Our Favorite Wines We Drank in 2021

For our final wine panel of 2021, we asked our panelists to recall and rate their favorite wines that they drank during the past year. Holiday season is a time of celebration, so this list recognizes the best bottles — any vintage, any style — that we tasted in the last 12 months.

As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a rating and the wine’s retail price (which can vary from store to store and market to market). Unless noted otherwise, the price reflects a 750-ml. bottle. If you’re a beverage professional with a specialty in wine and you’re interested in participating in the panel, please contact Editor Kyle Swartz at 763-383-4447, or email him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com.

Rating System

Five Stars (100-92): A top-flight wine, superior in taste and character, and providing a superior price/value ratio.

Four Stars (91-86): A very good wine and an excellent value. A wine for which customers will keep coming back.

Five Star Wines

(99+) Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan 1953 (France)

Michael Broadbent, one the first Masters of Wine, declared the ‘53 Haut-Brion as one of his favorite wines of the 20th Century. Sixty-eight years after the harvest, the wine still shows outstanding power, with plenty of finesse as well. It still possesses dark fruit characteristics, with a spicy, meaty complexity. The finish was long, leaving echoes of its superb complexity and quality. (If you can find it.)

(98) Patria Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (CA)

From rockstar winemaker Tony Biaggi arrives this gorgeous cabernet sauvignon. Aromas of toasted marshmallow, plum blossom and espresso emerge from the glass seductively. Laying down a palate-coating layer of love, exposing flavors of crushed raspberries, blackberry and chocolate before surrendering to a deep, lengthy finish, kissed with notes of maraschino cherries and lilacs. A brilliant wine that will reward those who seek it out. ($100)

(98) Pierre Peters Les Chetillons Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2013 (France)

From hallowed grounds in Les Mesnil, this elixir has no comparison. A sleek, stern and chiseled 100% Champagne with tension, minerality and a finish that will haunt you into the next year. Worth every penny. ($165)

(97) Herdade do Rocim Terracotta Clay Aged Tinto 2017 (Portugal)

A blend of Portuguese and international red grape varieties, the wine is fermented in traditional large stone lagars. After fermentation, the wine is aged in large clay amphorae, eliminating any introduction of oak tannins. The wine is rich, yet supple, with good quantities of black fruit, and traces of spice. The excellent weight and texture are balanced by the brightness of the fruit, as well as the lengthy finish. Outstanding. ($50)


(97) Chateau Ste. Michelle, Artist Series Red Blend 2018 (WA)

A little more than two-thirds of the blend is cabernet sauvignon, with merlot comprising most of the remainder. Vintage conditions allowed for long and complete ripening of the grapes, allowing for a wine of power and elegance. The dark saturated fruit is balanced by good acidity, contributing to mouthfeel and food pairing. A great wine: drink it if you’d like, but aging will be generously rewarded. ($65).

(97) Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Tondonia Reserva 2007 (Spain)

One of the most iconic wineries in Rioja, Lopez de Heredia makes wines that age for many decades. Leather and spice on the nose, with elegant red fruit on the palate, and a tangy zip of acidity. The wine is lovely now and may very well outlive you. ($50)

(97) DiamAndes de Uco, Malbec-Cabernet Grande Reserve 2015 (Argentina)

The vineyards providing the grapes for this 75% malbec/25% cabernet sauvignon blend are three-quarters of a mile above sea level, keeping the wine’s acidity in balance with its other components. Brilliant dark ruby, with plenty of red berry and cherry fruit, accented by spice and vanilla notes. Very nicely balanced, with good weight, texture and structure. ($34.99)

(97) Sullivan Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (CA)

The wine has medium-plus intensity with flavors of blackberry, currant and cherry. Soft and chewy palate with whiffs of milk chocolate, lavender and blue fruit. Seamless finish with tinges of dusty minerality, vanilla bean and cedar. ($90)

(96) The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir Sisters 2017 (OR)

The Willamette Valley’s OG winery shows with this release that they are still at the very top of their game. Pretty red fruits dominate the palate, with Eyrie’s signature unctuousness and a pleasant amount of toast. Drink now through 2050. ($45)

(96) Sadi Mallot Les Cretes Brut Blanc de Blanc Champagne NV (France)

Fresh flavors of crisp green apple, slight biscuit toastiness. Overall beautifully balanced Champagne, with a long finish. Perfect with or without food. ($47)

(96) Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019 (South Africa)

This chardonnay is always one of the most complex and satisfying wines. This vintage did not disappoint. Lively acidity, savory butter notes and intertwined floral notes offer a twist of Burgundy and Napa Valley by way of South Africa. ($42)

(96) Villa Brunesca Chardonnay delle Venezie 2015 (Italy)

This particular bottle has some age on it, but the body, fruit (touch of white peach) and elegance are still there. There is some minerality, almost nuttiness. ($15)

(96) Vistalba Corte B (Argentina)

A lovely blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and bonarda, primarily sourced from vines 70+ years old. A deep bright garnet in the glass, the nose and palate showcase the quality and complexity of this finely crafted wine. Plenty of dark stone fruit on the nose and palate, exceptional weight and texture, with a long, lingering finish. ($24.99)

(96) Izadi Reserva 2016 (Spain)

By all accounts the 2016 vintage in Spain is the best in over 20 years. This tempranillo is exquisite, with light earth and spice, luscious deep berry, and smooth-but-firm tannins. Small production. Grab it if you can find it! ($27)

(96) Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (CA)

A powerful, multifaceted style of cabernet. The tannins are certainly present, but the fruit and acidity are easily up to the task of keeping the wine in balance, and accessible. This wine can be laid down to age. But is ready to please your customers, if they’d like to enjoy its superb characteristics, sooner, rather than later. ($49.99)

(96) Roland Champion Blanc de Blanc Special Club Grand Cru 2016 (France)

Made only in exceptional years by a select group of artisanal winemakers. Stunning aromas of poached Asian pear and fresh baked brioche leap from the glass, while notes of baked apple and lemon seduce the palate. The long, luxurious finish completes the experience wonderfully. A mesmerizing wine that should be sought out for any lover of Champagne. ($90)

(95) Guillemont-Michel Vire-Clesse Quintaine 2018 (France)

South of Burgundy, in a small commune known as Quitaine, seductive chardonnay can be discovered. Beautiful aromas of lemon blossom, candied apple and almond billow from the glass. A generous core of ripe, exotic fruit fills the mouth, surrendering to a silky smooth finish. Burgundy-lovers will enjoy the tremendous value this bottle delivers. ($30)

(95) Alta Nova Cabernet 2016 (CA)

This Napa Valley wine starts strong with violet, cherry and peppery notes that emanate from the glass to your nose. Raw power and minerality on the palate offer a complex ripe mix of red and black fruits, complimented by the smooth texture. ($69.99)

(95) Winzerin Birgit Wiederstein Ana Blume 27 Senses 2019 (Austria)

100% Harslevelu, Austria. Crisp, toasty nutty notes, very unique on the palate. Pleasant mouthwatering acidity, and lingering finish. Youthful but complex. ($20.)

(95) Bougetz Amaryllis Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (CA)

Bright flavors of thick black fruits of currant and cassis load into the palate with nice viscosity. The mid-palate is full with excellent structure that is ensconced by layers of cherry vanilla, cedar and exotic spice. ($65)

(95) Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (CA)

The wine has medium-plus intensity with flavors of currant and crunchy black cherries. The palate is beautifully balanced with a finish of lavender, Asian spice, tobacco and cigar box. TLC (Textured, Layered, Complex). ($60)

(95) Fuhrgassl-Huber Wiener Gemischter Satz 2019 (Austria)

This is a field blend of gruner veltliner, riesling, weisburgunder, welschriesling, neuburger, chardonnay, traminer; crisp, super exciting. Notes of green apple, floral nose, this is one of the wines that makes you think and throw everything you know about single-varietal wines out the window. Youthful now, drink this one in the next year or two. ($14)

(95) Sea Floored Pinot Noir 2018 (CA)

El Pino Club was born with the idea of letting a group of winemakers create pinot noirs from wherever they choose and without restrictions. The results are amazing. A dusty, earthy nose sprinkled with hints of rose and mocha creates a captivating start, while notes of blueberry, blackberry and cocoa powder lay down a silky layer on the palate. Finishing long and smooth with a whisper of forest floor to complete the experience. Hard to find much better in the pinot world at such an easy price. ($45)

(95) Dr. Konstantin Frank Brut 2017 (NY)

This pioneering, upstate New York winery is famous for planting some of the more esoteric wine varieties. This sparkler is produced, however, from the traditional Champagne varieties. Extended aging provides complexity, as well as finesse. Bright and clean on the nose and palate, the finish is exceptionally long and balanced. ($24.99)

(94) Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvée 2017 (CA)

A small majority of pinot noir adds depth and body to this lovely, balanced Carneros sparkler. Chardonnay and a touch of pinot gris provide brightness, and a touch of balance. Wonderfully food friendly, the fruit and touch of spice propel the wine to another level of quality. ($36.99)

(94) Tania & Vincent Careme Terre Brulee Chenin Blanc 2019 (South Africa)

A chenin blanc that drinks like a chablis? Yep, it exists. Slight oxidative nutty quality; drink now. ($15)

(94) Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2019 (CA)

A masterful combination of rich and bright. There is a gentle creaminess that is guided by acidity and light notes of Granny Smith apple across your palate. This wine is so elegant and satisfying, it could be the main course for any occasion. ($33)

(94) Maritana La Riviere Chardonnay 2017 (CA)

Ripe yet refined flavors of yellow peach and apple are prevalent on the bouquet. The palate shows green apple and pear with a nice round mid-palate that offers hints of lemon drop and citrus. The finish gives whiffs of salinity, butterscotch and oak. ($50)

(94) Inama Carbonare Soave Classico 2018 (Italy)

Crafted from older vines in a site adjacent to a river with lots of basalt. A textured ethereal white, with a freshness, complexity and minerality that won’t be ignored. Likely the best garganega you’ll ever taste. ($21.99)

(94) Henri Bourgegois Sancerre, Les Baronnes 2020 (France)

This is such an approachable Sancerre. Right down the middle of the palate with ripe fruit notes balanced with Sancerre minerality. Youthful. Kept reaching for this again. ($24)

(94) Old Soul Petite Sirah 2018 (CA)

Very well-made, estate-grown, sustainably farmed (certified green) wine from a fifth-generation vineyard. Starting with fragrant notes of black rose petal and violet on the nose, through subtle dark berry and currant flavors, it finishes with a touch of wild blackberry and mocha on the lingering finish. One of the finest examples of this underrated grape made in California. ($13.99)

(93) Old Soul Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2019 (CA)

Outstanding example of an old vine zin, from a sustainably farmed, estate-grown, fifth-generation winery. Deep, rich black plum and dark raspberry flavors with a silky, lush mouthfeel. The nose carries hints of lavender and a bit of soft clove. Great value! ($16.99)

(93) Decoy Limited Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (CA)

An absolutely delightful addition to the Duckhorn portfolio. There is deep rich berry fruit and beautifully rounded tannins, giving this cabernet a long and lingering finish with a subtle touch of vanilla at the very end.  ($28)

(93) Justin Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (CA)

From one of California’s best and most consistent cab producers. Big, rich black plum and currant flavors with a fragrant nose of dark rose and violet. Nice finish of berry. Great value (if this was from Napa it would be considerably more). ($21.99)

(93) Macchia Mischievous Zinfandel 2020 (CA)

The aromas show the beautiful use of oak integrated with the powerful fruit. Rushing the palate with ripe raspberry, cranberry and hints of menthol, the finish extends with dried currants and cranberries. ($24.99)

(93) Hall Ranch Cabernet 2019 (CA)

An elegant cabernet packed full of dark cherry notes with a crackling acidity that dances from the mid-palate to the finish. The oak and tannins give the smooth texture impressive grip and depth without overpowering the fruit. ($22.99)

(93) 1858 Merlot 2019 (CA)

Dark raspberry and strawberry notes are plush, and fly across the palate with a chocolate character, giving the wine more definition and fun. There is an uplifting and interesting spicy note, and the finish is powerful with bright fruit notes that are lengthy. ($27.99)

(93) Chateau Landat Haut Medoc 2016 (France)

Deep, dark, black fruit and blueberries are aromatically powerful and very smooth on the palate. A subtle herbal character is laced throughout the wine, with bright acidity adding to the complexity. ($24.99)

(93) Abbona Nebbiolo Langhe 2020 (Italy)

A beautiful, intense nebbiolo that gives elegant, bright and slightly peppery aromas, with a rich raspberry grippy texture. The balance of complex fruit and approachable texture defines the wine as fresh and complex that will overdeliver with every sip. ($24.99)

(92) Ryer Estate Chardonnay 2020 (CA)

Beautiful ripe green apple, peach and citrus flavors lift the nose and palate and give the wine a zippy edge. Oak notes come in strong, mix with the fruit, and give the wine a tasty balance. ($11.99)

(92) Ryer Estate Cabernet 2020 (CA)

Elegant and strong blackberries, pepper and oak notes are all brought together with a silky texture. The feel and balance make this ripe, plush cab greater than the sum of its parts at a terrific value. ($11.99) BD

(93) Four Bears Pinot Noir 2019 (CA)

Opens with delicate aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry and pomegranate, accented by hints of vanilla and toast, and a silky mouthfeel. ($13)

(92) Hayes Valley Cabernet 2019 (CA)

Medium-bodied; ripe cherry and raspberry backed up with just enough acidity to leave you craving for more. ($10.99)

(92) Double Black Zinfandel 2020 (CA)

Dark berry flavors are the star of the show, accompanied by hints of black pepper, and lighter cranberry notes. The pepper gets spicy on the finish, helping give texture while making this wine standout. ($15.99)

(92) Ryer Estate Chardonnay 2020 (CA)

Beautiful ripe green apple, peach and citrus flavors lift the nose and palate and give the wine a zippy edge. Oak notes come in strong, mix with the fruit, and give the wine a tasty balance. ($11.99)

(92) Gattavecchi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2020 (Italy)

While the white flower notes draw you in, the citrus flavors are front and center with a gorgeous flinty tone in the background. The acidity along with a smooth texture is lovely and calls out for a nice pecorino cheese. ($15.99)

(92) District Series Chardonnay 2020 (CA)

A full-flavored and rich wine that oozes mango, grapefruit and pineapple tropical notes. Hints of honey and a healthy oak characteristic give the fruit flavors a depth and structure that raise it to another level. ($13.99)

(92) Kupelwieser Pinot Grigio 2020 (Italy)

Minerals upon minerals push the white flower, green apple and pear notes that are bright and intense. The texture is dominated by acidity and minerality that are delightfully clean and shine from start to finish. ($13.49)

(92) Double Black Cabernet 2020 (CA)

Strong black raspberry, cranberry and blackberry flavors dominate the wine. An orange-peel hint in the background, along with a creamy texture, makes it all come together to a delightful plush finish. ($15.99) BD

(92) Chateau Lague Fronsac 2018 (France)

Full bodied and fresh, this Fronsac is elegant and punchy, with black cherry and raspberry notes that jump out of the glass on the nose and go to the palate. Complex and rich, the tannins are grippy and meld the beautiful fruit into a nice savory finish. ($14.99)

(92) Guy Mousset Cotes du Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2020 (France)

A rich initial attack on the nose and palate of raspberry, cherry and spice notes that smooths out towards the finish. The soft tannins and bright acidity push the fine fruit on and on. ($14.99)

(92) Ryer Estate Cabernet 2020 (CA)

Elegant and strong blackberries, pepper and oak notes are all brought together with a silky texture. The feel and balance make this ripe, plush cab greater than the sum of its parts at a terrific value. ($11.99)


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