My Top 20 Wine Stories from 2020

Reflecting on 2020, the year that wasn’t but still was, I was fortunate to travel around the world via my wine glass and ZOOM. On my virtual travels, and travels before the shutdown, many winemakers shared their stories. And with no where to go and nothing to do, I also found more time to write about the adventures in wine I’ve had including those that Sue Hill and I had in France in October 2019 when we visited for two weeks while in the country to compete for the US Wine Tasting team as well as a trip to Napa and Sonoma earlier in the year.

When I asked Sue about her favorite wines from 2020, she went to posts about wine pairings; that is what is always most memorable to her. I thought I’d choose 20 wines to write about, but then I realized for me, it’s not about the wine but the STORY that went with the wine. 

So of the 156 posts I published in 2020, here’s my Top 20 Stories organized by month with Read #1 in January and Read #20 in December… plus a tie!

 

January 2020 (11 posts)

yes we blend in CdP!

Top Story #1 —
Introduce a Friend to French Wine 1: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Comforting Cassoulet

Did you know that most of the well-known grapes grown globally are actually French in origin?

While wine grapes may be grown throughout the world, it is France that many consider the most important country for wine. Ever since the Greeks cultivated grapes in Gaul (France) in the 6th century, for over 2,000 years,  growing grapes and making wine has been an important aspect of life in France. Wine grapes are grown throughout the country with 7-8 million bottles produced every year making France the number one producer of wine by volume in the world. 

With stories of adventures from our October 2019 visit to France, these two posts introduce readers to two important regions, the Loire and Chateauneuf-du-Pape where yes indeed they blend and yes I did take the vest of Michel Blanc’s back! 

Of the 156 posts I published in 2020, this was the eighth most popular. This was also my 2020 birthday dinner!

Note: One of these wines was a gift, a second a sample, and the third I purchased.

TIE BONUS Read–
Introduce a Friend to French Wine 2: Loire’s St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil AOC Les Quarterones, Amirault 

When we were in the Loire for the World Wine Tasting Championships sponsored by Wine Acuity, we visited a number of biodynamic and organic producers of the Loire’s specialties, and I’ve begun writing about them with these three completed in December: Vouvray’s Careme, pet nat, and two Cabernet Franc wines from Manoir de Tete Rouge.  When we knew we were going to be in the Loire for the Championship, we knew we wanted to visit Amirault as well as Chateau Yvonne because we had written about their biodynamic wines previously. In this post, we feature Agnes and Xavier’s Amirault Les Quaterones wines: two sparkling cremant, one made with chenin blanc and one with cabernet franc, and three biodynamic cabernet franc wines.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

 

February 2020 (11 posts)

Top Story #2 Read– 
A Sparkling Valentine to My Local Loves … with a side of lobster!

For Valentine’s 2020, I focused on some local love– fresh local seafood from the Santa Barbara Channel which I can see from my house and wine from Clos des Amis just a few miles away..

Nestled between the transverse range and the Pacific Ocean with the Channel Islands peeking out like castles in a large moat, residents of Ventura County enjoys temperate weather and only the occasional ferocious fire and eerie  earthquake. Here we are graced with fruits of the sea and the land. I can go to the Fisherman’s Market and buy a whole halibut most any day of the year — unless the seas are too high!

So. Much. Yum. 

Note: Many of the wines from Clos des Amis are available from Verovino. I receive some Clos des Amis wines as samples but I also purchase them.

 

March 2020 (10 posts)

Top Story #3 Read–
Women to Watch in Wine: Vigna Petrussa and VeroVino

Based in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy, Vigna Petrussa, says renowned Italian wine expert Ian D’Agata is “one of Italy’s best and most under the radar estates.”

Praising the producer’s winemaker-vigneron Hilde Petrussa for a “great passion for her craft” D’Agata gave all of Vigna Petrussa wines 90+ point ratings in a January 2020 article in Vinous.

This is the sixth most popular post of the 156 posts I published in 2020!

Note: Verovino imports these wines into the US which I received as samples.

 

April 2020 (11 posts)

Top Story #4 Read–
Tasting The World’s Best Olive Oil, Talking Sustainability: La Maliosa’s Antonella Manuli

While I have written about Fattoria La Maliosa before, I learned a lot during this ZOOM and Facebook live chat! Highlights of the 90 minute chat included a guided olive oil tasting of the best organic olive oil in the world, Fattoria La Maliosa’s Aurinia, and learning about her regenerative agricultural practices that are based on biodynamic principles but do not use any animal products.

Note: Verovino imports these products into the US but I purchased the ones in this article.

 

May 2020 (12 posts)

Top Story #5 Read–
A Toast with Biodynamic Leclerc Briant and an Invitation To Unexpected Pleasures in Champagne

Champagne is full of unexpected pleasures! These include biodynamic wines like Vincent Charlot (read more here) and Leclerc Briant (discussed below) and organic wines too that express the terroir and the vintage, wines full of distinct personalities, wines with little or no added sugar, even red and white still wines like they are allowed to do in Bouzy!

In Caroline Henry’s book, Terroir Champagne, she quotes Pascal’s daughter Segolene about the transformation to a biodynamic vineyard:

“In between the vines grew wild flowers, and they were teeming with life! Many people thought they were a disgrace compared to the barren vineyards which were the standard. My father used to laugh it off. For him biodynamic farming was an extension of our way of living. He had a great respect for nature and believed we all had to strive to live in harmony with the universe.”

This was the 13th most popular post that I published in 2020.

Note: Sample. Winebow imports this wine to the US.

 

June 2020 (13 posts)

Got jet lag? Reims has hammocks!

Top Story #6 Read —
10 of Champagne’s Unexpected Pleasures: 24 hours In and Around Reims, France

When Sue and I arrived in France, we jumped on the first bullet train to Reims where Caroline Henry picked us up. Our first 24 hours was jam packed– and I recount 10 highlights here. So while those of us in the US can’t travel to Reims right now, we will be able to again! In the meantime, enjoy these unexpected pleasures and put them on your to do list!

 

Top Story #7 Read–
5 Sangiovese, 4 Terroirs, 3 Producers, 2 Regions, 1 Country

“My company is a like a bridge,” said Sheila Donahue of Verovino in a phone interview; she connects producers with consumers, and consumers with producers. The common denominator for wines imported by Verovino founder Sheila Donahue? Each of the small producers she imports

  1. Drink the wines they make themselves
  2. Make wine from their land and grow the vines themselves
  3. Make wines that are good for you with minimal intervention and from grapes sustainably grown using organic and biodynamic principles and practices.
  4. Produce wines which Sheila thinks should be more widely available.

Note: Samples provided for my review.

 

August (10 posts)

Top Story #8 Read —
The Birds and The Bees in The Zinfandel Trees: 202Harvest in Ventura Vineyards Old and New

“The birds and the bees know when the grapes are ripe,” says Clos des Amis winemaker Bruce Freeman. It’s 9am on a warm late August morning, and we’re knee deep in thickly trunked Zinfandel wherein large dark clusters of grapes hide bees with a few yellow jackets for good measure. The birds are out too, mostly mourning doves cooing like a daytime owl and acorn woodpeckers making a ruckus. 

I’ve asked a silly question: if we’d picked the week before, would the bees be so bad? Would they have taken so much fruit? Wouldn’t matter, says Bruce.

When the brix is right, the bees know it and they’re right there too ready for the harvest. They snuggle their little fuzzy butts right in there, humping the seeds to get the juicy, seed pulp, leaving hollow hulls and seeds behind.

Top Story #9 Read —
A Visit to Loire with Thierry Puzelat of Organic Clos du Tue-Boeuf: Part 1 Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc with Summer Squash Tart

The day we visited started out with a drizzly soak in a hot tub outside the “cave” we stayed in followed by a stop at Vincent Careme in Vouvray and an unplanned lunch at Michelin starred Chateau du Pray (read more here and here).

The afternoon quickly warmed– typical fall weather– and by the time we arrived to meet with Thierry Puzelat the afternoon was sunny and warm, idyllic for a visit with this winemaker well known for his commitment to going his own way, conducting experiments, using sustainable practices including organic and biodynamic.  This is what brought us there that day and found us jumping into Theirry’s truck to visit vineyards after we got a quick tour of the winery processing a final load of grapes.

Note: This post was the fourth most popular of over 150 posts published in 2020, and on the day it was published, I had the most readers in one day on this blog!

Note: Samples provided for review; we hauled them back from France!

 

September (only 10 posts total but 4 made my Top 20!)

Top Story #10 Read —
Harvest Conversation at The Ojai Vineyard about the new hybrids with winemakers Adam Tolmach and Fabien Castel

“Don’t you tire of eating grapes?” I ask Adam as he almost greedily enjoys handfuls of purple fruit. Clearly he still relishes this aspect of the business, forty years after he planted his first vineyard here along Creek Road, a route which leads to Ojai proper and The Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room on Montgomery Street which opened in 2010.

Note: Sample provided for my review.

Note: This was the 15th most popular post of the 156 I published in 2020.

Musikaravan

Top Story #11 Read —
Music in the Malbec, Violinists in the Vineyard, Songs with the Syrah, Break Time with Tacos, and A Preview to Harvest 2020

Even though the day was hot, dry, and smoky, with temperatures nearing 120 over much of the weekend which required a spraying of “sunscreen” on the vines and the nearby orchards, with the music spurring us on and a crew of new found friends and familiar ones learning about harvesting grapes as well as Martin’s crew picking the Syrah, the work was done in no time at all.

Read my article in the VC Reporter “Fugues on the Farm” about Musikaravan’s visit to Ventura County.

Note: This is the fifth most read post that I published in 2020.

Top Story #12 Read —
Sonoma Visit and Interview with Alex Holman, winemaker for Balverne and Notre Vue plus 4 wines and Pescatarian Pasta

On a beautiful sunny morning in the Before Time, Gretel Compton and I climbed the windy road up from Santa Rosa past farms, around slow farm equipment, through oak woodland, and beside green vineyards to arrive at Sonoma County’s Balverne and Notre Vue to meet with Alex Holman, winemaker for 5-7k case production for both labels. 

What brought Alex here in January 2019? “I’ve started other small brands for other people and I don’t like the selling part of making your own brand,” Alex admitted. “I like being the rock star finisher and dog and pony show. But trying to sell your own brand is soul crushing.”

What really attracted him to Notre Vue is the opportunity to do small lots, to work with the wide range of soils on the estate, and a diversity of grapes: “My heart’s in the small lot. I was incredibly excited to get away from just doing pinot and chard.” And he said, he’s falling in love with tannins again.

Note: Samples provided for my review.

Top Story #13 Read —
Interview: Antonella Manuli’s and Lorenzo Corino’s patented method + wines, lasagna, sustainability, and dogs

Metodo Corino goes beyond organic and biodynamic; it incorporates the best of these practices, and goes beyond them to be vegan and more. Like biodynamics, the Metodo Corino follows the phases of the moon.

“Biodynamics is yesterday,” says Lorenozo. But the moon is eternal: “I trust the moon. The moon is very important. When a new moon, the vines grow faster. The moon is something we know well and follow.” Harvest this year began with the full moon on Tuesday, September 1.

Later in the interview Lorenzo said, “To create perfection goes from the ground up: “Soil is an organism and you have to try not to disturb too much,” says Lorenzo. “Tilling is disturbing. It is much better to work with herbs or to mulch the soil. Of course it takes longer and the yield is a bit lower.” 

Honestly, his Nebbiolo was possibly my favorite wine of 2020 — and we wrote about 350-500 wines in 156 posts. This interview was certainly memorable as were the wines and the meal we paired with them. While these wines are not inexpensive, they are as good or better than many others I’ve tasted that cost quite a bit more.

Note: Samples for my review from Verovino.

 

October (23 posts total with 3 chosen for the Top 20 of 2020)

Top Story #14 Read —
Interview with Oded Shakked of Longboard plus #MerlotMe with Dakine Vineyard at the Bees Knees

“My ego is not in the wine,” says Longboard’s Oded Shakked in a recent interview held in his tasting room and winery in Healdsburg. “My passion is in the wine.” Oded’s passion for wine came about through his passion for surfing. After surfing breaks along the Atlantic Coast in Bordeaux (“there’s big waves in Bordeaux!”), Spain and Portugal, he was the one sent into town to get their jug of wine.

Of the wine business, Oded says, “It’s the perfect combination of art, science, agriculture, and philosophy.” He enjoys all aspects from driving a fork lift to designing the labels. Of the actual winemaking process, he says with a laugh, “I’m not a winemaker, I’m a vinegar stopper!”

Note: Sample provided for my review.

The view at Pacific View

Top Story #15 Read —
Ventura County Harvest 2020: Perspective from Clos Des Amis, Pacific View, Topa Mountain, The Ojai Vineyard

The big news this harvest in Ventura County isn’t COVID, but it’s definitely related to FEVER — FIRE and HEAT.

While an early harvest wine grape overall, the 2020 wine grape harvest is looking good so far according to owners and winemakers in Ventura County at The Ojai Vineyard, Clos Des Amis, Topa Mountain and Pacific View. By late September, just about everything was in with only some grapes destined for late harvest wines are on the vine; I’ll be out picking the Riesling at Clos des Amis on Wednesday.

With the heat spikes, 2020 harvest came early, but with a mild winter, it wasn’t a problem. Dominic O’Reilly, winemaker at Topa Mountain and Pacific View explains that “We had a very long ripening.” The mild winter, spring and summer provided the grapes a long hang time to developed flavors and complexity in the grapes, and helped the vines as well.

Read my article on the Ventura County Harvest in Ventana Monthly.

Note: Samples provided for my review.

Top Story #16 Read —
Napa’s Charles Krug Hosts PG&E and MusiKaravan Post #GlassFire

California is a pyrogenic landscape. That means it is prone to and defined by FIRE. The indigenous plants and people here co-evolved with fire, using fire to create a complex and diverse mosaic of plants for food, shelter, and forage for animals. But between climate change and the encroachment of development into the wild, fires are more damaging and destructive than ever.

Amidst the devastation, Napa’s Charles Krug hosted first responders and PG & E crews — and Musikaravan too! While the goal fo playing for them didn’t work out as planned, other opportunities presented themselves. Musikaravan’s Etienne Gara and YuEun Kim played for a ZOOM virtual tasting, a wedding proposal, and more while staying there in their 1971 VW van. 

The idea was to taste and talk about the wine, and then the duo would determine a song to pair with the wine, play it, and record it. They are in conversation with Warner Classics to produce a CD about the MusiKaravan project which would use recordings from the various site, including one or more from spaces at Charles Krug, like the library and the barrel room. 

Note: Sample provided for my review.I also have more samples to write about when the CD comes out! 

 

November (16 posts) 

Smith-Madrone’s Stu Smith almost lost it all in the #Glassfire but got lucky and may only have lost part of the vintage.

Top Story #17 Read —
Post #GlassFire Interview with Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone plus 3 wines with pairings and a helping of gratitude

Stu Smith observed that the Glass Fire found access by roaring through dry creek beds to burn down historic buildings, wineries, businesses, vineyards, and more:

“Fires love dry river beds, draws, it’s like an artery for a fire. It goes up from tributaries and crosses the valley. These things can get going and burn. Humbling. The word humble is an important word. When it comes to fires, if you’re not careful, it will humble you in a bad way.”

So far, the juice seems to be really good but they’re also faced with the possibility of smoke taint which can give wines a tarry, ashy, smoky or even medicinal character that most people do not like. A layer of smoky residue and even ash can rest on the skins and smoke can seep through them as well. Red wines have skin contact while generally rose and white wines do not; this means that red wines are more susceptible to smoke taint.

To address the unclean grapes, the team “washed the holy bejesus out of them,” said Stu, “and we obviously do not intend to do any extended skin contact.”

Note: Samples provided for review.

Top Story #18 Read —
Local Love: 6 Ventura County Wines from Local Vines paired with Watkins Beef, Ventura Fresh Fish

This is my 1000 post on Wine Predator– and I take readers on a tour of a few wineries around the triangle.

We thought about how grateful we are to live here in Ventura County with several wineries we love making wines from local vines all within a quick drive, and we knew what we had to do: write about home and give some local love. So speaking of drives, when you visit Ventura County wineries that feature wines made from Ventura County vines,  what you want to do is drive “the triangle” from Santa Paula to Ojai to Ventura.

 

December (22 posts)

Alice Pailard Zoom

Top Story #19 Read —
So, VOILA! Alice Paillard and Her Father’s Champagne House

“So voila!” is a favorite saying of Alice Paillard. This I learned in a recent ZOOM call with Alice, the daughter of Bruno Paillard who began his Champagne house in the 1980s where Alice grew and which Alice now runs as CEO. What was that like, I wondered, to grow up in a Champagne house?

“My parents have four children,” Alice answered, “and three of them are female.” Her parents let “us grow our own interests… I’m lucky to be the youngest one, much easier. You know you’re not taking any one’s place.” She learned the importance of thinking of wine as an adventure, as a mystery, as a living being to be respected.

“Going down to the wine cellar was like digging out treasures. The way you bring it up top and wait for hours. Respect for the work of the wine, whoever made it, and nourished it.”

Note: Samples provided for my review.\

Top Story #20 Read — St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil’s Amirault “Le Vau Renou” 2016 Cabernet Franc

On a crisp fall morning in the Before Time, Sue Hill and I set out from our Air BnB with views of the castle of Montreuil-Belay near the heart of the Loire in the Cabernet Franc growing region of Saumur. Prepared once again for rain showers, we had no idea what else the day might bring beyond meeting with Xavier Amirault at Les Quarterones and hopefully tasting his wines. With this being the end of harvest, we knew he might be needed and we had no idea what might happen with the weather.

Note: Samples provided for our review.

Top Story TIE Bonus Read — Beyond Prosecco: Try These Sustainable Sparkling Wines from Italy’s Erbaluce, Franciacorta, Lambrusco, Pignoletto

Bubbles in Italian sparkling wine range from frizzante to seafoam to rambunctious and brief to long lasting. Some wines, like those made in the charmat method, are intended to be enjoyed immediately as are some made in the traditional method, while others can be laid down for as long as you can imagine– or can wait!

While many of the Italian Sparkling wine houses you’ll find in the US are huge commercial operations, others, like those imported by Verovino, are small family businesses.

In this introduction to Italian Sparkling Wines Beyond Prosecco, we will focus on wines made from the latter, small family businesses doing regenerative agriculture and using sustanainble, organic, and biodnamic practices. Join me next week for Prosecco DOC and DOCG!

In this post, we taste and pair three white sparkling wines from three areas of northern Italy plus three red ones from Lambrusco made from the Salamino grape. Following a morning ZOOM with VeroVinoGusto owner and importer Sheila Donahue with Bugno Martino in Lambrusco, Sheila joined Sue and I for a wine pairing dinner with those three red sparkling and three white ones.

Note: These wines were provided by Verovino for my review.

 

As mentioned a few times above, we published 156 posts in 2020.

We wrote about Italian wines about twice a month.
2020 Top 20: Italy —  5 

We wrote about French wines about twice a month.
2020 Top 20: France — 7

We wrote about Californian wines about 3-4 times a month.
2020 Top 20: California — 11

We also wrote about wines from Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, Oregon, Washington, Moldova, Slovenia, South Africa. Tasmania, Austria, Germany… to name a few! 

JIC you’re curious, the most read post of 2020 was published in July 2019: 5 Wines from Spain Paired With Paella: Red, White, Cava, Rosado?

Of the posts I published in 2020, here’s the one with the most views: What’s Up With The 2020 World Wine Tasting Challenge: where, who, how.

Thank you for reading! Happy New Year! And please subscribe! 

 

 

 

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