Top Wine Picks for 2019
Western Cape, South Africa
Lavender, green tea, and baby powder jump out of this glass! This sparkling wine, made from chardonnay and pinot noir, is as good by itself as it is with chicken and waffles. No kidding, this energetic wine wakes the palate and cleans waffles’ heaviness to have you begging for another bite. Put some raspberries or strawberries in the waffles and taste this explosive pairing.
From the Cortese grape in the small village of Gavi in Piedmont, Italy, this wine is a quintessential go-to for those married to pinot grigio and wanting to have an affair. It’s sleek, vivacious, and super fresh with more complexity than pinot grigio. It lights it up with anything shellfish!
Made in the basement of the owner’s house, this wine is produced by the Durdilly family. All three of them – mom, dad, and son – make 2,500 cases of wine in their cellar every year. Rose petals, fresh strawberries, and watermelon make this ultimate patio pounder the bottle to take to the lake. Shrimp on the barbie with a little spice please!
Central Coast, California
Produced by Bob Lindquist, who is the godfather of syrah in the states, Qupé never ceases to amaze with its streamlined texture, hints of rosemary and black pepper, and exquisite balance. These wines are extremely food friendly and the perfect medium for the velvet-loving pinot noir fan and the “fat-daddy” cab lover. Lamb chops with herbs de Provence please!
Anderson Valley, California
Tiny bubbles dance across your tongue with this tête de cuvée from Anderson Valley. A well-balanced sparkling that delivers from beginning to end, this bubbly is comprised mainly of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Stone fruit and toasted brioche on the nose is followed by bright, crisp green apple on the palate. The touch of oak from the added reserve wines brings a complexity to the wine that has you wanting more. Perfect for any occasion!
Santa Maria Valley, California
Fleshy stone fruit, white flowers, and mineral notes are bright and cheerful on the nose and palate of this pinot blanc from Santa Maria Valley. Winemaker Wes Hagen’s love affair with this genetic mutation of the pinot noir grape is contagious with the 2015 vintage. Pair this white with Carolina barbeque or your favorite seafood. And don’t be afraid to cellar this beauty! Drink until 2025.
Rarecat’s 2017 vintage is coined “Jennifer” to honor the “rarecat” who helped craft this elegant rosé. Pale pink in color, this wine is comprised of mostly grenache with a touch of viognier. It’s lively and bright on the palate with notes of pink grapefruit and raspberry. This is a perfect wine to start off any evening.
Russian River Valley, California
Anthill Farms is a small production winery focusing on creating terroir-driven wines using low-impact wine making methods. This sets them apart in terms of the quality of wines they produce. The Tina Marie is a hillside vineyard located in the Green Valley appellation in the Russian River Valley. This wine is rich and concentrated with a nose of earth and spice. It is medium bodied with balanced acidity showing elegant red fruit notes. Pair this pretty pinot with herb-crusted pork tenderloin, a good book, or your very best friends.
This crémant, created using the traditional method, consists of chardonnay grapes (50%) from the Lehe terroir (clay and limestone, covered with loessal soil), and pinot blanc/auxerrois (50%) from the Osthoffen slopes (deep marl). It is therefore a “blanc de blancs.” Stored horizontally on laths for at least 24 months prior to disgorgement, the wine acquires the typical brioche aromas of yeast autolysis, while remaining fruity, lively, and well-structured. The delicate and long-lasting effervescence also bears witness to the slow second fermentation and aging of the wines on lees.
Colli Tortonesi, Italy
Timorasso is a Colli Tortonesi native vine, with special sensory-stimulating characteristics due to the exceptional microclimate of the territory. The very cool nights leading up to the harvest create perfumes and fragrant scents. It is crisp, with citrus, minerality, and structure.
Basque Region, Spain
Made with 50% ondarrabi zuri and 50% ondarrabi beltza grapes, this wine has a floral nose and a bouquet of strawberries and white flowers. The mouthfeel is full of citrus varietal notes and salinity. A classy palate-freshener, it’s balanced with a persistent aromatic finish. The soil adds mineral overtones with bright acidity and a clean fresh finish.
Barbera d’Asti, Italy
Friendly, approachable, and full of juicy fruit flavor, Barbera produces wines in a wide range of styles, from young and fruity to serious, spicy, and age-worthy. This Barbera shows aromas of blueberry, wet earth, and a hint of orange peel. Full body with bright acidity and lots of intensity, this wine still maintains its balance and silky-texture – an ultra-fine Barbera that combines richness with finesse.
Founded in 1867 by Giuseppe Contratto, this winery is the oldest user of the classic (Champagne) method of producing sparkling wine in Italy. In the beginning of the 20th century, this sparkling wine was the personal sparkling wine to the Vatican, to the royal houses in Italy, and some say the British Empire. Aged 60 months on the lees from 30-35-year-old vines, using pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, Contratto is full bodied with notes of yellow apple, Bartlett pear, toasted almonds, and brioche toast. Don’t let the front of this label fool you; it is quite the serious wine.
Northern Rhone Valley, France
I am really in love with the Northern Rhone region at the moment – both red and white wines. Jean Louis Chave always amazes with his level of quality, age-worthy wines that bring power and elegance to the dinner table. Formally known as “Celeste,” this wine is a blend of marsanne and roussanne from the granite soils of the St. Joseph region. The nose is filled with apricots, peaches, and white flowers. The palate is rich and juicy with a lot of texture, which is best paired with rich seafood, chicken, and pork.
Napa Valley, California
I had the pleasure of visiting Jill and Steve Matthiasson on my most recent trip to California, and it was such a delight. Steve really is a genius when it comes to understanding farming, his vineyards, and blending. He is a highly sought after winemaker in Napa Valley and a James Beard Finalist in 2018 for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. This rosé is truly summer in a glass, with notes of ripe strawberries, cherries, purple flowers, and orange peel. I could sip this rosé all evening long.
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Chateau Musar is a legendary producer, and I am so pleased to finally have their wines in the Chattanooga market. Stylistically, this wine is a bold blend of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, creating an intense, age-worthy wine that is best paired with food. The nose is filled with ripe, almost baked fruits like plums, figs, black cherry, and cassis. Chateau Musar’s commitment to quality is shown through their aging process: It takes a full seven years after harvest to release these wines to market. I highly recommend decanting, because there will be a good bit of sediment.
Elegant and alluring, Moët Impérial is an iconic champagne. It embodies Moët & Chandon’s unique style and is distinguished by its bright fruitiness, seductive palate, and elegant maturity. Created from more than 100 different wines, it reflects the diversity and complementarity of three grape varietals: pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay. The palate combines the sumptuousness of white-fleshed fruits with the soft subtlety of citrus fruit. Vibrant and bubbly, it’s the perfect aperitif to begin your meal or finish it in grand style when paired with a classic crème brûlée.
2. Truchard Vineyards Chardonnay 2015
Carneros, Napa Valley, California
This wine is a chardonnay that tastes delightfully like a chardonnay grape. Rather than oaky and buttery, Truchard’s chardonnay possesses a cleaner style with bright acidity. The aromatic nose boasts scents of pineapple, quince, and jasmine with hints of nutmeg and fig. The mouth is clean and bright – filled with fresh flavors of green apple, pear, and Meyer lemon. This wine is true to its Carneros’ roots and is great for pairing with salmon or chicken.
Sitting at the crossroads of Carneros and Napa Valley, Starmont’s foggy mornings and cool afternoon bay breezes create the perfect conditions for the production of expressive and approachable wines. And winemaker Jeff Crawford has done just that with this versatile wine. A classically balanced rosé, Starmont possesses engaging strawberry and melon flavors. Crisp and light, it can be paired with a variety of foods, though my personal pick would be to savor it with a fall harvest salad with mesclun greens, roasted corn, dried cherries, and pecans.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
This red is from the winemaking effort of grape growers Dick and Deirdre Shea. Dick traded his job on Wall Street in 1989 to become a winemaker in Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley. The family takes great pride in producing small quantities of distinctive, world-class pinot, like this stunning Estate selection. Shea Estate pairs perfectly with a sizzling filet and has floral aromatics of black cherry as well as subtle spice notes.
As someone who typically prefers a more masculine and broody type of bubbly, I love this champagne because it’s the complete opposite. You could serve this to a group of very different friends, and everyone would love it. This blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier has a fine mousse that lingers behind the fresh fruit and floral notes. It’s really quite elegant and reminds me of a field of flowers in the spring.
Paso Robles, California
Paso Robles is known particularly for its affinity for creating wines with Rhone varietals, and winemaker Mark Adams has done such a great job with this lesser-known white. I particularly love how intensely textural this wine is, and the minerality pairs nicely with bright fruit, subtle florals, and a hint of salt. This full-bodied white will please an array of palates, including chardonnay drinkers or someone who normally prefers red varietals.
Santa Barbara County, California
Generally, when people think of rosé, they think about France, but this bottle from California has me rooting for the home team. This is a very versatile rosé. I have started stockpiling this bottle at my house and pick up a bottle any time I see it in a wine shop. It has a rounded body that can stand up to any month of the year and acid that can stand up to almost any food. It reminds me of strawberries and cream, and who doesn’t want that wrapped up in a glass of wine?
Mt. Harlan, California
This is without a doubt the best wine I’ve had this year. People sometimes talk about “ah-ha” moments with wine, and this falls easily into that category for me. Calera is already pretty well known, but it’s their single vineyard productions that are hidden gems. The Selleck Vineyard has turned out a truly complex and rich pinot noir that leaves you waiting for that next sip. Intense red fruits weave beautifully with smoke and white pepper. If this wine was film noir, it would be The Maltese Falcon.
This sparkling is made from organically grown vines of the three best indigenous grapes grown in the Penedes region in the northeastern corner of Spain: xarello, macabeo, and parellada. The Naveran family legacy began in 1901 and has an impressive track record of making the least expensive vintage bubbly on the planet, displaying clean, bright, citrus-infected aromas and flavors with the all-important tiny bubbles.
Baja California, Mexico
If the name Henri Lurton sounds French to you, you could be on to something. If Lurton somehow brings the French Wine Region of Bordeaux to mind, go to the head of the class! Henri is the owner of Chateau Brane-Cantenac in Margaux, rated as a Second Growth in the famous Bordeaux Classification of 1855. Enter Lulu Martinez Ojeda, a native of Ensenada Mexico, who was the assistant winemaker at Brane-Cantenac for 10 years. Through Lulu’s knowledge of the winegrowing potential of Baja California, Mexico, Henri Lurton has created one of Mexico’s premier wineries, and their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc is a superb blending of old and new world styles into a lavish yet crisp white wine with seamless mineral undertones.
Pico Island, Portugal
António Maçanita, one of Portugal’s top young winemakers, runs two highly acclaimed wineries on the mainland, but his third venture took him 1,021 miles west of Lisbon to Pico, the tallest of the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores archipelago. This rosé is a blend of tempranillo, touriga nacional, and a few other local red grapes, all grown within 50 meters of the windswept Atlantic coastline. The wind is so severe that to keep the vines alive Antonio built protective rock walls around the plants. This beautifully lively, dry rosé displays a wonderful salinity both on the bouquet and on the palate, which leaves a refreshing, lingering finish.
Baja California, Mexico
The Bodegas Lurton white wine from Mexico’s Baja California location was so impressive, I could not resist singing the praises of this 60% tempranillo seamlessly blended with 40% cabernet sauvignon from the San Vicente and La Grulla valleys. Big, bold, and rich, yet beautifully balanced, its finish I found to be nothing less than hypnotic. It’s a stunning example of a red blend that will send ripples of surprise all the way to Napa Valley.
Loire Valley, France
A blend of folle blance, pinot noir, and muscadet, this sparkling wine is produced with exquisite attention to detail. Hand harvested in small batches and naturally fermented, this beauty spends two years on the lees. So if you’re looking for a surprisingly elegant alternative to champagne but on a budget, this biodynamically grown sparkling is for you! Expect lots of minerality, lemon, and peachy notes with a bready mouthfeel. This yummy sparkler is perfect for really anything!
Loire Valley, France
With the Reverdy family making wine as far back as the 1600s, this wine is definitely a treat. Crisp, fresh, and citrusy, this sauvignon blanc has a mouthfeel balanced between full roundness and zesty lemon tartness. Subtle aromas of mango and peach keep this wine approachable while its citrusy personality makes it the perfect partner to oysters and shellfish. It could even stand alone as an aperitif.
You have to love this refreshing and juicy rosé produced by the respected Perrin family. The property is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. This fruity rosé is comprised of a blend of cinsault, grenache, rolle, and syrah grapes. Notes of fresh strawberries and raspberries fill your palate, offering enough fullness for richer foods or to
be enjoyed on its own.
Priorat Region, Spain
If you like fruity yet elegant reds, this one is for you. Plus, it’s a steal! Made from a blend of garnacha, samso, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah, this fruity red is fermented for eight months in mostly wooden vats and barrels. Notes of rich blueberries, blackberry, and leather allow it to pair well with this season’s holiday dinner.
Russian River Valley, California
These crisp bubbles open with nuanced aromas of toasted almond, followed by notes of green apple, dried cranberry, and ginger snap. Flavors of lemon meringue pie are whisked away by a lively finish. Pair this versatile sparkler with artisan cheese or a sweet ginger calamari.
Napa Valley, California
Chardonnay is blended with white Rhône and aromatic varieties, equally bold and intriguing – a luscious entry of toasted hazelnut and mandarin is balanced by bright acidity and minerality. The finish is rich and creamy with flavors of lemon zest and caramelized sugar. It pairs nicely with a pan-seared Alaskan halibut that is served over roasted sweet potatoes, portabella mushrooms, and fresh spinach hash.
Napa Valley, California
Deep and saturated with a core of blueberries, black plum, black cherry, lavender, and pepper spice, this wine displays an extraordinary elegance and finesse. Delicate cinnamon, clove, and cedar spice notes on the palate are restrained by heavy tannins and a generous lengthy finish, encouraging you to enjoy it now; but it has the depth and complexity to age for many years to come. This wine pairs nicely with pork chops over mashed sweet potatoes, accompanied by a plum glaze or pan-roasted duck with maple soy glaze.
Napa Valley, California
This tantalizing red blend of grenache, petite sirah, and syrah is crafted by renowned winemaker Dave Phinney. Black currant, blackberry, dust, leather, jam, black pepper, currant, blueberry, and strawberry on the nose are balanced with high tannins and flavors of vanilla, toast, smoke, tobacco, dark and red fruit, and cedar. It’s perfect for enjoying with a filet or ribeye with bordelaise.