I think it’s fair to say most of us are ready to kiss 2020 goodbye. I’ve had my share of disappointments this year but it wasn’t all a lost cause. With COVID-19 forcing most wineries to adjust to a virtual environment, especially early on, this created some great collaborations and virtual tastings where I discovered wines that were new to me…and my palate did not complain. Here is my Top 10 list of 2020 “new to me wines” that really stood out and will be keeping me company well into the future.
I’m a sucker for a good story. These wines were made for many years from Mark’s home garage in downtown Napa. His focus has always been on premium Cabernet Sauvignon. Mark works with some of the finest growers in Coombsville, Atlas Peak and Oakville and has a passion for expressing the terroir and unique character of these vineyard sites into his wines. The tasting room is chic yet modest. The price of these Cabernets are around $100 and above. If you are looking for a phenomenal Cabernet Sauvignon to splurge on, add Mark Herold Wines to your list. The Rose, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are all worthy of accolades, at a more affordable price point.
Remember the orgasm wine I posted on at the beginning of the year?? February 11th to be exact. The 2013 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel certainly hit the spot. At a price point right around $45.00 you can’t go wrong and no regrets the morning after. This wine went above and beyond my expectations for a Zinfandel, not a varietal I often reach for. Elyse is a boutique winery that also produces note-worthy Cabernets from some of Napa Valley’s most distinguished vineyards. A hidden gem in my book.
Wine AND football?! Yes please. Three Fat Guys Wines was sparked by a friendship between three professional football players that share a passion for superb wines. Check out their story on their website, it’s worth the read. I had the opportunity to do a virtual tasting with Winemaker, Tony Moll, earlier this year. I remember when he first reached out about doing the tasting, the name caught me off guard and I wasn’t sure the wine would be any good but agreed to it anyway. You know what happens when you assume, right? I could not have been more off. These wines are impressive and when the virtual tasting flies by, you know you are in good company. The Cabernets are a bit of a splurge but worth every penny. A visit will certainly be on the schedule next time I’m in Napa.
Do you see a trend here? Yep, I love small-production wineries. Bennett Lane is no exception. Located in Calistoga, just north of Napa, Bennett Lane practices sustainability and is committed to minimal intervention and gentle handling. Also, benefiting from the terroir of the area, these wines shine year after year with an impressive total of 60, 90+ point wines. I had the pleasure of attending a virtual tasting with Winemaker, Rob Hunter, and General Manager, Stephanie Langton this past spring. We tasted through three different Cabernets, all from the same vintage but different vineyards. Each one unique, showing off approachable yet complex characteristics. The beauty of these wines is that you can drink them now or they have the structure to age for several years.
This one is our little secret, promise me you won’t go and buy it all. Pine Ridge Vineyards makes a Chenin Blanc + Viognier white blend that will pleasantly smack you in the face. At $16.00 a bottle this wine is highly underrated and undoubtedly flies under the radar. It continues to be one of my go-to white wines. It is crisp and lively on the palate. Lots of green notes including lime, lemongrass and green apple. Honeysuckle pops with subtle tropical notes and bright acidity rounding out this beautiful blend. You can thank me later, and you will.
Another wine story that will make you smile. A young immigrant, Edgar’s father, looking for a better life for his family. This journey starts in the coastal town of Cambria, CA. Bodega is the Spaniard term for a winery or cellar. Edgar felt it was fitting, considering his Hispanic heritage and passion for Spanish wines. Starting with just 250 cases, Bodega de Edgar is now approaching close to 5,000 cases. My first experience with Edgar’s wines was the Albarino which I quickly became enamored with. The Straight Out Of Paso Cabernet will surprise you, not the typical Paso Robles Cabernet I’m used to. It has the perfect balance between fruit, spice and earthiness. I was lucky enough to visit Bodega de Edgar this past September on my wine road trip (check out that blog post for more details). Had the opportunity to sit and talk with Edgar for almost an hour. It was a joy to listen to his stories and everything he has on the horizon. Edgar has already accomplished so much but also has some big dreams. Can’t wait to see what comes next. These wines are also budget friendly…A+ for that.
Nicole from @grapechic, introduced me to these wines this year and it reminded me that I need to drink more French wines, especially from Burgundy. With my WSET 3 course, I’ve been studying French wines recently so I felt it was only fitting to pop open one of these beauties this week. Stunning Pinot Noirs with vibrant flavors yet graceful on the palate. I recommend decanting, as it really brings out the character and beauty of the wine. These wines are ready to drink now but have the structure to lie down and age for years.
Where are my Italian wine lovers? This one's for you. On my recent trip to Paso Robles, I had the opportunity to stay at Pelletiere Estate. The property and views are breathtaking and the wines are just as impressive. Pelletiere produces beautiful estate grown Italian varietals sourced from its sustainably-farmed vineyards. The Montepulciano, Aglianico and Viognier were at the top of my list. I highly recommend putting them on your list next time you are in Paso Robles.
A recent discovery from my trip to Sonoma in November. Robert Biale produces some of the best Zinfandels in the valley. Some of the old vines date back to the 1880’s. The focus is small quantity and showcases the concentrated and intense fruit coming from a dynamic terroir perfect for this varietal. I’ll say it again, drink more Zinfandel! I did say that, right? I forget how much I enjoy the spice from a quality Zin. The Grande Vineyard Zinfandel was a favorite but don’t overlook their flagship, Black Chicken Zinfandel. Many of these wines are budget friendly, in the range of $40-55 a bottle.
My love affair with Pinot Noir continues to grow, especially over the last couple of years. Three Sticks Winery is a new favorite that will be added to my wine cellar going forward. Three Sticks highlights a variety of vineyards, including their estate properties Durell and Gap’s Crown, spanning the Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast and into Carneros. Each wine showing off its unique character depending on the diverse terroir it’s born from. If you are looking for ambiance, the charming historic Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe tasting room and patio space in downtown Sonoma does not disappoint.
This was fun. I'm officially making this a new tradition. Can't wait to see what 2021 has on the horizon. I have a feeling it is going to be grand and the new wine discoveries are going to be even better. Cheers my friends, enjoy these last few hours of a challenging year, it can only get better from here!