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Wine Editor Ray Isle’s Wines of the Moment

Fresh bottle picks from the recent Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

Erica Duecy By July 20, 2022
headshot of Ray Isle with wine graphics in the background
Photo illustration by Pix

“What we’re going to do today is deadly serious,” says Ray Isle, on stage at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “Potato chips and wine; it’s very, very serious,” he says, launching into the Wine & Potato Chip Pairing seminar, a tasting that’s become a sold-out favorite year after year.

That introduction — and the seminar itself — exemplify the brand of clever playfulness Isle has cultivated during the past 16 years as Executive Wine Editor at Food & Wine, and Wine and Spirits Editor for Travel + Leisure

Making wine fun

As a concept, pairing wine and potato chips is brilliant in its simplicity — a fun, non-threatening way to delve into the complex scientific realm of sensory perception. Instead of talking in theoretical terms, seminar attendees crunch away on salt-and-vinegar chips to experience how sourness affects the perception of acidity in wine, in real time. 

After munching vinegary chips, a sip of a Sauvignon Blanc is eye opening. “Your perception of the acidity in the wine drops back and the fruit comes out — it seems less acidic,” he says. “It’s a very clear effect and it’s very fun to watch the audience,” as they have that a-ha moment. 

That ethos, making wine easy and engaging, is at the root of everything Isle does, whether he’s writing or editing articles for Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure’s millions of readers across print and web, speaking to festival audiences around the country, or appearing on the Today Show or Food & Wine’s own video series — where you’ll find him testing out bottle opening hacks like banging a bottle against a wall

The democratization of wine

Leading up drinks coverage for one of America’s largest food media brands, Isle has been in a key position to observe — and to influence — the country’s food and drinking culture. Over the last decade and a half, a lot has changed. And according to Isle, there’s never been a better time to drink wine in America. 

We’re now in an era where good wines are more accessible than ever, he says, with bottles from far-flung regions and lesser-known varieties becoming widely available. “Yes, there’s a lot of generic, industrial crap, as well, that’s mass produced and done to a marketing strategy,” he says. “But in terms of the availability of independent producers and ambitious wine from all over the world, it’s really astounding.”

At the same time, the wine industry itself is evolving in a positive direction, with more women and people of color working in the space. “The exciting thing lately is that the number of diverse voices in wine is just growing and growing — not just in journalism, but in restaurants, and in winemaking,” he says. “Once people feel empowered to be in a business like wine, then they get in the business of wine, and it changes for the better.”

The Drop caught up with Isle just as he was returning from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Fresh off of conducting seminars for sold-out audiences, he shared some of the wine highlights from the event. 

Standouts from the 2022 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen:

Bottleof Sattlerhof Südsteiermark Styria Sauvignon Blanc

Sattlerhof Südsteiermark DAC Styria Sauvignon Blanc (~$21)

Isle chose this wine to pair with the salt and vinegar chip this year in his Wine & Potato Chip Pairing seminar. “I picked it because it’s a terrific Sauvignon Blanc at a very good price. But also, it’s fun to turn the audience on to stuff they’ve never had before.” While most attendees have tried Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and California, Isle notes, fewer are likely to be familiar with Austrian Sauvignon Blancs. “The idea is that they walk out of it thinking, ‘Cool, Austria makes some great Sauvignon Blanc. Let’s try more of that.’”

The vintage tasted at the seminar was 2020.

Bottle of Le Macchiole Toscana IGT Paleo Rosso

Le Macchiole Toscana IGT Paleo Rosso (~$143)

One of Isle’s favorite seminars to lead this year was the “Judgement of Aspen — Great Cabernets From Around the World,” a tasting based on the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris. Most of the bottles were benchmark Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa, Bordeaux, and other key regions. But Isle snuck in one outlier to get people thinking. “This one was a bit of a cheat, but we didn’t specify that the Cabernets were all Cabernet Sauvignons,” he says. So he included this highly rated Cabernet Franc from Bolgheri in Tuscany. “It’s a wine I absolutely love. I think it’s one of the great expressions of Cabernet Franc in the world.” Most attendees thought it was a Cabernet Sauvignon, spurring a discussion about the relationship between the two grapes and their expressions.

The vintage tasted at the seminar was 2016.

bottle of Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Mayacamas Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (~$197)

At a seminar on wine investing, where Isle did the introductions, panelists were asked to pour one wine as an up-and-coming pick for collectors. Charles Antin, head of wine auction sales at Zachys, selected this Cabernet Sauvignon. Isle says he’s been a longtime fan of the wines — in fact, former Mayacamas owner and winemaker Robert Travers was one of the first winemakers he ever interviewed. “I was glad that Charles chose it as his pick for investment-quality wine that people haven’t quite snapped to yet,” he says. “And it tasted fantastic, so that was pretty fun.”

The vintage tasted at the seminar was 2007.