What to give a friend who appreciates and is knowledgeable about wine? In this article, we give our recommendations based on the many fine wines we’ve tasted this year. The list includes Champagne, Sparkling Rosé, California Pinot Noir, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Chardonnay, Spanish Garnacha, Sweet Wines and Fortified Wines (Madeira, Sherry & Port) & Spirits. We provide summaries of our tasting notes in this article; the full reports can be found by doing a search on our home page www.iwinereview.com or clicking on the links in the notes. In addition to wines, we recommend a couple of stellar wine books for serious wine enthusiasts.
The World Atlas of Wine (8th ed.) by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson is the best and most comprehensive encyclopedia of wine in print today. It’s an essential reference volume for the wine scholar. Wine Tasting (2019 Commemorative Edition) is the classic book on wine first published by Michael Broadbent, the British wine expert, in 1968. Michael Broadbent and his writings inspired many of us to seriously delve into the world of wine, and this updated edition published in honor of his life is as relevant today as ever.
Champagne is the ultimate festive drink, and there are many, many very fine ones that would be suitable to give to someone who appreciates fine wines. Here are a couple that we’ve recently tasted and recommend. We encourage you to consult Report # 78 Champagne: Diversity and Change for many more.
Bruno Paillard NV Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($90) 93 Sourced from Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs with 4 years sur lie and reserve wines going back to 1985, this is a refined Champagne with a silky texture and exquisite lemon confit and floral aromas and flavors. To preserve the delicacy of this Champagne, Bruno Paillard sells it in a protective cellulose film to protect it from light strike, and he advises chilling it only a few hours before serving.
Louis Roederer NV Collection 242 ($55) 93 This is a full-bodied Champagne that’s rich in flavor and complex in texture. Based on the 2017 vintage, it benefits from the fact no Vintage or Cristal were produced in this year, meaning the best grapes of the vintage went into the 242. Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon uses a blend of the 2017 base vintage, 12% reserve wines aged in oak, and 34% from a perpetual reserve.
High quality sparkling wines are now made around the world, especially in California, Italy and Spain. Over the past year, we’ve reviewed many of them in our blog articles, Report #78 Champagne: Diversity and Change, and Report #86 Rosés from Around the World. We’ve listed some of the exceptional ones below.
Contratto 2015 For England Pas Dosé Blanc de Noir Alta Langa 94 Light coppery peach color. The For England Blanc de Noir Pas Dosé is a very special, zero dosage sparkling wine offering superb balance and complexity along with a firm structure. Made of 100% old vine Pinot Noir and aged almost 4 years on the lees in bottle.
Domaine Carneros 2015 Le Rêve Rosé Carneros ($140) 95 Light salmon color. Showing a lively, highly fragrant bouquet of strawberries, pastry cream, and just a hint of flint, this very special sparkling rosé screams finesse and elegance from beginning to finish. Made of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay estate grown.
Raventós i Blanc 2016 Textures de Pedra Conca del Riu Anoia ($43) 93+ Textures de Pedra consists of a blend of 50% Xarel-lo Vermell, 25% Sumol and 25% Bastard Negre. It’s softly textured with complex flavors of toast, stone fruit skin, and apricot pit. Aged on the lees for 48 moths.
Sea Smoke 2015 Sea Spray Blanc de Noirs Sta. Rita Hills ($80) 94 Medium straw color. Showing a multifaceted bouquet of bread dough, yellow cherry, and lemon oil, this beautiful, refined Brut Rosé is very clean on the attack with a mineral led palate of buttered almonds, dried apple, and toasty oak. This is one of California’s most elegant sparkling rosés made from 100% Pinot Noir certified biodynamic. The base wine is aged sur lie in barrel, and the sparkling wine is matured 36 months on the lees with no dosage.
CALIFORNIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Corison 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($100) 94 Superbly balanced, fresh and ready to drink in its youth, this is a delicious, refined Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. There are elements of cedar spice, huckleberry and herbs, all integrated with a silky mouth feel and round tannins. We liked the 2018 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon from the Kronos Vineyard even more, but it won’t be released until next spring. A pre-order might make a nice Holiday gift. Read our review article Cathy Corison’s Elegant Cabernet Sauvignons from the Special 2018 Vintage.
Daou 2018 Soul of a Lion Paso Robles Adelaida District ($150) 95 We’ve tasted Soul of a Lion several times over the years, and it never disappoints. The 2018 vintage is lush and very dense with dark red and black fruit and a sense of slate-like minerals. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Petit Verdot; matured 22 months in 100% new French oak. Read our review article DAOU Vineyards: The Pursuit of Excellence.
Smith-Madrone 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley ($62) 93 The Smith-Madrone vineyard is at high elevation where temperatures are cool and the soils are sparse, and this is an excellent example of mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s dark fruited and spicy with mineral and herbal nuances.
SONOMA COUNTY CHARDONNAY
Our just published Report #87: California Chardonnay: Terroir & Winemaking in Sonoma reviewed 200 of America’s very best single vineyard Chardonnay wines. Sonoma has very diverse terroir and many great winemakers, so we recommend more than just a couple wines. We strongly encourage you to read the full repor
Gary Farrell 2018 Chardonnay Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley (Santa Rosa Plains) ($60) 95 Theresa Heredia puts the focus on freshness and harvests earlier than some. The purity, elegance and mineral-inflected character of this wine is the result. It’s exhilarating to drink.
Hartford Court 2019 Chardonnay Stone Côte Vineyard (Durell) Sonoma Coast (Sonoma Valley) 95 Durell is one of California’s truly great Chardonnay vineyards, and this wine shows superb depth and richness along with amazingly elegant mouth feel.
Kistler 2018 Chardonnay Kistler Vineyard Cuvée Cathleen Sonoma Valley ($120) 97 Steve Kistler played a major role in showing the world how great Sonoma Chardonnay can be. While he has gone on to pursue other vinous interests, the wines continue to be stellar. This highly perfumed, rich and dense Chardonnay is spectacular. It’s sourced from a special block of broken shale and red volcanic ash within the Kistler Estate vineyard.
Ramey 2018 Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley (Laguna Ridge) ($70) 96 The Ritchie Vineyard is one of the most prized in the Russian River Valley, and David Ramey is widely acknowledged as one of the very best Chardonnay winemakers in California. The product of the two is this incredibly complex but supple wine.
Sangiacamo 2018 Chardonnay Green Acres Vineyard Sonoma Coast (Carneros Sonoma) ($65) 95 The Sangiacomo family is one of the great, historic producers of Sonoma Chardonnay. Fortunately, they asked the very talented James MacPhail to make this wine for them. The result is one of our favorites of the report: impeccably balanced and focused with sizzling acidity. Outstanding.
CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR
California makes excellent Pinot Noir from Mendocino in the north to Sonoma and the Central Coast. Our recommendations are drawn from the several blog articles on some of the best producers of California Pinot Noir this year.
Clarice 2019 Pinot Noir Rosella Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County 94 The Pinot Noir Rosella Vineyard is full on the palate with concentrated red cherry fruit. It’s refined in character and pure with light earth notes. It also has a lush texture and bright fruit on the palate with very good acidity.
Cobb 2018 Pinot Noir Doc’s Ranch Vineyard Swan & Calera Selection Sonoma Coast ($80) 95 An intriguing, subtle nose of spicy red cherry and pomegranate with uplifting floral scents. Racy but refined with a silky feel and deeply drawn. This vineyard sits at 1100′ elevation just 3 miles from the Pacific and Bodega Bay. Read our review article The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs of Ross Cobb: The 2018 Vintage.
Drew Family Cellars 2018 Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley ($70) 96 The Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch exhibits a medium ruby color with savory aromas and flavors of dried cherry and plum. It is mouth filling on the attack with good concentration and focus. It has outstanding purity, balance and freshness. Read our review article Drew Winery: Brilliant Winemaking in the Mendocino Ridge and Anderson Valley.
Dutton Goldfield 2018 Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley ($62) 94 This very special valley in California’s Mendocino County has acquired a reputation for producing some of the country’s very best Pinot Noir, and the 2018 Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir from the Angels Camp Vineyard doesn’t disappoint. It’s a beautifully balanced, red fruited, cool climate Pinot. with a refined mouth feel and a purity of flavor that mirrors the bouquet. The gravelly Angel Camp Vineyard is located west of Philo on a knoll overlooking the Navarro River. Read our review article Dutton Goldfield Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Excellent 2018 Vintage.
Flowers 2018 Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge Sonoma Coast (Fort Ross-Seaview) ($90) 94 The Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir reveals a savory herbal and earth with dark red fruit in the background. Firmly structured yet silky in texture with layers of concentrated fruit and earthy flavors. Sourced from the organically farmed Camp Meeting Ridge vineyard at 1150-1400′ elevation. Read our review article Flowers Winery: New Releases from the Exquisite Terroir of the West Sonoma Coast.
Gary Farrell 2017 Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley ($80) 94 Ethereal perfume of essence of cherry with nuances of dried raspberry and forest floor. The palate is keenly concentrated and layered with a firm structure and rich, almost unctuous flavors that linger and linger on the finish. Sourced from the 162 acre Rochioli Vineyard originally planted by Joe Rochioli, Jr, in 1968. Read our review article Gary Farrell Vineyard: Outstanding New Releases from Winemaker Theresa Heredia.
Paul Lato 2018 Pinot Noir Victor Francis Peake Ranch Vineyard Santa Rita Hills ($75) 94 The Pinot Noir “Victor Francis” is a delicious wine sourced from the eastern end of the Sta. Rita Hills. It displays a complex nose, of dark red berry fruit, and smoked meat and is round and flavorful on the palate and is firmly structured with considerable depth. Read our review article Paul Lato Wines: Artisanal Winemaking at its Best.
Testarossa 2019 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Santa Rita Hills ($74) 95 Exotic, pure perfume of violets and roses interwoven with raspberry and cherry that carries over to a lithe, finely honed and intensely concentrated palate with fine grained tannins that lend just enough spine. Finishes with a vibrant, long aftertaste. Read our review article Winemaker Bill Brosseau’s 2019 Testarossa Pinot Noirs.
See our recently published Report # 85 The Revival of Garnacha in Spain for a longer list of excellent Spanish Grenache (Garnacha). Here we’ve selected a few of the best including two from the new “hot spot” for Spanish Garnacha, the Sierra de Gredos.
Alvaro Palacios 2018 Finca Dolfi Priorat ($85) 96 A superb Garnacha-based wine with a richly perfumed nose of black raspberry and dark cherry preserves. Aged in large French foudre, Dolfí is big on the attack with exciting purity and finesse on the palate showing lovely flavors with a bright note.
Bodega Marañones 2018 Peña Caballera Vinos de Madrid ($25) 96 The 2018 Peña Caballera Garnacha is a 1.5 ha single vineyard of 50-70 year old Garnacha planted at an elevation of 850m in San Martin de Valdeiglesias in the Sierra de Gredos. The wine is complex, perfectly balanced and elegant in character.
Clos I Terrasses 2017 Clos Erasmus Priorat ($215 ) 96 An extraordinary wine. Dense, richly flavored and high toned with fragrant aromas of lavender, violet and minerals. Notes of blueberry and plum are pervasive on the palate which has a velvety smooth and silky texture. A blend of Garnaxta and Syrah.
Comando G 2018 Rozas 1er Vinos de Madrid ($65) 94 Another superb wine from the Sierra de Gredos región. It’s intense but refined with lovely purity of red fruit.
El Escoces Volante 2018 Papa Luna Calatayud 96 Dark red cherry with underbrush notes on nose. Sourced from an ancient vine field blend of Garnacha and other varieties planted at high altitude with low yields. Creamy attack but firmly structured on the palate with layers of concentrated dark fruit, exotic spices, loamy earth, and smoky underbrush.
Mas Alta 2016 La Creu Alta Priorat ($140) 95 The 2016 La Creu Alta is a blend of roughly 50% old vine Carinyena, 30% Garnatxa and 20% Syrah. It exhibits dark fruit aromas and flavors with hints of minerality and is highly concentrated and densely flavored with notes of spice.
We recently visited Jumilla, the home of Monastrell (known as Mourvedre outside Spain), and tasted some exquisite Monastrell-based wines. Look for our upcoming report on The Wines of Jumilla, to be published in Spring 2022. These are the new vintages of these wines; older vintages offer similar quality. Jumilla wines fly below the radar these days, so most of them are exceptional values.
Bodegas Luzón 2018 Por Ti Jumilla ($40) 94 Showing spice tinged aromas of dark berries, black cherry and violets, the Por Ti is especially notable for its seamless, elegant style. A blend of 80% Monastrell and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon matured 18 months in half French, half American oak barrels.
Casa Castillo 2018 Gravas Jumilla ($39) 95 One of the most elegant Monastrell-based wines made in Spain, Gravas shows fresh red fruit along with the customary Jumilla accents of rosemary and balsamic. Fermented in small concrete lagars with 25% whole clusters and ambient yeasts.
Bodegas El Nido 2019 El Nido Jumilla ($140) 96 This wine is a collaboration between Bodegas Juan Gil and world-famous Australian winemaker Chris Ringland. It actually has more Cabernet Sauvignon than Monastrell, and it’s rich, dark and dense with a very suave mouth feel. Simply outstanding.
Madeira was first discovered and created by exposing the volcanic-soiled wines of this island to the heat of trans-Atlantic voyages in the Age of Exploration. Today the process of creating Madeira is reproduced by estufagem—heating and oxidating the wines.
Broadbent NV Malmsey 10 Years Old Madeira ($53) 92 Rich and voluptuous, the 10 Year Old Malmsey shows dried figs, honeyed raisins and toffee. Its sweetness is balanced by citrus-like acidity and aging in 650L oak casks.
Broadbent 1997 Malvasia Single Cask M204 Madeira ($150) 94 This amber colored wine comes from a single cask of American oak. It shows vanilla and hints of molasses and fig on the nose; these are complemented on a soft palate by crème brûlée, walnut and citrus notes. Complex and long on the finish.
For more recommendations, see our blog article Ringing in 2021 with Vintage Dated Ports.
Croft 2018 Quinta do Roeda Vintage Port ($55) 94 This is a single quinta Port requiring significant cellaring time to show its best, but the potential is there. The nose is vibrant and complex with elements of perfumed dark berries complemented by peppery spices and the palate is densely packed with a firm backbone, fresh acidity and incredible harmony.
Graham’s 1994 Single Harvest Tawny Port ($150) 96 A rich, layered and aromatically complex Port showing toffee, hazelnut, and spice with a firm structure and outstanding length. Any Port lover would treasure this.
For a comprehensive discussion and more reviews of the world’s best sweet wines, consult our Report #27: Sweet Wines of the World.
Alana-Tokaj 2007 Tokaji Aszúeszencia Tokaj-Hegyalia ($150) 94 This golden amber colored Tokaji reveals honeyed apricots and hints of tropical fruits on a pure and ethereally balanced palate. Simply outstanding and one of the world’s great sweet wines.
Bodega Olivares 2017 Monastrell Dulce Jumilla ($29) 94 This is the wine that put Jumilla on the map for sweet Monastrell. A beautifully balanced wine with lovely interplay between sweet, pure fruit and lively acidity. It has a velvet texture with expressive, pure, fresh fruit, fine grained tannins, and an exceptionally persistent aftertaste.
Klein Constantia 2017 Vin de Constance Constantia ($59) 94 First produced in the 17th century and a favorite at the courts of Europe, the Vin de Constance is richly flavored and superbly balanced, finishing almost dry on the palate. One of the world’s great sweet wines.
A complete presentation and reviews of many superb sherries is in our Report #52 The Best of Sherry. Here are a couple that we’ve recently retasted.
Bodegas Dios Baco NV Baco Imperial Palo Cortado VORS Jerez ($180) 94 Made from a 40 year old solera, this outstanding dry sherry reveals hazelnut and toasted almond along with hints of toasty oak and dried fruit. Made from the Palomino grape, it’s an elegant take on Palo Cortado.
Bodegas Dios Baco NV Oloroso Baco Imperial VORS Jerez ($125) 93 Sourced from soleras dating back to the 1960/70s, this mahogany amber colored Oloroso offers rich date, fig, espresso, and smoky aromas and flavors with a pleasing bitter note on a dry finish.
VERMOUTH AND CHINATO
We’ve published several articles on vermouth over the past year or so. The three listed here are just an example of the many wonderful, varied and (mostly) inexpensive ones. Chinatos are Vermouths infused with Quinine (Cinchona) bark. Read our recent review article Chinato and Quinquina from Italy’s Piedmont, South Africa’s Swartland, and the Columbia Valley.
Badenhorst The Grande Quinquina Caperitif Kaapse Dief Swartland ($30) 94 From South Africa’s Swartland comes this unorthodox Chinato made with Chenin Blanc rather than Nebbiolo and flavored with Cinchona and an infusion of 43 botanicals including Fynbos, Kalmoes and Naartjies. Served on the rocks with orange zest it’s a true aperitif that awakens the palate to the coming meal.
Contratto NV Vermouth Bianco Italy ($33) 93 The Vermouth Bianco made from a 19th century recipe offers an appealing spice and herbal nose including scents of lemon citrus, dried flowers and fennel and a highly complex flavor profile including notes of lemon, tangerine, butterscotch, honey and numerous herbal and spice elements. Read our review article Contratto: Excellent Vermouths from the Piedmont.
Pio Cesare Barolo Chinato ($95) 95 This Chinato has a profusely aromatic nose of citrus and dates and an elegant, creamy palate with woodsy, herbal notes and flavors that evoke spiced English Christmas cake with dried red cherries. Lovely, long, long finish.
Guillemot-Michel 2012 Marc de Bourgogne ($115) 95 This traditional Burgundian eau de vie is rarely produced today. This one is made by Sophie Guillemot-Michel from 55 year old, biodynamically cultivated Chardonnay grapes grown on the family’s Mâcon estate and matured 2-4 years in old oak barrels. It shows nuances of caramel, citrus, and smoky spice aromas and flavors and a suave round palate.
Rinaldi NV Grappa di Moscato ($39/500ml) 91 Made from distilled Moscato grapes from the Azienda Agricola Rinaldi Vini in the hills of Alto Monferrato and aged 2-4 years in 228L French oak barrels. It’s aromatic, velvet smooth, well-balanced and a perfect traditional digestivo or mix with a steaming shot of espresso to create a caffè corretto.