Monday, December 16, 2019

Most Exciting Wines of 2019

This is definitely not a listing of the best wines I've had this year (whatever best means,) but is a sampling of the wines that stayed with me long past when I drank them.  In case you're looking to compare notes, some are easily available while others next to impossible to find.  What excites me is purely subjective, so your mileage may vary with these, but I'm certain that none of these would disappoint you.  Write-ups on each can be found at the links below.  Cheers!

Buglioni lo Spudorato
No other wine I've had in 2019 has haunted me as much as this has. Made from the same grapes used for Soave, this sparkling wine bears no pedigree, pretentiousness, or hefty price tag. What's exciting about it? It's an after work spumante for everyday drinking, absolutely luminescent and gulpable, and very inexpensive.  Alas, I have not found it anywhere in the US (yet.)  However, many of the winery's other wines - all of which are fantastic, are widely available in the US. Review here.

Russiz Superiore Sauvignon
From the outer reaches of Italy comes this wild surprise.  Laser focused and tantalizingly pure, this is an exciting wine not just for its energy, but because the winery is in an area few people even know exists.  And it's available at the grocery store right down the street from me.  Review here.

Nivia
Following closely behind the Buglioni lo Spudorato in terms of day dreaming material, this shocker of a gem from the tippy-top of Spain made me weak in the knees. Made by the small Mas Llunes winery in an area better known for reds, this sultry white delivers a shimmering kaleidoscope of flavors and textures.  Every time I taste a delicious wine from either an unknown region or a region better known for growing something else, it reminds me that the shadows is where all the great discoveries await.  And that's exciting.  Unfortunately, this one is also not yet imported into the US. Review and details here. 

Zoe
Greek wine is becoming more common in better retailers, and why wouldn't it be?  Relatively inexpensive, chock full of bright, sun-filled flavors, and blissfully devoid of oak bludgeoning, the wines of Greece are a playground for experimentation. Anytime I come across a winegrowing area with a better than 50% yum rate I get excited. Review here.

Pra Valpolicella Morandina
I've tried to explain this wine to people, but mostly get blank stares in reply.  Several shades lighter than a pinot noir and just 12.5% ABV, you might expect it to be insipid and watery.  Au contraire, mon frere. This Italian red is among the most exciting wines I've had this year because of its laser focus, brilliant flavors, crackling acidity, soft-voiced honesty, and light weight density. A few sips will have you thinking you can drink the whole bottle. Not cheap, but a smashing value considering the experience - and it's fairly available.  Review here.

Yiron Israeli Red
Good wine is being made in increasingly unexpected places, like Israel.  This Bordeaux blend is just one of the many Israeli wines I've enjoyed this year, but is on this list thanks to its sophistication and profundity. Often times I'll taste a wine from an oddball region and think, "Not bad for a wine from Michigan" (or wherever.) But truly exciting wines, such as this one, require no qualification, and could easily hold its own in the company of California wines twice the price.  Review here.

Paradou Grenache 
This simple, inexpensive French red is noteworthy because, despite recent tariffs, it remains available a under $10. I've reached for a bottle of this wine several times to go with a weeknight meal when I'm looking for an uncomplicated accompaniment.  And each time I do, I'm rewarded by an unexpected treat. That we can still find respectable, well made wine at this price is exciting.  Review here.

Peju's Reds
I was reintroduced to this Napa winery's reds by a PR rep whom I've come to really enjoy. She rolls with it good-naturedly when I tell her a winemaker still has some development ahead of them or when I'm likely to have a hard time swallowing some of her clients' insane price tags, so it's nice for both of us when I have flattering things to say about a Napa Valley winery, as was the case with Peju.  Nothing is inexpensive in Napa, but Peju's wines, which are really fantastic (the cab franc in particular,) are a relative bargain.  Reviews here.

Prosecco
Wait, what? Yes, really, prosecco. While the vast majority of the stuff is as special as a trip to Sears, there are pockets of brilliance in this ocean of sparkling wine. Thankfully, they are easily identifiable, too. The prosecco DOC area is huge, but the smaller subzone of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, which sits about 50 miles north of Venice, makes a much better product for not a lot more money. And if you're willing to search (and spend) a bit more, the sub-subzone of Cartizze might be of interest.  But if you want a short-cut to experimenting with next level bubbles, just look for any bottle with the word "Valdobbiadene" in the sparkling section of your favorite retailer.  $20 buys a lot in this category.

Other Random Beverages:

Good Red Vermouth
The herbal character of a good red vermouth, combined with a splash of seltzer makes for a refreshing alternative as a pre-dinner palate-cleanser.  I've enjoyed the reactions of guests whom I've served this to.  A well-made vermouth will set you back $25, but last you months in the fridge.

Grappa
My first introduction to this liquor made from pommace (discardings from the winemaking process such as skins, seeds, and stems) left me with the distinct impression that I had just been subjected to a formaldehyde experiment.  I'm glad I gave it another go, because the unique pleasure of a fine grappa - especially a barrel-aged riserva - is an unbeatable way to cap off an evening.

Mezcal
Most people have nightmares about this Mexican spirit, some of which probably include worms.  And though my first exposure to mezcal came with a warning, like grappa, I learned that there is a whole different ballgame in the añejo (barrel-aged) category.  Expensive, for sure, but the savory/sweet/saline dimensions good tequilas and mezcal añejos can take on are eye-popping.

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