As 2018 comes to a close, it’s nearly time to stress about holiday plans and devise a list of short-lived New Year’s resolutions. But before we look forward, let’s reflect on the year that’s passed.
Red, white, rosé, orange, and sparkling — we’ve had the privilege of tasting some amazing wines this year. And we thought it would only be fair if we share 50 of our favorites with you.
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Some highlights from this year’s list include the triumphant return of Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley. After years of hard-hitting, heavily oaked iterations, next-generation Napa Cabs have less alcohol and a lighter, fresher fruit character.
Additionally, Greece and Chile emerged from our tasting as countries to keep on your radar, with both producing some of the best wines we tried all year.
Sparkling wines stood out, too. We included a record number in our list this year, including four Champagnes. While they often come with a premium price tag, we find they consistently deliver on quality, and are not just for special occasions.
To come up with this ranking, members of the VinePair team, including staff, contributors, and trusted industry friends, compiled a short list of their favorite wines tasted in 2018. After some energetic discussions, wines were brought in and tasted as a panel before we whittled down the list to our top 50, guided by the following criteria.
All bottles had to be readily available in the U.S. The top 50 list focuses on wines that are drinkable, interesting, and, above all, offer great value for money. Nothing that made the list last year was considered for inclusion, and we placed a limit on one bottle per winery. Finally, we tasted the ones we considered among the top 10 multiple times.
This year, for the first time ever, we’re partnering with Wine.com to offer readers easy access to the bottles recommended here. And through 12/31/18, VinePair readers can get $20 off purchases of $50 or more at Wine.com by entering the code VinePair during checkout.
Here are VinePair’s top 50 wines of 2018, ranked.
Mayacamas Vineyards’ 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is a graceful return to form from an iconic Napa winery. Changes in ownership, civil disputes, and worries about a departure from the winery’s traditional, elegant style become distant memories when tasting this powerful but focused wine. Very light oak influence allows the elevated, sun-soaked terroir of Mount Veeder to shine. Acidity is bright, and the wine has tart, juicy black fruits. Herbs and black licorice add nuance, while chewy tannins persist in a lingering finish, which is rich in stony mineral notes. If over-extracted Napa Cabs turned you away from the variety and region, this bottle promises to lure you back in. The 2014 vintage is drinking exceptionally well, but it’s still a baby. This wine will mature with grace and elegance and can be left in the cellar for decades.
German-born Hermann J. Wiemer was a pioneer of viticulture and winemaking in New York’s Finger Lakes region. In 2003, his apprentice Fred Merwath took over the winery, along with Merwath’s college friend and now co-owner, Oskar Bynke. The pair are now making the region’s most exciting wines, growing grapes without pesticides and herbicides, and slowly fermenting wines over periods of eight months or more. Grapes for this bottle come from the HJW vineyard, whose aged vines benefit from the moderating effects of nearby Seneca Lake. The site’s elevation also provides a cool, prolonged growing season, meaning grapes mature with intensity and finesse and maintain fresh fruit flavors and bracing acidity. This bottle has green apple, white peach, and lemon notes, followed by a lasting, crisp finish. Dry, age-worthy, and absolutely delicious, this is the most stunning Riesling currently being made in America.
3. Viña VIK Millahue 2013 ($126)
Norwegian billionaire Alexander Vik founded an eponymous Chilean winery with the modest aim of creating the best wine in South America. In 2006, after years of extensive planning, research, and soil analysis, he purchased an 11,000-acre estate in the Millahue Valley. Viña Vik’s flagship Millahue blend contains Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from three different vine clones, planted across three plots. Smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Carménère complete the wine. The 2013 vintage more than delivers on Vik’s vision, with dark berry aromas, followed by dried herbs and floral notes. Bright and energetic on the palate, with spicy tannins, this is a polished wine capable of aging. Not only is this now South America’s best wine, it ranks among the finest bottles we tasted all year.
4. Kir-Yianni Estate Ramnista 2013 ($29)
An acidic, black grape, Xinomavro wines are powerful and highly tannic. Grapes for Kir-Yianni Estate’s Ramnista come from carefully selected vineyards whose low pH soils produce expressive, concentrated wines. The 2013 vintage is intensely aromatic, with flavors of dark fruit, leather, olives, and herbs. Grippy tannins work alongside racy acidity in this $25 bottle that will age well for 10 to 15 years at least. This wine proves that Greek Xinomavro can hang with the likes of Barolo and Pinot Noir. This is one variety to watch over the next couple of years.
An esteemed Paso Robles winery, Tablas Creek Vineyard was formed as a joint venture between the southern Rhône’s Perrin family (of Château de Beaucastel fame), and Robert Haas, the founder of wine importer Vineyard Brands. The plot features original vine cuttings from France, with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc making up the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc blend. The wine has an opulent mouthfeel and expressive nose with freshly cut green apples, dried salted nuts, and golden honey notes. The palate is equally rich, with a faint saline backbone and persisting finish. This is what happens when you combine quality growing techniques with experienced blending.
6. Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 ($90)
Priced at just $90, little more than many houses’ non-vintage offerings, this creamy, complex blanc de blancs offers bright, fruit-driven flavor. There are well-incorporated, toasty brioche notes, balanced by mouthwatering acidity. Complex yet approachable, this is a crowd-pleasing vintage Champagne, priced for the people.
Arianna Occhipinti “SP68” Rosso is a tangy, gluggable red from Sicily’s Vittoria region. In recent years, regional producers like Occhipinti have led the charge for terroir-driven, organic winemaking using local grapes like Nero d’Avola and Frappato. The unfiltered “SP68” Rosso is an approachable wine, with a mix of tart cranberry, strawberry, and cherry fruits. Earth and savory herbs come through as well, adding depth and complexity. The palate is similar to the nose — light, lip-smacking, and savory.
8. Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne 2013 ($43)
An affordable Barolo from one of the most celebrated producers in the region (many of Damilano’s single-vineyard bottles have three-figure price tags) this wine is a blend of grapes from five of the winery’s vineyards. It has a beautiful ruby color and quintessential Barolo aromas of roses plus a hint of leather and mushrooms. Rusted iron and savory, herbal spices come through on the palate, and it finishes with punchy tannins.
Sure, the idea of drinking a 13-year-old wine is appealing, but cellaring a bottle that long presents challenges. Rioja Reserva overcomes them beautifully. Fermentation for this elegant, complex wine takes place in large oak vats, before six further years of oak maturation prior to bottling. It drinks and smells incredibly fresh, with fruity and floral flavors complemented by dark chocolate and black tea. A widely available wine with over 10 years’ bottle age isn’t normally this easy to come by, especially one that tastes this good but costs (relatively) little.
One of Tuscany’s classic Vino Nobile di Montepulciano producers, this estate belongs to the newly created Nobile Alliance, which is pushing to rename the wine simply “Nobile.” This Sangiovese-heavy blend gives pricier Brunello a run for its money. Fragrant and well-structured, it brims with ripe red and black fruits, seasoned with light spice. Medium-bodied, with nice acidity and gentle tannins, it’s an incredibly easy-drinking wine. Take this to a dinner party and you’re guaranteed to please everyone at the table.
A single-vineyard bottling made with organically-farmed grapes, Flâneur La Belle Promenade is a luxurious Oregon Chardonnay. Careful oak integration combines with crisp, refreshing grapes to provide a bottle akin to liquid honeysuckle with a savory saline finish. Get your hands on this small-production wine before it sells out.
12. Matthiasson Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($72)
This is one for all the wine geeks out there. Matthiasson’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon is proof that Napa can make low-alcohol, old-world style Cabernets that are still age-worthy. The wine’s nose is abundant with brambly red and black fruits, and hints of minerals and herbs. Its fresh, vibrant body includes light tannins and refreshing acidity.
This is a stunning bottle of wine. René-Jean Dard & Francois Ribo are northern Rhone-based winemakers with a cult following in Parisian natural wine bars. Their 2015 Crozes-Hermitage is a delicious and earthy Syrah, and the perfect accompaniment for lamb dishes.
14. Clos Mogador Priorat 2015 ($100)
Founded in 1979, Clos Mogador is one of Priorat’s top producers. Made by René Barbier Meyer, son of the winery’s founder, the 2015 is an incredible, standout wine. Dense and rich, with vibrant acidity that belies its 15 percent alcohol, the wine is balanced, precise, and ideal for special occasions.
15. Charles Heidsieck Vintage Brut 2005 ($110)
A vintage Champagne from one of the more “indie” Champagne houses, Charles Heidsieck’s 2005 Brut tastes amazing now but promises to continue to age beautifully. This is both a serious wine and a serious Champagne.
Rosé continues to reign supreme as the go-to option for summer sipping, and this was, by some way, the best bottle we tasted all year. Cooly refreshing, with a honeysuckle nose and balanced, fruity palate, this is not just great rosé, it’s a seriously well-made wine.
17. CVNE ‘Monopole Clasico’ Blanco 2015 ($30)
CVNE’s Monopole Clasico is a bone-dry, savory unicorn of a wine. Made using a traditional practice of adding a small portion of sherry to a Riojan white blend, this complex wine leaves a lasting impression. Oxidized notes mix with fresh apple, lemon, and salted nuts, providing a white unlike any other.
18. Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV ($60)
An accessible, crowd-pleasing Champagne, the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve has great acidity and a nice mix of fruit and bread notes. This wine blows better-known non-vintage sparklers out of the water.
Want to get your hands on vintage, traditionally made bubbles with an affordable price tag? Look no further than Taittinger-owned domestic winery Domaine Carneros. A nose of peaches and yogurt meets a dry, effervescent mouthfeel, and is followed by a crisp, lasting finish.
Somms are obsessed with France’s Loire Valley, and this delicious Cab Franc from Chinon shows why. Le Clos Guillot is fresh but earthy, and would appeal to Pinot Noir fans looking for something with slightly more body.
21. Fontanafredda Serralunga d’Alba 2014 ($49)
Decant this wine and you’ll get the fresh rose and cherry aromas typical of Nebbiolo, followed by more ripe fruit on the palate. It’s balanced by crisp acidity and well-incorporated tannins. The winery’s entry-level Barolo costs just $40, making it fit for cellaring.
22. G.B. Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga 2016 ($25)
Pelaverga is a little-known red variety grown almost exclusively in Piedmont and known for producing lively, strawberry-scented wines. Pair this bottle with light bites or sip slightly chilled throughout the day.
23. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2015 ($34)
This vintage California bubbly is another example of the incredible value offered by some domestic sparklers. Made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, the Blanc de Blancs has elegant aromas of jasmine tea, green apples, and lemon meringue pie, with dry, savory notes and a delicate, creamy mousse.
24. Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($70)
This elegant, restrained Napa Cab is light on the palate. Lots of fresh red fruit and bright acidity plus silky tannins mean this wine will age nicely. It’s the opposite of an overly extracted offering you get from the wines made on Napa’s valley floor, and is much less expensive than it should be.
25. Maeli Rosso Infinito Veneto IGT 2015 ($21)
This incredible-value, Merlot-driven red blend includes portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère, all of which come from vineyards planted on volcanic soils in Italy’s Colli Euganei DOC. It is intensely aromatic and equally expressive on the palate, with lively acidity and smooth tannins.
26. Domaine de La Grande Courraye 2014 ($16)
Everything about this blend of 70 percent Merlot and 30 percent Cabernet Franc screams bargain buy. The $16 bottle is made from biodynamically-farmed fruit. It’s an expressive wine with pronounced but well-balanced tannins. Buy this wine by the case.
27. Santa Rita Triple C 2014 ($45)
The Santa Rita Triple C is a fresh and age-worthy Bordeaux blend from one of Chile’s most famous producers. An accessible alternative to premium Bordeaux, this is special-occasion wine, perfect for celebrations and steak nights.
Barone Ricasoli is the largest and oldest wine estate in the Chianti Classico region. Its vineyards surround the Castello di Brolio (Brolio Castle), providing grapes for top-quality, Sangiovese-dominant wines. Cherry and blackcurrant notes have an almost dusty character, complemented by balanced oak aging. This wine is drinking well now and will become even more interesting with age.
29. Royal Tokaji ‘The Oddity’ 2015 ($19)
Dry Furmint is an emerging, lesser-known style of Hungarian wine, and this bottle is a brilliant example of its potential for fans of crisp, mineral-driven whites. The Oddity coats the palate with a pleasantly chalky mouthfeel, yet there’s no lack of fruit — look for an abundance of apricot, peach, and citrus notes on the nose and palate.
30. Domaine des Malandes Chablis 2016 ($25)
For most Chablis producers, 2016 was a disaster, with a brutal combination of frost and hail greatly limiting production. While quantities of the vintage are low, quality is extremely high in some cases. The Domaine des Malandes offers lightning bolts of acidity and flintiness, with a lasting finish. And, at $25, it’s a veritable bargain from a prestigious region.
31. Fullerton Three Otters Pinot Noir 2015 ($20)
The Three Otters is a light, vibrant, and fragrant red that over-delivers on its price. Aromas and flavors include just-picked cherries and hints of black licorice. The finish is crisp and long, offering the perfect antidote to bigger, riper, brooding Pinots.
32. E. Sklavos Sclavus ‘Metagitnion’ 2016 ($34)
This is what a “natural” wine should taste like. The skin-contact white blend has a bounty of beeswax, honeycomb, and white stone fruit aromas. It’s complex but clean on the palate, with a persisting, powerful finish. This is a niche, small-production wine, but one that’s well worth going out of your way to find.
33. Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé NV ($70)
A nuanced Champagne with mass appeal (including pretty striking bottle design), this wine offers freshly baked brioche and bright red-fruit aromas. The palate has fine, integrated bubbles and bright strawberry, raspberry, and cherry notes. This Champagne guarantees quality, backing up its premium price.
The perfect marriage of winemaking style and vineyard site, Ken Wright coaxes notes of beeswax and fresh-cut hay out of Chardonnay grapes grown 1,400 feet above the Columbia River. Incredibly meager soils and fierce winds batter the bunches, producing wines with intense concentration and flavor.
35. Smith-Madrone Riesling 2015 ($32)
Riesling is probably not the first grape that comes to mind when you think of Napa Valley, but, if you like Austrian Rieslings, this bottle is right up your alley. The 2015 vintage is bright and bone dry, with almond blossom and lemon aromas, plus a hint of petrol. Flavors include white peach, pear, lemon, and bittersweet blood orange.
36. Phelps Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($17)
The Columbia Gorge is one of America’s most exciting, relatively under-the-radar wine regions. The area spans Washington and Oregon and produces focused, balanced Sauvignon Blanc. This bottling has hints of grapefruit and lime leaf with mouthwatering tartness.
Tuscan producers looking to reinstate Chianti’s prestige as a quality wine should point toward this bottle. Roasted plums, tart raspberries, wild game, and even hints of tobacco create a fascinating set of smells and tastes in the glass, while elegant tannins create an experience a million miles removed from the straw-covered table wine of yore.
This outstanding wine from one of Italy’s most celebrated Prosecco producers offers equal doses of high-quality winemaking and exceptional value. Pop a bottle and immerse yourself in a bubbling strawberry and fresh apple fruit salad.
Though labeled Toscana IGT, grapes for this wine come from Italy’s prestigious Bolgheri region, an area known for producing stunning Bordeaux varieties. Fruit-driven and easy-drinking, this is Old World Cabernet with an Italian flair. It’s lighter than standard Bordeaux blends and has an attractive, Tuscan earthiness.
40. Early Mountain Rosé 2017 ($22)
Yes, it’s a rosé from Virginia, which is, of course, a cool novelty. But Early Mountain is the real deal. Old World in style, the stunning, low-alcohol wine has aromatic herbs and fruit on the nose, and bright red berries mixed with roses on the palate.
41. Ovum “Memorista” Riesling 2017 ($25)
Old Riesling vines are an amazing resource in Oregon, and grapes for this wine come from vines planted in the 1970s. As a result, Memorista Riesling has depth and concentrated flavor, plus a hint of wood smoke. There’s a saline note, too, offering a wide range of pairing possibilities.
The beauty of this wine is in its texture. Exceptionally fresh and vibrant, but with a long finish, Les Tours is a must for any Beaujolais fan. Aromas are reminiscent of freshly picked raspberries, with hints of lavender, chalk, and dark chocolate. Serve with a very slight chill.
43. Castell d’Encus Taleia 2016 ($25)
The Castell d’Encus Taleia is an interesting Spanish iteration of Bordeaux’s famous Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon white blend. Partially fermented in 12th-century stone lagars, the wine is mineral-rich and savory, with a cool, funky character.
44. Bodega Amalaya 2016 ($15)
From Argentina’s Salta province comes this Malbec featuring grapes grown in high-altitude vineyards. The wine, which also contains a small percentage of Tannat and Petit Verdot, has excellent acidity, as well as fresh fruit aromas and flavors. There’s a hint of French oak on the nose, making this an entry-level Malbec you’ll enthusiastically recommend, especially for the price.
45. Trimbach Riesling Réserve 2015 ($23)
This is a textbook Alsatian Riesling: dry and tart, with citrus fruit, honey, and wet stone notes. Racing acidity balances out a moderate body, leaving a complex, lasting finish.
46. Tasca d’Almerita Grillo di Mozia 2017 ($20)
Made from indigenous Sicilian Grillo grapes, this vibrant, zesty wine has aromas of citrus, floral, and ripe white peaches, followed by a palate featuring tart honeydew, lemon, and a hint of sea salt on the palate.
Hailing from a single vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley, this expressive, nuanced Cabernet has silky tannins and a long, complex finish. If you like boisterous Napa Cabs, consider this wine instead — at $20, it’s a steal.
48. Château Puech-Haut La Closerie du Pic 2014 ($26.00)
Full-bodied and rich, this Grenache-Syrah blend has dense aromas of blackberry, oak, and sandalwood and a beautifully dark color. If you like powerful, Grenache-based wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat, you’ll love this (comparatively affordable) bottle.
49. Malene Rosé 2017 ($17)
A California rosé with a Provençal accent, this elegant, complex wine is bursting with strawberry aromas, which continue onto the palate and mix with melon and a hint of bitter orange peel.
A blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, this wine features grapes from 100-year-old vines and fantastic value. It has aromas of blackberries, rosemary, and a hint of toasted marshmallows, making it appealing for wine geeks and beginners alike.