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Top 20 of 2020

December 29, 2020 2 comments

It is that special time of the year. Time to reflect. Time to conclude. Time to decide. It is Top Wines of The Year time.

I happily engaged in this Top Wine selection process for the past 10 years. What is a better way to reflect on your year in wines than thinking about all the wine experiences of the year, and deciding on the most memorable ones? Good wine should solicit an emotion – this is the main criteria for the wine to be included in this top list. The wine should be memorable, one way or the other, even if it was not the highest-rated wine of the year. If I can easily re-live the moment of tasting the wine, then the wine belongs to the top list.

Making decisions is not my forte in general. Making decisions about wines is even worse – a real pain. When I created my very first Top List in 2010, I wanted to create a Top 10 list. I quickly realized that Top 10 is not going to happen, then the Top Dozen was born. 2010 and 2011 both had a single Top Dozen list, actually consisting of 12 wines. In 2012, I realized that I can’t fit into one dozen anymore, the two dozen lists were born. In some years, even the 2 dozens were not enough and the lists were reaching 25, 26, and even 27 wines.

2020 presented truly a unique challenge. Every year until 2020, there were many opportunities to find the wines worth inclusion into the top wines lists – dinners with friends, samples, trade tastings, dinners with winemakers, and of course, all the wines casually consumed at home. 2020 completely changed that, and outside a few of the dinners with friends and trade tastings at the beginning of the year, the only sources of the wine experiences were a few samples and wines opened at home. As the end result, I was unable to come up with two dozens of wines for the top wines list. However, I still had more than a dozen wines that I really enjoyed and which would be easy to remember. Thus a compromise was needed, so the Top 20 seemed to be just the right number for the best wine experiences of 2020.

Without further ado, let me present to you the Top 20 of 2020.

20. 2016 Shelter Winery Spätburgunder Baden ($28) – While Germany has 3rd largest plantings of Pinot Noir in the world (which was a total surprise for me), I didn’t encounter an enjoyable German Pinot Noir yet – until this wine, which was classically old world, perfectly drinkable and enjoyable.

19. 1997 Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($NA) – Twenty three years is a good amount of time to render many wines non-drinkable. This, however, was a delicious California Cabernet in its prime. This wine could still evolve for a few more years, and it supported quite an enjoyable evening.

18. 2017 Shiloh Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) – Israeli wines are underappreciated by wine lovers – maybe it is for the better for those of us who already discovered them? A classic Cabernet Sauvignon, with cassis and eucalyptus, just as you want your Cab to be, and perfectly balanced. Balance in the wine is a canvas for pleasure and this wine fully delivered.

17. 2006 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera Del Duero ($25) – One of the perennial favorites. This is one of the introductory level wines from the Emilio Moro universe, showing no signs of aging at the 14 years mark. Superb fresh fruit with a dark core of herbs. Drink Ribera del Duero wines, my friends.

16. 1998 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon High Trellis McLaren Vale ($19 @ BWG) – First, I have the utmost respect for d’Arenberg wines – great producer. Second, I’m always on the lookout for the wines from the 1998 vintage, as this year is special in my book (birth year of my son). Third – when you see d’Arenberg 1998 wine at $19 at the Benchmark Wine website, you just grab it instantly. Fourth – you open the bottle, say “ahh” and enjoy it. The wine was perfectly delicious, still young, fresh, and memorable.

15. 2018 Cecchi Sangiovese Toscana IGT ($12) – This wine was just a revelation. While Cecchi offers a great range of Sangiovese-based wines, with different levels of power and complexity, this simplest bottling brought literally an unexpected joy of the unadulterated beauty of Sangiovese, an open wine with the perfect balance of fruit and acidity. A memorable simplicity.

14. 2017 Alit Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($33.64 | $18.50 Alit Collective) – Polygons. Basalts. Volcanic soils. Site-specific wines even if the whole site is only two and a half rows of vines. Alit, together with its sibling Rose and Arrow, are on the quest to discover the Oregon Grand Crus, and I’m happy I was able to join that quest. The wine is a quintessential Oregon Pinot Noir. Try it for yourself.

13. 2016 Château Vincens Prestige Cahors ($13.99) – I guess 2020 was my year of rediscovering Malbec, from both new and old worlds. This wine was simply spectacular, an unmistakable old-world jewel, magically transporting you to the old cellar, holding hundreds of years of tradition. Pure pleasure.

12. 2017 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles Paso Robles ($10) – Respect. Erich Russel bottled this wine in the spring of this year, under the first, crazy quarantine, while the world was crumbling and nobody knew what to do. He bottled the wine so people would have something to drink. This might be the best damn $10 wine the money can buy. And without any regard to price, this is simply delicious, approachable, perfectly balanced Californian wine, ready to drink from the moment you pull the cork. Thank you, Erich.

11. 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi (€11) – I tasted this wine for the first time during an amazing night of Gran Selezione Chiantis and Brunellos, so I was not impressed at all and couldn’t understand everyone’s rave. A few months later, I had a sip of this wine, and my instant reaction was “oh my god”, that is stunning. Beautiful, generous, succulent Italian wine – the price is great, but the qualities of this wine extend well past any price category.

10. 2016 Domaine Anderson Estate Chardonnay Anderson Valley California ($40) – A brilliant wine. The Chardonnay done perfectly right – just the right amount of apple and vanilla, on a beautiful core of acidity. Powerful, delicious, and utterly balanced – one of the very best California Chardonnays I ever tasted.

9. 2013 Cecchi Coevo Toscana IGT ($129.99) – I tasted this spectacular wine during lunch with Andrea and Giulia Cecchi in New York City at the beginning of the year. There was some wine left in the bottle, which I was generously offered to take home – I gladly obliged. In the evening, we went to see friends, and after a few bottles of random simple wines, mostly from California, we poured Coevo. Upon the first sip, my friend’s reaction was priceless – “huh, why you didn’t tell us that brought serious wine” was the question. The depth and complexity of this wine are simply superb.

8. 2018 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County ($27) – Another perfect California Chardonnay score. It is similar to Domaine Anderson with maybe a bit more power, but still perfectly balanced and fresh. Pure pleasure.

7. 2016 Pedro Cancela Selecção do Enólogo Dão Portugal ($10) – I discovered this wine during the Dão wine dinner at the beginning of the year. Portuguese wines are famously inexpensive, but QPR on this wine is just mind-boggling. This wine is hard to find in the US, but if you will be able to find it, I guarantee you an incredible amount of pleasure per dollar.

6. 2019 Mythic Mountain Malbec Rosé Mendoza Argentina ($11.99) – another delicious discovery of this year. Fragrant, effervescent, end elegant, this Malbec Rosé definitely exceeded my expectations. Outstanding QPR, and yes, I’m repeating myself – pure pleasure.

5. 2018 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Chile ($19.99) – Some years ago I discovered Italian Sauvignon Blanc wines from Gaja and Ornellaia, which were superb, rather unexpectedly. This Ritual Sauvignon Blanc carries a similar level of surprise. It doesn’t have any of the grapefruit or sweet lemon notes but offers instead a touch of butter, and crisp, mineral elegance. If Italian Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t work for you, think Cloudy Bay from New Zealand. Yep, that good and that different.

4. 2016 Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($40) – a California in the bottle. Imagine a powerful, fruit-forward Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, loaded with cassis, eucalyptus, mint, layered, silky smooth, and incredibly seductive, not leaving you a chance to resist its charm. Got the image? Now imagine that this California Cab is just freshly released. What are your chances of enjoying it as soon as you will open the bottle? Quite low, right? It is rather expected that after the first sip you will put it aside with the words “it needs to breath”, or you might reach out for a decanter. Now, imagine the perfectly seductive California Cab without the need to wait even a moment, just sip and enjoy. Yep, that would be this bottling of Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfect from the get-go.

3. 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG ($NA) – If the previous wine was quintessentially California, this wine was quintessentially Italian. I have no idea how I came in possession of this bottle, so I had no expectations when I brought this bottle to Cape Cod during summer to enjoy with the family during the visit. Wow. “Mind-blowing” doesn’t even describe it. the combination of fresh cherries, tobacco, leather, cherry pit, supremely balanced – everything you might want in Italian wine was present in this bottle. An absolute wow.

2. 2011 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard Walla Walla Valley ($130) – Power. Raw power. Granite. I imagine this is how liquified granite tastes. The wine of impeccable finesse and pleasure, but also an incredible power. This wine is a beast, but it is a well-tamed beast. Did you see the movie “Venom”? Yep, that type of beast.

1. 1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($NA) – And then there are wines which can make the whole room go quiet. Meditazione. Yes, it is an Italian word, same as the wine, but I’m sure you don’t need a translation. Once we were done sniffing this wine, which took good five minutes, everyone got quiet and lost in thoughts. A meditation wine. Wine of next level. The wine that instantly becomes an experience. Forever. There is no way I can describe it. As we are about to celebrate the New Year, I can only wish that you will be able able to experience it.

And we are done here – the presentation of the Top 20 of 2020 is now finished. What were your top highlights of the year?

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