And here we are, the end of 2020 and the time when I share my most memorable wines of the year. Categorizing anything as “most memorable” in a year like 2020 is certainly no easy feat. Seems forever ago that on January 26 I was so devastated to learn of Kobe and sweet little Gianna Bryant’s tragic deaths. I had loved watching ‘Kobe the dad’s’ transformation and all that he had been doing for female sports. Little did I know at the time, the beast that 2020 would become. Whether it was losing a superhero that looked like me in Chadwick Boseman, losing an after school tradition in Alex Trebek, or losing one of my personal heroes in the iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2020 the little fuck, just kept on giving. It took another hero in congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, along with the tragedies of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more. And as I’m writing this, we’ve lost almost 1.8MM people to COVID-19.
When it came to wine, I was drinking Australian in January after the devastating bush fires; Italian in March as they were the first European country to really wrangle with coronavirus; Washington State wine not much later as they were the first in the States to get hit hard with COVID. And then there was South African wine to be had when the country instituted its multiple export bans and really hurt the industry and Napa wine after that as they dealt once again with massive wildfires. Suffice it to say, I was drinking all the wine. Or at least buying it, to be supportive.
But those were the challenges of 2020. And though these moments were impactful and so deeply felt, it’s also important to focus on the bright spots of 2020. And there were certainly many moments to celebrate. Thing 1 turned 13 this year and I’m still in shock that I have a teenager! How the hell did that happen?! And she remains the same sweet, kind, respectful, and beautiful soul (and straight-A student) that she has always been. I’m so proud of the young lady she has become. Thing 2 continues to face each challenge presented to him – and has since birth. At the end of last year, we were devastated to get yet more diagnoses for him to add to a list of too many – dyslexia and dysgraphia. After taking a step back after yet another punch in the gut, I rallied and went to work to find him a dyslexia specialist. He’s gone from a kid who refused to write and cried at the thought of having to read, to one who doesn’t bat an eye at reading and is actually beginning to enjoy it. We’re still working on the writing…
The Corkscrew Concierge also had some great 2020 moments. In January I was nominated as a finalist in two categories of the Millesima Blog Awards – Wine Travel for this article and Wine & Food Pairing for this article. Though the finalist designations netted me 2 magnums of Bordeaux as well as marked my 2nd and 3rd nominations, I’m ready to actually win the damn thing and get that Bordeaux trip! But it’s always nice to have folks appreciate your writing.
I was also a participant in the first Texas edition of #ShareTheMicNowTX and was so honored to share my story. The fabulous ladies at The Swirl Suite invited me to be a guest on their wine podcast and we had a blast talking about all sorts of things, including what wine would personify Justice Ginsberg. Additionally, the badass women at Wonder Women of Wine featured me on their #FemmeFriday segment. Talk about being humbled and honored. And finally, I wrote my first feature for the wine publication The Vintner Project. So even with this shit show called 2020, there were many bright spots for which to be thankful.
One final bittersweet moment came during the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. It was one of those stream of consciousness Facebook moments where I described what my daily life as a black American was like. I had no idea how many people it would touch. I received so many emails, texts, messages, and more about that post. I had a friend ask if she could share it with her bible study group. It prompted someone I hadn’t heard from in over a decade to reach out. It was even published in a blog post by my good friend and Italian wine expert Jeremy Parzen on his Do.Bianchi.com website. Who knew?!
Ok, ok, so on to the wines. These wines were the most memorable sips from the year. ‘Most memorable’ doesn’t necessarily mean the best. It just means there was something special and noteworthy about the wine. Case in point is the fact that I haven’t included any of my “spirit juice” champagne. I had some killer champagne this year to be sure, but if I included them, I wouldn’t have space to talk about the other great wines. And since 2020 was so wonky, I’m including 12 wines instead of 10.
2015 Liquid Farm Golden Slope Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills ($55)
Earlier this year, I wrote about the chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills ( that was rocking my world and this one is at the top. Mr. Corkscrew kinda gave me the side-eye when I told him that it damn near brought a tear to my eye. If you told me I couldn’t drink anymore Bourgogne Blanc and could only drink this, I’d be just fine. It does a sublime dance between minerality and ripe fruit. And I’m giving all the Sta. Rita Hills chardonnay an honorable mention.
2016 Kistler Laguna Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA (~$130)
I experienced this beauty on a January night out with wine friends that was supposed to become a regular occurrence. Well, we know how that turned out! That night we all met at a BYOB restaurant and enjoyed too many bottles to count. And while all were enjoyable, the 2016 Kistler Laguna Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir was certainly the show shopper of the night. So elegant and silky that it was damn near ethereal. And this is from some one that doesn’t always love Russian River Valley Pinot!
2006 Ponzi Reserve Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, OR ($30)
Early in the year, I was privileged to have lunch with the charming and amazing Dick Ponzi and his family. This was on the heels of a “Pinot in the City” trade event that featured 60 wineries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to showcase some of the region’s most exciting pinot noirs. So of course, I geeked out on the chardonnay which is a big deal as pinot noir is what got me into wine in the first place. It was then that I realized just how special Willamette Valley chardonnay was. Fast forward a couple of weeks later to lunch where I was got to taste this beauty along with other Ponzi wines dating back to 1979. Even with its age, this one still had amazing fruit and acidity. And like the Sta. Rita Hills chardonnay, I’m giving the Willamette Valley chardonnays an honorable mention.
1973 Domäne Wachau Grûner Veltliner Auslese, Wachau, Austria ($135)
I took this to an ‘Open That Bottle Night’ gathering and it did not disappoint. This is certainly the type of wine that you want to share with other wine geeks who will appreciate it. With literally only a handful of bottles left which they had been ripening in their cellars, I was thrilled to purchase this beauty on my trip to Domäne Wachau last year. This 1973 Grüner Veltliner Auslese comes from the Ried (“vineyard”) Achleiten, which is one of the most famous vineyards of the Wachau region. Because of its higher sugar content (28 g residual sugar) and the high levels of acidity for which Grüner is known, Auslese wines have the ability to age for decades. This was sublime with still lots of life in it.
2014 Alois Lageder Löwengang Chardonnay, Alto Adige, Italy ($55)
Yes, another Chardonnay in this swoon-worthy sipper from Alois Lageder. We took this with us to Park City right before the world shut down. The 2014 Löwengang Chardonnay is just a ridiculously awesome combo of minerality and ripe fruit. Not to mention I could just stick my nose in this all day. Don’t even know how they did this! There’s cream and floral notes and tropical fruit all with a mineral backbone that just provides beautiful balance. Like wow!
2008 Scarpa Barbera d’Asti La Bogliona, Piedmont, Italy ($90)
I was first exposed to Scarpa at the end of 2019 during an industry tasting and y’all – mind blown! I loved everything I tasted from their portfolio. In fact, I had another Scarpa wine featured in my most memorable list from 2019. This beauty was featured in my #DinnerSips food and wine video series and is so smooth with rich black fruits and earthiness. Like who needs Barolo when you have this?
2013 Emilio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy ($130)
Emidio Pepe is an iconic producer known for hand crafted biodynamic wines. Literally everything is done by hand. One of the stars in Abruzzo to be sure. Trebbiano can be simple, quaffable and fruity, but in these hands, it is structured, complex, and long lived. A lovely (and unusual) balance of elegance and acidity and a like funk. Definitely the most thought-provoking Trebbiano wine I’ve ever had.
2009 Domaine d’Ardhuy Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, Bourgogne ($125)
We popped the 2009 Domaine d’Ardhuy Clos de Vougeot during a summer trip to Breckenridge and enjoyed by the fire. Renting a house in the middle of the mountains was just the sanity check we needed late this summer. And boy was this drinking beautifully. So many times Burgundy can break your heart, but not this one. Even with its evolvement in the bottle, it still had lots of fruit present. Intense red and black fruits, spice, and a touch of vanilla on the nose. The palate was similar and offered up smooth and well integrated tannins. Just a really elegant wine all around. One of those wines that made Mr. Corkscrew stop and ask “what IS that?”
2011 M. Chapoutier Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne, Hermitage, Rhone, France ($125)
I continue to marvel at my Syrah evolution. This was a varietal that I could not stand for many years. But I’ve found my way back from the dark side. The 2011 Chapoutier Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne is 🔥! Voluptuous, velvety, and sexy as hell. This is all black everything – black cherry, blackberry, a touch of black pepper, earth, leather. It’s all there and it’s fabulous! And I love the story behind the label. Chapoutier began to include braille on all of their labels in 1996 which is a nod to the original owner of the vineyard from which the wine hails. That original owner, Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne, was the inventor of the first version of what is known as “abbreviated braille.”
2018 Clarice Wine Company ‘Rosella’s Vineyard’ Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA ($90)
I participated in a virtual wine event with several winemakers from Santa Lucia Highlands and talk about an eye opening experience! All told, I tasted more than a dozen wines from the region and enjoyed every sip. Just more proof that the most exciting wine in California is in the Central Coast. Simply put, I was amazed by the balance of ripe fruit and acidity of these wines. Clarice Wine Company was a new to me producer and I was like, surely if its that great, I would have heard of it. Yeah, well I was wrong! Oh my! Tart cherry, cranberry, cherry cola, dried roses, earth, and a touch of herbs. I love a cerebral wine and this one held my attention from beginning to end. The wine toes a line between elegance and rusticity and offers up both old and new world characteristics. Everything a pinot should be.
2017 Luli Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA ($24)
Another great wine from Santa Lucia Highlands and yes, another Chardonnay. I don’t know what it was, but this was the first wine out of the gate during our virtual tasting and I was like dayummmmm! Will they all taste like this?! Luli is a partnership between the Pisoni family and a Master Somm named Sara Floyd. The goal of the partners was to create a handcrafted wine at a reasonable price. Mission accomplished as this drinks way above its price point! With fermentation in neural oak and no malolactic fermentation, it shows brightness and vibrancy along with ripe fruit and body. I’m such a fan of this wine! I drank it on the porch in the rocking chair, and then with some popcorn, and then just because…
2008 Figgins Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla, WA ($100)
Because how could I not include some Washington wine? When I’m looking for bold red wines, I don’t look to Napa, I look to Washington. The 2008 Figgins Estate Red Wine is the inaugural release of a wine made by Chris Figgins, son of famed Leonetti Cellar founder, Gary Figgins and boy did he come out swinging! Smooth and seductive with loads of ripe black fruit, herbs, and mocha. I paid $85 for my bottle a few years ago, but I’ve seen this one from $100 and up recently.
2008 “Lilium Est” Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva DOCG ($185)
I recently had the pleasure of participating in a small group media tasting of Tenura Sant’Antonio wines with co-founder and owner Armando Castagnedi. We tasted through several wines in the portfolio, including several Amarones. But the 2008 “Lilium Est” Amarone was the star of the show for sure. Only produced in the best years and made in a more “international” wine, this may be the “Amarone of my life.” It is recommended to drink at least 10 years after the vintage and boy what a treat this was. Quite full bodied and voluptuous and concentrated, this one is great for after dinner with some cheese or even on its own.
Cheers to surviving 2020. While we want to leave most of 2020 behind, these wines are certainly worthy of making a repeat appearance in 2021 and beyond. And if you’re broke as hell as need some affordable bubbly, I got ya covered. Now let’s get ready for a fierce and fabulous 2021. Cheers!