SLPs 5 Top Wines 2023

At the start of the new year, here is the second annual review from (aka Stefan Pegatzky). This time I have decided to include all the wines I have tasted and had ample time to taste. I have still not included samples from trade fairs or major events.

6 mins read

In 2023, I was able to gain extraordinary wine experiences. This was not only due to the end of the coronavirus restrictions. The highlights were above all the reports for FINE – Das Weinmagazin. Three out of four cover stories and a whole series of other articles were written by me last year. This is also reflected in this list. There were also three high-calibre tastings at the KaDeWe in Berlin, which I had the pleasure of hosting. And, of course, other trips as well as private dinners and tastings with collector friends.

1 Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Hors-Série 1982

The champagnes were perhaps the most competitive. Both with the new releases such as Roederer Cristal 2015 or Cristal Rosé 2013, Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants 2013 and Vieilles Vignes Françaises 2012 or Krug Rosé 26ème Édition. But I was most touched by Piper-Heidsieck Hors-Série 1982, presented at a dinner organised by the Maison to mark the launch of the new Essentiel Blanc de Noirs. The Hors-Série was introduced two years ago with the 1971 vintage. 1982 is only the second edition. Disgorged in January 2022, the champagne was aged on the lees for 39 years. Multi-layered, vinous, generous and with an enormous inner density. Fantastic! 96 points

2 Schloss Eltz Rauenthaler Siebenmorgen Riesling 1966

Today, neither the once legendary Schloss Eltz vineyard nor the Siebenmorgen vineyard designation, which was absorbed into the Rauenthaler Wülfen after the land consolidation in 1971, exist. Only local winegrowers and Riesling collectors still know what Schloss Eltz is all about: Until 1978, it was probably the best (and most award-winning) wine estate in the Rheingau! Its cellar masters, Karl Männle until 1957 and Hermann Neuser until 1976, were among the very best in their guild. Due to reckless financial speculation and a subsequent land deal with the state of Hesse, the winery had to cease wine production. Today, the wines are highly sought after. This completely intact 1966 does not carry a predicate, but still shows an astonishingly high residual sweetness. This combines almost painfully beautifully with the intense acidity. A magical wine. 96 points

3 Weingut Keller Riesling G-Max 2019

The G-Max, tasted here together with the Keller family, is probably the most famous dry wine from Germany. The winery does not reveal its exact origin. What is known, however, is that Klaus Keller had been producing dry Spätlese wines from the Dalsheimer Hubacker vineyard, which was remodelled by his grandfather Georg, for many years, including a dry Auslese for the first time in 1997. In 1998 and 1999, a Dalsheimer Hubacker Riesling dry “G” was produced in memory of Georg Keller. In 2000, the year his grandson Maximilian was born, another Hubacker Max was launched with a new, old orange Art Nouveau label – before the first vintage of G-Max (without vineyard designation) vintage saw the light of day in 2001. This naturally invites speculation. Whatever the case may be. The 2019 vintage went down in the annals even at the success-spoilt Keller winery. The G-Max is monumental, not because of any fatness and oiliness, but because of its inner density, complexity and fine texture. 98 points

4 Hartfort Court Seascape 2009 „Library Release“

Hartford Court is perhaps the most important attempt by Jackson Family Wines to produce world-class Chardonnays. Its founder, Jess Jackson, created the blockbuster Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay in 1982. From the late 1980s, Jackson became a terroir disciple, and he and his second wife Barbara Banke invested in the best cool-climate vineyards. Today, Hartford Court produces tiny quantities of the best single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The estate is located in Green Valley, a sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. The grapes also come from areas such as Carneros and Santa Rita Hills. Perhaps the finest site of all, Seascape, comes from the Sonoma Coast right by the ocean. The 2009 vintage was tasted as a “Ten Years Library Release” at the winery with winemaker Jeff Stewart. The wine has developed phenomenally. Beautiful texture and pressure, with taut acidity and iodised salinity. And this sensational note of “crystallised ginger”, as Jeff Stewart calls it. 97 points

5 Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2021

Yattarna means “step by step” in the language of the indigenous Australian population and epitomises Penfolds’ claim to produce the country’s benchmark Chardonnay. In keeping with the house style, the Yattarna is a blend of wines from different regions, in this case mainly from Tasmania, plus Tumbarumba in New South Wales and the Adelaide Hills. Penfolds made 144 attempts to find the right blend, hence the bin number. With the 27th vintage, which I tasted together with winemaker Peter Gago, the “white Grange” has lived up to its ambition. Almost colourless, but already surprisingly accessible, with slightly reductive notes, citrus, almonds and subtle smoke. Still very youthful in appearance, with a wonderfully lively acidity and refined salinity. Structured, precise and elegant at the same time and already very intense, even if the full complexity of the wine is only just beginning to emerge. 97 points

6 Denis Bachelet Charmes-Chambertin Vielles Vignes 1999

Grand crus from Burgundy also have their own internal hierarchies. Of the eight or nine (depending on the count) in Gevrey-Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin is considered the lightest and relatively early to drink. But old vines and winemaking expertise often work wonders here too. Denis Bachelet’s 0.44-hectare parcel with 90-year-old vines is certainly one of the best. To quote Clive Coates: “if not quite the Musigny of Gevrey, then perhaps its Amoureuses”. In any case, the bottles from Bachelet, who only cultivates 3.5 hectares of vineyards, are rare and sought-after. The 1999, opened by a generous friend and collector, needed some air to find its balance. But then the wine showed its merits, the wonderful combination of feminine elegance and pressure. 96 points

7 Château L’Evangile 1995

This vintage comes from the first phase of the new beginning at L’Évangile, which started in 1990. At that time, the Ducasse family had sold 70 per cent of the shares to the Rothschild branch under Eric de Rothschild (Lafite-Rothschild). In the years following its release, the 1995 was very controversial. Even within the Wine Advocate between the critics Robert Parker and Neal Martin. For Martin, the wine embodied a “frustratingly perplexing, mercurial Pomerol”, atypical, without substance and too much in the “New World” style (85-97 p.) For Rober Parker, on the other hand, the wine was fabulously extracted, multi-dimensional and full-bodied (up to 96 p.) Today, reviews on Cellar Tracker show that the old master was right. Our tasting also confirmed this. With a little aeration, undergrowth, cedar and spices on the nose. Silky, concentrated and long on the palate, with well-ripened tannins. There is no need to rush here at the moment. 96 points

8 Vérité La Muse 2013

I have had the privilege of tasting Vérité wines twice at the winery in Sonoma. After 2016, now this summer together with co-owner Christopher Jackson, the son of company founder Jess Jacksons. It all began at Vérité in 1998 with a Merlot-dominated blend – the wine was given the name La Muse the following year. La Muse 2013 – with a blend of 89 per cent Merlot, 8 per cent Cabernet Franc and 3 per cent Malbec – caused a sensation early on. After ten years of ageing, it is still in top form. Coming from the classic, “European” 2013 vintage, the wine is complex, ageless and has immense length. The alcohol content of 14.5 per cent is not noticeable, the tannins are fully integrated. An almost extraterrestrial aroma of wild strawberries unfolds over the bouquet of dark berries and forest floor. What a powerful performance! 100 points

9 Masseto 2006

Before the first Sotheby’s tasting from the treasure trove of Masseto, there was a spectacular tasting in Bolgheri – and Sur-la-pointe was there. Masseto 2006 dates from the beginning of the “modern era”, after the Frescobaldi family took over the parent estate Ornellaia in 2005 and appointed Axel Heinz as estate director. An almost rainless period between April and August ensured small berries, while a not-too-hot late summer provided ideal harvest conditions. The result was grapes with exceptional phenolic, sugar and acidity levels. The 2006 vintage was in perfect condition. Deep dark, almost black in the centre of the glass. The nose was luxurious, almost decadent and almost impenetrable in its complexity. Monumental power on the palate, too, yet multi-layered and with great finesse. The drama of the fruit is reminiscent of great Californians. The tannins are extremely polished but present, reminding us that the Masseto 2006 is only at the very beginning of its drinking window. 100 points

10 Château Gilette Crème de Tête 1953

I have travelled to Sauternes twice and visited famous estates such as Château d’Yquem, Rieussec and Lafaurie-Peyraguey. And each time, at some point, the topic turned to Château Gilette. A wine estate that is neither classified nor located on the higher terraces above the Garonne like its renowned neighbours. But it is a much sought-after, unique legend, not only in the region, but probably worldwide. This is because the Sauternes does not mature in wood here, but in cement, for 15 to 20 years. The current vintage is 1997! Our 1953 was the top cuvée of the house: “Crème de Tête”. Although already 70 years old, the wine tasted ageless. Certainly not with the flavours of candied fruit and the oily opulence of classic Sauternes, but slimmer and more precise. A fascinating experience! 96 points

Image rights

Featured image: The new barrique cellar from Vérité

All ©: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images

My article on Masseto appeared in FINE 1/2023, on Klaus-Peter Keller and the G-Max in FINE 2/2023, and on Vérité and Penfolds in FINE 4/2023.

The Chardonnays of Hartford Court will probably be one of my topics in the 1st edition of FINE in 2024.

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