While everyone else has already weighed in with their best of (or worst of) 2004, I've been having a hard time putting together a top pick list. It's not that I didn't taste a lot of great wines last year, but there were no real standouts that came to mind. Blame it on the wines, or blame it on a fading memory, I had to widen my focus from individual bottles, coming up with three less specific trends that highlighted the wine world for me in 2004.
2003 marked the first time we could sell Port outside the liquor store venue, and a Port made my top pick list for that year, but what really impressed me in 2004 was the quality of non-fortified, dry red wines from that region. It was on a trek to Canada last summer that I first discovered them. Taxes on imports in British Columbia are very high, (Yellow Tail Shiraz goes for $18), so I usually stick with the local wines. Works great for whites, but BC reds haven't quite reached the same quality level. That's when I hit on a number of Portuguese reds all priced around ten bucks. They were remarkably good for the money, and now, back in Idaho, I'm starting to find more of these great wine values. Typical grape varieties include Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz--wines to look for include the 2000 Altano, $7.49, 2002 Quinta do Alqueva Tradicional, $8.99 and the 2001 Quinta de la Rosa $12.99.
2004 marked a notable increase in the availability of different Malbecs from Argentina, including some very worthy, high-end offerings. I found something to like in almost every Malbec I tried last year, but here are a few I particularly enjoyed: 2003 High Altitude, $8.49, 2003 Budini, $8.99, 2002 Dona Paula, $10.99, 2002 Ben Marco, $17.99 and 2003 Altos Los Hormiga Reserva, $19.50.
Love 'em or hate 'em, 2004 proved that they are here to stay, with an ever-increasing number of wineries jumping on the screw cap bandwagon. Most Aussie Rieslings and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs open with a twist, and big time converts to the Stelvin closure include Bonny Doon and Beringer Blass. Even some Oregon Pinot producers have embraced the new tops, including Argyle and A to Z. And while the harsh click of a screw cap opening may be less appealing on an auditory level than that pleasant pop accompanying a pulled cork, what some see as romantic ritual, others view as pretentious snobbery. One thing is certain--there's nothing romantic about the musty smell of a bottle ruined by cork taint.