The year is coming to an end, and that means that anyone who reports on the happenings and activity in their sphere of interest feels a need to summarize that year as it draws to a close. So, now it is my turn.

For over 30 years, the Wine Spectator Magazine has compiled a list of the Top 100 Wines of the Year based on their panel’s tasting of thousands of wines from all over the world — this year’s end total reached nearly 12,500 wines.

To select the Top 100, the wines are rated on the scores given by the tasting panel, value (price), availability and the story behind the wine (they call this the X-factor). Most of the wines came from the world’s three largest quality wine areas: France, Italy and California. (Five Oregon and four Washington wines made this year’s list.) The average price per bottle was $62, but 25 percent were $25 or less.

Number one for 2021 is Dominus Estate 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, owned by Christian Moueix (pronounced MOH-ex), the well-established Frenchman who divides his time between his premium wine estates in Bordeaux and Napa. His number one Dominus is a California Cabernet Sauvignon but — in the Bordeaux fashion — has small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blended in. Cassis, plum, blackberry, with an iron spine is the signature of the terroir, the unique markings of the soil from which these grapes came. The price per bottle is $269.

Going down the list of 100, we come to the first Oregon at number 14, Alexana 2018 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills. The tasting panel’s notes describe raspberry and blueberry with hints of cinnamon and oil of orange in this wine of medium acidity. The price: $55.

You can ask JC Market’s Lyle Mattson and the Nye Beach Wine Cellar’s Zachary Wahl about both of these wines, and I’m sure they will also have something to say about other Cabs and Pinots to consider as well.

• • •

To be noted as this year ends: a number of domestic winery mergers, acquisitions and business activities have taken place. In March, California’s Duckhorn Wine Company, probably the premier American producer of Merlot, went public, and shares of its stock are now trading on Wall Street. March also saw the acquisition by New York investors of Oliver Winery and Vineyards of Indiana, one of the largest and most successful quality wine properties in the Midwest.

Here in Oregon in April, the pioneering Ponzi Vineyards sold to the famous Bollinger Champagne family. An unexpected blockbuster sale also saw the largest wine holdings in the Northwest, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, sell for $1.2 billion to the private equity firm, Sycamore Partners. (Ste. Michelle has owned Oregon’s Erath Winery for over 10 years.)

And I just looked up from my screen as I write this to learn that Cooper Mountain Vineyards, west of Beaverton, has just expanded by buying Chehalem Mountain Vineyard and ArborBrook Vineyards, two of its Oregon neighbors. Dave and Mary Hanson founded ArborBrook 20 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday that I would ask Mary to bring their excellent Pinot Gris to my shop when she would return to meet her mother and grandmother for lunch at the Champagne Patio, not far from where she grew up in Lincoln County.

One aspect of all this activity is a move toward production of more premium, higher quality, i.e., more expensive, wines. Wine prices have not risen with the rampant inflation we are seeing around us, since producers are making efforts to hold prices before the holidays. But in the new year, we can expect to pay more. Rising costs of bottles, corks, labels and cardboard, plus labor, energy costs, shipping and the added blow of a small, global grape harvest put increasing pressure on getting wine from the vine to the bottle to the seller and finally to the consumer. I’ve just listed more good reasons — certainly not the most important ones — to fight COVID 19 and global warming.

Now that I have put an abrasive edge on my season’s greetings, I invite you to do what I plan to do for Christmas: open a bottle of the unpretentious California Pra Vinera (any vintage) Cabernet or Zinfandel ($8, Grocery Outlet) and sip it while thinking of ways to make people want to be vaccinated and want to eliminate greenhouse gasses from our air.


Joseph Swafford,

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