Tom Simoneau’s Wines of the Year 2022

Tom Simoneau’s Wines of the Year 2022

Best Whites

Sparkling Wine:
Caraccioli Cellars 2016 Blanc de Blancs, Escolle Vineyards, Santa Lucia Highlands, $85
I love my job! Every year I discover something new. This year it’s Caraccioli Cellars. This sparkler took my breath away. Tiny, tiny bubbles that tickle the tongue. Can a glass smile? With this wine in it, it does. Winemaker Scott Caraccioli says all the wines he makes are estate grown, so he has complete control. And it shows up in the glass. They make small lots, so their wine club is highly recommended.

Cuvaison 2020 Coeurtina, Napa Valley, Los Carneros, $60
We recently learned that there are now 8 billion people in the world today. That’s almost as many Chardonnay brands in the market place today! But, I’m up to the challenge. I’ll taste them all so you don’t have to. This Cuvaison Coeurtina Chard is one you do not want to miss. From its shimmering gold color, to its floral aroma and complex mouth feel, what else do you need? Maybe a nice piece of salmon? Check out their beautiful facility in Carneros.

Sauvignon Blanc:
Dry Creek Vineyards 50th Anniversary 2021 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County, $16
All together now – Celebration now, come on, du ta du da du du.  Not much of a singer but Dry Creek Vineyards brings me to song. Celebrating 50 years, that’s a long time! 50 years ago founder Dave Stare planted Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley. Today his daughter, Kim and her husband, Don Wallace, run the winery. Can I call them the first family of Dry Creek Valley? Why not! Here’s to the next 50!

Off Dry White:
Morgan 2021 Double L Vineyard Riesling, Santa Lucia Highlands, $24
Morgan opened their doors in 1982 after Dan Morgan Lee met a banker that shared his vision of starting a winery. That banker would eventually become his wife. Wondering what a really good California Riesling tastes like… wonder no more. From grapes grown on the only certified organic vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highland. These foot stomped grapes made a 10.6%alc wine showing apple and white peach, more fruity than sweet. Kabinett style. Bright and dry.

Most Fun Wine:
19 Crimes, Martha’s Chard, California Chardonnay, $11.99
Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Now, a Martha Stewart Wine. Let’s see, Martha’s name appears on cookbooks, magazines, TV shows, home wares, restaurants, mail order meal kits, she’s also a home designer and now wine! Martha what took you so long? With a click from the back of the bottle, Martha tells you all about it. Who knew? Even her bottle talks. Click on and hear her for yourself. Martha’s Chard, it’s a good thing.

Sweet White:
Ferrari Carano 2018 Eldorado Gold, Dry Creek Valley, Botrytised Semillon, $30 for the 375ml
Late harvest wines are probably the most disrespected and underappreciated of all wines. If a late harvest wine could talk, it would say “I get no respect”. The famous noble rot (for more info. google it, I don’t have time here.) is responsible for the invisible sweetness in the nose, delicate and rich in the mouth. Did anyone say dessert? After tasting, Amy, my niece said think crème brulee or apple pie and I second that. Enjoy your Christmas dessert with Ferrari Carano’s Eldorado Gold.

Alternative White:
Emeritus Vineyards 2021 Hallberg Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, $42
Emeritus was founded in 1999 by legendary vintner Brice Cutrer Jones after he sold Sonoma-Cutrer. The baton is now being passed to the capable hands of his daughter, Mari Jones, a rising young star in wine country. This Hallberg Blanc is 100% Pinot Noir with no blush to it. A great alternative to Chardonnay, all white peach, strawberry, and a hint of pineapple.

Luxury Wine:
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Upper Barn 2019 Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, $150
So here’s the question. What is the best vineyard in California? You could argue Beckstoffer’s George III, Mondavi’s ToKalon I Block, you could go on and on and on. I’m here to talk about what I call a hero Chardonnay. From the 40 year old Upper Barn Vineyard from Stonestreet. 25 acres on multiple blocks planted on AXR 1 rootstock producing less that a ton per acre of the most outrageously flavored, complex, take your breath away Chardonnay you’ll ever taste. I know it’s expensive, but worth the splurge!

Best Value White:
J Lohr Winery, 2021 Riverstone Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco Monterey County, $14
Classic cool region Chardonnay flavors at any price never mind 14 bucks and often discounted. Floral with citrus and white peach. Only 62% malolactic. At J. Lohr they say they make REAL Chardonnay. I say amen to that.

Ultimate Provence, 2021 AOP Cotes de Provence, $21.99
Not since White Zinfandel and Merlot exploded on the wine scene has a category of wine taken off like Rosé.  But unlike White Zin and Merlot, Rosés are still gaining market share. Winemakers have embraced “the pink”. Long gone are the out of balance, high alcohol after thoughts. The best are getting better. Now not only do you see high end California Rosés, but more from the birthplace of Rosés, Provence. High quality Rosés are much easier to find. This Ultimate Provence is a stunner. Packed with flavor and a show stopping package.

Book of the Year

Food IQ, 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts by Daniel Holzman & Matt Rodbard, $35
You’re probably thinking Food IQ? Is that a wine book? Well, wine is food, just ask the French. Depending on how involved you are with wine, chances are you picking the wine you’re having with dinner to match what you’re serving? Sooo! This fun and informative cookbook will help even the most timid cook take a walk on the wild side! Plus the website is an added bonus.

Best Reds

Cabernet Sauvignon:
Jordan 2018 Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, $60
From the winery that helped define Alexander Valley as one of California’s premier growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon. 2022 marks the 5o Year Anniversary since Tom & Sally Jordan founded the Jordan property. Through those 50 years and all the ups and downs of the wine business, Jordan has always held true to making wines of elegance and balance. This 2018 is an example of just that.

Pezzi King 2019 The Jester, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, $30
From 1 of the 11 boutique wineries in the portfolio of Wilson Artisan Wineries, The Jester is a Zin that comes with directions. Check the back label, which reads, “Caution: Consuming this wine with your family and friends may cause one to recite ballards and indulge in witty repartee!” It goes on. You’ll have to buy a bottle, if you want more. The Jester, from the Zin master Chris Barrett.

Freemark Abbey, 2018 Napa Valley Merlot, $45
The history of Freemark Abbey reads like a Hollywood script. Established in 1886 it has weathered bankruptcy, phyloxera, prohibition and more owners that you can imagine, including a guy named Freeman, a guy named Mark, and a guy named Abbey, Freemark Abbey. Today the owners, Jackson Family Wines have stabilized things. With a taste of this Merlot, you’ll know what I mean, fruit forward and balanced. A trip to Freemark Abbey in St. Helena is highly recommended.

Rhone Wine:
Kobler Estate Winery 2019 Syrah Cuvee du Brouillard, $58
Remember Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma’s house and who doesn’t remember Grandma got run over by a reindeer? Well, the Kobler story begins when Grandma Kobler planted three acres of wine grapes. Fast forward to today and it’s still all in the family. Syrah is their flagship wine. This 2019, a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier is a California Cote-Rotie. Kobler, tiny lots from a little piece of paradise in Green Valley.

Best Buy Red:
Bogle Family Vineyards 2019 Essential Red, California, $11
If you don’t know the Bogle story, you need to check it out. It all started in 1870 when Captain AJ Bogle moved to the California Delta from his family’s homestead in Tennessee. I’ll let you take it from there. Today with 6 generations of farming and 50 years of winegrowing, Bogle runs under the radar as a top notch California Winery. This Essential Red is worth twice the $11 price. Big and bold, begging for pepperoni pizza. Do check out their website, it’s quite a story.

Pinot Noir:
Calera 2019 de Villiers Vineyard, Mt. Harlan, $85
Calera’s Mt. Harlan Vineyards are located in the Gavilan Mountains 25 miles east of Monterey Bay at an average elevation of 2200 feet. It is among the highest and coolest vineyard sites in California. Taking his cue from the great domains of Burgundy, Central Coast wine pioneer, Josh Jensen searched for unique limestone soils to plant his vineyards. He found them on Mt. Harlan and named his winery Calera, the Spanish word for limekiln. A limekiln still stands on the property. This is my new favorite Pinot Noir.

Alternative Red:
Fort Ross 2016 Pinotage, Fort Ross Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $62 
Not familiar with Pinotage? Welcome to the club. First developed in South Africa in 1925, by crossing Pinot Noir with Cinsault, which was called Hermitage at the time. Don’t guess this is Pinot like, it’s more Rhone than Burgundy. Big and bold, savory and spicy, smoky and brambly. Our sensory system exists to be stimulated and this wine will do the trick. By far the most interesting wine I’ve tasted all year.

Blended Red:
Chateau St. Jean 2018 Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County, Red Wine, $90
The signature wine of Château St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, is French for five grapes. It is a blend of all five of the Bordeaux varietals. This 2018 is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc, 7% Merlot, 2% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot. Chateau St. Jean’s Cinq Cepages, the French should be so lucky.

Winery of the Year

Chateau St. Jean
Chateau St. Jean! Extra! Extra! Start the presses… Start the presses! Wait a minute, shouldn’t that be stop the presses? I’m not talking about newspaper here. I’m talking about a winery. Foley Family Wines purchased Chateau St. Jean in 2021. The previous owners stopped making wine at the facility in 2016. New winemaker, Niki Williams, was charged with the task of setting up the winery for crush of 2022. She did it, a complete success! Look for big things at the Chateau as the remodel continues.

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