The Year in Wine: 2019
All the best bottles Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle drank this year.
Every month in the print edition of Food & Wine, I publish a short column called “What Ray’s Drinking.” It’s a snapshot of what I’m particularly intrigued by or find impossible to resist at that given moment in the year. As a result, this isn’t the typical best-of-2019 story—there are no rare old vintages or once-in-a-lifetime wines tasted deep in the cellars of castles or what have you. Instead it skews more toward momentary passions, and, thankfully, an abundance of fairly affordable bottles. Here, I’ve listed them by type and price; in a sense, it’s a short portrait of my year in bottles, and also (I hope) a great guide for some last-minute holiday shopping.
2017 Beyond Sauvignon Blanc ($12)
For those people who want a Sauvignon Blanc that walks a finely tuned line between California fruitiness and New Zealand pepperiness, this South African version from the estate Buitenverwachting (Dutch for "beyond expectation") should be a no-brainer—not least because of its absurdly low price.
2018 Maximin Riesling ($16)
This affordable Riesling from the historic Maximin Grünhaus estate suggests green apples and lime zest—it's a drink-all summer white, and just as excellent during the colder months as well. Faintly off-dry but so zesty you barely notice the touch of sweetness, it's incredibly refreshing.
2018 Domäne Wachau Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Federspiel ($18)
Even in the warmest year that Austria's Wachau has seen since 1873, this lightly peppery white has plenty of fresh zest coupled with ripe melon fruit. Buy a case, because it's a perfect holiday party pour.
2017 Agricola Punica Samas ($19)
A springtime white (which was when I first drank this) should hit your palate with a "ping!" and wake up your taste buds after the rich reds of winter. This Sardinian Vermentino is a perfect example: zesty, lively, and yet with a mineral backbone that adds nuance.
2018 J. Hofstätter Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($19)
One key to Thanksgiving success (or any big party, really) is finding a white wine that will literally appeal to everyone and also actually has personality. This crisp, perfectly poised Pinot Grigio, with its lemon-peachy fruit, is ideal as either an aperitif, with roast turkey, or just for sipping in your exhausted state after everyone has left.
2018 Best's Great Western Riesling ($25)
My consumption of dry Riesling tends to rocket up in tandem with summer's ever-climbing temperatures. I loved this Aussie winery's limited “Foudre Ferment” bottling when I had it at chef Alex Raij's Saint Julivert Fisherie in Brooklyn, and this more findable bottling is excellent, too.
2017 Keller Riesling Estate Trocken Rheinhessen ($25)
Klaus Peter Keller is a superstar in Germany whose top wines sell for a fortune, but his thrillingly crisp (and totally dry) basic estate bottling is a steal. I had it at Popina, a terrific little Italian place in Brooklyn's Columbia Street Waterfront District with a surprisingly wide-ranging list.
2018 Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Chavignol ($34)
I was lucky enough to taste this flinty Sauvignon Blanc with winemaker Matthieu Delaporte at a great new restaurant in the little town of Bué, in France’s Loire Valley, called Momento. The wine was a perfect match for ravioli filled with melted Crottin de Chavignol, one of the iconic goat cheeses of the region.
2016 Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay ($38)
Why California's Santa Cruz Mountains don't get more wine recognition is a total mystery because they're the source for superb Pinots and Cabernets as well as top-notch Chardonnays. This taut, expressive bottle from one of the AVA's best producers is a superb intro to the region.
2018 Lioco Indica Rosé ($20)
There's no doubt Provence makes great rosé—but if you take the fruit from 80-year-old dry-farmed Carignane vines in Anderson Valley and turn it into pink wine, guess what: California does, too. The aroma suggests wild raspberries and watermelon; the flavor has a snap recalling Key limes.
2017 Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Rosé ($29)
As guest "wine host" at Ariel Arce's new NYC restaurant Niche Niche, I poured this wine from an old-school Provençal producer. Made from the almost-extinct Tibouren grape, Cibonne's rosés are complex, earthy, and far more interesting than most pale pink sippers.
2017 Il Bastardo Rosso ($10)
April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring Tax Day (which was when I first tried this wine). A great value red is just the balm needed for the pain that accompanies writing a check to the government. Aromatic and bright (and gratifyingly named, in this case), the red cherry–ripe Il Bastardo is made from Sangiovese from Tuscany's Rufina area.
2017 Altos Las Hormigas Tinto ($12)
Antonio Morescalchi channels classic Chianti into this Argentine red blend—particularly in his use of a small percentage of white grapes (Semillon) to brighten the wine, which is primarily Bonarda and Malbec. Ruby red, lightly peppery, and full of crunchy berry fruit, it's a great casual sipper to buy by the case.
2015 Joel Gott Palisades Red ($15)
The depths of winter require a ready supply of both firewood and a hearty, unputdownable red that's easy to afford and equally easy to drink. This Cabernet blend from California's Joel Gott, with its surprisingly soft tannins and luscious currant fruit, is an excellent choice—especially with any kind of stew.
2016 Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera D'asti ($17)
Warm-weather reds need one key quality: They have to be great when lightly chilled. This vivid scarlet wine from Italy's Piedmont region—which would be excellent during a snowstorm, too—is full of juicy red cherry notes but very light in tannins (crucial when serving reds cold). Add a plate of prosciutto, maybe some truffled pecorino …
2017 Domaine De La Garrelière Gamay Sans Tralala ($20)
I first tasted this natural Gamay from the Loire at our Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and I keep coming back to it. It has zero chemicals or commercial yeasts, it's light and bright, good chilled or not, and it has that charm that just makes you ask for another glass.
2015 Triennes Saint Auguste ($19)
Slow-roast a pork shoulder and open a bottle of this juicy Cabernet-Syrah blend. The work of two Burgundy superstars (Domaine Dujac's Jacques Seysses and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's Aubert de Villaine) who jointly invested in a Provence property, it's a bargain
2017 Valravn Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
Need a good, affordable Cabernet? I first had this fruit-forward Sonoma bottling—think ripe black cherries and lightly toasty oak notes—at a casual cookout outside Healdsburg this spring. It was an easy decision to keep pouring it for friends right through the warmer months.
2017 Wassererhof St. Magdalener ($20)
While working for a story undercover as a sommelier at Allora, a wonderful restaurant in Sacramento, I came across this Alto Adige red. It's made from Schiava: bright, crisp, full of wild-berry flavor, excellent with a light chill. If you can't find this producer, seek Schiavas from Elena Walch, Peter Zemmer, Castelfeder, or Abbazia di Novacella.
2016 Ridge East Bench Zinfandel ($32)
I retasted this seductive Sonoma County red not too long ago and was reminded once more that California's premier Zinfandel specialist really does make killer Zins. This one bowls you over with wild blackberry, dark chocolate, and spice notes, yet it somehow never seems too big or too ripe.
2017 Domaine Chapel Juliénas Côte De Bessay ($33)
I had this silky, layered red at NYC's Racines restaurant; now I wish I had a case. If you see this domaine's wines, snap them up. Other top cru Beaujolais producers, equally worth seeking out, include Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Louis Dutraive, Clos de la Roilette, and Julien Sunier.
2015 Domaine Chanson Marsannay ($35)
Finding impressive Burgundy for anything approaching a reasonable price seems harder every day, but this Marsannay impressed me back when I first tried it with bright raspberry notes, a scent of tea leaves and dry herbs, and an excellent balance of intensity and elegance.
2017 Domaine Jessiaume Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravières ($45)
As I noted about the Chanson wine above, finding good, affordable Burgundy (much less good premier cru Burgundy) often feels like a hopeless quest. Then a fairly priced premier cru like this turns up, so polished and full of vivid red cherry fruit carried on a wave of bright acidity. It's enough to make the most jaded buyer Burgundy-optimistic again.
2015 André Brunel Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($55)
This luscious red, full of ripe raspberry fruit and the scent of the Rhône Valley's wild herbs, is just too alluring to resist. So why even try?
2015 Volpaia Coltassala Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($75)
Chianti Classico's new(ish) Gran Selezione category has confused as many people as it has thrilled, but the best wines, like this aromatic one from Volpaia, with its blueberry and cherry liqueur notes, are wonderful. If you want a splurge red for an elegant dinner, look no further.
2015 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($95)
Cathy Corison is one of Napa Valley's top winemakers, and her Cabernet—especially in the exceptional 2015 vintage—is a perfect example of the valley's ability to achieve elegance and power, as she says it. I had her 1988 vintage at a dinner recently, and it was stunning; this should last just as long.
2016 Adelaida Signature Viking Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
Surely someone you know deserves an expensive (and terrific) bottle of red? Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub's impressive estate Cabernet is full of intense black currant fruit—lusciously rich, elegant, and balanced.
Sparkling, Sake, and Bourbon
Nv Volage Brut Sauvage Rosé ($29)
Even if summer is long over, I plan to keep drinking pink wine, like this sparkling Crémant de Loire. Lower in dosage (the small amount of wine mixed with sugar added to sparkling wines) than most brut Champagnes, it has crisp wild raspberry and citrus notes with a hint of spice. Not too late to pour it by the pool.
Nv Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Iteration No. 24 Mv ($150)
What to do when you finally finish editing a massive French wine issue? Why, celebrate by opening a great Champagne, of course. The latest iteration of Laurent-Perrier's top wine, a blend of the 2007, 2006, and 2004 vintages, is exceptional: subtly toasty, minerally, refined.
Tensei Endless Summer Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake ($34)
March may herald the start of springtime, but in New York City, where I live, it's usually still damp and cold. So a crisp, melon-y sake called Endless Summer from Japan's coastal Kanagawa region seems just the trick—try pouring it with tuna poke and pretending you're on a Hawaiian beach.
Four Roses 2018 Limited Release Bourbon ($140)
Yes, it's expensive. But what a terrific bourbon—fragrant with hints of toasted nuts, tree fruit, vanilla, and toast, it's unctuous and mouth-coating, with remarkable depth of flavor. It sells out rapidly, so don't wait if you're buying it as a holiday gift. Or if, like me, you just want to drink it all yourself.