It’s that time again. Time to share my most memorable wines of the year. I’m giving myself 13 wines this year – one for every month and a bonus. As usual, “most memorable” doesn’t necessarily mean the best – though it could. More than anything, these wines were unique, new and exciting, surprised me, or were enjoyed in special circumstances. And I’m all about looking for all the special I can find. 2023 was hard. Harder than I expected. So those special moments and special sips are even more important to hold onto.
In addition to delicious wines and great places visited (San Francisco twice, Sonoma, Tahoe, Panama, Texas Hill Country, Half Moon Beach, Scottsdale, Louisville, Paso Robles, New York City – it was a light travel year) one of the most gratifying things about writing about wine is when you receive thanks about something you’ve written. You wouldn’t believe the people that don’t respond to a social media tag or a forwarded article. I purchase (with my own money) about as much wine as what is sent to me to sample, and nothing will make me zip my wallet faster than a brand that doesn’t acknowledge when you reach out to them. Some people will just nicely say “thank you,” “we appreciate this,” or the like, but some literally say nothing. But then there are those people that are so deeply sincere in their thanks that it just warms my heart. Here is my fave after writing this article:
“Kat, this is probably the most incredible article I’ve read about what we do! You truly captured my love for Texas Wine and the people around me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your words. Thank you, thank you.” — John Rivenburgh of Kerville Hills Winery.
So let’s get to the wines…
2019 Cast Wines Sparkling Brut Nature, Dry Creek Valley, CA $68
I attended the annual Zinfandel Experience (“ZinEx”) at the beginning of the year and had my mind blown! This three-day wine and food extravaganza attracts wine lovers from around the world at one of a handful of festivals dedicated to a single grape varietal. I had an amazing time and gained such an appreciation for all the nuances of Zinfandel. Right out the gate, they had me. The CAST Wines Estate Sparkling Brut Nature crafted of 100% Zinfandel was such a delicious surprise! Delicate with amazing stone fruit character that completely belies its brut nature status. We were off to a good start.
2021 Hanna Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, CA $56
As a self-professed “non-lover” of Sauvignon Blanc, I have to say I was not ready to be wowed by Hanna Winery. But that’s exactly what happened when my tasting began with their traditional method sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. It had some of the green and tropical notes SB is known for, but wow, this was so fresh and lively. Maybe it was the bubbles? Like who knew?! It was magic in the glass! And they are the only producer in California making such a wine. Hanna is actually renowned for its Sauv Blanc (it’s their flagship) so it makes sense that they could make someone like me enjoy it.
2019 Quivira Wine Creek Ranch Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, CA $42
Ever since I visited Santa Barbara wine country a few years ago, I’ve had such mad love for American Grenache. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Grenache was my fave sip during my visit to Quivira. Family owned since 1981, Quivira is sustainable through and through. Farming organically and practicing biodynamics where it makes sense is only the beginning. It was very cool learning about their restoration of the fish habitat on Grape Creek which allows salmon and steelhead to migrate upstream to spawning grounds. The Grenache was so tasty, that I had to bring some home. Floral and candied cherry notes made this a joy to drink.
2021 Thacher Winery Grenache, Homestead Hill Vineyard, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles CA $65
Since we’re talking Grenache, I have to add another beauty. I (finally) visited Paso Robles a couple of months ago and was so blown away with the entire experience from beginning to end. More on that to come. But I have to share this Thacher Grenache which I had my very first day in Paso Robles. It was phenomenal. Even during wine dinners, you tend to sip small amounts of wine but don’t drink entire glasses of wine. Well, this was my exception! Even better is that comes from a family owned winery helmed by awesome people. Michelle Thacher poured this wine during dinner and I just kept nudging her to top me off. LOL! Light and elegant with vibrant red fruits and bright acidity, this just solidified for me what Grenache is doing in the USA!
Tongue Dancer Chardonnay (2020 Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley $50; 2020 Chardonnay, Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley $49; 2020 Chardonnay Russian River Valley $55)
OK, so I’m cheating here a bit and just going to lump all the Tongue Dancer Chardonnay wines together. If you’ve been here for a while, you know that I have lots of Chardie love. These wines (and honestly the Pinot too) practically brought a tear to me eye. It was an amazing tasting through and through. Tongue Dancer is a small boutique winery brought to life by James & Kerry MacPhail. It’s one of those places where I literally just wanted one of everything I tasted. I mean, there’s a reason for the name – the wines literally dance on your tongue! Precise, linear, with purity of fruit, I so appreciated every drop. Not since discovering Big Table Farm several years ago have I been so smitten with a producer’s entire portfolio.
2021 We Know Jack Zinfandel! Riff Raff Rockpile Vineyard, CA $78
After enjoying three days of Zinfandel wines at the ZinEx conference, the above-mentioned James MacPhail presented the We Know Jack Zinfandel as an example of some of the wines he makes for other brands. So after all the Zin and after enjoying his exquisite portfolio of Tongue Dancer wines, I was legit mesmerized by this wine. It was a Zinfandel revelation. Yes, I know I’m being dramatic but what a special wine. James called it a “Pinot lovers Zinfandel” and I’m inclined to agree. Seriously the most light-bodied, sleek, elegant and beautiful Zin I’ve yet to enjoy.
2019 Big Table Farm Pelops Sandberg Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, OR $64
Speaking of Big Table Farm, it would be hard for me to make a list of memorable wines without including one from them. I always say that the best way to enjoy wine is with friends and family. But man, sometimes you don’t want to share. Of course, you still do. So I took the opportunity to introduce my ‘porch wine friends’ to the wines of BTF. Every wine, every vintage I look forward to and enjoy these wines. Like all of them! The Pinot Noir, which was my first introduction to Brian Marcy and Clare Carver’s wines, still remains my fave. The Pelos Sandberg Pinot Noir is one of their single vineyard Pinots is is just such an elegant wine. Layers of flavors – ripe cherry, black tea, earth, mineral, a touch of herbs. It’s damn near seductive!
2020 DuMOL Chenin Blanc, Sonoma Coast, CA $55
I went to a DuMOL wine event at local restaurant, Montrose Wine & Cheese, that featured some beauties from their portfolio as well as caviar, cheese, and more! I first learned of them through their Pinot Noir (of course!) and never hesitate to grab a bottle when I find one. But on this day, the Chenin Blanc stole the show! Ripe apple, pear, lemon curd, flint, mineral – it was all there. I had no idea they even made this wine. That I got to enjoy it with caviar was icing on the cake.
2017 Weingut Emmerich Knoll Ried Loibenberg Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, Wachau, Austria $60
After taking a deep dive on Gruner Veltliner during a trip to Austria several years ago, I’m always on the lookout for great ones in my city. Weingut Emmerich Knoll is a third-generation winery located in the heart of the Austria’s Wachau region. I’ve enjoyed both their Gruner Veltliner and Riesling in the past and just marvel at how exquisite they are. The fruit for their wines is grown on steep, terraced vineyards which leads to truly racy, ethereal, expressive wines.
I brought this one to share with wine friends. We were all bringing wines from our cellars that we wanted to share, along with a dish that paired with it. I made an asparagus salad to pair as asparagus is a classic match with Gruner. I’m always so grateful for dinner with friends – especially wine friends because you can truly geek out and try some unusual or quirky wines and everyone will appreciate the experience. Thanks (as always) to The Drunken Cyclist for being the host with the most.
2020 Nid Tissé Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros, CA $85
The 2020 Nid Tissé Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay hails from Carneros. And. It. Is. Stunning. This single vineyard Chard is a field blend of different Chardonnay clones. It was aged for 16 months in 25% Burgundian French New Oak which gives such an amazing mouth feel. Such a beautiful delicate pale gold in the glass with citrus blossoms and lemon aromas backed up by lemon curd, salinity, flint, mineral, and beautiful bright acidity on the palate. Truly so sublime with a taut raciness juxtaposed with elegance and ripe fruit. And fabulous paired with shrimp and grits.
And the lady behind this beauty? Marie-Laure Ammons. Born and raised in a rural region of France called Limousin where she spent lots of time outside, she naturally gravitated to the wine industry. After formal wine education in Bordeaux and a series of internships in Bordeaux, Burgundy and south of France, she made her way to the US where she had stints at Stonestreet and Hartford Court.
But it was her 18 years at high-end consultant Atelier Melka where she really honed her craft. Until it was time to go out on her own and give us Nid Tissé. French for “woven nest,” the name was chosen to celebrate her new winemaking chapter. And what a chapter it is! The first wine was sent to me as sample to try. I went back and purchased this one as well as her other two wines because this lady is gifted!
NV Vilmart & Cie Cuvée Rubis Brut Rosé, Champagne, France $90
The Vilmart & Cie ‘Cuvée Rubis’ Brut Rosé definitely stood out for me in a sea of wonderful champagne. This is a producer whose different wines I’ve enjoyed on a number of occasions, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Now helmed by the 5th generation, Vilmart & Cie is, and has always been a grower Champagne house working exclusively with their own estate vines. This is a 90/10 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with 15% of the Pinot Noir appearing as a still red wine. I think this may be the factor that tipped this one in my favor. Seriously one of the most exquisite and sexy rosé champagnes I’ve had in a long time. Loved the vibrant red fruits on this one. And it was fabulous with filet mignon carpaccio!
2016 Domaine Louis Jadot Nuits St Georges Les Boudots, Burgundy, France $135
Porch time with Bourgogne is always a great idea. This was one of those thoughtful, quiet sips after some difficult, tense moments. One sip, and I was transported away, if only for a short while.
Even if you don’t know much about Bourgogne, you probably know Louis Jadot. This house has been producing exceptional Burgundy wines since its founding in 1859 by Louis Henry Denis Jadot. They are one of the largest producers of estate Burgundies in the Cote d’Or as well as one of the foremost exporters of premium Burgundies.
The 2016 Domaine Louis Jadot Nuits-St-Georges Les Boudots 1er Cru Andre Gagey was ah-mazing! Everything thing I’d seen about this wine suggested that it was powerful, had grippy tannins, and all the other terms to describe a bold wine. This was not that wine! Of course some years in the bottle helped put this one in a great place. And I’m not a person that likes really old wines so this was the perfect time to uncork it. This was smooth and hit right down the middle of the fairway. Structured with softened fruit, spice, and tannins. Everything was integrated and in balance. Some have claimed that the Boudits wines are some of the best kept secrets in the Louis Jadot cellars. I’m inclined to agree!
2019 Domaine A. Clape Saint-Peray Côtes du Rhône, France $78
I love Rhône wines, but it’s usually the region’s red wines that get my attention. This white wine totally took me by surprise and so exceeded my expectations. Saint-Péray is a region located in the southernmost part of France’s Northern Rhône. The region is known for sparkling and still white wines made of Marsanne and Roussanne. I was first exposed to the Domaine Auguste Clape Blanc Saint-Péray during a campaign promoting white Rhône wines a couple of years ago. It was so enjoyable that it needed a rare repeat. But it was even better this time! As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the importer (in this instance Kermit Lynch) is recommendation enough to grab a wine. Auguste Clape is one of the pioneer winemakers of the Northern Rhône. A mayor (of Cornas) and groundbreaker alike, he was the first in the region to bottle his own wine and paved the way for others to do the same.
I’ve had many a white Rhone wines, but this was the first that I recall one that made me go back for more. Comprised of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, this had a sublime balance of ripe fruit and generous body accompanied by minerality, nuttiness, and salinity. Fantastic with beef carpaccio, salad, Marsala chicken, and penne gabriella. Went with just about everything we threw at it.
Well, that’s my list for 2023. And it’s early days, but I’m already looking forward to 2 trips to France as well as Germany and Mexico in 2024. Thing 1 and I also have some college visits planned, so it will be fun to hang with her and explore a bit as well. It’s even crazy that I’m saying “college.”
Thank you for sticking with me during a bumpy and inconsistent writing and social media year. Wishing you all peace and happiness in 2024.