Are there any winemakers/producers whose wines you feel comfortable buying vintage in and vintage out, without question–and perhaps even without tasting? What do you especially like about these producers, and which are your go-to wines?
Chuck Furuya, Master Sommelier, DK Restaurants (Honolulu). I have never considered this question before. After thinking about it, however, yes, there actually is quite a list of producers we regularly buy from vintage after vintage. Since we work a lot with contemporary Asian-inspired foods, for instance, our go-to German wines typically include fruity-styled wines from Fritz Haag, Dönnhoff, Zilliken, Reinhold Haart, Gunderloch and Dr. F. Weins-Prum, just to name a few, and Rudolf Furst and Franz Kunstler for a drier style. In each case, because of global warming and the remarkable resulting string of superb vintages, I do typically buy wines from every vintage.
Plus, with this highly selective, quality-driven list of producers, I relish how every vintage and its distinct growing conditions and weather patterns show us a different perspective/aspect of the vineyard in the finished wine. Take for example the challenging 1991 vintage in Germany. Hanno Zilliken’s 1991 Saarburger Rausch Auction Späetlese was one of the wines of the vintage for me, because of its amazing lightness on the palate, superb filigree and great purity, which I am sure is because of a very stringent grape selection of only the best grapes. It really is like no other wine I have experienced from Hanno before or since.
To shed further light on wine variation from vintage to vintage, I will always remember hearing one Burgundian vigneron’s reply when asked which vintage he preferred, the 1969, 1971 or 1973. Being a young novice at the time, I thought he would choose either the greatly hyped 1969 or the 1971 and was surprised he chose the generally underappreciated 1973 instead. On the 1969 and 1971, he commented on one being a “wine of the sun” and the other being a “wine of the grape variety.” He selected 1973, on the other hand, because it was a wine of his site: he felt it more clearly showed the terroir and soul of the vineyard.
I liken that story to appreciating my son for who he is and my daughter for who she is and not having to choose which is my favorite.
This kind of list, however, is very site- and very producer-specific. In thinking about this further, I probably do the same thing for many different winegrowing regions, such as France’s northern Rhöne Valley with Jean-Louis Chave, August Clape, Thierry Allemand, Noël Verset and René Rostaing.
I truly appreciate each winemaker’s artisanal, handcrafted, unique and personal touch and find that each vintage challenges their skills to showcase what the vineyard has to offer. And their true, special and unique talent is what really sets them apart from their peers. And this is why we would buy a wine from each, vintage after vintage…
Michael Kwas, Wine Director/Sommelier, L’Etoile Restaurant (Madison, WI). At L’Etoile we focus on a core group of wineries whose wines we buy year in and year out. We usually have several cuvées from each winery, especially single vineyards that, due to their unique terroir, display a consistency year in and year out. This focus also helps our staff learn and remember the individual wines. Here are some of our favorites:
Domaine Henriot Champagne. For elegance and clarity of flavor. The regular non-vintage brut is my favorite on the market, and the blanc de blancs shows great character from their great Côte des Blancs holdings.
Selbach-Oster, Mosel, Germany. The world’s greatest grape, from the Mosel, one of the greatest regions for producing riesling, from some of the greatest vineyards in the Mosel, from one of the greatest producers of riesling anywhere, at a fraction of the price of similar quality white Burgundy and much better with the food on our menu.
Charles Joguet, Loire Valley, France. Deceptively complex Chinons that make the question of body in red wine irrelevant for most of our guests. Remarkable synthesis of pure fruit and damp earth.
St. Innocent Pinot Noir, Oregon. Gorgeously textured pinot across the board, but mouth feel never obscures the characteristics of the individual vineyards.