Top Wine Recommendations from Great Winemakers (1st Instalment)

One of the requirements in the job description for a winemaker is to “taste wine”. Now there are some great careers out there but even the best job rarely has “drinking wine” in the prerequisites! Keep in mind, however, that for winemakers this is not just a fringe benefit. They have to be very skilled at the task. Almost every decisions in the winery is ultimately based on tasting. So excelling at tasting wine is essential to making great wine.

Winemakers spend an awful lot of time sampling their own wines to evaluate the flavours, aromas, textures, colour and nuances. They taste regularly during crush and fermentation, they taste to compare barrel lots, they taste intensively during blending and so on and so on. In the course of a career a winemaker will taste literally hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of samples of wines at different stages of development. And their experience isn’t confined to their own winery or their home region. Winemakers tend to travel a lot and many of them have experience working and living in different wine regions of the world. As wine professionals they have tremendous opportunities to taste the world’s best wines.

What Do Winemakers Drink From Outside Their Home Region?

It occurred to me to ask some of the great winemakers that I’ve met what wines they love most. After all they are true experts. But to eliminate home-town biases, I asked them to abide by a couple of rules:

  1. The wines must be from outside their own region and country; and
  2. The wines must be from a grape variety they don’t produce themselves.

It seems to me like a great way to get some wine advice. We have the views of 11 winemakers to share and so we will publish this article in two instalments. Here’s the first set of top wine recommendations!

The Rieslings of Mosel Saar Ruwer – Recommended By Pierre-Henri Gadais of Domaine de la Combe

Pierre-Henri Gadais is a recognized young rock-star winemaker in the Sèvre-et-Maine wine region of France. At Domaine de la Combe he produces very nuanced and elegant terroir-driven Muscadet wines, elevating the quality of this venerable region.

“With no hesitation I recommend the region of Mosel Saar Ruwer. I am a Riesling lover and I admire the balance that the Germans can achieve with really high acid, and sometimes some residual sugar and lower alcohol in their wines. This is what inspired me for producing my Vendange Nocturne. Riesling is one of the most noble grapes I know and offers a lot of possibility. I personally like the Trocken Riesling from this area. Some of my favourite producers are :

Andreas Bender, which is not a really well-known winemaker but he is really talented. His wine Paulessen, is the best value for money I know from this region. This man use to be a graphic designer and decided to take over the tiny vineyard of his grand father. With a limited knowledge at the beginning, he has made exceptional wines.

Also, the iconic Weingut Egon Müller makes exceptional wines. Even their entry level Scharzof is a great, great wine. I truly respect the tradition they have in the family and the focus they have had on quality since a long time. To me, the place they are is simply unique and you can feel the terroir in the wines Egon makes.

The wines from Weingut Zilliken are my guilty pleasure also and I consider this producer as one of my favourites. They offer outstanding Riesling, for a really decent price. The quality is always consistent and good. I wish I could have those wines every day.”

The Wines of the Rhône – Recommended by Sebastiano de Corato of Rivera Estate

Sebastiano de Corato and his brother Marco run Rivera Estate in the Castel del Monte region. Everything they produce is exceptional and Rivera led me to become intensely interested in the wines of southern Italy. The Il Falcone Rosso Riserva is one of my all time favourite reds.

“My favourite wine region outside of Italy is the Rhône valley in France. I really like the region for both the white wines and the reds. In terms of the white wines I especially love Marsanne. And for reds I really love the Syrah-Mouvedre-Grenache blends.

There are many great wineries and it’s hard to choose from all of the smaller ones. Among the larger wineries I particularly like the Famille Perrin wines. For me they have a great balance between modern approach and respect for the tradition. Another winery/powerhouse I like is Maison M. Chapoutier.”

The Wines of The Langhe – Recommended by Chris Tolley of Moon Curser Vineyards

Chris and Beata Tolley make some of the best wines in BC – and with some of the most fascinating varieties. If you’ve had the good fortune to get to know Moon Curser Vineyards you will not be surprised that they have been influenced by one of Italy’s great regions.

My Dad and I visited the Langhe region in Piedmont on his 82nd birthday. The region is beautiful and has many different local and semi-local wines. I say semi-local because the region can be quite large both in geography and styles. Alba and Asti are a couple of the towns nearby, giving the region sparkling, rose, red and white wines. More famous in the region is Nebbiolo, but the region grows both the red and white versions of that variety (the latter being Arneis), Dolcetto, Barbera and Freisa.  The region is famous for its cuisine (and I like to eat). It is also famous for its cheeses, and truffles. Enough said. 

The region has very beautiful rolling hills and valleys. Sometimes the fog rolls in, giving the area an almost medieval, mystical feel. (They say Nebiolo gets its name from Nebbia or fog in Italian).

The wine from Nebbiolo reaches its apogee in the Langhe, specifically the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco. But not all the Nebbiolo need be that costly. Langhe Nebbiolo can be fantastic. A little different in some cases, but fantastic in its own right. The character of the wine: tar, strawberry and roses; so cool and so unique to that variety.

The variety seems to enjoy its home much more than travel.  

The variety seems to enjoy its home much more than travel. This is another reason I like it so much. Never has there been a more recognizable “variety of place”. Other regions try their hand at Nebbiolo, but never succeed in producing a wine to rival those grown in its home.

We visited G.D. Vajra and met with the family. They were super hospitable and we spent quite a while at the winery tasting. They make an awesome Nebbiolo both from the towns (Barolo, Barbaresco) and in regional Langhe bottlings. All of their wines are superb.

I don’t think things would be complete without a tip of the hat to Vietti. Producer of many international styles and local, indigenous and heirloom wines. Just a treasure. The force behind Arneis. And their Arneis is fantastic, unequaled as far as I know.”

Sonoma Pinot Noir – Recommended by Argyris Gerovassiliou of Ktima Gerovassiliou

Vangelis Gerovassiliou is a giant in the Greek wine industry and his name is synonymous with the modern revival of Greece’s wines. His son Argyris is an oenologist and shares winemaking responsibility at Gerovassiliou Estate with his father.

“My all-time favourite variety – if we take out my beloved Greek ones – is Pinot Noir. It is one of the finest, demanding varieties and I really love the organoleptic characteristics when it’s cultivated in cooler climates.

I consider myself a red wine drinker and as the weather in Greece is quite warm for several months, I prefer light-bodied red wines that I can enjoy all year long. 

We all know that the sacred home of Pinot Noir is Burgundy, but these days even a cheap Burgundy is expensive. For that reason, not so long ago, I started searching for some alternatives. My attention was focused in different places like the Ahr region in Germany, Central Otago in New Zealand and, my favourite one, Sonoma in California. I feel deep affection for the eclectic aromatic profile and the rich flavour supported by beautiful acidity and silky tannins. Also, I admire the way they use the barrel that gives a beautiful hint of roasted vanilla bean. Some of my favourite producers from Sonoma Coast are Marcassin Vineyard, Hirsch Vineyard, Aubert Wines, Littorai Wines and Kistler Vineyards.”

Champagne Plus Goriška Brda, Slovenia – Recommended by Marin Plenković of Zlatan Otok Winery

Marin Plenković (left) and his siblings Antonia and Nikola now run Zlatan Otok estate in Hvar, Croatia. Zlatan Plenković was the legendary Croatian pioneer winemaker behind the estate until his death in 2016. His kids have taken over the winery and guest operations.

“One of my top regions I would choose is Goriška Brda in Slovenia. Our neighbours make good wines. I  prefer ones from the iconic Slovenian variety Rebula. Winemakers that I have to mention are the Carolina Jakončič Winery, Marjan Simčič Winery and Sčurek Wines.

And for me when I speak about my favourite wine regions, first I have to mention Champagne. There are so many great Champagne houses. I have always admired the work and legacy of Madame Clicquot Ponsardin and Veuve Clicquot is one of my favourite producers. They were the first to produce true rosé champagne 200 hundred years ago and Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne, and Pinot Noir as a variety, are my choice. Another producer from the same region that I prefer is definitely G. H. Mumm.”

More to come! Instalment #2 of our survey of the top wine picks of great winemakers will be up in a few days. Come back and visit the site soon.

More Content From These Winemakers On The Wine Beat!

Pierre-Henri Gadais Talks About Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine – a podcast interview from our Loire Valley road trip!

The Castel del Monte DOC Region of Puglia, Italy – including the wonderful Rivera Estate!

British Columbia Wines – The Triumph of A Cool Climate (including Chris Tolley of Moon Curser Vineyards)!

An Interview At Gerovassiliou Estate in Greece – a podcast from our Greek wine travels!

Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast Wineries – Hvar, Split and Beyond (including the Zlatan Otok Winery)!

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