The Most Memorable Wines of 2022
Drinking wine is a fleeting pleasure. You sniff, sip, savor it in your mouth, swallow and move onward. Soon enough, the wine is gone.
What sets wine apart are the memories after consumption. Wine’s power to conjure up a moment, an emotion and a sense of time and place is uncanny.
I had the privilege of tasting or drinking hundreds of wines in 2022. Of all of them, these 12 were not necessarily the best bottles, but they were the most memorable, which in many ways is more important.
Here they are, from youngest to oldest.
Divella Clo Clo Dosaggio Zero Rosé NV
A few years ago I became fascinated by a new wave of producers in Franciacorta, a region in Lombardy in northern Italy where Champagne-style sparkling wine is produced. Most of the producers there are sizable, like the big houses of Champagne, some good, many dull. But this new group, like the small grower-producers who have energized Champagne over the last 25 years, were offering an alternative approach to Franciacorta.
I’ve tried a number of these wines and find them exciting, but none more so than the wines of Alessandra Divella in the town of Gussago. She farms organically and her wines are thrilling, none more so than her Clo Clo rosé, which I drank in August at Corner Bar on the Lower East Side.
The wine, named for Ms. Divella’s mother, is bone-dry, yet refreshing and crackling with energy and intrigue. You can’t wait for the next sip to see where it will take you. As Ms. Divella slowly adds to her vineyard holdings and gains experience, I’m eager to see where the future will take her.
Herrera Alvarado Cuero de Vaca Marga Marga Valley 2020
Chile these days is a fount of fascinating wines, and possibly none more so than this ultranatural pinot noir from the Marga Marga Valley, northwest of Santiago near Valparaíso on the Pacific Coast, which I wrote about in March.
Arturo Herrera and Carolina Alvarado make wine without electricity or temperature control, fermenting on cow hides and then squeezing the wine through the hides into old barrels, a sort of natural filtering process. Previous vintages had been made with pinot noir, and I originally thought the 2020 was pinot noir, too, even though the wine did not taste like it. Turns out, the 2020 was carmenère. Either way, it was fresh, pure and singularly beautiful, juicy like a nouveau and only 11 percent alcohol.
Nicolas Carmarans Aveyron Fer Servadou Maximus 2020
In April, I wrote about 10 grapes that were worth getting to know better. I chose one of them because of this wine, which was my first encounter with fer servadou, a grape that goes by many other names in its home territory, southwestern France, like braucol, caillaba and just plain fer.
Nicolas Carmarans used to run an excellent wine bar in Paris, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, before resettling in Aveyron, where his ancestors once made wine. This natural wine, Maximus, is one of several expressions of fer servadou that he makes from different terroirs. It was light, pure, clear and soulful, absolutely delicious. I vowed to find more wines made of fer servadou, but so far, I’ve been unsuccessful — except, of course, for the Carmarans cuvées.
Claire Naudin Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc Bellis Perennis 2020
I visited Burgundy in early May and one afternoon, early in the trip, I was joined for lunch by two dear friends. It was our first meal together outside of New York, and we drank this bottle from Claire Naudin, who makes beautifully pure, textured wines that are full of life.
It came from the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, a modest region high on the slope above the famous and expensive vineyards of the Côte d’Or. Historically, grapes were sometimes difficult to ripen there, but in recent years the region has benefited from the climate crisis and offers relatively good values.
This bottle, served in a simple bistro, was far from the most profound wine we shared in our meals together. But it captured a feeling of liberation from pandemic restrictions, its depth and deliciousness expressing the joy of friendship and pleasure in each other’s company.
Stefan Vetter Franken Sylvaner GK 2017
This is not the first time I’ve written about Stefan Vetter’s silvaner, which he, like many in Germanic areas, spells “sylvaner.” He’s fanatical about demonstrating the possibilities of this grape, which has so often been typecast as simple and pleasant at best.
Mr. Vetter farms old vineyards, many on steep, terraced slopes requiring intensive manual labor. The GK bottling, which I drank in January, comes from the Kalbstein vineyard in the village of Gambach. It was complex, bracing and bottomless, gloriously mineral and saline. A wine like this demands a re-examining of the potential of this grape and, really, all grapes written off by conventional wisdom.
Emrich-Schönleber Nahe Frühlingsplätzchen Grosses Gëwachs 2015
Over the course of a dinner in late January at Noreetuh, the modern Hawaiian wine destination in the East Village, I examined many excellent German rieslings. None stood out to me more than this young dry riesling from Emrich-Schönleber.
Frank Schönleber and his family painstakingly farm several excellent vineyards in the western Nahe including Frühlingsplätzchen, which is on a steep south-facing slope of red slate and gravel. The result in 2015 was this floral, finely etched and detailed wine of great complexity and stony minerality. With so many great bottles on the table that evening, this was the one I remembered best and most look forward to drinking many times again.
Maison Valette Pouilly-Fuissé Le Clos de Monsieur Noly 2006
At La Dilettante, a wine bar in Beaune, one evening in May, a friend and I had gotten into a conversation with a group of Germans at a nearby table. As we all had wine left in our bottles we began to share, as one does in such convivial circumstances. At one point they poured glasses for us without identifying the wine and asked us to guess what it was.
It was golden amber, which can be a sign of oxidation, yet this wine was not flawed. It had a lightning streak of acidity and was rich and dense, complex with a sort of cereal-like, grainy quality. I thought it was a Meursault from a warm vintage, roughly 20 years old. It turned out to be this Pouilly-Fuissé from Maison Valette, an idiosyncratic producer that makes natural wines without sulfur dioxide, a stabilizer and antioxidant. Certain cuvées like this bottle, Le Clos de Monsieur Noly, are aged for unusually long periods.
It was a peculiar wine, no doubt, but extraordinary and surprising. I can’t forget it, nor can I forget this evening of discovery.
Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1996
At an annual gathering of friends and collectors in August in Chappaqua, N.Y., many great wines were served. The last was a surprise as our host produced this great bottle from Château d’Yquem, the most famous sweet wine in the world and certainly one of the greatest.
It was breathtaking in its complexity, prismatic yet lively and impeccably fresh. It was the kind of wine that, however your attention might be divided in a festive environment, everything stops, leaving only you and this brilliant wine. It’s why collectors pay hundreds of dollars a bottle for Yquem. I felt very lucky indeed.
René Engel Échézeaux 1990
At that same dinner in Chappaqua, well before the Yquem appeared, this wonderful grand cru Burgundy was served. It was especially meaningful, as the René Engel estate no longer exists. Its last proprietor, Philippe Engel, who took over the family estate in 1981, transforming a good producer into a great one, died far too young of a heart attack at 49 in 2005. It was then sold and renamed Domaine d’Eugénie.
It’s a wistful feeling, knowing that each bottle opened makes the remaining bottles even more scarce, particularly when the wines are this beautiful. The Échézeaux was fresh, not always the case for the hot 1990 vintage, and complex with woodsy forest floor aromas and stony flavors that persisted in the mouth, a combination of profound and soulfully delicious that hit me both in the mind and the gut.
Spottswoode Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1987
In early November I visited Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena, Calif., the excellent Napa Valley producer, for a tasting of 20 vintages of estate cabernet sauvignon from 2001-20. These were superb wines, balanced, graceful and textured, but the bottle that stood out was an older wine we drank with lunch following the tasting, a 1987 Spottswoode.
It was of a piece with the younger wines, floral, intense, structured and energetic, but the added age had given it extra dimension and complexity with the aromas of dried flowers, herbs and red fruits. Making it even sweeter was the fact that Tony Soter, Spottswoode’s first winemaker, now the proprietor of Soter Vineyards in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and who made the ’87, was there for the tasting and lunch.
I asked him what he thought of this wine, so beautiful after 35 years. For all his considerable achievements in wine, Mr. Soter is becomingly modest. He would say only that he was happy it was drinkable.
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1972
For my money Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello has stood the test of time as the best American cabernet sauvignon. This opinion was reinforced when I visited Ridge’s Monte Bello estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains in mid-October for lunch and a minitasting with Paul Draper, Ridge’s chairman, and Trester Goetting, the winemaker at Monte Bello.
The tasting coincided with Ridge’s 60th anniversary, so they pulled some older vintages, including this 1972, which Mr. Draper said was not initially highly regarded, though he has since re-evaluated.
This wine was gorgeous, 100 percent cabernet, as was typical for Monte Bello in its early years. It was my idea of great cabernet: multifaceted, with persistent flavors of violets and herbs, and many years left.
“We thought it was good but not great,” Mr. Draper said. “But now we’re going to hold on to the bottles we have left.”
1942 Château Climens Barsac
In September, I attended a dinner in Connecticut designed around wines produced during World War II. It’s always fascinating to drink very old wines, but this occasion was especially moving as we considered the brutal, terrifying conditions of Nazi occupation that the French producers endured in the war years.
Each wine conjured up emotions, especially this 80-year-old Château Climens. What vigneron back then could have imagined, long after they were gone, that their message of 1942 would resonate so profoundly so many decades later? This sweet wine — Barsac is the sibling of Sauternes in Bordeaux — was no longer very sweet. But it was kaleidoscopic in its complexity, with aromas and flavors of orange and apricot, spices, roasted nuts and burned sugar.
The particulars aren’t essential. What matters most is that this culture considered wine so important that the vignerons were willing to risk their lives for its creation. Yes, wine was their occupation. But it was also intrinsic to their identities, which, at least to some of them, made it more important than life.
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