’Tis the season for major wine periodicals to release their lists of top 100 wines. I thoroughly enjoy examining each one carefully and look forward to their arrival each year. They reveal trends, expose us to new wines and regions and always include a few selections that appeal to those seeking the broadest price to quality ratio. Far from arbitrary or elitist, they value factors such as availability, drinkability and the aforementioned ratio.
This week, we are starting with Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Top 100 wines of 2019. They are represented by 16 countries, mainly the United States (30), Italy (17) and France (16). Domestically, California contributed 18 wines followed by Oregon (5), Washington state (4), the Finger Lakes region in New York State (2) and Virginia (1).
True to form, the magazine’s top wine is the #1 Nino Franco NV Rustico Prosecco Superiore 94 points/$18 from Italy’s northern Valdobbiadene region, a tremendous value that is fairly accessible. Prosecco from this region is produced from the glera grape and, full transparency, I found two bottles online and can’t wait to taste it during the holidays.
There is so much exceptional pinot noir sourced from Russian River Valley vineyards that choices come down to what best complements individual palates. For mine, pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay from William Selyem, in the heart of the valley, has always been a good fit.
Different from their many single-vineyard pinot noir releases, the #2 William Selyem 2017 Pinot Noir Sonoma County 98 points /$39 is sourced from three estate vineyards and offered at a lower price, but still has the signature fresh berry flavors with savory hints throughout.
Other noted local wines on the list include an icon from Sonoma County and an intriguing new white from the Napa Valley.
Seghesio Family Vineyards has produced acclaimed old vine zinfandel and other varietals in Sonoma County for 120 years and they still consistently earn accolades from many of their releases. The #31 Seghesio 2016 Pagani Heritage Grower Series Zinfandel 95 points/$48 includes 22 percent alicante bouschet, the only grape with red juice, and is barrel-aged for 16 months in oak. This release has those bright fruit flavors and spice elements found in Seghesio wines.
A blend of tocai friulano (48 percent), ribolla gialla (41 percent) and chardonnay (11 percent), the #7 Massican 2018 Annia White 97 points/$30 sets the tone for Napa Valley producers to experiment with white varietals other than chardonnay.
Wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, the Sierra Mar Vineyards and ROAR Wines consistently appear on top lists, mainly for exceptional pinot noir and syrah releases. Owned by local icons Gary and Rosella Franscioni, the Sierra Mar (Mountain Sea)Vineyard, at over 1,000 feet elevation, is known for low yields and intense fruit. The dry Roar 2017 Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 97 points /$58 had pleasant mineral elements that complement the concentrated cherry flavors. It offers a good price to quality ratio.
With grapes sourced from cool, coastal terroir in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley, I once ordered a Brandborg Bench Lands Pinot Noir in an Ashland, Oregon restaurant and found the spice elements and flavor profile to be unique. Recently, their Westbrook Vineyard Pinot Noir was well-reviewed for many of the same traits. However, this year’s choice is the #24 Brandborg 2015 Gewürztraminer 93 points/$18, sourced from 30-year-old vines and offered at a reasonable price for one of my favorite white varietals.
Having recommended the Paso Robles region as a producer of good value cabernet sauvignon, I was pleased to see the #10 Austin Hope 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 95 points/$50 make it into the top 10. This wine, consistently rated in the high-90s, is said to offer the best expression of the soils and terroir of the mid-state region.
I tasted the #30 Renato Ratti 2015 Marcenasco (Barolo) 96 points/$65, met producer Pietro Ratti and took a virtual reality tour of his estate at a recent event at Wall and Wine in San Francisco. Consisting of 100 percent nebbiolo grapes, I was impressed by the perfumed bouquet and rich balanced flavors, but did not anticipate that it would be included (spoiler alert!) among both the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator (#27) top 100 wines.
A group of unexplored international wines including the #58 Barkan 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon(Israel), the #73 Douloufakis 2017 Dafnois Liatiko Crete 91 points/$16, the #78 Orgo 2018 Dila-O Dry Amber Wine(Georgia), and the #98 Garzon 2017 Reserva Tannat Uruguay 90 points/$20 are joined by the #100 Barboursville Vineyards 2017 Reserve Viognier (Virginia) 90 points/$22, the final wine on the list.
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.