Bubbles are always a good way to kick things off, so let’s do that. My favorite sparkling-wine discovery this year was one a knowledgeable sommelier turned me on to: Soter Brut Rosé ($37.99). If these bubbles were from France, they’d easily cost upward of $100. But since Soter is made in Oregon, you can have this outstanding, salmon-pink-colored wine with flavors of strawberry and raspberry for a song. But don’t take my word for it; Robert Parker awarded this American sparkler 93 points in his Wine Advocate.
In the Sauvignon Blanc category, if you can find a better bargain or more versatile example than Joel Gott California Sauvignon Blanc ($11), I’d like to know about it. In contrast to some modernist California S-Bs, Gott doesn’t see any oak or malo: Stainless-steel aging and eschewing malolactic fermentation produces a lovely Sauvignon Blanc brimming with tropical fruit flavors, terrific balance and a surprisingly complex structure, all with food-friendly, crisp minerality. A close second: Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc ($17).
It’s not easy to narrow down literally thousands of Chardonnays to a single favorite. So, I’m going to let my wife chime in on this one. If she could afford to drink Parallel Chardonnay Napa Valley ($40) every day, she would. And I would join her. It’s big. It’s California. And, the winery is owned by a group of longtime Park City residents, giving it a slight hometown edge.
Look, I don’t have the budget to afford to drink Echezeaux from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and other Burgundies in that league. But, even on a writer’s income, I can occasionally afford to indulge in Louis Latour Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru “Les Chaillots” ($47.50). This is a wine with great mineral backbone, finesse, snazzy cherry and licorice notes and length that just won’t quit. As for domestic Pinot Noir, well, this was a tough one. There is an abundance of mediocre and just plain weird America Pinots saturating the market—ever since Sideways. But there are great ones, too. DeLoach Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($17) is made in the French style but doesn’t carry a hefty French price tag. And, all of Oregon’s Domaine Serene Pinot Noirs, which range in price here from $39 to $128, are exceptional. I also recently discovered the fruity delights of Vision Cellars Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50), the flavor of which hangs on the tongue, seemingly for days.
Cabernet, too, is a difficult category. Are we talking about Bordeaux-style blends? One-hundred percent California Cab? Contemporary high-octane Cabernets? When the dust settled, one of my favorites of this year from among hundreds tasted was a classic California Cabernet with gorgeous berry and licorice scents, concentrated fruit and fine tannins, all in a well-balanced, silky-smooth package: Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet ($45).
When it comes to Zinfandel, nobody does it better than Will Bucklin. His Glen Ellen vines date back to the Civil War, possibly the oldest planted in North America. And, the Bucklin vineyard is dry-farmed, sustainable and certified organic. The fields are scattered with rosemary, lavender and eucalyptus, and the latter, especially, subtly flavors the fruit. Then there is Will: a conjurer who makes small-production, otherworldly wines in a barn. Best of all, his Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel ($26) is actually cheaper in Utah than in Sonoma.
Now, let’s hear about some of your faves.