Most memorable wine tastings of 2010

Since we are in the home stretch of 2010, it is time to write about my most memorable wines of the year. Can I do this off the top of my head without looking at pages and pages of notes? Any wine that leaves an indelible mark should be easy to recall, so I’m going to give it a try.

Oszvald Cellar Somlói Juhfark, 2006 (Somló, Hungary):
On a nasty, rainy June day in Budapest, I sat around a table with several colleagues and tasted through a selection of some of Hungary’s top wines. Our presenters were Carolyn and Gabor Banfalvi, who run wine and food tours throughout the country. We tried numerous wines that were nearly impossible to pronounce, but this is the one that garnered the most discussion.

The grape, juhfark, is an indigenous white varietal to the Somló Hill and is not grown anywhere else. Juhfark means “sheep’s tail,” and is named for the cylindrical formation of its clusters. Vibrant and fresh with a combination of mineral, grass, lemon meringue, green apples and raw almonds, I am hopeful that this trove is an indication of what we can expect from Hungarian wines in the future.

Heitz Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 (Napa Valley): I stopped off at the Heitz Cellars tasting room in September with a small crew, including a French friend and three Texans. I expected the cabernets to be good (see last week’s column), but the wine that took me by surprise — and blew away my guests — was the sauvignon blanc. This newest addition to the Heitz portfolio is not well-known — and for selfish reasons, I have reservations sharing this find. However, given the dearth of really good sauvignon blanc made in California, it is my obligation to put my readers first.

Bursting with zest, grapefruit, lemon, white peach, pineapple and kiwi flavors, subtle mineral notes and a long, tart finish, this is a must-try for those who like French and New Zealand renditions of the grape. Suggested retail: $19.99

Casa Ferreirinha Reserva, 1989 (Douro, Portugal):
Like the Douro as a region, Ferreira is widely known for its port. However, its offshoot, Casa Ferreirinha, makes the most-prestigious red wines in Portugal. Barca Velha, which has been called the Vega Sicilia of Portugal, is at the top of the pyramid, fetching $275 a bottle. For less than half, you can buy the reserve, which is not far behind in quality. Older vintages are also available.

I drank the 1989 along with the 1996 and the 2000 Barca Velha, and while all were excellent (the Barca Velha needs a lot more time), the 1989 was it. At 21 years of age, it achieved a perfect harmony of flavors without anything blaring calling attention to its presence. If you are going to spend this amount of money on a bottle of wine, this Portuguese gem is one of the few that is absolutely worth it. Suggested retail: $133

Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant.

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