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31 Nights of Wine

Congratulations—you’ve made it through another year. Now it’s time to drink the good stuff. Here are Worth’s recommendations for December drinking.

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Whether you spend most of your December evenings going out or staying in, the end of the year is an excellent time to drink some of 2022’s finest releases. From South Africa to South America, Australia to Italy, and France to Napa Valley to New York’s Long Island, here are 31 wines to help you celebrate 2022—and look forward to all the new wine that 2023 will bring. 

1. Terre et sang Kissing Vipers 2020 Grenache

Price: $75 

This grenache requires a little background. It comes from a new winemaker in Santa Barbara, CA., founded by mother-and-son team Dalita and Duncan Harmon.  The name, terre et sang, translates from the French into “earth and blood,” which comes from a proverb, “Wine is the blood of the earth,” which probably dates to the Bible.  And the name, Kissing Vipers, is intended to refer to the “risk and thrill” of each new vintage. (I’m not sure what the thrill of kissing a viper is, but okay.)

Never mind the melodramatic marketing; Kissing Vipers is indeed worth the risk. It’s a medium-bodied red, beautifully balanced, with hints of red fruit, spice, and leather. This grenache is drinkable now but feels sophisticated beyond its years.

2. RGNY 2020 Viognier

Price: $33

RGNY is a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island, New York, but its origins are Mexican; the “RG” in the brand’s name comes from the initials of winemaker Maria Rivero Gonzalez’s parents. The Rivero Gonzalez family began making wine in Parras, in central Mexico, about 25 years ago, and acquired this vineyard in 2018. As is typical for Long Island winemaking, RGNY makes mostly white wines, including this fine viognier, which has understated flavors of pineapple, lemon, and honey.

3. Gentleman Farmer 2021 Rosé

Price: $37

Joe Wolosz and Jeff Durham launched Gentleman Farmer wines in 2005, becoming a relative scarcity in Napa Valley: gay partners, both personally and professionally, in the wine world. (The pair were married in 2016.)  Gentleman Farmer makes a small amount—about 1,000 cases—of cabernet sauvignon, a red blend, and chardonnay, but this rosé is an easy entry point for their wines. Made from 90 percent pinot noir, it’s a bright, red grapefruit color with bold flavors of strawberry and cherry. 

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4. Chateau Mukhrani 2018 Qvevri White

Price: $25

Georgian wines aren’t well-known in the United States; until this year, the largest foreign market for them was Russia. But now is a good time to support the wines from Georgia, as its wine industry has been hard hit by Russia’s war against Ukraine—exports to both those two countries are at a standstill. This white blend from the nearly 150-year-old Chateau Mukhrani is partially fermented in qvevri—ceramic, egg-shaped urns—before being aged in oak barrels. 

5. Native Flora The Heretic 2016 Pinot Noir

Price: $75

Co-owner Scott Flora describes the winery that he and his wife Denise run as “a very small, high-end, rebel-methodology” winery in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. Among other atypical elements, Native Flora maintains a herd of sheep that prune and fertilize the vines. This pinot noir comes from a steep, north-facing slope in Native Flora’s vineyard, an unlikely site for growing these grapes. The Floras disagreed with that consensus opinion—hence the name, “The Heretic”—and the result is this consistently complex and rewarding pinot.

6. Cloudy Bay 2022 Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $35

This well-regarded staple from New Zealand debuts a new bottle this year, featuring an image of Marlborough’s Richmond Ranges, which are visible from the winery, embossed on the glass. (Also new and welcome this year: Cloudy Bay bottles are made from recycled glass.) The wine itself will be familiar to anyone who’s tried Cloudy Bay previously: It’s bright, lemony, perhaps with a little more citrus pushing its way forward than in the past.  In both product and packaging, these are subtle signs of a popular brand simultaneously evolving and staying essentially the same. If you like this style of sauvignon blanc, you can’t go wrong here. 

7. Montecillo Reserva 2014 Rioja

Price: $15

It’s possible to forget, if you drink a lot of wine from Napa Valley or the Pacific Northwest, that a good bottle of wine doesn’t have to cost $50 or more. In fact, a good bottle of wine, as so many wines from Europe and South America remind us, can be found for under $20. This rioja, a blend of tempranillo and mazeulo that tastes of red fruit compote and bay leaf, is a fine example.  

8. Landmark Vineyards 2020 Overlook Chardonnay

Price: $27

Landmark was founded in California’s Sonoma Valley in 1974, but really became known for its focus on chardonnay after hiring famed winemaker Helen Turley in 1993. It’s since added pinot noir to its repertoire, but the chardonnays remain the staple. Now made by winemaker Greg Stach, this 2020 Overlook is bright and delicious, with notes of apples, pears, and lemon curd.

9. Patrimony 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $275

Patrimony is the creation of Daniel and Georges Daou, Lebanese brothers who grew up in France and came to Paso Robles, on California’s Central Coast, with the mission of bringing cabernet and Bordeaux varietals to a region best known for zinfandel and Rhone wines. Over the past decade, they’ve succeeded, making critically acclaimed cabernets like this one, a classic, deep purple, structured cabernet which drinks beautifully now but could be easily cellared for another decade or so.

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10. Bisol 1542 Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior

Price: $20

It’s been a pleasure to see Italian sparkling wines get some buzz in the past few years, as bubble fans have come to appreciate that proseccos can be just as good as champagne while costing considerably less. This one comes from Bisol 1542—the name refers to the year that the Bisol family reportedly began making wine—from grapes grown in Valdobbiadene, probably Italy’s best-known prosecco-making region. Drinking this prosecco, with its notes of wildflower, apple, and pear, you can almost imagine being there.

11. Trothe 2020 Horse Heaven Hills Syrah

The inaugural release of this wine won’t be available until January 2023, so if you’re buying it for a holiday gift, take a picture of the bottle and put it in the recipient’s stocking—it’ll be worth the wait. Trothe, a new-ish project from longtime Washington grape growers Andrews Family Vineyards, has been winning rave reviews for its cabernet sauvignon, made from grapes grown in Washington’s dramatic Horse Heaven Hills. When I tasted Trothe’s cabernet last year, I was blown away by its powerful sense of terroir, this feeling that I could taste the ground and the air that produced it. I expect much the same from the syrah.

12. Meerlust 2018 Rubicon

Price: $30

Inspired by a visit to Bordeaux in the late 1970s, the South African winemaker returned to his homeland determined to craft a red wine blend that could rival those of the French. Meerlust’s Rubicon—because a new frontier had been crossed—debuted in 1980 and has since become one of this popular South African winemaker’s signature wines. This 2018 vintage is full-bodied and tastes of spices, licorice, plum, spearmint, and cedar. 

13. Arkenstone Estate 2019 Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $125

Perhaps because they only make about 2,000 cases of wine a year, Arkenstone, overlooking Napa Valley from Howell Mountain, doesn’t get as much attention as some other Napa wineries do. Still, its wines are competitive with Napa’s best. The estate wines—a red blend, a syrah, and a sauvignon blanc—are particularly good. This sauvignon blanc is blended with about six percent semillon—both are organically grown on the steep hillsides of Howell Mountain—and tastes of melon, peach, pear, maybe a bit of honeysuckle. It’s impressive.

14. Avaline Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $30

It’s easy to be skeptical about Avaline. After all, the brand is backed by a celebrity—actress Cameron Diaz is a cofounder—and touts the health aspects of its non-GMO, “vegan-friendly” wine made from organic grapes.  “Basically, we’re the friendliest wine in the aisle”—whatever that means—says the Avaline website. It’s a pitch so blatantly meant to sound “authentic” that it comes across as just the opposite. But, in fairness, I’m probably not the target market for Avaline, which seems to be women who like wine but don’t want to geek out about it. There’s nothing wrong with that pitch, or with trying to find new ways to sell your wine, and every time I’ve tried a bottle of Avaline I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They’re all easily drinkable and reasonably priced, and this cabernet is no exception.

15. Early Mountain 2019 Shenandoah Cabernet Franc

Price: $45

I’m rooting for the Virginia wine industry, because, well, wouldn’t it be cool to have an East Coast counterpart to Napa or Sonoma or Paso Robles? Virginia may have a ways to go, but it seems the most likely candidate for that status, and this wine, from a winery owned by Jean and Steve Case (of AOL fame and fortune), is a fine example of how good an East Coast wine can be. With hints of plums, blackberries, black cherries, and leather, it’s got an abundance of nicely balanced flavor.

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16. Cakebread Cellars 2019 Merlot

Price: $60

It takes a confident winemaker to make a merlot. Even though Sideways came out about a hundred years ago now, that wine-centric, merlot-mocking movie stomped on the grape so forcefully, it still hasn’t recovered. Cakebread, though, can get away with it: It’s one of the strongest brands in American wine, and with good reason: It makes a lot of very good wine at relatively modest prices. Although the merlot grape is most frequently used to tone down the sharper edges of cabernet sauvignon, this merlot, with well-structured tannins and robust dark fruit flavors, stands on its own quite nicely, thank you.

17. Penfold’s 2021 Bin 311 Chardonnay

Price: $40

Speaking of powerhouse brands…Penfold’s is probably Australia’s best-known winemaker and here it shows its muscle, blending grapes from different regions to make a chardonnay that, frankly, is probably better than it needs to be, given the strength of the Penfold name. I taste some peach, pear, melon, and baking apples in this vibrant chardonnay, and love the fact that a big brand can still make such fine wine. 

18. Chateau de Pressac 2018 Saint Emilion Grand Cru

Price: $45

This Bordeaux red carries the “grand cru” classification—basically a French assurance of high quality—and it’s well deserved here. This red blend is mostly merlot, with cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon among the other grapes present. It all works wonderfully, resulting in an elegant wine that tastes of raspberries, plums, black cherries, perhaps some tobacco, and rosemary. It’s delicious now but is likely to get even more interesting with age.

19. Evening Land 2019 La Source Chardonnay

Price: $75

This Salem, Oregon, winemaker is probably best known for its pinot noir, which is indeed excellent, but that’s to be expected from a Pacific Northwest winery. The surprise here is this chardonnay, which is biodynamically farmed from estate-grown grapes. Expect to taste green apple, a subtle lemon, and some stone fruit. Contrary to perception about white wine, this white is drinkable now but would also benefit from aging five years or so.

20. Hamel Family Wines 2018 Nun’s Canyon Vineyard

Price: $160

I tried this wine recently with a visitor from France, who was impressed by the confidence and sophistication of this Sonoma red blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc—and perhaps a little surprised that these American wines could, in fact, be so good. The Hamel family thinks hard about its growing techniques, farming both biodynamically and dry farming, their thoughtfulness and passion translate into outstanding wine. This is a wine full of fruit flavor that is also restrained, which is what I mean by “confident.” It doesn’t hit you over the head with explosions of fruit, but reveals itself at its own measured pace.

21. Adelaida 2020 Picpoul Blanc

Price: $40

Not many American wines are made from picpoul blanc grapes, and not many Americans know what they are; as of last year, there were only about 75 acres of picpoul planted in California, Washington and Texas. (It’s mostly grown in a couple of regions in France and Spain.) But that’s changing: Picpoul, and the pale-skinned picpoul blanc, in particular, make bright, crisp, acidic wines that taste terrific with seafood or Asian cuisine. This one, from Adelaida in Paso Robles, CA., has notes of pomelo, pineapple, and lemon curd. 

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22. Catena Alta 2019 Malbec

Price: $40

Some meals—steak, sausage, other grilled meats—cry out for a terrific Argentinean malbec that can more than hold its own against such powerhouse flavor. This one from Mendoza producer Catena Zapata is a blend of grapes from three mountain estate vineyards. It’s a beautiful violet color and tastes of red and black fruits as well as spice, leather, and vanilla. 

23. Ornellaia 2020 Poggio alle Gazze

Price: $70

Navigating the landscape of Italian wines can be challenging for an American, as many Italian vineyards date back centuries. Ornellaia, now owned by Italy’s Frescobaldi family, dates back only to the 1980s, but it’s already earned a reputation for producing stellar Super Tuscans. This white blend from Ornellaia—primarily sauvignon blanc, with smaller amounts of vermentino, verdicchio, and viognier—shouldn’t be overlooked. The 2020 vintage is considered among the finest of this cuveé. It has lovely floral scents, and tastes of white peach, grapefruit, a touch of lemon zest, and herbs. 

24. Plumpjack 2019 Syrah

Price: $74

If 40 years of history makes an Italian winery a fresh face, in Napa, Plumpjack’s four decades are starting to make that winery look like an elder statesman. Founded by then-entrepreneur, now-California governor Gavin Newsom and billionaire philanthropist Gordon Getty, and later managed by wine industry veteran John Conover, Plumpjack has made consistently outstanding wines since its beginning, but among their range of excellent wines, this well-structured syrah is a standout.  

25. Shafer 2018 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $375

Shafer is a Napa Valley icon, one of the brands that built the valley’s reputation for making cabernets that could compete with the best in the world. So the news in February of this year that Shafer had sold itself to Shinsegae Property, a Korean firm, for a reported $250 million sent shockwaves through Napa. Many saw it as a sign that Napa’s leading families would now rush to sell their locally owned business to multinational conglomerates, a sad step on the way to extinction for Napa’s homegrown character, already under assault from San Francisco tech money.

So far, though, the worries seem overblown. In Shafer’s case, there were good reasons to sell: Founder John Shafer, who first bought land in Napa in 1972, died in 2019. His son, Doug Shafer, had been president of the company since 1994, but had no clear path to keeping the winery in the family. Since the sale, Shafer has stayed on, and at least as importantly, so has Shafer’s enormously gifted winemaker Elias Fernandez. Whenever Fernandez decides to step away, that will be another important time of transition.

For now, the wines remain the same—simply stellar. Hillside Select is Shafer’s flagship wine, a classic example of a concentrated and structured cabernet that reveals a range of flavors ranging from crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, mocha, and mint. This is a wine for a special occasion; it’s also a wine that makes any occasion special.

26. Larkmead 2019 Solari

Price: $200

You don’t need a reason to pull out a special wine—if you want to drink your Hillside Select with a cheeseburger and fries on a Monday night, more power to you. That said, this is a time of year when people like to drink the good stuff, so let’s continue the run of big reds. Solari is the flagship of Larkmead, which is, at over 125 years, one of the oldest wineries not just in Napa, but in the United States. (Solari is the maiden name of coowner Kate Solari Baker; Larkmead was purchased by her parents in 1948.) This vintage kicks off with flavors of blackberries, plums, and cherries, followed by hints of tobacco and mint. As excellent as it is now, it promises to be even better in five to ten years. 

27. Robert Mondavi 2019 To Kalon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $250

Napa’s To Kalon vineyard is so renowned, legal battles have been fought over the right to use its name. The details are labyrinthine and not worth explaining. Suffice it to say that the winners got bragging rights and the opportunity to make some remarkable wine, like this To Kalon Reserve from Robert Mondavi. This vintage, the wine’s eighth, is 93 percent cabernet sauvignon with a little cabernet franc and petit verdot for blending. Expect aromas of blackberries and plums layered with tobacco, licorice, and molasses on the palate. Drinkable now but would benefit from aging. 

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28. ADAMVS 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $450

ADAMVS, a boutique 80-acre estate on Napa’s Howell Mountain—just 27 of the acres are planted—only makes four wines, so all of them feel special. But of the four, the ADAMVS cabernet is probably the pinnacle. One reason: owners Denise and Stephen Adams don’t make very much of it. (Annual production of all their wines runs around 2,000 cases, and this wine is the smallest percentage of that figure.) Unfiltered and organically grown, this cabernet has a silky mouth feel and taste of blackberry, baking spice, and leather. Drink it now, or in a decade or two. It’ll be worth the wait.

29. Quintessa 2019 Red Blend

Price: $230

Quintessa’s flagship estate wine is another Napa cab to which the word “iconic” is perhaps too often applied, but sometimes clichés are true, and after 30 vintages this wine deserves its accolades. That’s particularly true with the 2019, a blend of 91 percent cabernet sauvignon and small amounts of merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and carmenere. Winemaker Rebekah Wineburg describes it as “a complex of flower, forest, fruit, and earth notes.” For the more data-minded, Wine Enthusiast magazine awarded the wine 100 points, calling it “a winemaker’s master class in blending.” Regardless of which adjectives you prefer, this is a gem. 

30. Aperture 2019 Oliver Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $150

I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of Sonoma’s Aperture, a project of wine photographer Andy Katz and his winemaker-son Jesse that dates back to 2009. Aperture’s wine is oriented towards Bordeaux-style reds, like their 2020 Bordeaux Red Blend, and their wines have consistently shown nuance and sophistication that ages well. Aperture has recently launched three small-site vintages, including this one from Oliver Ranch, a 3.6-acre site in Alexander Valley. It’s quickly earned a reputation as a California cab to watch—and, of course, drink.

31. Maurice Grumier Ô Ma Vallée Blanc de Noir Brut Champagne

Price: $45

Rituals help mark the end of a year and the beginning of a new one, and champagne on New Year’s Eve is about as ritualistic as they come. One way to mix things up a little, though, is to try a champagne other than the usual suspects, such as this bottle from small-batch producer Maurice Grumier. Straw-yellow in color, it’s a blend of pinot noir and pinot meunier—“blanc de noir” refers to a sparkling white wine made from dark-skinned grapes—and its refreshing crispness carries notes of brioche, pineapple, apple, and lime. 

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