mine, and this was my first time drinking a 2003 vintage. As always, full-bodied yet refined and a silky, velvety smooth finish. Love with every sip!
37 – Nicolas Badel St.-Joseph Montrond, 2015 France
This Syrah/Shiraz from Rhone is one of my favorites. Considering the price point, it’s one of the best values around. As with most Syrah from Rhone, a highly perfumed nose followed by a spicy yet smooth finish.
38 – Château Olivier, 2000 France
This was a sexy medium-bodied Bordeaux with plenty of acidity and ripe tannins, making for a beautiful and pleasant finish.
39 – Clos du Mont-Olivet, 2014 France
In love with all Châteauneuf -du-Papes! With plenty of red fruit and a colossal nose, this one packed a beautiful finish despite its vibrant fruit.
40a – Dom Perignon Champagne, 2012 France
40b – Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas Francois Brut, 2007 France
40c Philippe Gonet Brut France
Yeah, again, my rules! These are the first non-reds to crack my list, and they were equally impressive. The Dom had a sensational nose, and presented an intense apricot minerality that enticed the palate. A perfect balance between acidity and bitterness. The Billecart-Salmon was bright, rich, elegant, and had great character. Subtle notes of citrus and a long floral finish made this Champagne a winner. Finally, the Philippe is made from chardonnay (90%) and pinot (10%), which makes for a striking Champagne full of depth while remaining pure to rosé.
41 – Château Latour, 2006 France
Always a treat to drink a first-growth Bordeaux. As usual, these wines are all incredibly well balanced with some of the best fruit money can buy. Of the five first-growth producers (Haut-Brion; Lafite Rothchild; Margaux; Mouton Rothchild; and Latour), for some reason, Latour seems to always be my least favorite. After drinking this 2006 vintage, I felt a bit disappointed. I looked it up, and sure enough, one of the lowest-ranking vintages. For me, it lacked the deep balance between boldness and softness that I have come to expect from a first-growth bottle. Still, although a bit too bold (i.e., fruit-forward), the fruit was vibrant even if the finish was not as smooth as expected.
42a – 2014 Saxum Broken Stones USA
42b – 2008 Saxum Broken Stones USA
Yeah, I am cheating, but this is my list! These bottles should be discussed together. In terms of the 2014 vintage, I have had this exact bottle at least three times this year. It is some of the best blended syrah the US has to offer, with an insanely rich minerality aspect to its juice. And, as typical good syrah goes, amazing notes of blue and red berries with that perfectly balanced spicy finish. Saxum Vineyard produces some of the best syrah and grenache in the country. Their Broken Stones are barreled for over 18 months in new French oak, thus producing a full-bodied; bold; and intense wine yet with superb elegance and balance. The 2008 was a bit heavier on the palate with a very bright fruit-forward finish.
43 Tokaj Hetszolo, 2004 Hungary
The fourth non-red cracking on my list, this jewel comes from a vineyard founded in 1502. Classified as premier cru in 1772, Tokaj Hetazolo was the estate of the Hapsburg Empire, and a year later, after the fall of communism, Hetszolo became the attention of the international world. This sweet dessert wine is the best I’ve had. Admittedly I have not had much dessert wine in my life, but the few I’ve tried include, amongst others, Chateau d’Yquem, Far Niente’s Dolce, and Darioush’s Shahpar. This 2004 bottle was dry, not overly sweet, and had a pleasing finish to the palate. Another fun fact about Tokaj Hetazolo is that in 2009, it was purchased by Michel Reybier, who owns Chateau d’Estournel.
44 – Tardieu-Laurent Saint-Joseph, 1997 France
A fairly young winery established in 1994, this southern Rhone beauty is from a very small producer, whose output is only about 20 barrels. But what makes this wine different is that Tardieu-Laurent does not own a vineyard nor buy grapes. Extremely unusual, but they purchase young wines (in barrels) from growers in Rhone, and they mature and blend their own before bottling. Well, this one was a home run!
45a – Chappellet Pritchard Hill, 2016 USA
45b – Chappellet Pritchard Hill, 2006 USA
Yeah, I am cheating again. These bottles were equally as good and should be discussed together. First, this is my favorite producer from Pritchard Hill (the region), as Chappellet has been nailing this cabernet year after year. Firm and concentrated, this pure cabernet is barrel aged for nearly two years before release, giving this wine a gorgeous structure, even for its younger releases. Thus, why 2016 drank so well that Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck had to give it 100pts. These two bottles are 10yrs apart, yet each presented an equally impressive composure with its usual black fruit and long concentrated finish.
46 – Château Leoville Barton,1996 France
A beautiful cabernet, although I have to admit, for its price tag ($300+), it has begun to lose a bit of its luster with me, and the 2006 one should have presented a bit more layers and complexity given its age. Medium-bodied with a hint of white pepper, all perfectly engulfed in a sea of vibrant red berry fruit. This 26-year-old Bordeaux blend was perfect and had plenty of fruit left.
47 – Domaine du Pegau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Reservee, 2001 France
A full-bodied and concentrated meaty blend with outstanding balance supported by notes of rich, vibrant blackberry fruit and wonderful aromatics.
48 – Masseto Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia, 1999 Italy
My first time trying this whale from Italia. It was bold, full-bodied, and the fruit was still going strong. However, I was a bit disappointed with its lack of composure and balance, thus, why it was not ranked higher. Yes, the fruit was as expected, but the wine lacked the certain refinement I expected from this producer and price point. Perhaps the 1998 Solaia that I had next to it simply blew the Masseto out of the water.
49 – Le Pergole Torte, 2016 Italy
This sangiovese from Tuscany is characterized by its dark red fruit and cherry-like palate, with a hint of a spicy finish. Unfortunately, the wine came with a lot of hype. Based on its price point, it did not deliver all the way. Perhaps it was its youthfulness. We also drank a 2018 Le Pergole Torte earlier in the year, the only one on a restaurant menu, and it was way too young. I need to get my hands on a 2016 vintage and put it to sleep for a decade.
50 – Chiarello Family Vineyards Eileen, 2009 USA
The Whet Palette preferred the “in your face” Bambino Cabernet, while I was always partial to the softer, less tannic Eileen. Both hard to find now. Either way, our last bottle from Chiarello Vineyards. Sad day!
Fifty in total, this year’s list was 24 French; 16 American; 9 Italian; and one other (Hungary). Some glaring bottles that didn’t make the list this year, amongst others, are 2016 Château Tablot (wasn’t right), 2013 L’Hermitage from Domaine Jean-Louis Chave (corked – I cried), 2014 Seavey (wasn’t right), several Quintarelli Amarone(s) (they can’t all make it), 2019 Scarecrow (surely too young/unimpressive), 2010 Vega Sicilia Unico (always overrated), 1999 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (not an accurate representation of other 1999s I’ve had), 2016 Ovid Syrah (lovely wine but too expensive for a Syrah), 2018 Burlotto Barolo Vigneto Cannubi (too young to be as impressive as it needed to be is my guess), 2016 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras (Mr. Hobbs is losing his touch), 2014 Outpost (don’t understand the hype, Mr. Parker), and several Châteauneuf-du-Papes.