As the COVID-19 pandemic raged into 2021, travel—and the wine discoveries associated with getting out and kicking the dirt in far-flung parts of the world—remained a distant dream for much of the year. Fortunately, wine producers and their agents adapted and found a way to inundate my home office with plenty of noteworthy bottles. And the months of September and October found me back in the Rhône Valley, squeezing in visits to producers between rainstorms and picking dates. In the end, it was difficult to narrow down my list of favorites to just five wines, and while I’ve taken availability into account when choosing them, don’t be discouraged if you can’t come up with exactly these bottles. Look for others that are closely linked—perhaps from the same producer, the same region, or the same vintage. There are clues in the recommendations below that should help guide your selections.
Talking about ageability, it’s not every day that a new Hermitage bottling comes along, so when Delas Frères introduced its Ligne de Crete bottling from the Les Grandes Vignes lieu-dit with the 2015 vintage, connoisseurs immediately took note. Produced in tiny quantities, the 2018 version is a stupendous, painfully concentrated wine that demands cellaring and should boast three decades of life.
Roussillon remains my number-one destination for flavorful, distinctive wines few people know. Even if the grape varieties are somewhat familiar—mainly Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre—the appellations are not. Domaine de l’Edre’s 2018 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel L’Edre, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre that was fermented and matured in demi-muids, is a plush, concentrated red that marries hints of cedar and vanilla with notes of bay leaf, anise and ripe blackberries. Broadly speaking, Tautavel is a limestone-based terroir, with calcium-rich soils that seem to imprint the wines with a unique synthesis of power and finesse, so it’s worth seeking out other examples as well.
For a trophy bottle you can buy, take home and drink this holiday season, look no further than some of the great 2018 Shiraz bottlings from South Australia. While some may require additional cellaring, many are already approachable, like Torbreck’s 2018 Descendant, a charming, seductive example of Barossa Shiraz—with a touch of Viognier. Plush and creamy without being overblown, it features just enough tannin to give it a slightly savory, food-friendly quality.
A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability:
At the other end of the world, Austrian-born Rudi Bauer has now been making Pinot Noir in Central Otago for more than 30 years. Over much of that time, he’s adopted biodynamic techniques for Quartz Reef’s Bendigo vineyard, making many of his own preparations in small pits on the property. While his single-ferment “Black Ops” Pinot Noir is one of our highest-rated New Zealand wines this year, even his regular bottling, the certified-biodynamic Quartz Reef 2019 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, is a stunning bottle, capable of aging well for a decade or more.
Staying in South Australia—McLaren Vale, to be precise—Battle of Bosworth’s 2019 Puritan Shiraz is a no-sulfur-added, organically grown wine that just happens to taste great, bursting with exuberant dark-berry flavors. It’s a screaming value as well, normally retailing for less than $25. Stock up for the holidays and serve this to your discerning relatives and not-so-discerning neighbors alike: It’s one wine to buy when you’re buying more than one.