Following my list the other day of my Top White Wines, here are the top red 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).
Once again, I tasted well over a thousand wines this year, and here are the top ten reds, at least according to me. As one would expect, there are several Pinots, a couple of Rhône-style blends, and, surprisingly, a couple of Napa Cabs.
2017 ACORN Syrah Axiom Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. 98% Syrah, 2% Viognier field blend, and co-fermented. A ho-hum field blend (at least for winemaker/owner Bill Nachbaur, I imagine) of only two varieties which is quite dark in the glass with dark red fruit and considerable mocha. Quite floral and aromatic, thanks no doubt to the Viognier. Wonderful. Holy cow. Betsy and Bill make a lot of fantastic wines but this might just be their best. Yum. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Crannell Eola – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $55. This was tasted blind as part of my Fourth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir and, well, it was stunning. Tasting it blind, I did not have any idea that this wine came from, perhaps, my favorite winery in the Willamette Valley, but holy mother of Jesus was this incredible. Rich, smoky nose of dark fruit (black cherry & wild strawberry), rose petal, and the palate? Oh my goodness. Another one that is completely off the charts. Holy son of God. Rich, dark, a tad unctuous, but the fruit, acidity, balance. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.
2019 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Estate Clonal Series – Dijon 777, Carneros, CA: Retail $60. I was on a Zoom call with Remi Cohen (CEO) and TJ Evans (winemaker) of Domaine Carneros, tasting through six of the still Pinots produced by the house and when we got to this Dijon 777, TJ intimated that he really does not like the clone. So I did not have high hopes. Holy crap. Pardon my German (I speak French, so I have a hard time insulting the language). A bit dark in the glass and the nose is both dark (in a brooding kind of way) and lively (in a bright cherry kind of way) creating a tension that every Pinotphile seeks and craves. The palate represents, perhaps, the singular best Pinot I have tried this year (and gives my boy James MacPhail a run for his money). Rich but balanced. Fruity but nuanced. Since I have started writing about wine “seriously” I can count on one hand the number of Pinots that have given me goosebumps. Add one to the list. Holy crap TJ (pardon my German again), what happens with clones you like? Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.
2015 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des Cadettes, France: Retail $175. 35% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, and 32% Syrah. Whoa. It was a La Nerthe-fest with countless bottles of wines from the oldest producer in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (1560). We decanted this wine a bit, and after about an hour? Holy Mother of Jesus, our Savior. Look, I am not religious *at all* but this effing wine? It makes me want to believe in a higher being. Like. A lot. Rich, spicy fruit on the nose with loads of black and red fruit. Whoa. The acidity jumps in at the finish and, Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2018 Scattered Peaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $150. This bottle takes “Big. Ass. Bottle.” to an entirely different level. I am pretty sure that this bottle needs to be registered as a deadly weapon as it could terminate several human beings with just the slightest of contact to the skull. Give me a break, Scattered Peaks, or, rather, give the planet a break. Holy crap, this is ridiculous. The wine? Yeah, it’s good, Outstanding even, with rich dark fruit, plenty of layers, some earth, and a lengthy finish. But now I am off to the hospital to pop my shoulder back into its socket. The bottle? Horrible. The wine? Outstanding. 96 Points.
2017 Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon Eclipse, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $180. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Really Big Ass Bottle. I do not drink many higher-end Napa Cabs (I know that as Napa Cabs go, this might be considered “moderately priced” but it is beyond my wallet, that’s for sure) but when I do? I am not one to complain even though the general style of such wines is pretty far from my wheelhouse. This inky-dark wine, however, comes pretty close to what I imagine my ideal Napa Cab would be. Dark to the point of black, there is plenty going on in the glass even before the first sip. The nose, following closely behind the color, is pretty darned dark, on the verge of brooding with bushels of black fruit: blackberry, plum, cassis. Yet, it does not stop there as spice (black pepper), mild chipotle, mocha, and violet, and those are just the primary aromas. The palate is certainly Napa with waves of rich fruit, several layers of complexity, a balancing acidity just dying to get noticed, and soft (yet significant) tannins. Whoa. When a Napa Cab is done this well, there is not much else to do but sit back and revel. Whoa. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2017 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $60. The Dooleys entered into a lease agreement for the Stone Corral Vineyard back in 2001 and this 2017 marks the 15th vintage of this wine. I have four words for this wine: Give. It. Some. Time. While it will certainly benefit from some additional cellar time (at least three years), if you are as impatient as I am (OK, as my wife), please decant this lovely wine for a good couple of hours. Upon opening, it is certainly delightful, with bright fruit, tense acidity, and considerable earthiness. But. After a couple of hours open, this transformed from a “lovely Pinot” into a luscious rock-star in the waiting. Holy Cow. Initially, when compared to the Edna Valley ($38) from Stephen Ross, I was more impressed with the less-expensive wine (although only slightly). Now? Eight hours later. Whoa. Rich fruit, racy acidity, earthy tones, all in perfect concert. Yeah. I can hang out here indefinitely. Bravo Steve and Paula, bravo. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Sly One, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $65. Another wine from my Fourth Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir and this was off the charts ridiculously good. During my blind tastings, I am not afforded infinite time to wax poetically about the wine, but had I been offered a modicum more to expound on this wine? Yowza. I have stated my affinity for the Tongue Dancer Wines and the dynamic duo behind the brand countless times in this space, but recognizing that greatness blind only affirms what I already knew: the MacPhails are rockstars among mortals. On the dark side of Pinot again with a very rich nose that I could sniff pretty much all day long. As I do, there is some spice and clove, as well as, perhaps, some rose petals. Whoa. The palate is rich, layered, and truly fantastic. Long, rich, layered, balanced, holy cow. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 97 Points.
2018 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Ultra, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $90. Big. Ass. Bottle. Under cork. Another Tongue Dancer on my Wines of the Year Lists. Are you paying attention? Are you?? One barrel (25 cases). Kerry and James MacPhail, both rockstars in the Pinot world (I think I my have mentioned that before) identified a singular barrel (the best of the best) for this wine, the inaugural (I think) Ultra. On Day One, I’m not going to lie, this was a bit of a fruity mess. The fruit was definitely in control and though the acidity made an appearance, it was quickly rushed out of the room by all of that rowdy fruit. As what happened with the Ultra Chardonnay, this Pinot requires a bit of patience and attention, which is a bit of a departure from James’ usual approach. In my experience, he usually bottles wine that is ready to go upon release, sure it might change/improve with time, but whenever you pop the cork, that sucker is singing. Not here. All that initial power needs to calm the freak down and that requires patience; either a healthy decant (even a double decant) or a lengthy stay in the cellar is in order here. Trust me, it is worth it. On Day 2, this still needs time, the complex and layered nose indicates an incredible soul, where fruit, earth, and spice partake in a complex dance (see what I did there?) that could keep me enthralled for most of the evening. Whoa. The palate starts off as it did on Day 1 with the fruit racing to the forefront, but this time, the acidity is ready to keep it in check and divert attention to the multiple layers of complexity. Make no mistake, the power is still there and is compelling, but 24 hours in and it is clear there is plenty yet to be revealed. Again, all one needs is a bit of patience, which seems to be in short supply these days. Outstanding Plus. 95 Points.
My Red Wine of the Year
For my Red Wine of the Year, I went to a new winery (at least to me–they have been around for a decade), a really small producer in Newberg, Oregon. I met Dave and Sara Specter on a trip to the Willamette Valley, and instantly fell for their wines.
2019 Bells Up Winery Pinot Noir Jupiter, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, CA: Retail $48. Fanfare Club Only. First 100% Estate Pinot. Fairly light in the glass. Another whoa on the nose. Rich, concentrated, but also floral and fruity. A little bit of wet rock. The palate starts off rather shy, but by the mid-palate this really starts to shine. Richness, depth, spice but the finish is really where this wine explodes. The tartness is fantastic but the intensity of the fruit and spice is what sets it apart. Whoa. Outstanding. 96 Points.