Wines of the Heart, [Vol. 1]

Written by Simone Popov · 3 min read >

Wines of the Heart 4.6.2022

Finding the perfect wine is challenging but, in a way, also exciting. Exploration is at the heart of wine, and it’s always fun to find new and unique regions, varieties, and styles. So, I have selected four wines to represent the best I have tasted with this in mind. These vinos come from every corner of the globe, are finely crafted by exceptional vignerons, and deliver great quality for their cost.

You can discover where to acquire these wines (and others I recommend) on

Each wine comes with a story about the winery, vigneron, or region. I also included a brief “Vigneron Style,” which provides each wine’s notable viticultural/winemaking aspects.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay, Napa Valley

Average Price: $62 [WineSearcher]

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work for Chateau Montelena in their gorgeous castle-tasting room. The magnificent stone building, still standing since 1882, is not only California’s most storied winery but also one of its oldest. Some people may recognize the name from the movie Bottle Shock, based on the true story of the 1976 Judgement of Paris. In the famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) tasting, the Chardonnays of California faced off against the great white Burgundies, and the Napa reds faced off against the Bordeaux blends. The victors- in both cases- were from California, and the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay decidedly beat the esteemed Bourgogne Blancs.

After working at Montelena, I was very tired of telling this story. But I am re-telling it again because the wine is phenomenal. Some producers may rest on their laurels after such a decisive victory, but 1976 was just the beginning for the Barrett family. To this day, the Chateau produces a unique Chardonnay that- unlike its Napa Neighbors- sings with bright acidity and freshness.

Vigneron Style:

Sustainable vineyards.Mainly neutral oak, low/no Malolactic fermentation, bright acidity, and good structure intended to age for decades.


Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec

Average Price: $25 [WineSearcher]

Kiralyudvar, or the King’s Courtyard, has introduced me to Furmint, a grape respected in the wine community and relatively unknown outside of it. It is the “King” grape of the Hungarian wine region of Tokaj and is the main ingredient in their famous bortytised Aszu dessert wines. With the current trend leaning away from sweet wines, Furmint has found its way into the ‘Sec’ category, producing wines of incredible finesse such as this one. Most importantly, this dry wine is paving the way for more people to recognize Hungary as a producer of exceptional wines of all sweetness levels.

This wine exhibits live-wire acidity and rich textural intensity on the palate, making it an absolute gem for people like me, who sip before they sniff. The texture and primary, perfectly ripe citrus notes, with a hint of gingery sweetness, make these wines ideal for a sashimi plate as a pallet cleanser.

Vigneron style:

Biodynamic vineyards. 500 L Hungarian oak barrels, nearly all old (no oak impact). Profound mouthfeel, bright acidity, but well balanced by texture. Will likely age well for 5-7 years.

Teslelaarsdal Hamel-en-Arde Ridge Pinot Noir

Tesselaarsdal Hemel-en-Arde Ridge Pinot Noir

Average Price: $51 [WineSearcher]

As a product of going through the WSET program, which I would recommend to aspiring wine professionals, I had the opportunity to learn about regions I would never have had an interest in otherwise. After years of living in the California wine country- I rarely ever pick up anything from “The New World.”  Yet, after those dastardly London figureheads of the WSET forced me to write about the South African wine industry, I became enthralled.

The South African wine region is one of the oldest “New World” wine regions, with roots traced to 1659. Interestingly, the Cape South Coast colonies were established as rest stops for ship-weary travelers. Such pauses would mitigate the dangers of scurvy on long expeditions. If the travelers only knew about the curative properties of citrus fruit… South Africa may not have existed.

Anyway, the diversity of the South African wine landscape is astounding. The region has the potential for deep and powerful Syrahs to rival the Australian Shirazes and wonderfully perfumed Pinot Noirs. The Tesslaarsdal is an interesting middle ground, with seductive clove notes from clearly a noticeable amount of new oak barrels, red-fruited elegance, and a lift to provide freshness. Maybe “lift” is an odd term, but it probably indicates the perfect balance of the wine’s tannins and acidity. When you taste a wine with a “decent” amount of New French oak influence, the wine can either fall on your palate and taste mainly like the oak or soar and still present an elegant fruit profile. This wine does the latter.

I can’t wait to taste more from the great Cape! Check out some other recommendations from

Vigneron Style:

Dry Farmed vineyard.Very classic winemaking. Tight-grained oak barrels, complete malolactic fermentation. Red fruit flavors and brilliant spice notes.

L’Ancien Jean Paul Brun

Domaine des Terres Dorees (Jean-Paul Brun) Beaujolais Cuvee l’Ancien Vielles Vignes

Average Price: $20 [WineSearcher]

Look, unlike many people, I adore Beaujolais. Of course, we know that this detached southern region of Burgundy, specializing in Gamay Noir, isn’t just for fun, strawberry-bubblegum Noveau wines. There are serious wines from the outstanding Beaujolais Crus, like Morgon,  Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent. But even with those, I have sometimes found myself a little underwhelmed. Your standard Moulin-a-Vent is a well-structured wine, but it can be missing a bit of vibrancy. Maybe it’s because they make it a little too”age-worthy.” It’s like a kid in your class that is incredibly smart but takes themselves waaaaay too seriously. I mean, sure, they will get an A. But do you want to hang out with them? No.

Jean-Paul Brun’s Beaujolais L’Ancien takes itself seriously, without taking itself too seriously. That is why it is a shockingly good wine. It is precisely balanced and exudes floral aromas, red fruits, and elegant spices, which I described as a “Chinese five-spice blend’. Unfortunately, I am remiss in remembering which five spices those are. I love this wine with a good stir-fry, maybe because of that spice profile, but I also definitely enjoy it on its own merit.

Vigneron Style:

From the oldest, 40–60-year-old vines planted on slopes of golden soils (limestone with iron). Farmed organically. Indigenous yeast fermentation, minimal sulfur additions, minimal filtration.

Check out the Wines of the Heart Series

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