As a wine writer, 2020 took on a different significance in terms of wine tasting. You might say enjoying a bottle of wine brought us to a happier place. Virtual wine tasting was the norm and still will be in 2021. Wine get-togethers with friends are now virtual. Looking back at the wine I sip throughout the year, here is my list of the best wine in 2020.
There is no particular order to my best wine 2020 list, but I have divided them into categories. I wrote about each of these wines after sampling or visiting the individual wineries in a few cases.
Best Wine 2020 Sparkling Wine
Travaglini Gattinara Nebolè 2013: I was intrigued by tasting a sparkling wine created from Nebbiolo. The Nebbiolo grape clusters vinify into white wine before the second fermentation in the bottle. Utilizing the classical method for producing sparkling wine, I found a fun, bright, sparkling wine with citrus notes.
Best Wine 2020 Whites
Halleck Vineyard 2019 Calandrelli Dry Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley: Discover a remarkably dry Gewürztraminer accented with floral aromas and notes of ripe fruits. On the palate, the wine delivered flavors of honeysuckle and ginger spices.
Anchor Valley 2019 Pinot Gris: Typically, Pinot Gris is linear wine. It lacks depth, but in this case, the wine exhibited layers and complexity for this variety. Find a bright wine with minerality and flavors of grapefruit and stone fruit. With floral aromas, the wine delivers a sweetness on the back end.
St Julian Wine Co. BR Mountain Road Riesling 2019: This Michigan Riesling shows the depth of quality from St Julian. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle nuances of this Riesling rather than the overbearing Rieslings often produced. The wine exhibited soft flavors of peach and apple accented with hints of citrus.
Barden Wines Fonte White Blend, Sta. Rita Hills 2018: The wine combines Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris to form a wine with lots of structure, depth, and nice acidity.
Awen 2018 Albariño: The wine displays aromas of stone fruit, apples, and lemon. On the palate, find a crisp acidity with green apple, stone fruit, and lemon. On the finish, find some salinity. This Albariño ranks on par with those from Rias Baixas.
Oak Farm Vineyards 2018 Albariño: From Lodi, I discovered a fruit-forward wine delivering flavors of pineapple. On the nose, the aromas of white flower grapefruit and lemon prevail. At first, the wine displayed lots of effervescence, but as it dissipates, one finds a fresh, refreshing wine with spice on the finish. The florals in this Albariño come from Lodi’s warm days and cool nights and soils that are a bit richer than those in Spain’s Rias Baixas.
Camins 2 Dreams Grüner Veltliner 2019: After foot-stomping, fermentation occurs in neutral French Oak, while 25% ferments in stainless steel. It is a clean wine with some viscosity and loads of minerality that also displays soft aromas. I found lemon aromas and, on the palate, flavors of green apples with lemon zest on the finish.
Ripe Life Wines Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay 2017: Befitting to its name as I see the wine paired with clams. Produced from Mendocino grapes, the Chardonnay’s bright, clean, and lively demeanor with the perfect amount of acidity and minerality compliments a clambake or other seafood dishes. On the nose, find tropical aromas along with apples. I found a little effervesce and flavors of pineapple, green apple, citrus, and especially lemon on the palate. Think Chablis meets Chardonnay. It is one of my favorite Chardonnay of the year and is reasonably priced.
Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc: The Sauvignon Blanc is considered Long Meadow Ranch’s best-selling wine. After tasting, discover a fresh, rounded, and fruity wine. I found the elegance and balance very inviting.
Peju 2018 Sauvignon Blanc: I found a bright, clean, and crisp wine with aromas of grapefruit and lime and flavors of tropical fruit. The grapes are picked in three stages allowing for different levels of ripeness. A percentage of the wine aged in French oak.
Pasqua Hey French: you could have done this, but you didn’t: Looking for a wine uniquely different white wine, Hey French is a wine that thinks outside the box. This “First Edition” Bianco expresses a younger generation’s influence for changing traditional methods and adding their interpretation to the winemaking process. Starting with a blend of Garganega, Sauvignon, and Pinot Bianco, the wine utilizes four distinct vintages, 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017 to create dimension and character in this wine. The wine aged in French oak for six months.
Trimbach “Réserve” Riesling 2017: Probably one of the best Rieslings I have experienced. The wine affords high acidity with nice minerality. I found a crisp, light, yet bright well-balanced dry wine with subtle nuances.
Clos Mogador Nelin combines Garnacha and Macabeo to create Priorat’s white wine. The wine displayed stone fruit on the nose, while stone fruit and lemon prevailed on the palate. At first, one tastes the oak, but as the wine opens up, it dissipates, bringing forth a balanced and smooth wine with excellent viscosity.
Best Wine 2020 Rosés
Frescobaldi Alie 2019, Toscana IGT: An atypical wine because the wine combines Syrah with Vermentino. The Vermentino adds an unusual dimension to the wine giving the wine body and depth. The effervescence in this wine presents an almost sparkling wine effect. The wine is elegant and delicate yet displays bright qualities that accentuated the flavors of pink grapefruit and peach.
Irvine and Roberts Rosé of Pinot Noir 2018: Clone 777 Pinot grapes are intentionally farmed for Rosé. Find a very beautifully balanced Rosé with nice acidity and floral aromas, especially those of rose petals and fruity flavors of strawberry on the palate.
Oak Farm Vineyards 2019 Rosé: Combining Barbera and Sangiovese, make this wine stand out. The wine incorporates the Saignée Method of bleeding off the grapes to produce a dry Italian-style wine with lots of acidity and minerality. The wine is dry yet very fruity and exhibits flavors of strawberry, cherry, and stone fruits, mostly peach. Even the bottle is enticing with its single floral image that drapes across the bottle, forming a lovely example of bottle art.
2019 Pasqua wine is another example of using unusual varieties to add character. The wine blends mostly Corvina with smaller portions of Trebbiano, Syrah, and Carmenere. The result is a pale pink-colored wine that is refreshingly crisp and bright. With lots of acidity, the wine has citrus and stone fruit on the palate with hints of spice on the finish.
Papapietro Perry Rosé 2019: The process utilizes a different form of Saignée because it bleeds juice off the red juice due to the conveyor belt arms’ direction, usually causing juice to go to waste. The result is a layered, elegant wine due to the use of various clones. The Rosé is bright with nice acidity and balance. I found melon aromas on the nose, while on the palate, flavors of melon and lighter fruit prevail.
Camins 2 Dreams 2019 Rosé is created in the Saignée method and utilizes Syrah grapes from both the Spear and Zotovich Vineyards. I found a fuller-bodied Rosé with a Meditteranean quality to it. Flavors of watermelon and tomatoes were evident. Although a crisp, refreshing wine, the fuller body makes the wine atypical of most Rosés.
Château Lauriga Rosé 2019: This Cotes Du Roussillon wine combines Syrah with Grenache Gris. This Rosé is bright and balanced with subtle flavors that make it not overbearing. I love the subtleties of this wine. I found aromas of melon and roses, while on the palate, I found citrus and cherry.
Skid Rosé By Saracina 2019: This Rosé of Malbec comes from the Skid Row Vineyard that lies along the upper Russian River in Mendocino. Its pale coral color draws one into a crisp, bright, refreshing, yet delicate wine. On the nose, find aromas of Roses and watermelon. On the palate, discover flavors of stone fruit and citrus.
Flambeaux 2018 Rosé, Sonoma County: I am always looking for unusual blends for Rosé, and Flambeaux Rosé fits that criteria. Consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, this is a spirited wine. Created by utilizing the bleed-off method, the wine exhibits a bright crispness. I found citrus and cherry flavors that accent the fresh acidity of the wine.
Best Wine 2020 Reds
I will divide the red wines into several subcategories of the varietals to make them easier to decipher.
Best Wine 2020 Cabernet Franc
Dracaena Reserve Cabernet Franc, Plummer Vineyard 2018: Created from 100% Cabernet Franc from a single vineyard and a single clone, the wine is lively and very well-balanced. Aromas of chocolate dominate the wine. The rich texture enhances the dark fruit flavors of plum.
Dracaena Cabernet Franc Classic 2018: A blend of predominately Cabernet Franc with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, forming a bigger, bolder wine that is more complex and brooding. While aromas of blueberries and dark fruits, the earthy qualities of this wine accent the blackberry flavors.
Best Wine 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon
DAOU Family Estates Soul of the Lion 2017: Combining Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. I could immediately taste the Cabernet Franc. I found velvety and silky layers bringing a remarkable depth and complexity to this full-bodied wine. On the nose, the wine exhibits aromas of plum and cedar. With flavors of dark fruit, including currant and licorice, the wine delivers a nice spice with a little vanilla on the finish. Please aerate this wine as it needs time to breathe.
Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: The Wine displayed black cherry flavors and opened up to become a rounded and balanced wine. It had a lot of depth, expressing dark fruit.
Rowen 2015 Red Wine: Combining mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with Malbec, Syrah, and a smidgeon of Viognier, I discovered a very drinkable wine with aromas of mocha, raspberries and pepper and flavors of dark fruit mixed with baking spices.
Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2016: I found a very drinkable and balanced Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is very classical in its more old-world approach. The Cabernet has just the right amount of fruit and acidity without being fruit-forward or too high in tannins.
River Road 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley: Looking for a well-priced Cabernet Sauvignon that is very drinkable with bright nuances reflecting a smooth and balanced medium-bodied wine, River Road fits the bill. On the nose, find mocha and dark fruit, and on the palate, blackberry and cedar flavors.
Primus Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley 2017: This Cabernet represents grapes coming from old Maipo river terraces with well-drained alluvial soils and silty clay loam. The wine is elegant and soft. I found aromas of vanilla and cedar accenting the dark fruit. Displaying flavors of cherries and blueberries dominate the wine and delivers a smooth, bright, well-integrated Cabernet. As the wine opens up, it becomes silky. I recommend aerating this Cabernet.
Best Wine 2020 Pinot Noir
Halleck Vineyard 2016 Find Your Light Pinot Noir: I found a bright and lively, balanced, medium-bodied Pinot Noir. Flavors of cherry, anise, vanilla, and hints of spice fill your palate.
Joseph Jewell 2018 Pinot Noir Alderpoint Vineyard, Humboldt County: I found a lighter Martini clone Pinot Noir. The wine delivers aromas of tea and cherry accented with the typical smells of Pinot Noir. The wine also exhibits soft tannins with flavors of cherry and raspberry. Although earthy, a nice minerality enhances the wine. The finish is delicious due to a sweet undertone.
Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard Russian River Valley 2017: This Pinot Noir spoke to me. I found a bright and pretty, very drinkable Pinot Noir.
Papapietro Perry Pommard Clones Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2017: The wine emphasizes the Pommard clone as a blend. This wine exhibits complexity. Although more prominent in stature, it still showcases the elegance and feminine side of Pinot Noir that is evident in all of Papapietro’s wines. The wine is seductive with its flavors of pomegranate and cola.
Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2017: This wine blends 22 vineyards, thereby expressing the Russian River Valley’s depth. Each component aged for 8 – 9 months in barrel before blending occurs. The wine ultimately ages for 15 months in lightly toasted barrels. The result is a compilation of the Russian River Valley that is very balanced and together.
Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley 2016: The combinations of clones 667, 777, and 828 create a softer wine. I found a very balanced wine, a favorite of the wines sampled during this tasting.
Landmark Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2017: I found a lighter, more elegant Pinot Noir. The wine consists of Pinot Noir from clones 667 and 115. The Pinot displays soft, velvety textures with flavors of blue fruit.
Landmark Vineyards Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir 2017: This Pinot Noir displays a bolder presence. The Pinot Noir is brighter and exhibits nuances of Asian spices. The wine seems more full-bodied with flavors of strawberry and raspberry.
Best Wine 2020 Pinot Meunier
Irvine & Roberts Pinot Meunier 2017: Very few wineries produce Pinot Meunier as a varietal in a still wine. I consider Irvine & Roberts the most outstanding Pinot Meunier I have ever sampled. The wine exhibits beautiful perfumes on the nose. It delivers a lively but balanced wine with its fruity character and bright cherry flavors accented by savory nuances.
Best Wine 2020 Merlot
Switchback Ridge 2015 Merlot: I found aromas of dark fruit and tobacco. This wine is a blend of 92% Merlot to 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, creating a big wine with pepper, chocolate, and mocha flavors. A well-integrated and balanced wine.
L’Ecole No 41 2017 Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley: The grapes come from two estate vineyards, Ferguson, known for its basalt soils, giving the wine its minerality, and Seven Hills, with its wind-blown loess soils, instill structure and complexity into the wine. I found a well-structured wine with many layers resulting from the two vineyards’ different soil profiles. The wine exhibits aromas of tobacco and dark fruit and savory flavors of brooding cherry with pepper on the finish.
Duckhorn Vineyards 2017 Napa Valley Merlot: I found the wine balanced and complex. This Merlot blends 80% Merlot with 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Fran, 1 % Petit Verdot, and .05% Malbec. The addition of the other varieties adds the depth that the wine exudes. Find lush flavors of raspberry and cherry with hints of mocha accented by baking spices.
Best Wine 2020 Carménère
Primus Carménère Apalta – Colchagua Valley 2018: Often, I find Carménère to be a harsher brooding wine. I was pleasantly surprised because of this wine’s bright and lively attributes. I discovered one of the most balanced Carménères I have sipped. On the nose, find aromas of cedar and red fruits. On the palate, I found flavors of Cherry accented by black pepper on the finish.
Best Wine 2020 Zinfandel
Papaperietro Perry Zinfandel 2017: This Zinfandel is elegant, a quality I prefer in Zinfandel instead of the harsher and hotter quality and an overabundance of pepper so often found in the area. The wine exudes flavors of dark fruits with a mild hint of pepper.
Best Wine 2020 Cinsault
Cinsault, Margerum Estate Vineyards, Los Olivos District 2019: Discover an easy-drinking summer wine. The wine has savory qualities that accent the cherry flavors mixed with red vine licorice. The aromas exhibit sweetness.
Best Wine 2020 Petite Sirah
Switchback Ridge Petite Sirah: The winery calls this wine the closer. It is a yummy wine consisting of 100% Petit Sirah with about 33% being from the old vine block. My first thoughts were a warm blueberry pie. The wine exudes flavors of various berries. Think of blueberry, boysenberry, and blackberry compote, and you have the ripe jammy fruit of this well-balanced wine.
Anchor Valley 2017 Petite Sirah, Rogue Valley: One finds a big, bold, structured wine with balanced tannins yet showcases a softness and elegance that shines through. The wine delivers layers of plum, blackberry, and raspberry mixed with lovely florals. Those that love Petite Sirah will enjoy this Oregon version.
Best Wine 2020 Sangiovese
Awen 2017 Sangiovese: Sourcing grapes from the Garvin Family Vineyards, located in Sam’s Valley in the northernmost end of the Rogue Valley AVA, known for its volcanic soils, the Sangiovese exhibits high acidity with a nice balance. One finds aromas of cherries, vanilla, and brown sugar. Discover a bright wine with cherry flavors. This wine is a winner compared to other Sangiovese sampled from the area.
Best Wine 2020 Aglianico
Chapin Aglianico: Tasting a vertical of the Aglianico at this Temecula winery, I especially enjoyed the 2017 and 2014. I found a fine yet rustic wine with savory raspberry flavors and pretty aromas. The wine is bright and balanced.
Best Wine 2020 Frappato
Mandrarossa Frappato: When I think of a turkey dinner, I think of Frappato. Frappato, an Italian grape from Sicily, can often be characterized as a wine with savory qualities. The grape creates a light-bodied, elegant, and easy-drinking wine. This particular Frappato is light, bright, and lively. Frappato texture, softness, and acidity make the wine pair nicely with turkey. Therefore, ideal wine to serve with your Thanksgiving dinner.
Best Wine 2020 Nebbiolo
Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG 2009: One sees what aging accomplishes by holding onto a wine. A favorite from Piedmont, the wine delivered more depth and complexity.
Travaglini Gattinara Il Sogno 2014: I like the soft palate that the wine brings forth. After hand-harvesting, the grapes dry for 100 days in a naturally ventilated storage area. During this time, 50% of the water in the grapes evaporates. After fermenting in stainless steel, the wine aged for 40 months in used Slavonian oak casks, followed by ten months of aging in the bottle. It Travaglini’s version of an Amarone.
Best Wine 2020 International Blends
Tenuta Luce Lucente 2017: ILucente is the secondary label of Luce, a winery in Montalcino. Lucente blends Merlot and Sangiovese and typically ages for 12 months. The Lucente 2017 is a young wine, and I feel it needs time to breathe or, at the very least, aerate. On the nose, find tobacco, mocha, nutmeg, clove, and allspice. These same aromas are also found on the palate and accent the dominant flavors of berry jam.
Bodegas Caro Caro 2017: With Bodegas Catena being the experts of Malbec and the Rothchild’s pros in Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine blends a lifetime of history of the two wineries. Coming from the Alta Mira vineyard, the wine blends Malbec with Cabernet Sauvignon. I found a smooth, rich well-integrated wine with tobacco, mocha, and baking spices on the nose. The palate delivered plum, blueberry, and blackberry flavors—the wine ages in special barrels from France for 18 months in 80% new oak.
Best Wine 2020 Dessert Wines
Margerum Mute-Age is the first Grenache-based fortified dessert wine. The wine is designed to go with chocolate—the wine ages outside on the winery’s rooftop in 34-liter demi-john glass bottles for two years. There is a lightness to this dessert wine that makes it very special. Inspiration for this dessert wine comes from the French appellation called Banyuls, where both fortified and dessert wines are produced from old vines.
Let’s raise our glasses and cheer in 2021. With the challenges of the last year, we are grateful to move on. I am looking forward to sharing with you my new best wine discoveries for 2021.
Happy New Year!
Common to the wine industry, most of the wines listed in this article about best wine for 2020 were hosted wine samples.