The 25 Essential Wines of 2017

Meet this year's "Hot 25"—the bottles that represent everything we love about today's ever-expanding wine world.

If at PUNCH we hesitate to casually drop the word “best,” we do love to talk about what’s new and what’s delicious.

And new, especially, matters a lot in wine today. Wine is dynamic, and today, more than ever, the wine world is guided by curiosity and a need to find new talents, new flavors and new interpretations of place—or at least to find new improvements upon old things, given the neotraditionalism that has made its way into many cellars around the world.

That brings us to our second annual edition of the PUNCH Hot 25, a collection of essential wines that define what we love drinking right now. Yes, it’s meant to be a barometer of zeitgeist, which is why I was thrilled to see wines like the Les Capriades pét-nat being served everywhere from New York’s Mission Chinese Food to Minneapolis’ The Bachelor Farmer. But this isn’t just a cross-section of wines that define how we’re drinking now—it’s a window into how we’re likely to be drinking in years to come. It’s also meant to telegraph some messages about how we at PUNCH see the wine world at the end of 2017.

Which is to say: glorious and complicated and more than a bit fraught. The rewriting of wine’s geography and hierarchy is on overdrive—and not just in places like Champagne and Beaujolais, but in corners of the Loire, Australia, even California. The very idea of “great” wine is under scrutiny, perhaps because the old canon is too expensive for much of a new generation. Instead we find solace in really good wines—wines of variable pedigree that stop you and force you to notice their sheer beauty and intrigue. Every bottle in the lineup below evoked that response.

You’ll notice France again front and center in this year’s lineup. I considered hard whether that was the result of my travels, but again it reflects a resurgence of the American love affair with the French. French wine is blossoming on wine lists and shelves across the country. But the choices here are, hopefully, not entirely obvious. They point to corners due for new or renewed consideration—from the borderlands of the Roussillon to the heart of Bordeaux.

Italy, too, is fully present—especially its white wines—as is Spain. These are Old World stalwarts seeking their place in a complex new world. While that can mean the rise of the novel and unknown, it can also mean finding new life in classic places, like Rioja or the Marche. Similarly, we found vitality in spots like Oregon, Sonoma and Santa Barbara, with wines that offer a contemporary perspective to well-known dirt.

The result? A list that reflects the understood diversity of wine in 2017. It includes white and red and pink and orange, plus a couple of fizzy things along the way. And sherry, obvi.

So please meet this year’s Hot 25. These wines represent what we love in wine right now—and what we hope to keep discovering next year.

Bubbly

Les Capriades "Piège à Filles" Rosé Pétillant

This was the year when we wondered if pét-nat, sparkling wine’s emo teenager, needed to grow up a bit. That debate will churn on, but what’s certain is that pét-nat’s best practitioners now see their work as much more than an experimental lark. They understand that consistent quality is essential, perhaps no one moreso than Pascal Potaire and Moses Gaddouche of Capriades, whose work remains a benchmark for this form of sparkling wine.

The pink Piège takes its color and a parsley-like herbal bite from cabernet franc and grolleau (plus a bit of gamay), and it has a robust aggressiveness and a bit of grip, like great Bandol rosé can offer—just with bubbles.

  • Price: $25
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Selection Massale

J.L. Vergnon "Conversation" Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne

The sheer number of great Champagnes I encountered this year was overwhelming, arguably because the region’s small-is-beautiful movement has come of age. I tasted epic wines like Mouzon-Leroux’s L’Incandescent Rosé; Jean-Marc Sélèque’s Les Solistes, a meditation on pinot meunier; the Les Maillons Rosé from Olivier Collin’s Ulysse Collin label, an exaltation of unknown terrain south of the Côte des Blancs; and dozens of others. But Vergnon, located in the important town of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, down the street from Salon, earns a place in part because Christophe Constant and his winemaking have shined beyond any whims of fashion.

Conversation is old-vine chardonnay from Mesnil, plus Oger and Avize—serious terroir and serious wine, with a pure tree-fruit freshness, quiet accents of dried herbs and a sumptuousness to the texture that could only be chardonnay. It’s not about the cooler-than-thou Aube; it’s not about newly fun meunier; there’s no painfully hip backstory. Just an extraordinary and subtle example of what Champagne can be today.

  • Price: $51
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Skurnik Wines

Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Bouzy Grand Cru Extra Brut Champagne

Antoine and Quentin Paillard are among that group of talented young vignerons taking over family properties not on the fringes of Champagne but in its grand cru heart—specifically Bouzy, home to arguably the most powerful pinot noir in Champagne. Here they use 40 percent chardonnay to match the intensity of pinot grown on goes-to-eleven terroir. The resulting spice is almost overpowering: Szechuan pepper, black mustard, in a wine that’s stoic and almost tannic. None of that rich, yeasty side of Champagne here. This is a laser beam, with precisely etched mineral and fruit. (Disgorged February 2017)

  • Price: $46
  • Vintage: NV (2012)
  • From: DNS Wines

White

Domaine de la Roche Bleue Jasnières Sec

The Sarthe is one of those French in-between places, technically part of the Loire but a good part of the way back to Paris, known—if it’s known at all—for Le Mans (yes, car race), for the prized La Flèche chicken and for the teensy appellation of Jasnières, effectively the northern terminus for chenin blanc. The reason I mention the Sarthe, amid the thrum for chenin blanc from Saumur and Montlouis, is the work being done by Sébastien Cornille, a Sancerre native who went there to attempt a great white wine.

That’s just what he’s making—wines at least equal to those of Domaine de Bellivière, whose peach-colored labels are synonymous with Jasnières. Even this, his basic dry bottling, shows surprising depth and precision—that is, all the fragrant and talc-like mineral sides of chenin and none of the grape’s touchy bruised-apple side. “Invigorating” was the word I used to describe it. I still think that’s just right.

  • Price: $21
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Fruit of the Vine

Julie Benau "Classique" Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul is one of those toss-away wines, acknowledged as a sort of local seaside curiosity, known for ample ripeness and high acidity (hence “lip-stinger,” the Occitan derivation of “picpoul”). But Julie Benau, in an old ramshackle farm property tucked into the coastal backwoods, seeks something different. Her rendition has pointed acidity, yes, but that’s subordinate to an iodine bite, ripe orchard fruit and a pleasing astringent side, like green tea. What’s usually a “meh” grape lands here as subtle and intriguing, a sign of innovation in an unheralded corner of southern France.

  • Price: $15
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Mc2Wine

Andrea Felici "Il Cantico della Figura" Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva

We’ve been on a yearlong mission at PUNCH to rediscover all we love about Italian white wines, which is what led to our tasting of verdicchio this spring. The star from that lineup was from Leopardo Felici, who left a sommelier path in London to breathe new life into his family’s property. This is the virtue of time and care—a long skin maceration, a year’s aging on the lees, another six months in bottle—applied to a grape often rushed into bottle. It’s built: texturally dense and spicy, with a celery-salt savory tone, it’s a coastal wine with import.

  • Price: $36
  • Vintage: 2013
  • From: David Bowler Wine

Ciro Picariello "Ciro 906" Fiano di Avellino

It’s weird, yes, for Picariello to make a return to the Hot 25, but the appearance of this wine’s little brother last year got us thinking about fiano, and how it stands to transcend the old narrative about Italian white wines and become something greater. If that happens, it will be because of a wine like the Ciro 906, which hails from high (2,000 feet or so) organic vineyards in the Avellinese town of Summonte, just below the Montevergine massif.

The Picariello family certainly sees fiano as an important grape: They pick it late, ferment it slowly with native yeasts and leave it in steel tanks on the lees for a full year. The intent—and result—is a fiano meant to age and evolve, and the fact we’re drinking the 2013 reflects that. It’s creamy with lime curd and green figs, plus matcha tea and a distinctive smoky edge, all making for an impressive mouthful of wine. More than that: It’s a reminder that white wine is now being taken seriously not just in Burgundy or Friuli, but nearly everywhere.

  • Price: $32
  • Vintage: 2013
  • From: Polaner Selections

Folias de Baco "Uivo" Douro Moscatel Galego

While there’s lots of innovation in Portuguese wine, it’s still hard to get people to take notice. That’s especially true in the Douro, where the large port interests (and some of the small ones, like Niepoort) all do good work with dry wines, but there’s scant room for little guys. That’s why it’s worth paying heed to Tiago Sampaio and his Folias de Baco project.

The story is one we know well: unloved old parcels revived, and virtuous winemaking applied—except here he’s working in a region where precise terroir and small-scale production are subordinate to familiar brands. This is dry muscat made with a density and minty precision rarely found in that grape. And while we salute Folias’ “Uivo” Vinhas Velhas Reserva as a tribute to old Portuguese white varieties, his moscatel is the utterly approachable and joyful type of white wine the world needs more of.

  • Price: $18
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Savio Soares Selections

Valdespino "Inocente" Fino Sherry

Fair enough if you have a complete lack of surprise that team PUNCH is all about the sherry. But sherry, as a perpetual underdog, needs every bit of good press it can get, and the recent bottlings of fino from this touchstone of sherry bodegas are just insanely good. Inocente is produced from the Macharnudo Alto vineyard, arguably Jerez’s finest, and the bottle I tried this fall, from an autumn 2016 saca, was epic—less standard fino and more fino-amontillado, which is to say that it has all the weight and bass tones of that partially oxidized style. It’s big and pungent, full of iodine and a range of dried fruit, and frankly an astonishing amount of wine to go into a bottle for this price. This is why we love sherry so much.

  • Price: $24
  • Vintage: NV
  • From: Polaner Selections

Alzinger "Loibenberg" Wachau Riesling Smaragd

Most recently, Austria has been visible for its raft of naturally minded newcomers—names like Strohmeier, Meinklang or the cultishly popular Gut Oggau. Their contributions are valuable, but all year I’ve been wondering if the country’s best charms have been lost amid this constant flirtation with novelty. Which is to say I worry that we’re ignoring extraordinary work from winemakers like Peter Veyder-Malberg, Bernhard Ott—and Leo Alzinger Jr., whose family property is one of the Wachau’s most established.

I could say something about the beauty of riesling, or the warm, sun-touched slopes of the Loibenberg—the Wachau’s banana belt—in a pitch-perfect vintage like 2015. But any of that would box in the sheer profundity here. What comes through in the glass is a perfect sense of proportion—all a wine’s elements in just the right place. There’s ripe fruit (apples and tangerine), spice and bracing mineral accents, but also a deep-down polish to the texture. Everything, in other words, to mark it as world-class white wine. If it lacks a cool factor or a meme-y label? Fine. It wins on its own terms.

  • Price: $55
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Terry Theise/Skurnik Wines

Domaine Sigalas "Barrel Ferment" Santorini Assyrtiko

We’ve never considered Santorini whites, mostly made from the assyrtiko grape, to be in that gaggle of beachy wines. This is an arid island where vines are coiled to catch every last drop of moisture. The farming is backbreaking, and this is not wine for the casual participant. On that, arguably no one is more serious than Paris Sigalas, who makes the island’s most sought-after whites. His barrel-fermented version is an example of ambitious winemaking done right. It’s surprisingly focused and mineral, offering a precision that defies assyrtiko’s slightly oily tendencies, and exuding an intense bay leaf freshness.

  • Price: $40
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Diamond Importers

Orange

Gabrio Bini "Serragghia" Bianco Terre Siciliane Zibibbo Secco IGP

The island of Pantelleria is arguably Italy’s most far-flung outpost, a small volcanic island within sight of the Tunisian coast. Administratively tied to Sicily, in wine terms it remains an asterisk, known mostly for zibibbo (muscat to the rest of us). All the more surprising, then, that Gabrio Bini’s work at his Serragghia property has become one of the most visible successes—like, all the Instagrams—in the natural-wine world.

Yes, it’s a perfect set of circumstances: old vines on ancient high-elevation terraces; biodynamic farming and plowing by horse; winemaking in amphorae. But that formula doesn’t perforce create enduring success, especially with the growing dissonance in naturalist circles between hype and quality. But Bini falls just on the right side of the line. Sure, there’s an occasional twinge of volatile acidity but also luscious nectary flavor and texture to his zibibbo that reflect both the low latitudes and a tactile mastery with amphorae. In other words, he nails the sweet spot for minimalist winemaking today.

  • Price: $64
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Zev Rovine Selections

Cameron Pinot Gris "Ramato" Dundee Hills

While American winemakers have thoroughly embraced orange wine, the way it will endure here beyond fad is for established names to join in. Enter John Paul of Cameron Winery, a fixture in the Willamette Valley since 1984 and iconoclastic in the long view—upholding the defiant spirit that has defined Oregon wine. Here, he’s taken a variety that verges on cliché (Oregon pinot gris, aka pinot grigio) and transformed it.

This isn’t fringe; ramato is a long-respected style of pinot grigio in Italy’s Friuli. Cameron has simply made the wine reflect the color and structure of good grigio grapes. The result is expressive and a bit boozy (over 14 percent), full of dried-peach flavors and a sunflower seed toastiness; it’s a wine that needs a hearty meal like the Friulian cheese bomb known as frico, plus an hour in the glass to let you meditate. In other words, it’s far more than a fashion statement.

  • Price: $34
  • Vintage: 2016

Pink

Domaine Chevrot et Fils "Sakura" Bourgogne Pinot Noir Rosé

Burgundy certainly doesn’t have to bother with pink wine these days, but thank goodness winemakers like Pablo Chevrot do. Based in Maranges, at the very south of the Côte d’Or, Chevrot makes the best of less familiar terroir, a savvy move in these scant-supply, price-gouging days. Sakura is a mix of fruit from organic parcels he uses for his village and premier cru wines, plus a bit from the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune—grapes that otherwise could be earning a lot more money as red wine. This is the quintessence of pinot in rosé form; it exudes toasted spice and a dried-leaf autumnal aspect—the nuance that Burgundy still does best.

  • Price: $21
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: David Bowler Wine

Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast & Mendocino Ridge

The rosés from Sebastopol-based Red Car are frequently among California’s best pink wines, and especially so this year. This bottling always uses fruit that could go into fancier bottles of red wine, but owner Carroll Kemp seems determined to keep the pink faith. The sourcing has evolved a bit, with the usual Sonoma Coast vineyards being amended by grapes from a high-elevation Mendocino spot. It exudes the subtlety that pinot in pink form can do so well: a bit minty, a bit piney, with truffle, peach fruit and a precision to its flavors.

  • Price: $28
  • Vintage: 2016

RED

Clos du Rouge Gorge "Jeunes Vignes" Côtes Catalanes

In the very last few miles before France slips into Catalonia sits a town called Latour-de-France. It’s here that the Roussillon seeks to make itself one of France’s great hopes—offering real terroir that has little to do with the oceans of uninspired wine to the north, in the Languedoc. It’s also here that Cyril Fhal works old gnarled parcels of grenache, planted on gneiss soils. Rare is the winemaker to denote “young vines” on the label (these are about 30 years old) but this is special stuff—grenache in its most luminous form, full of wild strawberry, black olive and burnt herbs. It has the complexity that marks the highest expression of this grape, and shows the Roussillon’s transformative potential.

  • Price: $29
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Camille Rivière Selection

Jérôme Galeyrand "Les Retraits" Côte de Nuits Villages

Jérôme Galeyrand has very good holdings in Gevrey-Chambertin, but his most interesting work can be found farther south, in Comblanchien, where this parcel of more than 90-year-old pinot noir abuts Frédéric Mugnier’s Clos de la Maréchale—one of Nuits-Saint-Georges’ most famous parcels. Retraits is Galeyrand’s evidence that Burgundy always holds more secrets, a notion telegraphed by 12th-century artwork on the label from the nearby Cîteaux abbey, where the Cistercians deciphered the land’s mysteries. Galeyrand’s winemaking here is old-fashioned and quiet, revealing the spice of whole grape clusters, ripe cherry fruit and generous nutmeg-like warmth. More than that, there’s a richness that echoes the great wines of Nuits—a reminder that boundary lines on a map don’t tell the whole tale.

  • Price: $59
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Becky Wasserman / Verity

Séléné Beaujolais Villages

The great quality revolution in Beaujolais has been well covered. But almost inevitably, talk of this revival circles back to the crus, the 10 villages where the best Beaujolais is grown. Now comes the next step: to extend that refinement out to the region’s lesser-known corners, namely villages where humbler Beaujolais Villages and simple Beaujolais is grown. Séléné’s Sylvere Trichard has achieved that, in his uncle’s old, organically farmed parcels in Blacé, about 20 minutes south of Brouilly. This offers a ton of wine for a simple Villages: It’s broad and spicy, matching dark poppy seed and peppercorn to big, dark fruit, one step shy of boozy, with a lot more structure than your typical Villages wine.

  • Price: $19
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Avant-Garde Wine & Spirits

Château La Fleur Garderose Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

You can feel it—a coming bump of revival for Bordeaux on the horizon. Not most Bordeaux; the region’s great wines remain largely in thrall to insurance companies and Chinese tycoons. But a handful of earnest properties are making real wine, and pressing their case that Bordeaux does, in fact, have a soul. I could cite many examples from this year, including Château le Puy, a historic property on high ground east of Saint-Emilion, which came to New York to pour vintages back to 1917; or Domaine de Galouchey, a teensy biodynamic property redefining claret in the no-man’s-land between Bordeaux and Libourne. But I’m particularly taken with the wines of Christophe Pueyo, a Right Bank native who makes Saint-Emilion with zero pretense at a time when that appellation’s mandarins are busy suing each other over minor points of ego. This is merlot, with some cabernet franc grown on the flats south of Libourne. It finds a balance between sweet plum fruit and the birch-bark and spice aspects of cabernet franc—plus no sign of oak, thanks to larger, old wood vessels.

  • Price: $39
  • Vintage: 2014
  • From: Rosenthal Wine Merchant

Castello di Verduno "Basadone" Verduno Pelaverga

My wine friendship with PUNCH’s Talia Baiocchi was surely solidified over PelavergaFest, an esoteric event we planned with friends several years ago. The idea was an informal celebration of this obscure grape from Piedmont, which is made by just a handful of Barolo producers, mostly in the village of Verduno. Comparisons for pelaverga, which is generous and easygoing in all the ways nebbiolo isn’t, have amassed over time—the Beaujolais of Piedmont?—but none is quite right.

Castello di Verduno, one of Barolo’s more traditional houses, continues to make a benchmark pelaverga, and 2016 might be its best vintage in as long as I can remember. Don’t let the light garnet color fool you, there’s a lot of substance: hibiscus, fine-ground pepper and quiet ripe strawberry fruit, with a deceptive sense of weightlessness for a substantial wine—a mind trick only the best wines achieve.

  • Price: $19
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: Polaner Selections

Olivier Rivière "Gabaxo" Rioja

Many formerly obscure wine regions in Spain are enjoying a moment—the Canary Islands, the Gredos mountains, various Galician valleys. But what of Rioja, Spanish wine’s once and always king? There’s no shortage of fans, of course, but at the same time, it’s hard to think of a region more generally dismissed by current wine fashion.

The task of making Rioja relevant to a new generation falls to people like Olivier Rivière, a French biodynamicist who headed south of the border in 2004 (“Gabaxo” is a grubby term for a border-crosser) and never looked back. Although he makes more stately wines, Gabaxo is essentially his crianza—a young-drinking blend of tempranillo and garnacha from throughout the Rioja zone, aged briefly in old oak. The softness of grenache matches tempranillo’s fiery countenance, with a bit of the pimenton and celery root bite. It’s the sort of wine that can draw the young and skeptic back to a time-worn region, in a context they can claim as their own.

  • Price: $21
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Eric Solomon / European Cellars

Anthill Farms "Comptche Ridge" Mendocino County Pinot Noir

The trio that runs Anthill Farms—Anthony Filiberti, David Low and Webster Marquez—have become a sort of troika of California pinot. And if the culty roar that surrounded Anthill a few years ago has mellowed to a quieter thrum, the wines themselves have grown even more interesting. Comptche Ridge, a remote, dry-farmed site in northern Mendocino, is always their outlier, perhaps a bit more tense and arid in its flavors than Anthill’s Sonoma bottlings. That also frequently makes it the most compelling—as was the case in this drought vintage. It’s more finessed than ever, with herbal tones of mint and sage from whole grape clusters, cool bayberry fruit and a radiance to the flavors—concentrated and yet seemingly weightless, a specimen of utter mastery in California pinot.

  • Price: $51
  • Vintage: 2015

Lo-Fi "Coquelicot Vineyard" Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Franc

The easy way to put it: We crushed hard on this wine, which winemakers Mike Roth and Craig Winchester make from the Coquelicot vineyard (where Roth also makes wine under a separate label). In a field of strong, new-wave cabernet francs that show the best of California’s inventiveness, this made us take note. Made in the semi-carbonic method popular in Beaujolais, there’s lilac and paprika and quiet raspberry flavors, and an ease to the style that makes it irresistible.

  • Price: $27
  • Vintage: 2016

Roberto Henríquez "Pipeño" Bío-Bío Valley País

The New Chile has become a thing—and an especially important one, because with the exception of a handful of outliers like Mexico’s Bichi, the wine industries in Central and South America tend toward very safe and old-fashioned propositions. (Don’t believe me? I’ve got a supertanker of malbec to sell you.) Thus, postmodern winemaking in Chile is a particularly bright spot—especially because of people like Roberto Henríquez, a Chilean native who apprenticed with, among others, the Loire’s René Mosse. Henríquez, like the French transplant Louis-Antoine Luyt, is focused on pipeño, Chile’s traditional and rudimentary table wine tradition, which also happens to dovetail with the tastes of today’s naturalist crowd.

At just 11.5 percent alcohol, Henríquez’s Pipeño might remind you of good Beaujolais or fragrant Loire grolleau, with its surprising freshness and rosemary herbal shading of quiet subtle fruit. But the context is different. This is país, aka the mission grape, from vines up to 200 years old. It’s an essential link from Chile’s past to our modern moment, and perhaps the best evidence yet that a mission revival—one that California now hopes to achieve, too—might well succeed.

  • Price: $25
  • Vintage: 2016
  • From: T. Edward Wines

Ochota Barrels "I Am The Owl" Adelaide Hills Syrah

It would be tempting to acknowledge the New Australia’s current slow roll with something a bit more outré: Patrick Sullivan’s Haggis Wine, or, given this hot mess of a year, perhaps Las Vino’s Fuck Him. The only problem? With exceptions like the Lucy Margaux wines, much of that hemisphere’s fun fringe has been slow to migrate to these shores. But we do get just enough of Taras Ochota’s wines. Ochota has both enough charisma and winemaking skill to legitimately be a star, on any continent.

I Am The Owl (Dead Kennedys; all his wines are punk references) could simply reflect the potential of the so-hot-right-now Adelaide Hills. But it offers much more: First, it signals the extraordinary transformation taking place with Australian syrah/shiraz—heady from whole-cluster fermentation with the ground pepper, green olive and juniper aspects that mark extraordinary examples of this grape. Second, it telegraphs that the New Australia isn’t going to be a tale told of mysterious hippies and their un-sulfured wonders. The sea change down under is far broader and more diverse.

  • Price: $40
  • Vintage: 2015
  • From: Vine Street Imports

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