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The Best Wines of 2014

The Best 25 from a Year of Intensive Learning

13 min read

I launched Opening a Bottle in May, but even before then, I had been thoroughly documenting the wines that crossed my palate. In truth, writing down your tasting notes is the only way to move forward as a wine drinker: to better understand your likes and dislikes, and to embrace the endless possibilities from around the world.

As I looked back on my dispatches as well as my notes, it became increasingly clear that I needed to honor the best wines of the year.

All told, I reviewed 118 bottles of wine this year — a little more than two per week. These are the 25 best. Before we dive into the list, here are the best wines by the bottle at a glance.

Top Wines of 2014 Infographic by Opening a Bottle

One of the ways Opening a Bottle is different from other websites devoted to wine is that I review and write about complete bottles of wine, rather than wine by a glass. Wine tastings by the glass are an excellent way to evaluate wines side by side and understand subtle differences, but I find that this process has limitations. The tendency is to rush from one glass to the next.

Furthermore, once a great bottle of wine is opened, it will change over time, and that’s partly what I try to better understand in my evaluations. Some wines fade quickly after opening. Others get better with time. Every wine listed below is (a) new to my palate this year, and (b) consumed as a bottle with friends or family, rather than by the glass at a tasting room or restaurant. In other words, I spent ample time with each one, and have a lot of confidence that these are damn good wines.

With that, here are …

The Best Wines of 2014

Number 25. 2009 Viña Eguía Rioja Reserva

2009 Viña Eguía Rioja ReservaWe will kick off our list with an oak bomb: a wine that should have great appeal to the masses.

Rioja Reservas pack a tannic punch due to 24 months of oak aging and another year in the bottle, and this cherry, strawberry and cedar inflected wine is no different. It stands above the others for its berry-patch mellowness once it has breathed for an hour.

A delightful wine. More on Viña Eguía.

Rioja Alavesa, Spain
Grapes: Tempranillo (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★★


Number 24. 2012 Paitin di Pasquero Langhe Nebbiolo

Paitin Nebbiolo Langhe, Nieve, Italy red wineThe lone winemaker to make the list twice (see also No. 17), Paitin di Pasquero is one of the better budget producers from the storied hills around Alba. Their Langhe Nebbiolo is a great introduction to this area, and for $15, you’d be miserly to pass it up.

Aromas are decadent, with notes of bing cherry, rose, tobacco and cedar. A very smooth, round wine. More on Paitin di Pasquero.

Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Italy
Grapes: Nebbiolo (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2


Number 23. 2013 Mont Gravet Côtes de Gascogne

Mont Gravet white wineNever heard of Côtes de Gascogne? I hadn’t either. But when I opened this $9 bottle on an ordinary Wednesday, our meal became extraordinary. The bright flavors of pineapple, mango and kiwi are tamed by a flinty mineral touch that brings the wine together perfectly. An excellent mate for fish, scallops or a hot summer night.  More on Mont Gravet.

Côtes-de-Gascogne IGP, France
Grapes: Colombard (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★
• Food-Friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★★★


Number 22. 2010 Vinum Cellars “The Scrapper” Cabernet Franc

2010 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet FrancOne way to know if a California wine is going to be good, is if its a varietal wine focused on a less commercial grape. It’s a sign that the winemaker loves it, sees potential, yet isn’t making it for the masses. Cabernet Franc fits the bill, and Vinum Cellars “The Scrapper” is an excellent version, with punchy notes of drunken cherries and earthy spice on a smooth body.  More on Vinum Cellars.

El Dorado AVA, California
Grapes: Cabernet Franc (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★ 1/2


Number 21. 2009 Hacienda Araucano Alka Carmenérè

Alka Carmenérè Francois Lurton, ChileA powerful, exotic wine that comes at your palate in waves. It starts with loads of blackberry scorched by a mineral clay note, then recedes with a spicy, lavender finish. It’s completely unique, a testament to the Carmenérè grape which was brought from France to Chile more than 150 years ago only to be wiped out in its ancestral home. Cheers to ex-patriots. More on Hacienda Araucano.

Colchagua Valley, Chile
Grapes: Carmenérè (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★
• Value ★★ 1/2


Number 20. 2011 Coelho Winery Tradição Red Table Wine

2011 Coelho Winery TradicaoMade in America but inspired by the winemaker’s Portuguese heritage, the Coelho Tradição Red Table Wine hit my palate like an experimental song. So much raspberry, so much spice and tannin. Easily one of 2014’s most unusual and distinctive wines, with a finish that wanted to linger all night.  More on Coelho Winery.

Alta Mesa, California
Grapes: Sousão 26%, Alvarelhão 21%, Tinta Roriz 21%, Touriga Nacional 14%, Touriga Francesa 10%, Tinta Cão 8%
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★


Number 19. 2012 WillaKenzie “Gisele” Estate Pinot Noir

WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Noir GiseleAs a lover of Pinot Noir, you become conditioned to preferring single-vineyard versions over estate blends. Why? Well, after this wine, I’m not sure. Single-vineyard wines express terroir more, but this wine was simply more delicious than the others, bringing a delicate balance of blackberry, cranberry, licorice, baking spice and the right touch of oak. Pour me another glass. More on WillaKenzie Estate.

Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon
Grapes: Pinot Noir (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★ 1/2


Number 18. 2012 Nisia Old Vines Verdejo

Nisia Verdejo wineSpain’s easy-going Verdejo can work any day of the year: as a casual summer sipper, or even the lead-off hitter on the Thanksgiving table. Despite that, it rarely emerges in the wine press as an upper echelon fine wine. Nisia might change that perception. Crisp aromas of lime and honey, a body like apple pie, and a distinct peppery finish: there’s so much going on here, its worth revisiting again and again.

Rueda, Spain
Grapes: Verdejo (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★
• Food-Friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★


Number 17. 2012 Paitin di Pasquero “Elisa” Roero Arneis

2012 Paitin di Pasquero-Elia "Elisa" Roero ArneisAt No. 22 on this list, there is a wine called “The Scrapper.” In hindsight, perhaps that’s what Roero Arneis should be called, Piedmont’s elegant white wine that nearly went extinct in the 1970s because it was so overlooked. Thank god it didn’t vanish. Instead, the grape they call “little rascal” for its stubbornness rewards us with citrus-and-honey beauty like Paitin di Pasquero’s rendition. More on Paitin di Pasquero.

Roero Arneis DOCG, Italy
Grapes: Arneis (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★


Number 16. 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava

Abbazia di Novacella SchiavaAbbazia di Novacella was one of my favorite discoveries of the year. An Augustinian abbey at the foot of Italy’s Dolomites, they make a wide array of Tirolean wines. Their Lagrein may be better, but the Schiava is so uniquely light with a pronounced almond extract note, it stood out to me more. A quintessential wine for summer nights on the front porch. More on Abbazia di Novacella.

Südtiroler Eisacktaler (Trentino-Alto Adige), Italy
Grapes: Schiava (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendly: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★ 1/2


Number 15. 2010 Chateau Vaugelas “Le Prieurè” Corbierès

Chateau_de_VaugelasAt some point, every wine lover has a French Revolution of their palate. For me, 2014 was the year I fell for French wines, and it kicked off with this Corbierès, which elicited earthy, foresty flavors of raspberry, wildflowers and a touch of balsamic. Goes perfectly with a decadent burger, and at $13, its also an excellent value. More on Chateau Vaugelas.

Corbierès, France
Grapes: Syrah 35%, Grenache 30%, Carignan 30%, Mourvèrde 5%
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★


Number 14. 2009 Quinta de la Rosa Reserva

2009 Quinta de la Rosa ReservaPortugal’s Douro River, once only known for Port, is now emerging as Europe’s Wild West of winemaking. Unencumbered by rules but dedicated to a sense of place, its capable of some pretty thrilling stuff, like Quinta de la Rosa’s Reserva, a wine with explosive aromas of black cherry and roasted nuts. Best served with rack of lamb. More on Quinta de la Rosa.

Cima Corgo, Douro, Portugal
Grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Tinta Cão
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★ 1/2


Number 13. 2012 Biohof Pratsch Lange Ried Riesling

2012 Biohof Pratsch Riesling Lange ReidBetter known for Grüner Veltliner, Austria can certainly nail it with Riesling, too. The Lange Ried from Biohof Pratsch is exactly the style of Riesling I prefer: crisp and dry, light yet surprisingly creamy in texture. Zips across the palate with lime, apricot, honeysuckle and (the Holy Grail of Rieslings) a minerality that says “hey food, let’s be friends.” More on Biohof Pratsch.

Weinviertel, Austria
Grapes: Riesling (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2


Number 12. 2011 Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly Beaujolais Cru

Chateau de la Chaize BrouillyMuch like the other Beaujolais Cru on this list (see No. 5), the beauty of the Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly was all in the nose. Any wine that can trigger a nostalgic memory with its aroma — in this case, mountain wildflowers — has something special going for it. Made of 100% Gamay Noir, this light-and-smooth wine is all you need on Thanksgiving, but it would work brilliantly with seared tuna as well. More on Chateau de la Chaize.

Beaujolais Cru, France
Grapes: Gamay Noir (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★★


Number 11. 2010 Breggo Cellars Chardonnay Savoy Vineyard

2010 Breggo Chardonnay Savoy VineyardBreggo Cellars’ Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay was the best wine I had in 2013. Easily. But it was merely a taste in their now closed tasting room in Boonville, California. Fortunately for 2014, I opened a bottle of it and sampled it again at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. Honeysuckle, chamomile, lemon and brioche combine to make for a wild profile on this now, sadly, defunct label (Breggo has rebranded as FEL). More on Breggo.

Anderson Valley, California
Grapes: Chardonnay (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★★
• Food-Friendliness: ★★★
• Value: ★★★


Number 10. 2011 Nita Priorat by Meritxell Pallejà

2011 Nita PrioratOf Priorat’s many heavyweight wines, Nita is most unusual. Youthful and feminine with no oak-barrel aging, its a beautiful counterpoint. Instead of overbearing oak, the fruit shows off just how complex Priorat can be on its own: blackberry, dark cocoa, leather and a spicy, anise-seed finish. Regal and fresh, it gets high marks for food-friendliness. More on Nita.

Priorat DOQ, Spain
Grapes: Grenache 45%, Carignan 35%, Cabernet Sauvignon 15%, Syrah 5%
Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★ 1/2


Number 9. 2011 Zuccardi Tito Malbec Blend

2011 Zuccardi Tito Red, Argentina, Malbec, red wineOne of the most surprising wines of the year, Zuccardi’s Tito Malbec Blend conveyed a distinct “Italianness”  — that rustic, earthy quality that begs for a hearty pasta — from the first sip. Not bad from an Argentine wine. Bold Malbec notes of blackberry and smoke are followed by the distinct nuttiness provided by the Italian grape Ancellotta. Wholly unique. More on Zuccardi.

Valle de Uco (Mendoza), Argentina
Grapes: Malbec 68%, Cabernet Sauvignon 17%, Ancellotta 15%
Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★ 1/2


Number 8. 2006 Fattorie Melini La Selvanella Chianti Classico Riserva

2006 Fattorie Melini La Selvanella Chianti ClassicoOne of only three wines on the list that I discovered at a restaurant, the 2006 Fattorie Melini La Selvanella Chianti Classico Riserva (try tweeting that name) showed off its age beautifully with a tile-red color and blossoming cherry-raspberry fruit. The typical Chianti “dusty” flavor had transformed into walnut, making this elegant wine an appropriate companion for a birthday dinner.

Chianti Classico, Italy
Grapes: Sangiovese (100%)
Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★★
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★★


Number 7. 2013 Raptor Ridge Grüner Veltliner

2013 Raptor Ridge Grüner Vertliner, Oregon white winePerhaps the wildest ride a wine took me on this year: peach, golden raisin, lemonade, slate and roses. They’re all there in Raptor Ridge’s exquisite American Grüner Veltliner, so much so it seems unfair to the grape’s de facto home, Austria. I’ve yet to have a Grüner Veltliner from there that shines as well as this sunny wine from cloudy Oregon. More on Raptor Ridge.

Chehalem Mountains AVA (Willamette Valley, Oregon)
Grapes: Grüner Veltliner (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-Friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★★


Number 6. 2011 Domaine de Pallus “Les Pensees de Pallus” Chinon

Domaine de Pallus ChinonThe aroma of this wine alone is worth its moderate $20 price. A mixture of plum, fresh bing cherries, menthol and a note reminiscent of sand, this Chinon belongs in a big glass so you can really smell it, and alongside an elegant meal where its blueberry jam and violet flower flavors can be appreciated. More on Domaine de Pallus.

Chinon (Loire Valley), France
Grapes: Cabernet Franc (100%)
Ratings:  ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★


Number 5. 2011 Pascal Granger Juliénas Cuvée Speciale

2011 Pascal Granger Juliénas Cuvée Speciale Beaujolais CruLate in the year, I’ve been on a Beaujolais Cru craze. Their playful fruit flavors and light body allows them to be wonderfully versatile with a variety of foods. This wine from Pascal Granger comes from the Cru of Juliénas, and it dazzled my wife and I over a three-course meal that ranged from pear salad to lobster buccatini to beef short ribs. It held its own and then some. A gorgeous wine.

Beaujolais Cru, France
Grapes: Gamay Noir (100%)
Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★ 1/2
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★★
• Value: ★★★★


Number 4. 2009 Walter J. Oster Cuvée 1891

Walter J. Oster Cuvée 1891 SpätburgunderIt had been 14 months since I bought this bottle in Germany, and I simply couldn’t wait any longer. Crack it open; give it a go. And wow, did it deliver. A blend of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder, this hefty wine captivated with a complex bouquet of cherry, rose, vanilla, hay and baking spice. Unfortunately, it is not sold in the United States. Shall we start a Kickstarter campaign? More on Walter J. Oster.

Mosel River, Germany
Grapes: Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) & Dornfelder
Ratings: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★★
• Food friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★ 1/2


Number 3. 2013 Elk Cove Late Harvest Riesling

2013 Elk Cove Vineyards Riesling Late Harvest , Oregon white wineThe best Rieslings are like a sleight-of-hand trick: they’re sweet without sticking to your mouth. By that rationale, Elk Cove’s Late-Harvest Riesling is pure magic: nectarine sweetness with elegant floral notes and a crisp lime finish. Each sip radiates brightness and warmth, making it easily the most interesting American Riesling I’ve had yet. More on Elk Cove Vineyards.

Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon
Grapes: Riesling (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★★
• Food-Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★★ 1/2


Number 2. 2010 Alexana Vineyards Revanna Pinot Noir

2010 Alexana Pinot Noir Revana VineyardWhen I ordered a bottle of Alexana Vineyards Revanna Pinot Noir, I expected a “typical Oregon Pinot.” Two of those three words were true. A classic Oregon Pinot with its most beautiful traits amplified: red berries, roses, licorice, a hint of toast, and aromatics so intense I dare say it was magical. Upon my first sip, I instantly knew it would be the best wine of our Oregon trip. More on Alexana Vineyards.

Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon
Grapes: Pinot Noir (100%)
Ratings: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★★
• Food-friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★


No 1. 2006 Travaglini Gattinara

2006 Travaglini GattinaraMy number one wine of the year was an eight-year-old gem from Piedmont’s often-overlooked Nebbiolo heaven, Gattinara. With mellowed notes of raspberry, cedar and rose hips, it presented an astonishing array of foresty flavors and earthly balance, all awaiting underneath a fragrant aroma I couldn’t stop enjoying.

Ideal between eight and 10 years of age, it reaffirmed the notion of opening a wine when it is in its prime. I found it to be every bit as comparable to a Barolo or Barbaresco in terms of detail, structure and flavor profile. And yet, the Travaglini Gattinara can be bought for a quarter of the price ($26). Not only was it my favorite wine of the year, but it was also the best value red of them all.  More on Travaglini Gattinara.

Gattinara DOCG, Italy
Grape: Nebbiolo (100%)
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★★
• Food friendliness: ★★★★ 1/2
• Value: ★★★★★


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