The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 Wines of 2012

Published by Saturday, December 22, 2012 Permalink 0
Follow us!Follow on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterFollow on Google+Pin on PinterestFollow on TumblrFollow on LinkedIn

by James Flewellen

recent post by my friend Tom Parker on his top wines of the last year inspired me to go through my notes to consider the same question. Wine tasting being the highly subjective and opinionated business that it is, it is nigh on impossible to narrow down a list of the best wines one has tasted in a year. Thus, I’ll go for the most enjoyable wines I can recall from the past 12 months to create my list of the top 10 wines of 2012.

Enjoyment of wine is predicated on many things other than the quality of the wine itself – the situation, the company, your frame of mind, for instance. And I’ve found that tasting great wines in a sterile, academic or commercial setting doesn’t really do justice to the mystic and sublime essence of a magical beverage. I’ve tried to take these factors into account in my list, as well as reflecting a range of styles and the locations I’ve visited throughout the year.

So, in no particular order:

Pewsey Vale vineyard, Eden Valley.

1. Pewsey Vale ‘The Contours’ Riesling 2006. Eden Valley, South Australia.

A beautiful wine from a beautiful place. ‘The Contours’ is made from the best fruit in one tiny sub-plot from the Pewsey Vale vineyard high above the Eden Valley floor. 2006 was the most recent release at the time. Lively lime,  blossom and tertiary notes developing. Refreshing and elegant.

2. Bollinger Grande Année 2002. Champagne, France.

I love rich champagne styles and Bollinger is always a sure performer for me in this regard. The superb 2002 vintage brings even more leanness and length to this wine. Still a baby in drinking terms but very hard to resist!

3. Brokenwood ‘The Graveyard’ Shiraz 2001. Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia.

Hunter Valley Shiraz is so unlike the jammy Barossan ‘fruit bombs’ that most outside of Sydney associate with Aussie Shiraz. It can be wonderfully complex, earthy and Hermitage-esque. ‘The Graveyard’ is one of the best, and it was a rare privilege to taste such a great wine at an age it deserved to be drunk.

4. Langmeil ‘The Freedom 1843’ Shiraz 2009. Barossa, South Australia.

Tiny amounts of this wine are made from one of the oldest plots of vines remaining in the world. 1843 refers to the year of planting. This wine is nothing like any Barossa Shiraz I’ve ever tasted. Incredibly concentrated and animally. Far too young at three years old, but an amazing wine to experience nonetheless.

Ancient Shiraz vine in Langmeil's 1843 Freedom vineyard.

5. Cornas, Les Grandes Terrasses, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 2001, Northern Rhône, France.

Rounding out a trio of Shiraz/Syrah: I showed this wine at a recent tasting in Oxford and was mightily impressed by its length, complexity and great value for money. Drinking very well now.

6. Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 (barrel sample). Margaret River, Western Australia.

The most enjoyable barrel sample I’ve ever tasted. The wine had been blended from the individually-aged parcels and was into its second round of oaking. Incredibly taut, balanced and complex. Brimming with potential.

7. Phélan Ségur 1996. St Estèphe, Bordeaux, France.

During a trip to Bordeaux over the summer, Phélan stood out for their hospitality, their obvious attention to detail in the winery, and their delicious wines. We were so impressed that a friend hosted a mini-vertical of Phélan later in the year. The ’96 was the most mature, complex and enjoyable of these, although many of the other vintages will get there in time.

With David Ling at Hugel following a portfolio tasting.

8. Hugel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles 1976. Alsace, France.

One of the most astonishing dessert wines I’ve ever had. Pulled completely out of the bag during a visit to the charming Hugel property in Riquewihr. Endless length and complexity and a beautiful balance between sweetness, acidity and the perceived dryness all great dessert wines get with age.

9. Pirinoa Road Reserve Pinot Noir 2008. Martinborough, New Zealand.

A brilliant pretender to the Burgundian crown of Pinot supremacy. Great balance between lively red fruit, floral overtones and meaty depths. Still young but starting to develop delicious tertiary character.

10. Marie-Thèrese Chappaz Grain d’Or 2010. Valais, Switzerland.

A fascinating and unusual wine. Marie-Thèrese Chappaz makes extraordinary wines from her vantage point in some of the world’s steepest vineyards overlooking the Rhône River in Switzerland. This wine is mostly Marsanne, from gnarly 90-year-old vines (with a good claim to being the oldest in Switzerland), and spends 18 months in barrel. Still too young, but it’s so hard to get your hands on a mature example of these wines — they are all sold in person every year in May at the winery!

Grain d'Or at the Chappaz vineyard in Valais.


Jansz Traditional Method Sparkling. Tasmania, Australia. When my budget won’t extend to champagne or English Sparkling, Jansz is my delicious, great value fallback option.

Three Choirs Midsummer Hill, 2011. Gloucestershire, England. Brilliant value, light, fruity English offering.

Macrocarpa Pinot Gris, 2011. Marlborough, New Zealand. Lovely single vineyard expression of Pinot Gris firmly in the Alsatian mould.

The Lane Chardonnay 2009. Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Delicious Chardonnay with judicious and balanced use of oak. Went with a delicious lunch at the winery.

McGuigan Semillon Bin 9000 1997. Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia. Hunter Valley Semillon is certainly one of Australia’s great gifts to the world of wine. Lovely to taste one with significant bottle age to bring out the subtle tarragon and nutty notes.

Duas Pedras 2009. Alentejo, Portugal. Touriga Nacional blended with Syrah, this is a powerful, rewarding wine that needs decanting in advance and has become one of my staple reds.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season with plenty of good cheer and fine bottles. I’m not yet sure what I’ll be drinking on Christmas Day, but I have a feeling I’ll stick to my favourites: something French, something Kiwi, something sparkling, something Pinot…


James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and the Oxford Wine Academy.

Never miss a post
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  • Elatia Harris
    February 19, 2013

    I would LOVE to really know how to do this. I was married to someone who did, and have drunk SO much great wine, but my connoisseurship never exceded understanding how to pair wine with food. It’s a whole universe, and I feel like a very challenged traveler.

  • James Flewellen
    February 21, 2013

    Hi Elatia,
    It sounds as though you’re off to a good start with the food and wine pairing. In many ways they’re quite similar with analysis of flavours, aromas and chemical structure to bring an overall harmony. Then of course, with wine there is the ‘identification’ side of things – which, happily, only improves with experience! But there are certainly places to start to narrow down the options.
    Stay tuned for some more posts on the most popular grape varieties, and feel free to get in touch if you have any particular questions.

  • Elatia Harris
    February 21, 2013

    Thank you James! That’s a really helpful way to look at it. I look forward to reading more!