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Now that the Christmas feast has been devoured and the presents unwrapped, it’s time for Part II of my favorite wines of 2014. As a reminder, these are not my favorite wines that were released in 2014, but rather, wines I drank in 2014.

2010 Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Villages

Louis BernardI picked up this wine on a whim once at Total Wine. I liked it so much that I immediately picked up another bottle upon drinking the first. At $11.99, how can you pass it up?

I was drinking a Côtes du Rhône over Christmas with my family, and one of my brothers asked me what Côtes du Rhône means. I explained that it’s an appellation in the Rhône Valley in France, and that a wine labeled Côtes du Rhône is generally going to be a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and/or Mourvèdre, which are all red grapes grown in the south of France. (The Southern Rhône grows other red grapes as well, primarily Carignan and Cinsault.)

The Louis Bernard is, in fact, a blend of all three classic red Rhône varietals. Also sometimes known as a “GSM,” for the three types of grapes, Côtes du Rhône wines are generally hearty, spicy, and smooth. The Louis Bernard lives up to this expectation. My exact tasting notes are: “Delicious; smooth, not too tannic; dark fruits, a little earthy.” The winery mentions blackcurrant and plum in their description.

Normally I would pair a Côtes du Rhône with something rather heavy to match the weight of the wine; and, indeed, we drank it with a meat lasagne one night, and it was wonderful. But we also paired it with grilled mahi mahi and a green salad another night, and the wine showed equally well. (It just goes to show that you almost can’t go wrong when pairing food and wine.)

2011 & 2012 Erath Pinot Noir

IMG_7011I’m cheating a little bit with this one by listing two vintages, but they’re both fantastic, and I drank them both this year. Erath is an Oregon winery located in Dundee Hills, which is part of the Willamette Valley AVA. Because the climate and growing conditions in Oregon are similar to those in Burgundy, France, Oregon Pinots are considered to be more like the famous Burgundies than Pinots grown elsewhere (such as California). I personally have always been partial to California Pinots, but Erath is my new favorite Oregon producer.

The list price on Erath is a very reasonable (for Pinot) $19. We paid $14.99 (on sale) for the 2011 bottle at our local DC liquor store and paired it with chicken and mushroom risotto one night and spaghetti with a red meat sauce the following night. It tends toward the earthy end of the Pinot spectrum (as opposed to fruity), which helps it match up against mushrooms and hearty meat. The bouquet has a lot of dark fruit on it, and the acidity was balanced. I enjoyed it so much, I immediately looked for more.

I could no longer find the 2011, but the 2012 is on shelves now. I picked up two bottles for $17.99 each and opened one of them just a couple weeks ago. We paired it with salmon fillet over quinoa and kale, and it was a marvelous match. The 2012 might be a shade less earthy than the 2011, so I’ll be interested to see what happens to it after sitting in my cellar for another year or two. One thing is for sure: Erath is a producer whose wines will be on my radar for some time to come.

2012 River Road Reserve Pinot Noir

River RoadAnother one of my Total Wine finds was this Pinot Noir from River Road. The Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, with its foggy, cool climate, produces some of the finest California Pinots, but they often come in the $30-and-up price range. This little beauty was $18.99.

Unlike the Erath, this River Road Pinot tends toward the fruitier end of the spectrum. It’s smooth and rich but has almost no earthiness to it. The tannins are gentle and unobtrusive, and I detected cherries and other red fruits on the nose and palette.

We paired this wine with grilled bone-in pork chops, pumpkin corn bread, and Brussels sprouts the first night it was open. The second night we simply drank it with some dark chocolate. In both cases it was delightful.

2010 Geyser Peak Block Collection Foothill Petit Verdot

2009 Petit Verdot copyGeyser Peak is a Sonoma County winery that we fell in love with on our first trip to Napa and Sonoma a few years ago. We’ve been a member of their wine club ever since and continue to love their wines.

A large number of Geyser Peak’s grapes are grown in the Alexander Valley, including the grapes in this Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot is often used as a blending grape with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, but if you like full-bodied reds, I recommend giving a 100% Petit Verdot a try.

This one in particular is quite earthy with strong, but smooth, tannins. It smells and tastes of dark fruits, dark berries, and chocolate. We didn’t pair this one with food–just drank it with friends–but it would match well with anything involving mushrooms or root vegetables, especially beef stew.

The list price on this wine is $32, but club members like us save 25 percent. Geyser Peak’s Block Collection wines are limited in production, usually under 150 cases, and are available only at the winery. (Sorry, I know I promised more accessible wines in Part II!) If you ever have a chance to drink this one though, don’t pass it up.

2012 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir

slh_pinot_2012_single copyThis list is a little Pinot Noir-heavy, but what can I say, I like the Pinots! And the Hahn family is one of California’s Pinot experts. The grapes for this wine are grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands (hence, the SLH in the wine’s name). The Santa Lucia Highlands are part of California’s Central Coast, and are inland from Monterey Bay. The surrounding mountain chains funnel fog and ocean breezes into the vineyards, which is what makes the area so well suited to growing Pinot Noir grapes.

List price on this wine is $35. Wine.com is currently selling it for $24.99, and I paid $17.99 for it at Calvert Woodley wine store in DC. I first drank this wine Labor Day weekend when it was so hot and humid I could barely breathe. My husband loved it immediately, but I found it overwhelming for the weather. This is not a summer wine!

On the other hand, this is the perfect cold-weather wine. It’s powerful and earthy, with dark fruits on the nose, and spice flavors to complement the nice tannic structure. Much like the Sunstone Merlot mentioned in Part I, the best word to describe this wine is “velvety.” And just as velvet is a winter fabric, this is a winter wine. It would be beautiful with roasted meats, stew, lasagne, mushroom risotto, braised rabbit, oxtail ragu (okay, now I’m hungry).

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As much as I enjoyed all 10 of the wines I’ve profiled the past two weeks, there are thousands more wines out there waiting to be tasted. I can’t wait to find out what my favorite wines of 2015 will be. I’ll share them with you 12 months from now. Happy New Year, everyone! Cheers!

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