This year’s wine guide will come in handy whether you’re just getting into wine or are a seasoned enthusiast looking for tips on what to seek out in 2017. It’s organized by style of wine (from bold reds to light whites) with a focus on which regions, varieties, and vintages to seek out all year long.
Table of Contents
Vintage Overview: We compiled vintage ratings and vintage assessments from Berry Bros & Rudd, Wine Advocate, Jancis Robinson, Wine Institute, and other regional sites into one simple, user-friendly chart:
The 2017 Wine Buying Guide For Red & White Wines
Full-Bodied Red Wines Cabernet, Malbec, Syrah, Etc.
Lovers of full-bodied red wines love wines from regions with tons of sunshine and relative dryness. It’s in these unique conditions that warm climate grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel achieve their ideal ripeness (and develop sweeter tannins).
- Central and Southern Italy had a string of highly consistent vintages from 2012–2016 so now is a great time to look for Italian Cabernet, Syrah, and Merlot-based wines. You can also do really well with the bolder indigenous reds including Aglianico, Primitivo, Nero d’Avola, Negroamaro, and Montepulciano. Looking for producer recommendations? The annual Tres Bicchieri (Three Glasses) Guide is a great place to start!
- The continuing drought in California has reduced yields, but the reduction in grape size increased the extraction potential (making for deeper, blacker wines). From north to south, you really can’t go wrong with the full-bodied styles of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah. Vintages from 2012–2016 are all good.
- Washington has shown its true potential over the last couple of years and we’ll continue to find great wines from here from the 2012–2016 vintages. Cabernet-Merlot blends, Syrah, Malbec, and Petit Verdot is what you should be seeking out from the region’s high desert climate.
- The central plateau of Spain has been turning out excellent values in the full-bodied wine category year after year including wines of Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre), Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- There have been several off-vintages in Argentina, so you’ll want to pick your Mendoza Malbec, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon with care. Basically, 2013 was an outstanding vintage and we recommend you stock up on it while you can. Of course, decent producers took extra care being selective with grapes, so if you’re buying fine wines, they will be great regardless.
- The increasing value of the US dollar is likely to give us greater access to some of the best finds in bold reds from Australia. The trend in the last 5 years has been towards more elegance in wine but you’ll still see inky depths from the 2012–2016 vintages in Shiraz, GSM blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot from both South Australia and Western Australia.
- Access to South African beauties including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage will continue to become more widely available in the US in 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for the 2015, 2014, 2012, and 2010 vintages and regions like Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Swartland.
- Holy moly. Why we’re not all drinking Touriga Nacional, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet from Portugal is still beyond me. This region has nothing but outstanding potential (and incredible value) to offer. The 2011–2014 vintages all produced great wines. Keep your eyes peeled for reds (usually around $10 a bottle!) from Douro, Alentejo, and Lisboa… and learn more about Portuguese wine.
- Southern France
- Brexit and a weakening Euro is going to make the bold reds from Southern France delightfully cheaper. We expect to see more wines from the South-West regions including Tannat and Malbec, but also from Languedoc-Roussillon where there are Syrah-heavy wines (including Faugeres and Saint-Chinian). The 2010 and 2015 vintages were the best in recent French wine history (and the ones to covet) but 2014 and 2012 were also quite good.
- Greek reds are showing great potential and the top producers will become more available in the US. The regions to seek are Nemea (Agiorgitiko), Naoussa wine (Xinomavro–super high tannin red), and you’ll also be surprised to find some outstanding Syrah from Greece.
Medium-Bodied Red Wines Sangiovese, Garnacha, Cabernet Franc, Etc.
Medium-bodied red wines feature distinct flavors and heightened acidity, both of which are traits ideal for matching with a wide range of foods. Many of the old world wine regions are famous for this style of wine due to winemaking traditions that limit the use of new oak aging, producing wines with more elegance.
- Northern and Central Italy produce some of the most food-friendly wines and now is the time to get into Italian wine. The last 5 years (2012–2016), as well as 2010, have produced very good to excellent quality. Specifically, aim for the Piemontese wines of Barbera, Dolcetto, and Nebbiolo. Then, you’ll find great red fruit and cocoa flavors from the red wines of Valpolicella, and the Merlot-based blends from Veneto (including Colli Euganei). Finally, Tuscany and Umbria offer the ultimate expressions of Sangiovese which have become noticeably cleaner and more red-fruit driven in the past 5 years. I always like to recommend the annual Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) Guide for a great place to start looking for high-quality producers.
- The French wine varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc had an outstanding vintage in 2015 and this is exactly what to look for. Seek out Loire Valley reds such as Cabernet Franc and the other lessor-known Bordeaux appellations for the best values on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blends.
- The 2015, 2012, and 2010 vintages are making out to be Northern Spain’s best vintages in the last 5 years. Tempranillo, Mencía, and Garnacha are the grape varieties that you need to try in this category.
- The 2015 vintage for Dornfelder and Blaufrankisch produced some outstanding mid-weight wines from Germany. These wines have deeper black and blue fruit flavors with heightened acidity.
- The 2011 and 2013 vintages were exceptional vintages in Chile and the region produces some outstanding food-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère, and Carignan.
- New York
- Producers in New York are enthusiastic about the quality of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the 2015 and 2013 vintages in New York.
Light-Bodied Red Wines Pinot Noir, Gamay, Etc.
Lovers of light-bodied red wines tend to love wine regions with cooler growing temperatures. It’s in these cooler conditions that grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay, Schiava, and Cabernet Franc ripen to deliver brilliant red fruit flavors, floral notes, and lower tannin. Here are the highlight wines and regions to seek out for light-bodied red wines:
- The quality of Pinot Noir continues to improve in Oregon and the vintages seem to be getting better and better every year too, even in the value category. The 2016, 2015, and 2014 vintages were all fantastic years for Oregon Pinot Noir.
- As California is heating up, we are starting to see the best Pinot Noir regions in California become more reliant than ever thanks to the moderating temperatures of the Pacific Ocean. It makes this an exciting time if you’re a Pinot Noir addict because it means you’re about to find several treasure troves in the Coastal AVAs including Sonoma Coast (including Fort Ross/Seaview), Mendocino (which used to be too cool), Santa Cruz Mountains, and on down the coast to Santa Barbara.
- New Zealand
- Central Otago produces the richest and most lush style of NZ Pinot Noir whereas, Marlborough makes brighter and lighter Pinot Noir. This is going to be a great place to look for great values in Pinot Noir in the coming year, particularly from the 2015 and 2013 vintages.
- The regions of Casablanca, San Antonio, and Leyda Valleys are becoming renowned for their exceptionally fruit-forward styles of Pinot Noir (imagine an explosion of blueberries, raspberries, and marionberries in your mouth). The 2013 vintage produced the best wines, but we’re hoping to hear great things about 2015 as well.
- The 2015 and 2010 vintages were 2 of the most outstanding vintages in recent history. Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir) and the 10 Beaujolais Crus (Gamay) offer incredible wines.
- Northern Italy
- The Oltrepo Pavese region in Lombardy focuses on Pinot Noir as its primary variety and the highly aromatic Schiava from Trentino has been considered a great value alternative to Pinot Noir. The last 5 vintages (2012–2016) have been great, which means now is the time to get into Italian wine!
- The regional specialty, Zweigelt, is a fantastic light-bodied red that flies somewhat under the radar. Seek out 2015 Zweigelt and drink it as soon as possible.
- We’re hoping to see some price drops for German Pinot Noir in the US as the dollar continues to rise. When we do, be sure to pick up some Pfalz, Baden, or Ahr Pinot Noir (aka Spätburgunder) from 2015 and 2012. German Pinot Noir has the earthy qualities of Bourgogne but the spice factor (and ABV) of Santa Barbara Pinot… awesome sauce.
Full-Bodied White Wines Chardonnay, Viognier, Etc.
Regions with a tradition of oak aging are the ones who produce white wines with creamy and buttery flavors. The star variety in this style of wine is definitely Chardonnay although there are several others to know. While the fashion of oak-aging has seen a downward trend in recent years, there are still several places to look to find outstanding full-bodied whites.
Here’s a run-down on what regions (and vintages) to watch for:
- Chardonnay is California’s top grape and if you know where to look, you can find some of the best examples in the world. The important thing about finding quality Chardonnay in California is sourcing it from areas close to the Pacific Ocean (or the SF bay) that collect fog. The fog protects white grapes like Chardonnay from too much California sun! Regions like Sonoma Coast, Mendocino, Carneros, Santa Barbara, and Monterey are a few examples that get morning fog and are a great place to look. Besides Chardonnay, look for oaked Sauvignon Blanc wines (from Sonoma/Napa), Viognier, and Grenache Blanc wines (from Paso Robles/Santa Barbara area). The 2012–2016 vintages were all top quality vintages.
- Just like California, Chile’s coastal regions are the places to look for great quality Chardonnay. Casablanca Valley, Leyda Valleys, and San Antonio Valley are the country’s Chardonnay hot spots. The 2016, 2014, and 2013 vintages were actually pretty awesome vintages specifically for whites in Chile, so stock up!
- The Victoria region in Australia has been turning out some exceptionally balanced Chardonnay these days and this is a great place to look. That said, you’ll also find some doozies (massive Chardonnay wines) from Hunter Valley and South Australia (Adelaide Hills) as well. I’d put money on the 2015 vintage (minus Adelaide Hills) based on what Jancis R. has been saying about the last 5 vintages.
- New Zealand
- A new spot to look for exceptional Chardonnay wines (like, omg I can’t believe this isn’t Beaune!). You’re going to pay a premium for these wines in the US but if you’re a Chard-o-maniac, it still beats the crap out of Côte d’Or prices. We’ve been incredibly impressed by those producers practicing wild yeast fermentations and so far people are saying good things about 2016, 2015, and 2013 vintages.
- The northern parts of Spain have a fair amount of Chardonnay planted that’s usually reserved for Cava. That said, sometimes you’ll see some great values for still, oak-aged Chardonnay that are surprisingly rich, while still conveying classic Spanish “dusty” terroir (making them much more savory in style). Check into the Navarra and Penedes regions for these values. Besides Chardonnay, the grapes of Rueda, including Verdejo and Viura (aka Macabeo), have shown surprising complexity with lemon balm and brûlée-like flavors when aged in oak. For example, the bottle pictured above called “Naia” is a well-distributed example of the baseline quality that Rueda is doing (and it’s great!).
- One of the biggest potential areas for a new US importers and distributors in the coming years will be to go into Portugal and cherry-pick top producers of Arinto, Encruzado, Chardonnay and Viognier wines. After tasting a 10-year-old Arinto that was replete with brûlée, beeswax, lemon rind, and chalk, it was hard not to fall in love with Portuguese whites, especially those with a touch of oak. We’re super excited about the 2015, 2014, and 2011 vintages and can’t wait to drink more Portugal. #whoswithme
- After Domaine Serene’s Dundee Hills Chardonnay got #2 wine of the year from Wine Spectator Mag (2016), we need to fully accept that Oregon Chard is no longer our little secret! Oregon’s dank climate and summer sun produce some of the most outstanding Chardonnays in the world that deserve a touch of high-quality French oak to round them out. The 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2012 vintages were all stupendous vintages so go seek them out!
- Forget Chardonnay for a minute and let’s hone in on Washington’s highest potential full-bodied whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier. The problem with Chardonnay in Washington is that it’s usually a touch too flabby to get top ratings. That said, there are a few producers who do it well (Ashan, Tenor, etc), but my money is on Washington’s warmer climate white grapes–they have so much potential…
Light-bodied White Wines Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Etc
Light-bodied white wines are dry and highlight heightened acidity and minerally flavors. They are perfect food pairing white wines. There are several favorite varieties in this category including Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Albariño but there’s more to know beyond these! You can literally spin a globe and land on a region making great minerally white wines (especially if your finger lands in Europe and the Mediterranean).
That said, here are a few highlight regions to check out:
- People will tell you about how great French red wines are, but keep in mind, France produces some of the best light-bodied white wines in the world–plus, they’re more affordable than the reds! This year, I’d start looking for the 2015 vintage (which was, incredible across Europe) in places like the Loire (Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, and Chenin Blanc), South-West France (home of grapes like Gros Manseng and Colombard) and Savoie for incredible values. Then, if you want to bump it up a notch, hit the greats (Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, and Rhône) for all they have to offer. Whatever you do, do it soon, and get the 2015 vintage.
- The 2015 and 2014 vintages were both awesome for white wines in Italy. Italian whites have a delightful chalky bitterness which works amazingly alongside food. Especially seafood. Here are a few varieties/regions to start drinking your way through Italy: Soave (Garganega), Vermentino from Tuscany or Sardinia (think Sauvignon Blanc inspired), Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi (think floral Pinot Grigio), Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige… If you need help, check out this great article about the major grape varieties of each region: Italian Wine Exploration Map
- If you haven’t already discovered the Spanish whites of Viura, Verdejo, Albariño, and Godello, this is the year to do so! The 2013–2016 vintages were all great years to explore these wines, so pick one and start tasting. We’ve been quite impressed with Viura from Rioja and Godello from Valdeorras.
- Greece should be on the map for white wines already. The country delivers this fascinating chalky, sappy spice to their white wines that’s really unlike any other. In the North (Thrace and Macedonia) you’ll find the indigenous grapes of Malagousia and Assyrtiko as well as international favorites like Sauvignon Blanc (all delicious!). And of course, Greece’s most famous wine and region (pay attention collectors!) Assyrtiko from Santorini.
- The summer months will bring Portuguese Vinho Verde and we will all rejoice in this amazing wine that is usually a blend of the indigenous varieties of Albariño (called Alvarinho here) and up-and-coming grape, Loureiro. If you haven’t had Vinho Verde yet, this is a must try.
- South Africa
- Seek out Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc from South Africa. While in the past, Chenin Blanc was made in a sweet style, today, it’s much drier. These wines are fantastic with Asian food and give off hints of South Africa’s dusty terroir.
- New Zealand
- We can thank a strong dollar for decreasing prices of New Zealand’s most important wine, Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is famous for its unafraid flavors of bell pepper and passion fruit. The 2013–2016 vintages were all good vintages to seek great values.
Aromatic White Wines Riesling, Moscato, Gewürztraminer, Etc.
Aromatic white wines have higher levels of a compound group called monoterpenes which produce aromas of flowers and sweet stone fruits (apricots, peaches, honey and rose). These wines can be made in both a sweet or dry style, but are often described as sweet due to their intense aromatics. If you’re into this style of wine, you’re in for a treat this year:
- Germany is queen bee in the aromatic wine category since Riesling is the country’s star grape variety. 2015 was a crazy, exceptional year and believe me when I tell you that you want these wines (some for now and others for cellaring). Be sure to learn the classification system, including Pradikat and VDP. We have an article all about it here.
- Austria creates a style of Riesling that’s similar to Germany often with a slightly more linear profile. For this reason, Austrian Rieslings age in a really fascinating and somewhat savory way. Unfortunately, not much of this stuff is imported so you’ll need to dig.
- Alsace is the most aromatic wine region of France and it happens to be right upstream of the Pfalz region of Germany. The Riesling here is dry, but there are other delicious finds to be had as well, including Muscat (on the Grand Cru level) and Gewürztraminer. Definitely read up on Alsace and seek out something from 2015 and 2014.
- Riesling from Washington is truly starting to hit its stride. There are some especially good AVAs for it within the Columbia Valley including the newly anointed Ancient Lakes and Naches Heights AVA. This is a great place to go for awesome, everyday drinking wines (Thai food anyone?).
- New York
- With flagship producers including Dr. Konstantin Frank and Ravines in Finger Lakes, we’re starting to see Riesling wines that are proving that New York Riesling is quite serious indeed. The 2013-2015 vintages are all worth investigating.
- Furmint, the grape traditionally reserved for Tokaji is also being produced in a dry style from the region. The wine is like a fine Riesling with similar levels of acidity, but a bit more structure and body. Additionally, a rare find we just discovered is a variety called Cserszegi Füszeres (chair-seggi fooh-sar-esh) that smells like roses, elderflowers and mint. For Hungarian wine, 2015 is a winner.
- Long before Cabernet was the most important variety in Napa there was a bastion of sweet varieties growing in the North Coast (Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino) of California including Muscat and Gewürztraminer. The vines are now close to a century old (if they weren’t ripped out) and make some of the most luscious sweets coming out of Napa and Sonoma. For example, we were shocked and delighted by 2 well-known wineries in Sonoma making Gewürztraminer: Alexander Valley Vineyards and Gundlach Bundschu. Be sure to buy these as fresh (youthful) as possible.
- Northern Italy
- 2015 will be another vintage you need to stockpile for Moscato d’Asti. Additionally, we found some producers of Gewürztraminer in Trentino-Alto Adige that make a style strikingly similar to those of Alsace, France (and usually a lot cheaper too).