Category Archives: Wine

BTI Announces 2020 Best of Year Award Winners

After reviewing thousands and thousands of wines, beers and spirits this year, Beverage Testing Institute is proud to present the 2020 Best of Year award winners. These products represent the best in their categories and receive BTI’s highest recommendations for 2020.

All products were blindly evaluated by a panel of trade buyers and category experts using custom BTI software and their proprietary Cornell University co-developed methodology. As the only ASTM-conforming wine, beer and spirits competition, BTI scores and reviews have proven to be the most trustworthy and consistent in the industry.

Each BTI-reviewed product receiving a bronze medal or higher can be explored on Tastings.com, the organization’s consumer-facing publication outlet. Reviews, scores, medals, pairing or cocktail suggestions, category information and more are published bi-monthly. Executive Director Jerald O’Kennard highlights the importance of Tastings.com to retail sales this holiday season. “In light of the pandemic-related restrictions placed upon on-premise accounts, we’ve amplified our retail integrations for 2020. We’ve created powerful tools for beverage producers and marketers to convert Tastings.com viewers into their customers by seamlessly linking them to preferred e-commerce sites for each product we review.”

Many of these top winners are also featured in the interactive Tastings.com 2020 Holiday Gift Guide that launched earlier this week. The guide serves both consumers and the trade in highlighting vetted, insider picks alongside Best Buy value brands and trend-setting flavors. Retailers can use the guide’s picks to inform optimized shelf placements, POSM, and purchasing decisions. The guide features links to Tastings.com’s Buy-It-Now button so consumers can shop from their desktop or smartphone.

2020 Best Sparkling Flavored Wine: Giambellino Peach Bellini, Germany

2020 Best Fortified Wine: Auburn Road 2017 Vintage Ruby Fortified Wine, Chambourcin, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Fruit Wine: Florida Orange Groves Winery NV Barrel Selection Peach

2020 Best Zinfandel: Maddalena 2018 Zinfandel, Paso Robles

2020 Best US Tempranillo: Jarvis 2016 Estate, Tempranillo, Napa Valley

2020 Best Rioja: Campo Viejo 2015 Reserva, Tempranillo, Rioja

2020 Best Syrah: Wildwood Oak Winery 2017 Abba Vineyard “Mamma Mia”, Syrah, Lodi

2020 Best Rhône Varietal Blend: Golden Rule Vineyards 2016 Commonwealth Rhone Blend, Willcox

2020 Best Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo: Carletto 2018 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

2020 Best Red Meritage: Oak Farm Vineyards 2017 Genevieve, Lodi

2020 Best Primitivo: Cedar Mountain 2017 Sblendorio Vineyard Reserve, Primitivo, Livermore Valley

2020 Best Pinot Noir: Red Thread 2018 Pinot Noir, Carneros

2020 Best Barolo: Collina San Ponzio 2016 Barolo Fossati, Barolo DOCG

2020 Best Petite Sirah: Jacob Franklin 2015 Leeds and Pesch Vineyard, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley

2020 Best Petit Verdot: Auburn Road NV Volume One, Petit Verdot, Outer Coastal Plain (no link)

2020 Best US Red Blend: Porterhouse Winery 2016 Reserve Lot Red Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

2020 Best Shiraz: Jip Jip Rocks 2019 Shiraz Cabernet, Padthaway

2020 Best Merlot: Sharrott Winery 2018 Merlot, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Malbec: Oak Farm Vineyards 2018 Malbec, Lodi

2020 Best Argentine Malbec: Alamos 2016 Selección, Malbec, Mendoza

2020 Best Italian Varietal Blend: Emporium 2017 Appassimento, Salento IGP

2020 Best Grenache: Crux Winery 2016 Grenache, Russian River Valley

2020 Best Chambourcin: Bellview Winery 2018 Estate Bottled, Chambourcin, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Carmenère: Yorkville Cellars 2017 Rennie Vineyard, Carmenère, Yorkville Highlands

2020 Best Spanish Red: Anayón 2015 Carignane, Cariñena

2020 Best Cabernet Sauvignon: Reynolds Family Winery 2015 Reserve 300 Series, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

2020 Best Cabernet Franc: Monte De Oro 2016 Deportola Vineyard, Cabernet Franc, Temecula Valley

2020 Best Bordeaux Varietal Red: Sixteen Appellations 2016 Red Blend, Napa Valley

2020 Best Red Bordeaux Varietal Blend: San Simeon 2016 Stormwatch, Paso Robles

2020 Best French Rose: Jas Des Vignes 2019 Rosé, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

2020 Best Rose: Cantina Zaccagnini 2019 Dry Rosé Wine, Terre di Chieti IGT

2020 Best Prosecco: Ruggeri 2018 Giustino B. Extra Dry, Prosecco Superiore DOCG

2020 Best Moscato d’Asti: Risata 2019 Moscato d’Asti DOCG

2020 Best Pet Nat: Bellview Winery NV Pet Nat, Outer Coastal Plain

2020 Best Champagne: Heritage Prince Henri D’Orléans NV Blanc de Blancs, Champagne

2020 Best Cava: Cupcake NV Cava DO

2020 Best Blanc de Blancs: William Heritage 2017 Blanc De Blancs, Outer Coastal Plain (no link)

2020 Best Sweet Wine: St. Clair Winery 2018 Bellissimo, New Mexico

2020 Best Sweet Wine: Corte Bella Rosso

2020 Best Late Harvest Wine: Medal Royal 2018 Late Harvest with Natural Botrytis, Muscat, Curico Valley

2020 Best Bianco Vermouth: Drapo NV Bianco Vermouth, Italy

2020 Best Red Vermouth: Drapo NV Rosso Vermouth, Italy

2020 Best Viognier: Alexandria Nicole 2019 Crawford, Viognier, Columbia Valley

2020 Best Vignoles: Mount Pleasant Estates 2019 Vignoles, Augusta, Missouri

2020 Best International Sauvignon Blanc: Domaine Beausejour 2019 Les Silex, Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine

2020 Best US Sauvignon Blanc: Reynolds Family Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

2020 Best Riesling: Wakefield/Taylors 2019 Riesling, Clare Valley

2020 Best Pinot Gris: Portlandia 2019 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley

2020 Best Pinot Grigio: Ca’ Montini 2018 Single Vineyard, Pinot Grigio, Trentino DOC

2020 Best Malvasia: Pillsbury Wine Company 2018 Bonnie Lee, Malvasia, Cochise County, Arizona

2020 Best Chenin Blanc: St. Clair Winery 2017 Special Reserve, Chenin Blanc, New Mexico

2020 Best Chardonnay: Publix Premium 2017 Limited Edition, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

2020 Best Albarino: Alexandria Nicole 2019 Affinity, Albarino, Columbia Valley

2020 Best Cream Cocktail: Kringle Cream NV Latte

2020 Best Hard Seltzer: Greenhouse NV Pink Grapefruit Hard Seltzer, California

2020 Best Mimosa: Aldi NV Orange Mimosa, American

2020 Best Cognac: Pierre Ferrand Selection des Anges XO Cognac

2020 Best Wood Aged Cachaca: Pitú Vitoriosa Cachaça

2020 Best Cachaca: Novo Fogo Silver Cachaça

2020 Best Gin: Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin

2020 Best Barrel Aged Gin: District Made Barrel Rested Ivy City Gin

2020 Best Herbal Liqueur: June by G’Vine Gin Liqueur

2020 Best Liqueur: Tempus Fugit Creme de Banane Liqueur

2020 Best Orange Liqueur: Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge Liqueur

2020 Best Cream Liqueur: Trader Joe’s Cocoa Cream Liqueur

2020 Best Coffee Liqueur: Herencia de Plata Coffee Tequila Liqueur

2020 Best Aperitivo: Tempus Fugit Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur

2020 Best Mezcal: Mezcal Vago 2019 Espadin Mezcal Artesanal

2020 Best Non-Alcoholic Spirit: Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative Other Spirit

2020 Best White Rum: Cane Run Rum

2020 Best Rum: Motörhead Premium Dark Rum

2020 Best Rum Aged 3 years or less: Bayou Select Barrel Reserve

2020 Best Flavored Rum: Jan Stephenson Pineapple-Flavored Rum

2020 Best Reposado Tequila: Cazcanes No. 7 Reposado Tequila

2020 Best Tequila: Alquimia Reserva de Oro 14 yr Organic Extra Añejo Tequila

2020 Best Cristalino Tequila: Cenote™ Cristalino Tequila

2020 Best Blanco Tequila: Cazcanes No. 9 Blanco Tequila

2020 Best Añejo Tequila: El Tesoro Anejo Tequila

2020 Best Vodka: elit Vodka

2020 Best Flavored Vodka: Zubrówka Bison Grass Flavored Vodka

2020 Best Craft Vodka: Heritage Distilling Co. D’s Seasoned Vodka

2020 Best Wheat Whiskey: Old Elk Straight Wheat Whiskey

2020 Best Rye Whisky: Old Elk Straight Rye Whiskey

2020 Best Bourbon: Doc Swinson’s 15-Yr Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

2020 Best Scotch Whisky: Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2020 Best Whisky: Kavalan Solist Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky

2020 Best Japanese Blended Whisky: Tenjaku Blended Japanese Whisky

2020 Best Island Single Malt Scotch: Jura Tide 21 Year Old Island Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2020 Best Irish Whiskey: Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey

2020 Best Irish Blended Whiskey: Jameson Bow Street 18 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey

2020 Best Highland Single Malt Scotch: Aberlour Casg Annamh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

2020 Best Flavored Whiskey: Journeyman Distillery Field Rye Fig Flavored Whiskey

2020 Best Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey: Widow Jane 10 Yr. Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey

2020 Best American Single Malt Whiskey: Boulder Bottled in Bond American Single Malt Whiskey

2020 Best American Blended Whiskey: Rebecca Creek Double Barrel Blended Whiskey

2020 Best Ready-to-Drink Cocktail: Kirkland Signature RTD Golden Margarita

2020 Best Sake: SakéOne Naginata Junmai Daiginjo Sake

2020 Best Heritage Cider: Two K Farms 2019 Russet Heritage Cider

2020 Best Fruit Cider: Kaneb Orchards Cranberry Crisp Cider

2020 Best French Cider: Maison Hérout 2017 Grand Cuvée Extra-Brut French Cider

2020 Best Wit: Damm Brewery Inedit Witbier

2020 Best Ale: Hofmühl Weissbier

2020 Best American Style IPA: Full Sail Brewing Co. West Coast Style IPA

2020 Best Pilsner: Hofmühl Privat Pils

2020 Best Lager: Hofmühl Hell

Blending for Success: The US Red Blend is Poised to Capture Consumers of Today and Tomorrow

 

“The ideal blend has nuance and complexity that can sometimes elude a straight varietal.” – Don Lorenzi, Winemaker, Lorenzi Estate

In 2020, consumers have more options than ever before when it comes to wine selection. While Nielsen reports that classic single varietals are currently in first and second place in terms of demand (18.6% for Chardonnay and 15.1% for Cabernet Sauvignon), the Red Blend category is right behind them at 10.7%, and has been experiencing “double-digit growth,” rapidly becoming a consumer favorite. BTI spoke with California wine producers as well as the Wine Institute to understand the Red Blend’s current popularity and to gauge its success in the future. 

 

Reynolds Family Winery

It is a common practice in France for a winemaker to create their blends with the best combination of grapes for what that vintage has produced. Steve Reynolds, winemaker at Reynolds Family Winery, makes sure to include that history when explaining his signature blend –Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Petit Verdot–but also emphasizes that “we are our own region and should not be compared all the time.” Reynolds respects and considers the “wisdom of the blending arts” hailing from Europe, but encourages US producers to “embrace their own style” based on their strengths. He also notes that the classic “noble” Bordeaux blend isn’t possible considering the growing conditions of all 50 states, and that this opens the door for a new category, the US Red Blend, driven by “popularity in the market.”

Don Lorenzi, winemaker at Lorenzi Estate, saw the Red Blend category begin to grow exponentially about ten years ago and explains that “consumers get it.” “It” being the multi-faceted intricacy of a blend, and that, for example, “a Zinfandel varietal has different pleasures than a Zinfandel blend.” Lorenzi finds that “the ideal blend has nuance and complexity that can sometimes elude a straight varietal” and that a winemaker determines this combination to “express their own personal tastes and concepts” to develop a unique experience within each glass. For consumers new to wine, Lorenzi believes that a US Red Blend is a great way to get to know wines in general, encouraging them to “sample blends” to “learn more about wines faster.” 

Lorenzi Estate

A winemaker may assemble the blend considering their understanding of what combination will create perfect harmony, but ultimately it is up to consumers to decide what is going to sell. Considering COVID19-related closures of wineries’ tasting rooms and restaurants, wine producers are under even greater pressure to keep up with changing demand. In a July interview with the Wine Institute, Jon Moramarco, wine industry expert for the advisory and data firm bw166, explains that wineries need to simultaneously “protect their base with Baby Boomers and hold wine’s place as the mealtime beverage” while also attracting “younger generations” with “new products and tasting experiences.” The “mealtime beverage” slot is secured by Red Blends, as Steve Reynolds states that “blends do oftentimes pair better with food due to layering,” and “blending wine stimulates multiple taste buds,” but keeping current customers happy in tandem with attracting new ones can be a little trickier.

While winemakers have sharpened their blending techniques on hundreds of years of history, and have been successful in developing loyal followings with their creations, impending climate changes magnify the importance of keeping up with both consistency and trends in order to evolve with consumers. During the 2019 Tasting Climate Change conference, a lot of attention was given to the pressing need for winemakers to consider both sustainable production and innovation in order to work with the planet’s changing weather patterns. Dr. José Villamouz, a grape variety geneticist expert, spoke to the shift in growing seasons in Old World production areas, providing the example that a much relied-upon grape like Pinot Noir, under unfavorable ripening conditions, can result in unbalanced flavors. One of his recommended solutions was to consider different varietals, selected for success in each specific region, that have the biodiversity to withstand whatever lies ahead. This could present challenges in Old World production, as he himself had a hard time imagining time-tested producers with long histories releasing vintages of as-yet unfamiliar grapes, but it’s something that US producers are equipped to navigate. 

 

Allison Jordan speaking at Tasting Climate Change 2019

“Winegrowers are farmers and they’re always used to adapting to what Mother Nature hands them,” explains Allison Jordan, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at the Wine Institute. While Jordan agrees that climate change seems to be “more impactful” in, for example, “various European regions,” the climate is “so dramatically different” in the US, “even just within Napa,” making it “hard to say that you can’t grow a certain varietal in a certain region in the future.” That said, Jordan is confident that the US Red Blend is a “perfect example” of the “innovation and willingness to try different things” in contrast to Old World adherence to historic varietals. The Red Blend gives a winery “a lot more flexibility” in cases of potential weather impact. Reynolds agrees, stating that “we are used to having to react in our winemaking each year to make consistent wines” and refers to blending as “one of our most powerful tools.” In addition to using masterful blending to keep loyal customers, Jordan emphasizes that spread of sustainable winegrowing practices will capture younger consumers. “We are the fourth largest winegrowing region in the world, and we now have 92% of all California wine being made in a certified sustainable winery,” which creates a significant positive impact on “natural resources and our communities.” Though these wines cost more to make and therefore to sell, Jordan sees that “there does appear to be a willingness to pay more,” especially in “younger generations and Gen Z,” creating a sense that future sales are secure.  

In trying to maintain established well-loved flavor profiles and continue to innovate to attract newer palates, and under pressures of shifts in climate, winemakers’ blending skills will be increasingly valuable, putting the US Red Blend in the perfect position to flourish, rain or shine.   

Sparkling Wine by the Numbers: New-World Bubbles Offer Plenty of Competition for Champagne

For over two decades, sparkling wine consumption in the US has been on a steady rise. Data from Statista shows that in 1999 sparkling wine sales in the US represented about 15.6% of wine shipments, and eventually almost doubled to 27.4% in 2018. Simultaneous data from the Wine Institute shows a rise from 105.2 million bottles sold in 1998 to 193.2 million in 2018. Wine consumption in general has been increasing, but it’s sparkling wine sales in particular taking that largest jump—more than 50% between 2008 and 2018. This exponential acceleration in sparkling wine leads to the imminent question: does the favor fall further on the import or domestic side of the category?

Beverage Testing Institute’s extensive catalogue of data creates a unique insight into market data trends seen in proprietary product sampling and professional reviews. Between 1998 and 2018, 6.3% of sparkling wines evaluated by BTI were awarded a score of 93 points or higher. 60% of these sparkling wines were Champagne and 40% were domestic sparklers, and a higher percentage of Champagnes compared to domestic sparklers ranked above 93 points (17% vs. 3%).

Though an initial glance at this data could lead to a conclusion that Champagne is the consumer preference, further exploration reveals otherwise. While BTI’s data set has a larger percentage of high-scoring (93 points and above) Champagnes as opposed to domestic sparkling wines, the average score of the domestic sparklers is significantly higher than that of the Champagne; 93-point-and-higher domestic sparkling wines averaged a score of 96.3 points while Champagnes at the same level averaged 94.3 points.

With uncertain import tariffs looming on the horizon, domestic sparkling wine producers should take note: the data shows that American-made sparkling wines offer consumers a greater value than imported Champagne.