With the end of 2022 and the arrival of the New Year, many people take the time to take stock of the highlights (and lowlights) of the past year and make resolutions for the year ahead.
After reading Eric Asimov’s article on the New York Times on his Most Memorable Wines of 2022 , I became inspired to do something similar and come up with a similar list for this year, considering the ones that brought me the best memories – whether because of their quality, the location where I drank them or the company I shared them with. Here goes my top 10 of 2022:
La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 1997
In November I traveled to Rioja to attend the Rioja Academy Educator Course. Amongst the numerous visits crisscrossing the denomination, the one to the cellars of the classic producer La Rioja Alta stood out in particular. Winemaker Julio Saenz led us through a tasting of older vintages, including the fantastic 1997 904 Gran Reserva.
Savory, salty, with balsamic, spice and dried fruit notes, this blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano was at its peak on its 25 year mark. Though 1997 is widely considered an average vintage, in the deft hands of the Rioja Alta team this wine showed the incredible long aging potential that Rioja can deliver.
J. J. Christoffel, Armiger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese Mosel 2014
We opened this bottle for New Year’s Eve at friends’ home and paired it with fondue. The perfect balance of sugar and acidity cut through the richness of the cheese making a harmonious pairing. Petrol, flint, and honey. Citrus zest, ripe peaches and pronounced flinty, slate notes. A classic Mosel with a long, oily, refreshing finish. From the very steep Würzgarten (“spice garden”) vineyard in the village of Ürzig in the middle Mosel, famous for its iron rich slate is red that produces notably spicy wines.
Equipo Navazos, La Bota 90 de Manzanilla Pasada “Capataz Cabo”
Equipo Navazos, a partnership between wine expert Jesús Barquín and Eduardo Ojeda, head winemaker at Valdespino, who focus on finding some of the best casks from the Sherry triangle and marketing them directly as negociants. I tasted this intense, steely, briny Manzanilla Pasada that balances freshness with an elegant oxidation notes that make it truly unique. From the “saca” of February, 2019 (when it was drawn off and bottled). Tasted at Angelita Madrid, an excellent gastro-wine bar near Madrid’s Gran Via.
Envinate, Benje Blanco 2019
At Berria, a relatively new wine bar next door to El Retiro Park in Madrid, one afternoon in April my wife and I met up with a couple of old friends. With an extensive wine list – and uniquely to Spain a large selection of non-Spanish bottles – Berria has become one of the must-go stops in Madrid for wine lovers. We opened a bottle of this delicious 100% Listan Blanco (aka Palomino) from Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Grown on volcanic soils at high altitudes and aged with 25% of its skins in concrete vats, the wine had a wonderful briny, smoky character, with racy acidity and a savory finish. Though this time we couldn’t make it all the way to the islands, wines like this are for sure another calling card to plan a trip soon.
Christophe Buisson, Clos des Argillières Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru 2009
Over the course of a dinner with friends at home in early September, we opened this 13-year-old Burgundy from Christophe Buisson. Clos des Argillières is a very small (0.2 Ha) Premier Cru vineyard in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
The nose was very aromatic: dry roses, red berries, forest undergrowth, mushrooms, and truffles, with a fresh, racy acidity and velvety tannins. It reminded us how beautiful aged Burgundy can be.
Chateau Gruaud Larose 2009
In October, I attended a dinner at a friend’s home, where many people brought a special one for the occasion. Among many outstanding wines, the 13-year-old Chateau Gruaud Larose a second growth from St. Julien clearly stood out.
Medium to deep ruby-red, with lively cassis fruit, leafy notes, cedar and graphite. Very refreshing acidity, silky tannins and one of the longest finishes I can remember this year. A classic, drinking perfectly that night. A blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.
Monte Xanic Don Ricardo, Valle de Guadalupe 2016
At a blind tasting dinner we hosted this summer, I served this bottle along a flight of other Cabernet Sauvignon-led blends from the New and Old Worlds. This wine – a present from a Mexican friend with connections to the winery – was the highlight of the tasting and for many quite a surprise, especially as it was the first time, they’d tried a Mexican wine at all.
The top of the line of Monte Xanic, one of Mexico’s leading wineries, it is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot y Cabernet Franc aged for 18 months in French oak. Elegant and complex, with savory tobacco leaf aromas, coffee, toast and lively acidity.
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° Ribera del Duero 2015
My brother-in-law and I share October birthdays and we often get together with our families for a lunch celebration. This year, he opened a bottle of the fantastic Valbuena 5° 2015, the second wine of Vega Sicilia, one of Spain’s top producers. A blend of 95% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) and 5% Merlot and aged for three years in wood and two in the bottle.
Very concentrated black fruit, powerful, with lots of ripe black fruit, firm tannins and the characteristic salinity of Ribera del Duero reds. The perfect balance between elegance, complexity, and concentration.
Alpha Estate, Hedgehog Vineyard Xinomavro Amyndeo 2019
Many people compare the Greek grape Xinomavro with the Italian Nebbiolo, as both share the powerful structure, full body, and red savory fruit profile. This wine – opened on a cold, rainy evening in Seattle – comes from Alpha Estate, a winery located in the Amyndeon region in northwest Greece, and specifically from the high altitude (700m) Hedgehog vineyard in the Macedonian mountains.
Pale ruby with aromas of tart red cherry, dried tomato, red cherry with marked chalky tannins and high acidity. Juicy, youthful, mouth-watering, and long, and a great value at $20! Aged for 12 months in Allier oak casks and 12 months in bottle.
Giacomo Borgogno Barolo Riserva 1998
Earlier this year I participated in Taormina Gourmet, an event hosted by Cronache di Gusto, an online publication that gathers some of the best producers and media every year in Sicily, focusing particularly on top Italian wines.
I attended a Masterclass from the famous Barolo producer Giacomo Borgono, that included many older vintages from successful years like 1982, 1998, 2008 and 2012. One of the highlights was the Riserva 1998 with its alluring aromas of dry roses, fennel, minerals, and earth, along soft tannins and a hauntingly long finish. A blend of three crus: Liste, Cannubi and Fossati. Incredibly fresh and lively after nearly 25 years.