Our 2016 Somms of the Year tell us about the best wines they drank over the last 12 months.

By Erin Laverty
Updated May 24, 2017
Helen Johannesen
Credit: © Rick Poon

Sommeliers know wine. And F&W’s 2016 Sommeliers of the Year—the ranks of whom range from a former opera singer to a tiny wine-shop-within-a-restaurant owner to a restaurant-group powerhouse—really know wine. As you can imagine, they’ve tasted some amazing bottles. We asked them about their standouts from this year, and their answers include a World War II-era bottling, a rare find from Abruzzo, Italy, and an outstanding Australian Chardonnay.

Here, their picks for the best wines they had all year:

Christopher Bates, FLX Wienery/FLX Table, Finger Lakes, NY

1945 Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu Vouvray Moelleux was one of the most moving old bottles I've ever had. The aromatics were both youthful and burnished, the structure crisp, but warm. The wine was layered and detailed and enveloping, with intensity but lightness as well. The wine was beautiful, but the experience of trying it was even better. Understanding the struggles that not only the world but also France and Gaston Huet were overcoming while this wine was at the beginning of its life, I got to taste the energy and work and passion that was put into bringing this wine into fruition. It's amazing!

Helen Johannesen, Animal/Son of a Gun/Trois Mec/Petit Trois/Trois Familia/Jon & Vinny’s/Helen’s, Los Angeles

I recently drank a 2007 Hubert Lignier Les Didiers Nuits-Saint-Georges, and that was pretty fantastic! This Premier Cru cuvée comes from a small monopole vineyard owned by the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges. Hubert Lignier purchases the barrels at auction each year, and ages the wine into its own style. It’s rich and concentrated, and really blew me away!

Andrey Ivanov, Reeds American Table, Maplewood, MO

2013 Bindi Quartz Chardonnay, Victoria, Australia

Chardonnay? Really? I think it was the surprise that got me too. I have been an ardent supporter of Aussie wine for the last few years, but when this one came across my palate it was a showstopper. It was one of those moments that is memorable just by the sensation. It was rocky, briny even, with just enough of the flavors that take you away from the fruit. This wine tasted complex, loaded, ready to be taken apart. I have had some incredible White Burgundy, cult Cali Chardonnays, incredible versions from everywhere in the world—nothing tasted like this. This wine left you wanting more of both the flavor and the sensation it left behind. They only produce about 50 cases of the stuff and it is quite pricy, about $125 retail, but totally worth it.

Rachael Lowe, Spiaggia/Café Spiaggia, Chicago

2007 Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

This is an incredible wine, but also one that is highly allocated and very difficult to find! It is tiny production, little intervention, only large old oak usage, released whenever they think is appropriate and what equates to an ethereal drinking experience. I was visiting NYC for a wedding this past May and landed last minute for dinner at Maialino in Gramercy. We were lucky enough to know the sommelier who suggested this little gem on their list. Not cheap but certainly worth it, this wine is filled with aromas of lemon curd, Bosc pear and hints of smoke, with a viscous texture and never-ending finish that is astounding.

David Keck, Wine Consultant, Houston

I was fortunate to visit Mayacamas in Napa Valley this year and had an amazing dinner with our hosts Jimmy Hayes and Kassandra McPherson along with my friend June Rodil and her team from McGuire Moorman Hospitality in Austin. Context always plays a role in enjoying a great bottle, so eating and drinking under the stars at that iconic estate certainly helped, but we opened a magnum of the 1986 Pinot Noir from the estate that was truly remarkable. I had no idea that they had even produced Pinot and this bottle was in gorgeous shape. 2016 was a year of tasting wonderful wines, but that was definitely a bottle I’ll never forget!

Gianpaolo Paterlini, Acquerello/1760, San Francisco

It's nearly impossible to name the single best wine I had all year, but if pressed to pick a favorite, the 2009 Borgo del Tiglio Ronco della Chiesa Collio Friulano has to be the one. It is regularly one of my favorite Italian white wines and arguably one of the best whites made in Italy. Its combination of richness and concentration with tense acidity and minerality is thrilling to taste. It's pretty difficult to find older vintages in San Francisco, so drinking the 2009 at Roscioli in Rome with great company was a truly memorable experience.

Michaël Engelmann, The Modern, New York City

This is a really hard question! I want to say that the 1971 Ridge Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon was way up there. It’s a very special bottle. While they are famous for making Monte Bello, they were also the first producer to make a vineyard-designated wine from the famous Eisele vineyard. It was the only time that they ever did it, creating a 45-year old wine with an incredible length and texture. The wine was still outstanding after 3 hours in a glass—brilliant!

Jack Mason, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Houston

One of the best bottles I had all year was the 2002 François Raveneau Blanchot Grand Cru Chablis. I had the pleasure of tasting this wine next to another 2002 Raveneau Chablis Premier Cru. The Blanchot's subtlety upon opening, which then migrated to resounding complexity at the end, made it one of the most interesting white wines I have had in a very long time!

Eduardo Porto Carreiro, Untitled, New York City

Out of all of the bottles shared with friends over a meal and great conversation this year, the one wine that strikes me as the most memorable has got to be the impeccable 1990 Ferraton Pere & Fils Les Miaux Hermitage Rouge. I enjoyed it at the home of a dear friend during a trip to San Francisco in March. This was as raw, honest, and profound an example of Syrah anyone could ever hope for. It had an ethereal perfume of crushed stones, grilled meat, olives and freshly cracked pepper, and it exceeded all of my expectations. This manner of winemaking is all but extinct in the world today, and experiencing that exceptional vintage and the bygone styling of Michel Ferraton in that setting is something I'll hold dear for a long time.

Mia Van de Water, North End Grill, New York City

The 2011 Domaine du Collier La Charpentrie Saumur Rouge is the best wine I had all year. I was at a celebratory dinner with friends, and we asked for it to be decanted a full hour before we got to it. It was mind-blowingly good—rich and velvety, fully-fruited, but still expressing all of Cabernet Franc’s beguiling savory aromatics: rosemary, oregano, leather, smoky, and stony minerality.

Jeff Kellogg, Quince/Cotogna, San Francisco

For me, the context of when you had a wine always comes into play when thinking about the best wines I’ve had. The 1994 Noël Verset Cornas was an incredible bottle of Syrah, but the context made it even better. My wife and I were moving from New York, and we had been dying to dine at Momofuku Ko. A former protégé of mine, Chase Sinzer, is the chief sommelier there now. I asked him to choose something great, and to see him picking a wine for me that was so fantastic made it an even more lasting memory for me.

Juliette Pope, David Bowler Wine, New York City

The 1998 Ployez-Jacquemart Liesse d’Harbonville Brut is a steal on the list at Trestle on Tenth. Intensely rich, complex, structured and piercing: 2/3 Chardonnay (the rest is Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), barrel-fermented, but with no malolactic fermentation—deeply yeasty and exotic while still fresh and light on its 18-year-old feet! The off-the-menu blinis with caviar and crème fraîche to accompany it completed the holiday package!