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The harvest is complete, and 2021 will generally be remembered as a difficult vintage within much of mainland France and Italy. Spring frost decimated several vineyards, summer rains produced mildew that reduced yields and a lack of sunshine and warmth until late August reduced alcohol levels (which is not necessarily problematic).

After grapes were picked, an unusual and salubrious warm streak of autumn weather provided a reason for winemakers to set outdoor lunch tables. At these, vintages from past years or decades were uncorked, toasts were made to family, friends and peaceful times, and appreciation unravelled for the fields of gorgeous vine colors that will last until leaves drop to earth.

Below is a wide range of wines to taste—from Italy’s hilly Piemonte region to the flat Médoc of Bordeaux. From the lesser known white Aligoté grape of Burgundy, to lesser known Grignolino and Cortese grapes from Monferrato in Italy. Included are light wines for appetizers and celebrations, as well as more serious dark and statured reds for serious conversations.

Many vineyard photographs below were taken by Bordeaux wine and lifestyle photographer Laurine Gassian.

WINES FROM FRANCE –

Burgundy –

Recommended For You

Manuel Olivier. Aligoté Vielles Vignes. Burgundy. 2018. 90 points.

Although Aligoté is the second most planted white grape in Burgundy after Chardonnay, it still constitutes less than 10% of all planted white grapes in that region. Aromas of this wine include white plums, grapefruit, green apples. Silky acidic mouth feel and vibrant, sharp tastes that include tropical fruits and mint. Attractive opening wine for a weekend evening. Consider pairing with sardines or escargot.

Manuel Olivier. Haute Côtes de Nuits Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir. 2018.

Aromas of raisins, black cherries, blackberries and cloves. In the mouth this is a youthful and energetic black fruit kicker with flavors that include rum and oranges. Consider pairing with pork dumplings.

Jean-Marie Berrux. Le Petit Têtu. Vin De France. 2019. 97 points.

This Burgundy Chardonnay includes striking and precise aromas with both minerality and salinity. Although the owner could call it a Meursault, he continues calling it a Vin de France. This unfiltered wine that ages for a year in French oak includes aromas of green apples, gunpowder, flint and salt water taffy. This is a gorgeous Burgundy that is served at dozens of restaurants in France.

Les Morandes. Appelation Macon-Vinzelles Contrôlée. 2020.

Made by Celine and Laurent Tripoz, this white Burgundy Chardonnay spends 10 months aging in steel tanks. An easy drinking but well-crafted wine with aromas of flint, it includes an oily mouth feel, and flavors of wild green apples and pears.

[The first three wines below were recommended by Chais D’Oeuvre, a Parisian wine club co-founded by Manuel Peyrondet, previously voted Best Sommelier of France, which provides physical and virtual master classes in wine, and also ships selected samples to members.]

Auxerre-Duresses. Les Hautés. Grand Vin de Bourgogne. 2019. 92 to 94 points.

A white from the Auxey-Duresses Contrôlée appellation of Burgundy. This pale lime colored wine includes aromas of classical wooded Burgundy Chardonnay. Scintillating salt and grapefruit as well as lime and flint on the nose, as well as lemon drops, green grass and some shortbread. Brittle and precise but also juicy in the mouth, a delightfully creamy but brisk and mildly acidic gorgeous white wine with a flush of lemon on the finish. Racy. Oak is hardly detectable in this medium bodied evening starter that might be paired with edamame, mollusks or dover sole.

Loire Valley –

Domaine de la Taille aux Lóups. Triple Zéro. 94 points.

This sparkling biodynamic Loire white is made from Chenin Blanc from the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation—crafted by Jacky and J.P. Blot. Fresh, light, charming aromas of lime, gooseberry and slightly roasted peanuts. Bright acidity with subtle tropical flavors as well as those of brioche, oatmeal and toasted breadcrumbs. Fine bubbles, agreeably fresh and easy to drink with flavors of green apples and lemons.

Cornas –

Matthieu Barret. Cornas Brise Cailloux. 2018. 94 points.

This purple and magenta colored 14% alcohol 100% Syrah from the Appellation Cornas Protégée is made from grapes grown on 40-year old vines. Slightly oxidized and pungent aromas of cherries, black currants, blueberry pop tarts, damp forest, mint, sage and licorice. A nasal treat. In the mouth this medium bodied wine includes a light structure and flavors of oranges, raspberries and prunes. Red cherries on the attack, nuts and anise mid palate and raspberries and Seville oranges on a deliciously long finish. A delicious package of sensory pleasure for an autumn Friday afternoon. Pair with meat loaf or chicken or duck breast.

On tasting this, Parisian sommelier Emily Seguy detected fresh blackberries, lots of cherries, herbs and light tannins. She suggested pairing this with a beautiful grilled entrecôte pepper steak and roasted potatoes or mushrooms.

Languedoc –

Maxime Magnon. Rozeta. 2019. 92 Points.

This 40/30/30 blend of Carignan/Grenache/Cinsault is a Languedoc red from the Corbières appellation that includes creamy and layered aromas of prunes, apricots, oranges and sultanas, with a little hickory, marmalade and smoke. Violet aromas are huge. After 20 minutes in the glass, this kaleidoscopically changing wine begins parading out aromas of cherries. Pair with a pumpkin velouté.

Perigord –

Domaine L’Ecrivain. Vin de Pays du Périgord. 2018. 93 points.

From Perigord producer Michel Puzio working with his children on five acres (two hectares) of land on a plateau 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Saint-Émilion comes this 67/33 Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend made from 20-year old vines. Aged in new French oak. Complex aromas of sultanas, rum, cocoa, plums. In the mouth the wine is initially volatile, then complex and layered with flavors that include oranges, cocoa and maple syrup. A friendly, rich and approachable wine with port characteristics that derive from the limestone substrate.

Bordeaux – Left Bank –

Ormes de Pez. Saint-Estephe. 2009. 95 points.

From Jean-Michel Cazes comes this 54/37/7/2 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot from the excellent 2009 vintage. Aromas of sultanas, leather, black pepper and prunes. Classic left bank Bordeaux. In the mouth—black cherries, mocha, sultanas; bracing and rich acidity.

Château Lynch-Bages. Grand Cru Classé. 2005. 94 to 95 points.

A 72/15/12/1 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot from this renowned left bank Bordeaux producer. Orange rind, eucalyptus, leather, cumin and licorice aromas—a sizzling layer cake. In the mouth—red and black cherries and spices. A layered and voluptuous classic Bordeaux red. A rich winter cake matrix with great tannic structure. Consider pairing with duck breast and au gratin potatoes.

[The following six classic Bordeaux wines are from 2004—a hot mid-summer vintage, though with ample rains in August; alcohol levels generally range from 12.5% to 14%.]

Château Pavie. Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. 2004. 94 points.

A 65/25/10 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon from right bank Bordeaux that includes kaleidoscopic aromas: pencil lead, cocoa, clover, violets and cooked lamb cutlets as well as wet moss. In the mouth, flavors of butterscotch, taffy, candied strawberries, acidic treacle, morel mushrooms and licorice. Deep tannins, crackling acidity.

Château Chasse-Spleen. Moulis en Médoc. 2004.

A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from Bordeaux’s left bank. Aromas of leather, orange rind, sultanas, walnuts, licorice, hibiscus and a hint of gum balls in this 13% alcohol wine. A roiling mouthful of anise, cocoa, orange rind and marmalade. Firm acidity.

Château Léoville Barton. Saint-Julien. 2004.

This 75/23/2 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc includes 13% alcohol. Aromas of wood, eucalyptus, fresh cut cedar, tar, lapsang souchong tea, wet moss and pears. In the mouth this includes flavors of hibiscus juice, raspberries, cola and menthol. Suave, with mild tannins and tightly confined acidity.

Château Monbrison. Cru Bourgeois. Margaux. 2004. 88 to 89 points.

This Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend aged for 18 months in partially new French oak. Gorgeously balanced aromas in this 13% alcohol wine, which include those of pencil lead, teak, mahogany, wet forest and roasted chestnuts. Dark licorice flavors and mild tannins, although a bit acidic in the mouth.

Château Haut-Bages Libéral. Pauillac. 2004. 89 points.

This Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from a 75 acre [30 hectare] vineyard includes energetic aromas of spice, leather, cedar and menthol, and flavors of sultanas and black pepper in a juicy acidic matrix. Pair with dark beef strips or truffle linguini.

Saint-Émilion, Right Bank Bordeaux –

Château Valandraud. Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. 2004. 94 points.

From an original garagiste wine maker—Jean-Luc Thunevin—comes this 14% alcohol right bank Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend. An exceptionally aromatic aged Saint-Émilion but with notes of hay and butter, blueberries, soot, cranberries and orange rind. A rodeo of aromas—distinct, copious, delightful. In the mouth, oranges on the attack, black berries and cola mid palate.

Fronsac – Right Bank Bordeaux –

Château de La Vieille Chapelle. Bouchàles. 2019. 92 – 93 points.

Biodynamic producer Frédéric Mallier (and his wife Fabienne and children) produce Semillon white wine and red blends on the banks of the Dordogne River near Fronsac. However they also produce this pre-phylloxera jewel of a wine made primarily from the grape Bouchàles. On three quarters of an acre (3 hectares) grow Bouchalès and other ancient varieties that were not ravaged by the phylloxera aphid during the 19th century (due to flooding)—including the grapes Marcin and Peloursin. Unfined, unfiltered, fermented with natural yeast—this wispy wine includes only 11% alcohol. Aromas of charcoal and toasted sesame, with a fresh taste that includes bright acidity. Light and energetic, with a lingering finish. Different and pleasing.

Bourg / Blaye region, Right Bank Bordeaux –

Château Mercier. Côtes de Bourg. Cuvée Prestige. 2020. 91 points.

From the Chety family vineyard that has produced grapes in the Bourg region since the 15th century comes this 50% Merlot, with the balance made up of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Aromas include cassis, black pepper, cinnamon and cola. A rounded and chewy slab of licorice and black pepper in the mouth with gripping acidity.

Château Mercier. Côtes de Bourg. Clos de Piat. 2020. 92 points.

Primarily Merlot and with a tad of Cabernet Franc, this wine from the Bourg highlands includes aromas of black pepper, black berries and a slight hit of raspberries and smoke. Gorgeous with well-structured tannins in the mouth, and slight flavors of toffee and red cherries.

Famille Chety. Amphorae. 2020. 93 points.

This is an 85% Merlot wine, with the balance of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Includes succulent aromas with a black pepper snap. Huge flush of raspberries mid palate and well-structured tannins. Light, bright, fruit forward and clean. Pair with light fare, such as sashimi.

Château Mercier. Mon Pépin. 2020. 94 points.

100% Merlot bottled in ancient Burgundy bottles. Wine made using an unusual process. Grapes from selected lots were fermented in concrete and pressed before the winemaker separated skins and seeds and then dried and toasted these seeds in a large sauté pan. She then put them back into barrels with wine. ‘I just woke up with the idea,’ explained winemaker Isabelle Chety. Quite the puissant power house—this wine includes aromas of lavender and cedar, rum, sultanas, treacle, black cherries, pine cones and orange rind, as well as tastes that include a raspberry flush and flavors of plums, cola, figs, cocoa and black pepper. Rich and rounded, seductively well structured, yet still light and assertive. Pair with bacon lasagna, or spice and cheese burritos. This wine you shall remember.

Château Pey-Bonhomme Les Tours. 2019. 92 to 93 points.

A 75/15/10 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Malbec from biodynamic producers based in both Blaye and Bourg in Bordeaux. A lively set of zesty, clean aromas that include black cherries, raspberries, as well as orange and lime peels. A well-balanced flush of red fruit flavors with clear acidity, low key tannins and a sumptuous finish. Pair with a four-cheese lasagna or even a chocolate/coconut dessert.

Famille Hubert Vignerons. Les Vacances de Monsieur Merlot. 2019. 91 points.

The name for this 100% Merlot biodynamic wine is based on a 1950’s French comedy movie. Fresh and vibrant aromas of cedar, sultanas and a bit of smoke. Juicy, clean, easy drinking Merlot, very approachable with lingering citrus and acidity on the finish. Pair with shellfish or light cheese.

Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours. Le Blanc Bonhomme. 2019. 94 points.

Named after ‘les bons hommes’—or ‘the good men.’ These were 13th century Cathars who fled religious persecution in the southeast of France and apparently ended up in Blaye in the southwest, at the site of where this wine château is located today. This 45/45/10 biodynamic blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Colombard includes a clean set of aromas—slightly open, with tropicals, gooseberries and green apples. A crisp, brittle taste with a mild but beautiful oily mouth feel. Oranges and butter on the finish. A combination of abundance and delicacy—rounded, somewhat soft and with well-integrated acidity. Delicious.

Famille Hubert Vignerons. Cuvée des 2C. 2020. 90 points.

From a biodynamic producing family in Blaye comes this wine named after the first initials of two grandchildren of proprietor Catherine and Jean-Luc, as well as after ‘2 cepages’ or two grapes included in this wine: Syrah and Touriga Nacional. Although Touriga Nacional, renowned in Portugal, was recently approved for controlled use in Bordeaux, Syrah is a typical Rhone valley grape, hence an outlier in the west of France. Dark purple juice with fresh red and black fruit aromas that include cherries, as well as graphite. A light, fresh, easy to drink wine with juicy acidity and a rich finish. Pair with white meat such as duck, or a dessert of orange sorbet.

La Garagiste Rozzzeé. Cabernet Franc (rosé). Vin de France. 2020.

100% Cabernet Franc from Brit winemaker Ben Hall, who with his wife Gil live in the splendid hills of Bourg on the right bank Bordeaux. The couple produced white wines in England before moving to France. Extremely light lime colored. Aromas of apricots, white pears, shaved lemon ice. In the mouth this is dry, racy and scintillating with well-structured acidity. Pair with paella or early evening nibbles such as light cheese and salty snacks.

La Garagiste. Grand Turismo. Côtes de Bourg. 2019.

An 85/15 blend of Cabernet Franc/Merlot from 45 year old vines in the hills of Saint-Ciers-de-Canesse. This wine spent 15 months in 20% new oak barrels. Characteristic estate aromas of petrol/cassis with a hit of sesame seeds, tar, treacle, smoke and blueberries. In the mouth this is a kicking amalgamation of cumin, raspberry, sesame, red and black licorice, burnt taffy, fudge and anise. Distinct and different from the usual Bourg hinterland fare—it is both wild—sauvage—and suave. Lively and tense acidity.

WINES FROM ITALY –

Sicily –

Settesoli. Nero D’Avola Bio. Sicily. DOC. 2020. 93 points.

Full and hefty dark aromas of orange rind, plumbs, nutmeg, candy cane in this 13% alcohol wine from Sicily’s signature red grape. In the mouth flavors include licorice and plums on the attack, cocoa, butter and raspberries mid palate, gorgeous semi-sweet chocolate and coconut on the finish. A pleasing, slightly orange citric expression of Nero d’Avola with juicy acidity, quiet tannins. Pair with lamb, breaded veal or orange sorbet.

Settesoli. Grillo Bio. Sicily DOC. 2020. 89 points.

From the Menfi coast in the southwest of Sicily grow these Grillo grapes over clay and sandy soils. Aromas include fried plantains, slightly charred pineapple, sweet and generous sultanas, lime and hickory. In the mouth—a splash of nectarine, bitter cherries, slight menthol. Oily acidity. Pair with edamame, or sardines.

Lake Garda –

Le Morette. Valerio Zenato. Lugana Benedictus. DOC. 2019. 90 points.

Le Morette is located in the Lake Garda region near the city of Verona in northern Italy. This white wine is made from high-acidity Turbiana (Verdicchio) grapes and includes aromas of heather, honey and cashews, as well as spearmint, eucalyptus and melted butter. It opens in the mouth as widely and generously as a Pinot Gris or a Sauvignon Gris and includes balanced acidity and flavors of pear and grapefruit with a little honey and sesame.

Le Morette. Lugana Riserva. DOC. 2018. 91 to 92 points.

This 13.5% alcohol Trebbiano has a golden peach color. Sweet aromas of overripe pears, sultanas and prunes. The taste of honey and figs provide an opulent mouthful, with mature acidity. Pair with salmon doused with maple syrup or a flambé dessert.

Valpolicella

Massimago. Marchesa Maria Bella. Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore. DOC. 2019. 92 points.

Massimago winery is in the Valpolicella region near Verona, Italy. This is a light salmon/cherry colored 15% alcohol wine with initially volatile aromas that include lush peaches, cherries, anise, roasted almonds and orange rind. In the mouth—includes luscious tastes of tangerine, honey, lime, bitter cherries, lemon and eucalyptus. Superbly delicious as dessert unto itself as much as a wine. Refreshing.

Massimago. Conte Gastone. Amarone della Valpolicella. 2017. 89 points.

This 15.5% alcohol Amarone includes aromas of treacle and brownies as well as orange rind and cinnamon. Succulently rich aromas resemble Maltesers chocolate balls. In the mouth—deliciously light, with a hint of menthol and sultanas. Tannins and acidity take a back seat to alcohol in this truly rotund mouthful of candied orange rind and mocha tastes. Pair with tiramisu. Or—considering the richness of this wine—pair as intuition guides you.

Trentino

Villa de Varda. Pinot Nero Riserva. Grappa del Trentino.

Villa de Varda in Trentino in northern Italy is run by fifth generation winemakers. This 40% alcohol grappa includes volatile aromas of baked apples and juicy ripe oranges. Also—slight honey and nutmeg. In the mouth—plums, oranges, anise, mint and a lasting, give-me-some-more finish. A hearty, layered grappa worth serving with a complex rum-based cake.

Villa de Varda Amaretto Liquore. 94 points.

This 28% alcohol amaretto is the color of bog water and golden syrup. Includes a delicious candy cane kick aroma—raisins, hibiscus, peppermint and maraschino cherries. In the mouth a chocolate mint layer cake, delicious as cotton candy and a complete dessert in itself. A complete treat.

Monferrato

Hic et Nunc. Femminile Singolare. Barbera del Monferrato. DOC. 2017. 94 points.

Hic et Nunc is located in Basso Monferrato in Piemonte, Italy, a region characteristically known for both Barbera and Grignolino grapes. This 14% alcohol Barbera ages 20 months in steel. Initially subtle aromas intensify as the bottle is kept open, and then out parade whiffs that include blueberries and tartan shortbread biscuits. In the mouth—treacle, blueberries and a river of cherries amalgamated with sultanas, all in a firm acidic matrix. A well made and easy drinking, plum and plump rich mouthful. Consider pairing with soy-soaked beef or chocolate dessert.

Hic et Nunc. Monolite. Piemonte Cortese. DOC. 2020. 91 points.

Made from the Cortese grape—which is renowned for acidity. Beautiful open bouquet of marshmallows, lime, tonic water and menthol. A juicy tropical mouthful with rich acidity, a hint of mint and a racy finish. Uplifting and light. Pair with light snacks–perhaps sardines or pretzels.

Hic et Nunc. Monumento Barbera del Monferrato Superiore. DOCG. 2017. 90 points.

Aged 20 months in French oak, this 14% alcohol Barbera includes distinct and singular aromas of dark fruit, blackberries, treacle, wet bark and a hint of hickory. This is an acidic, dense, fruity and slightly chewy wine to taste, with an allspice finish. Pair with blackened salmon or even shrimp dumplings.

Hic et Nunc. Mondano. Moferrato Dolcetto. DOC. 2018. 90 points.

This 13% Dolcetto ages in steel for eight months. Lightly colored, akin to a Nebbiolo, with aromas of a dank forest, as well as of blackberries, plumbs, prunes and a hit of sage. A slightly complex taste with flavors of Demerara sugar, brownies and plums. More acidic than tannic pronunciation. Pair with goulash or wild game such as rabbit, or even a blueberry tart dessert.

Hic et Nunc. Altro Mundo. Piemonte Grignolino. 2018. 91 points.

Named after another world, this 14% alcohol light amber colored wine includes gorgeous and seductively sweet aromas of queen-of-the-night flowers, honey, rose petals and candy cane. As rich as any imagined Charlie and the Chocolate Factory concoction. Anise, plums, cherries and sultanas with brittle acidity in the mouth. Pair with light fare—even creamy to cut the acidity—or just plunge into a sirloin steak slathered with mushroom sauce.

Source: Forbes

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