Red Wine of the Year: Rocca Delle Macie Rubizzo
Grapes: Sangiovese grosso (95 percent), merlot (5 percent)
Region: Tuscany, Italy
White Wine of the Year: Dona Paula Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc
Grape: Sauvignon blanc
Region: Mendoza, Argentina
The year 2012 was interesting in terms of wine. California wines are back in favor with consumers, after some years of romancing wines from Australia, Chile and Spain, among others.
It wasn't an issue of love, more of pricing. Imported wines were sold into the U.S. from countries with currencies weaker than the dollar and were competitively priced. So, California wines started looking pretty expensive on average. Throw greed into the mix, and California producers got way ahead of themselves.
As the dollar fell in value against those other currencies and California producers woke up from their golden dreams, the market shifted and consumers wanted to look at domestically produced wines again, albeit at a much lower price.
The nationally "accepted" benchmark seems to be $15 to $20. But in many markets, especially here in Las Vegas, we are able to find loads of great California wines for less than $10. Nevertheless, all of these factors were not enough for me to pick a California wine for this column; the honors instead go to Italy and Argentina, both with very strong showings during the year.
In the past year, I have tasted about 1,340 wines to determine the 52 that would make it into this weekly column. There were 41 red wines and eight white wines, as well as the bubblies from last week's column and one earlier this year. With a ratio of roughly 5-to-1 red-to-whites, I found more tasty white wines this year than in the past. Ten countries and 23 distinct viticultural regions were represented. America came out on top again with 15 wines, ahead of Italy (11) and France (10).
That highlights the continued excellent prices on good Old World wines in the U.S. market, despite the now stronger euro. It also shows that domestic wines continue to be a big part of the wine drinking culture of America and that prices for domestic wines on average have decreased dramatically.
As for the Wines of the Year, the selection criteria for being given this top honor is: quality, value, breed and overall experience, as well as availability.
Here are the Red Wine and White Wine of the Year, as well as a couple of runners-up in each category:
The Red Wine of the Year is the classic Rocca Delle Macie Rubizzo 2010, which is a wine that I particularly showed fondness for after it beat $40-plus bottles from a peer-group in a blind tasting. From my July 11 review: "Sergio Zingarelli, the owner of this famous Tuscan estate, is an old hand at producing delicious and early drinkable classic Italian wines."
The tasting notes read, in part: " There is powerful black fruit, dominated by wild black cherries, loganberries, crushed blackberries and even some anise and mineral notes right off the bat, then underlying and quite supple hints of spice, wood and earth. The wine is very progressive in its black fruit flavors, dominated by crushed black morello cherries, but retains the typical Tuscan rounded, yet rustic cherry character without ever giving an impression of losing its suppleness or balance."
This is a lovely and classy Tuscan wine, and it meets all the criteria necessary to become the Red Wine of the Year for 2012, including great availability in retail stores.
■ Red runners-up: Unbelievable Dry Red Wine NV is a tremendous value from South Africa for less than $6 (Review-Journal column of July 18), and D'Arenberg The Stump Jump 2009 from Australia is always a killer wine for less than $9 and very easy for all meats (May 9).
The White Wine of the Year is Dona Paula Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Argentina. It was $8.99 when I reviewed it on Aug. 1, but it has been reduced in the market to only $5.99, giving consumers a little extra holiday joy.
In my review, I wrote: "After tasting through a flight of generally nicely balanced sauvignon blancs from all over the world, I settled on this one."
The tasting notes read: " There is fine citrusy and mineral-laden white fruit dominated by white currants, stone fruit, grapefruit and white grape, with hints of chalk and limestone as well as hints of Key lime pie and lemon Greek yogurt. It is such a pleasant white wine full of zesty citrus fruit, Mirabelle plums, white currants and touches of Granny Smith apples. The midpalate is where that classic integrated acidity comes to the fore and really gets the saliva activated, going into a solid and well-balanced limelike lingering finish."
■ White runners-up: Ramon Bilbao Rias Baixas Albarino 2010 from Spain beautifully represents the fantastic Albarinos for less than $10 (Feb. 29) and the crisp Contadino Pinot Grigio Vivace 2011 from Italy (Aug. 8) shows why you shouldn't pay $20 for pinot grigio.
We can look forward to yet another year of great values. Consumers have voted with their wallets. There are so many awesome wine choices for less than $10 - that beat more expensive wines in tastings - that there's simply no reason for forking out more for everyday drinking wines. Pure enjoyment is the name of the game.
Gil Lempert-Schwarz's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write him at P.O. Box 50749, Henderson NV 89106-0749, or email him at email@example.com.