2020 was a weird one in ways we will be unpacking for years. And while the pandemic may have accelerated the homogenization of the wine world, all was not lost on the imbibing front. In particular, craft spirits seem to have benefitted from the at-home mixology boom that appear to have been a byproduct of lock downs. The year also brought some sunlight to gems hiding in plain sight.
Following are 8 bottles that range from esoteric to ubiquitous. Though some may be hard to find, they are all worth the trouble. (Links to reviews and details in the title words.)
Aupa Pipeno - Bottled in clear glass, this Chilean red is light in both density and alcohol, making it ridiculously easy to gulp and enjoy. Its levity, however, does not come at the expense of flavor, made easier to appreciate thanks to an acidity that you don't normally see at this price point ($10.)
Barr Hill Gin - Full stop: there's nothing else like it.
Girasole Pinot Blanc - The Barra family in Mendocino county has been growing grapes organically for several decades. That they have managed to bottle some terrific wines at such reasonable prices makes them a standout in the California wine business. This pinot blanc ranks among the best California white wines values out there ($15.)
Harvey's Bristol Cream - Mass produced, globally distributed, and, yet, somehow head-shakingly good. A remarkable feat.
Origins Cabernet In A Box - This is what happens when quality organically-grown grapes just happen to be packaged in the most environmentally-friendly way. The equivalent of 4 bottles of wine for $20.
Ritual Sauv Blanc - Chile takes things to the next level while keeping prices reasonable. Yes, it's $20 for a sauvignon blanc, but this drinks at triple the price.
Still Austin Bourbon - The trendy thing in bourbon these days seems to be whiskeys that exaggerate to the nth degree one of a handful of desirable characteristics (high-flying citrus notes, for example.) Still Austin's straight bourbon manages to skip the trendy caricature profile while striking a balance between modern sophistication and old school comfort to excellent effect at a surprising price ($45.)
Xicaru Mezcal Reposado - Primitive, close-to-the-earth farming and distillation practices yield a stunningly refined range of mezcals from this family-run operation. Of their handful of different bottlings, the reposado remains the most accessible and rewarding.