Best of 2021

 As we head into the final hours of the year, it's natural to reflect on the year that was. In years past, I've made predictions (mostly poorly,) lamented the state of wine in America (and continue to,) and offered a list of the most exciting bottles that hit the recycling bin too soon.

For 2021, this recap of wines and spirits could serve as a shopping list for the value-oriented consumer. Here's hoping 2022 offers even more abundance and that your passage into the New Year is safe and as joyful as possible.


  • Bousquet: South American wines got a lot of coverage on these pages this year - and for good reason. Quality continues to improve while prices remain very reasonable. One winery in particular stands out as a top performer: Argentina's Domaine Bousquet. Their high altitude vineyards, organic farming, and commitment to quality result in a consistent honesty in their entire range. From their 93 point Grand Malbec ($25) to their very respectable boxed wines ($20 for 3 liters,) there's little risk in reaching for anything in their portfolio. You can find reviews of many of their wines here and here.
  • Rye: 2021 saw a dramatic increase in whiskey coverage as well. There's a lot of competition out there these days, with new entrants into the market seemingly daily. What's surprising is the bravado of pricing - it's not uncommon for an unproven brand to make a debut north of $50. Thankfully, there are quality products in the category that offer a good value. One diamond in the rough is the 93 point Crown Royal Rye ($26.) It's got a lot to love: warming wood, rye's typical pepper offset by subtle streaks of vanilla, and a smoothness that accomplishes what every spirit aspires to: drinking enjoyment.
  • Mezcal: Praise for mezcal has been common on Imbiber's Journal, and why not? It's a corner of the spirits market that is bringing many new, high-quality producers into the US market, and prices haven't gone completely bonkers (yet.) For all my experimentation in 2021, the one brand I keep returning to is Xicaru. With a very friendly price point, ratings as high as 95 points, and availability that keeps expanding, this family-run palenque deserves your attention. Reviews and commentary here.
  • Low(er) alcohol wines: As the planet has warmed, alcohol levels in wine have risen. ABV's of 15%+ are now commonplace in California, where even cabernets once clocked in at around 12.5%. Some winemakers are bucking this trend, harvesting earlier and diluting their wines - approaches which attempt to counteract nature through manipulation - and you can taste the contrivance. Thankfully, there are still some regions, particularly those at higher altitudes (thinks the Andes, Alps, Dolomites, etc.,) which produce very flavorful, high-acidity wines of lighter density and moderate alcohol - both red and white. As my palate ages, these are the wines I find myself reaching for more and more. Some examples to look for: Chilean pipeƱo ($13,) like the Aupa bottling, pretty much anything from Italy's Alto Adige region (also look for the words Sudtirol and Dolomiti on labels,) and Ritual's exceptional 92 point sauvignon blanc ($20.)
  • Amaro: The Italian bitter is used as a cocktail ingredient in some amazing recipes, such as the Paper Plane. But anyone looking at this category as merely a mixer is missing the digestivo potential of amaros. While Amaro Nonino ($45) is delicious and widely available in the US, amaros have many different profiles, each reflecting the region in which it's made. After a big meal, a chilled amaro poured neat or over ice is a very civilized way to round out an evening.
  • Organic: A decade or so ago, the wineries most vocal about their organic practices left a lot to be desired in their winemaking practices. To be environmentally conscientious in choosing your wines often meant compromising on quality. No more. Organic farming is very commonplace in vineyards today, with many finer growers adopting biodynamic practices. Combined with capable winemaking, the results can be phenomenal. Domaine Bousquet (above) is a terrific example, but far from unique in this respect. Farmers around the world are finding ways to grow high quality wine grapes without pesticides, herbicides, or other harmful chemicals. You can taste -and feel - the purity in these wines. This is a hugely positive trend in the industry, and one I hope to see continue in 2022.