I’m not entirely sure how many wines I tried in 2006, but I do know that I filled a towering stack of reporter’s notebooks with tasting notes. A lot of these wines were terrific, but the following are among my most thrilling finds: They represent the most exciting new wines of the year. Some are new projects from world-renowned winemakers like French consultant Michel Rolland (now producing a richly textured Bordeaux-style blend in Washington State) and John Duval (the longtime winemaker at Penfolds in Australia who left to focus on his own artisanal venture). Other wines are new projects from ambitious young winemakers rediscovering and meticulously refurbishing ancient vineyards in places like Spain and Portugal. Still other wines defy easy categorization. You’ll see some unusual grape names (varieties like Carmenère and Godello) and a few amazing new value wines, too—including a juicy $7 Grenache.
2005 Pazo de Monterrey Blanco ($14)
The growers at the Bodegas Ribera del Támega vineyard in a remote corner of Spain’s Galicia region have forged a joint venture with young winemaker María Vidal. One result is the Pazo de Monterrey Blanco, a blend of the indigenous white grapes Godello and Treixadura. Clean, crisp and food-friendly, it’s a great value.
2004 Martin Alfaro Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($20)
Full of apricot and lemon zest notes, this vibrant California Chardonnay from new producer Martin Alfaro is made with grapes from four vineyards scattered throughout the Santa Cruz mountains. Winemaker Joe Martin ages the Chardonnay in French oak on its lees (spent yeast cells that are produced after fermentation), which helps give the wine both an added complexity and a silky texture.
2005 As Sortes ($35)
Rafael Palacios has had to live somewhat in the shadow of his famous brother, Álvaro—whose single-vineyard L’Ermita is one of Spain’s most sought-after wines—but Rafael is a remarkable winemaker in his own right. His extraordinary As Sortes white, made from the Godello grape in the Valdeorras region, is minerally and complex, with notes of grapefruit rind and pear.
2005 Bodegas Ateca Garnacha de Fuego ($7)
This Grenache from Calatayud, one of Spain’s hottest up-and-coming regions (though wine has been made there for 2,000 years), is loaded with the taste of dense, juicy black cherry and licorice. Bodegas Ateca is a new joint venture between visionary wine importer Jorge Ordoñez and the winemaking Gil family of Jumilla, known for its Monastrell-based (aka Mourvèdre) reds.
2004 Vale do Bomfim Douro ($14)
The Quinta do Bomfim estate in Portugal’s Douro region has long provided the grapes (primarily the Touriga Nacional variety) for Dow’s acclaimed vintage ports; now those same grapes are part of this lush black-fruited table wine.
2004 Climbing Shiraz ($17)
The aroma of fresh-picked blueberries and the taste of blackberries (and a little black pepper) define this new Shiraz from Philip Shaw, former longtime winemaker for Australia’s Rosemount Estate. It comes from New South Wales’s Orange region, which, while long known for its apple and pear orchards, has been producing wine grapes commercially only since 1980.
2004 John Duval Wines Entity ($40)
No one knows Barossa Shiraz better than John Duval, who was the chief winemaker of Australia’s legendary Penfolds winery from 1986 to 2002. At his own new eponymous winemaking venture, he’s released this formidable, smoky, blackberry-rich Shiraz.
2003 Pedestal ($55)
The famously peripatetic winemaking consultant Michel Rolland oversees vineyard projects all over the world (Harlan Estate in Napa and Château Le Bon Pasteur in Bordeaux, to name just two). In partnership with Washington State-based Long Shadows proprietor Allen Shoup (former Chateau Ste. Michelle CEO), Rolland has produced a richly textured Bordeaux-style blend from seven vineyards.
2003 Xisto ($55)
Named for the Portuguese word for schist, the rock that defines the soil of the Douro region of Portugal, Xisto is the first vintage from the collaborative efforts of Jorge Roquette (owner of the Douro’s Quinta do Crasto) and Bordeaux winemaker Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages. With its smoky flavors and scent of wild herbs, this wine evokes the rugged Douro landscape.
2003 Concha y Toro Carmin de Peumo Carmenère ($74)
A complex blend of spicy oak notes, intense blueberry flavors, hints of mocha and pepper and powerful yet velvety tannins; this new wine from Chile’s Concha y Toro is Carmenère at its finest (also winemaker Ignacio Recabarren at his finest). A small percentage of Cabernet adds a hint of tobacco to the finish.
Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV ($50)
Veuve Clicquot’s signature Yellow Label brut may be the most recognizable Champagne in the world; it will be interesting to see whether its new pink label rosé—with perky berry flavors and a touch of brioche—can challenge it.