In honor of our 100th episode, we wanted to create something special. So, we turned to some of our most opinionated staff editors to collect 100 recommendations for wines we love.
Whether it’s a special occasion, an achievement earned, a milestone reached or just plain-old making it through a Monday, we talk about some of our favorite pours to pop and enjoy right now to make every moment, no matter how big or small, deliciously count.
From Baja Garnacha and Special Club Champagne to Riesling from all around the globe and stellar South African pours of all types and styles, it’s such an exciting time to be a wine lover, with so many wonderful bottles to try and stories behind them.
Listen up to learn more, or check out our cheat sheet of the wines included in this episode below, listed in order of appearance.
The 100 Wines Included in our 100th Episode
La Lomita (Pagano Grenache)
Riesling Around the World:
Julien Schaal (Volcanique Rangen Grand Cru and Granite Sommerberg Grand Cru); Alsace, France
Hermann J. Wiemer (Bio Riesling, Dry Riesling, Reserve Dry Riesling, Cuvée Brut and Extra Brut); Finger Lakes, NY
Dopff & Irion; Alsace, France
Red Newt Cellars (Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling); Finger Lakes, NY
Domaine Barmès-Buecher (Liemental Vineyard); Alsace, France
Domaine Gresser (Moenchberg Grand Cru); Alsace, France
Fox Run (Silvan Riesling); Finger Lakes, NY
Forge Cellars; Finger Lakes, NY
Keuka Springs (Humphreys Vineyard Riesling); Finger Lakes, NY
Sans Wine Co; Napa, California
Peter Zemmer; Alto Adige, Italy
Domäne Wachau; Wachau, Austria
Trefethen; Napa, CA
Tatomer; Santa Barbara, CA
Navarro (Late Harvest Riesling); Anderson Valley, CA
Tattoo Girl; Columbia Valley, WA
Chateau Ste. Michelle (Riesling, Dry Riesling and Eroica Riesling in partnership with Dr. Loosen); Woodinville, WA
Pacific Rim; Columbia Valley, WA
Willamette Valley Vineyards; Willamette Valley, OR
Ridgecrest; Willamette Valley, OR
Ovum; Willamette Valley, OR
Von Buhl (Riesling Brut); Pfalz, Germany
Dr. Konstantin Frank (Semi-Dry Riesling and Nature Méthode Champenoise Riesling); Finger Lakes, NY
Pewsey Vale; Eden Valley, Australia
Special Club Champagne:
DeMorgenzon (Reserve Chenin Blanc)
Botanica (Mary Delaney Chenin Blanc)
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, Emily Saladino, Layla Schlack, Alexander Peartree, J’nai Gaither
Lauren Buzzeo 0:09
Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor at Wine Enthusiast, and in honor of making it to our 100th episode, we have something special in store. We turn to some of our most opinionated staff editors to collect 100 recommendations for wines we love. Whether it’s a special occasion, an achievement earned, a milestone reached, or just plain old making it through a Monday, we talk about some of our favorite pours to pop and enjoy right now to make every moment, no matter how big or small, deliciously count. So get ready for a lot of name dropping and making the most of your next bottle run. But also don’t worry about taking notes. We have the full list of all the recs available on the episode page at winemag comm/podcast. So let’s jump into it.
To kick things off on our journey to 100 wines, I’m going to cover some wines that I’m crushing on right now. Well, maybe more like always. If you know me or you listen to this podcast with some regularity, then you’ve probably picked up that I am a huge fan of South African wine, and perhaps also Chenin Blanc in particular. I may or may not be enjoying a glass of Ken Forester FMC, De Morgenzon Reserve or Botanica Mary Delaney Chenin right now. But the overall high quality versatility, attractive price points and supurb site expressions make South Africa a wine region with just oh so much to offer and discover. I recently had the pleasure of tasting the latest batch of wines created for auction by the Cape Winemakers Guild, or CWG for short. It’s an association of South Africa’s best winemakers. Established in 1982, the CWG was formed to promote education, exploration and collaboration among South African winemakers. Membership is by invitation and is only extended to established winemakers that are recognized for their high standards and consistent quality of wine. Now, the CWG auction wines are not necessarily the easiest to get your hands on. But there are plenty of other bottlings made by these exceptional winemakers that could be found at your favorite quality wine retailer. The 43 Cape Winemakers Guild members for 2021 currently contribute their skills to a wide variety of beautiful brands that are all worth seeking out and tasting today. So, alphabetically listed, they are AA Badenhorst Family Wines, Alheit Vineyards, Ataraxia, Bartho Eksteen, Beaumont Family Wines, Beeslaar Wines, Boekenhoutskloof, Boplaas, Boschkloof, Bouchard Finlayson, Cederberg, Crystallum Wines, David & Nadia Wine, David Finlayson Wines, De Grendel Wines, De Trafford Wines, Delaire Graff Estate, Ernie Els Vineyards, Gabriëlskloof, Gottfried Mocke Wine Projects, Graham Beck Wines, Grangehurst Winery, Groot Constantia Estate, Hartenberg Estate, Jordan Wine Estate (Jardin), Kanonkop, Leeu Passant, Lismore Estate Vineyards, Luddite Wines, Miles Mossop Wines, MR de Compostella, Mullineux, Neil Ellis Wines, Newton Johnson Family Wines, Paul Cluver, Porcupine Ridge, Raats Family, Rall Wines, Rijk’s, Rust en Vrede, Saronsberg Cellar, Savage Wines, Silverthorn Wines, Simonsig, Spier, Strydom, The Chocolate Block, The Wolftrap, Villiera and Warwick Wine Estate. That was a mouthful, but I can pretty much guarantee that the quality is there and if you go and pick up any of these wines, your taste buds will definitely thank you. And now let’s turn it over to Emily Saladino to hear what she has to say on the wines that she’s crushing on.
Emily Saladino 4:27
This is Emily Saladino, Wine Enthusiast’s associate managing editor of digital. I cannot say enough enthusiastic things about Mexico in general and wines from Baja California in particular. This is a region with a Mediterranean climate and a ton of microclimates on the Pacific coast of Mexico. It’s just south of San Diego in the US. And Baja California produces something like 75% of Mexico’s wine. Some of my favorites are Solar Fortún, which is this gimmick is kind of Bendel-esque rose a with a ton of body and balance. It’s great when you’re grilling. Plus Bruma, which is a sort of experimental operation. And finally, my all time favorite is La Lomita Pagano Grenache, which is the super crunchy red wine that has an acidic peppery bite, and it is just perfect on a hot day with a slight chill. Baja wines can be hard but not impossible to find in the US. So if you spot one, definitely give it a try.
Layla Schlack 5:34
All right. And hello. It’s nice to be talking to you. This is Layla, the associate managing editor and I’m here with Alexander Peartree, our tasting director.
Alex Peartree 5:45
And we’re here to talk about, I think, our favorite grape, Riesling.
Layla Schlack 5:49
Alex Peartree 5:53
And it’s actually I think, a lot of people within the wine industry is favorite grape, but then when you’re just talking with everyday wine drinkers, it’s actually a very divisive grape. Do you find that as well?
Layla Schlack 6:11
Yes. And I find that I get a lot of people kind of like confessing to me, like kind of whispering that they really like Riesling. And like they don’t want to be judged for it. So you know, no judgement.
Alex Peartree 6:27
What’s not to like, oh my god, it’s like, it’s gorgeous. I mean, and I think what I like most about the grape is its ability to have many different expressions from racy, bone dry options, all the way to incredibly lusciously sweet. And there’s even some sparkling versions, so for a grape that offers nearly everything, how can you not like it?
Layla Schlack 6:55
Right and I mean for me so much of how I look at wine is you know what situation am I drinking this in? What am I eating with it? Food is huge for me and Riesling goes with everything. I mean, it’s got kind of that that weight and that kind of waxiness a lot of the time that helps it stand up to kind of richer, hardier dishes, but it’s got all that great acidity and those kind of light, bright fruit notes that also help it work well with lighter meals. So yeah, I mean it’s it’s kind of an all purpose, all rounder for me like there’s a reasoning for every occasion, I think.
Alex Peartree 7:34
Absolutely. And so we’re talking in pretty broad strokes here. And as someone who tastes some delicious Rieslings from France, do you have any particular bottles or producers that you’re excited about right now?
Layla Schlack 7:50
I mean, for me, you know, every time is a good time for Riesling, but for me, we’re really getting into Riesling season with the fall. A lot of the wines I’m tasting from Alsace have a lot of, and elsewhere as well, have these great crisp apple and pear notes that really work well with fall foods as well as kind of fennel and sometimes you get some ginger in there and maybe a little bit of like burnt sugar or honey. I really love Julien Schaal. So his Volcanique Rangen Grand Cru and Granite Sommerberg Grand Cru, both of those for me are pretty high on my list of like, I just can’t get enough of them. And again, they feel very seasonal. They’ve got kind of a little bit of white fig and some vetiver. And of course, that that great crisp green apple. It’s just kind of like a weeknight bottle, the Dopff & Irion is only $19. And that’s a beautiful wine. It’s lean, it’s racy, but it’s got this nice spicy fall fruit, that persimmon, the tart apples. So I mean, I could go on, but I’d love to also hear about some more from your region.
Alex Peartree 8:57
Absolutely, yeah. Well, I review the wines from New York and the Finger Lakes in particular make some incredibly world class Rieslings that I think are often kind of under the radar, but they’re they’re definitely gaining more and more traction nowadays, especially with sommeliers in the city. And just kind of understanding that wines from the Finger Lakes, Riesling from the Finger Lakes is incredibly food friendly, and to boot, the prices are really really approachable and accessible. So one of my favorites and I actually opened this bottle recently is the Hermann J. Wiemer Bio Riesling. It’s a really cool project from this iconic Finger Lakes producer, back around 2014, 2015, they started converting their vineyard over to biodynamics, which really was unheard of in the area because it’s such a cool climate with definitely a lot of humidity. It’s very difficult to bring it over to organic, let alone biodynamic practices. But they successively did that, taking away the use of herbicides, pesticides and adding in cover crops and organic fertilizers in the vineyard to improve soil health. And it really I think delivered in this wine, the Bio Riesling, that they’ve been doing for a few vintages now. It’s a pretty full bodied Riesling for the area, and definitely has that classic apple-y note, but a lot of that like savory spice that you’ve been mentioning before, that just I think adds a lot of complexity to it all.
Layla Schlack 10:49
And I actually, one that I always enjoy is just the Hermann J. Wiemer just the regular dry Riesling. You know, I feel like that’s kind of a very classic sort of Riesling drinkers’ Riesling. It’s delicious.
Alex Peartree 11:03
Yeah, it’s it’s one of their their standards, I think. And even at that entry level for them, it’s a solid example of a Finger Lakes Riesling. What I love about Riesling is actually its ability to show vineyard site and terroir really well. I know that in Alsace there’s definitely a lot of sight expression there, but even, as well, in the Finger Lakes, there’s a lot of interesting things happening with site expression. And one of my favorites, year in and year out is the Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Riesling. It’s a pretty small production wine. It’shard to find it in there pretty broad portfolio, but it’s always one of my favorites when I’m doing my blind tastings. And it’s from a vineyard that was recently planted in 2007. But it was planted to an Alsatian clone, which in the Finger Lakes, usually, most of the Riesling clones are German. And it’s planted on these gravelly, rocky soils that have very, very little topsoil. And you’ll even when you visit the vineyard, it’s just incredibly rocky, which is quite jarring for the area. But what’s actually interesting is because most people think that all of this terroir came from eons and eons ago, like people were never around at that time when it was created. But the gravelly soil was actually the result of an epic flood that happened in 1935. So not that long ago. So it’s a really cool example of terroir, but with like a new kind of twist to it.
Layla Schlack 12:50
Yeah, I mean, and that’s, you know, that’s one of the things that’s cool about your region, right? Is that like, even with the Wiemer like we were saying, there’s a difference between even just the biodynamic and the regular and some of that is site. But, right, in the New World like these these terror wars are changing, they’re not static. So it’s kind of cool to see that play out. But yeah, I mean, in Alsace, we’ve got beautiful site specificity and, you know, even within Alsace there’s a Riesling for every palate. One that I really enjoy is the Domaine Barmès-Buecher, their Liemental Vineyard, which is like, to me, it’s like fall in a glass. I mean, it’s on the nose it’s pear, it’s apple, it’s burnt sugar. It’s it’s not a sweet wine, it’s you know, on the palate, those kind of petrol notes that we all love kick in. And, of course, the acidity comes through and it’s quite dry, but it’s got these kind of rich notes and then, you know, Domaine Gresser’s Moenchberg Grand Cru has all this beautiful fresh anise and fennel and also a little bit of some honey characteristics. But while there are these kind of characteristics that are a thread through these wines, they’re all so distinct depending where they’re grown. And so it’s a really cool way to explore a place you know? To be able to get these different sites and these different soils and learn what it’s like there.
Alex Peartree 14:13
Absolutely. Another variation on Riesling, I find is barrel influence versus no barrel influence. And I know that you have examples like that in Alsace, but there even are examples like that here in the Finger Lakes as well. Most of the wines most of the reasonings in the Finger Lakes are stainless steel fermented and they only see time in stainless steel making them very crisp, fruity, very bright acid, which they’re lovely. But there are a few like Fox Run’s Sylvan Riesling, many examples from Forge Cellars and Keuka Springs Humphreys Vineyard Riesling, and these see time in barrels. Either in fermentation or after to age, and to me the barrel influence helps round out Riesling’s inherent acidity a bit, and then adding in really nice details of those spice notes that I think just play well with the peachy, apple-y fruit that Riesling has.
Layla Schlack 15:24
Yeah and I think that texture that’s added from the barrel is makes is part of what makes a great ageworthy Riesling. I assume most of our listeners know that Riesling can age very beautifully, but if if you don’t, now you know. If you get a good Riesling by a second bottle to lay it down because it does really beautiful things over time and you know and those are a little bit different depending on the structure of the wine but certainly that barrel influence helps give them that structure that will age nicely and it’s fun because we do see so many producers not just in our regions but around the world putting their stamp on this grape I mean we’ve got the Sans Riesling cans from California and those are just, throw them in your bag and you’re good to go. It’s a beautiful wine especially, again to go back to this fall theme you know, go for a nice hike, do some leaf peeping and you’ve got this really refreshing crisp wine in the can to bring with you. I’ve also been having fun exploring like the Rieslings from from northern Italy right like that’s an Alpine region Ottawa TJ that’s that’s in the Alps too, so I like the Peter Zemmer I think is really fun and that to me is much more springy. It’s a lot more of that kind of peach, apricot, flower thing going on. And you know, Austria is also kind of right there in terms of climate and they don’t produce as much Riesling but they could they should. I’m not going to tell the winemakers of Austria what to do but like Domäne Wachau is one that I really like. And it’s also completely different it’s a lot of kind of like mandarin orange you know that that really bright wintry citrus, you know, and that’s without even getting into to Oregon and Washington which also produce lots of Rieslings. Are there any kind of other domestic ones that you’re enjoying?
Alex Peartree 17:17
Oh God, absolutely. Yeah, on the West Coast they make some pretty stellar Rieslings like in California. There’s Trefethen in Napa. Everyone thinks of Napa for Cab but Trefethen has been making Riesling for a number of years now. Tatomer in the central coast in Santa Barbara County. It’s making a really delicious dry, racy style and back up north in the Anderson Valley, Navarro is making an incredibly luscious sweet late harvest Riesling. But you can’t forget the Pacific Northwest because I think this is where Riesling shines pretty bright as well. In Washington you have some amazing buys that I think many people are familiar with these brands and they’re super well priced. There’s like Tattoo Girl. Chateau Ste. Michelle makes a really tasty sort of semi-dry Riesling that’s pretty widely available. And then Pacific Rim as well with their sweet Riesling which I have to plug is on our Top 100 Best Buy list for 2021.
Layla Schlack 18:34
Yeah, I mean and right. We talked about Oregon and one thing that I really love from them is some of the sweeter Rieslings and some of the off-dry, like Willamette Valley vineyard’s sweet. Riesling is just again fall in a glass. It’s apples, it’s molasses, and then there’s Ridgecrest with just a little bit of residual sugar. It’s just a little bit off dry. It’s another very affordable one from Ribbon Ridge in the Willamette Valley. There’s just, there’s just everything.
Alex Peartree 19:02
Today, one more, because it’s one that I was really excited about in Oregon is Ovum. They make a number of Rieslings that are aged in Acacia barrels, and again, going back to that barrel influence, it adds texture it adds spice notes and it just melds really well with intense fruitiness of Riesling.
Layla Schlack 19:26
And when do we get that kind of new world experimental spirit right? Because, I mean in the in the northwest, we’ve got sweet, we’ve got dry, and we’ve got a lot of sparkling, although I’m partial to the kind of original sparkling Riesling possibly. I hope I’m not gonna get in trouble for saying that. There’s just beautiful, beautiful sparkling Riesling from Germany.
Alex Peartree 19:49
Layla Schlack 19:50
Yeah, I think that Von Buhl is one. And and in your neck of the woods, there’s Dr. Konstantine Frank, making beautiful traditional method sparkling wine.
Alex Peartree 19:59
There certainly is. Yeah, Dr. Frank makes delicious sparkling Riesling as does Weimer as well. Weimer’s is traditional methods so they bottle it and the second fermentation to create the bubbles happens in the bottle. So you get those really tasty, yeasty, autolysis notes in there that mix with the peachy, apple-y, Riesling fruit. And that’s another one that I think age as well and will hold up well in the cellar for a few years too.
Layla Schlack 20:37
Yeah, I think you’re probably right.
Alex Peartree 20:40
Man, did we miss anything? Well, actually, one of my regions that I always fall back to for pretty iconic style of Riesling is resigning from the Claire and Eden Valley in Australia.
Layla Schlack 20:54
Yes, yeah. We can’t forget about the southern hemisphere.
Alex Peartree 20:57
We cannot. Down Under they make some very racy, line-driven Rieslings that have a pretty iconic petrol-y note, although you never want to tell them that. But it definitely has that sort of savory, petrol-y, almost like a crushed herb or thyme quality to it. One of my favorites is Pewsey Vale but there’s so many others Down Under that are doing a great job.
Layla Schlack 21:30
Yeah, I think we’ve I think we’ve covered it. I hope people listening are ready to let Riesling into their hearts.
Alex Peartree 21:39
Riesling into their glasses, yeah. Not to write it off because there’s so much variety out there. If you don’t like the Riesling that’s put in front of you, don’t write it off because maybe you’ll like the next Riesling. Maybe you’ll discover that hey, I actually don’t like the sweeter Riesling, I like the drier Riesling, or vice versa. There are plenty of people that prefer sweeter wine and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Layla Schlack 22:06
Yeah, I mean, I was just gonna say also if you had a sweeter wine, you know, a sweeter Riesling 15, 20 years ago that was maybe not the greatest quality wine, you know, we know that those have been out there for a while. I wouldn’t even right off sweet Riesling because so much of it, if you’re looking at kind of higher quality producers, there’s so much beautiful wine. And that it does have that kind of, or it should have that kind of signature acidity to cut through the sweetness so that you can get all of these other characters and all this other nuance. And it’s not just a sugar bomb.
Alex Peartree 22:42
Absolutely. And then the amazing thing about recycling is its ageability. And with some of those sweeter Rieslings, those can really stand the test of time. And as they sit, this sweetness becomes just a little bit more integrated into it all. So it’s a really fun experiment to try on your own. As you said in the beginning, buy a few bottles of one Riesling, and see how it ages over the years.
Layla Schlack 23:11
Well, this has been fun.
Alex Peartree 23:14
I need a glass of Riesling now. Yeah, well, I hope everyone is excited about Riesling as we are.
Layla Schlack 23:25
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J’nai Gaither 23:32
Hello, lovelies. I hope everyone’s out there having a fabulously lovely time living your respective lives. My name is J’nai Gaither, and I’m one of the staff editors for Wine Enthusiast Magazine. A lot of you out there in internet land, know of my famous thirst for Champagne. You know that I’m a collector. You know that I drink it every single day. From Grand Marques to grower producers, from Brut Nature to high dosage bubbly, I literally do not discriminate. I’m an equal opportunity bubbly imbiber. Speaking of grower producers, a good sized portion of my collection is actually Special Club Champagne. But you probably want to know what the hell Special Club Champagne is, right? Well, just to clarify, it’s not this month’s selection from a sparkling wine club, that’s for sure, if that’s what you were thinking. The Special Club designation is only bestowed on the best growers who belong to the famed Club de Trésors, or the Club of Treasures. Started back in 1971, it was 12 growers who want to standardize the quality of the region’s wines for grower producers. The club has grown to 25 members now, though the number can be as high as 28. Members come and go each year. But to receive the Special Club designation, the wine has to go through two incredibly rigorous stages. Like, they ain’t playin’ when it comes to these stages. The first stage is at the vin clairs stage, or the still wine stage. Before Champagne undergoes its secondary bottle fermentation, which is the fermentation that results in its trademark bubbles, it’s a still wine first. So if the still wine is given the OK by an elite panel of enologists and wine pros by unanimous vote, it can then move on to the next stage. If it wasn’t apparent to you before, it should be apparent to you now that quality, above all else, is the name of the game here. Like for real. But let’s move on to the second stage. Another blind tasting stage that takes place after three years of aging. Now if the wine passes this stage, they’re given the go ahead to be placed in the green, oversized Special Club bottle. So some tested in, Lord have mercy. So all of the wines for the Special Club are considered the growers tete de cuvee, or top bottling. Any of the 25 members’ wines are worth every penny in every sip. But like most things, I have some favorites. The 12 producers that I’ll recommend are spectacular, stellar producers that never seem to disappoint. But again, any wine from any of the 25 will more than satisfy. Are you ready to do some really delicious research? If you are, I think you should try Charlier & Fils, Forget-Chemin, Loriot-Pagel, Fresnet-Juillet, Hervieux Dumez, Vincent Joudart, Paul Bara,, a founding member of the club, Gaston Chiquet, another founding member of the club, Pierre Gimonnet, a third founding member of the club, Salmon, Moussé and Marc Hebrart. Are you thirsty yet? Me too. Happy drinking.
Lauren Buzzeo 27:39
I am definitely ready to raise a glass to all of these delicious recommendations from Baja Garnacha and Special Club Champagne to Riesling from all around the globe and, well, some stellar South African pours of all types and styles. Remember that you could check out the full list of all of today’s recommendations at winemag.com/podcast. It is such an exciting time to be a wine lover with so many wonderful bottles to try and stories behind them. And we are so happy to share the past 100 episodes with you all and look forward to the next 100 to come. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at podcast@winemag com. For more wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories. Visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.