From new sparkling wines to celebrate the fresh start to the year to a host of wines from different terroir, there are many options for the oenophiles in 2021.
Paula Kornell Wines
In January 2020, I admired my bottle of newly released Paula Kornell California Brut NV with gold and black stripes around the neck. Given the festive look, I decided to save it for a celebratory event. Then social events shuttered. This January, I chose to toast 2021 with the Paula Kornell—why wait any longer?
When I met Kornell a few years ago, I discovered her bubbly personality! She has a wine background inherited from her father’s Kornell Champagne Cellars and experience as a winery manager and consultant. Before I popped the cork on the Kornell California Brut, I delved deeper into her family’s heritage. Her father Hanns Kornell studied enology and worked in European vineyards before imprisonment in Dachau Concentration Camp with his Jewish parents. Released in 1939, he landed in New York with $2, hitchhiked to California, and worked to open a winery in 1958. After several successful decades as one of Napa Valley’s first sparkling wine producers, the winery closed in 1992.
In 2017, Kornell partnered with Vintage Wine Estates to launch Paula Kornell Napa Valley Los Carneros. With the California Brut, I discovered peachy, jasmine aromas, refreshing acidity, and a smooth, rounded mouthfeel with an affordable $22 price.
Buena Vista Champagne La Victoire
The year 2021 brings hope of victory over the Covid-19 virus. But surely an American winery in Sonoma can’t call its sparkling wine Champagne, a name reserved for the French appellation? Well, Jean-Charles Boisset owns Buena Vista, and his family owns wineries and has vinous connections in France. The grapes are harvested and vinified in Champagne vineyards, which explains the label.
Boisset loves to honor the heritage of winemaking at each of his properties. Located near the town of Sonoma and one of the oldest wineries in California “Count” Agoston Haraszthy founded Buena Vista, who kick-started California viticulture. Boisset purchased the winery in 2001 and promptly set to restore its historic splendor — and sparkling wine history. Haraszthy’s son Arpad spent two years in Champagne learning the traditional ways of making bubbly wines. He returned and produced sparkling wine, then legally named Champagne under the Eclipse brand.
As part of the Boisset Collection, the vintner who owns wineries in Napa and Sonoma, in partnership with his family’s wineries in France, launched Buena Vista La Victoire Brut and a Buena Vista Rosé, to honor the Haraszthys with French grapes. I chose the Brut, available at some retail outlets at around $75, with a citrus aroma followed by sweet and brioche notes. I’m fond of the full, intense mouthfeel and fresh acidity.
Marsuret Rive di Guia DOCG Prosecco Superiore
Looking forward to 2021 as a far more superior year on many levels, I reached for this extra brut sparkling wine with a very long name. The Superiore label refers to the top-of-the-line Prosecco producing area between the small towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, a UNESCO World Heritage site north of Venice. I have participated in many wine events in this area. After a recent Zoom call with Superiore winemakers, I have a greater appreciation for the nomenclature. This verdant region lies among hills dotted with vineyards between the two towns, the most heralded region being Cartizze, a bowl surrounded by steep, sun-filled hillsides. The next category, the Rive vineyards, occupy the area’s steepest hills, which brings a powerful concentration to Prosecco’s Glera grapes.
It’s no secret that Prosecco is made with the second fermentation to produce bubbles in big tanks rather than the bottle, complete with a sugar dosage if desired. The Prosecco quality has increased in the last decades. The Superiore labels reflect the sparklers that compare favorably to Cava and evoke some Champagne.
The Marsura family has farmed the hills of Cartizza and various rives since 1936—the nickname of the family is Marsuret, thus the eponymous winery. The wines from Rive di Guia manifest a soft intensity of perlage or bubble structure. My tasters and I enjoyed the aromas of citrus and white flowers followed by well-structured elegance. Very dry at low sugar levels, the wine’s fruitfulness paired well with prosciutto and brie tapas.
With much attention on Dry January, Hampton Water offers a tempting name for those eschewing alcohol. Alas, this is a dry French rosé blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvedre from the Languedoc region of southern France. What tempted me to the wine was the celebrity backstory. As fans of sharing wine with friends and family in the Hamptons, Jon Bon Jovi and his son Jesse Bongiovi decided to create one of their own. The duo partnered with French vintner Gerard Bertrand, esteemed for his rosé winemaking skills.
Bertrand and his team take care of their winemaking. The wine’s grapes are harvested, pressed separately, and analyzed for color and flavor before blending. Some of the fermented wine is aged in French oak barrels for a few months.
My tasters and I found the wine to be light-bodied and pale in color. The aroma shows citrus and spice. Though sipping Hampton Water begins with a sweet note, the finish is dry. Expect a light-bodied wine, which may marry better with spicy Szechuan food than our charcuterie plate.
Couvent des Thorins from Chateau du Moulin-à-Vent
A wine named for a convent in Beaujolais may reflect the many thoughts and prayers in the U.S. for peaceful times and the end of the seclusion we’re experiencing during the pandemic. The Beaujolais region offers many more intense and intriguing wines than the nouveau style, released a few months after harvest.
Couvent des Thorins presents complex fruit and earth flavors with a robust medium-body structure. The wine is from Moulin-à-Vent in the highest-rated Beaujolais Cru AOC appellation. Often called the “king” of the ten crus, Moulin-à-Vent is named for the 18th century stone windmill at the top of Les Thorins hill. The windy terroir minimizes pest problems and increases the concentration of grape flavors.
The winery was once called Chateau des Thorins. The name changed to Chateau du Moulin à Vent when the cru was designated an AOC appellation in 1936. The winery owns 91 acres of vineyards of the Gamay Beaujolais grape and also produces single-vineyard wines. I have enjoyed Couvent des Thorins with dishes from yellow chicken curry to pizza. The news on this reasonably priced wine at $25 is its availability at many Whole Foods stores.
The Pundit from Tenet of the ēlicit Wine Project
My tasting panel and I tasted The Pundit. We universally liked the wine’s deep, dark cherry flavor and well-rounded structure. We also enjoyed the wise owl glaring at us from the label, perhaps imploring patience from the unexpected events of 2020 and hope for 2021.
For all the “wise old owl” implications, the wine possesses intensely modern provenance. The Pundit is one of the “Innovation Hub” wines from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the largest producer in the state. Along with Intrinsic and Liquid Light brands, Tenet wines break out from the pack for their approach to winemaking. Pundit is a collaboration from Ste. Michelle and the acclaimed Rhône winemaker Michel Gassier with the assistance of Southern Rhône’s famous enology consultant, Philippe Cambie. The French experts suggested changes in vineyard management before the team harvested Pundit grapes the following year.
Though we knew Washington state was best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, we were pleased to have Syrah in the glass. We enjoyed the 2017 Tenet Columbia Valley selection with aromas of black fruit and tobacco. We described the flavors as juicy, black peppery, stewed fruit, and chocolate. At $25, the Columbia Valley Syrah is less expensive than Pundit from Yakima Valleys, Wahluke Slope, and Horse Heaven Hills at $40 but no less drinkable and worth pairing with a steak or tapas. Note that the wine is available by subscription.
With hopes of international travel again in 2021, my thoughts turned to Argentina’s sun and energy. This Malbec from the high altitude Uco Valley 30 miles south of Mendoza is a classic winter wine with dark flavors. The name means Black Wine. Alejandro Sejanovich and Jeff Mausbach’s collaboration, two colleagues who worked together at Bodega Cateña Zapata, resulted in a rich, red wine to warm up chilly days and nights.
The high altitude fosters concentration of flavor and complexity to the sometimes too rounded and soft Malbec grape. As dark and rich as the wine appeared, the 2017 Tinto Negro Uco Valley bottling was not sweet. Smooth with well-tamed tannins, yes, but not flaccid. I enjoyed the wine with spiced chicken and veggies. I thoroughly enjoyed the deep flavor with a layer of pleasing bright finish on a cold night.
Taking an innovative approach, the winemakers also offer a series of wines, which they call “single soil,” which range from rocky limestone to silty soils.
All told, these wines herald a new year with creative ways to enjoy a meal or an hour with friends and family on zoom or at a distance in real-time.
Paula Kornell https://www.paulakornell.com/
Buena Vista https://www.boissetcollection.com/brands/buena-vista-winery
Hampton Water Wine https://hamptonwaterwine.com/
Chateau des Moulin-àVent http://www.chateaudumoulinavent.com/boutique_us/index.cfm
The Pundit https://www.ste-michelle.com/csm/wine-shop/tenet/5637155151.c
Tinto Negro http://www.tintonegro.com/