My choice for Wine of the Year is the 2000 Chateau de Fonbel.
The story here is simple: An innocent tasting where I was simply blind-sided by the wine's purity and elegance - aromatic with plentiful fruit wrapped in layers of great spice, minerality and florality. The mouthfeel is undeniably St-Emilion - luxurious and full, expansive and enveloping, yet with a seemingly nimble footprint.
At under $40, this is one of the best deals in Bordeaux I've come across all year.
This is a bottle from one of the greatest Bordeaux vintages of the last decade with almost 8 years of perfect cellaring behind it, just now coming into its prime drinking window, though it is certainly structured enough to improve for another 3 to 5 years in the cellar.
This is what I expect and seek out in great Bordeaux; this is what, unfortunately, I so seldom find. The 2005 vintage has sent Bordeaux prices up once again, and with the falling dollar and increasing shipping costs, it's getting harder and harder to find a worthy bottle of Bordeaux that can be enjoyed by everyone.
I'll be the first to admit that my choice is both perfectly obvious, and perhaps a bit surprising.
It's perfectly obvious for a number of reasons. Bordeaux is arguably the most famous wine region in the world and declaring a "Wine of the Year" from this region is akin to stating earnestly that Picasso a way with color and composition. Additionally, Chateau de Fonbel, though hardly famous, is owned by Alain Vauthier, who also runs perhaps the most famous estate in St-Emilion, Chateau Ausone. Vauthier is known as a "perfectionist" and the quality at Fonbel has been climbing over the last few years and people are beginning to take notice.
Add to all this the fact that 2000 is one of the most acclaimed Bordeaux vintages of the last decade or more and you have a recipe for the astoundingly obvious.
What probably makes this choice a bit surprising for those who know me is that my obsessions most often veer into wine esoterica: Italian wines like Miani or Ligurian Vermentino, Macle's poetic Vin Jaunes from the Jura or the great wines of Germany like Rebholz's dry Rieslings... to name but a few. All of these bottles are astounding. However, they are also wines that demand their own unique context, a more rarified space for contemplation that is decidedly out of the spotlight.
On the other hand, what I find so impressive about the Fonbel is that it is a true and successful expression from a region that has perhaps been weighed down by its own staggering success - its overexposure in the spotlight.
St-Emilion specifically, with its cadre of garagiste wines and intense small-production Merlots, has done much to confuse the idea of Bordeaux as a wine born of a specific "terroir."
The 2000 Fonbel sets the gauge back to equilibrium. Indeed, this is a wine that certainly doesn't ignore the plush textures that the great wines of St-Emilion are famous for - though it adds so much more to the picture: Cigar box and moist tobacco notes, an unmistakable foundation of rocks and stones and even some roasted meat notes that add to the complexity of this hearty red.
The 2000 Fonbel comes directly from the cellars of the Chateau and I have secured as much as I could, simply because I would love to have the wine in the store for as long as I can. So far I've been unable to find another wine of this quality, with this age, at anything close to this price-point.
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