It’s that time of year again, when we reflect on the last twelve months and make lists for the internet. “Best of” wine lists aren’t really my style—I don’t rate wines on any particular scale, and contrary to what it looks like on Instagram, I didn’t drink allllll the wines in the world to be able to feel comfortable assessing “the best.” But I still tasted hundreds of bottles in 2017, and damn, did I love a lot of them. Too many, if we’re being honest. From cold cellar floors in Italy to dark bars in Barcelona, from New York hot spots to my own couch in Los Angeles, it would be impossible to list all of the great wines I tried this year. But that doesn’t mean I can’t name a few (or ten) favorites for you to be on the lookout for in the future, in no particular order.
Vini Rabasco “La Salita” Trebbiano, 2016
Importer: SelectioNaturel, ~ $25-30
I had just flown into Rome and went straight to Rabasco, where I drank this bottle under a canopy of vines with a small Italian picnic of charcuterie and porchetta. At the time, I said, “It makes me feel like my heart is singing in my mouth.” Reviewing my notes when I got home, though, I wasn’t sure if that was the wine talking, or the “Holy shit, I’m having a picnic in a vineyard in Italy” talking. But upon revisiting the bottle months later here in Los Angeles, it still makes me feel like my heart is singing in my mouth. It starts with a slick, oily texture but finishes with an acidic bite, in a good way. It smells like squeezing lime over wilting peonies dusted with salt, and tastes like honeysuckle, spiced cantaloupe, and a literal roll in some hay. It is one of my favorite white wines I’ve ever had in my life.
Ruth Lewandowski “Feints,” 2016
Every year there’s a BA house favorite, and I’m pretty sure 2017’s was the Ruth Lewandowski “Feints.” This California-grown but made-in-Utah blend of Italian grapes (45% Arneis, 25% Dolcetto, 15% Barbera, 15% Nebbiolo) was not only found by my side, but also made appearances in Rapo’s InstaStories and at Alison Roman’s Dining In book launch. Walking the line between light red and dark rosé, “Feints” looks like a fuzzy raspberry juice in the sun, and smells like burying your face in chalky cashmere woven with cranberry potpourri. It starts juicy with cherry and pomegranate, and finishes dry with cranberry concentrate, red currant, and gravelly minerality. And mostly the feeling that you need another sip. And another… and another…
Marcel Joubert Beaujolais-Villages “Cuvée Jules Chauvet,” 2015
Importer: Wine Mc², $31
There is a lot packed into this bottle, not just in taste, but in history. Whether you love Beaujolais or natural wine, Jules Chauvet is the Godfather of both as we know them today, revolutionizing the region with carbonic maceration and low-intervention winemaking. He passed in 1989, but Marcel Joubert leases some of the family vines and continues the tradition of exceptionally badass Beaujolais (he studied under Marcel Lapierre, who studied under Chauvet, it’s a whole thing). Joubert’s Chauvet Cuvée, smells like white-capped strawberries, white sand, and lime. Elegant beyond its years with youthful acidity, the Chauvet tastes like jumping into cozy hotel sheets, crisp but soft, with notes of violets and pepper.
Conestabile Della Staffa “Il Brioso” Rosato, 2016
Importer: SelectioNaturel, ~$25-30
I first fell in love with the Conestabile Della Staffa Brioso last summer with homemade wood-fired pizzas in my backyard. I couldn’t help but be nervous it might be different this year. Good news: It was as delightful as ever. This sparkling Sangiovese from Umbria, Italy is a stunning salmon color, and smells like barely ripe strawberries and dusty roses on a salt block. Dry and floral with crisp jasmine and gushing with tart raspberry, this wine tastes like that scene from Master of None when Dev and Francesca are dancing to Edoardo Vianello’s “Guarda Come Dondolo;” a fun and romantic suspension of disbelief.
Finca Parera “Sasso” Xarel-lo, 2014
Importer: Selections de la Viña, $30
Xarel-lo is a native grape that is primarily used to blend into Cava. Some pronounce it “Zuh-rel-lo” and others “Shah-rel-lo,” but just call Finca Parera’s “Sasso” Xarel-lo “delicious.” Imagine a Muscadet, acidic and light, had a baby with Sémillon, ripe and waxy, and you get Finca Parera’s “Sasso.” This all-wheel drive white wine can do it all, whether you’re day-drinking with the in-laws, roasting a chicken, or BYOBing on the sly with sushi. Bright but golden yellow, this wine smells like briny honeydew served on a bed of gardenias. It’s well-rounded with a medium body, heightened acidity, and a waxy, oily texture with flavors of honeysuckle, soft lemons, green apple, and mango. There are also notes of, in the words of Ron Burgundy, “Lanolin?”
Christian Tschida “Himmel auf Erden” Rosé, 2015
Importer: Jenny & François, ~ $40
I have a tendency to write about wines in, uh, how do I say this… well, in a kind of erotic way. I can’t help it! Wines just get me goin’, man! But it’s easy for anyone to get a little erotic when it comes to the Tschida wines considering there are illustrated orgies on the labels. What makes the “Himmel auf Erden” rosé truly titillating, though, is the orgy of fruits going on inside the bottle: cranberries, nectarines, red currants, pithy grapefruits, and that guy Brett[anomyces] hanging out not quite ready to commit, but definitely in the mix. Exciting, visceral, a little dirty. 100% Cab Franc and looking like coral tropical flowers in a morning mist, this bottle of Tschida rosé pulled me out of a very serious phase of rosé fatigue and I am forever grateful.
Strekov 1075 “Vavrinec” Svätovavrinecké (St.Laurent)
Importer: Jenny & François, ~$25
There is a magic and a misery to wine, and no wine emphasized that more to me this year than Strekov 1075’s “Vavrinec.” It looked like unpolished garnets in the sun, and on the nose, it had sour blackberries, cherry blossoms, and almonds. It tasted like salted raspberry, exploding with acidity like fireworks over a farm on the Fourth of July, with rhubarb, cherry, and barely budding roses. It was so juicy and fresh, with a pleasantly tart and herbaceous finish. I instantly fell in love with it, and once it was gone, I was miserable trying to find it again. Seriously, miserable. It took me three months to find another bottle. Moral of the story, if you love something, buy two.
Cruse Wine Co. Sparkling Valdiguié, 2016
Distributor: Amy Atwood Selections, $36
I once called Michael Cruse the Tarantino of Fizz and I stand by that. He is the domestic king of sparkling wines (and a noble duke of still wines), and his latest Valdiguié does not disappoint. Peachy-keen in color, it smells like SweeTarts fizzing in rose water, and it tastes like gauzy blackberries and hibiscus. The thing that really gets me with this wine is its tension. It has an acidity that plays tug of war between flirtatious and sensual, throbbing like Paul Tanner’s iconic electro-Theremin on The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” Yeah, it’s that good.
Jean-Yves Péron “La Petite Robe” Jacquére, 2015
Importer: Zev Rovine, $32
“La Petite Robe” is a very accurate name for this wine because drinking it feels like slipping into a slinky, chilled, silk robe. It’s saffron in color with a bouquet of Quaker apple and cinnamon oatmeal (with a hint of guava), and tastes like green apple and pineapple, cinched with a belt of spiced white lilies. It’s textured yet smooth, and feels like white wine on MDMA. I’ve never drank white wine on MDMA (and trust me, I’d tell you if I had) but I can put two and two together, and this is what you should be drinking on New Year’s.
Magali & Dominique Terrier “Limod’ânes,” NV
I made sure that all of the wines on this list are available in the U.S., because it’s not very helpful for me to be like, “Yooo, look at all these small production wines from Europe I got to drink that no one here gets to.” Also, that would make me a huge asshole. But I had to make one exception for the Magali & Dominique Terrier “Limod’ânes.” This unreleased Carignan petulant naturel from Domaine des 2 Anes shook me. One sip and it brought me to my knees. In the middle of a damn dinner party at the winemakers’ house, I sat down on Spanish tiles and rabidly scribbled in my journal: “This is my childhood summer on the Red Hill Country Club swim team in a bottle. Not Arnold Palmers, but hot, bare feet and chlorine waiting in line for pulpy homemade lemonade. Playing cards in elastic slatted plastic lawn chairs, running around in wet grass, the gritty surface of the diving board. Truly transportive, simple, and innocent, but so fun, and meaningful. The lemonade was delicious but it was never about the f**king lemonade; it was the sense of belonging and the seemingly endless pursuit of fun.” Magali gifted me a bottle to take home, and I nearly cried. So, I’m sorry, but I had to include this wine, and I hope one day you get to drink it, or drink a wine that moves you so much you aren’t embarrassed to plop down on the floor and have some “me time” in the middle of a dinner party.
And as all end-of-the-year reflecting does, this list has left me feeling a bit emotional. I don’t believe I’m alone when I say this has been a difficult year, but when it comes to the incredible fortune I have had in my travels, in meeting fantastic winemakers and drinking phenomenal wines, all I can do is my best Frank Sinatra croon and admit, “It was a very good year.”