It’s been another wine-filled year at the VinePair HQ, and while the months passed by in a blur, 50 bottles stood out above the rest and etched a place in our memories. To help readers enter the new year (and decade!) with a list of wonderful experiences to discover with a glass in hand, we’re sharing our top 50 wines of 2019.
As in previous years, this annual ranking tells a story in 50 bottles. These labels are not only the wines we enjoyed the most over the past 12 months; they’re what we consider to represent the most important trends in wine right now.
Leading the conversation is the class and quality offered by American Chardonnay. The days of “anything but Chardonnay” became a distant memory when we tasted the bottles of several domestic producers, who are highlighting the wonders and nuance of the world’s most popular white variety.
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As the months went on, we became increasingly excited about Spanish wines, especially those from less explored regions, grapes, and producers. Our staff, panelists, and wine director agree Spain is currently offering some of the best value for money, and most exciting drinking experiences right now.
It’s also been a year of triumphant comebacks from grapes that, but for the noble work of a few producers, could have become extinct. Italy more than any other nation proved notably nostalgic in this respect.
All wines in this ranking were first sampled and reviewed by VinePair’s tasting department. We then compiled a “short list” of bottles that received an A+ or A rating, and whittled that list down to 50 wines using multiple criteria.
All bottles must be readily available in the U.S., offer great value for money, and be drinking well right now. None of the wines from last year’s list could be considered for inclusion, and we placed a limit of one bottle per winery.
The VinePair staff then debated, and debated again where each bottle should place. We finally tasted the potential top 10 multiple times to cement our final ranking.
Here are VinePair’s top 50 wines of 2019, tasted and ranked.
Malbec lends a medium-bodied, dark-fruit core to this affordable Argentine blend. Bonarda lifts the wine, adding juicy strawberry notes, while a splash of Syrah finishes things off with peppery, herbaceous vibes. This wine is fun and lively, and we believe everyone will love it.
Bordeaux might be best-known for its red blends, but the region also makes awesome whites like this zippy Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend. It is simultaneously salty and sweet, yet racy acidity and tart green apple notes are present to balance it out.
From Alto Adige in northeastern Italy comes this soft and elegant Pinot Noir. Dark cherry and redcurrant flavors give the wine a fruity flavor, while notes of crunchy leaves and freshly turned soil add nuance. A bonafide bargain at less than $20.
A regional stalwart, LAN’s three-letter name is shorthand for wines of quality, balance, and exceptional value. Its 2010 Gran Reserva, the current release, is rich in tart red-fruit character, sweet and spicy oak notes, and the leathery, tobacco-leaf hallmarks of age.
This soulful Chianti Classico stays true to the traditional style, with aromas and flavors of ripe cherries and forest floor. Some swirling and a little patience coax out vibrant blackberry notes and a crack of black pepper. Did someone say pasta dinner?
Made from organic, hand-picked Pinot Noir grapes in Argentina’s Uco Valley, we can’t figure out exactly how this wine is so cheap. But affordability is by no means its only attribute. This South American sparkler is concentrated, fruity, and refreshing, and begs to be bought by the case-load.
This structured Cabernet Sauvignon is beautifully balanced, offering nuanced notes of blackberry, cherry, fresh tobacco leaf, and leather. While $44 is no paltry sum, in the realm of Napa Cab, and from a noteworthy, historic producer, this is as close as you will find to a bargain bottle in the category.
An outlier in every sense, this multi-vintage white blend contains a total of nine different grape varieties, including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Semillon. Intensely aromatic, it is the perfect answer to that trickiest of wine pairing conundrums: What pairs well with spicy, fusion-style cuisine?
Outside of Champagne, Crémant d’Alsace is France’s leading sparkling wine appellation. This 100 percent Pinot Noir rosé is a great example of why the category deserves international attention. Grapefruit brûlée leaps out on the nose, while the palate is a soft and silky mix of wild strawberries and cherry coulis.
This aromatic white wine contains a non-traditional mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewürztraminer grapes. Each variety is individually fermented in large oak barrels before the wines are blended and left to age for several months in bottles. The end result is an impeccably balanced wine with intense fruity aromas and flavors, and a lasting, creamy finish.
A sprawling wine region on California’s Central Coast, Paso Robles highlights the softer side of Cabernet Sauvignon. This bright and juicy red has a velvety palate that’s rich in black-fruit flavors. The variety’s signature tannins are present but seamlessly integrated, while refreshing acidity keeps things lively.
Made from grapes grown on 70- to 100-year-old vines in Spain’s Navarra wine region, there’s a lot going on in this wine. Red fruit aromas are seasoned with hints of clove, mint, eucalyptus, and cracked pepper. The palate is lean, fruity, and structured. For just $14, this is outstanding winemaking.
Displaying all the hallmarks of classic Sancerre, this wine has a citrus and green fruit core, topped off with subtle bell pepper and a flinty finish. Lively acidity calls out for some creamy goat cheese or a light seafood dish.
One of Napa Valley’s oldest wineries, Markham Vineyards offers this stunning Merlot for just over $20. Off the bat, it’s a little reserved, but soon serves fruity cherry and plum flavors, textured by black pepper and earthy cassis. Grab a decanter, fire up Netflix, and your Saturday night is sorted.
This Meursault is exactly the style of Chardonnay many New World producers dream of emulating. It is the definition of balance and delicate oak influence, with vanilla and baking spice aromas mingling with pear and green apple. The palate is rich and luxurious, and goes a long way to justifying the wine’s lofty price tag.
Sure, the bottle label reads 15 percent ABV, but your palate will say otherwise when sipping this graceful Shiraz. You’ll focus on its punchy sour cherry fruit notes, soft tannins, and long, earthy finish. It’s full-bodied, but in a comforting way, like your favorite below-40 winter jacket.
Character-wise, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc falls midway between the in-your-face nature of New Zealand “Savvy B” and the elegantly restrained wines of Sancerre. Viña Garces creates an excellent example of this with notes of gooseberries, white peaches, and basil. Its acidity is less intense than other wines made from the variety, providing a slightly heavier texture, which we love.
Earthy aromas of a bruised apple, lime, and honeysuckle leap out of this South African Chenin Blanc, and are soon followed by notes of quince paste, jasmine, and a waft of ginger. The depth of descriptors continues onto the palate, which has a soft, creamy texture and zesty finish.
Sweet, fortified Banyuls wines are made in a similar manner to Port but feature the native grapes of France’s Roussillon region (namely Grenache and Carignan). As with all great dessert wines, the most attractive aspect of this Banyuls is its refreshing acidity, which holds together sweet dried apricot and caramel notes. A lengthy, nutty finish means you won’t forget about it in a hurry.
From Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, this wine is full-bodied and structured, but refreshing at the same time. It pairs with almost all foods, though jibes best with poultry and seafood. Best of all, it will comfortably age for a few years in your cellar (read: wine rack inside your closet).
When Albariño is “done” right, the wine’s intense acidity is matched by concentrated fruit flavors. This bottle is one such success story, with mouthwatering acidity that seems to magnify flavors of lemon, ginger, dried apricots, and wet stones. It is an ideal pre-dinner bottle, pairing well with Spanish cheeses, almonds, and salty olives.
The nose on this wine is alive with aromas of savory baking spices, caramelized plums, and cracked black pepper. It’s full-bodied and vibrant on the palate, with added notes of dark cherry and espresso. Neither its profile nor its price tag make this an “everyday” wine, but this is Amarone at its harmonious best, and a bottle fit for special occasions.
If your prior experiences with New Zealand only include Sauvignon Blanc and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it’s time you discovered the nation’s expressive Pinot Noir wines. This one has a fruit-forward character with notes of seasoned dried herbs, truffle, and pipe tobacco. Oak aging gives further aromas, including desiccated coconut, and adds playful tannins to the palate.
Soave means “smooth” in Italian, and that’s the perfect descriptor for this wine. It has a rich nose that opens with intense aromas of pears and wet rocks. With a swirl, sweet jasmine petals float with the scent of tart white peaches. The palate is rich and weighty, but kept in check by medium acidity.
The translucent cherry hue of this Xinomavro belies its powerful character. Reminiscent of the Nebbiolo wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, this complex red has striking aromas of cherries and potting soil that continue onto the palate. They’re met there by intense tannins and bracing acidity, which eventually give way to the graceful perfume of violet petals.
From the moment this Chardonnay hits your palate, it doesn’t let go. Prepare to be tongue-struck with green apples, lemon zest, and chalk dust (sounds strange, tastes delicious). There’s oak influence too, but the typical descriptors (vanilla, toast, and butter) are subtle.
In an ideal world, all old vine Zinfandels would follow this wine’s lead: relatively low alcohol content (13.8 percent ABV), refreshing acidity, and concentrated fruit flavors that include earth, dark berries, and pepper, rather than just jammy dark fruit. It’s only available from the winery’s website, and will set you back almost $50, but this wine is worth it.
This a relatively affordable introduction to the red wines of Burgundy. It’s heavy on the nose but treads lightly on the palate, with baking spice aromas and dark cherry notes traveling to the supple, velvety palate. You could stash it away for a few years, but this wine is drinking more than fine right now.
This is the best Moscato d’Asti on the market right now. This low-ABV sparkling wine will brighten up any brunch or aperitivo hour with its gentle bubbles, orange blossom, sage, honeysuckle, and lavender notes.
Made using the “traditional method,” where secondary fermentation takes place in-bottle, this majority-Pinot-Noir Blanc de Noirs spends a minimum of 24 months aging on lees. The result is a complex, layered sparkling wine, with notes of baked apples, vanilla, and toasted brioche on both the nose and palate. The wine retails for a barely believable $16, and can be found pretty much everywhere, making it a staple on our wine shelf.
When you first inhale this wine’s aromas, for a brief millisecond it feels like you’re about to taste the type of jammy, approachable Malbec that won over American palates in the early aughts. Then, from nowhere, complex notes of herbs, flinty minerals, and dried earth take center stage. From this point onward, it’s overwhelmingly apparent that this is an outstanding bottle and the future of fine wine in Argentina.
If you like zesty, mineral-rich whites, or have a big ol’ fillet of fish waiting to hit the plancha, this is the wine for you. The very same lemon zest you’ll season your fish with is present on the wine’s nose, as are wet rocks, pepper, and crisp white pears. Its palate is lively, with vibrant acidity and a concentrated green-fruit flavors.
One of the oldest estates in the Médoc, Château Batailley is a fifth-growth producer located in Pauillac. Within the appellation, its wines have a longstanding reputation for great value (relatively speaking), and the 2015 vintage is no exception. It has concentrated black currant, leather, tobacco, and white pepper aromas. On the palate, it is simply luxurious. If you want to splurge on Bordeaux, look no further.
While Mencía is best associated with Spain’s Bierzo D.O., when grown in the neighboring Valdeorras D.O., the wines take on a slightly lighter profile and offer more complexity. This bottle is a stunning example of that and shows further nuance from oak aging. Its aromas include wild berries, cracked pepper, and dried herbs. Blackberries and a savory vegetal note arrive on the palate, along with grippy tannins and a persisting finish.
Hailing from a tiny subregion within the Willamette Valley AVA, the Yamhill-Carlton District, this Pinot Noir is decidedly Old World in character. It is complex and nuanced with an attractive bouquet that includes topsoil, green leaves, and tart red cherries. Red-fruit flavors continue on the palate, which has well-integrated tannins and textured minerality.
From a famed wine estate in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, Three Graces is a Cabernet-Sauvignon-driven blend that also includes Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It is fruity, structured, and layered, with well-incorporated tannins providing the finesse its name suggests. This wine is drinking remarkably well right now, despite its young age. It promises to get even better with time.
This wine is a great example of why Cabernet Franc is fast becoming the Finger Lakes’ signature red variety. Its aromas transport you to an afternoon walk through an autumnal forest, with brambly black fruit backed up by fallen leaves and damp stones. The palate has a subtle grip and generous acidity, and its 12.9 percent ABV allows a lengthy drinking experience.
Elvio Cogno was one of a handful of producers that saved Nacsetta, Langhe’s only indigenous white variety, from extinction in the early ‘90s. This wine proves what a loss that would have been. It’s highly aromatic, with citrus and tropical fruit notes, plus a whiff of cannabis. Savory flavor kicks in on the palate, with hints of sage and rosemary.
Restrained and balanced, this is California Syrah at its finest. Made using grapes from three different vineyards in Mendocino County’s Yorkville Highlands, this wine has scents of bold blackberries, tart plums, and just a sprinkling of baking spices. The aromas carry through to the palate, which is medium-bodied with firm, well-rounded tannins. Pair with lamb or any other grilled red meat.
Laurent-Perrier makes its prestige cuvée, Grand Siècle, using a blend of three wines produced exclusively from grand cru vineyards in vintage-quality years. Each release comprises a different blend, distinguished by an “Iteration” number displayed on the bottle’s label. Number 24, the current release, has a lively, complex bouquet of green apples, dried white flowers, orange zest, and flint. Its palate is concentrated and vibrant, with a strong fruit core. This is an expressive, age-worthy Champagne and offers great value compared to the prices of other prestige cuvées.
Seldom do we think of Pinot Grigio as a variety that can offer depth and character, but Jermann proves this is absolutely the case. From Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy, this wine is aromatic, elegant, and texturally intriguing. It starts with aromas of flowers and citrus fruit, before stone fruit and mineral notes emerge. The wine has a broad mouthfeel that’s lifted by energetic acidity and textured by chalky minerality. While it’s more expensive than many wines made using this variety, this is absolutely not your average Pinot Grigio.
Long Meadow Ranch farms 90 acres of organic vineyards in the heart of Napa Valley. Though better known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the estate’s 2014 Merlot was the bottle that really grabbed our attention. From one of the warmest and driest vintages on record, this Merlot is big, bold, and balanced with acidity and tannins for long-term aging. At present, it has pronounced cherry tree aromas (fruit, leaf, and bark) and hints of vanilla and plums that continue onto its silky palate. The definition of a fine wine, this bottle promises to get better still with age.
This Sicilian rosato (in French, rosé) is made from Nerello Mascalese, a dark-skinned red variety commonly grown in the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Graci transforms those grapes into an attractive copper-colored rosé via gentle pressing, avoiding maceration. It then ferments the must in large concrete tanks. What emerges is a perfectly balanced rosé that serves equal parts fruit character, acid, and tannins. The concentration of flavors and aromas is intense, while the wine’s mouthfeel is soft, smooth, and even slightly creamy. Forget Provence, Etna rosé is where it’s at.
Founded in 1852, Château Fonplégade is located on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, on the southern hillside of Saint-Émilion. The property’s name translates to “fountain of plenty” and derives from a 13th-century stone fountain situated on one of the estate’s vineyards. Grand Cru Classé, the property’s flagship wine, is a soulful Merlot-dominant blend that also contains a seasoning of Cabernet Franc. Prior to bottling, the wine spends 20 months aging, with 85 percent of the blend resting in new French oak, and 15 percent in concrete eggs. Pouring an intense dark ruby, the wine’s aromas are reminiscent of cranberry sauce and cherry compote, while bottle age has added earthy notes of leather and tobacco leaf. It’s plush and velvety on the palate, and serves a long-lasting finish.
While winemakers around the world strain to adapt to warming climes, a handful of regions are currently reaping its benefits. Among the most notable is southern England, whose high-quality sparkling wine industry continues to garner international attention. Ridegview, one of the frontrunners of the movement, founded in 1995, has spent the last two decades producing sparkling wines using the same grapes and techniques as Champagne. Pinot Noir drives the estate’s Cavendish blend, which whiffs of cherries and sweet pastry and lands a structured, mineral-rich mousse on the palate. Perfect for parties and food pairings, next time you’re in the mood for bubbles or life calls for celebrations, take this bottle over your go-to Champagne.
Piedmont is the home of the Nebbiolo grape, which famously stars in the fabled wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. For much more affordable expressions of the variety, and wines that are approachable in their youth (read: ready to drink ASAP), drinkers should look to the Langhe hills and bottles such as this from G.D. Vajra. This wine serves a fruit-forward expression of Nebbiolo, with concentrated sour cherry notes that are pleasurably disrupted by a vibrant acidity on the palate. The acidity stops the wine’s heavy fruit character from overwhelming the palate, while a rigid but approachable tannic structure holds everything together. The beauty of this wine is its youth, and for this price, you can afford to serve it on the midweek dinner table.
If you have yet to try Viognier or are looking to take a dive into the wines of Virginia, start here. Founded by Virginia Governor James Barbour in 1814, and purchased by Italy’s Zonin family (of Prosecco fame) in 1976, Barboursville Vineyards provides compelling evidence of Virginia’s potential as a world-class winemaking region. With this release, the estate also cements the notion that Viognier should be Virginia’s signature white variety. This wine is an excellent example of its aromatic grace and the balance Viognier can display. Its nose is rich in mineral notes, apricot, and orange blossom, while the low-alcohol palate shows great acidity and luxurious viscosity.
The Mastroberardino family’s contribution to preserving the legacy of quality winemaking in Italy’s Campania region cannot be overstated. With local vineyards ravaged by phylloxera and World War II, many farmers understandably decided to rip out indigenous vines and replace them with higher-yielding varieties. Not the Mastroberardinos, who stayed true to the region and, in turn, saved such native varieties as Greco, Fiano, and Aglianico from almost certain extinction. The latter of the three is showcased in the Radici Taurasi DOCG, Mastroberardino’s flagship wine. Hugely age-worthy, and released following already-considerable periods in oak and bottle, this wine is the standard-bearer for Aglianico. It’s one of the finest examples of balance you will come across and sets the bar for both the variety and region.
Made from Garnacha grapes grown on high-altitude old vines in Spain’s Sierra de Gredos region, this wine’s aromas include dark cherries, cranberries, earth, pepper, raw meat, and star anise — to name just a few. The palate starts light, before the grape’s intense fruit character kicks in. And it’s not over there. Mouthwatering acidity and grippy, complex tannins quickly present themselves, prolonging the fiesta taking place in your mouth. If there’s a better wine being made at this price point in Spain or anywhere else in the world right now, we’ll be damned. La Bruja de Rozas will grab your senses with its depth of aromas and flavors and never let go, then leave you dazed knowing that you have tasted something truly special.
Though its history stretches back to the late 19th century, Chateau Montelena is best known for the success of its Napa Valley Chardonnay during the now-legendary 1976 Judgement of Paris blind tasting. Deemed by a group of (mainly) French judges to be the best Chardonnay of 10 bottles from California and Burgundy, the victory signified a coming-of-age for America’s wine industry, helping place Napa Valley on the map of the world’s finest wine regions. Produced on the 40th anniversary of that historic event, Chateau Montelena’s 2016 Napa Valley Chardonnay shows that the estate is continuing to operate at the highest level. It offers a blueprint for what oaked American Chardonnay should taste like — beyond butter. Instead, elegance and power shine through in the grape’s mineral-driven flavors of fresh melon, apple, and honeysuckle. Meanwhile, careful and considered oak aging provides nutmeg notes and a soft, creamy texture. Buy this wine and raise a glass to the past, present, and future of Napa winemaking.