This has been a tumultuous year in the wine world. Alcoholic beverages got caught up in global trade wars, with European wines and the U.S. businesses that sell them taking a hit from tariffs—with more threatened to come. The Supreme Court returned to the contentious topic of how wine sales should be regulated by the states. Sonoma County suffered through another tough wildfire season that threatened numerous wineries, vineyards and towns. Classic Napa and Sonoma wineries changed hands as a generation of tastemakers look to retire, and icons of California, France and Italy passed away.
Crime and wine continue to be a classic pairing, and this year was no exception—an alleged scheme that lured enophiles with some of the top names in wine and food has ended up in the courts. And a well-known Napa vintner landed himself in the middle of a college-admissions scandal that grabbed the nation's attention.
The year did have plenty of lighter moments as well: Napa got some time in the Hollywood spotlight as comic Amy Poehler's directorial debut focused on a friends' trip to wine country. Other celebrities like P!nk, Sarah Jessica Parker and John Legend have been trying their hands at winemaking and chatted with us about their projects and inspirations.
Along the way, we debunked some common health myths about alcohol, took a look at whether it's worth fussing over sugar levels in wine and delved into the latest scientific research on drinking and health, such as how red wine affects your gut microbiome.
Fortunately, it's easy to fit wine into a healthy lifestyle, since with everything else that's happened, a glass of great wine is all we can ask for to close out the year. We've got you covered there, from our exciting, value-packed Top 100 Wines of 2019 and classic heavy-hitters from Bordeaux to crowd-pleasers like Beaujolais Nouveau and poolside sippers packaged in cans and boxes.
Here are the most-read WineSpectator.com stories published in 2019.
Top News Items
Excessive sugar consumption has been one of the most warned-against nutritional hazards of the past few decades. Sugar has been linked with health problems including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and tooth decay, to name a few. But is the naturally occurring sugar content in wine even something that drinkers should worry about? We asked doctors, dietitians and researchers for the facts on sugar, wine and potential health concerns, so you can understand how to integrate wine into a healthy, balanced diet.
In a new chapter in a months-long saga, wine once again got caught in the crossfire of a trade dispute between the U.S. government and the European Union over subsidies for airplane manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. As European vintners struggled to maintain U.S. sales with a 25 percent tariff on many wines, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced it is considering new tariffs for 2020 that could be as high as 100 percent on all European wines—still and sparkling, regardless of alcohol level. Until now, most consumers weren’t feeling the 25 percent tariffs, as importers and vintners swallowed the cost. That won't be possible with the higher tariffs. "I'm freaking out," said one wine importer. "And I don't normally freak out." See how this might affect your wine purchases.
In what looked to be a repeat of the fall 2017 California wine-country fires, on Oct. 23, a massive wildfire broke out in northern Sonoma County, threatening Geyserville and the wineries of Alexander Valley. As the blaze rapidly spread toward the Knights Valley appellation and the visitor destination of Healdsburg, tens of thousands of residents were forced to evacuate and wineries were shuttered while the just-harvested grapes were still fermenting. Vivid pictures and reports emerged of destruction at Soda Rock and Field Stone wineries. Barred from re-entry, other vintners and growers were left anxiously waiting for news as firefighters worked around the clock to contain the flames. By the time the fire was contained, nearly 78,000 acres and 374 structures in the county had burned, but damages were far lower than in 2017 and there were no recorded fatalities. With little damage to the majority of wineries and vineyards, Sonoma's wine-tourism industry has picked itself up and begun welcoming returning visitors. Read the full story of the Kincade fire.
Every year, Wine Spectator honors outstanding wine lists from restaurants across the world—and 2019 showed it’s an extraordinarily exciting time for diners, as more and more restaurants use wine as a tool for crafting their identity. The new crop of nearly 3,800 Restaurant Award winners hailed from all 50 states and 79 countries and territories, with 8 earning the top honor for the first time. Among them were the first Grand Award winner in Mexico, a European restaurant accessible only by cable car, a high-stakes relaunch of a storied New York space and not one but two spots in Houston. See the full list of all Grand Award winners and find out who got to claim that title in 2019.
January started off with the biggest court case on wine in 14 years, a dispute over a Tennessee law that stipulated that one must be a resident of the state for two years before being allowed to hold a liquor license there. While that may sound like a local debate, the case hit on the same issues involved in the long-running fight over direct-to-consumer shipping of wine between states—and a ruling from the highest court in the land had the potential to change the way American consumers buy wine. Was the law protected by the 21st Amendment, which has given states control over alcohol laws since Prohibition was repealed? Or did the law violate the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which prevents states from erecting business barriers with other states?
After two federal courts ruled the provision was unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a petition from the state retailers' association and took it up. WineSpectator.com followed the case all the way from the Supreme Court hearing—with a cheat sheet on the possible outcomes—to the final decision in June. See how it all started.
In February, Champagne house Louis Roederer continued to diversify its holdings with the purchase of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir specialist founded by Merry Edwards, a Sonoma County pioneer and one of California's first female winemakers. Since Edwards started her own brand in 1996, her wines have made numerous appearances on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year list, including a Top 10 spot for her 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley in 2009. We spoke to both Edwards and Roederer president and CEO Frédéric Rouzaud about how the sale happened and what the future holds.
The 2018 vintage in Bordeaux is promising to be a great one, consistent in quality and rife with superb options. But after sluggish sales for the high-quality but overpriced 2016 wines, everyone was wondering: Would consumers bite? From April to June, Wine Spectator tracked Bordeaux's futures campaign, providing analysis, ex-négoce prices (before markups) and the average U.S. retail price—what consumers could expect to pay. For comparison, we also listed prevailing retail prices for Bordeaux's recent benchmark vintages currently on retail shelves. Find out what (pre-tariff) pricing strategy top châteaus have been taking.
Two of the world's largest wine companies made an enormous deal in April, giving E. & J. Gallo expanded reach in the $11 and under segment of the market, while allowing Constellation Brands to focus on the premium wine brands in its portfolio. Among the brands changing hands are Clos du Bois, Black Box, Estancia, Mark West, Wild Horse, Franciscan and Ravenswood. While sister publication Shanken News Daily broke the news, Wine Spectator magazine followed up with more analysis of what each giant is getting out of the deal. The two wine groups have different strategies and priorities in the ever-evolving market, and this move was seen by industry experts as a logical choice for both.
Misinformation on wine and health is all around us, so we talk to the experts (actual health professionals, not your aunt's friend's know-it-all neighbor) to separate fact from fiction. (Stay on top of our most current updates.) From wine as a sleep aid to whether men and women react differently to booze, we broke down five of the most popularly perpetuated wine-and-health myths, revealing the truth behind each.
Grace Family Vineyards was one of Napa's original cult Cabernet Sauvignon labels, with a string of all-star winemakers—among them Randy Dunn, Heidi Peterson Barrett and, most recently, Helen Keplinger—that belied its small size. But in April, more than 40 years after planting their first vines, Dick and Ann Grace decided to step back from the winery. How will new owner Kathryn Green carry on the Graces' legacy?
In October, Napa vintner Agustin F. Huneeus was sentenced by a federal judge to five months in prison for his role in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal, a nationwide scheme where wealthy parents used fraud and bribes to get their children spots at some of the nation's top universities. Huneeus pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, for trying to secure admission to University of Southern California for one of his daughters. Long deeply involved in California's wine industry, Huneeus stepped down from his role as CEO of his family's Huneeus Vintners, which includes Quintessa and Faust, to prevent the wineries' licenses from being revoked. His sentence also includes a fine and community service.
For the wine lovers and executives invited to be members, the International Business & Wine Society's monthly dinners were sorely tempting: dishes cooked by some of the world’s top chefs (Daniel Boulud, Tom Colicchio, Daniel Humm), paired with some of the rarest wines in the world (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Cheval-Blanc, Dom Pérignon) and featuring business-savvy speakers. But in September, 13 disgruntled clients—including high-powered names from the world of finance—filed a lawsuit accusing IB&WS founder Omar Khan of fraud, alleging that he took more than $8.3 million from investors and wine retailers to make the dinners happen and pocketing it instead. Two other suits by investors are also making their way through New York state courts. Was it all an elaborate Ponzi scheme?
Top 3 Celebrity Interviews
Better known as P!nk, Alecia Moore is one of the music industry's most recognized faces. A three-time Grammy winner, she has sold over 90 million records since her solo debut in 2000—but she's also a vintner, in California's Santa Barbara County. Wine Spectator caught up with the megastar to talk about what brought her to wine, her old-school vigneron inspirations and the mad-scientist experiments she's working on now.
For her feature directorial debut, Amy Poehler decided to head to Napa. The Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation star recruited an ensemble cast of her real-life friends who powered SNL's early-2000s renaissance and loosely based the plot on a reunion trip they took to California wine country a few years ago to celebrate one of their 50th birthdays. Wine Spectator spoke to her about the inspiration for the film, how to craft a wine joke, the perks of being in the director's chair and more.
This year, Sex and the City and Divorce star Sarah Jessica Parker teamed with New Zealand wine company Invivo to start her own label—and the first fruit of that labor was the Invivo X, Sarah Jessica Parker Sauvignon Blanc, released in September. Wine Spectator spoke with her about her adventures in the wine business, her late-blooming love of Sauvignon Blanc, and the quirky way she learned to drink wine while touring Europe.
Top Tasting Reports
It should come as no surprise that our favorite annual list—the Top 100 Wines of the Year—is also yours, whether you use it as a holiday shopping list or enjoy debating our picks with your other wine-obsessed friends. Each year, Wine Spectator editors survey the wines reviewed over the previous 12 months and select our Top 100, based on quality, value, availability and excitement. While the Top 10 was stocked with classics from France, California and Italy, there were plenty of surprises and discoveries as well, such as the first California sparkler in the Top 10 and 44 wineries making their debut in the Top 100 this year. Alongside that list, we also released our now-annual 100 Top Values—those wines at the magical intersection of 88 points and higher and $25 or less. Check out 2019's all-star crop.
There have never been more options for wine on the go. Serious wineries and winemakers are continuing to step up quality and reliability as they turn to non-traditional formats to package wines from a range of grapes, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Rhône varieties. These are some of the highest-rated canned and boxed wines from our tastings in the past year, perfect for a day at the beach or anywhere else. See the best of what alternative packaging has to offer in the U.S.
The road to 2019’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day was not the smoothest, from a turbulent growing season that slashed yields to the tariffs that hiked the cost of French wines right in the middle of bottling. But thanks to the efforts of many—from grapegrowers to importers—fans of the festive wines were not left in the cold when the new season arrived. In a blind tasting of the young wines, Wine Spectator's lead taster for the category, Gillian Sciaretta, found "classic Gamay character and charm, with a mix of bright red and black fruit flavors accented by herb, white pepper and floral notes." Get the scores and full tasting notes for a dozen Nouveaus.
The 2018 growing season in Bordeaux started off very wet, then turned very dry and warm from July into September, leading to a smooth harvest and promising good quality for all the red grape varieties. To get an early look at how the resulting 2018 wines were shaping up, Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth spent two weeks in the region in March and April for en primeur season, blind-tasting barrel samples and meeting with top producers on both the Left and Right Banks. He then shared his findings—including reports from his visits, plus scores and tasting notes for 225 reds, 40 dry whites and 16 sweet wines—to help guide Bordeaux lovers who might buy the unfinished wines as futures. Find out what's worth buying from 2018!
Napa's wine bounty extends far beyond its signature Cabernet Sauvignon. The California region's dry Mediterranean climate and varied soils, from the valley floor to the surrounding mountains, are ideal for a range of grapes, as this diverse selection of outstanding wines demonstrates. From Chardonnay and Merlot to more offbeat varieties, see what else you should be drinking from the famed valley.