My Top Wines of 2021

I’ll admit that it isn’t always easy to compile these types of lists. First of all, do you even care? That’s always my question. (If you don’t, feel free to stop reading now.)

Secondly, I don’t necessarily keep track of “favorites” throughout the year because my favorite bottle one day could be overruled by a new wine the next day. In fact, there is still time left in this year for me to drink even better bottles of wine, so who is to say that I won’t come up with a few more to add to this list in the coming weeks?

Lastly, it’s hard to narrow this down to say…10, which I feel is a reasonable list. I want to keep the parameters to wines that are “new-to-me” this year, meaning, I tasted them for the first time in 2021. However, I taste a lot of wine each year, so keeping it concise can be hard. Therefore, I’m not going to say that this is simply a list of single bottles, as some are listed as multiple bottles from a single producer.

With all that said… here is a list of some of the top wines I tasted this year.

They are in no particular order.

Hamel Family Wines

Hamel Family Wines is a winery located in Sonoma Valley, just over the mountain from Napa Valley. Opened in 2014 by brothers, George III and John, along with their parents, Pamela and George Jr., the operation focuses on showcasing the unique terroir of each vineyard site they farm, which includes four remarkable vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and Moon Mountain District AVAs: Armor Plate, Hamel Family Ranch, Nuns Canyon, and Tres Palmas.

The family farms each individual vineyard site and block using organic and biodynamic techniques. John Hamel is at the helm of the winemaking process and makes his wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.

I had the opportunity to taste three of their wines this year and was impressed with each one. In fact, I shared the bottle of the 2018 Isthmus at a dinner party alongside a Napa Valley classic, and Isthmus was hands down the crowd favorite.

These are big wines with a lot of elegance, hearty structure, and bold, ripe fruit–each showcasing the grapes from specific vineyard sites.

Isthmus 2018: 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot

Vineyards: Hamel family Ranch & Nuns Canyon

Hamel Family Ranch 2017: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc

Vineyard: Hamel Family Ranch

Nuns Canyon 2017: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Vineyard: Nuns Canyon

Photo courtesy of Hamel Family Wines

Zena Crown Vineyard “The Sum” 2017

A few months ago, my very geeky wine friends hosted a “Pinot Party” at a local restaurant. We were all tasked with bringing a bottle of Pinot Noir –Old or New World– to share in a blind tasting competition of sorts. I grabbed a bottle of Zena Crown Vineyard’s “The Sum” from Eola-Amity Hills at local Miami wine shop, El Carajo. This was a new producer to me, but I usually enjoy Willamette Valley Pinots.

Sure enough, the wine was a hit, and honestly, my favorite bottle of the evening. In true Willamette style, the wine exhibits exactly the right balance of aromas and flavors between savory Pacific Northwest earth, and just-ripe cherries, along with a rich palate that is both silky and structurally strong.

I look forward to enjoying more from Zena Crown Vineyard in the future.

This is a great Pinot Noir!!

Domaine Jean Grivot

Literally anything from this Burgundian producer.

It all started with the Domaine Jean Grivot Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Charmois” 2017 that was part of our Thanksgiving wines, but it was confirmed by a 2008 bottle of Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Aux Brulées” that was opened at a friend’s place a couple of weeks later: Jean Grivot makes some damn good wines.

Both wines are just so incredibly balanced, with a softness that coats your mouth in Burgundy bliss, and a brightness that is unwavering. These are those wines that you just cannot get enough of, even if you’re the one hogging the bottle all night.

Grivot’s Aux Brulées is like buttah in your mouth. Spiced earthy potpourri with dried red berries teased on the nose and palate. Just some of the most delectable wines of the year. 10/10 recommend!

Champagne Roger Coulon Heri-Hodie Premier Cru

I’ve never had a bad recommendation from the team at 305Wines, and this bottle was no exception. Whenever I walk into the shop and tell Alessandra or Guilherme what occasion I have coming up and what I’m looking for, they somehow know exactly which bottle is perfect. When I told Alessandra that I needed a “wow” Champagne for a dinner with other Champagne experts, this is the bottle she recommended, and it did not disappoint… anyone.

Champagne Roger Coulon is a “grower” Champagne house, meaning they grow the grapes and produce the wine as opposed to buying grapes from someone else. Their vineyards are certified organic and the vines are up to 80 years old.

The particular blend for the Henri-Hodie is 50% Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, aged for 3 years on the lees. The Chardonnay is fermented in old oak barrels, and the Meunier comes from a perpetual reserve solera that began in 1995. With only about 3 g/l of residual sugar, the Champagne is made in the driest “Brut Nature” style (yum).

Complex and nutty, brioche-y but refreshing too, this is a serious Champagne for serious Champagne lovers. Buy again and again!

Yum, Yum, Yum!

San Giovenale ‘Habemus’ Rosso Lazio IGT 2015

When your friends are super competitive, and you have blind wine tasting competition parties, expect them to bring the best. Earlier this year, we hosted “Cab Franc and Friends” with the objective of finding the best bottle of Cab Franc. We had some of the usual suspects in attendance, but would you believe the winner was from Lazio, Italy?

Yup! This bottle of Habemus Rosso was the winner, and man was it a stunner! Not a typical grape found in Italian blends, it was a surprise to all of us that this was the best of the wines even beating out the Loire.

Don’t believe me? It’s currently sold out at Wine by the Bay in Miami. Luckily, I snagged a bottle before it was gone.

This is one great Italian wine.

Source of Joy Rosé 2020

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again–I’m a big fan of Gérard Bertrand, and there is no shame in my game with that. Source of Joy is another delicious rosé from this South of France superstar.

A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault from the AOP Languedoc, Source of Joy is the bottle you need for any rosé-inspired activity (ok, everything). Strawberry and cherry, some refreshing citrus and a round but fresh mouthfeel means this wine is actually perfect. Don’t miss out on the South of France lifestyle, and make sure you grab a bottle of this “sip anytime” rosé.

Orange Gold 2020

One more for my man, GB. One of my favorite memories from 2021 was attending Jazz L’Hospitalet at Gérard Bertrand’s Château L’Hospitalet over the summer. Talk about a party in the South of France–wow!

Every night had its own color theme corresponding with one of the wines, and so the second night of the festival was “Orange Gold” night. Though daunting at first, I was able to find the perfect orange gold ensemble. Don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I nailed it.

Orange Gold is a special orange wine made of six organically-farmed varieties: Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, and Muscat. The grapes used in the blend are fermented for a while in whole clusters, allowing the colors and structure from the grape stems and skins to macerate with the juice, giving the wine an orange tint. This means that the wine will have great structure and texture, with some citrus and white flower aromas. It’s a fresh take on a summertime aperitif or a wine that pairs well with seafood or even spicer dishes.

Who wore it best?

Buckel Family Wine Cinsault 2017

Have you ever ordered wine that you liked so much that you asked to buy a couple of bottles from the restaurant to take home? This is what happened to me earlier this year in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

I try to drink local as much as I can when I travel, so I asked the sommelier at dinner one night to recommend a bottle from Colorado. He sent out Buckel Family Wine Cinsault. Really? A 100% Cinsault from… Colorado?

Well, as you can guess, I really liked it and even asked to purchase a couple of bottles to bring back home, since it was not available at any nearby retailer. Light bodied, strawberry, and spicy, this isn’t necessarily a “snow bunny ” wine, but more a chilled red to drink on the porch. Nonetheless, I’m excited to share that it’s a bottle I would recommend if you ever find yourself looking for wine in Colorado.

Colorado Cinsault!

Carnival Wine Company Blanc de Blancs 2016

More bubbly, please!

Carnival Wine Company makes a FAN-TASTIC sparkling wine from Sonoma grapes. 100% Chardonnay and 100% worth every cent. This was one of my favorite domestic bubblies of the year.

I enjoyed my first sip on top of the mountain in Sonoma where the grapes were grown, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it was all about the scenery. I had the opportunity to re-taste in a wine bar in San Diego while commercial airplanes blasted engines on approach to SAN overhead, and I still enjoyed the wine. Therefore, it’s definitely worth it. A real Champagne-Esque Sonoma sparkling, Carnival should be coming to a party near you.

Add Carnival to your next par-tay.

Trapi del Bueno Brut Nature Traditional Method

This is the only Riesling/Chardonnay blend sparkling wine from Chile I’ve ever had, but now I’m hooked.

Think apple pie filling–but no added sugar and a bit of brioche instead. Trapi del Bueno’s Brut Nature sparkling is a delightfully full-bodied but fresh take on a “blanc de blancs” from the Osorno Valley in Chile’s Patagonia.

I was introduced to this bottle at local Mexican/natural wine restaurant, Los Félix. Not a typical wine I would order, as I’m still on the fringe of the natural wine drinking, but I took a chance and have been thinking about it ever since. When a wine stays on your mind like that, you know it was G-O-O-D. Check it out if you ever see it on a list.

A Riesling/Chardonnay sparkling wine with weight & finesse.

There you have it! All of these bottles were memorable to me throughout 2021. If you have any questions about these wines or others, please feel free to comment or send a message.

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