A sommelier I am not (yet). But what I can call myself is an avid lover of wine, with a passion for popping corks that could rival the best pin-lapeled experts around the globe. My travels have always included bringing home a wine bottle–a kind of memento that may not last very long but still forever connects me to a place. Through this collection, and a constant desire to learn more about the terroirs around the world where vines grow, I’ve established quite a few bottle rotations that I always go back to, whether I’m hosting a gathering, looking to pair my dinner with a glass, or just nostalgic for a place across oceans.
A recap of every bottle I’ve enjoyed would be longer than any reasonable time permits, but in my novice knowledge of memorable bottles that highlight the world’s wine regions, I’ll start with these promising picks.
The Region: Stellenbosch, Western Cape
I’m ashamed to admit that though I’ve been to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s acclaimed wine region, I did not visit one vineyard due to time constraints. I’ve more than made up for that, however, by exploring the region’s wines over the past two years from the comfort of my own couch.
2018 Beeslaar Pinotage ($45) I recently joined a virtual tasting with One&Only Cape Town’s head sommelier, Luvo Ntezo, where I learned more about South Africa’s famed grape, pinotage, a mix of pinot noir and cinsault grapes. This one from Beeslaar is a fine example of what pinotage is capable of: full bodied, luscious, and oak-driven, with a symphony of dark cherry and chocolate notes. This is the type of red you’ll want to savor in a robe by a fireplace.
Varietals: pinot noir and chardonnay
Boschendal Grande Cuvée Brut ($20) Get a taste of South Africa’s approach to creating sparkling wine, called méthode cap classique, with this bottle of bubbly. Made from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, it’s lively with citrus and brioche flavors.
The Region: Mendoza
Varietal: malbec blend
Malbec and Argentina are synonymous, with the grape making up nearly half of the country’s wine exports. Grapes are grown in high-yielding farmlands and rocky, elevated terrain to produce a wine that is velvety and fruit forward.
Trapiche Iscay Malbec-Cabernet Franc ($70) There will never be a more tried-and-true red that I come back to, whether it be to pair with a juicy steak or simply relish in its harmonious blend. It appears like dark purple ink in the glass, with aromas of blueberry and violets. The taste of plum and a subtle vanilla is complex, restrained, and lingering. The family-owned Trapiche brand also has a Finca Coletto malbec that’s a loyal friend in my wine cabinet.
Germany is home to 13 wine regions with a number of grapes and styles, including spätburgunder (aka pinot noir), dornfelder, silvaner, and, of course, riesling produced along the winding banks of the Mosel River. There is a whole world of sparkling (sekt) German wines, too, made from pinot noir and riesling varieties.
The Region: Rheingau
Rheingau: 2019 Spreitzer Riesling Trocken (dry) Rheingau ($17) I was traumatized by overly sweet rieslings so early on in my wine journey that I didn’t give them another go until recently. I’m glad I did, because this dry riesling from Spreitzer is not only a great price point but also dry enough for a finish that lingers, with an intense minerality and on the palate, green apples and peach.
The Region: Ahr
Ahr: 2019 Meyer-Näkel “Estate” Pinot Noir Ahr ($37) Sister winemakers Meike and Dörte Näkel rely on the deep slopes of Germany’s northernmost Ahrn terrain to create this red fruit-forward pinot noir, with flavors of thyme and black plum and an elegant minerality. The Näkels are among the few women winemakers in the region and are producing a number of incredible varietals, including a pinot noir–based rosé.
The Region: Rheinhessen
2018 Freitag “Naked Friday” Rot (Dornfelder) Rheinhessen($27) If you’ve never tasted dornfelder wine, let this bottle be your reason. After pinot noir, the grape is the second most grown grape in Germany, and has a velvety, black fruit flavor that is typically oaked. This bottle is produced by Philipp Freitag, who is often referred to as one of the best natural winemaking producers in the region. This particular wine serves up black fruits with lots of grip. Enjoy with tapas, especially salty cured meats and cheeses.
The Region: Burgenland, Austria
Varietal: blaufränkisch, zweigelt
Austria is best-known for its refreshing white wines made from riesling and grüner veltliner, but red wine lovers should also note the earthy reds produced from zweigelt and blaufränkisch grapes in the region. Most vineyards in the country are located east of the Alps, along the borders of Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, with a topography that includes steep mountainsides and fertile valleys.
Weingut Pittnauer “Pitti” ($19) I first discovered this natural wine by way of Austria from Vine Drop, a company that works with sommeliers to offer natural, organic, and biodynamic wines for purchase via daily text messages. Winemakers Brigit and Gerhard Pittnauer tend about 40 acres of vineyards in Austria’s and all work is done manually. This delicious red is ripe with complex flavors of blackberries and mint, with medium acidity and tannins with a bite.
The Region: Napa Valley, California
Varietal: cabernet sauvignon
Taub Family Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) Another cold winter night pick, this cab comes from the heart of Napa Valley’s Rutherford region, well-known for its gravelly and sandy soil that produces concentrated wines with fine, dusty tannins. Taub Family’s cab is a true expression of the region’s terrain with aromas of blueberries and plum, and a complex mouthfeel and lengthy finish.
I’m not here to argue which wine region in France is the best, dear reader, only that the country certainly has much to offer. Bordeaux, the Rhone and Loire Valleys, Provence, Burgundy, and even the far too little celebrated Jura region have delighted my mouth, again and again. Which is why this list is wide-reaching (but delicious).
The Region: Burgundy
Varietals: chardonnay and pinot noir
The motherland of pinot noir (bourgogne rouge) and chardonnay (bourgogne blanc), this is where you go when you want to dance with more coy flavors of red, rather than a heavy bodied cabernet sauvignon or syrah. The terroir in Burgundy is the most critical aspect that influences its wine, and many viogniers (winemakers) allow the land to lead the way—from the climate to the varied clay and limestone soils that make the region’s varietals so complex and memorable.
Domaine Matrot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2019 ($29) This fruity chardonnay, produced on 30-year-old vines near the appellation of Meursault, is a good accompaniment to oysters, grilled fish, or chicken.
Vincent Girardin Pommard Vieilles Vignes 2018 ($67) Grapes come from the village of Pommard in the south of the Côte de Beaune, between Beaune and Volnay. The dark garnet color is a precursor to its black currant aromas. Pair this beauty with game or hard cheeses, and let it breathe first for a few hours.
Albert Bichot Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé ($36) This creamy sparkling wine is a blend of gamay, chardonnay, and pinot noir. It pops, literally, with juicy strawberries on the nose and palate that set the tone for a summer picnic.
The Region: Alsace
Varietal: pinot noir
This region in northeastern France that borders Germany and Switzerland is best-known for floral white wines that include dry riesling, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer.
Domaine Marcel Deiss Alsace Rouge ($25) Known as a bit of a troublemaker in the best way possible, vigneron Jean-Michel Deiss moves to his own rhythm in winemaking by employing the old Alsatian-wine growing tradition that lets the terroir—rather than grape-cloning—lead the way. The result is memorable, low-yield wines from the region. This pinot noir expresses Alsace’s clay-limestone terroir with silky tannins and flavors of dried red fruits. Pair it with a grilled steak and your mouth will thank you.
The Region: Northern Rhône
Varietals: syrah, viognier, roussanne
Jean-Baptiste Souillard Saint-Joseph Janoune ($98) Calling all syrah lovers: this one’s for you. Souillard is a vigneron who employs low intervention in the production of reds and whites. Many of his vines in the Northern Rhône are grown on granite-based hillsides that will allow the climate to give it structure and bright acidity. This syrah is jammy, with gravelly flavors of plum and earth. Enjoy it with gouda, grilled vegetables, or slow-roasted pork shoulder.
The Region: Morgon/Beaujolais
Albert Bichot Morgon “Les Charmes” ($30) If you’ve seen the film Uncorked on Netflix, then you also saw how enamored the main character—a master sommelier in training—was with Bichot’s chablis. Though I have yet to get my hands on that same bottle, I have tried Bichot’s beautiful Les Charmes a Beaujolais, made from the gamay grape. The deep purple wine exudes the elegance of a fleshy, fruity beaujolais with hints of smoke and clove. Chill it for half an hour first and serve it with a hearty plate of barbecued ribs or roasted duck.
The Region: Provence
Château Miraval Rosé 2020 ($28) Yes, rosé has quickly become massively produced and as trendy as avocado toast and goat milk, but there are still delicious, traditional bottles of it, and this is one of them. Made from cinsault, grenache, syrah, and rolle grapes grown at a high altitude on clay and limestone soils, Miraval has flavors of red berries and lemon. I like to pair its light minerality with oysters and a flaky crust of bread.
The Region: Champagne
Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV ($91) Located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the most prized Grand Cru Villages of the Côté des Blancs, this champagne is made with a very restrained dosage so that the purity of the chardonnay grapes shines through. The result is a crisp acidity with flavors of lemon zest and green apples.
The Region: Sancerre
Varietal: sauvignon blanc, pinot noir
Saget La Perrière Sancerre ($40) With six properties spread across the Loire Valley, Saget La Perrière has a number of diverse terroirs to choose from. The La Perrière Sancerre offers a harmony of mineral and grassy aromas from the region’s flinty soils, with the flavors of grapefruit and honey. Pair with a light salad or grilled fish.
Domaine Delaporte Sancerre Rouge 2016 ($43) I lucked out and had a glass of this at a restaurant in Burgundy, which led to a mad dash to find bottles to take home. Domaine Delaporte is a family-owned producer located in Sancerre’s quaint Chavignol village. This red is crafted for pinot noir vines grown in clay, sandy flint, and limestone soil. Each sip offers ripe red fruits like cherry and raspberry, with aromas of coffee bean and even cinnamon. Roasted meats and aged cheeses are its perfect accompaniments.
The Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Varietal: pinot noir, chardonnay
If you’re a fan of pinot noir, you’ve likely heard about the notable wines that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is producing, many of which are receiving worldwide acclaim (and cost less than a bottle of burgundy). This is because the valley’s cool climate allows the delicate pinot noir grape to take its time to develop into softer, fruit-forward and earthy wines. That cooler climate and rocky volcanic soil also produces leaner chardonnays that veer away from some of the overly oaky bottles coming out of California.
Penner-Ash Pinot Noir 2018 ($80) A collective “whoa” was the response I received when I shared this wine with my family, and I felt bad for any bottle that was to come afterward. A remarkable reflection of Willamette Valley’s terroir, with aromas of chamomile tea and earth, and on the palate, delicate boysenberries and orange peel. Sublime, really.
Gran Moraine Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton 2018 ($45) This vintage was hand-harvested during a crisp autumn, producing whole cluster grapes that were settled then transferred to French oak barrels. The result is a wine that tastes of tangerine and starfruit, with an acidity on the finish that pairs perfectly with a roasted chicken and vegetables.