What You Need to Know
- The highlights range from the old to the new, the familiar to the esoteric, and the pricey to the $35 a bottle — or less.
- They include a bargain Portuguese white made from an almost-extinct grape, a 45-year-old Champagne, a great red aiming to be the best in China, and a brand-new Spanish wine that’s poised to be a sought-after collectible.
- All reflect what’s important in today’s wine world, and where it’s headed.
Picking my Top 10 experiences of 2021 wasn’t easy: I sampled great wines from 18 countries on six continents this year.
Flipping through my tasting notebooks revealed stars for dozens of wines, including great vintages of Bordeaux, memorable California cabernets and chardonnays, and brand-new, stellar cuvées from Champagne, both fizzy and not.
I also savored less well-known regions and grapes—antâo vaz and jampal from Portugal, gaglioppo and turbiana from Italy—and many from young winemakers committed to saving the planet, giving me hope for the wine world’s future.
Sadly, I poured most of them at my own table, often while chatting virtually with winemakers. Their backdrops—stone winery cellars, scenic vineyard vistas, grand restaurants—were tantalizing reminders of how much I miss visiting wine regions in person.
My 10 highlights range from the old to the new, the familiar to the esoteric. They include a bargain Portuguese white made from an almost-extinct grape, a 45-year-old Champagne, a great red aiming to be the best in China, and a brand-new Spanish wine that’s poised to be a sought-after collectible.
All reflect what’s important in today’s wine world, and where it’s headed.
2017 Manz Cheleiros Dona Fatima Jampal
My discovery of the year is this unique white, the only wine in the world made entirely from the rare Portuguese grape jampal. I was captivated by both the taste and the tale of the grape’s rescue from near extinction by a star Brazilian soccer player, goalkeeper Andre Manz. He bought a small vineyard north of Lisbon and enlisted experts to determine what the grapes were.
His jampal, with perfumy aromas and the tang of citrus, earth, and fresh green plants, is like a combo of chardonnay, semillon, and sauvignon blanc—long and elegant. It’s nearly impossible to find right now, but more is coming in 2022. $25
2020 Massican Sauvignon Blanc
Last summer, I moved to a new house. After a hot day unpacking, I craved a comforting, familiar wine that could be counted on for energy and zip. The wine cellar was a shambles of boxes, but I stumbled on bottles of crisp, bright whites from Napa’s Massican winery, which my husband and I drank over several nights to unwind and relax.
All were refreshing and delicious, but the green, flinty notes of this mouthwatering sauvignon blanc made it the perfect wine match for the moments when we sat outside to savor our new forest-and-mountain view. $35
What a treat to preview this new, collectible red from charismatic winemaker Telmo Rodriguez. A leader in Spain’s wine revolution, he’s long highlighted the country’s top terroirs and native grapes. One of his ambitions has been to create Rioja’s first contender for iconic status. He’s done it with Yjar. Though made at his family estate, Remelluri, this is a separate passion project.
The fragrant, sleek, ultra-harmonious blend is made from an exceptional, high-altitude, historic vineyard planted with tempranillo and four other traditional varieties. This is the first Rioja to be offered exclusively to Bordeaux negociants—the entire vintage of 7,500 bottles sold out in hours. It will arrive in the U.S. in 2022. $105
2017 Royal Tokaji Company Mézes Mály 6 Puttonyos
This voluptuous, amber-colored, sweet wine from Hungary’s Tokaj region, from one of the top vintages in the past 30 years, is my bargain of the year. Yes, really. The three-digit price tag is cheap for this style of elixir, which long ago coated the tongues of such emperors as Franz Josef and Napoleon.
Of Royal Tokaji’s single-vineyard bottlings, the Mezes Maly, from one of the region’s two most famous vineyards, was my favorite. It’s the epitome of fleshy richness, with aromas and flavors of honey, fat apricots, ginger and orange peel, and enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. Tokaji is often sweeter than Sauternes, but has more fruitiness, refreshing acidity, and lower alcohol. Why, oh why, are these gorgeous wines out of fashion? $210 for 500 ml
2019 Bibi Graetz Colore 20th Anniversary
Tuscan winemaker and artist Bibi Graetz’s colorful personality was on vivid display during a launch for the 20th anniversary of his best red, Colore Rosso, staged in July at grand Michelin three-starred Ristorante Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence.