Against my better judgment (which is usually bad, thus here I go), here are the top white wines that I tasted this year. In order to be considered, the wine had to be received as a sample, rated well into the “Outstanding” category, and earned a “Whoa” (or at least came really close). No attention was paid to price, region, or whether it had a ridiculously heavy bottle (although those B.A.B. might be excluded in the future).
What made the cut this year? Interestingly (at least to me), two Chardonnays (expected), two white Rhône blends (what?), and three Rieslings (are you kidding?).
2019 Bacigalupi Vineyards Chardonnay Renouveau, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $82. Big. Ass. Bottle. It would not take many digits to count the number of domestic Chardonnays that I have tried in the price range. Thus, I approached this with a bit of skepticism, particularly based on that healthy price tag. 82 bucks? Really? Well, I guess I am going to have to roll with that–this is fantastic; among the best domestic Chardonnays I have had. Rich, full, unctuous–this is decidedly not Cougar juice, but there is both a nod to its Californian heritage while suggesting a strong Burgundian influence (more Meursault than Chassagne or Chablis). Lemon curd a go-go with bits of vanilla and oak on the nose while the palate is rich and voluptuous. Whoa. Fantastic. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Brooks Riesling “Ara”, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $38. Where to start? As the Willamette Valley seems to be pivoting to the more marketable Chardonnay to the detriment of Pinot Gris and Riesling, Brooks’ white program remains keenly focused on Riesling, the passion of founder Jimi Brooks. When I showed up to try this wine at the Wine Media Conference, I was not only surprised to see Brooks pouring one of their top Rieslings (with a teeny production of a mere 225 cases), but I was shocked to see that it was Brooks CEO and friend Janie Brooks who was pouring the wine! After reminiscing a bit (I visited back in 2016 and wrote an article that gained a bit of recognition) I was able to focus on the wine, which is always one of my favorites in the Brooks portfolio. Lovely nose with great fruit (yellow delicious apple, ripe peach), touches of freshly cut hay, an herbal quality (basil?), and just a touch of petrol. Whoa. The palate is just lovely with that apple, some dried apricot, plenty of viscosity and heft, and oodles of tartness (the 2g/l is barely noticeable). As always with this wine, the Ara is at or near the apex of American Riesling. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2020 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Clos de Beauvenir, France: Retail $120. 65% Grenache Blanc, 35% Roussanne (2019). “Beauvenir” was the name of la Nerthe property before its purchase by the Tulle de Villefranche family in 1560. For a long time the now exclusive plot served as the garden for the château and mostly consists of limestone soil that is bathed in the morning sun and cooled by the evening wind. Roussanne at the top, Clairette below with Grenache Blanc interplanted. Fermented in larger barrels with 50% new French, the rest close to neutral, elegant nose of peach, pear, a hint of lemon, Yowza. Fantastic weight, a bit smoky, lovely combination of fruit and acidity, really one of the best whites from the region I have ever had. A length that is unrivaled. 100 cases only. Whoa. Holy smokes. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.
2018 Ottella Lugana Riserva Molceo, Italy: Retail $40. Big Ass Bottle. 100% Turbiana (Trebbiano di Lugana). This was the second bottle of Turbiana that I had had in as many days (or close) and I am falling for the variety. Hard. And this wine? Easily the best Turbiana I have had (disregard the fact that I could count the number of wines on one hand with enough fingers left over to swirl the glass). Fantastic nose of lemon meringue, a touch of lime, a bit of salinity, very nice. But the nose did not prepare me for the palate. At. All. Whoa. Rich, intense fruit, shocking acidity, incredible balance. Whoa. This is really fantastic. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Stephen Ross Albariño Spanish Springs Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $25. Under screw cap. While I have had a few of Steve Dooley’s Pinots over the years, this was the first Albariño I have tried of his and it is simply fantastic. Crisp, bright, fruity. Yum. Mostly ripe white peach and bright Bosc pear on the nose with a hint of wet rock. Lovely. While the nose is delightful and “sells” a great experience, the palate is even better than the nose suggest. Bright tree fruit initially followed immediately by a zingy acidity. Yowza. That fruit/acidity combination continues in concert throughout, weaving a lovely waltz all the way to the finish, which lasts for minutes. Whoa. One of the best Albariños I remember having. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2015 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Saering, Alsace, France: Retail $35. Whoa. I have has a few wines from Domaines Schlumberger, but this is only the second Saering I have had the pleasure to try (the other was a 2005 and it was phenomenal). The winery is located in the town of Guebwiller, south of Colmar, and while I have never visited the town or the winery, it is near the top of must-sees the next time I am back in my adopted home region of Alsace. Slightly golden in the glass and while a half-dozen years “old” this wine is still but a babe. Dried apricot, ripe nectarine, lime zest, white flower, a touch of petrol, and loads of minerality and verve on the nose. Whoa. I could stop here and be a happy camper. But of course I didn’t (and ever so happy for that decision). Rich, luscious fruit initially coats the mouth with a comforting roundness but that is quickly followed by a searing (see what I did there?) tartness that clears out that roundness quickly and replaces it with a mouth-watering yearning for foooood. Holy cow. It keeps going through the finish which tingles, lingers, and pirouettes on the tongue long enough to forget you still have an ounce or so left in your glass. Yes, this wine is so good it will cause you to neglect the remaining wine so as to savor what you just experienced. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2015 Sipp-Mack Riesling Rosacker, Alsace Grand Cru, France: Retail $45. Under cork. There are currently 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace (there is a rather long story there) and Rosacker is tucked into some prime real estate–in Hunawihr, halfway between Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, two of the most picturesque village in all of France. And this wine does it justice. Rich aromas of peach, baked golden apple, and a twist of lemon rind emit from this close to golden wine. Whoa. The palate is incredibly rich, layered, and balanced. Fruit, a hint of sweetness (but that comes from the luscious fruit), an intense zinginess, and a weight that you just don’t find in many wines. Holy Cow. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $34. I try to avoid hyperbole. Nor do I ever (OK, rarely) suggest that one should buy a particular wine. But. What I have in my chubby, sausage-fingered hands (OK, I really have delicate, piano-player-like hands even though the only musical instrument I play is the car radio) is quite possibly the best American Riesling (I know Brooks Winery would have something to say about that, see above). And it comes from, wait for it… Napa Valley. Yowza. All cards on the table? My Riesling chops were sown (grown?) in an odd combination of Alsace (where I studied), Germany (where I was a bicycle tour guide), and the Willamette Valley (where my spirit animal resides). And yes, this wine rates right up there with all of them. Crisp, “varietally correct” (which is a stupid notion, but nonetheless…), light straw in the glass, bright citrus, a healthy dose of minerality, and the omni-present(?) petrol component that defines Riesling (at least for me)–this wine has it all and then some. Simply put, if you don’t like, nay, love this wine? You will never enjoy Riesling. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2018 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. Big Ass Bottle. Really. I would imagine that there are a handful of moments in one’s life where one can truly make a mark and by far, most of those moments are squandered. One such instance was tonight. I was on a Zoom call with James and Kerry MacPhail, makers of this 2018 Bacigalupi Chardonnay and I punted. Whiffed. Gutter-balled. Here I was with one of Sonoma County’s premier Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay) producers (he would claim “premier Pinot producer” but whatever) and I failed to say: “Um, holy cow, whoa. This wine is off-the-charts delicious! W.T.F.?” Yeah. That was horrible. Perhaps it was better that I remain silent in the presence of (near) perfection. Golden in the glass, unctuous on the nose (lemon curd, vanilla, slight hints of oak, full-blown Whoa), and a “more-gasm” (Google it) on the palate. There are few wines on the market that hit the trifecta: true to the variety, exceed expectations, and blow away the competition, but here we are. While I stated in our chat that this is an homage to Meursault, it is really at the apex of Chardonnay. This is a “holy-mother-of-god” kinda wine. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.
2019 Troon Vineyard Côtes du Kubli Blanc, Applegate Valley, OR: Retail $35. DIAM 5 closure. 42% Viognier, 35% Marsanne, 23% Roussane. Cowhorn Vineyard. A rich, short of golden, yellow in the glass with tropical notes prominent (guava, lychee) along with ripe pear, peach, and just loads of scrumptious goodness. The palate? Whoa. There is so much fruit it would be easy to mistake this as a dessert wine, but of course it’s not. Rich, tons of body, layer upon layer of flavor, and enough acidity to hold it together. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
My White Wine of the Year
This is only the second time, I believe, that I have singled out one wine as a “Wine of the Year” but this year it seemed appropriate (and it also seems as though everyone is doing it, so in typical sheep fashion…). Yes, it is a second wine from James and Kerry MacPhail at Tongue Dancer and while I might be alone in this opinion, it validates my assertion that renowned Pinot producer James MacPhail makes even better Chardonnays.
2018 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Ultra, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $95. One barrel. 25 cases. That’s it. 50% Quail Hill Vineyard (Rued clone), 50% Bacigalupi Vineyard (Old Wente clone). A Really Big. Ass. Bottle. (A.R.B.A.B.) Whoa. I have been sitting on this wine since I received it back in November, not sure when to open it. Yes, it is a sample, but it is an ultra-exclusive wine (see what I did there?) from one of Sonoma’s Ultra-exclusive (I did it again) wineries (Kerry and James MacPhail would take exception to that characterization, but this is my blog and they do not get a vote). Tonight was the night–swordfish sous-vide with a lemon caper basil butter sauce seemed about right. It was, but it didn’t matter as this wine stole the evening. The nose is a bit shy initially, but there are eventually hints of citrus, ripe Bosc pear, subtle vanilla bean, and a touch of white pepper. Whoa. On the palate, quite frankly, I expected more. James MacPhail is not one to shy away from a big, full-throttle (albeit while incredibly balanced) Chardonnay or Pinot, but this is not that. No, this is delicate, introspective, dare I say “reserved”? Yes, while James’ other Chards seem to have gone the hedonistic, rich, Meursault-like route, this is far more subtle, demonstrating his deft hand that is often hidden behind all that muscle. It would be too simple to state this was more Chablisien in nature, and while that certainly is true, there is also a richness, a weight, that often is difficult to find in the northernmost region of Burgundy. Instead, as with most of James’ wines, I find it a combination: the subtleness of Chablis, the richness of Montrachet, and the sunshine that is Sonoma. I say this so often, that I risk cliché, but Bravo James, Bravo. Extraordinary. 98 Points.