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December 30, 2012

Super Tuscans, whiskey lead pack for top 2012 wines and spirits

If there is one story that made 2012 a great year for wine, it's value. For while there will always be prestigious wines in short supply at exorbitant prices, wineries everywhere have been very cautious about cost, making it easier to drink a lot better for a far more reasonable amount of money. Global competition is a good thing when it comes to selling wine.

So, as I riffle through my notes over the past year, I find more enjoyment, overall, with new discoveries and old favorites whose consistency is always an allure. Here are some of the ones I was happiest drinking in 2012.

Two Gran Reserva Riojas, which by law must spend a minimum of 24 months aging, three of them in bottle, delighted me for their power, nuance and brilliance, without edging past 13.5 percent alcohol: Beronia Gran Reserva 2001 ($30) and Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 2001 ($38), a Rioja Alta blend of tempranillo, graciano, and mazuelo, aged in oak for 30 months.

In the same way, a Chianti Classico Riserva, Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda 2008 ($27) showed refined complexity with Italian styling, which was something of a surprise from an estate I've often thought made Chiantis that were too austere. This is a lusher version, showing that Chiantis can achieve the highest levels of quality in Italian viniculture.

One of the traditional Super Tuscans I was thrilled to enjoy again was Ornellaia, this time the newly released 2009 ($150), which was of medium body rather than the heavyweight normally associated with the estate.

The tannins were soft, the levels of acidity and fruit promise long life. The melding of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, while a Bordeaux blend, showed all its Italian charm in its soft radiance.

Joseph Drouhin's Clos de Mouches 2010 ($120) reminded me of the eminence of the best white Burgundies over all other chardonnays. A rainy, cool summer made for small berries that ripened with perfect sugars but a slightly below-normal alcohol, with wonderful bouquet and balance throughout the palate.

I make no secret of my enduring love for good Sancerre, but Domaine Thomas et Fils Sancerre La Crele 2010 ($25) was a revelation of the power sauvignon blanc can achieve. Big and full-fruited wine, made from old vines, with 13.5 percent alcohol, it's everything that the overly sweet and grassy sauvignon blancs of New Zealand and California should hope to be.

At an autumn dinner at Alain Senderen's restaurant in Paris, I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Pommery Cuvee Louise Brut Rose Millesime Champagne ($275) with a mousseline of pumpkin.

The next day I visited (as anyone may) the Domaine Pommery estate in Rheims, with its modern art-filled caves. I was happy to find that the newer vintages, especially the roses, have an elegance and fruit lacking in other prestige cuvees that are often much too bone dry.

Knob Creek is best known for its fine bourbons, so I thought it merely a novelty when I ran across their 100 proof Rye Whiskey ($41). Ryes are making something of a comeback, for while most traditional ryes have a sting and make good mixers, Knob Creek's, released last July, deserves to be savored in a cut crystal glass, preferably with a dog for companionship.

I like renegade spirits makers, and Phil Prichard of Prichard's Tennessee Whiskey ($30), founded in 1997 in an old schoolhouse complete with basketball hoops, is made from white corn in small batch copper pots, then aged in white oak barrels. The nose bursts with vanilla and soft smoky oak, so it begins sweet on the tongue, then trails off with an engaging, peppery finish that stays there until you take your next sip.

Orange liqueurs are usually added to other spirits and juices, as in a margarita. But Solerno Blood Orange ($30), from Sicily — in a great looking scarlet package — is best enjoyed on the rocks or crushed ice rather than in a cocktail. Its blood orange base gives it a unique, berry-like flavor, with medium sweetness, and a faint, pleasing burn.

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