As a wine writer and student of the Master of Wine, I taste a lot of wine. Good for me, occasionally bad for my health. As a professional, I do spit, of course. Nevertheless, this fraught privilege allows me the opportunity to discover exquisite or fascinating bottles I might not otherwise have access to; wines that remind me why I left the business of law years ago.
Writing a list of ten challenges the imagination and memory, but I found the bottles I pondered most frequently shared a common trait: they stimulated the mind and touched that soft intangible part of my singular emotional response some might call the soul.
Climate change, craftmanship, family, old and new friends, thrills in farflung places, the steady hand of home, the past, the future, the now. Will these wines be around in future decades? Will something new take their place? How long will I be around to see what unfolds? What does it matter when today is the day I’m here and tomorrow doesn’t yet exist? These fragments of thought span some of the musings inspired by a journey through these bottles.
How did I encounter them? Though I don’t drink or buy based on scores, some of these wines earned 100-point accolades, thus earning spots at the 1000-point tasting thrown each year by Charlotte Wine & Food Week. I co-hosted the event in March 2022 alongside Argentine wine icon Laura Catena. The role provided access to an embarrassment of riches donated by private collectors. Other wines I stumbled upon while traveling, many delicious bargains far away from auction houses and investors.
As you review my memorable wines of 2022 list, remember I tasted plenty but not all of the wines in the world. Thus, I’d love to hear from readers about their favorite wines, whether rare or readily available. Please drop me a line!
The first of 3 Chardonnays to land on my top ten list this year, I tasted Coup de Coeur at the Charlotte Wine & Food Week 1000-point tasting. Winemaker Luc Morlet and his wife Jodie have a reputation for making some of the finest Burgundian-style Chardonnays on the Sonoma Coast. Coup de Coeur, which means “heart’s astonishment” comes close to describing the experience of tasting this wine. The wine is a cuvée of the best barrels blended from Fort Ross-Seaview & Russian River Valley vineyards and a combination of Gold Ridge and volcanic soils. A gorgeous nose of white blossoms, pear, and ripe summer peach sprinkled with baking spice leads to a broad silken palate that carries on for minutes of ethereal weightlessness. Tasting complexity and power with the delicacy of air is that rarest of experiences that comes from winemaking craftmanship paired to exceptional Chardonnay fruit.
Catena Zapata, Adrianna Vineyard White Bones Chardonnay, Argentina, 2018, $140 (2020)
Chardonnay from Uco Valley, Argentina, known for its cooler climate and limestone outcroppings, has become increasingly important over the last few years. I’ve tasted about two dozen versions, preferring the leaner, mineral-laden styles of the coolest sites and coolest vintages. One wine I’d never experienced until the Charlotte Wine & Food Week 1000-point tasting was the Adrianna Vineyard White Bones. It was a joy to try this wine while seated next to Laura Catena. White Bones has a distinct floral-mineral-herbal nose with a palate that recalls the name. White Bones refers to the calcareous deposits and limestone and fossilized animal bones in the soil from of a river that once passed through the region which translates into a chalky minerality in the wine. The vineyard is almost 5000 feet above sea level, imbuing the Chardonnay with incredible tension and energy from cold nights and intense sunlight. Stunning.
I tasted this wine the same night I tried Morlet Family Vineyards Coup de Coeur for a second time. Both remind me why I’ve completely changed my mind about Chardonnay over the last few years and now can’t get enough of cooler climate expressions. The vineyard boasts a prime position in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley. The vintage, 2021, was even cooler and wetter than is typical for Tasmania which emphasized the ethereal crystalline quality of the fruit. Still ripe with lemon, pear, and apple balanced by a stony savory character, the wine expands across the palate with unstoppable grace. So young and remarkably drinkable but worth holding back if you’ve got a few bottles.
Spottswoode Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California, 2015, $280
Spottswoode has long been a favorite Napa producer of mine, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the 2015 vintage on the list at the 1000-point tasting. No matter what the weather throws at them, their estate Cabernet always comes out rich, pure, and beautiful. The 2015 vintage offered a warmer season and earlier harvest, with many wines fruit-driven, a style Spottswoode nails with finesse. This bottle, still packed with fresh primary fruit, offered layers of cassis, flowers, crushed rocks, pencil shavings, and a touch of anise and spice. Structured from end-to-end with polished tannins and a long finish, the 2015 has a few years ahead of it. Tasted in March 2022.
El Enemigo, Gran Enemigo Gualtallary Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Argentina 2013, $271
I’d heard about this wine for many years, but given its limited production, I’d never tasted it. I was thrilled to see it included at the Charlotte Wine & Food 1000-point tasting and it didn’t disappoint. A little research revealed 2013 was a cooler year than typical and that’s at a vineyard already 4822 feet above sea level. Winemaker Alejandro Vigil created a masterpiece of fine tannins with a full body tingling with electric energy that tasted like a bridge between the Old World and New World. Savory with mushrooms and white pepper notes layered atop lingering primary fruits from blueberry to blackberry, this wine reignited my interested in tasting more high elevation Cab Franc from Argentina.
Château de Chamirey, Mercurey rouge Premier Cru “Clos du Roi”, Mercurey, France, 2019, $55
On a recent trip to Bourgogne, I spent a few days exploring next generation wineries and underappreciated appellations. Château de Chamirey was the last stop on a six-day tour that started in Chablis and ended in Mercurey in Côte Chalonnaise. I had the absolute pleasure of tasting through the wines with the current family owners Aurore Monot-Devillard and her father Bertrand. Many of the Pinots I’d tasted, especially in Côte Chalonnaise, had been creeping up in alcohol and ripeness in the last few years. Despite that, producers still managed to balance freshness with velvety tannins and elegance, a difficult feat deftly achieved in the Clos du Roi 2019. Looking back on my tasting notes, I recorded “sweet berry fruit, flowers, and dried spiced orange peel” but what lingered beyond the immediate pleasure was seeing a father and daughter, with admiration and love for one another, pass the baton in tasting. It was a reminder of how families are still the beating heart of wine production in Bourgogne.
I had the chance to taste a slew of Middleburg AVA wines in October, many from the knockout 2019 vintage and this Bordeaux-style blend led by Cab Franc epitomized the potential of Virginia wine when firing on all cylinders. This $72 flagship wine takes its name from the railway station that ran during the Civil War. The blend comprises 66% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot. Only 250 cases were made and most of it sold out in 3 months, for good reason. Tastes of rich plum, cassis, black fruits with a long, seamless finish. If this is the future of Virginia wine, I’m ready to invest. The current available vintage is 2020.
Ferrari, Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore, Trento, Italy, $150
Made from 100% Chardonnay hand-picked in mid-September, this TrentoDOC Riserva ages more than 10 years on the lees. This lengthy timeline lends incredible depth, complexity, and texture to the wine that’s relatively unmatched within the Italian metodo classico category with a few exceptions in Franciacorta. I hadn’t tasted this wine in a few years, though I never forgot the first wondrous sip I took when visiting Ferrari winery and the Lunelli family’s historic Villa Margon in Trento, Italy. I had just started writing a wine column for The Village Voice and the visit to Ferrari was the first stop on a journey into northern winemaking climes. Mostly accustomed to the firmer, riper wines of the south, the trip opened my mind to Italy’s alpine-leaning styles, especially sparkling made from Chardonnay capable of bright citrus notes and tension. I’ve remained enamored of sparkling from TrentoDOC partly from Ferrari, and undoubtedly from the Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore.
Felton Road, Pinot Noir, Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand 2018, $49 (2021)
Traveling in Fiji in November, I initially imagined finding decent wines to drink would be a challenge. However, many resorts have respectable if not great (depending on the ambition of the property and restaurant management) wine lists packed with bottles from nearby New Zealand. While at Vomo Island, I had dinner with the charming guest experiences manager Tim. He suggested picking out something to share, so I scanned the list and discovered one of my favorite biodynamic Pinot Noir producers from Central Otago, Felton Road. They only had one bottle left of the 2018 Bannockburn, so we snapped it up. Once poured, aromas of ripe red cherries and spice took me back to my first visit to New Zealand almost 8 years ago. During that trip, winemaker Blair Walter, also a knowledgeable pilot, on a whim took me and some other guests up in his plane to view the fjords of Milford Sound. Sometimes bottles are as delicious for the wine itself as for the memories and friendships surrounding its enjoyment.
BarfodVin, Aurum Solaris, Denmark 2020 (NA)
In May 2022, I attended Vie Vinum, Austria’s splendiferous wine conference held every two years in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. Quite possibly, I tasted 1000 wines over the course of the week, attempting to hit every region and vintner in the thick guide to exhibitors. I always end up bringing a few treasures home, sometimes leftovers from the last day, others purchased in Vienna’s well-stocked shops. This year, one of the bottles I shepherded back in my wine suitcase was not from Austria but Denmark. A year ago, I wrote a piece on the New Frontiers of Viticulture, covering spots like Bolivia, Japan, and Norway. I knew Denmark produced wine, as does Sweden, but I’d not had a chance to taste anything given the small production, lack of availability in the US, and the experimental nature of the grapes and vineyards. So, I was blown away by my first sip of Solaris, a grape I happened to recognize solely from interviewing Norwegian winemakers for that story. As climate change challenges Europe’s longstanding wine regions, cooler climate countries (once too cold) stand poised to capture some of the shifting winds of the wine industry. Solaris, a white grape capable of fresh high acid wines as well as rich botrytized dessert wines, such as the Aurum, may unlock the future of Denmark as a player in the wine world.