Commencing in December and continuing well into January 2019, it seems that most, if not all, professional wine critics, wine lifestyle magazines, Internet wine bloggers, accomplished Sommeliers and social media pundits found it necessary to inform us of their Best Wines of the Year, (including their #1), as well as their Best Meals of the Year.
Most of the Best Wines and Best Meals are well outside the availability, financially or otherwise, of the vast majority of the Great Unwashed—you and me, the ones who usually think twice about buying anything above $25 for a wine at the retail store; or anything above $30 for a main course at a quality restaurant, not to mention their wine, which is shamelessly priced at three-or four-times retail!
Though tempted, I will not torture you with a list of my favorite wine(s) and my most memorable lunches and dinners at Sonoma and Napa Valley restaurants, Michelin rated or not. While we have advice or recommendations when asked about either, our fondest food and wine memories are with friends, while we enjoy the shared moments at their homes or at Bistro Barras.
And so, in lieu of the above, I have a modest proposal that I hope will assist you in discovering your own most memorable wine(s) of 2019. My suggestion is that you break out of your habitual shopping and drinking routine, and be more adventurous; reach for a new level of wine enjoyment. Explore something new and different; be reckless; step out of your comfort zone.
If your palate is representative of what I’m encountering in the Napa Valley, my guess it is New World centric, and likely revolves around Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with occasional pours of Merlot and Zinfandel for reds, and limited samplings of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc for whites.
Experienced wine enthusiasts know that the provenance—the birthplace—of those varietal wines (except Zinfandel) is none other than the time-tested appellations of France. (Pinot Grigio is the frenetic Italian version of the more sedate and refined Pinot Gris, which is crafted in France’s fairy-tale-beautiful Alsace.)
As alternates to your reds, I propose the oak-loving, Tempranillo-based Reservas from Spain’s high quality Rioja and Ribera duel Duero regions. From Italy’s Tuscany, you should sample some of the Reservas from Chianti Classico plus the Rosso di and (regular) Brunellos from the very tourist-friendly Montalcino region.
France, of course, is replete with red wine options, but those classified (on the bottle) as Cru Bourgeois from Bordeaux (usually Cabernet or Merlot based blends), and the dark and juicy, grenache-based reds from the southern Rhone Valley’s Cotes du Rhone region are well worth your sampling.
For something different in white wines, Spain’s lush, flavorful Albarinos from Rias Biaxas, and the crisp, citric Verdejo from Rueda should be on your Bucket List.
Italy is absolutely loaded with white wine options, especially in the appellations of Tuscany, Alto-Adige, and Piedmont; try anything of recent vintage, and you won’t be disappointed. France’s Macon-Villages appellation is great for a lighter (often with less oak) Chardonnay version. And Alsace’s dry Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are classy, well made wines that are excellent for lunch or dinner, and are definitely worth discovering.
The last few vintages, especially 2015 and 2016 were highly rated (think warm weather) for all the above recommendations. As such, the time is right for exploring wines from Europe. While most grocery stores have many of them in their Imported Wine section, your best chance of scoring with well known, high quality producers is to visit a locally owned, entrepreneurial wine store. They frequently taste most, if not all, of their inventory before they put it on their shelves.