Top 100 Vintners: Europe
Austria has been creating wine since Roman Emperor Probus overturned the ban on growing grapes north of the Alps, in part to avoid mischief by giving his idle armies something to do. Later, monasteries adopted the region’s vineyards, and over the centuries, Austrian viticulture has flourished, giving the world some truly great wines. While many of the reds are excellent, the country’s reputation rests largely on its whites, in particular on its dry and dessert Rieslings.
Three generations of the Kracher family have been making some of Austria’s most auspicious wines in Illmitz, located near Lake Neusiedl, at the easternmost point of Austria’s border with Hungary. Here, Alois Kracher Jr. continues to create gorgeous, silky, and dense, Sauternes-like wines with Scheurebe, Chardonnay, and Welschriesling grapes.
Recommended Alois Kracher Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese Burgenland Zwischen den Seen No. 10 2004 ($90, 375 ml)
Located in western Wachau, among alpine streams and valleys, the Hirtzbergerfamily cultivates a variety of vineyards planted primarily with Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. The latter performs best in the flatlands, while the former grows in the steeper, difficult-to-farm hillsides. The spicy, lush, mineral results, however, are well worth the effort.
Recommended Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Trocken Wachau Spitzer Hochrain 2005 ($65)
F.X. Pichler is regarded by many to be Austria’s most gifted winemaker, though his wines, unfortunately, are made in such small quantities that they are sometimes painfully difficult to come by. His vineyards lie in the Wachau, a stunningly beautiful area northwest of Vienna, where the Grüner Veltliner grape yields gorgeously structured whites.
Recommended F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Trocken Wachau Dürnsteiner Kellerberg 2005 ($76)
Winemaker Toni Bodenstein coaxes from the hills of the Wachau region precisely articulated Grüner Veltliners that balance a cool, mountain-lake minerality with fruit-blossom fragrances and seductive spice. In particular, the Weissenkirchen Zwerithaler displays exuberant peach fruit, a creamy texture, and a mineral bite.
Recommended Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Trocken Wachau Weissenkirchen Zwerithaler 2005 ($40)
Just as the architecture and lush, forested climate of this region in northeastern
France has Germanic overtones, so do the wines. Rather than Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Roussanne whites, we find here Riesling and Gewürztraminer—evidence of the long dispute between France and Germany over Alsace, whose lovely white wines are among the most underappreciated in the United States.
Bernard and Robert Schoffit
The range of varietals offered by Domaine Schoffit is extraordinary, running the gamut from Gewürztraminer to Riesling, Muscat, and Tokay-Pinot Gris. The Riesling from Schoffit’s Rangen vineyard is particularly remarkable for its complex amalgam of concentrated citrus, mineral, and smoke supported by a structure that enables it to age for decades.
Recommended Bernard and Robert Schoffit Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St.-Théobald 2005 ($60)
Located in a former Capuchin monastery, this thriving operation, run by Colette Faller and her daughters, yields 15,000-plus cases of wine per year from its approximately 60 acres. The Gewürztraminer from Furstentum is exceptional among the dry whites, while the late-harvest wine from the Schlossberg is magnificent.
Recommended Domaine Weinbach Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Schlossberg Quintessence de Grains Nobles 2004 ($450)
This superb domaine, which has been in the Humbrecht family since 1620, is currently managed by Léonard and his son, Olivier, who serves as winemaker. Enough cannot be said about the quality of their grand cru whites, which are rich but pure, precise but multifaceted, in their details of fruit and floral aromas.
Recommended Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Turckheim Heimbourg 2004 ($40)
Little need be said by way of introduction to this legendary region, where winemaking began under the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Located in France’s inviting southwest, Bordeaux has for millennia enjoyed ideal conditions for growing rich, full-bodied red wines, which constitute nearly 90 percent of its production. Its rigid classifications, storied history, and grand châteaux have made it the iconic French wine-producing region.
Located on a rocky and ancient outcropping on a hill just outside the medieval town of St.-Emilion, Château Ausone, along with Château Cheval-Blanc, received a Premier Cru Classés A designation when the St.-Emilion region was finally classified in 1955. The wines are among the biggest and the longest-lived in Bordeaux—and very much sought-after by collectors.
Recommended Château Ausone St.-Emilion 2005($2,000, futures)
Haut-Brion is the only château in the Graves region to be included among the first growths in the 1855 classification. Its location furnishes slightly warmer temperatures than do Pauillac and Médoc to the north, imbuing the wines with an enlivening ripeness and refined texture.
Recommended Château Haut-Brion 2005 ($1,000, futures)
The grande dame of Pauillac—the appellation that dominates the list of first-growth estates—has been in the hands of the Rothschild family since 1868. The wines are renowned for their subtlety and structure.
Recommended Château Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac 2005 ($1,000, futures)
This neoclassical château presides over vineyards made up largely of sandy, gravel-filled soil that—in combination with its microclimate, which is somewhat warmer during the ripening season—accounts for Margaux’s concentrated wines with beautifully rendered and fragrant fruit.
Recommended Château Margaux, Margaux 2005($1,000, futures)
Bordeaux’s most costly wine hails from the Pomerol region, where almost unbelievably decadent Merlot is grown—unfortunately in rather small quantities. Pétrus is almost entirely Merlot, which exudes dark cherry and rich, dark chocolate.
Recommended Château Pétrus 2005 ($3,000, futures)
The property of the Lur-Saluces family since 1785 (but now managed by them under the aegis of LVMH), this unrivaled star of the Sauternes appellation produces very small amounts of its famed late-harvest wine, which is made from the Sémillon grape and a smidgen of Sauvignon Blanc.
Recommended Château d’Yquem 2005 ($725, futures)
While Bordeaux is mild of climate and filled with sweeping landscapes divided into orderly estates crowned by regal manors, Burgundy is a meteorological conundrum, and its hilly landscape is covered in vineyards that have been parceled out into a patchwork quilt of varied ownerships, thanks to a Napoleonic law that required property to be divided evenly among heirs. As such, while Bordeaux blesses the novice with its clarity, Burgundy sometimes vexes him with confusion. That said, when the region’s notoriously inconsistent wines—both red (Pinot Noir) and white (Chardonnay)—are good, they are better than any other vintages in the world.
Another holding of the Leroy family, this domaine produces excellent red and white Burgundies that are intriguingly cerebral and enticingly complex. Of particular note are the Mazis-Chambertin among the reds and the Puligny-Montrachet La Richarde.
Recommended Domaine d’Auvenay Puligny-Montrachet La Richarde 2003 ($375)
Domaine Claude Dugat
Located in Gevrey-Chambertin in the Côte de Nuits, this domaine produces a more than modest 1,600 cases per year. The wines, produced from five vineyards, including Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St.-Jacques, are generally rather closed in youth, but blossom with time to reveal their exquisite fruit.
Recommended Domaine Claude Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux St.-Jacques 2003 ($150)
While Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy dominate in the realm of Burgundian reds, Jean-François Coche-Dury reigns among the whites. Although this stellar domaine does make Pinot Noir in small amounts, its location at the heart of the Côte d’Or has driven its destiny.
Recommended Domaine Coche-Dury Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseignères 2004 ($300)
If Romanée-Conti has a rival for supremacy in the Vosne-Romanée, it would be this producer of an annual 5,000 cases. Its wines from important grand cru vineyards, such as Clos de Vougeot, are superbly crafted and long-lived.
Recommended Domaine Leroy Gevrey-Chambertin 2004 ($225)
One of the overriding principles that inform the philosophy of winemaking of this small vintner in Morey-St-Denis is the belief that wine is grown, not made. The wines are subtle and often late to reveal their many detailed layers.
Recommended Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru 2004 ($185)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
If Burgundy is the king of wines, then this domaine is the king of Burgundies. Owner of an unprecedented two monopoles (vineyards owned in their entirety by a single producer—rare in Burgundy), Romanée-Conti achieves, through low yields and severe selections of grapes, an astounding level of consistency in its wines, which are fragrant and luxuriously bodied yet powerful.
Recommended Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2004 ($1,400)
Champagne has marketed itself with greater success than perhaps any other wine region. Although the effervescent elixir made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes did not achieve widespread popularity until the 19th century, when technical advances improved consistency of quality, it has since emerged as the universal symbol of celebration. Indeed, so universal is the love for Champagne that its name has become synonymous in the public’s mind with sparkling wine, to the infinite chagrin of the Champagnois.
The Krug family established this house in 1843. Although a relative latecomer to the Champagne party, it produces some of the finest wines, combining delicate flavors and textures with remarkable structure for aging.
Recommended Krug Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne Clos du Mesnil 1996 ($1,000)
Since 1776, the distinguished Roederer family has created some of the most finely crafted Champagnes in the world, most notably the famed Cristal, a creamy, balanced orchestration of strength and delicacy.
Recommended Louis Roederer Cristal 1999 ($250)
Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon
Named for the monk to whom, in popular lore if not in fact, the invention of Champagne is attributed, this spectacular cuvée embodies the soul of the region and continues to enjoy a well-deserved popularity with wine drinkers the world over.
Recommended Moët Chandon Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1999 ($150)
Salon, founded in 1914 by Eugène Aimé Salon, is among the younger producers in Champagne—and perhaps the one whose wines are most elusive. Salon makes just one wine, a Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay only), and only in superior vintages. Those who experience Salon—long the "house" Champagne at Maxim’s in Paris—seldom forget its crisp, clean, and elegant flavor profile.
Recommended Salon Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 1996 ($300)
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne
Another venerable house, Taittinger is perhaps best known for its prestige wine, the Comtes de Champagne, of which there are red and white versions. The latter is pure Chardonnay, while the former, a more muscular wine, with scents of strawberries and grilled bread, is made purely of Pinot Noir.
Recommended Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut Rosé Champagne 1999 ($250)
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame
The house of Clicquot, established in 1772, came into its own when François Clicquot died and his wife, the widow (or veuve) Clicquot, took over. She is credited with inventing the practice of remuage, which removes the wine’s sediment during fermentation.
Recommended Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé Champagne La Grande Dame 1998 ($280)
This southern region of France, so similar to the hills and plains of Italy, proved irresistible to the ancient Romans for the planting of vines. By the time the papacy relocated from Rome to Avignon, viticulture was well established and vines enveloped John XXII’s Châteauneuf. The best of both the red (predominantly Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre) and the white wines (Roussanne, Marsanne) of the northern and southern portions of the region offer unparalleled pleasures for the palate.
Château de Beaucastel
Run by the Perrin family, Château de Beaucastel in the southern Rhône is not only a forward-thinking producer, but also the co-owner of a winery in California’s central coast region, Tablas Creek Vineyard. Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends a wide array of varietals to achieve a complex, layered, wildly intense wine that mellows exceptionally with age.
Recommended Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 ($100)
Domaine du Pégaü
While Château de Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape uses Mourvèdre as the majority varietal, another important southern Rhône producer, Domaine du Pégaü, makes traditionally styled, unabashedly potent, peppery, and earthy Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which emphasizes Grenache.
Recommended Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée 2004 ($90)
The house of Guigal was founded after World War II and has honed its reputation for modern farming techniques and innovation. The firm makes a prodigious 350,000 cases annually, including the long-lived, concentrated, and hugely tannic La Landonne.
Recommended Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne 2003 ($900)
Founded by the Chave family in 1481 and still thriving under its ownership, this house produces gorgeous, textbook red and white Hermitage wines, the gold standard of the Rhône.
Recommended J.L. Chave Hermitage Rouge 2003 ($750)
A venerable producer from the northern Rhône, Chapoutier is also one of the region’s most innovative, engaging in strict biodynamic farming across numerous appellations where the family owns vineyards. The number of quality wines in the portfolio is unmatched.
Recommended M. Chapoutier Ermitage l’Ermite Blanc 2004 ($300)
Winemaking in Germany, as in variousregions of France, can be traced back 2,000 years to the occupation of the Romans, who diligently exported their viticultural habits to all points of the empire where grapes could grow.Throughout Germany’s wine regions, from Baden to Rheinhessen to Ahr, white wines have traditionally dominated, and it may be said that, with the exception of white Burgundy, these are the greatest in the world. Riesling and Sylvaner are the most ubiquitous grapes, yet the style—which is rigorously classified from the driest and simplest Tafelwein to the most intensely ripe and sweet Trockenbeerenauslese—is as important, if not more so, as the varietal. The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region—a long, narrow valley that runs from Luxembourg to Koblenz in the country’s southwest—is the focus of Germany’s most luxurious wines.
Fritz Haag Brauneberger
The Haag family has been producing wines in the Middle Mosel region for 400 years; Napoléon was an admirer. Over the centuries, the reputation of the wines (and, for that matter, their prices) has steadily grown. The Haags’ Juffer Sonnenuhr vineyard is considered the best in the region.
Recommended Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Beerenauslese 2005 ($180, half bottle)
Like the Haag family, the Christoffels’ history in the Middle Mosel reaches back centuries; however, while the family still owns its vineyards and consults, the wines are made by the owner of Weingut Mönchhof. Nevertheless, they remain among the region’s finest—exuberant, crisp, precise, and opulent.
Recommended J.J. Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese 2004 ($50)
This exquisite winery, currently under management by Johannes Selbach, also buys grapes to achieve its nearly 10,000-case output. All of the wines, however, whether grown on the estate or produced from grapes grown elsewhere in the region, are remarkable and long-aging.
Recommended Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Beerenauslese Eiswein 2004 ($150, half bottle)
A family-owned winery with vineyards in Graach and Wehlen, Willi Schaefer is perhaps best known for its elegant Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, both of which exhibit wondrous arrays of tropical fruit.
Recommended Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese 2005 ($235)
East of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, this legendary wine-producing region follows the course of the Rhine along its northern banks for nearly 25 miles. Nearly every acre of this expanse is planted with vines, much of it Riesling—a varietal on which the region’s reputation largely rests.
Although Robert Weil’s annual production is about 30,000 cases, many of its top-tier sweet wines are difficult to obtain because of their spectacular intensity and deliciously complex flavors—from lemon drops to mango to custard cream.
Recommended Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Kiedrich Gräfenberg 2004 ($300, half bottle)
Located northeast of Venice, this region on the Adriatic Sea is renowned for its classically structured, lean and crisp white wines, though it does produce some excellent reds as well. The whites—among the best in Italy—often elicit flavor combinations as complex as the cultural traditions in the region, which is the site of the ancient port city of Aquileia.
No producer embodies the complex cultural influences found in this northeast corner of Italy better than Livio Felluga. Winemakers for five generations, the Felluga family originally cultivated vineyards on the island of Istria, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time. Livio’s father was sent by the family to the then-Austrian port town of Grado to manage the wine trade. The family lost its Istrian holdings during World War I, and it was not until after the Second World War that Livio returned to Friuli to establish his vineyards in the breathtaking Colli appellation, producing wines of stunning yet understated elegance.
Recommended Livio Felluga Colli Orientali del Friuli Terre Alte 2004 ($50)
This tiny producer (less than 1,000 cases per year) works with a contrastingly large number of grapes, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot. Consequently, the eight or so wines that Miani produces are not available in any significant quantities—a lamentable fact, given their richness and detail.
Recommended Miani Sauvignon Blanc Colli Orientali del Friuli 2003 ($100)
When Michele Moschioni became more involved in the family’s vineyards in 1987, the split between white and red production—then roughly half and half—shifted to an emphasis on the latter. The Moschioni Pignolo is a superb example of how good the reds from this white-dominated region can be.
Recommended Moschioni Pignolo 2003 ($100)
An estate with a monumental reputation for classically styled wines, Schiopetto also is renowned for its state-of-the-art winery and vinifaction techniques.
Recommended Schiopetto Pinot Grigio Friuli-Venezia Giulia Collio 2005 ($40)
Like the great Burgundies, the greatest ofthe Piedmontese wines—Barbaresco and, particularly, Barolo, both made from Nebbiolo—are a gradually acquired taste. Yet the wines from these two appellations, which are located southeast of Turin, possess a special magic all their own: They are as graceful and as dramatic in their extremes as the undulating landscape of Piedmont. The color is light—often garnet or ruby red—in comparison to the strength of the flavors, which range from powerful red berry and cherry fruit to gamy dried-meat flavors, truffle, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, and even hints of rust. No wine in the world pairs more delightfully with a great meal than these do.
Now in its 107th year, this great producer of Barolo owns less than 40 acres of vineyards in Piedmont, roughly half of them in the Serralunga area of Barolo. The wines are powerfully structured, intensely redolent of fruit, flowers, and spice, and yet dappled with shifting, elusive flavors that keep one coming back for more.
Recommended Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto 2003 ($245)
This magnificent producer is known for a softer, more supple style of wine—round, delicious, aromatic—as well as for two single-vineyard Barolos, Brunate and Arborina.
Recommended Elio Altare Vigneto Arborina Barolo 2004 ($100)
In all of Italy, there is probably no winemaker more famous than Angelo Gaja, who, among Italians, enjoys superstar status, though the legend of Gaja began in 1859, when the winery was founded. Although Gaja produces some of the most superb Barolo available, the house is perhaps best known for its stunning single-vineyard Barbaresco, notably the Sorì San Lorenzo and Sorì Tildin, which are steeped in black fruit, cherry, tobacco, and spice.
Recommended Gaja Sorì Tildin 2003 ($290)
Perhaps the oldest winery in Piedmont, founded prior to 1700, the Conterno estate was divided between two brothers, Giovanni and Aldo, in the 1960s; each brother’s half now bears his own name. The wines of Giacomo Conterno are traditionally styled, powerful yet refined, with tremendous structure. The Cascina Francia vineyard is located in Serralunga d’Alba in Barolo.
Recommended Giacomo Conterno Cascina FranciaBarolo 2003 ($90)
Rome may be the capital, but for many, Tuscany is the cultural heart of Italy. Certainly, this region is the center of winemaking, giving us remarkably varied wines ranging from Italy’s most famous, Chianti, and the massive Brunello di Montalcino to the less traditional but very popular super-Tuscans. Whatever one’s tastes, this richly blessed region, from Bolgheri to Montepulciano, creates many of Italy’s most extraordinary and most compelling wines.
Quite simply, Avignonesi is the finest producer of one of Tuscany’s great treasures, Vin Santo. Although the winery has existed probably since the 16th century, it has been in the capable hands of the Falvo family for the last three decades. While Avignonesi produces the succulent Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and a terrifically velvety Merlot from Cortona, known as Desiderio, the sublime Vin Santo outshines all.
Recommended Avignonesi Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice 1995 ($300, half bottle)
Castello dei Rampolla
The venerable cellars of this classic in Chianti date to the 13th century, yet the owners, the di Napoli family, remain committed to cutting-edge viticulture, including the biodynamic farming of their more than 100 acres of predominantly Sangiovese.
Recommended Castello dei Rampolla Vigna d’Alceo Vino da Tavola 2004 ($175)
Another state-of-the-art winery, Le Macchiole crafts contemporarily styled wines in the Bolgheri region, which has attained fame as the source of so many illustrious super-Tuscans. The Campolmi family vinifies three particularly delicious wines: Scrio, made from Syrah; Paleo, produced from Cabernet Franc; and Messorio, a gorgeously rendered Merlot.
Recommended Le Macchiole Messorio 2003 ($160)
San Giusto a Rentennano
The Martini di Cigala family makes an outstanding Chianti Classico on this 395-acre estate where a 15th-century castello sits atop the cellar of a 12th-century fortress. Since the mid-1980s, the family has made the proprietary red Percarlo, a Sangiovese aged in small French oak barrels. La Ricolma, made of 100 percent Merlot, is the estate’s most recent introduction.
Recommended San Giusto a Rentennano La Ricolma 2004 ($120)
Established in 1981 by Ludovico Antinori, a scion of one of Tuscany’s oldest winemaking families, this estate later passed into the hands of the Frescobaldis—another ancient Florentine clan, who have been engaged in winemaking for nearly 700 years. The Bordeaux-style blends produced on this property are sumptuous, lively, and graceful. Masseto, made from 100 percent Merlot, is voluptuous and velvety.
Recommended Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto 2004 ($250)
Another celebrated super-Tuscan winery, Tua Rita was established in 1984 by Virgilio Bisti and Rita Tua, who converted its vineyards to the production of Bordelaise grapes. The Redigaffi, like Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s Masseto, is a beautiful wine produced from 100 percent Merlot.
Recommended Tua Rita Toscana Redigaffi 2004 ($275)
Just north of Verona, the Valpolicella region produces some of Italy’s most fascinating, richly extracted wines. The Valpolicella grape is one of the most versatile, yielding red wines with bright fruit and delicious acids that drink well young, as well as intense, complex versions that age magnificently. Amarone della Valpolicella is such a wine, produced from grapes that have been allowed to dry for several months before being pressed. This patience rewards the winemaker and the imbiber with a high-alcohol wine redolent of black cherries, spice, and chocolate.
The Allegrini family acquired much of its land in the Valpolicella region in the mid-16th century, when Allegrino Allegrini first began to make wine. To this day, all of the wines are made from estate fruit, and the family’s Amarones are simply superb.
Recommended Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2003 ($70)
Romano Dal Forno is regarded by many as the unrivaled producer of the finest Amarone in the world. While some might contest this view, no one could dispute that these wild, hedonistic wines are masterpieces of color, concentrated flavor, and gripping structure. These are definitely wines to cellar.
Recommended Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella Lodoletta 2001 ($400)
Another powerful presence in the region, Tommaso Bussola is a relative newcomer, having acquired his vineyards in the early 1990s. His wines are deep, powerful, and firm.
Recommended Tommaso Bussola Recioto della Valpolicella 2003 ($50)
The Portuguese wine trade has been shaped largely by English tastes. Conflicts with the French throughout the 17th century forced the English to purchase Portuguese wine, which was fortified with brandy to preserve it. These fortified wines—port and Madeira—became British staples, achieving popularity in the United States in the 19th century. However, as fashions change, so does demand: Witness the popularity of port during the cigar boom of the 1990s, now a smoky memory. To stabilize their market share, many Portuguese vintners have, in recent years, added high-quality table wines to their portfolios.
Despite having changed ownership numerous times since its establishment in 1822, Fonseca has maintained its name as well as its signature style.
Recommended Fonseca Vintage Port 2003 ($90)
From 1820 to 1970, this distinguished house remained in the Graham family. Sold to the Symingtons, another family with historic roots in Porto (the town from which the wine takes its name), Graham’s continues to produce outstanding fortified wines, now with grapes from such important sources as Quinta do Vesuvio, a Symington property.
Recommended Graham’s Vintage Port 2003 ($85)
Quinta do Crasto
This 300-plus-acre farm overlooking the Douro River is one of Portugal’s best single-farm producers of fine and (in some vintages) fabled port. The estate also makes some exciting table wines, including reds made from single varietals, such as Touriga Nacional, and special blends, such as Vinha da Ponte, a Douro medley that is only declared in exceptional vintages.
Recommended Quinta do Crasto Douro Vinha da Ponte 2004 ($70)
Quinta do Noval
This elegant estate with more than 350 acres of vineyards uses traditional and modern winemaking methods to produce its mesmerizing ports. The most famous of these is the prestigious Nacional, which comes from an old-vine vineyard planted with Touriga Nacional. Like Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Noval also produces table wine of great interest and finesse.
Recommended Quinta do Noval Douro 2004 ($130)
One of the oldest port houses in Portugal, this firm was established by a wool trader by the name of Bearsley in 1692. The Taylor name did not appear on the label until the 1820s, when the family gained a controlling interest in the business. Taylor Fladgate is credited with producing the first late-bottled vintage port (a port that is aged longer than the required two years and bottled five to seven years after the vintage). The firm’s saturated, dark ports are among the finest, thanks to its blue-chip vineyards.
Recommended Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2003 ($95)
Like Portugal, Spain was best known for its fortified wine, sherry, despite a long tradition of producing table wines. As in other parts of the world that possess the natural potential for making great wines, most vintners in Spain had concentrated on making inexpensive wines for mass consumption—a circumstance that began to change in the 20th century and that, in recent years, has reversed entirely. Some of the world’s best wines now come from Spain, not only from historic producers like Vega Sicilia, but from innovative young winemakers in emerging regions, such as Priorato.
Located in Rioja, Artadi was founded in 1985 by winemaker Juan Carlos López. Working with old vines and small yields, and adopting Bordelaise aging techniques, Lopez has raised the area’s traditional grape, Tempranillo, to the level of a fine Bordeaux.
Recommended Artadi Pagos Viejos Reserva Rioja 2004 ($125)
Owner Benjamin Romeo purchased 14th-century caves in 1995, but they were not the only antiques he acquired: His vineyards were also of venerable age, planted with old-clone Tempranillo vines with low yields. The end product of their yields is a massive, elegant red that should age indefinitely.
Recommended Benjamin Romeo La Cueva del Contador Rioja 2004 ($350)
Priorato has quickly become the seat of innovative Spanish winemaking, and leading the pack of mavericks is Daphne Glorian of Clos Erasmus. With her modest 17 acres of vineyards, she has managed, since 1990, to create the region’s most sparkling, mouthwatering blends of Grenache, Cabernet, and Syrah.
Recommended Clos Erasmus Priorat 2004 ($400)
Though it lacks the distinguished history of Vega Sicilia, Pingus enjoys similar status among collectors. First introduced with the 1995 vintage, these wines from Ribera del Duero are produced from ancient Tempranillo vines.
Recommended Pingus Tempranillo Ribera del Duero 2004 ($850)
This winery in the Ribera del Duero region of north central Spain is one of the very best producers in Europe, on a par with any of the First Growths from Bordeaux or the most esteemed domaines of Burgundy. Its wines are also among the rarest. Vega Sicilia’s signature wine, Unico, is aged for up to 20 years before release.
Recommended Bodegas Vega Sicilia Unico 1996 ($350)