It’s hard to remember a year more difficult than 2020. The loss of my parents marked the most sorrowful years for me personally, but collectively this is the most difficult year I can remember. The bad news has continued since February and the worst may not be behind us.
Coronavirus, COVID-19, stay-at-home and social distancing became part of my everyday vocabulary. We came to greet our neighbors only from a distance and we haven’t gathered with friends since February. We haven’t seen family in-person since March. I have become accustomed to ordering groceries using a grocery pickup and delivery service. I wouldn’t dream of going out without a face mask and find myself glaring at those who do.
I am thankful to every grocery store worker, delivery person and mail carrier who has continued working during the pandemic. And I don’t know how health care workers have managed to work under such difficult conditions for so many months, but I’m very thankful to them for doing so. I am also thankful to be on the retired side of 40-plus years in the workforce and recognize how fortunate I am to be so.
And we must reckon with the continued killing of unarmed Black women and men in this country by law enforcement. Black Lives Matter.
Writing about wine in the face of so much death and unhappiness has felt inappropriate at times this year, but wine has remained the one constant in our lives. We have had the good fortune to taste some very interesting wines this year, some of them sent to us as tasting samples and others purchased by us.
In a year marked by only one winery visit I stepped up my ordering direct from wineries using their websites. I’m over complaining about the cost of shipping. I now consider it part of the cost of the wine. We also discovered curbside pickup, which worked well for us in the nearby Lodi region. And wineries need our support. With much of the restaurant demand evaporating this year, direct-to-consumer sales through wineries’ websites have become essential to financial viability, especially with restrictions on tastings at wineries. And then there were the wildfires.
With all of that said, here is a list of the wines we tasted this year that stood out to us. The list includes wines we received as tasting samples and wines we purchased.
Outstanding Wines 2020
2014 Tizona by Bokisch Gran Reserva Tempranillo, Lodi — medium ruby in the glass with generous aromas of red and dark fruit with background notes of leafy tobacco and vanilla. Dark fruit flavors predominate along with red fruit, leather, vanilla and tobacco. Tannins are drying. This wine is pulled together and balanced. 14.5% abv. SRP $60. Only 300 cases made. Sample.
The release of this wine on February 29 marked the only winery visit we made in 2020. We couldn’t miss the release of this Gran Reserva Tempranillo by Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi. This project from Liz and Markus Bokisch was years in the making and worth the wait.
2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, Tasmania — pale yellow-green in the glass with salty, flinty, grapefruit aromas. Stony minerality and flinty notes blend harmoniously with stone fruit, melon and hints of grapefruit. A bit of weight, bright acidity and a very long finish make for a perfectly balanced and complex Chardonnay. 13% abv. SRP $60. Sample.
This extraordinary Tolpuddle Chardonnay blew me away. I loved the flinty character of the wine so much I purchased more. When we tasted it several months later, it was just as delicious as I remembered. Also, don’t overlook Tolpuddle Pinot Noir. If Tasmania isn’t on your wine radar, it should be.
Yes, there are four wines to list from Smith-Madrone that are exceptional. Elegance is the perfect word to describe these wines made in Napa’s Spring Mountain District. Hillside fruit and attention to detail in the winery result in wines with character and elegance. And, except for the Cook’s Flat, which is a splurge by anyone’s standard, they are so reasonably priced.
2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley — medium yellow in the glass with generous aromas of stone fruit, dried pineapple and a hint of petrol. Complex flavors of white peach, pineapple guava, stony minerality and bright acidity. The flavors taste like fruit, but the wine doesn’t taste sweet. The finish is very long. 12.9% abv. $34. Sample.
2016 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley — golden yellow in the glass with aromas of citrus, cedar and toast. Generous flavors of pear, crisp apple, and citrus blend with notes of cedar and are supported by bright, juicy acidity. The wine is a bit round with a very long finish. 14.4% abv. $40. Sample.
2015 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley — light ruby in the glass with complex aromas that include dark fruit and dried tobacco leaf. Layers of flavor begin with red fruit, then dark fruit, leather, dusty earth and tobacco. Tannins are a bit grippy, but well integrated. The wine is medium bodied with a long finish. 14.3% abv. $52. Sample.
2016 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley — medium ruby in the glass with generous aromas of red and dark fruit, dried tobacco leaf and dusty earth. Flavors are darker, but still with a bright red fruit character, along with cigar box and earth. Medium in weight with more texture and well-integrated tannins and a very long finish. 14.3% abv. Current release 2013 vintage is $225. Sample.
Elden Selections: Burgundy Specialists
We had the good fortune to be introduced to Elden Selections this year by Creative Palate Communications. I don’t know about you, but I much appreciate assistance when choosing wines from Burgundy. Elden Selections offers an online selection of Burgundy sourced from small production, estate-bottled producers curated by Eleanor Garvin and Dennis Sherman. The American couple have lived in Burgundy for more than 30 years and have personal connections to the families whose wines they sell. The website offers lots of background information about the region and each family estate to aid your selections.
California Petite Sirah
I had something of a California Petite Sirah epiphany this year. After discounting varietal Petite Sirah as too much of a good thing, I tasted a group of Petite Sirah that completely changed my view of the variety. I discovered winemakers have learned to tame those tannins and moderate ripeness to make wines that are enjoyable to drink on their own and accompany a meal very well. This tasting encouraged me to further explore California Petite Sirah. Those tasting notes will be coming in 2021.
2019 Notre Vue GSM Rosé, Chalk Hill, Sonoma County — coppery-pink in the glass with generous aromas of roses and raspberries. Flavors follow with raspberries, blackberries, citrus zest and dusty earth. Bright acidity and light tannins support the fresh flavors. 12.7% abv. SRP $29. Only 180 cases made. Sample.
Notre Vue was a new winery to us and came with an interesting back story. This co-ferment of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (something of a story in itself) was memorably delicious.
2014 Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz, McLaren Vale — dense ruby in the glass with generous aromas of dark red fruit, spice, earth and dried hay. Flavors of raspberries, blackberries, dusty earth are bright and juicy. Notes of dried tobacco and cedar add interest in the background along with drying, well-integrated tannins. The finish is moderate in length. 14.5% abv. SRP $119. Sample.
Delicious Shiraz sourced from vines planted in 1891 and made by the same family whose ancestors planted those vines.
2018 Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Grigio, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT — pale yellow in the glass with aromas of white flowers and tropical fruit. Flavors of pears, pineapple and gravelly minerality finish with lemony citrus flavors. Once again, this wine finishes juicy and clean. 12.5% abv. SRP $16. Sample.
If you’re looking for complex Pinot Grigio, one place to look is the Dolomites. This wine from Alois Lageder is an affordable, complex version of the variety that will surprise you if your experience with PG has been underwhelming.
2018 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County — pale yellow in the glass with aromas of ripe apricot and peach, white flowers and notes of lemongrass. The flavors follow the aromas along with stony minerality, juicy acidity and a lingering floral and cut grass component. There is a bit of weight and texture as well and spice on the finish. 14.2% abv. SRP $36. Sample.
Sauvignon Blanc, 42% Sauvignon Musqué an aromatic mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, barrel fermented with lees stirring results in a gorgeous, complex Sauvignon Blanc unlike any other.
2019 Ehlers Estate Sylviane, St. Helena, Napa Valley — bright, translucent raspberry in the glass with generous aromas of strawberries, melons and raspberries. The flavors follow the aromatic profile along with citrus and dusty earth supported by juicy acidity and a medium-length finish. 13.4% abv. SRP $32. Sample.
Ehlers Estate farms over 40 acres north of St. Helena in Napa Valley and the vineyards are certified organic. This bright rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc was so aromatic and flavorful.
2016 Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali Nero d’Avola Lamùri, Sicilia DOC — light ruby in the glass with aromas of raspberries, dark cherries and peppery spice. Flavors follow with berries and red cherries, dusty earth and slate minerality. Tannins are drying and well integrated in this barely-medium bodied wine. 13.5% abv. SRP $20. Sample.
Nero d’ Avola is just so darn charming. I got lost in this wine.
Virgen del Galir
2018 Virgen del Galir Pagos del Galir, Valdeorras — pale golden in the glass with generous aromas of oat hay, citrus and dusty earth. Gravelly minerality leads the flavor profile along with oat hay, dusty earth and citrus. Delicate notes of melon and white flowers float in the background. There is a complexity to the flavors that is difficult to describe. The wine has a bit of weight and a long finish. Very interesting and unique. 13.5% abv. SRP $21. Sample.
This is one of the most complex white wines I tasted this year. Godello is the grape variety, which is a specialty of Spain’s Valdeorras DO and Virgen del Galir.
2019 Sosie Rossi Ranch White Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County — light golden in the glass with generous aromas of ripe pears and yellow peaches. Pear flavors follow along with oat hay, gravelly minerality and dusty earth. The wine is a bit viscous in the glass with nice weight in the mouth and a very long, clean finish. 14.6% abv. $35. Only 4 barrels made. Sample.
Sosie Wines is knocking it out of the park with their Rhone variety wines. This white blend was a charmer.
Quinta da Fonte Souto
2018 Quinta da Fonte Souto, Portalegre, Branco, DOC Alentejo — pale yellow in the glass with aromas of oat hay, flowers and crushed rock. Flavors of stone fruit, honeysuckle and gravelly minerality finish with citrusy acidity, citrus pith and hints of cedar. The body is a bit round and the moderately-long finish will leave you salivating. 14% abv. SRP $25. Sample.
This blend of 75% Arinto and 25% Verdelho is astonishingly delicious. 70% of the blend is fermented in 500-litre oak barrels in contact with the lees, and the final blend is aged seven months in a combination of new French and Central European oak.
2017 Jean-René Germanier Humagne Rouge, Valais, Switzerland — light ruby in the glass with aromas of red cherries, raspberries and cranberries along with wet iron. Similar red fruit flavors of raspberries, cranberries and pomegranates combine with gravely earth and hints of white pepper and dried herbs in a medium-length finish. Tannins are fine and drying in a medium body. Fruit flavors are fresh and bright with juicy acidity that leaves me salivating. 13% abv. SRP $36.
Humagne Rouge was a new grape variety for us as was a taste of wine made in Switzerland. I loved this bright, lively red wine made using grapes grown organically and made by one of the oldest wineries in Switzerland.
2018 Jolie-Laide Pinot Gris, Sonoma County — nearly neon salmon-orange in the glass and crystal clear. Generous aromas and flavors of earth, white flowers and stone fruit combine in a complex and harmonious way. The acidity is fresh and there is a bit of weight and texture as well. A grating of dried orange peel and stony minerality mingle in the background and last on the lovely, long finish. 12% abv. $32
This beautiful wine (a wine club wine) was my introduction to the wines of Jolie-Laide and resulted in my ordering wine direct from the winery. I am a big fan of skin-contact white wines and fell for every wine from Jolie-Laide that I’ve tasted including: 2019 Trousseau Gris, 2019 Pinot Gris, and 2019 Melon de Bourgogne.
And while we’re on skin-contact white wines I must mention the wines from Two Shepherds. William Allen makes a variety of outstanding skin-contact white wines that include: Pinot Gris, Grenache Blanc and Trousseau Gris. I order direct from the winery. Delivery is always fast, even during harvest.
We had the great pleasure of meeting Shashi Singh in October 2019 at her winery and vineyard in Australia’s Morning Peninsula. We were blown away by the pure, energetic wines she crafts. I wrote about that experience on the blog and during this year we opened two wines we brought home with us. Both were stellar.
2018 Sabelli-Frisch “La Malinche” Mission, Mokelumne River, Lodi, California — generous aromas and flavors of raspberries and cranberries with intriguing notes of cedar in a relatively light body with fine, drying tannins. I’m a sucker for lighter-bodied red wines with red fruit flavors. Throw in a bit of cedar and grip and I’m over the moon. Love this wine slightly chilled. 13.6% abv. $30 direct from the winery.
This was my first taste of the Mission variety and I loved it. Adam Sabelli-Frisch is making an interesting and delicious line of wines. You should check out his website. Ordering and delivery were a breeze. This Mission led me to another…
Monte Rio Cellars
2019 Monte Rio Cellars Mission, Lodi — bright, clear, translucent raspberry in the glass with aromas of cranberries, white pepper and iodine. Red-fruit flavors include strawberry, cherry and pomegranate with a bit of earth in a relatively light body with gauzy tannins. 12% abv. $25 direct from the winery. So fruity, so delicious, appealing texture!
If you enjoy lighter-bodied red wines with a bit of grip you will enjoy the Mission variety. This wine was deceptively light colored, but loaded with flavor and texture.
You will find the Jolie-Laide, Two Shepherds, Avani (and Amrit), Sabelli-Frish and Monte Rio wines on my Instagram account along with the many other wines that took us to the far corners of the earth without leaving home.
In 2020 the tagline of our blog, Wine Makes Our Life More Fun, has truer than ever. And during these uncertain times the certainty of delicious, diverse and new wines is something I plan to hold on to for dear life. We wish you all the best in 2021. Please stay safe.