Vintage Ink, Reggae Rhapsody chosen as wines of the year

This year was a roller-coaster ride for wine. In the spring, many new records were set for the world’s finest and rarest, but as we came through the summer and into fall, it all came tumbling down. Although prices have dropped, they are still higher than they were a few years ago.

Despite the economic crisis, the average wine lover continues to buy more bottles in retail. People still want to find the great values, and that is one of the key tasks of this column.

I have tasted more than 1,000 wines in order to determine the 52 that would make it into this column. There were 41 red wines, nine white wines and two Champagnes. This year I reviewed more white wines than I have in years past. Eleven countries and distinct viticultural regions were represented, but the United States came out on top in 2008 with 19 wines, representing roughly one-third of all wines reviewed. American wines also had the advantage on pricing, because imports have increased with the falling dollar.

Wines of the year are based on quality, value, breed and overall experience.

The red wine of the year is Vintage Ink 2005 from California, one of those bottles for less than $10 that overachieves. It was reviewed on March 19: “It is easy to make bad wine, but much more difficult to get it just right, the way Vintage Ink does here. But we have to remember that 2005 was the most successful vintage in the world, and just about anything you can find in wine from that year is going to be worth your time. …

“With all the fruit and freshness, it is a wine that clearly plays on the American palate, but it also has a serious enough structure that the grapes must have come from excellent vineyards.” It is a great drinking wine, and has good availability in retail.

Runners-up for red wines are Layer Cake Shiraz 2006, which is a stellar example of Australian shiraz at its best for less than $15 (reveiwed April 23) and Clos de Los Siete 2005, which is made by Michel Rolland in Argentina (reviewed Feb. 6).

The white wine of the year is Reggae Rhapsody 2006, crafted by two talented winemakers from Las Vegas: Chris Hammond and Sonny Barton. It was reviewed on April 30: “Their concept is that every wine has a characteristic that can be described as a type of music. Zinfandels are heavy rock, chardonnays are soft lounge music and this Reggae Rhapsody is a mellow blend of different white grape varietals perfect for drinking while listening to reggae music. …

“There is a harmoniously fine balance between fruit and acidity in Reggae Rhapsody, that coupled with the soft midpalate and good, firm finish punctuated by pears and marionberry extract, make it eminently drinkable. This wine is made for the music made famous by Bob Marley and should provide considerable relief from the sun, if served at 58 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Runners-up among the white wines are the delicious and inexpensive Bex Riesling 2005 from Germany (reveiwed May 21) and the superbly valued Makulu Moscato 2007 from South Africa (reviewed June 4), which really showcases this popular style of wine in a nice bottle for less than $6.

We face a tough year ahead, but rest assured that I will continue my quest to unearth excellent bottles of wine at the greatest possible value.

I wish you a prosperous and happy new year.

Gil Lempert-Schwarz’ wine column appears Wednesdays. Write him at P.O. Box 50749, Henderson, NV 89016-0749 or e-mail him at gil@winevegas.com

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