If there was one good idea that came out of 2020, it was buying a wine journal. I’ve always appreciated wine but this year I made it a point to pay more attention to what I was drinking and buying, and this was a great tool to track my progress. Plus, it allowed me to pull together a fun recap of the top 20 wines I drank in 2020 – a year where I certainly had a lot of it because, well, we all needed a little something extra to look forward to and spark joy in 2020!
My history with wine dates back to my parents owning a gourmet shop that sold wine – taking sips of the wines they brought home to try with dinner, hearing my dad and uncle sell customers on wine in the store, and visiting wineries in Italy, California and Washington for tastings set up by their wine reps. My interest in wine has always been present, but it has grown tremendously in the past few years. I started to learn what I liked and didn’t like, became better at picking out notes in the wine, and began recognizing familiar labels on the shelf or a restaurant wine list.
To take my wine learning journey a step further, this wine journal by Moleskine makes me pay attention to what I’m drinking by having sections for the region, ideal pairings, appearance, nose and taste. Fortunately, I’ve progressed in the way I write my entries – including more personal notes, experiences and memories instead of just what the label on the back of the bottle tells me. I love that it has tabs for sparkling, white, rosé, red, dessert wines, but it’s only possible to document what I’ve tried in chronological order. It’s also not digital, which has it’s drawbacks when I’m trying to remember a specific wine I logged and don’t have access to my journal. For the time being, I still enjoy it despite its drawbacks and would recommend it as a starting point.
Alas, my top 20 wines of the year. These all rated at least 4/5 stars in my journal. Prices vary quite a bit, so I’ve pulled what I can from TotalWine.com and included a tilde “~” with each.
Champagne & Sparkling
When in doubt, sparkling wine is usually a safe bet. I don’t tend to order it while I’m out for some reason, but I do enjoy it at home with family for hors d’Oeuvres or for celebrations, of course! Back in 2018, my family did a blind taste test between Dom Pérignon champagne (~$170) and Veuve du Vernay (a less expensive alternative at only ~$9) to see if we could tell the difference. The verdict was yes, the Dom was noticeably better, however without having them side-by-side you wouldn’t think the less expensive alternative was necessarily bad. To be more specific, we thought the Dom was less sweet with a smoother/richer finish and more bubbles. The point is, save the pricey ones for special occasions because you’ll be perfectly happy with a less expensive option on an ordinary day. My family also agreed on the fact that we would all rather spend more money on a great wine than a great champagne. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this. Leave me a comment below!
- Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling Wine from Anderson Valley, California (~$23)
- Pommery Brut Royal Champagne from Reims, France (~$40)
- Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blanc Champagne from Reims, France (~$80)
These three favorites are popular and easy to find. I highly recommend the Roederer Estate as it’s well-priced for a great sparkling wine!
Fun fact: Reims, a city in northeastern France, is the unofficial capital of the Champagne wine-growing region with many of the champagne houses headquartered there.
My favorite kind of wine is white wine for a few reasons: it doesn’t stain my teeth (haha, the worst), there are so many different varieties, and it pairs best with what I tend to eat most of the time. It also tends to be light, refreshing and easy-drinking – can be enjoyed with or without food. I would say I explored the most variety this year in the white category as well. More on that in my upcoming Tim’s Wine Market post!
- 2019 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (~$12) – We’ve been on a Sauvignon Blanc kick at home this year since we eat a lot of seafood. Those from New Zealand in particular are among my boyfriend’s favorites that I can’t resist either!
- 2019 Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma Valley, California (~$12) – My brother-in-law loves and recently reintroduced this wine to me, since we visited the winery together years ago. It’s great for the price!
- 2018 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley, California (~$21) – I discovered this chardonnay in a wine flight at Aqua Grill in Ponte Vedra Beach. From lighter to richer, the flight had the Sterling Chardonnay, Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay and Rombauer Chardonnay. Falling in the middle, it was the perfect balance and nearly half the price of the Rombauer. I also noted that I enjoyed drinking it before my dinner arrived and with my meal.
- 2019 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy, France (~$22) – A recent find that I purchased a bottle of at Wine Room after sampling it, to soon after buy another bottle of it at Costco! It’s a current favorite that’s described as medium bodied with Chardonnay fruit flavors mixed with notes of melon and minerals to give it a fresh, silky finish.
- 2019 Rombauer Chardonnay from Napa Valley, California (~$36) – This is my mom’s favorite Chardonnay and I totally understand why. It’s elegant, full-bodied, rich, creamy and buttery. I recently sampled Rombauer’s Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed it, so I’ll have to pick up a bottle soon!
- 2018 Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir from Eugene, Oregon (~$13) – Super unique and possibly one of the hardest to find on this list (sorry!). It has a beautiful dark pink color and makes for a delicious wine spritzer with orange sparkling water and a lemon wedge. My family tried it together on a trip to Jacksonville, and we all agreed we liked it better than the normal Acrobat Rosé.
- 2018 Fleurs de Prairie Rosé from Provence, France (~$15) – One of our French friend’s favorite rosés, so you know it’s good! I couldn’t believe how reasonable the price was for the quality. Highly recommend!
- Miraval Rosé from Provence, France (~$22) – This is one of my personal favorites that’s pretty easy to find on a restaurant wine list or in a wine store.
- 2019 Wolffer Estate Summer in a Bottle Rosé from Long Island, NY (~$25) – Well-known for its popularity in the Greater NYC area due to the location of the winery in the Hamptons, and its beautiful artwork on the bottle. I was surprised my friend visiting in town from NYC was able to find it in Florida, but apparently Total Wine sells it now at select locations. It’s only available for a limited time, so make sure to grab it when you see it next summer!
- 2016 14 Hands Winery Hot to Trot Smooth Red Blend from Columbia Valley, Washington (~$9) – This approachable and easy drinking red has notes of ripe berries, red currants, black cherry, plum, and subtle notes of baking spice and mocha on the finish.
- 2017 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley, Washington (~$12) – I visited this winery during a trip to Seattle in 2017, and have seen it everywhere since! The description I read of this wine being described as “silky” is very apparent, and my favorite feature. The red and dark berries base is also very pleasant.
- 2015 Elk Cove Estate Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon (~$25) – I gave this wine a rare 5-stars, noting that it was “one of the best I’ve had in a while.” We paired it with veal, mozzarella, fresh basil, prosciutto and roasted red pepper. It was perfection! The notes are black currants, tart cherries, violets, spicy cardamom and cinnamon, with a long, fruit-forward finish.
- 2016 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California (~$60) – This Cab is blended with Merlot and offers a nice, long finish, which I love in a red wine!
- 2011 Joseph Phelps Insignia from Napa Valley, California (~$260) – This was excellent, as it should be at that price point! I enjoyed this with my family to celebrate multiple very special occasions in one. It’s a red blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. On the nose it presents dark fruit, cardamom, tobacco, Herbs de Provence and graphite, with tasting notes of red cherry, blackberry and espresso.
- 2016 Opus One Proprietary Red from Napa Valley, California (~$365) – I was generously gifted a gift card to the Wine Room on Park Ave. in Winter Park last Christmas and took the plunge to sample this TOP-rated wine that also happens to be to be their most expensive. It’s $25 for 1 oz., haha…INSANE. It was absolutely incredible but depressing that I could never spend that much on a bottle of wine!
- Lustau East India Solera Sherry from Spain (~$22) – The sherry that made me love sherry! It’s a family-favorite that we have shared and converted many of our friends to. May I also note that it is delicious poured over vanilla ice cream? Yum!
- Ferrari Carano Eldorado Noir Black Muscat from Sonoma, CA (~$32) – Another Ferrari Carano winner! My dad loves this one and carried it in his gourmet shop for years. What’s funny is when we first tried this at the winery, it was around 10 a.m., and we still loved it!
What I’m Looking For in 2021
- Pinotage wines from South Africa – This one’s for you, Carly! Surprisingly, they’re quite hard to find.
- French Whites – I’ve really enjoyed trying different French white wines like White Bordeaux and Chablis and want to try more.
- More affordable wines – I’ve been buying more wine than ever to drink at home since we’re rarely going out to eat. My wallet would appreciate it if they were more affordable!
- Cleaner, organic wines – With a new subscription to Thrive Market, I’m excited to check out their wines! I also want to explore the other wines from Avaline since I enjoyed their White. Lastly, Eola General here in Orlando carries natural wines from @curateorlando I want to check out.
I think I’ll become a tougher critic in 2021. Wine is definitely something you have to be consistent with to be able to learn and grow, and the more you try, the more you’ll be able to compare it to.
More On Wine To Come!
I have a lot more to share about wine. Below are some of my ideas – let me know which one you want to see next!
- My Favorite Wine Finds From Tim’s Wine Market – Support local Orlando/Jacksonville! I originally had some of them in this post, but I know they’re hard to find for anyone not in the area so I’m giving those their own post.
- My Favorite Wines of All Time (To-Date) – The list above only includes wines I logged in 2020, but there’s many not listed that I love!
- Best Wines Under $10, $15 and $20 – I have no doubt this one will be popular! There are some cheap gems out there.
- Tips for Ordering Wine at a Restaurant – Because it can be really overwhelming sometimes.
- Tips for Pairing Wines with Food – I’m not at expert at all, but I’ve found some tips that are helpful in guiding your decision.
- Go-To Wine Brands That Won’t Let You Down – Sometimes you just have to stick with the classics.
- The Best Ways To Try Wine – Favorite wine bars, wine flights at restaurants, etc.
- Why You Should Go To Wineries – I’ve had such great experiences going to wineries. Once we can travel again, maybe I’ll put together a Winery Bucket List too!
- Fun Facts About Wine You Might Not Have Known – An educational post that will be fun for me to research and write!
- Where To Buy Wine – The experience between a large wine retailer and a small wine shop, how prices differ, my personal favorites, etc.