I’m not usually one to capitulate to the whole “better late than never” excuse, but I figure if I combine this belated “giving thanks” post with an early, end-of-the-year “top 3″ list post, it’ll be a wash—like 3 Hail Maries for stealing a candy bar. This year found me extraordinarily reflective, which is certainly nothing new, but it also rendered me short on words, which I am definitely not used to. A few months ago my father had a heart attack. But he survived and is well, so I’m thankful. Then my father-in-law had open-heart surgery. But he survived and is well, so I’m thankful. Then, just a few days before Thanksgiving, they found a blood clot in my leg. And despite all the idiotic deep-tissue massages I had been giving myself and the yoga I had been doing to try to relieve what I thought was a sore calf muscle, I managed NOT to dislodge the fucker and send it catapulting upward towards my lungs, brain, etc. Thus for the sake of redundancy, I am thankful. But let’s not stop there, because I’ve still got this blog and all you readers that graciously continue to humor me despite my sporadic posts, so like Billy Gibbons sang, “I thank you.” The Buddhist in me tells me it was a pretty damn good year.
OK…done with the blood letting. On to my self-serving “Top 3″ lists for 2013. Some of you know you have tastes similar to mine, so I hope some of these wind up on your holiday wish lists—that should hopefully keep the electric nose hair trimmers and wine glass identifiers to a minimum. For those of you who know your tastes run nearly polar opposite to mine, besides the fact that you obviously still have a lot to learn, feel free to ignore most of what I say and go read Wine Enthusiast‘s grandiose Top 100 Wines of 2013 instead. Or better still, go read Maisons Marques & Domaines’ PR leak of Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2004 being named WE‘s #1 Wine of the Year, despite the fact that WE was busying itself building suspense, saying it wouldn’t release the winner until December 5th. Ahhh, the drama.
TOP 3 WINES
#3 – Can Blau 2011 (Montsant, Spain) - Cellars Can Blau is a relative newcomer in Montsant, founded by Bodegas Juan Gil of Jumilla (whose wines, much like these, are delectable bargains). This is the one wine that will most likely find a neutral zone between those with palates both similar and different to mine, because it straddles that neutral zone like the Jolly Green Giant. A blend of Mazuelo (aka Carignan), Syrah and Garnacha, it’s big, and yet it’s tender. It’s juicy, and yet it has a strong backbone of minerality. It is both fruit and earth, both smoke and spice. And all at a bargain price that ranges $12-14. I find it impossible to recall how many times I’ve picked a bottle up on the way home on a random Tuesday night, not even bothering to see what might be new and exciting, simply because I knew how much I would enjoy it, how versatile it was, and how little I’d mind (considering the price tag) if I had to share. And this could easily be cellared for the next few years.
#2 – The Wine Formerly Known as Clos de Gilroy 2012 (Santa Cruz, CA) – Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…a wine from California is in my Top 3. Those that are faithful (i.e. of questionable sanity) readers know that I have long been raving about a few California wineries that are helping me keep the faith, including Krutz Family Cellars and the makers of this incredible wine, Bonny Doon. TWFKaCdG is another red blend, this one mostly Grenache with some Syrah and Mourvèdre…two of the three grapes found in Can Blau’s blend interestingly enough. I found it only fair to show you the radical way in which my tasting notes poured from me for this wine, because putting pen to paper simply wouldn’t do. Note that the word nature is blocked off, as that is what repeatedly came to mind as I drank. In my home, that is the ultimate compliment, for what else should a product of nature remind us of? I’m a little scared that the Wine Spectator gave this 91 points because I’m not used to agreeing with them, but then life is impermanent, so perhaps there is hope. For 20 bones a bottle, this is an even MORE incredible bargain than the Can Blau, though I can’t say I would share this bottle as readily. Generosity is a virtue often obscured by good wine.
#1 – The Chocolate Block 2011 (Franschhoek, South Africa) – I can easily drink this wine a couple of days a week, every week of the year, and still not lose interest. That is how much I adore this wine, which I was turned on to by a sommelier at City Winery in NYC during a Bob Schneider concert, when I told her that what I most like in a wine is earthy, mushroomy, dusty funk. I realize this is a stretch here, but this is yet another red blend: Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and usually just a pinch of Viognier. Does this wine bring the funk? Indubitably. Is that all this wine is? Hell no. It’s spicy, plumy, and even has some great violet notes, which I’m usually not nuts about in a wine (perhaps growing up in a Cuban household that doused every little girl with Royal Violets perfume has left an indelible scar). Made by Boekenhoutskloof, The Chocolate Block has not only become my favorite wine this year…it’s even inspired a graphic novel. And while this isn’t inexpensive enough for to me to be buying multiple cases at a time ($25 – $35) I’m hoping Santa will leave some of it under my tree—it’s a much better tasting blood thinner than Coumadin, after all.
TOP 3 BEERS
#3 – Southern Tier Choklat (New York) – I was turned on to this brew by fellow blogger Jim from Beer & Whiskey Brothers, and for that I am eternally grateful. I’m pretty sure I still owe him some truffles for that recommendation, but my mom always taught me that it’s good to keep a man waiting just a bit. If you enjoy dark, rich, malty stouts with a true chocolate backbone, Southern Tier’s Choklat is the one you need to run and buy (don’t bother stopping for red lights or old ladies in the crosswalk), and deftly pour into a snifter….or douse your ice cream with…or add to your chili recipe…or use as currency like the Aztecs and Mayans did. I promise you will swear off all other chocolate stouts. Well, OK, I don’t promise, but I’m willing to bet the three crumbled singles in my coat pocket.
#2 – Ommegang Three Philosophers (New York) – This beer has yet to be dethroned as one of my top 3, for as long as I’ve been being asked what my 3 favorites are. Three Philosophers is a quadrupel ale (i.e. an ale with a brass set) that combines two classics: chocolate and cherries…achieved by adding 2% Kriek. It’s got the classic caramel/brown sugar notes, as well as dried fig and raisins, but its complexity and intoxicating nose are what continually make it one of the best beers out there. A lot of folks like to pigeon-hole this as a “dessert beer” but it just ain’t so. Go back to drinking IPAs and forget it Donny, you’re out of your element.
#1 – New Glarus Wild Sour Ale (Wisconsin) – I will no doubt get boos and hisses from those of you who just can’t seem to “get into” sour beers, lambics, etc., but New Glarus has won over my heart, making not only what I think is the best sour ale in the US, but simply my favorite beer this year. A traditional spontaneous-ferment, Wild Sour Ale is soured naturally by wild yeasts blown into the brewery’s open casks. Bright apple and pit fruit notes marry the classic hay and sourdough notes, making a beautifully balanced brown ale. It’s creamy, it’s dreamy, it’s brewing at its best. I’m tearing up as I write this, however, because this stuff is an extremely limited production, and according to their website, they make no promise to ever brew this style again, so please don’t bother yelling at me when you can’t get your hands on any, despite it’s bargain price ($10/4 pack). It’s my Top 3 list after all, not my Top 3 Easy-to-Find list. I’d get on my knees and beg for another batch, but I’m afraid to dislodge the blood clot in the leg. Please guys…gimme more!!