With 2019 more than half over, we asked Vanessa Da Silva, this year’s Outstanding Alumni Award winner for Outstanding Sommelier, to share her top 10 wines of the year (so far!) As the Sommelier at Ninety Acres Farm in New Jersey, she serves her guests wines that she truly loves from experiences and knowledge gained throughout her career.
After a recent trip to New Zealand as one of only 18 Sommeliers in the world to be invited to the New Zealand Wine Sommit, she was inspired to learn more about the amazing wines produced in the country. Below, you’ll find 4 delicious bottles from the up-and-coming wine country, plus wines like the “not always easy to like” Viognier and the “herbal and complex” Syrah!
Check out what she said were her favorite wines of the year, and be sure to pick up a bottle that’ll easily impress!
2015 Millton Clos Samuel Viognier Gisborne, New Zealand
Viognier isn’t always the easiest variety to like. It’s often overly aromatic and can lack acidity making it feel heavy on the palate. This Viognier blew me away! It is intense and complex with layers of appealing aromatics and flavors, the bright acidity perfectly balances the residual sugar in this late-harvest wine. Millton Vineyards is a unique & magical place—James Millton is an adamant believer in Biodynamics and the vineyards are as alive with life as the wine is. This wine was an absolute gem and I have no doubt that it will age for decades to come.
2016 Lingua Franca The Plough Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon
Winemaker Thomas Savre at Lingua Franca makes wine of precision, care, and soul. They are compelling, complex and balanced— delicious now and yet still have so much potential to age. This Cuvee, the Plough, is made in homage to the vineyard workers, to the people who keep this winery moving. If you haven’t tried these wines yet, you should!
2017 Smockshop Spring Ephemeral Grenache Columbia Gorge, Oregon
Hiyu Wine Farm is an experience which will seep into you and engulf your senses and it is a must-visit for any Biodynamic wine lover. Hiyu goes beyond solely Biodynamics, and also incorporates practices of permaculture and animals living among the vines into their charming farm. This wine smells like where it is from more than any I’ve tasted this year. You can practically smell the spring herbs growing in the vineyard, the just ripe red fruit aromas smell as though growing wild in surrounding forest. The structure on the palate is refreshing and up lifting like the breeze across the vineyard as you look towards Mt. Hood. This is a wine that encompasses your senses and brings you to the farm it came from. I can’t help but smile every time I have the opportunity to serve it.
2013 Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle Central Otago, New Zealand
Rudi Bauer, winemaker at Quartz Reef, let this sparkling wine sit on the lees for over 4.5 years! This makes him both a bit of a madman and an absolute genius! Rudi is humble despite being one of the foremost winemakers in Central Otago— he is originally from Austria, having come to New Zealand over 30-years ago for what was supposed to be a 6-month stage. Rudi believes wholeheartedly in Biodynamics and the wines are full of passion, authenticity to where they’re coming from, and vibrantly delicious. This sparkling wine is 91% Chardonnay, 9% Pinot Noir from a vineyard in the Bendigo sub-region of Central Otago. This wine is mouthwatering with layers of citrus fruit, fresh brioche, and poached orchard fruits—not to be missed!
2013 Element Syrah Finger Lakes, New York
Element winery makes a compelling case for cool climate varieties from the Finger Lakes. One of my favorite is this Syrah! It is savory, herbal, complex, and still showing incredible youth despite being nearly 6-years old. Element winery takes great care in making wines that are genuine to the Finger Lakes, take a minimalist (nothing added, nothing taken away) approach to winemaking, and allow their wine the time they need before being released. This 2013 is the current release of Element Syrah, it is stunning and still has a lot of life in it!
2012 Te Mata Elston Chardonnay Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Te Mata estate was first planted in 1892! They are located at the heart of Hawke’s Bay GI, the Havelock Hills. Te Mata is part of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand and looks not only at their environmental impact, but also takes into account social and economic sustainability. The Elston Chardonnay is all about balance and elegance, spending 10-months on its lees in barrel, Elston shows lovely richness while maintaining a strong backbone of freshness. I had the opportunity to taste several vintages while in New Zealand, and can say with confidence that it is delicious in its youth, and stunning as it ages.
2009 Dry River Craighall Riesling Martinborough, New Zealand
Martinborough GI is a small winegrowing area renowned for its Pinot Noir in the Wairarapa GI on the North Island of New Zealand. Martinborough comes across as an agricultural valley, where there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie among winegrowers. Dry River has deep roots in the area and they farm in a way which is sustainable to their site, and seek to preserve rather than ‘enhance’ wine. This riesling comes from their Craighill vineyard and is layered with citrus blossom tones, citrus zest, juicy pit fruits, and undertones of savory earth tones. The Dry River rieslings are mouthwatering and refreshing in their youth, but really compelling with age.
2015 The Boneline Iridium Canterbury, New Zealand
The Boneline is a small estate in Canterbury, New Zealand. The Boneline takes its name from the nearby K-T Boundary line and each label features a fossil found within the nearby Waipara river. The Boneline is a unique place where the Southern Alps provide a rain shadow and there is bountiful sunshine, warm dry westerly winds and cool southerly winds that provide for long glorious vintages. Biodiversity reigns here and vines grow among pigs and sheep, native scrub provides shelter for geckos and native birds. And the wine is just as stunning! The Boneline has just been made available in the US as of July 2019, and I cannot urge you enough to find & try some. This Iridium is a red blend of primarily Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is a melody of deep dark fruit, savory spice, and herbal earth tones— it is alluring, delicious, and will linger on your mind!
2015 Marc Delienne Abbaye Road Fleurie, Beaujolais
Marc Delienne works organically, and practices biodynamics on a small 12 acre estate in Fleurie, Beaujolais. He believes in minimal intervention and allows the wine to speak for itself. He uses goblet training, ambient yeast, whole cluster fermentation, no racking, no fining nor filtering, aging in foudre or concrete, and very little sulfur. His wines are soulful, with deep complex flavors that linger in the palate, and a soft mouth-feel. They are everything that Gamay should be!
2016 Syncline Mourvèdre Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
James and Poppie Mantone run Syncline Winery with their family along the Columbia river within the Columbia Gorge AVA. They believe in biodynamics to help their vineyard thrive and take care to observe the health of their soils, wines, and employees. They have sworn-off the manipulation of wines, a sentiment which I love! They focus on Rhône varietals, and the wine they produce is both soulful and satisfying. This Mourvèdre has high tones of juicy red berries, black pepper, cured meat, and petrichor. You don’t often see varietal Mourvèdre, but Syncline is making a very compelling case for it.