By Rick Riozza

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends; that is to say, every year wine publications of all sorts get to review, score, or rate the top wines of the past year—it’s never ending.

Actually, if you’re a regular reader of this column, you saw last week my attempt to put together my top list of wines, which really got no further than one wine: an Amarone, the 2008 Masi Sergio Alighieri Vaio Amaron.  At around $80, certainly it’s a buy for that special occasion.

Probably the “top list” that gets the most fanfare is the annual Wine Spectator Top 100—“The Most Exciting Wines of 2015”.  They report that the wines selected are based on quality, value, and a subjective characteristic they call the “X-factor”.

The editors also claim to consider the wine’s availability, based on the number of cases either made or imported into the United States.  In other words, they wish to showcase wines that most people can find.

The “X-factor” considers a bottle that has qualities that set it apart from the usual.  Wines that cause the consumer to take note of the interesting merits the wine is showing.

The Top Wine of the Year was from the Peter Michael Winery, the 2012 Au Paradis Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville in Napa Valley.  I was fortunate to taste this wine at a restaurant trade tasting in Los Angeles.  The winemaker, Nick Morlet, was doing the pouring at the table.

I knew of the winery but hadn’t heard of Au Paradis.  Of course I hadn’t, it was the first year to be released.  The winemaker was absolutely exuberant about the new wine, the vineyard location, and great California vintage, “Everything was magic!”

I remember tasting the wine at least three times.  Being a young wine, Cabs can be tight and tannic, requiring time in the bottle to get its flavor profile together.  The Au Paradis seemed to be rockin already.  No question, the 2012 vintage, especially in Napa, caused some big wines to come ready out of the gate—some maybe over-the-top, bordering on “fruit bombs”.

But at the tasting, already the quality of the Au Paradis was showing and it was going places!  Little did I know that it would go on to take the top prize. I agree with Wine Spectator’s comments: “Deliciously pure and supple, with explosive dark berry and red berry flavors and a silky, polished texture.  The tannins become more evident midway through, with a gravelly crushed rock profile that adds a dimension of dust and mineral.”

The thing is… this 2012 Cabernet is ready to drink today!  Unheard of for such a big quality high-end wine.  The downside is that less than 2,000 cases were produced and the cost of the wine is over $200 a bottle.  It was released at around $175, but with this “top gun” fanfare, the cost is rising as we speak.  Unfortunately it may become an “investment wine”—if there’s such a thing these days.

For you well-to-do big Cab lovers, I’m sure you’ll be looking out for this wine.  Clearly it is one of California’s great for the vintage.  Cheers!

Some of the other Top picks that I have enjoyed and recommend are as follows:

I’ve already picked the 2008 Masi Amarone.  Wine Spectator ranked it 8th.

The 2012 Big Table Farm, a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon was rated 11th.  I also had this at a trade tasting called Pinot Week, where over fifty Pinot Noir producers from everywhere were pouring their stuff.  The Big Table Farm was such a hit but I felt bad for the representative/distributor who was visibly flustered when she ran out faster than expected.

The wine was vivacious and intense with raspberry, mint, and spice flavors.  It had a classic velvety texture along with a revealing and pleasurable mineral finish. Yum!

A wine that I would subjectively describe as “sexy” (I guess that’s my “X-factor call), is the 2014 Tenshen. A white wine from Santa Barbara County that is a Rhone-type blend that includes Viognier, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, and a Chardonnay.  It was ranked a commendable 29th.

I’m not really a big fan of a juicy California Viognier that can sometimes ride high on the honeysuckle and orange blossom.  But this white blend—which is quite lush and powerful with fleshy peach and apricot flavors and other harvest fruit aromatics, is also silky and lip-smacking that continues with layered complexities and a finishing note of dried spice and green tea.

Contrary to what one may think, this is not a sweet wine but off-dry that can match up with lunch, a light dinner and a seafood platter. It’s great as a chilled aperitif, as well as an after-dinner quaff for a liquid dessert—as I said, it’s a pretty sexy pick-me-up for around $20.

Lastly, bringing up the rear and coming in at 97 is the 2013 Orin Swift Machete, $45.  I’ve written of this Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache blend that absolutely wows those who demand plush and expansive flavors and aromas.  Anyone with these credentials simply love this wine that offers violets, plums, blackberry, nutmeg, expresso, black tea and white pepper.  All the flavors simply mingle and go on and on to the finish.  The labels are also a winner that feature sexy models wielding—you guessed it!—machetes, and hanging around a white Cadillac.

Rick is the valley’s “somm-about-town” and continues to entertain and conduct at various wine events, tastings and restaurants. He can be contacted at