The end of every year brings about a time of reflection for most people. Time to reflect on the goals and achievements of the past year, and time to consider new milestones to accomplish in the coming year. In a wine lover’s life, this period of reflection will also include some of the wine highlights of the previous year: What did you like? What will you never try again? Which wines will you bring with you into the new year?
While I have to admit that I have definitely tried my fair share of dozens of new wines this past year, I do want to highlight 9 special wines that I think you should venture out and snag for your next dinner or gathering—if you can find them (and I’ll try to help with that).
Jacqueline Leonne Rosé Champagne
Have you ever tried a sparkling wine from New Mexico? I had not either until I picked up a bottle of Jacqueline Leonne Rosé at Total Wine. I picked out this particular bottle simply because it’s pink and girly, and I have to admit that I was intrigued by a Champagne that shares my name. To my delightful surprise, this sparkling wine made in the traditional Methode Champenoise, is the perfect addition to any Champagne bar. Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, this brut Rosé will be a crowd-pleaser at your next celebration, with red berry flavors dancing around the light effervescence of the bubbles for a crisp finish. This wine is also very reasonably priced, and easy to find at major retail outlets like Total Wine, or even your neighborhood grocery chain.
Montes Alpha M
Switching gears from a sparkling Rosé from New Mexico to a rich red blend from Colchagua Valley, Chile, we come to one of my most favorites of the year—Montes Alpha M.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending a private tasting with Montes winemaker, Aurelio Montes Jr. He brought with him several of his wines from the Montes winery in Chile, as well as a few bottles from his other winery in Argentina (stay tuned). Because I’m a bold red gal, I was immediately intrigued by the Montes Alpha M, which is a predominately Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux-style blend. This wine is dark and intense, with powerful flavors and an elegant finish. I believe Aurelio suggested pairing it with a strong cheese, or some high-quality beef that will accentuate the bold flavors and work with the well-rounded tannins of the wine. Because this wine is top-of-the-line for the Montes brand, Aurelio is very particular with this label, meaning that production is limited, and this wine is only produced when the harvest is up to his quality standards. Look for Montes Alpha M as an accompaniment to your next meat & cheese dinner party.
Kaiken Terroir Series Torrontés
Aurelio Montes Jr. has another winery across the border in Argentina where he produces a whole different kind of wine—Argentine Wine! And my favorite of the Argentine whites is a crisp Torrontés from Kaiken. This 100% Torrontés wine comes from a harvest of hand-picked grapes grown in the Salta region of Argentina. No oak is used in the production of this wine, which means that light floral and fruity aromatics give way to a tropical-fruit palate, and finish with a refreshing acidity that pairs well with any type of lighter fish dish. Torrontés is the anti-oaked Chardonnay, and a nice alternative for the usual Sauvignon Blanc-drinker. I’ve seen the Kaiken brand throughout several major grocery stores in my area, so this delicious white should not be too hard to find.
Cooper’s Hawk Pinot Noir Lux
Now, I know this is a big name, and some of you may have even been to a Cooper’s Hawk restaurant near you (I know they are opening a few in South Florida soon!). Despite my initial hesitations with large corporate labels, I did enjoy the Lux version of the Cooper’s Hawk Pinot Noir. I actually received a few bottles of this wine as a gift from my father, and it was such a lovely gift to get (Thanks, Dad!). Due to this grape’s finicky nature, Pinot Noir can go either way—either too delicate and almost flimsy, or it can be absolutely perfect with stronger earth tones and dark red berry flavor that give some weight to a dainty wine. This Lux wine embodies the latter, and is a perfect pairing to your light pork dish or even a milk chocolate-style dessert. Take the lead from my dad, and use this wine as a delicious gift for someone you love who loves wine!
Church and State Wines, Trebella
You didn’t think that you’d ever find great wine in Canada, eh? Well, there’s actually a pretty wonderful wine country north of the border that is extremely affordable and closer than you think. Trebella is a Rhone-style white blend from Church and State Wines in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier, Trebella is a delightfully aromatic and surprisingly creamy white wine that was made to be enjoyed with food–especially a spicy dish like curry. Church and State says that they chose this name for their winery to represent the balance in creating a perfect wine, which makes sense when you look at some of the names of the other labels they produce, which are not as elegant a name as Trebella. Check out the wines they have under their “Lost Inhibitions” label. You’ll be sure to grab a few for your next girls’ night wine exchange. Though Church and State Wines may be difficult to find in your neighborhood store, check out the website to place your order.
Idealist Wines, Diplomat Pinot Noir
While traveling through Oregon wine country last year, a good friend of mine and I stumbled upon a tiny little winery & tasting room right off the highway. Little did we know that we were in for a treat of boutique Oregon Pinot Noir. We loved the experience and hospitality of Idealist wines—tucked inside August Cellars–but we also really enjoyed the quality of the Pinot Noir—Oregon’s specialty. This wine is on the lighter side and acidic for a Pinot, with a tinge of tartness smoothed over with a light French oak finish. For pairing, stay toward the lighter end of the Pinot spectrum with some salmon or poultry, and enjoy this wine for its delicacy. And if you get a chance, visit the quaint Idealist tasting bar inside August Cellars in Newberg, OR.
August Cellars Portus Augustus
Home to several different winemakers (see above Idealist Wines), August Cellars is actually the physical tasting room and winery where you can find Idealist. Also a producer of fine Oregon wines, perhaps the unusual takeaway and favorite of the wines we tasted was the August Cellars Portus Augustus Port-styled wine. This dessert wine is not too syrupy and was actually a perfect addition to this year’s Thanksgiving dessert lineup. A crowd-pleaser for sure, everyone enjoyed this barrel-aged (4 years) Marechal Foch with a slice of Pecan Pie. August Cellars produces much more than Port & Pinot Noir, but for something different, I definitely recommend considering this winery for your next American Port-style wine purchase.
When you think of Italian wines, you don’t usually think of Sicily as a wine region, but maybe you should. This Italian island is home to some very interesting varietals and producers, including Stemmari Wines and their Nero d’Avola Rosè. Stemmari winemaker, Lucio Matricardi, made a visit to Miami a few months ago, and I was invited to join him for a wine-pairing dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. After enjoying an evening of Stemmari wine-paired dishes, and learning more about the winemaking culture in Sicily, I vowed to take it more seriously as a wine-producing region. My favorite takeaway from the evening was the Stemmari Rosè, which was perfectly paired with the hot & sticky summer night we were experiencing. This Rosè is very light with strong notes of strawberry on the nose and palate. Pair this perfectly with your next summer pool day, or light cucumber sandwiches. Then, check out Stemmari Wines for additional Sicilian wine ideas.
Hill Family Estate Pinot Noir
As I was creating this list, I realized that I have tasted and enjoyed a lot of Pinot Noirs this year. Usually a fan of the big reds, I guess 2016 was the year of the Pinot Noir for me—and the Hill Family Estate Pinot Noir was no exception to the exceptional Pinots I tried this year. I was also introduced to this wine at a winemaker dinner in South Florida, which definitely increases the value of the wine when you enjoy it as part of a full-sensory experience. This Pinot Noir “Stewart Ranch” is a rare Napa Valley Pinot, with deeper red berry flavor and a strong structure for a Pinot. In all honestly, I have saved the best for last, as this was my favorite of the Pinots of 2016. Perfect to pair with duck or heavier pork, this Pinot Noir will leave a lingering flavor and the question of how to get your hands on more. Because this is a family-owned winery with a small production, Stewart Ranch is unfortunately hard to come by in the regular old wine market. Keep an eye out for new vintages and additional Hill Family Wines on the website.