Top Four 

The start of a new year is time for reflection and time for everyone's top picks for the one just past. I tasted a lot of great wines, but few stood out enough to capture my imagination over the year. They say if you're looking for an Academy Award nomination, a late release is a real plus. Works that way for wine this year. Most of my favorites filled the glass over the last few months, which means most are still available. Here are my top four for 2006 listed in alphabetical order.

Austrian Wines

Wines from Austria have created a wave of interest across the country and are finally making a small splash right here in Boise. If you're tired of the same old Cabernet and Chardonnay, these are just the thing to wake up your palate. There are a number of Gruner Veltliners currently available in the valley. These are reasonably priced, racy white wines with the emphasis on fresh fruit backed by bracing acidity. One of my current favorites is the 2005 Josef Ehmoser, priced under $15. Zweigelt is a hybrid red grape variety pioneered in the 1920s by an Austrian doctor of the same name. The only one I've tasted impressed me, a 2004 Pittnauer Klassik from the Burgenland region. Elegantly structured with vibrant dark fruit flavors, soft acidity and the finest of tannins this one retails for just over $15.

Grosset Riesling

Pulled a 2001 Grosset Polish Hills from the cellar and was immediately impressed by this Australian Rieslings freshness. Along with their Watervale, Grosset crafts the quintessential down under expression of this variety. Bone dry, some would say austere, loaded with bright citrus and stone fruit flavors, these wines hit their stride after a decade or so in the bottle. Seek them out--at around $25 a bottle they are worth every penny.

2002 Lan Edicion Limitada

A trip I took to Rioja last spring rekindled interest in Spain's most famous wine region. If you picture big bariques holding hundreds of gallons of aging red when you think Rioja, think again. It's all about old vines, tiny crop yields, small oak barrels and state-of-the-art facilities. One of the most impressive wineries was at Lan, with their computer-controlled, totally automated barrel room. And one of the most impressive wines was their 2002 Edicion Limitada, a muscular wine loaded with plum and cassis flavors, big bold tannins and a remarkably fresh finish that lingers on and on. At around $40 a bottle it's still a great buy.

Stone Brewing's Anniversary 10th IPA

The number four wine is a beer, and sadly, the only bottle you probably won't find in the market. An exceptionally well-balanced brew, it strikes a nice medium between that peel-the-taste-buds-off-your-tongue hop profile of Stone's Ruination IPA, and the sweet caramelized malt of their Arrogant Bastard. Pineapple flavors come through along with a lightly sweet mocha quality. Buy it if you find it, or look for number 11 late next summer.

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