Showcasing some recognizable wines of nobility and some newcomers, Wine Spectator magazine has released its annual list of “Most Exciting Wines.”
Their effort to create a balance between quality, price, accessibility and uniqueness results in a range of opportunities to explore new wines and regions. The results of their multi-faceted criteria is perhaps best illustrated by two iconic French Bordeaux releases: #1 Château Léoville Barton St. Julien 2016 (97 points/$98) and #97 Chateau Pichon Longueville Lalande Pauillac (97 points/$197). Both wines are among the highest rated on the list, but the lower price of the Chateau Leoville Barton pushed it to Wine of the Year.
Recurrent in most years, two-thirds of the wines on the list hail from France (23 percent), California (22 percent) and Italy (21 percent), including classic releases from Bordeaux, the Napa Valley and Tuscany mixed with others from lesser known regions. Wine today is viewed globally, but for those who keep score, adding Oregon (5) and Washington (2) to those recognized from California gives the United States, at 29 percent, more wines on the 2019 list than any other country.
Local regions were well represented, including two Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon releases, the #2 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2015 (96 points/$125) and #4 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Reserve 2016 (96 points/$150), that landed in the top five. They were joined by the #37 La Jota Merlot Howell Mountain 2016 (95 points/$85) from winemaker Chris Carpenter, the finest of the varietal that I have tasted this year.
Based in Sonoma County, many of David Ramey’s vintage 2016 chardonnay is on my favs list and the #7 Ramey Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros Hyde Vineyard 2016 (95 points/$65) was recognized as one of the year’s best. Also based in Sonoma County, but sourced from Paso Robles vineyards, Carol Shelton’s Rhone-style white wine has always suited my palate. I was pleased to find #41 Carol Shelton Coquille Blanc Paso Robles 2017 (93 points/$24), a blend of grenache blanc, roussanne, viognier and marsanne, on the list.
Melding an historic vineyard with the talents of winemaker Mike Officer, the #12 Carlisle Zinfandel Russian River Valley Papera Ranch Vineyard 2016 (96 points/$47) was one of two zinfandel wines on the list. The Dry Creek Valley appellation in north Sonoma County was represented by the #64 Dry Creek Zinfandel Sonoma County Heritage Vines 2017 (91 points/$26) and the #31 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley Alder Grove Vineyard 2017 (93 points/$24).
For those seeking a good value, the list has fourteen wines priced under $20, including five from Italy that are both highly rated and unique. From Tuscany, the Castello di Gabbiano 2015 (92 points/$14) is a sangiovese-based Chianti Classico while the Petra Toscana Zingari 2017 (93 points/$15), defined as the estate’s entry-level release, blends merlot, sangiovese, syrah and petit verdot to form a Super Tuscan hybrid.
Sourced from vineyards in the Piedmont region, the #50 Marchesi Di Barolo Barbera del Monferrato Maraia 2017 (91 points/$13), the list’s lowest priced wine, features barbera rather than the standard nebbiolo varietal, making it one of the most intriguing discoveries of 2019.
The Cirò DOC, in the Calabria region, is located on the instep of Italy’s geographical boot, along the southern Ionian coast. The #77 Vincenzo Ippolito Ciro White Mare Chiaro 2018 (90 points/ $19) combines early and late harvested local Greco Bianco grapes and is a find on many levels. Another value-priced Italian white, the #72 Marotti Campi Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Luzano (90 points/$17) from the central Marche region along the Adriatic Sea, peaks my interest to explore the local verdicchio grape.
On the domestic front, a recognized Oregon producer of value pinot noir and chardonnay, made the list with the #58 A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay Oregon 2018 ( 90 points/$15) while the #49 Wines of Substance Cabernet Sauvignon Washington Cs Substance 2017 (91 points/$17), another Charles Smith innovation, sounds too good to pass up.
My recent tastes of the #27 Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2015 (95 points/$65) and the #43 Roar Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sierra Mar Vineyard 2017 (94 points/$58), the only two wines to appear on both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast 2019 Top 100 lists, keenly justified their inclusion. Both estates and vineyards have been producing wines of a high standard for many years.
Shamelessly gloating, bottles of the #14 Tensley Syrah Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Vineyard 2017 (95 points/$42) and #22 Saxum James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2016 (97 points/$98), both quintessential Rhone-style wines, share a shelf in my cellar and soon a place on my holiday table.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org