The Year in Wine: 2021 Which grapes, regions, and producers stood out in an action-packed year of tastings? Here are some of our Greatest Hits of 2021.
You can’t help but become a trend-spotter when your job is to source, schedule, and write SommSelect’s Daily Offers. As we often mention, only about 10%-15% of the wines we taste end up being offered on the site, but that’s not because the wines not chosen are “bad,” quite the contrary. Looking back through the 734 wines we offered in 2021, I don’t only see a “best-of-the-best” list but an illuminating microcosm of the modern wine scene.
Taking it strictly by the numbers (365 days in a year, two offers a day), this is how our offers shook out in 2021:
French Wines: 351
Italian Wines: 145
Domestic Wines: 96
Spanish Wines: 34
Austrian Wines: 26
German Wines: 24
Portuguese Wines: 19
Greek Wines: 7
Other Old World Wines: 16
Other New World Wines: 12
That French number surprised even me, but then again, SommSelect subscribers are devoted fans of the classics—especially Champagne, Whites and Reds from Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Our Italian offers, too, are heavily weighted toward “classic” regions, most notably Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. But people are branching out, and there’s a lot out there to reward an adventurous spirit. Great terroir, talent, and technology are no longer exclusive to just a few wine cultures. These days, your next world-class wine experience is just as likely to come from a grape, producer, or appellation you’ve never heard of. Here are a few takeaways from our tasting table…
The New Portugal
Only recently did Portugal take full control of its wine destiny. During its 18th century Port wine heyday, growers were largely subservient to British shippers. For most of the 20th century, dictatorial Portuguese governments exerted control (Portugal only officially joined the EU in 1986). Agriculture was collectivized, cooperatives proliferated, and “quantity over quality” prevailed. After Port, the most famous exports were fizzy, sweet pink wines such as Mateus and Lancers.
Today it’s a different story. In the Douro DO, land of Port, producers have pivoted to dark, soil-driven, unfortified dry reds from indigenous grapes. The whites of Vinho Verde, once insipid and spritzy, now display new levels of depth and nuance (especially from the Moncão e Melgaço subzone). Then there’s Baga, the “Nebbiolo of Portugal,” whose modern incarnations from the Bairrada region are making some serious waves.
As the planet warms, certain wine-growing regions once considered too “marginal” to ripen red grapes properly are edging into the climatic sweet spot—like the Savoie, for example, in the shadow of the French Alps. The taut, mineral whites from grapes such as Jacquère and Altesse, have long been favorites of ours, but this past year saw a massive influx of delicious, dark-fruited reds from the region. The star attractions are reds from the local Mondeuse variety, which has been found to have a genetic link to Syrah. The two varieties share a similarly deep color (with purple/black/magenta hues) and lots of savory, spicy notes. As grown in the cool, upper reaches of the Savoie, Mondeuse has tremendous nerve and lots of lifted aromas, much like a top-tier Northern Rhône Syrah in miniature.
Here’s a category of wines very close to our hearts! Whether the island is Santorini (whose Assyrtiko-based whites are not merely evocative and novel but genuinely profound), Sicily (where the mineral whites of Mount Etna are like volcanic analogs to great Chablis), or one of the Spanish Canaries (where native grapes such as Listán Blanco root in ash-black soils), these are the whites we’re drinking when it’s time to stray from classics like White Burgundy or German Riesling.
German Pinot Noir
Speaking of “cool climate” red wine, some of the best-value Pinot Noirs we tasted in 2021 were German. We still feel it necessary to remind people that Germany is the world’s third-largest Pinot Noir producer, and that most of the country’s best Pinot Noir vineyards—most of them clustered in the southerly Baden region—were planted by the same monastic growers who brought Pinot Noir to prominence in (nearby) Burgundy. Whether the label reads “Pinot Noir” or “Spätburgunder,” don’t sleep on these beautifully finessed, woodsy reds!
I wouldn’t say 2021 was a breakthrough year for Galician wine—the region has been growing exponentially in prominence for years now! Galicia has been re-imagined, if not resurrected, by an exciting cadre of new-generation, talented vintners crafting show-stopping whites and reds from old-vines in granite soils. On the white side, it’s salty Albariño from Rías Baixas that grabs most of the headlines, although nipping at its heels are Godello from Valdeorras and Treixadura-driven blends from Ribeiro. Galicia’s cool, lush tangle of river valleys is also hospitable to reds, especially the mineral-loaded, high-energy wines from the Mencía grape.
Whether you call it pétillant naturel, méthode ancestrale, col fondo, or frizzante, the gentler, more spontaneous, often crown-capped styles of sparkling wines are the ones getting most of the headlines. Yes, Champagne is still king, and nothing will knock it off its throne, but “pét-nat” is the affordable darling of wine lovers who crave authenticity, natural winemaking, and affordability. The style is simple: Rather than take a “finished” still wine and add sugar and yeast to ignite a second fermentation and create effervescence, pét-nats are bottled up before they’ve finished fermenting. The resultant fizz from trapped CO2 is gentler than that created by the Méthode Champenoise (“Champagne Method”), and the resultant wines typically contain a small amount of yeast sediment in the bottle, which can cloud up the liquid when poured.
OUR MOST MEMORABLE BOTTLES OF 2021
Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier & Founder, SommSelect:
2018 Philip Togni, Cabernet Sauvignon
2017 Montevertine, Le Pergole Torte
2018 Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Le Cailleret”
2018 Arterberry Maresh, "Old Vines" Pinot Noir Dundee Hills
2018 Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fumé "Silex"
1985 Château Bel-Air Lagrave, Cru Bourgeois
2016 Cappellano, Barolo "Pié Rupestris”
2015 Clos Rougeard, Saumur-Champigny
1989 Couly-Dutheil, Chinon "Clos de l'Olive"
2012 Egly-Ouriet, Grand Cru Millésime
Mark Osburn, SommSelect Daily Offers Manager:
2010 Gravner, Rosso
2018 Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre Rouge
1989 Couly-Dutheil, Chinon “Clos de l’Olive”
2009 Champagne Jacquesson, “Champ Caïn” Avize Grand Cru
2019 Presqu’ile, Santa Barbara County Syrah
2018 Von Winning, “Ungeheuer” Grosses Gewächs
1964 Faustino I, Rioja Gran Reserva
2003 Keenan, Merlot Library Release
2019 Hatzidakis “Familia” Santorini Assyrtiko
1990 Château Vannières, Bandol Rouge
David Lynch, SommSelect Editorial Director
MV Champagne André Clouet, Grand Cru Rosé
2017 Luis A. Rodríguez Vázquez, “Os Pasas” Ribeiro Blanco
2019 Vinha da Fidalga, Dao Encruzado
2019 Oenops, Vidiano
2017 Bitouzet-Prieur Meursault-Perrières Premier Cru
2018 Karthäuserhof, "Karthäuserhofberg" Riesling Grosses Gewächs
2014 Moric, Blaufrankisch "Reserve"
2013 Salvatore Molettieri, Taurasi “Vigna Cinque Querce”
2017 Marisa Cuomo, Furore Rosso
2015 Domaine Jean-Luc Jamet, Côte-Rôtie “Terrasses”
Through the grapevine
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