We had the pleasure of chatting with Wilfred Wong, BevMo’s cellar master, this week about his favorite wines of the year and what it’s like to have the best job in the business (seriously — he visits France, Chile, Argentina, and more every year and tastes thousands of wines on each trip). He started at BevMo in August of 1995 as the import wine buyer and now, as cellar master, he scores about 8,000 wines/year for the retailer. Bevmo shoppers will be thrilled to know that the ‘WW’ on wine ratings around the store is, in fact, a real person.
Wilfred gave us a quick primer on how he utilizes the 100 point scale to score wines in a systematic way. These top ten wines are all members of the illustrious “90+ point club,” which means that they all possess the characteristics of not only their respective grapes, but also of their appellations, vineyards, and even sections of vineyards. And while many of the wines on this list don’t hail from Napa Valley, Wilfred said that he is seeing a positive shift in the quality of the wines coming out of Napa. In a phenomenon he calls “so weird,” winemakers seem to be making their best wines ever, and not “cheating” by leaving residual sugar or making “koolaid” wines anymore (Mr. Wong tells it like it is, folks).
One more point before we get to this list: the BevMo team is very excited to be opening their new store in the Westgate Mall in San Jose. It opens today (December 9), and the first 500 guests will receive $25 gift certificates, with ten lucky customers getting a whopping $100 off of their holiday hauls today. Now, on to the list!
#10. 2007 Markham Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot
Ah, the much maligned Merlot. Despite Sideways’ slaughter of this noble Bordeaux varietal (“I’m not drinking any $%&#ing merlot!”), it can be delicious, though Napa’s recent attempts at the grape have been pretty darn shabby. That being said, 2007 was a great vintage in Napa and Wilfred Wong is absolutely blown away by this effort from Markham.
#9. 2010 Gina Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo
Mr. Wong actually first tasted this Italian wine in Germany, of all places, while working on the blend with its importer. He said it is an elegant, well-balanced wine that seriously out-performs its $12.99 pricetag.
#8. 2010 Chateau St. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling ‘Eroica’
This wine is actually a partnership between Washington State’s Chateau St. Michelle and Germany’s Dr. Loosen. We’re big fans of both Chateau St. Michelle and Dr. Loosen’s individual offerings, so it’s not surprising that Wilfred really enjoys the Eroica. Only slightly sweet, this is a great wine for pairing with all of those holiday turkeys.
#7. 2007 Brown Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel
Wilfred calls Brown Estate one of the “great wineries of California,” run by a family that loves what they do and consistently turns out exceptional wines. Like the Markham merlot, this wine is another example of how 2007 was a vintage that made all of Napa’s grapes shine, not just the Cabernet Sauvignon.
#6. NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé
This wine is a huge favorite of sommeliers and wine buyers. While definitely priced for a special occasion, it’s a festive and ‘frisky’ wine that pairs well food. It’s not a party unless there are some pink bubbles.
#5. 2009 Domaine Philippe Livera Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Villages Reserve Vieilles Vignes
Full of black fruit flavors, Wilfred called this the best Gevrey-Chambertin he has ever had. Enough said.
#4. 2010 Zinnia Santa Barbara County Reserve Pinot Noir
This Pinot Noir is the result of a partnership between Testarossa Winery and BevMo. While Wilfred might be a tiny bit biased on the scoring of this wine given the fact that he had quite a hand in its making, he made a point of telling us that this wine is actually a favorite of many of the wine specialists in the BevMo stores.
#3. 2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Remember how we said that Wilfred is blown away by recent Napa Valley wines? Here’s proof. He has been a fan of Duckhorn’s wines since 1978 (a thirty year winning streak is pretty impressive) and says that this one is one of the best he can remember. It possesses amazing richness, and more of the secondary soil aromas and flavors than its Napa brothers and sisters.
#2. 2000 Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine Carneros Cuvee
Wilfred’s ‘aha!’ moment with this wine happened at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in a pairing with paella. ‘Late disgorged,’ meaning the wine stayed in contact with the used yeasts longer than usual, it has all sorts of toasty, biscuity, creamy flavors. This is definitely a contender for our champagne flutes when we’re ringing in 2012.
#1. 2008 Altocedro Mendoza Gran Reserva Malbec
It was evening in Mendoza, at Altocedro (probably after a meal of so-tender-it-makes-you-cry Argentinian beef) that Wilfred sipped this wine, turned to his colleague, and said “I’m going to give this wine 99 points.” And he did.
Note to our non California/Arizona readers: while you may not be able to buy these wines at BevMo, you can certainly track them down at your local specialty wine shop. We recommend using wine-searcher to track them down!