Entering 2016, what’s there to depend on? I have a beautiful, loving family and close friends, but everything else seems up for grabs. Weather events signal deepening environmental chaos. The politicians we seem most in thrall to mock many of the founding principles of our national decency and ambition. Our ways of communicating with each other culturally grow ever more fragmented and solipsistic.

Another way to frame that is to assert the opposite. Perhaps the Paris environmental accords show us learning we have some undoing to do. Perhaps Trumpapalooza contains at least a kernel of healthy popular disgust with the usual lies. Maybe Instagram has lasting aesthetic merit.

Opposite, unreliable topsy-turviness is the state I’m in, and my lens for looking back on wine in 2015. I mean, actually, that I’ll look back on my personal 2015 in wine; I don’t live the sort of life that puts my finger on the pulse of wine culture generally. My wine life this past year seemed to befuddle and beguile and bewilder, to act in tandem with a world bereft of trustworthy narratives.

For this I’m grateful. I found myself, as I drank, seeking above all else to be surprised. There comes a point when a wine that does what you’re implicitly asking it to do offers little reward. The disclaimer is obvious: Plenty of great wines, and great wine experiences, are about solace, healing, comfort and the elongation of pleasurable sensation. I’m not suggesting that confounding wines ought to be more highly ranked, and just because a wine experience is surprising doesn’t make the wine that created the experience good.

Yet to have one’s illusions disrupted, to be baffled, to encounter the strange is not only more fun but also probably better suited to helping one handle the unexpected, infuriating, liberating, perplexing world we’ve created for ourselves. Anyone out there believe that 2016 will be less so than the year just past?


Most white wine is drunk young: almost always the year of release, which comes months after harvest. Most mediocre white wine is suited to this treatment, but most good white wine is drunk too young. Whites best known to age beneficially are from Burgundy, riesling and other usual suspects, but less exalted wines can take on extraordinary levels of complexity, too.

I drank the Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino 2011 ($18) recently, close on the heels of the 2012. It’s a treat that the current-release 2012 has been permitted some time in bottle to meld and deepen (most current-release whites at this point are 2014), but that vintage is still mostly daggers, a packet of tantalizing acidity. The 2011, though, has gone all buttery and full, taking on the richness, integrity and splendor of grand whites more than twice its price. It is still a fresh wine, with piercing acidity and the varietal imprint of this important southern Italian grape. But it has become much wiser in a single year, and I’m certain the 2012 you buy today will join its ranks a year or so from now.


Remember Thanksgiving? Remember the Beaujolais Nouveau 2015? Remember how glad you were to get that taste out of your mouth and move on to some real wine? Now is a good time to return to Nouveau, a very good one, and discover that even this OK-sure-just-once-a-year category contains something soulful, harmonious and lastingly delicious.

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 ($17) is not just shockingly good, it is shockingly real. The gamay grapes grow on a combination of clay, limestone and granite, manually harvested from vines 50 to 100 years old, ferment with native yeasts and are vinified without filtration or added sulfur dioxide. For a Nouveau, these facts are beyond exceptional. The wine has all the gulpable freshness of yummy Beaujolais, without the sickening candied quality of so much mass-produced Nouveau. With deep blue/black/purple berry flavors and a touch of graham cracker spice, this wine, both serious and simple at once, will forever change your attitude toward Beaujolais.


2015 was the year Maine started, though still frustratingly slowly, to have a decent number of orange wines to drink. Just as rosés are essentially red wines made as if they were white, orange wines are white wines made as if they were red. The flesh of crushed white-wine grapes is left in contact with their pinkish-orange skins, long enough (sometimes more than a month) to tint the finished wine a hue somewhere along a spectrum from papaya to copper to rust.

They’re not always good. But when they are, orange wines exhibit levels of savoriness, tangy textures, tea-like aromas and exotic spice notes that are simply unavailable from straight-up whites or reds. I’ve long been a fan of the Slovenian wines from Kabaj that are made in this style, and I hope that at least one of the amphora-aged orange wines from the Republic of Georgia that I’ve recently drunk may become available here. Until then, there’s Channing Daughters’ Ramato 2013 ($27), a pinot grigio fermented on skins in the traditional method employed in Friuli, Italy.

Channing Daughters is a remarkably inventive, serious, exploratory winery on Long Island, New York’s South Fork. Their Ramato is splendid, with an old amber soul, smooth and elegant. It retains brightness and is perfectly amenable to a wide array of meals, with none of the craziness you might imagine from such an unconventional process. Dry and exotic, deep-toned, it exudes all sorts of winter flavors: honey, baking spice, poached dried fruit, tarte tatin. Drunk with poultry, winter squashes, hard cheeses, nuts and root vegetables, it is a revelatory wine.


Everyone already knows rosé is lovely, and already drinks gallons of it. I’m just going to mention briefly a wine I had fun with for a while this summer, not quite a rosé, not really red, not really anything but itself. That’d be the Fatalone ‘Teres’ Primitivo 2014 ($17), from a revered producer in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot.

The Teres was strangely inviting when it first became available. Deep pink in color, ridiculously juicy and delicious, with little of the overly alcoholic, roughed-up-zinfandel character of most primitivo, this wine begged for a chill and sidled up to any barbecue at all with irresistible charm. I drank it a few times, happily. Then at some point I realized it was a bit out of whack, lacking the acidity that has enabled good rosé to find mass acceptance and love. The Teres was fun because it was so sui generis, and I’ll remember it fondly though I’m not sure I’ll buy it again. Until this summer.


It’s hard enough to get folks to drink the superb and superbly priced red wines of Chinon, the Loire appellation known for producing delicate, Burgundian expressions of cabernet franc. So it’s an even steeper slog to introduce the super-rare Chinon whites, which like their neighbors in Vouvray and Saumur employ chenin blanc to fascinating effect.

The confounding thing about the Couly-Dutheil ‘Les Chanteaux’ 2013 ($31), though, is how easy it is for people to love (or would be, if they tried it). It’s not an inexpensive wine, but it will blow you away. Especially if you let it sit for a bit: I drank both the 2013 and 2012 last year (and have drunk the 2011, and 2010 …), each time stunned by its complexity and gracefully borne heft. When younger, it’s a basket of lemons, oranges and gravel, vibrant and muscle-bound. After a year or three, totally different traits come out: buttery, rich and above all waxy, weighty. It becomes a heavy-duty wine (though unoaked) that lovers of oak-tinged chardonnay would swoon over, but probably won’t get the chance to, unless they take it.


Sauvignon blanc remains the preeminent go-to crowd-pleasing white for those who like unoaked and dry white wines emphasizing acidity, crispness and intense aromatics. New Zealand’s popularity along these lines speaks to that craving.

I do enjoy sauvignon blanc at times, when it doesn’t attack too aggressively and rip the enamel off my teeth. The Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($18), from a region of South Africa that has been producing wines more than 300 years, was a standout teachable moment for me last year. It bears none of the over-assertive grassiness, heavy-handed tropical notes or cat-pee aroma of so much Loire or New Zealand SB, but is instead fresh-faced, elegant, luxurious. I’d given up hope of finding a genuinely new personality for sauvignon blanc, but this is it.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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