Food & Wine’s tasting room pros, Ray Isle and Megan Krigbaum, reveal the year's most exceptional wines and beers.
F&W’s Editors Picks
Ray Isle’s 5 Favorite Wines of the Year
2007 Terrien Chardonnay ($33)
Winemaker Michael Terrien fashioned this new Chardonnay (this is the inaugural release) with fruit sourced from Hanzell Vineyards, one of California’s greatest Chardonnay producers. He makes the wine using no malolactic fermentation and very little new oak, then ages it several years before release, allowing its innate crisp intensity to develop layers of flavor and distinctive floral aromas.
2002 Mt Eden Cabernet Estate ($55 for current vintage)
I had this wine at Gilt Restaurant in New York with a group of friends, and when I tasted it I thought, Wow. Then, wow, again. And several more wows after that. Tobacco and tea leaf notes, silky texture, fresh black currant flavors with a bit of sweet dried fruit—a stellar example of how well top-notch California Cabernet can age, and a steal at the price. And the current release, 2007, will be just as good, if not better.
2002 Dom Ruinart Champagne ($140)
The 2002 vintage is a great one for Champagne, and there are some extraordinary wines out there. But for whatever reason, I find my taste-memory returning to this one. Dom Ruinart isn’t the most expensive nor the most famous tête de cuvée out there, but there’s something about the way that it plays its blanc de blancs citrus-green apple delicacy (it’s 100 percent Chardonnay) against its substantial caramel-brioche richness that is just weirdly impossible to get out of your head.
1993 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Vinotek ($165)
There are all sorts of reasons why I love this wine. Amazingly fresh, with an intense, kaleidoscopic aroma of honeysuckle, pea shoots, exotic spices, resin, and remarkably powerful, lasting flavors, it is, amazingly enough, also a current release. The wine spent 15 years in a 3,500-liter wooden cask before the Saahs family bottled it. I tasted it at the end of a five-day road trip through Europe’s wine regions, and it seemed to me to sum up the point of the whole endeavor. But since it’s very pricey and also hard to find, here’s an alternative: the pear-and-peppery 2009 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Im Weingebirge ($60). It may be nigh-on impossible to pronounce, but it too is a drop-dead gorgeous wine.
2007 Clos Erasmus ($175)
Yes, it’s wildly expensive. It’s also not that easy to find. But what a spectacular expression of what Spain’s Priorat region has to offer. Made almost entirely from the Grenache grape, Clos Erasmus comes from four small, biodynamically farmed vineyards near the tiny town of Gratallops. It’s a powerful yet graceful wine, complex and intensely aromatic, with spicy black cherry fruit supported by that spine of minerality that makes Priorat reds so distinctive.
Megan Krigbaum’s 5 Favorite Wines of the Year
2006 Raventós i Blanc de Nit Rosé Cava ($22)
I was lucky enough to find myself in Arianna Occhipinti’s Sicilian cellar last spring, and this ruby-red wine reminds me so much of that visit. It was a cold, rainy day, and we sat by Arianna’s stone fireplace all afternoon. She is an incredibly serious, diligent person, but there’s also a little glimmer of something mischievous about her, paired with a big, wonderful laugh. This wine has elements of all of that—it’s focused and intense, but with bright, dazzling red fruit. And, happily, it’s sold in magnums as well as the normal bottle size.
2009 Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko ($18)
Assyrtiko, a Greek white wine, tends to have lots of citrusy notes and great acidity—making it terrific with seafood and vegetable dishes. This one, fermented with indigenous yeast in oak barrels, has all that as well as enough richness and depth to go with heartier foods—even some meat dishes.
2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Whole Cluster Riesling ($15)
I’ve been going to this winery in Grand Traverse, Michigan, with my parents since I was a toddler, but the quality of the wine has grown significantly in recent years. This affordable Riesling is the result of an experiment begun by winemaker Sean O’Keefe about five years ago. It’s faintly sweet with ripe fruit and great acidity.
NV Vouette et Sorbée Blanc d’Argile ($110)
This Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) from a teeny grower Champagne house is remarkably good—brilliant and minerally, with toasty vanilla notes. There’s not much of this wine available, so I get it whenever I have the chance.
Megan Krigbaum’s 5 Favorite Beers of the Year
Wandering Star Mild Heart, English Dark Mild Ale
About once a year, it seems, I come across a brew that tastes like a beer version of a chocolate milkshake. Last year’s was Geary’s Winter Ale from Maine. This year’s comes from Wandering Star brewery in Massachusetts, which was started by a superstar cast including the current and former presidents of New York City’s Homebrewers Guild and an editor at Ale Street News. The beer is rich and malty, but remains somehow light on the palate.
There are days that just call for a beer—just a straight-up refreshing, slightly bitter beer like this one. Released for the first time about a year ago, it’s fresh and citrusy and relatively low in alcohol, making it a true everyday brew.
Magnolia Kalifornia Kolsch
From a spectacular brewery in San Francisco, this light, bright, zesty kolsch is as refreshing to beer lovers as Gatorade is to marathoners.
Short’s Brewing Company Bellaire Brown
In August, I spent my annual week in northern Michigan and made my first visit to Short’s in Bellaire. After tasting through about a dozen different brews, this simple, classic brown emerged as my favorite. I just wish I could get it here in NYC.
Köstritzer SchwarzbierI’ve been really hooked on black lagers this year, and this German one—although not new at all—was new to me in January. It’s everything I love about these deceptive beers: It looks dark and hefty, but instead it’s just simple, malty and clean…and way too easy to drink.