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).
2021 Brigadoon Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $22. Agglomerated stopper. The Brigadoon website states that this is “Alsation [sic] in style”. Despite the fact that many residents of Alsace bristle at the “Alsatian” adjective (for them, it is reserved for a breed of dog that Americans call “German Shepherds”), this has little resemblance to all those Pinot Blancs that I dusted off while studying in Strasbourg. This iteration of the “second-class” variety from Alsace (it does not have Grand Cru status) is much richer, unctuous, fruity, and, yes “delicious-er-er” than its French brethren. Plenty of citrus (tart lemon) and mandarin orange zest, this really explodes on the palate. Rich yet tart, layered yet angular, fruity yet nuanced, this has to rate among the top Pinot Blancs I have tasted (certainly from the US). Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2018 Brooks Riesling Hyland Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $28. Medium Sweet. 100 Cases produced. I do not have enough space in this tasting note box to go through the entire Brooks story but [https://wp.me/p28FPy-44s]I wrote an article[/url] a handful of years ago trying to do just that. As for this wine? Brooks’ dedication to Riesling is nothing short of fanatical which all started with founder Jimi Brooks, and continues today as Brooks is perhaps the preeminent producer of Riesling in the U.S. Bright, tart, with a balancing sweetness, I doubt there is a better sweet Riesling in the U.S. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Cattleya Chardonnay Call to Adventure Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $80. Under cork. Fermented and aged in French oak (30% new) for 11 months. I have been sampling Bibiana’s wines for several years now, but this is the first time, I believe, that I have tried her premium line. Whoa. This comes from the Russian River Valley’s Pratt Vineyard, which many (including me) consider being an American “Grand Cru” site. I have tasted dozens of wines from the vineyard, and this rates right up there with the best. Brilliant straw in the glass with lovely apple, pear, and tropical notes (pineapple, lemon meringue pie). Add in some honeysuckle, a kiss of oak, and roasted, sliced almonds. Whoa. The palate is nothing short of decadent: rich, layered, unctuous, and full-bodied, this wine is both elegant and muscular with a depth that characterizes the best wines from Sonoma. As I said, this was my first time with this wine, and I truly hope it is not the last. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2021 Cattleya Sauvignon Blanc Alma de Cattleya, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $22. Under DIAM5. I have gone through several vintages of the Alma de Cattleya wines and there is no doubt in my mind that the wines, while stellar from the onset, have noticeably improved. Close to colorless in the glass with intense citrus (lemon and grapefruit) as well as a lovely floral aspect. The palate is incredibly rich with an incredible zinginess from the jump, balanced by a bushel of fruit. Holy cow, and a whoa. One of the more powerful Sauvignon Blancs I have had in a while. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2016 Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $50. Heavy Bottle. 79% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Sauvignon Gris. Tasted along side the 2020 Elevage Blanc and while the 2016 has more of a muted nose, holy cow. As it warmed a touch, I picked up a panoply of fruit aromas: peach, pear, citrus. There was also a mineral aspect and a slight honeyed, caramel note. The palate is so complex, with great fruit and weight. The mid palate is just amazing. Rich, on the verge of unctuous but completely stunning. While this is not labeled as such, it technically is a Sauvignon Blanc and I can count on one hand the list of other SBs I have tasted in the class of this 2016 Elevage Blanc. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2021 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $22. Under screwcap. I have stated countless times that I consider Alsace as my second home. I studied there, rode my bike there, fell in love there (OK, two outta three ain’t bad). So every time I see “Pinot Gris” I get excited for, at least for me, that indicates that the wine is made more in the French style than the ubiquitous Italian, aka “Pinot Grigio” style. Add to the equation that this wine was made by Adam Campbell at Elk Grove, one of my favorite winemakers in the Valley and, well, whoa. Rich. Tree fruit. Pear. Peach. Apricot. Salinity. Mineral. Yowza. Am I sure this is twenty bucks? Nope. The palate does not disappoint. Fruit, initially, followed by a near-bracing acidity that tries to put one’s life into perspective. Whoa. This has to be near the top of my favorite domestic Pinot Gris. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2020 Lucia Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $65. Heavy bottle. Under cork. yellow straw in the glass with lemon curd, wet rock, white acacia flower, moderate oak, and a touch of vanilla all present on the nose. The palate is spectacular. Sure, it is clear that this wine spent some time in barrel, but the oak influence is moderate and works well with the fruit and tartness, both of which are on point. The weight is great as well, with several layers of complexity on the way to a lengthy, complex finish. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2019 Tenuta Montauto Maremma Toscana Enos I, Tuscany, Italy: Retail $45. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This wine comes from the vines that Riccardo Lepri’s (owner) grandfather planted back in 1980. The top wine from the estate in Maremma, about 10 kilometers from the coast, this really is one of the best Sauvignons I have had in quite some time. Quite pale in the glass with a nose that virtually explodes over the rim of the glass. Fruity, salty, with minerality, florally, and tons of verve, this is impressive well before I take the first sip. Once I do? Holy smokes, this is good. Sure, there are the characteristics that one would expect from a Sauvignon Blanc: lean, tart fruit, a near-bracing acidity, and both minerality and salinity. But there is more with this wine, there is a softness, a roundness, that I really have only experienced in Sancerre. No, I am not suggesting this is akin to France’s best appellation for the variety, but it certainly has more, much more, than Sauvignon Blanc from almost anywhere else (at least in my experience). Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2017 Pellegrini Family Vineyards Chardonnay Olivet Lane Estate, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. I had received a slew of Olivet Lane wines from Pellegrini and decided to take them back to California for our cycling/beach vacation on the Central Coast. We had been pleased with all of the wines up until this point, and, well, this wine perhaps surpassed the previous in that regard. Lemon curd with the slightest hint of oak on the nose, it is a bit subdued, quite honestly in the glass. On the palate, however? This wine really sings: rich, unctuous, layered, and luscious. Holy cow. While stopping short of a “big” Chardonnay, this really packs quite a punch. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2020 Stephen Ross Albariño Spanish Springs Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $28. Under screw top. As I continue along this wine writing path, I count more and more producers as “friends.” I realize that is perhaps dangerous or at least suggests bias. Perhaps. But when it comes to Stephen and Paula Dooley, owners of Stephen Ross? Our friendship predates my blog, so there is no bias. Perfect logic. So when I say this is one of the best Albariños I have tried–regardless of continent–I am not jaded at all by the affinity I have for the couple. Bright fruit, zingy acidity, and just a level of chutzpah that, as I said, I can’t remember experiencing in an Albariño. Bravo. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Ultra, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $95. Under cork. “Ultra” is the relatively recent well, *ultra* premium line from the already premium Tongue Dancer line. And it has lived up to its billing. Light straw in the glass with a delicious nose of lemon curd, pineapple confit, and a touch of white pepper. The palate is rich, but also subtle, revealing its soul slowly, with time. Impeccable balance as the tartness melds beautifully with the fruit and the oak influence. I say “oak” but it is much more in the Chassagne-style than almost anything I have tried from California. Initially, I liked the Tongue Dancer Bacigalupi Chard better, but as this wine approached room temperature? Whoa and holy cow. I would put this wine up against any Chard in a heartbeat–not just domestic. Watch out Montrachet, watch out. The MacPhails are on your tail. Extraordinary. 97 Points.
2019 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. I have spent a considerable amount of screen space professing my adoration for Tongue Dancer wines and the dynamic duo of James and Kerry MacPhail. I have professed my adoration for the couple and for their wines. And it continues. Holy cow. Rich lemon curd, smoky vanilla, white pepper, hazelnut; there is far too much occurring on the nose to accurately express the euphoria. Well, on the palate? It just got even more difficult. A tart fruitiness initially, followed by depth, intrigue, and wave after wave of flavor. Sure, there is oak, but it is expertly balanced with the fruit and acidity. I have said it countless times, but James MacPhail, who considers himself a Pinot guru, is actually one of the top Chardonnay whisperers in the U.S. And I’ll stand by that. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2018 Winner’s Circle Winery Chardonnay Bon Pari Estate, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $75. It has been a few years now since I first tasted the Bon Pari Estate and this is now the third Chardonnay. While all the wines have been stellar (understatement), this might be the best Chard thus far. Once again, like the 2017, this wine screams “Meursault” to me: rich, luscious, but perfectly balanced with fruit (lemon curd, white peach, pineapple) that melds perfectly with the zingy tartness, creaminess, and subtle oak influence. While this is a bit pricey at $75, it shows like a wine easily twice (or more) its tariff. Easily one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted in a while (or at least in just about two years). Extraordinary. 97 Points.
My White Wine of the Year
Last year in this space, I declared the 2018 Tongue Dancer Ultra Chardonnay as my white wine of the year. This year, I deliberated for a while and it makes sense that since Tongue Dancer was one of only two wineries with more than one wine on this list (it has three), it once again garner the top wine of the year. But which one? In the desire to add a bit of variety, I opted for the
2017 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. Under cork (and wax). Today, I did something I never do (Ok, rarely): I headed into the cellar to grab a bottle of “something” with no real direction. I had prepared cod with a Romesco sauce and a bed of sautéed leeks (along with garlic broccolini) and thought a “white” might be nice. I pulled this. Holy mother of Jesus. I have been a fan of Tongue Dancer for some time, but I honestly was not prepared for this. I thought I had several bottles of this vintage, but this was just one of two. Oops. Regardless, I thought I “knew” this wine, since, well, I tasted it in mid-October of 2020 and I loved it (94 pts.). Well. Now? Although I thought it not possible, I love it more. Holy crap. Rich, unctuous, layered, deep. I have said countless times that James MacPhail fancies himself as a Pinot-whisperer, but to truly understand his talent, one needs to delve into his Chardonnays. There, one discovers what it truly means to be an “artist.” Velvety, succulent, and yes, even decadent, this Chard rises above (almost) all others (and yes, I am including Burgundy). Whoa. Extraordinary. 97 Points.