I could start by telling you this has been a tough year for a lot of people but as you sit at home and read those words you are probably thinking to yourself “no shit!” and “yeh, its been tough for me too.” Yes, it’s been a tough one for me, but also a weird one. I properly launched my own business, Vynlyf, after a half a decade of trying to get it off the ground and found an opportunity amongst all the chaos. This allowed me the chance to meet amazing people from around the country who made some really damn good wines. Their hospitality and perseverance in the face of so many storms has been inspiring. My aim as a person and as a business owner is now, more than ever, to be a champion of the small business doing something unique. So this year my list of favorite wines is not just a list of wines I find delicious, but a list celebrating the awesome people behind them.
Vinca Minor Carignan
So lets start with one wine that just continues to blow me away. I was fortunate enough to taste this wine a few times this year and from a couple of different vintages. But perhaps one of my highlights of the year was tasting this wine Jason at his winery in Berkeley. Jason is one of the warmest people I have ever met. He invited me and my colleagues in to his space with a big smile and before we could say “Yes please!” had opened wines for us to taste. I am obsessed with California Carignan right now, more so than I have been in the past, but Jason is showing himself to be a master of this varietal. Theres something so pleasant about the wine thats both rustic and refined. Whenever I go to open a bottle of wine I cant help but think is it the right occasion for a VM Carignan? The correct answer being, “When is it NOT the right occasion for a VM Carignan?”
Fine Disregard Syrah
This may be one of my favorite gems of 2020. If I remember correctly, I came across Fine Disregard by doing a google search for wine images and I was impressed by their minimalist labels. So I looked into them, signed up for an allocation and bought some wine. Then I bought almost a case of wine later in the year. My favorite wine from Fine Disregard so far this year was a wine that sparked a new passion for Syrah, which has fast become one of my favorite grapes. Their Syrah is lighter, more elegant and yet still packing some mean fruit that you would expect from any Napa red wine. It is more rugby, less American football. Yes it packs a punch, but is quite gentlemanly about it and will invite you for a drink with the lads after.
Teutonic Rieslings, Viognier, and Pinot Noir
I like to think of Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic is a modern gentleman. He is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty in the winery, regale you of tales of hunting pheasants in the proper attire (tweed jackets!), break out jazz, punk, or metal albums and on top of all that be the spark of profound and deep conversations that could have you in tears or in stitches. I have sold his wines for a few years in retail stores and his Rieslings and Pinot Noirs are simply beautiful. His whites tend to skew towards off-dry, the hint of sweetness giving your palate a warm “how do you do?” before the fruit and acidity says “let me play you the song of my people!”
Nicolas-Jay “L’Ensamble” Pinot Noir
When you visit Oregon you drink Pinot Noir. Thats just what you do right? After going to half a dozen tastings and drinking an almost ridiculous amount of Pinot it can be hard to remember a wine that stands out, let alone stands head and shoulders above the rest. I should add that, true to form, many of the wines I drank in Oregon were sublime. I mean we are talking about some exceptional wines! Even tasting through the Nicolas-Jay wines I can admit that I enjoyed all of them. The L’Ensamble Pinot Noir was a special treat at the end and it was beyond delicious. Did I enjoy it? Yes! Did I buy 6 bottles if it? Also yes!
An honorable mention goes to the L’Alliance white wine. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris that had everything you could want in a white. It was simply put, a perfect wine. Roll on summer 2021 where I could be very tempted to buy a few bottles of this.
Unturned Stone “Spider Chase” Cabernet Sauvignon
Randy Czech is one hell of a guy! Warm, funny, and he makes some damn good, interesting as anything wine. If you are looking for an interesting natural wine then look no further than Unturned Stone. Randy and Erin are super laid back people with some interesting stories to tell, and their wines speak to that. Their Spider Chase Cabernet Sauvignon is not a typical California Cab. As far as Cabernets go this wine is very laid back, a little softer, and more refined rather than big and opulent. Spider Chase is effortlessly cool and a great wine for a chill evening with friends or paired with a perfectly cooked filet mignon.
Evening Land “Summum” Chardonnay
Ever have a moment in your life where you just get super geeky? Ever have a moment in life where you are in absolute awe of your view and your surroundings? Have those moments ever been the same? Thats how it was at Evening Land’s tasting in Oregon. Sitting at a picnic table, looking out over the vineyards, and drinking fantastic wine. Of course the cult hits of La Source Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are amazing, as are their Seven Springs wines (the Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay) but the wine that knocked me on my ass was the Summum Chardonnay. I sat with AJ as he explained to me the little ridge in the vineyard and how everything below would be La Source and everything above would go into Summum. The precise row of vines where they make the division changes year to year but it was a moment in pure wine geekery to be able to taste the difference of a matter of yards. Mind. Blown.
Sandlands Red Table Wine
I finally, FINALLY, got my hands on some Sandlands! I am usually not a fan of signing up and waiting for an allocation but with Sandlands I totally get it. Tegan Passalacqua makes some damn good wine. His work at Turley is outstanding but with Sandlands its almost as if you see a different side to his winemaking. Yes there are similarities in the approach, but Sandlands feels a little more casual than the luscious Turley wines. The Red Table Wine is a fantastic introduction and so delicious it was addictive. Effortlessly drinkable and yet it had me geeking out over the subtle layers and depth. Check back in 2021 when hopefully I will be able to get some more awesome wines.
2010 Ridge Montebello
Montebello is by every right a myth and a legend. Ridge is one of the wineries that put California on the map, and Montebello has been that wine that has founded and cemented its legacy. This is also a wine that is meant to have some age on it and at ten years old is still considered a little on the young side. Still this is a stellar wine that is certainly drinkable right now but will rewards patience and virtue. I drank this as a toast to Steph Thomas and Chelsea Franzel who have been amazing founding team members at Vynlyf. To me it was a reminder that great moments and great people are to be cherished and celebrated as much as you can.