2020 was like, “I wreaked all sorts of havoc in your life.” 2021 was like “hold my beer!” I so expected 2021 to be such a bright spot after the misery of 2020. And there were some bright spots to be sure, but the year got off to an awful start. It did rebound but…
We’d been fortunate to not be touched too closely by Covid-19 throughout 2020. But just three days into the new year that all changed. I lost my cousin, who was only 40 years old, to Covid. He was like a little brother to me. I spent every summer at his house in Austin from the time I was in 6th grade through my senior year of college. I experienced so many important moments and firsts of his life. I still remember him driving my new car to his senior prom. He was in my wedding. He was Thing 1’s godfather. I remember him becoming a firefighter, a lieutenant, a fire inspector and investigator, a city emergency management coordinator, a husband, and a father.
It was certainly bittersweet when I got my first Covid vaccine in February. If only he’d been able to get it. I still see him in the hues of orange all around. So many time I’ve been swimming laps and look up at the sky to see a blazing orange sunset that reminds me of him. As much as it hurt when he passed away, I marveled at all of the firefighters and peace officers that spoke at his service who shared what an impact he’d had on their careers and their lives. And isn’t that what its all about. However long or short of a time we’re given, did we make a difference?
Despite the sad start, there were some happy moments in 2021 as well. After getting fully vaccinated, I ventured out to the Texas Hill Country in April for a media event. It was amazing to be back amongst the vines. We took a family beach trip to Orange Beach in June. July saw me attending a college reunion of sorts and seeing friends I hadn’t seen in 25 years! We’ve vowed to make it an annual thing. I also found myself in Carmel in July for a Santa Lucia Highlands media trip. In August, I attended my first Wine Media Conference in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In October we took the kids up to Chicago and South Bend for a Notre Dame football game. Go Irish! And in December, Mr. Corkscrew and I ventured up to Sonoma for a trip. I also wrote several articles for the Vintner Project and became a certified Cava Educator. As I’ll mention below, my mind has been blown by Cava!
In fact, the Sonoma trip ended up being our 20th anniversary trip. We’d planned to go to Thailand. Covid. Then we pivoted and decided to go to Maui. Two meniscus tears and knee surgery for me put the kabash on that. Determined to go somewhere, we pushed the trip back and decided a week in wine country wouldn’t be too shabby.
The fall saw us touring high schools and helping with applications for Thing 1. I can’t believe it! We also started looking at schools for Thing 2 as he appears ready to transition to a more traditional school environment. He’s worked so hard the last several years and has made tremendous progress. I damn near cried at the first school tour I attended. I’m so hopeful that he’s ready.
The crazy pace of everything has made me take a step back and question everything about The Corkscrew Concierge. At one point, I was trying to do all the things and literally running myself ragged. In mid-November, I knew I had to slow down as I was getting burnt out. Wine was becoming an obligation rather than an enjoyable diversion. I started saying “no” a lot more. I wrote less. I posted less on social media. It’s a hard thing for someone like me to step back because I want to give my all to everything. But at the end of the day, I need to be a good mother and a good attorney. Those are the priorities. So I’m still mulling things over and trying to figure out a balance when it comes to wine. I certainly don’t want to give it up, but I can’t be as present as some of my “wine peers” and I have to find a way to be ok with that.
OK, enough of that. I’m supposed to be sharing my most memorable wines of the year. And as a reminder, memorable doesn’t mean it was the best wine. It just means there was something special about it. And away we go…
2001 Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (~$300)
We drank this 2001 vintage wine to toast our 20th wedding anniversary. At 20 years of age, it was drinking beautifully. Still so much life left in it. The fruit was still nice, the tannins robust and well integrated. Lokoya is a collection of four distinct Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa mountain appellations: Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain. This is such a testament to those great mountain wines. I don’t mind dropping a little cash on some special bottles, but its not typically a Napa Cab. I may have to rethink that after this beauty. That, and my whole outlook on the “old wine” bias.
NV Laherte Freres Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut, Champagne, France (~$55)
OK, I’m certainly breaking my own rules as I don’t typically include sparkling wines in my ‘top wines of the year’ lineup. Sparkling wine is seriously my spirit juice and these wines typically have an unfair advantage. But you know, to hell with the rules. It’s my rule, which means I can break it too. And this wine was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, I chilled it in the snow. In my back yard. In Houston. In Texas. Like wtf?! That was during the f*ckery that was Winter Storm Uri where we had temperatures in the teens for a week. Oh, and no power. And no water. This was the first day when it was still all fun and games. I can still feel myself getting worked up over this bullshit. I live in the energy capital of North America. I work for an oil company! How the f*ck could we not have power?! But I digress. I also loved this wine because I’ve been crushing on the wines of Laherte Freres for a minute now. Aurélien Laherte is part of a new generation of Champagne winemakers that are creating quite a splash with their terroir-driven and natural approach to viticulture and winemaking. This one is made entirely of organic and biodynamically farmed Pinot Meunier – 30% macerated Meunier, 60% direct pressed white wine juice, and 10% red wine.
2019 RAEN Sea Field Pinot Noir, Ft. Ross Seaview, Sonoma Coast (~$100)
I’d long wanted to try a wine from RAEN (pronounced like “rain”). but had never had the opportunity. But a happy chance at a restaurant in Healdsburg provided just the chance I was looking for. The winery comes from the grandsons of Robert Mondavi and their specialty is Pinot Noir. It’s certainly apparent the moment you take a sip. It was aromatic, elegant, concentrated, and precise with lots of finesse and great length. RAEN is an acronym and stands for Research in Agriculture and Enology Naturally. The brothers goal is to produce world class Pinot Noir from coastal vineyards in Sonoma County and are proponents of whole cluster fermentation with Pinot Noir. I’m a person that loves and appreciates both new and old world Pinot Noir and this seriously gave me the best of both worlds.
2018 Raventos i Blanc de Nit Brut Rose, Catalunya, Spain (~$25)
Oh man! This wine (that I had in early March) changed the trajectory of the sparkling wine year for me. I randomly ordered this at a wine bar in San Antonio and it blew me away. We were hanging out and having a little adult time after having bribed the kids with a little pocket money to explore the area we were in. As a drinker of all the bubbles I don’t often reach for Cava. Well this was my wake-up call! A glass turned into a bottle which turned into a bottle to take home too. These are some seriously sexy bubbles. Fine, delicate bubbles (which I haven’t always associated with Cava), creamy mousse and notes of strawberry and apples. Raventós i Blanc has a long history in the wine business and has been involved with viticulture since 1497. They actually creating the first sparkling wine in Spain in 1872. Today, the 21st generation is at the helm in Pepe Raventós. They take sparkling wine so seriously that they left the Cava DO in 2012 and created their own, more strictly defined and geographically specific appellation: Conca del Riu Anoia. You can certainly taste the quality in the bottle. I can certainly thank this bottle for opening my eyes to Spanish Cava. In fact, this was the catalyst that saw me studying Cava this year and becoming a certified Cava Educator.
2007 Salon Cuvee ‘S’ Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne, France (~$600-700)
This was both the last wine I had in 2020 and the first I had in 2021 having popped in on New Years Eve. After such a crazy year, we treated ourselves to champagne and caviar. And since I drank more of this in 2021, I figured I’d I go ahead and include it here. One of those true “baller champagnes” this one is only produced in exceptional years. It’s quite a unique wine in that the producer is all about one wine from one region – the Côte de Blancs, from one single cru – le Mesnil-sur-Oger, from one single grape variety – Chardonnay, and from one single vintage – there is no blending of vintages. And its one damn fantastic wine. Mr. Corkscrew, who blindly drinks whatever I pour, literally stopped and asked “what IS this?!” After I explained, I had to let him know that we wouldn’t be drinking this on the regular. We still have kids to put through college!
2015 Yohan Lardy Vieilles Vignes de 1903 Moulin-à-Vent, France (~$25)
I enjoy Cru Beaujolais, but tend to lean towards those on the lighter end of the spectrum – e.g. Fleurie, Régnié, Chiroubles. For more on the differences between the Crus, read here. I stayed away from likes of Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, which are some of the boldest, dense, most structured and tannic (relatively speaking) wines of Beaujolais. This was because I quite frankly, wanted what I perceived to be the quintessential Beaujolais wine – easy drinking, light-bodied, etc. But on the recommendation from one of my favorite local somms (shoutout to Marcus!) I bought this one and whoa! Yohan Lardy is a fifth generation winemaker in Beaujolais, who made his first vintage under his own label in 2012. He farms organically and first started his estate with 2 hectares of old vines planted in 1911 and 1950. The vines are planted on a prestigious plot within Moulin-à-Vent called “Les Michelons.” All of the fruit for the wines is handpicked and vinified using only native yeasts without added sulfites. He ages his wines for at least 10 months in Burgundy barrels in order to get the best balance between fruit and acidity. I take back everything I said about Moulin-à-Vent!
2016 Avennia Gravura Red Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington ($40)
Y’all know I have a soft spot for Washington wine. I initially learned about Avennia wine through my wine friend Nancy Croisier from Vino Social. After doing some additional research, I learned that the founders cut their teeth at one of my favorite WA wineries – DeLille Cellars, who I’ve covered multiple times on here. Well, no wonder! This is definitely an extended decant or 2nd day wine. When I popped it open on the first day and poured myself a glass, I couldn’t figure out what all the hype was about. On day 2, it blew me away! I was amazed it was the same wine! I loved every drop! Comprised of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Franc, ‘Gravura’ is inspired by the wines of Bordeaux’s Graves region. With a nose of graphite, herbs, spice, black fruit, and mocha with more of the same on the palate, it is balanced, complex, and damn delicious. The plush tannins coat the tongue like liquid velvet accompanied by vibrant acidity. A wonderful reminder of why I fell in love with Washington wine in the first place! I enjoyed this so much that I immediately went to their website to purchase some of their other wines.
L’Antica Quercia A – Ancestrale Brut Nature Prosecco Superiore, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy (~$23)
Yeah, OK ‘eff it! I have another bubbly on the list and I’m not sorry. I used to have a love-hate relationship with Prosecco until I figured out I wasn’t drinking the right ones. But we’ve since had a come to Jesus moment and I’m definitely a fan. But none of the Prosecco I’d had in the past prepared me for this one. I was working on an Instagram campaign with the producers from Prosecco Superiore DOCG when this wine came into my life. I’d never heard of, yet alone tasted an ancestral method Prosecco. Talk about a unicorn! It is labeled “sui lieviti” which means “on the lees.” Its quite “natural” with natural yeasts, no added sulphites, and no dosage. Instead of the usual fruit and floral notes for which Prosecco is known, this one has tangy lemon, salty minerals, and yellow apple. I don’t know that I’d love this on its own (perhaps further “research” is warranted) but it was fantastic with a pizza topped with salty bresaola. The wine was such a nice counterbalance to the salty meat.
2014-2017 C. Elizabeth Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA ($150)
OK, so I’ll admit that when I read that the C.Elizabeth wines were made with 100% American oak, I was somewhat skeptical. When it comes to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the conventional wisdom (with a couple of exceptions) is that French oak rules. Far from being an oak expert, I’ve learned that French oak, which is less dense, leads to more subtle, savory, elegant wines with silky tannins while American oak, which is more dense, provides more pronounced flavors and leads to wines that have sweeter fruit, vanilla, and spice characteristics. But a trained winemaker with a deft hand, can wield the oak so that it doesn’t take over. To be sure, American oak has come a long way and producers the likes of Ridge, Peter Michael, and Silver Oak have made wonderful wines with it. It’s the proper treatment of the oak that has been a game changer. Rich and textural, these are intense and quite expressive wines and so damn good. Who knew?!
2020 Triseatum Coast Range & Ribbon Ridge Riesling, Oregon ($32)
I had the opportunity to taste an amazing array of wines during the Wine Media Conference in Oregon’s Willamette Valley this past August. But one of the highlights was the Riesling from Triseatum Winery. Yes, I love Riesling, but I’m usually crushing on the ones from Austria’s Wachau or those from Mosel or Alsace. But when the folks at Trisaetum poured their Coast Range and Ribbon Ridge Rieslings side by side to taste, I was reminded of some of the best Riesling I’ve enjoyed over the years. Linear, precise, fresh, juicy, concentrated with great minerality, I so loved these wines. I tasted the wines with various meats and cheeses, but knew I was taking some bottles home to pair with who knows what at my house. As good as any Riesling I’ve had the privilege to taste.
Well, those are my ten most memorable wines of 2021. As usual, it was hell to try to narrow down the list. I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to try so many different wines throughout the year. As a reminder to myself, this is what wine is supposed to be about – enjoyment and discovery, not stress.
Happy 2022 to you all! Cheers!