From holiday parties to New Year’s countdowns, the season’s state of wine is typically all things bubbly. And while we love Champagne, Prosecco and everything in between, we think it’s important to give America’s most popular wine type its proper due. So let’s toast the red-hot reds of Total Wine & More’s top 10 red wines for 2015. Whether you’re taking a break from last-minute shopping, writing up your resolutions or curling up in front of a roaring fire, our list has a red wine for every occasion.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s top wine grapes and for good reason. Aficionados love the wine’s rich and delicious flavors. Winemakers love it for the same reason, and it doesn’t hurt that the hearty skin of the grape makes it resistant against rot and frost and more accommodating to a variety of climates. While it first achieved acclaim in Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon has enjoyed equal if not greater success in California, helping wineries like Caymus and Stags’ Leap become titans in the industry. This year, our top red is Montoya Cabernet from the famed Napa Valley. Like all great Cabernets, Montoya offers an abundance of dark fruit flavors, including blackberry, plum and currant. It’s perfect for a hearty winter meal of grilled steak.
Why do so many people love Pinot Noir? Thanks to its traditionally light-bodied nature, it’s very easy to drink. Its typical flavor profile of red fruits, such as cherry and cranberry, only add to its drinkability. And last, but certainly not least, it pairs well with just about any food, from beef to poultry to fish. The second spot on our list belongs to Domaine Loubejac Pinot Noir, which hails from the Willamette Valley, one of Oregon’s most talked-about wine-producing regions. With flavors of black cherry, raspberry, sweet herbs and rose petals, it is a delight to drink from start to finish.
Rounding out the top three, we chose a wine that is a testament to the winemaking power of South America. The Malbec grape made its way from France to the Andean foothills of Argentina in the 19th century and has been dominating the country’s wine industry ever since. Flichman Malbec Tupungato represents the extraordinary value Malbec wines have to offer. An intense, full-bodied wine, it boasts big flavors of black fruits, licorice and pepper with a spicy finish.
Our list also showcases great reds from Marche, Italy; Rioja, Spain; Bordeaux, France and other world-class wine regions. So this holiday season, stop by Total Wine & More and make room in your cart for our favorite reds.
We asked our friend Panos Kakaviatos of Wine Chronicles to recount his days this year at en primeurs week (or “wine futures” week) to help bring our readers to latest information on the 2014 vintage from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Port. In this segment, he offers his assessment of 2014’s Bordeaux reds.
As we understood from vintage reports, high acidity and tannin are hallmarks of the barrel samples tasted in both white and red, with an exceptional Indian Summer tending to favor Cabernets, both Sauvignon and Franc. So, it’s a Cab year, right? Well, hold your horses.
Let’s start with the Merlot-driven Right Bank. The word “freshness” describes the best wines here, which may not please palates in search of dark colors, higher alcohol and extracted oak tannins. Happily for lovers of vivacity, it was harder to make those wines in 2014.
Take for example the premier grand cru classé Saint Emilion Château Pavie Macquin – which in 2009 reached 15.5% alcohol and tasted heavy-handed. In 2014, it came across as downright fresh and delicious. By the same token, Château Corbin – an excellent grand cru classé – delights the senses, with 13% alcohol and remarkable freshness plus Saint Emilion style richness. I prefer it to the impressive 2010, which clocked in at 15% alcohol. My two overall Saint Emilion favorites: Château Canon and Cheval Blanc. Other successes include Clos Fourtet, Berliquet and Canon La Gaffeliere.
Pomerol barrel samples seemed more homogenous than in Saint Emilion. Having the right soils that would permit Merlots to ripen as slowly as possible into the Indian Summer was important as was leaf-clearing in August to maximize ripening. Clearing leaves off the vines heightens exposure to the sun. It can be a risky practice. What if vintners clear the leaves and then a heat wave grills the grapes? Luckily that did not happen in August and leaf-clearing did the trick for some estates.
Vieux Château Certan, for one glorious example, ranks as one of best wines of 2014, Left Bank included. As owner Alexandre Thienpont remarked: it took two days of September sun to equal one day of August. “It was a cool year, but the grapes ripened slowly,” he remarked. The Merlots were rich, perfumed, vinous yet bright. Thienpont says that 2014 is not necessarily a Cabernet vintage. Tasting his fantastic barrel sample proved his point.
The ultra pricey Petrus was excellent, exuding underlying grip and power with violet floral lift. Former director Jean Claude Berrouet along with son Olivier, who is director, said that 2014 reminded him of the 1975 for the tannins and the 1978 for the late summer. He stressed the need to not use too much new oak (50%) and to be gentle with extractions to get quality tannins.
Other top Pomerols included Château La Fleur Petrus for its refinement and tannic edgea, and smooth and delicate finish; Château Trotanoy for its darker fruit, foreboding nose and mid-palate juiciness leading to a rather muscular finish; the fresh, suave yet also substantial and structured La Conseillante and a rich, nuanced and bright Clos L’Eglise.
Among economically priced wines: a surprisingly strong performance from a usually under-performing Château La Cabanne.
Image courtesy Laure Marie Ducloy
Regal Left Bank, but not all Medocs are created equal
While I co-hosted a cru bourgeois tasting in Ventimiglia (Italy) shortly after en primeur week with François Nony, owner of Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, he remarked that one needed to appreciate how August rainfall varied across Medoc appellations. It was greater for example in Margaux (82mm) as opposed to Saint Julien (52mm) and Saint Estephe (61mm). Could that explain why Margaux seemed a bit more hit-and-miss than its more northern neighbours? The very best Margaux did not seem to reach the heights of the very best Pauillacs and Saint Estephes.
The most successful Left Bank wines managed to combine power with subtle elegance, fully integrating the vintage’s high acidity, including a supreme Château Latour (perhaps the very best from the Left Bank), a refined and subtle Lafite Rothschild, a brooding yet nuanced Mouton Rothschild, a thoroughly charming Pichon Comtesse de Lalande, and perhaps my favorite “luxury brand” from the Medoc, when factoring price: the momentous and thoroughly refined Château Montrose, whose barrel sample was smooth, nuanced and deep, sustained by vivaciousness coming from the vintage’s high acidity. It reminded me of the 2005 en primeur but with more charm, and even with some robustly ripe aspects of the 2009, with greater freshness. If the price is right, I am buying six bottles sans hesitation. Other fine examples include Lynch Bages, Grand Puy Lacoste, Beychevelle and Langoa Barton, which may be the best I have ever had from that estate.
The Medoc features countless bargains as well, from an excellent Château Pibran – ripe and with tannic grip – to a smooth, savory and red fruit fresh Château Lanessan.
Smooth and supple Graves – for the most part
In the Graves region, the barrel samples seemed slightly patchier than in the Medoc, but most were good to very good. Château Haut Brion reigns supreme. Its 14.25% alcohol is balanced by relatively high acidity, making it fresher than La Mission. Its nose exuded crushed tobacco freshness with red and black fruit, preceding a palate that was subtle yet full bodied, with high tannin and acidity – and I loved the frank and long tonic finish.
I admired the structure and aromatics of Château Haut Bailly. The barrel sample highlighted the tannic structure, but aging will soften the wine into something special indeed. More evidently appealing – and perhaps the red of the region, when factoring in price – is Domaine de Chevalier. Its barrel sample gave off a lovely expression of ripe, red and black fruit in a lively attack leading to a medium plus body, marked by vivacity and high-intensity flavors. Château Smith Haut Lafitte continues a happy trend towards greater freshness combined with ripe tannins – and less new-oak flavors. Successful economically priced brands include a smooth and fresh Clos Floridene and a fresh and a more-seriously-structured-than-is-usual Château Carbonnieux.
Top Ten Reds (When Budget Is Not An Issue)
Château Montrose: Very smooth, nuanced and deep yet sustained by vivaciousness no doubt coming from high acidity. The barrel sample reminded me of the 2005 en primeur, but with more charm. It also had ripe aspects similar to the 2009, but with greater freshness. If the price is right, I am buying six bottles without hesitation – and you should, too! Only 47% of the harvest went to the first wine, made up of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot with 13.7% alcohol and being aged in 60% new oak. Wine of the vintage category. 94-96
Château Latour: This reminded me a bit of the 2004 but with more power and greater ripeness. Some tasters with more experience compared it to the 1996, which, readers may recall, also featured a fine Indian Summer after a cool August. And yet, numbers indicate riper fruit in 2014 as compared to 1996. The wine exuded a veritable cornucopia of cranberry freshness, dark cassis and a touch of blackberry, ripe and powerful, with tannic backbone and grip on the subtle yet broad mid-palate. The briskness on the long finish coming from high acidity gave the wine elegance and lift: a tour de force and perhaps the very best barrel sample of the Left Bank. 94-96+
Château Mouton Rothschild: Tobacco and cassis on the nose. Rich, powerful and ample – as a first-growth Pauillac should be! Here we have some differences of opinion when I tasted it along with merchants and fellow wine hacks. While some are not as excited about Mouton in 2014, I found the barrel sample memorable as it combined foreboding tannin from a vintage like 1986, as director Philippe Dhalluin noted, with more evident ripeness, somewhat like the 1996, but larger-scaled – and made from better vineyard selection than from the 90s era. Something special is afoot here. Made with 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 93-95
Château Lafite-Rothschild: Breed and elegance define Lafite in 2014. And that should surprise no one. I recall tasting the 2005 from barrel, subtler than many other wines tasted. At the time, director Charles Chevalier said that marathon runners do not reveal their best so early in the race. Indeed, 2014 is quite an accomplishment at this estate. Notes of cedar and cassis and an ultra silky palate combine with impressive structure for the long haul. It will be interesting to see which Rothschild could “come out on top”, but they are neck in neck, with their respective styles showing well. 93-95
Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande: One of the most successful wines of the vintage, exuding orange rind like freshness, cassis and lots of crackling red fruit. It conveys an overall sense of purity and elegance, with loads of juiciness on the full-bodied palate, as well managed high-tannin and high-acidity lending structure and lift on the long finish. Tasted with fellow hacks and members of the trade at the château, we were all impressed. 92-95
Château Ducru Beaucaillou: Like Léoville Las Cases, this wine is more Pauillac like with noticeable tannin. But it has a silkier texture often detected at this estate. The attack envelops the palate, certainly full-bodied, with pure expressions of ripe red and dark fruits. The barrel sample showcases more structure than charm, but there is much depth and an echoing finish. The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon has high tannin that barrel aging should soften into something quite special. 92-94+
Petrus: Petrus reminded me of the 2005 en primeur. Perhaps not quite as vivid, but it displays a similar combination of fresh and bright red fruit, and substantial yet suave tannin that gives the wine structure for the long haul. There is an overall impression of sheer elegance – and addictive drinkability (how I wish it were more accessible!) – leading to a long, sneaky finish. A most impressive showing of Merlot that is not over extracted, and being aged in only 50% new oak: wine of the vintage candidate. 94-96
Vieux Château Certan: Certainly along with Montrose on the Left Bank, this counts as a top candidate of 2014. Why? De-leafing was carried out in specific vineyards to enhance ripening during the uneven summer. A cool vintage, said owner Alexandre Thienpont, but a long ripening process that lead to fine maturity – and very smooth tannins but never too glossy in texture. The Merlots are rich, perfumed, vinous and bright and nearly 20% Cabernet Franc lends backbone and length. The texture is silky and substantial at the same time, and the balance is excellent with high acidity (nearly 3.7 grams per liter) and alcohol (13.5%). Gorgeous. 93-95+
Château La Conseillante: As with neighbor Vieux Château Certan, this estate de-leafed to accentuate ripening in the summer, which was cool and only moderately sunny. Merlots were picked in late September, so that the fruit would be ripe enough but not overripe (due to the cool August). The high quality was so uniform that very little second wine (only 12% of the harvest) was made. La Conseillante conveys lovely fresh red and black fruits, from cranberry to ripe plum, with crackling freshness. The mid-palate is marked by excellent concentration and so one has the impression of a full-bodied wine that remains vivacious and with verve, leading to a lifting and long finish. Bravo! Aging in 75% new oak, with 78% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc and 13.5% alcohol. 92-95
Château Haut Brion (red): Slightly lower alcohol at 14.25% yet same high acidity as La Mission, this comes across as fresher and more suave, which is usually the case when comparing the two. The nose conveys crushed tobacco freshness with clean red and black fruit. The palate is subtle yet full bodied, with lovely balance achieved among high tannin, acidity and ripe fruit. I love the frank and long tonic finish. Should turn out to be superb with barrel aging. 93-95+