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Taste of Wine’s Top 10 wines of 2021

A parade of wines for our annual “Top 10 Wines” list is positioned around my computer on Christmas eve. These wines have made the cut from hundreds of other wines with reams of paper scribbles from online and in-person wineries, wine shops, wine departments in supermarkets, hotels and restaurants.

Days have gone by before the final five can now be spotlighted. My partner Rico Cassoni and I cultivated our thoughts and he is also ready with his five (see below), all to be knighted in the Top 10 Wines for 2021 in the Taste of Wine & Food Hall of Fame.

Chateau Buena Vista Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley, 2019. $25.

Founded in 1857, Buena Vista is California’s first premium winery.  The winery hails from the Carneros appellation where wind and fog from the San Pablo Bay cool the vines allowing the grapes a longer growing season. This Chardonnay offers hints of rich apple, pear and pineapple with crisp acidity on the finish.

Daou Solomon Hills Pinot Noir, Paso Robles, 2019. $90.

This limited-edition pinot noir is exclusively from the famed Solomon Hills Vineyard, the westernmost vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, just 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Winemaker Daniel Daou believes that favorable conditions in 2019 produced their best wine from this vineyard, and we wholeheartedly agree.  This is a pinot that sends a powerful message of elegance, pleasure and purity of flavor through the finish.  While approachable now, it will continue to evolve gracefully in the bottle over several years.

Poggi Amarone della Valpolicella, Verona Veneto Italia, 2017. $22.

Amarone, in the Veneto district of Italy, uses a centuries-old process called “appassimento,” dehydration of grapes for more concentrated wine flavors, color and aromas. Whenever I get into a circle of Italian wine lovers, most of the talk is about Piedmont in the north and Tuscany and Campania in the south. It’s then that I launch into my love for the wines of Veneto, in the middle of Italy, and the ancient process of making wine by the Appassimento method for a truly unique and pleasurable sensation.

In a few words, this process is the dehydration of grapes in a late harvest to produce a greater concentration of colors, aromas and flavors in the wine. Grapes are dried mostly in Valpolicella for a period of at least two to six months before being pressed and made into Amarone wine. The word “appassimento” is Italian for “passionate” but you may have figured that out. Just so you also know, the Poggi selection has 16% alcohol content, so you may want to drink it sitting down.

Amarone, in the Veneto district of Italy, uses a centuries-old process called Appassimento, a dehydration of grapes for more concentrated wine flavors, color and aromas.
Amarone, in the Veneto district of Italy, uses a centuries-old process called “appassimento,”
dehydration of grapes for more concentrated wine flavors, color and aromas. Courtesy photo

Prisoner Wine Company SALDO Zinfandel, Oakville Napa Valley, 2019. $32.

A blend of zinfandel, petite Sirah and syrah, this dark ruby red wine emits bold aromas of black licorice, black pepper, cherry and baking spice.  The entry is rich, full and more than a hint of chocolate. The finish is voluptuous. This is a California jammy, fruit-forward smooth wine.

San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve, Paso Robles, 2018. $26.

This Cab is the flagship wine of the Riboli Family, one of California’s oldest winemaking families. San Simeon wines, recent winners of the American Winery of the Year, are handcrafted in small lots. They gain spice and vanilla aromas from aging in French Oak barrels for at least 18 months.

Rico’s Top 5 Picks

Cultivating is what we did indeed. Many of these we enjoyed at the same time, and most could have appeared on either of our lists. Thank you, Frank, for the great year of collaboration as we broke bread and savored wine together!

Cellier des Princes, Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Sainte Vierge, Courthezon, France, 2019. $27.

I always like including at least one great value wine in my Top 5 list.  The Princes, Cuvee Sainte Vierge, hits the mark.  Cuvée Ste Vierge, a grenache (90%), Mourvedre, syrah blend comes from the Courthezon terroir consisting of round pebbles on sandy soils. The Cuvee is concrete tank-fermented, bringing out the purest expression of the grenache and terroir. This pairs well with poultry, stew, game (i.e. venison) and is perfect with fine cheese.

Daou, Estate Micho Red Blend, Paso Robles, 2019. $85.

This is one of three wines dedicated to family members. Brothers Daniel and Georges Daou have devoted the Estate Micho to their late sister Michelle who passed from cancer. The cabernet sauvignon (44%) adds boldness to this merlot (56%) red blend. With boysenberry, blackberry, dark chocolate and dried herbs on the palate along with crisp minerality, balance, and superb structure, this is a beautiful wine. However, I could have easily had the stunning 2018 Soul of a Lion, dedicated to the brothers’ father, in my Top 5.

Michelle Daou with her brother Georges, co-proprietor of Daou Family Estates.
Michelle Daou with her brother Georges, co-proprietor of Daou Family Estates. Courtesy photo

Immortal Estate Slope, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2015. $80.

This 96-point Jeb Dunnuck beauty comes from Immortal’s Hidden Ridge Vineyard located among Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley and St. Helena in Napa Valley.  The 2015 had a memorable bouquet of black currants, graphite, and tobacco with concentrated ripe fruit mixed alongside earthiness and minerality on the palate.  It is aged in 75% new French oak for 28 months making the Immortal enjoyable now or for decades to come.

Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Sonoma, 2018. $70.

The Sangiacomo Pinot edged out the Willamette Valley Vineyard and Gary Farrell’s Pinots as my fav Pinot at the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival. Sangiacomo represents five generations of family wine-making since 1927. The Roberts Road Pinot had focused aromatics bursting with cherry, raspberry, and violets. The palate had a soft finish and texture sporting cherry and strawberry flavors with hints of orange peel and spice.

ZD Wines 50th Anniversary Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, 2018. $50.

I would be remiss if I did not choose a white for my list. The ZD Chardonnay was an easy choice. The ZD fruit was fermented in a 100% American Oak barrel at 48°F. The long, cool fermentation preserved vibrant tropical and citrus aromas and assisted with the malolactic fermentation process. The ZD had guava and pear on the nose with floral and vanilla cues, pineapple, and hints of lemon on the palate, with an oaky creamy mouthfeel finish.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]