Pursuitist Epicurean: Ian Blackburn, Wine Guru

Top 10 Wines To Give (And To Keep)

Move over, vodka , rum, and beer.  Wine is now the world’s number-one most popular alcoholic beverage.  But things get complicated when it comes to choosing what type of wine to drink, gift, or store in cellars to enjoy in a few years.

So we turned to wine guru Ian Blackburn of LearnAboutWine – the leading source for wine education and events in Southern California — to school us on the selection process, and to make his essential wines recommendations.

“As a wine professional, I rarely receive wine as a gift except from the very few in my inner circle that feel confident to purchase something special,” says Blackburn, a Master of Wine student and teacher whose classes and tastings have served to demystify wine for nearly 20 years since the launch of LearnAboutWine (http://www.learnaboutwine.com/) .  “I’m famous, however, for purchasing gifts for others and for finding the treasures that I hold dear — and purchasing a few gifts for myself.”

Since Blackburn has taught more than 50,000 students in just his core class, “Wine Camp: An Introduction to Wine,” we asked to copy his notes for a cheat-sheet shopping list of his Top 10 finds. “Being a student of wine and a teacher, I enjoy wines at all price points and quality levels,” he says. “Here are the wines that I tend to get excited about.”

10. Lail Vineyards “Georgia” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2011 or 2012 ($120)

Ian Blackwood: “Phillip Melka on winemaking and Robin Lail Vineyard Owner, what a team of personality and perfection. This is the newest edition, the latest trend to emerge out of Napa Valley – ultra-premium Sauvignon Blanc. Melka, who cut his teeth on the category in Bordeaux, is bringing his daft touch to this variety that now sees new life in the $100+ club.  “Georgia” benefits from high tear selection from low yield vineyards, hand stirring in expensive wood, time, age and careful ‘Melka’ craftsmanship.”

9. EPOCH, Estate Blend 2011 ($50)

“There are few wines in the world that pack as much immediate hedonistic pleasure as a bottle of wine from Paso Robles. This is an estate to familiarize yourself with, and they have a surprising life expectancy. I would enjoy any of the top end productions from these quality estates: Denner, L’Aventure, LAW Estate, STANGER, and The Farm.”

Epoch Estate Winery

Epoch Estate Winery

8. Elio Grasso Gavarini Vigna Chiniera, Barolo DOCG 2010 ($80+)

“The 2010 wines are exciting, ripe, expansive and collectable, but will require some patience to enjoy more than just a taste. The 2010 vintage brings levels of ripeness, richness, and concentration that can be exploited by the modern wineries and are sometimes downcast by the loyal traditionalist.  Other 2010’s to seek out include Giuseppe Mascarello, Domenico Clerico, Vietti, Roberto Voerzio, Elio Altare, and Giacomo Conterno.”

7. Hetszolo Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary 2004 ($50)

“Dessert wines are such a fantastic gift, and people rarely purchase them for themselves.  A great bottle of dessert wine is truly the punctuation mark of any great gathering. Other recommended producers include Royal Tokaji, Oremus, and Disznoko.” 

6. Hamilton Russell Vineyards Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, South Africa 2012 ($40)

“Having traveled the wine world, this is one of the greatest wine estates on the planet. Consistent and elevating quality every year, Hamilton Russell is a great alternative to Burgundy and can be enjoyed near term or be cellared for a decade.”

Hamilton Russell Vineyards, South Africa

Hamilton Russell Vineyards, South Africa

5. Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2012 ($25)

“Wines from the Mosel use to be in price parity with the great wines of Bordeaux.  Today, the wines are underpriced, but over-deliver. St. Urbans-Hof is consistently one of my favorite producers, providing polished wines of great concentration and persistence.  Other recommendations: Joh. Jos. Prum, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, and Zilliken.”

4. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2004 ($140)

“In Champagne, the competitive forces are at work in a very big way. The wine quality continues to increase, as do the prices, and yet demand is outpacing supply. Comtes de Champagne is as refined and polished a wine as there is, and I enjoy the nuance of the 2004 with hints of chalk, stone, pear, elegant perfume, the very mouse and attack. Other preferred producers:  Pierre Peters, Billecart-Salmon, and Vilmart. Other preferred producers:  Pierre Peters, Billecart-Salmon, and Vilmart.”  



3. Mauritson Wines, Jacks Cabin Vineyard, Zinfandel, Rockpile 2012 ($45)

“Yes, not a typo:  Zinfandel.  As a Zinfandel producer, I love to taste the exciting efforts of huge set of producers that continue to focus on quality improvements and bring new life to this category. It’s a bit of a hit and miss, however, so you really need to be in touch with the producers of merit and support their higher tier efforts whenever possible. Other Zinfandels to pursue: Bedrock, Beekeeper, Biale, Turley, Ridge, Passalacqua, Gamba, Carol Shelton, and Limerick Lane.”


2. Chateau Leoville Poyferre, Saint-Julien, France 2003 ($200)

“If someone were to say ‘Ian, pick a bottle of wine you think about most from the past year,’ it would be this one.  At 11 years of age, it is spectacular. The 2003 is a very dramatic, yet nuanced wine that can be enjoyed with your nose alone. Its richness is seductive, and I can still taste it several months later. I’m looking for more of this particular treasure.”

1. Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf du Pape, Reserve 1985 ($1,095)

“Ok, ok, it’s almost impossible to find and it’s one of the greatest wines ever made that only the privileged few get to know about.   At more than $1000 a bottle, it will probably be the gift I buy myself this coming year… but I will share it with as many people as possible.  It is ‘the wine’ that opened my mind, and blew it all over the wine cellar. If you have to have a number one, it better mean something.”

Chateau Rayas, Tours, France

Chateau Rayas, Tours, France


This article was originally published on Pursuitist. Republished by permission.