Happy New Year!!! 2020 in wine and what’s to come
Wine label from a bottle of Chateau Kirwan, Cantenac-Margaux, 3rd Growth.

Happy New Year! The world of wine is a dynamic and amazing place to be. 2020 is quickly shaping up to be one of the most interesting in the world of wine in many years. Over the past decade we have seen the United States become the largest wine consumer on the planet and regions that have been relegated to the sidelines take the top spots in some cellars.

But we cannot start the talk about 2020 wine trends without facing the glooming threat of higher tariffs on wines from the European Union. In October 2019, the United States government imposed 25% tariffs on the majority of wines from the EU, excluding Champagne, all wines from Italy and wines over 14% in alcohol. This is not what any importer, retailer, restaurant or consumer was hoping for, but the price increases were manageable.

Then in late November 2019, the United States Trade Representative announced that proceedings had begun to evaluate increasing tariffs on ALL E.U. wines up to 100%. This has now caused a panic amongst importers, retailers and restaurants across the United States. What will happen we won’t know until later in January.

So, what does all this mean for your cellar? If the tariffs go into place, I predict an increase in the value of topflight European wines across the board. We will see the auction market as the main and possibly only market in which to get the wines people want. There will be fierce competition amongst collectors and restaurants that pride themselves on their wine lists. So, if you are sitting on some gems, it will be important to follow the auction markets and see if and when you may want to buy or sell.

As this year begins to heat up in the auction market I thought it would be good to highlight some regions and estates that may not be on your radar. As the allocations of the highest and most established tier gets smaller, there are always estates right at your fingertips that will provide great drinking pleasure AND will appreciate over time.

When it comes to Bordeaux, it is always amazing to grab the 1st growths and the Super-2nd’s, but if you can, further down the Classification and one will find some great wines that will bring additional value to your cellar.

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Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste & Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Pauillac, both 5th Growths

Burgundy still represents some of the most beautiful wines in the world AND even if tariffs go through, you will be able to fill your coffers in the meantime with these gems that may run under the radar.

Domaine Genot-Boulanger – they own 22 hectares, which is a lot in Burgundy and produce wines from over 30 appellations – in 2008 the converted to biodynamics and are quickly becoming a darling of the region

MC Thiriet – based out of Chateau de Comblanchien in the Cote-d’Or this micro-negoce is making unreal wines. This is one of the young guns of the region who are quickly making their mark heard not with a pop but with a BANG.

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Domaine Chandon de Briailles – this estate is very underrated and older vintages can be found at auction and the domestic gray market. From Corton to Savigny-les-Beaune the wines are specific, beautiful and most importantly delicious.

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Jean-Philippe FIchet – A master of Meursault. If you love white Burgundy and have not had Fichet – go get it. It is amazing, ages well and makes lieux-dits, especially the Le Tesson that will blow your mind.

If you love the Rhone you will be happy to know that the importer, Vineyard Brands, has brought in a significant amount of Chateau de Beaucastel older vintages. I recently was able to taste a few different vintages: 2001, 1999 & 1995. Each was perfect and delicious.

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If Barolo and Barbaresco is where you heart lies, fear not there are historic producers AND under-the-radar producers to quench your thrist.

Produttori del Barbaresco – one of the most classic and historic of producers has good quantity state side with their most recent Riserva vintage landing just recently. The 2014’s are amazing. You can also find them in the auction market for great prices.

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Poderi e Cantine Oddero, located in La Morra, this estate is producing wines of such depth and character that they were recently invited to Antonio Galloni’s Festa del Barolo this January. If Antonio is hot on it…you know its great.

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Last but not least, if you like bubbles there are some Champagnes that should be in your cellar, that over time will 100% either make you happy when you drink it OR your wallet when you sell it.

Pierre Paillard – located in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy – the brothers running this estate are making amazing wines. From their classic Brut to their single vineyard wines the entire line is superb.

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Chartogne-Taillet – this is another estate where the younger generation has taken the bull by the horns and elevated the wines to new heights. The wines “Les Barres” & “Cuvee Heurtebise” both are mind-bending and will age for a long time.

Suenen – this may be the hardest of the bunch to find, but look high and low. Located in Cramant in the Cote de Blanc, this estate is ALL that. Each of the wines are lasers and pristine.

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In The Eyes’ of Sommeliers

The holidays are upon us and I always feel that I attack my cellar most between November and February. Maybe it is because it is too cold to do much, so it better to be inside with friends (or myself) and enjoy wines that I love. In future posts I will be delving into the upcoming Barolo/Barbaresco vintage and the latest trends in the auction market relative to Burgundian wines. Today’s post, however is about enjoyment.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to ask some of my colleagues around the United States what they are keen on and what wines are surprising to them. I was curious to hear what some of the top sommeliers around the United States are drinking now and which they’re adding to their own cellars. Here are their answers:

Sarah Clarke has been the wine director for the “Mozza-plex” (Pizzeria Mozza/Osteria Mozza/Che Spacca) in Los Angeles for the past six years. Her career has spanned some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. Her deep passion for wine is infectious and when she is keen on something, I have always listened and always enjoyed. Sarah’s top three wines for 2019 so far are: 1) Keller, Grosses Gewächs, Kirchspiel 2016 2) René & Vincent Dauvissat, La Forest 1er Cru Chablis 2014 & 3) Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2012. Discovering “off-vintages”(referencing vintages that either the press poo-poo’d or were perceived as extremely challenging by the producers) is a special interest of Sarah’s too.

Sarah writes, “2014 was not a vintage heralded by the press in Italy (especially in Tuscany) but I have been very excited by the wines I have tasted.” She mentions that in 2014 she loved the freshness found in the wines and the elevated acidity levels making the wines more age-worthy that most will think. She specifically called out the 2014 Rosso di Montalcino from Salvioni, one of the most import estates of the region. Here she says, “Most of the fruit from the estate when into their Rosso which gives you an excellent wine for the price.”

Mariarosa Tartaglione, wine director for the Michelin started restaurant, Ai Fiori in Manhattan, is madly in love with all things Italian and her selections reflect that choice. In asking her about her selections she felt that right now Italy is producing wines at such a high level that it would be good to get in on the “ground floor”. Her top pick for 2019 is the Quintodecimo, Vigna Quintodecimo, Taurasi Riserva 2014 from Campania.

I can vouch for her that this is an amazing wine from a region that is roaring back and should be considered by all wine aficionados. Again, 2014 is talked about by a sommelier. Here Mariarosa is very excited about Produttori del Barbaresco. In 2014 the estate found that the vintage provided amazing quality to their Cru sites and Mariarosa believes that the “Ovello” Riserva Barbaresco 2014 is a MUST for anyone who loves Nebbiolo.

Sam Stoppelmoor, General Manager of the hottest wine bar in New York, Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels keeps the focus on France, Italy and Germany for his selections. He starts off with one of the hardest to find wines on earth: Arnaud Ente Goutte d’Or Meursault 2016. Sam says, “This is not only one of the best wines I’ve had in 2016 but in my life.” He bookends this monolithic wine with the Keller, Grosses Gewächs, Abts E 2016 and the Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2014. Having recently been to Compangnie I was excited to see his pick for an “off-vintage”.

Sam states that right now he is very excited about 2007 red Burgundy, especially the Domaine Chevillon Nuits-Saint-Geroges 1er Cru. He feels that, though a warm vintage, the 2007’s are offering a lot of solid fruit right now and a high level of drinkability. Sam believes these three regions and vintages are offering the best drinkability right now: 2010 Riesling form the Rheinhessen, Germany, 1998 Barolo (I 100% agree) & 2014 White Burgundy. He feels that each of these shows the region in its best light today.

Finally, Michael Acheson GM/Head buyer at Citarella’s new wine shop in Hudson Yards, is again keeping with the trend of France and Italy. His top three choices for 2019 are: Hubert Lignier “Clos de la Roche” 2014, which he says “I don’t particularly feel the need to defend this choice. You can enjoy your Rousseau and I’ll happily sit in the corner with my Lignier, content with my little treasure.”

If I found him in his corner, I’d politely ask him to share. He is also very much excited about the pending release of the 2014 Giacomo Conterno “Monforitno” Barolo Riserva. He visited the estate two years ago and the wine has been burned into his mind, “…we tasted it from out of cask two years ago and it totally nuked’ me. I’m betting big on this wine.” In 2014 Roberto Conterno will ONLY release a “Monfortino” bottling of Barolo from his estate…a powerful statement in a vintage “deemed” not good.

It is always interesting to see what the wine world is gravitating to and it seems that the classics are still the draw for these top professionals. Having tasted a lot of the wines in barrel and now in bottle of the 2014 vintage from Tuscany and Piedmont, I too can vouch for the fact that these wines are very beautiful and deserve more attention.

Have a Happy belated Thanksgiving. I’m off to the Langhe to explore the cellars of Barolo and Barbaresco shortly and will report back with vintage report and what to expect from what in the barrel. If you wish to follow along, please follow me on Instagram @drinkeatlove

Brunello di Montalcino, checking in on the 2015 vintage and what is to come
Four empty bottles of Le Chiuse

Brunello di Montalcino has been the darling of high-end wines imported to the United States from Italy for years. Yet, as the veil was pulled back on the amazing quality of Barolo and Barbaresco (outside of the classic names already known: Giacosa, Conterno & Mascarello) many people have kept quiet on Montalcino. I recently spent the past week visiting estates, tasting loads of wines to get a deeper picture of where the region stands today and what all the hype is about on the 2015 vintage. I was also able to barrel taste 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages from numerous estates to get a solid snapshot of what we will be seeing in the future from this unique region.

Unlike many other regions of Italy, Montalcino is relatively “new” having been “born” in 1868 when Clemente Santi (of Biondi-Santi fame) released the first “Brunello” to acclaim in the Paris wine show. Though winning gold medals warmed his heart and his family continued the tradition, it was not until the 1960’s that more families took up the mantel to produce a 100% Sangiovese wine aged for a minimum of 5 years before being released (and 6 years for Riserva). It was then not until the 1990’s that the likes of Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate began to really look at Montalcino as the serious wine region that it is. Estates such a Biondi-Santi, Case Basse (Gianfranco Soldera), Costani and others pushed the appellation to new heights and made wines of distinction and age-ability. Then the explosion took off and like other wine regions across the world massive investment and expansion happened, some good and some bad. This eventually led to the 2003 “Brunello-gate” scandal that found that many of the “top-rated” estates were blending in international varietals into their wines and not following the rules of production for producing 100% Sangiovese based wines. So, where does that leave us today? There are amazing wines in the region, yet there are many that have rested on their laurels and are making wines that are sound but without a soul. But before we jump into the estates that I am bullish on and those, I believe you should begin to follow, let’s talk vintage.

Francesco Ripiaccioli of Canalicchio di Sopra show off the beautiful 2019 still in primary fermentation
Here is Francesco Ripiaccioli of Canalicchio di Sopra show off the beautiful 2019 still in primary fermentation. LOOK out for 2019 – high-quality fruit and big smiles from all the producers.

2015 (release date January 2020): This is a vintage that many critics are going gaga over. I get it, the wines are juicy, rich, full in bodied, lush…but they lack acidity. The wines are solid, and I recommend buying them BUT they are loud, brash and super forward. I think they are good for moderate-term cellaring and good to drink now, especially if you are fond of grilled meat. One critic gave 11 100-point scores…I’m skeptical of that. They are good…not great.

2016 (from barrel): YES! This is the real deal. This is the vintage that wine lovers and collectors need to jump on. The wines are fresh, vibrant, well balanced, great structure and just simply put, beautiful. Every estate I visited I was captivated by the 2016’s. If you find some Rosso di Montalcino from 2016 on the market BUY. They are amazing and will hold you over until the 2016’s Brunello is released. This is a near-perfect vintage.

2017 (from barrel): PLUSH, juicy yet with pretty fresh acidity. This was a super dry vintage. It basically did not rain in 2017 causing the wines to have very high berry to juice ration. So the wines are dark, extracted and pretty tannic. Of course, we will check them out again next year to see how they have evolved.

2018 (from barrel): These are of course babies, but I was quite smitten with these wines. It was a cooler vintage, so the acidities are higher than 2017 and the fruit tends towards high toned red fruit notes. The tannins are fine and structured. Francesco Ripaccioli of Canalicchio di Sopra feels this is a superior vintage and really allows one to see the unique differences across the territory. He is so keen on this vintage it will be the first release of his single-vineyard “Montosoli”.

Vinyard in Montalicno
One of the most picturesque places on earth: Montalcino.

My Top Picks for 2015

Le Ragnaie: The first time I had the wines from Le Ragnaie it was a jolt to the system. Their first vintage was in 2002 (a horrible year) and I was like, what the hell are these (in a good way). This is a small estate with a total of 15 hectares with the highest vineyard in Montalcino (621 m). The wines are made traditionally with fermentation in concrete and steel with native yeasts and then aged in large 25 to 30 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels. Le Ragnaie makes four Brunello: 1 classic and 3 single vineyards. The classic is a perfect example of Brunello – taught, vibrant, fine and firm tannins with expressive Sangiovese fruit notes from nose to finish. The single vineyards are “Fornace”, “Vechia Vigne” (Old Vines) & “Montosoli”. Each is very expressive and shows its sense of place like any great Burgundy would. “Fronace” is from the most southern vineyards of the estate and like its name it is a furnce. The wine is rich, full in bodied and firm. The “V.V.” is elegant and fine (this is MY favorite). “Montosoli” is their newest vineyard and comes from the north side of Montalcino – it is light, expressive and full of life, truly pretty. Le Ragnaie should be in everyone’s cellar.

Salicutti: I first visited Salicutti in 2014 and this micro-estate has been in a MUST have on all my wine lists and in my personal cellar. 4 total hectares comprise this estate that was the first organically certified vineyard in Montalcino in 1996. If you are looking for expressive, vibrant and a wine that is so full of life it can recharge your soul…this is it. The wines leap out of the glass from the get-go with explosive aromas that tantalize. The palate is elegant and even in their youth the wines are like few other wines from the region. In 2016 the Eichbauer family of Munich took over the estate but they are 100% committed to the estate’s philosophy and style of wine and nothing has changed, except a new cellar. The estate ONLY produces Riservas in the best years: 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2015. The 2015 Riserva is the BEST wine of the region I have tried. Their Rosso di Montalcino is always a must. Find these wines at all costs.

Canalicchio di Sopra: If you love the purity of expression, vibrancy and sheer drinkability…then Canalicchio di Sopra is for you. The estate is primarily located on the northern edge of the appellation and produces wines with a fresh and elegant style that turns to pure beauty as the wines age. The 2015’s show the warmth of the vintage but true to its terroir has the elegance that great Sangiovese is known for. In 2015 the estate will release its first single-vineyard wine, the “Casaccia”. The vineyard is next to the cantina in the Canalicchio area of Montalcino and is darker and more brooding than their classic Brunello but the palate is lifted and so well structured this will continue to evolve for the better for over a decade, though I enjoyed the wine right at the table as well. As with my other favorites, the Rosso di Montalicno is a must for everyday drinking: fresh, clean, mouth-watering and better than 75% of the Brunello in the region.

Man inside of a wine cellar standing next to 5 foot tall wine barrels
This is a man to follow. His father gave him the reins of Le Chiuse in 2006 and its only gotten better. His focus in the vineyards in unparalleled and his dedication in the cellar is zen like. Le Chiuse is a MUST.

Le Chiuse: If you know your Montalcino history you will know Le Chiuse is the other half of the Biondi-Santi family. Though much less famous than Biondi-Santi the wines are, in my opinion, better, much better. The man that made Bionid-Santi what it is, Tancredi Biondi-Santi once used this vineyard for the Riserva bottling of Biondi-Santi, and if you have ever had the Riservas from the 1960s and 1970’s you will rush to get these wines. Today Lorenzo Magnelli, the great-great-great-grandson of Tancredi is at the helm and making not just great Brunello but making world-class wine at the highest of caliber. This estate IS tradition and is small, 8 total hectares making roughly 30,000 bottles per year and each of them a gem. 2015 shows the vintage: dark, rich fruit notes and concentrated with firm tannins and power. This was my second favorite of the 2015 releases (after Salicutti). The most exciting wine was the 2010 Riserva. The estate has decided that it will hold back its Riservas 10 years before release, to ensure the wine is ready to drink but also has the providence to stay in your cellar for years to come. The 2010 Riserva is showing the secondary flavors that Sangiovese is so well known for dried flowers, dried cherries, dusty earth, and elegant and fine tannins. There is muscle but not just power.

Stella di Camplato: This is one of the most unique estates in the region. Biodynamic and all fermentations are in up-right wooden vats. The wines are wild, plush, elegant, soft and veer almost more to Pinot Noir than what is expected of Sangiovese. BUT, the purity and shine of these wines are like no other. The 2015’s are lush, fruit-forward, juicy and easy. They may be some of the most drinkable wines I have tried from Montalcino yet with a vitality that shows the finesse that Stella gets out of her vineyard.

Other estates to Buy (not listed in any particular order – the ones with * are good values)

  • Pian dell Orino
  • Poggio di Sotto
  • Biondi-Santi
  • Costanti*
  • Fuglini*
  • Paradiso di Manfredi
  • Salvioni
  • Col d’Orcia – especially the “Poggio al Vento” single vineyard
  • Talenti*
  • Lisini
  • La Torre*
  • Baricci*
  • Estates to Follow
  • Balleria
  • Castello di Romitorio
  • Capanna
  • Il Poggione
  • Caprilli
  • Cerbaia – under new owners
  • Villa I Cipresi
  • Fossacolle
  • Le Manella
  • Donatella Cinelli Colombini