In 2023, the International Wine Review published a rich collection of wine reports and reviews of new wines on the market. They cover the wines of Rioja, California’s San Luis Obispo Coast, South Africa, Montefalco/Umbria, Greece and much more.
Our selection of the Best of 2023 consists of some of the very special wines in each region that are available in the US and will delight wine connoisseurs. They would make marvelous Holiday gifts. For our readers who enjoy reading about wine and food we also provide a list of some of the best books on these topics in 2023. These also make wonderful gifts.
Of course, the best gift of all, to yourself and others, is a subscription to the International Wine Review. To subscribe to the i-winereview, click here.
In 2023 we tasted over 500 wines in Rioja. There are so many excellent producers and wonderful wines made in Rioja that it’s not possible to do justice by listing just a few wines. Please consult Report #97: Dynamic Rioja: Terroir, Youth & Climate for our wine reviews. Our listing of the top scoring wines is given at the bottom of this article.
Look for the traditionally styled wines by CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, and Muga. Among distinctly modern producers, look for wines from Amarén, Benjamín Romeo, Pujanza, Sierra Cantabria, Señorio de San Vicente, and Viñedos de Páganos.
Rioja has rediscovered its white wine heritage; look for wines from Abel Mendoza, Alegre Valgañón, Benjamín Romeo, Exopto, Juan Carlos Sancha, Nivarius and others. After being overshadowed by Tempranillo in recent decades, the Garnacha grape is also enjoying a resurgence. Look for wines from Arizcuren, Juan Carlos Sancha, Palacios Remondo, and others.
Outstanding, pioneering wineries like Artadi, Finca Allende, and Telmo Rodriguez/Remelluri first put the focus on terroir with bottlings from single vineyards and villages. Many others also do this today including Artuke, Bhilar, Bideona, Conde de Hervías, Cuentaviñas, Labastida, MacRobert & Canals, Remirez de Ganuza, Sierra de Toloño, and Vinos en Voz Baja.
Top Scoring Red Wines
|Producer & Wine
|La Rioja Alta 2010 Gran Reserva 890
Artadi 2019 Viña El Pison
Finca Allende 2015 Aurus
La Rioja Alta 2015 Gran Reserva 904
Muga 2015 Prado Enea Gran Reserva
Viñedos de Páganos 2008 El Puntido Gran Reserva
Remelluri 2014 Gran Reserva
Muga 2019 Aro
Artadi 2019 El Carretil
Arizcuren 2021 Barranco del Prado
Juan Carlos Sancha 2020 Cerro La Isa Tinto
Bodegas Amarén 2018 Carraquintana
Artuke 2021 La Condenada
Pujanza 2018 Cisma
Cuentaviñas 2020 Los Yelsones
Cuentaviñas 2020 El Tiznado
Valdemar 2018 Conde Valdemar Edición Limitada
Benjamin Romeo 2019 La Cueva del Contador
Carlos Sánchez 2021 Buradón Las Plegarias
Top Scoring White Wines
|Producer & Wine
|Remírez de Ganuza 2016 Gran Reserva Blanco Olagar
Pujanza 2021 Añadas Frías
Remelluri 2019 Rioja Blanco
Ostatu 2013 Blanco Gran Reserva
Abel Mendoza 2022 5V Blanco
Juan Carlos Sancha 2020 Cerro La Isa Blanco
Exopto 2020 El Bernate de Exopto
Bhilar 2014 Phinca La Revilla Blanco Sexto Año
SAN LUIS OBISPO COAST
In 2023 we reported on the San Luis Obispo Coast AVA, California’s newest, coolest and most unique wine region, covering vineyards located close to the sea in San Luis Obispo County. It produces excellent wines from grapes that love cool climates like Albariño, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, and Pinot Noir. See our Report #96 The Wines of the SLO Coast for recommendations of individual wines. We list below some of our favorite producers, by grape variety. In addition, look for Zinfandel at Saucelito Canyon; Riesling at Claiborne & Churchill; Grüner Veltliner at Maidenstoen; and Tempranillo at Verdad. Read our articles on Talley, Niner, Stephen Ross, Dunites, Center of Effort, and Verdad.
Albariño: Brecon, Cadre, Niner, Stephen Ross, Verdad
Chardonnay: Center of Effort, Chamisal, Dunites, JP Wolff, Sawyer Lindquist, Niner, Talley, Testarossa, Tolosa
Pinot Noir: Aequorea, Biddle Ranch, Center of Effort, Chamisal, Claiborne & Churchill, Dunites, Laetitia, Niner, Sinor-LaVallee, Pinot Noir, Talley, Testarossa, Tolosa
Syrah: Biddle Ranch, Claiborne & Churchill, Derby, Dunites, Lindquist, Timbre
In 2023, we wrote several articles about individual wineries in South Africa as well as Report 95: South African Sauvignon Blanc & Blends. South Africa has many, many excellent producers, but you may need to do an internet search to find a wine store in the US that stocks the best wines. We’ve listed just a few of our recommendations below. Links are also given to some of the South African wine articles we’ve written in 2023. The photo is of harvest at Meerlust earlier this year.
Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs Robertson: Pieter Ferreira is the long time chef de caves at Graham Beck, but this is his superb private label. South African sparkling wine made the champenoise methode is very good and very reasonably priced. If you can’t find Pieter Ferreira, look for Graham Beck, Le Lude, and Villiera among others.
Alheit Vineyards Nautical Dawn Stellenbosch: Chris Alheit is one of the country’s top producers of Chenin Blanc. This is one of his most outstanding, but any Chenin from Alheit is highly recommended. Of course there are many other excellent producers of Chenin Blanc. Look for David & Nadia, Ken Forrester, Mullineux, Rall, and others.
Duncan Savage White Western Cape: A consistently outstanding blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Other producers of excellent Sauvignon Blanc based blends include Cape Point, Cederberg, Nitída, Tokara, Van Rensburg, and Vergelegen.
Klein Constantia Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blanc Constantia: A distinctive wine from this exceptional single vineyard parcel. Another superb single parcel Sauvignon Blanc is Diemersdal’s The Journal. And there are many others; try Cape Point, De Grendel, Lomond, Marianne, Thorne & Daughters, and Trizanne. And don’t forget Waterkloof”s excellent Circle of Life blend. And thanks to Waterkloof for the photo at the beginning of our December newsletter.
Sadie Family Pofadder Swartland: A super-pure, refined Cinsault wine made from very old, dry farmed vines. If you can’t find this wine, try to find an old vine Cinsault from AA Badenhorst, Duncan Savage, or Lukas Van Loggerenberg.
Meerlust Rubicon Stellenbosch: A classy and classic Bordeaux blend.
MONTEFALCO IN UMBRIA
The Montefalco wine region of Italy’s Umbria province grows the excellent Sagrantino grape, and the best wines we tasted in 2023 are well worth waiting for this grape’s famous tannins to evolve. If you are impatient or simply want a delicious red wine to drink now, we highly recommend the Sangiovese-Sagrantino blend called Montefalco Rosso. And if your tastes run to white wines, this regions produces excellent Trebbiano Spoletino and Grechetto wines. We list our top recommendations for producers of each of these wine types at the bottom of this article.
Here are some specific wine recommendations, but we strongly recommend you consult Report 94 The Montefalco Wines of Umbria for a much longer list of excellent wines to consider purchasing.
Antonelli Chiusa di Pannone Sagrantino Montefalco: A classic producer of Sagrantino; all of his Sagrantino bottlings are excellent.
Arnaldo Caprai Collepiano Sagrantino Montefalco: Another excellent Sagrantino from one of Umbria’s very top producers.
Tenute Lunelli Tenuta Castelbuono Ziggaraut Montefalco Rosso: This is a project of the Lunelli family, famous for its Ferrari sparkling wine. An excellent, fresh red wine that’s ready to drink now.
Scacciadiavoli Trebbiano Spoletino Spoleto: Trebbiano Spoletino has become the “go to” white variety of Umbria; it bears little resemblance to more common Trebbiano varieties. Giampaolo Tabarrini’s Trebbiano Spoletino Adarmando is also outstanding.
Top Producers (*exceptionally good)
Luca di Tomaso*
Luca di Tomaso*
Montefalco Bianco & Trebbiano Spoletino
Terre di San Felice*
In 2022-23, the IWR published comprehensive reports on the wines of Greece’s major wine regions. The Peloponnese is a large, Greek wine growing region famous for producing Agiorgitiko, Moschophilero, and Malvasia. Our Report 93 on Wines of the Peloponnese gives many wine recommendations. Here are just a few.
Gaia Agiorgitiko PDO Nemea: Greece’s prime region for producing Agiorigitko is Nemea, and Gaia is one of its best producers and makes several very good wines.
Skouras Mega Oenos PGI Peloponnese: An outstanding blend of Agiorigitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon; Domaine Skouras is an outstanding producer of several grape varieties.
Troupis Holy Mania PDO Mantinia: An elegant Moschophilero from one of Greece’s top producers of this variety.
Monemvasia Malvasia PDO Monemvasia Malvasia: This is an outstanding example of the ancient sweet wine made under the Ottomans.
The island of Crete is rediscovering its indigenous grape varieties. Here are three varieties and producers we highly recommend. But we recommend you read our Report 92: Crete’s Wine Revolution for our reviews of many more unique and delicious wines.
Douloufakis Aspros Lagos PGI Crete: An excellent example of Crete’s best white grape variety, Vidiano.
Lyrarakis Dafni Psarades PGI Crete: The Lyrarakis family has taken the lead in discovering and replanting Crete’s indigenous varieties like the excellent but rare white variety Dafni. But almost all the wines Lyrarakis produces are very very good.
Manousakis Nostos Assyrtiko Crete: Assyrtiko is now grown all over Greece, and this one is both delicious and great value.
As is true every year, there were many fine wine releases from California in 2023. Here are some of the top producers and their wines that we reviewed in our articles. In addition, we reviewed numerous excellent producers and their wines in Report 96 The Wines and Vineyards of the SLO Coast.
Smith-Madrone wines from Spring Mountain above Napa Valley: Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Whitehall Lane makes rich Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley.
Argentine winemaker Santiago Achával at The Farm Winery in Paso Robles makes rich Bordeaux and Rhone blends. Blue Rock makes some very good Bordeaux variety wines in Sonoma County.
Adam Lee makes outstanding Clarice Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands; Testarossa also makes several excellent Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from this AVA.
Excellent Pinot Noirs are made by Gary Farrell, Morét-Brealynn and Papapietro in the Russian River Valley.
Dutton-Goldfield makes several superb Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in Green Valley in Sonoma County as well as in Marin and Mendocino counties. Three Sticks is also making some very very good Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley.
Rhys Vineyards of Santa Cruz Mountains makes outstanding Pinot Noir and recently also began making California wines from the grape varieties of Sicily’s Mt. Etna, Carricante and Nerello Mascalese.
BOOKS ON WINE & FOOD
We’ve read and reported on several books on wine and food this year. The following is a selection of books we highly recommend.
Italy by Ingredient by Viola Buitoni. The focus of this book is on using fresh ingredients to prepare flavorful food. The recipes are “doable” by the average, experienced cook and the food photos are spectacular. Here’s our review.
Riojas Vinos Silenciosos by Alberto Gil, wine correspondent for La Rioja, and Antonio Remesal Villar, a professor at the Universidad Pública de Navarra. If you are interested in the latest developments in Rioja and if you read Spanish, this is a must-have book, especially if traveling to Rioja is somewhere in your future. Read our review here.
Finding Meaning in Wine by Michael Sinowitz. If your interest in wine goes beyond simply drinking it and if you like reading intellectual debates about winemaking and wine tasting, this book is stimulating, unlike any other. Our review can be found here.
The New French Wine: Redefining the World’s Greatest Wine Culture by Jon Bonné. The San Francisco Chronicle’s former wine editor has written a two volume treatise challenging that country’s appellation system and recognizing the creative winemakers who don’t quite fit in. An original book from this erudite writer. The publisher is Ten Speed Press.
Platter’s 2024 South African Wine Guide. For over three decades, this has been the most comprehensive, authoritative annual guide to South African wine. The high quality of South African wine has been “discovered” by the European press, and more of it is arriving on North American shores. The on-line version of Platter’s Guide can be subscribed to here.
The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries by Mark Gudgel. The 1976 Judgement of Paris put California wine on the map and brought forth radical changes in the vineyards and wineries of the Napa Valley and elsewhere in California. This well-researched book is a history of Napa Valley wine that almost all wine geeks will find fascinating. Published by History Press.
The Wines of Georgia by Lisa Granik. We recently visited the Kakheti and Khartli wine regions of Georgia, and this book was our guide to the grapes, regions, and wineries of that country. Almost everything about Georgian wine is new to those of us used to drinking wines from French and Italian varieties made in the modern, European method. This book is essential reading to anyone wanting to learn about Georgian wine. The publisher is Infinite Ideas.