Tasting the Top 3 Wines of 2019

A comparison of some of the most exciting reds of the year

Tasting the Top 3 Wines of 2019
Mayacamas winemaker Braiden Albrecht introduced the No. 2 wine of 2019 and explained what makes the historic Napa estate's mountain Cabernets so distinctive. (Daphne Youree)
Oct 25, 2021

One of the great advantages of attending the Wine Experience is tasting wines at various stages of evolution after their release. While Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines of 2019 normally would have been shown at the 2020 event, which had to be postponed, that gave guests a chance to sample them with an extra year of age. The Top 3 seminar provided a contrast between two Cabernet-based wines, from Bordeaux and California, and a Sangiovese blend from Tuscany.

Wine No. 3, the San Giusto Rentennano Chianti Classico 2016 (95 points, $36 on release), was served first. As senior editor Alison Napjus, who moderated the tasting, pointed out, “This wine represents tremendous value. With the appealing price tag and wide availability, this was a no-brainer.”

The Martini di Cigala family, which has owned the estate for a century, was unable to travel to the U.S., due to COVID-related restrictions, as was the case for many international vintners. Their U.S. importer, Dominic Nocerino of Vinifera Imports, spoke to the core values of the family, who take a “long view towards the future and respect for the land. They’ve been practicing organic viticulture since 2001, and they’ve been certified since 2006. … This is not a philosophy but an inarguable truth and very, very important to them.”

The central character of the wine, especially evident as it ages, comes from San Giusto’s location in the southern portion of Chianti Classico, Nocerino said. Whereas wines from the north typically become a little floral, “in the south, the wines are a little more savory, there’s a little more iron, there’s a little more blood in the wines. And that, to me is one of the really identifiable traits for the estate.”

Napa’s historic Mayacamas winery, founded in 1889, earned the No. 2 spot in 2019, with its Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2015 (96, $125). Winemaker Braiden Albrecht was on hand to explain how its south-facing mountain vineyard—sloping from about 2,200 feet to 2,400 feet—sets it apart from Cabernet producers on the valley floor, giving the wines a backbone of pronounced tannins and acidity.

“2015 was an exceptional vintage,” said Albrecht, noting the crop size was smaller than usual, “so we knew it was going to be a pretty intensely flavored vintage. … It’s a pretty old-school style, rooted in the Cabernets from Napa in the ’60s and ’70s—Bordeaux-influenced, lower alcohol.”

The final wine was the Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien 2016 (97, $98); after repeated showings in Wine Spectator’s Top 100, the second-growth estate claimed the No. 1 place in this benchmark vintage for the Left Bank. Napjus noted the relative value of the wine, which is priced lower than its peers, and quoted senior editor and Bordeaux taster James Molesworth: “There are no bells and whistles here. It’s just a rock-solid wine from a multi-generational family.”

The château is owned by the Barton family, who came from Ireland to Bordeaux to start a wine merchant firm in the 18th century. Lilian Barton-Sartorius has taken over day-to-day management from her father, Anthony Barton, and has in turn brought on her children Mélanie and Damien.

“Barton is situated on gravelly soil,” Damien explained in a video presentation with his mother. “That's really the backbone of this wine,” which is predominantly Cabernet every year. “The proximity of the river is also essential. It’s really this combination of everything that makes our terroir here in St.-Julien so unique.” In 2016, he added, they had “cool nights, beautiful days to have a maturation that was slow, long and delivers in the wine elegance, finesse, yet density and a lot of aromas.”

In her signoff, Lilian said what would become a common refrain during the event: “With any luck, we’ll be there with you next year.”

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Tasting Reports ny-wine-experience-2021 top-100 wine-experience WS Events Cabernet Sauvignon Sangiovese California France Napa Bordeaux Tuscany Italy 2016 2015

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