There’s much more than truth in a great glass of red wine, especially if you ask its maker. Long is the list of variables — both environmental and human — that must align in order for a wine to become balanced, let alone outstanding enough to wind up on lists like this one. While we might feel compelled to look to older vintages when choosing the best red wines to buy now, it’s important to invest in the present, too. Shopping younger vintages can be just as gratifying as the hunt for aged, harder-to-find bottles. Whether you’re looking to buy a youthful, fresh red to drink right now or a bottle to hang onto for a year or 20, here are our certified sommelier-approved bottles (all released in the last four years) that’ll stop you in your tracks time and time again.
King Estate, Temperance Hill Pinot Noir, 2016
King Estate is known for some of the south Willamette Valley’s best wines, and though this winery offers a wider selection of varietals than most in the area, you can never go wrong with a solid pinot noir (the region’s claim to fame). The 2016 Temperance Hill is a special bottling for King Estate in that its eponymous vineyard site first became available during this vintage after being coveted for years by the team of winemakers — sitting at higher elevation than the majority of King’s other vineyard blocks, Temperance Hill has been sustainably farmed since 1999 and yields stunningly complex, earthy wines, as shown by this 2016 pinot noir. Think: notes of truffle, wet forest floor, coffee, violet, rose petal, blueberry, and cocoa with bright, balancing acidity and gentle yet firm tannins.
To buy: $70, kingestate.com
Kitá, Camp 4 Vineyard Grenache, 2017
Over the last 20 years, winemaker Tara Gomez has steadily been rising to cult-favorite status in the business — her passion and talent run deep, and as an industry pioneer for women and fellow members of the Indigenous community, the impact Gomez has had (and continues to have) on the global wine scene is immeasurable. Kitá, which translates to “our valley oak” in the language of the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe, is a sustainable winery that produces a variety of award-winning wines. While slightly hard to come by, the 2017 Camp 4 Vineyard Grenache is a standout with beautifully intermingling notes of spice, damp earth, cocoa, coffee, ripe red fruits, and violet, bordering on savory at times. While you shop for this bottle, be sure to also check out the range of wines by Camins 2 Dreams, a boutique winery Gomez co-founded with her wife and fellow winemaker Mireia Taribó in 2017.
To buy: $44, drinkplg.com
Penfolds, Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018
For the serious collectors out there, investing in the Penfolds Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon is worth every penny (and every year spent waiting to uncork it). This is a pure and quintessential expression of the winery’s signature style favored by major critics. A blend of grapes harvested from Australian cabernet sauvignon vines planted in Napa Valley and a small percentage of old vine Australian Shiraz, the 2018 Quantum vintage has undeniable presence and intensity. Cellar this one for at least five years before drinking.
To buy: $700, totalwine.com
Bodega Chacra, “Treinta y Dos” Pinot Noir, 2017
For Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, wine runs in the family — his grandfather, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, was the man behind the iconic Super Tuscan Sassicaia, and now Piero is fulfilling his own vinous dreams producing old-vine pinot noir in the heart of Patagonia using organic and biodynamic practices. Bodega Chacra’s 2017 Treinta y Dos is an impressive, single-vineyard bottling that’s very age-worthy but can certainly hold its own in the glass now after a good decant. You can expect beautiful florality and prominent black and red cherry notes in this pinot, along with finely structured tannins and distinct salinity.
To buy: $100, 67wine.com
Pio Cesare, Barolo Ornato, 2017
There’s always a time and place for big, bold Italian wines — Barolo has long been considered one of the country’s top players, and historic producer Pio Cesare, which is family-owned to this day, is known for making some of Piedmont’s very best. The 2017 Ornato is especially interesting in that it was the winery’s first single-vineyard bottling, along with 1985 the inaugural vintage, and has gained a reputation as being Pio Cesare’s most powerful wine, thanks to its intensity and structure. Like the rest of its kind, this Barolo is made from 100 percent nebbiolo, but there’s a richness and concentration to Ornato that gives it a special allure. You’ll want to cellar this one for at least four or five years if you purchase in 2021.
To buy: $150, wine.com
Frescobaldi, Gorgona Rosso, 2018
The story behind this stunning red blend by Frescobaldi, an iconic name in Italian wines, is just as compelling as the contents of the bottle. The small island of Gorgona is a penal colony off the coast of Livorno, and the incarcerated residents’ winemaking production is a unique social reform project designed to set its participants up for success in the outside world by teaching valuable skill sets, paying living wages equal to Frescobaldi employees, and boosting overall morale, among other benefits. Not only is this operation doing the world some good — Gorgona’s recidivism rate is staggeringly low — but the wine itself is delicious. The amphora-aged red wine, Gorgona Rosso, is a blend of sangiovese and vermentino nero grapes and features an ample bouquet of Mediterranean flora and rich spice, and a complex, velveteen palate that leads into a long, volcanic finish.
To buy: $257, enotecaproperzio.com
Realm Cellars, The Bard, 2018
The world of California cabernet is vast, but it’s not difficult to find a winery or bottle that stands out from the crowd. Over the past few years, Realm Cellars has amassed a cult following as a consistent top-quality producer with an edge, driven by winemaker Benoit Touquette (a Bordeaux native) and known primarily for its single-vineyard releases, artistic collaborations, and exclusive members’ club. Touquette’s Bordeaux-style Bard blend is an excellent entry point for those new to his wines (and a treat for the familiar), and the 2018 vintage — a great year for Napa and the North Coast AVA as a whole — is a phenomenally high-value buy. This wine is big and enveloping with deep, dark red and black fruits, delicate florality, and incredible complexity, a cabernet-dominant powerhouse perfect for grilled meats, wild mushrooms, pungent cheeses, cream sauces, and more. You’ll want to hang onto the 2018 Realm Cellars Bard for at least a few years, but if you’re on the hunt for one to open now, go for the 2011 or older.
To buy: $160, totalwine.com
Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, Les Bons Batons, 2018
With nearly a century of winemaking under its belt, Domaine Ghislaine Barthod is regarded as a legend in the Chambolle-Musigny area of Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or. Ghislaine Barthod, protégé of the house’s founder and previous winemaker Gaston Barthod (her father), has a knack for drawing out the purest expression of her pinot noir grapes and the soils on which they were grown. Les Bons Batons is a special wine, sourced from and named for a standout parcel on the house’s estate, the 2017 and 2018 vintages being particular favorites within the sommelier community. It’s medium in body and is incredibly earthy on both the nose and palate, offering striking minerality and structured tannins with notes of bright cherry, raspberry, and silky spice leading into a beautifully balanced, lingering finish. Drink it now if you’d like, or cellar this bottle for up to 10 years from its vintage.
To buy: $48, slopecellars.com
Marqués de Murrieta, Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva, 2010
If you’re on the hunt for a truly outstanding Rioja, look to one of the region’s oldest and most highly respected wineries for consistently excellent expressions of the iconic northern Spanish blend. Marqués de Murrieta’s 2010 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva is a particularly impressive one, comprising Tempranillo and Mazuelo grapes for an award-winning, top-tier Rioja that’s traditional in composition yet still surprising on the nose and palate. The classic dusty, spicy quality is ever-present among notes of funky, earthy cheese, tobacco, vanilla, and deep plum with graceful-yet-firm tannins. While this wine can sit in your cellar for up to three or four decades, it’s a fun and youthful delight to open right now.
To buy: $206, wine-searcher.com
Ventisquero, Pangea Syrah, 2014
For fans of Syrah and Shiraz, Chile is a great place to explore, bringing another dimension to the grape’s personality outside of what most know and love about the more commonly found French and Australian varietals. Look to Ventisquero’s Pangea Syrah for an exemplary representation of the Colchagua Valley, a deep inky purple wine with plenty of black fruits on the nose and palate, accented by notes of black pepper, fresh herbs, and dark chocolate. Serve this wine with roasted or grilled lamb for a crowd-pleasing pairing.
To buy: $59, ventisquerowineclub.com
Aslina, Umsasane Red Blend, 2019
Pioneering winemaker Ntsiki Biyela is the force behind Western Cape gem Aslina, which has become a favorite among global fans of South African wines. The country’s first Black female winemaker, Biyela has received countless awards for her work over the years, with her signature Bordeaux-style blend Umsasane taking home the bulk of Aslina’s recognitions (and for good reason). The 2019 release is full and round in body with a warming bouquet and palate of ripe dark fruits, cocoa, baking spices, aged vanilla, and subtle tobacco.
To buy: $30, astorwines.com
Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2018
Historic winery Château de Beaucastel is a must for any Châteauneuf-du-Pape drinker, especially fans of biodynamic winemaking practices (this producer was one of the first to embrace biodynamic methods back in the 1970s when the concept initially mainstreamed in France). Beaucastel’s 2018 vintage is a top-rated blend of six different Châteauneuf-du-Pape grapes, each of which is vinified individually (as opposed to undergoing co-fermentation), and the resulting wine from this year is a classic and cellar-worthy representation of the AOC, while also bringing a bit of allure to the table with deep, dark notes of cola, black currant, ripe blueberry, licorice, cracked pepper, and chocolate-dipped plums.
To buy: $100 (originally $125), michaeltownewines.com
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