The year 2022 is off and running along with new vintages and brands that are flooding the market. Rico and I discovered the best of the best for you to sip and savor. We could have done a top 100 with all the coveted new wines out there, but space limits us to five wines each.
From California, I have two Napa Valley gems, and one from Sonoma and the Sta. Rita Hills Central Coast. Finally, we’ll dip into a “la familia” Italian beauty from Tuscany.
All wines are rated excellent and each list is listed alphabetically. Alright, time to open the bundles and pop the corks!
Abstract, Orin Swift Red Blend, Napa Valley, 2020. $30: Finding this bottle may be the easiest part of your discovery. The label is crammed with a collage of zany photos, from Elvis Presley to a young Queen Elizabeth of England. Once opened, the drinker is confronted by a Rhone-style of wine with a blend of grenache, petite sirah and syrah, melded equally and seamlessly together. A deep purple bouquet dominates with plum and boysenberry. orinswift.com.
Pope Valley Sangiovese, Napa Valley, 2019. $42: They said it couldn’t be done. I believed the many Italian winemakers who make the coveted Tuscan Sangiovese wines, claiming that this wine cannot be made with any quality in California. I beg to differ. This wine knocks it out of the park. The nose has aromas of violet and earthy “herbaceousness.” The taste is that of dark ripe cherry and dusty cocoa with a structure somewhere between delicate and powerful. Learn more at popevalleywine.com.
Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel, Sonoma, 2019. $2: Rain in late March of 2019 coupled with spring warmth created ideal growing conditions and the vines responded. A mild summer allowed for slow, smooth richness and structure. Like most zinfandels, this one has important add-ons such as petite sirah, carignane and ,ataro for added pop. ridgewine.com.
Sanford Estate Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, 2017. $20. In the Sta. Rita Hills of California’s Central Coast in 1971, it all began with Sanford. This cool-climate chardonnay is the whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented in French oak for a lovely textured citrus and apricot flavor. Learn more at sanfordwinery.com.
Viticcio Chianti Classico Reserva, Tuscany in Italy, 2016. $22. The last 3 harvest years in Italy were the best in a decade and Viticcio’s Chianti Classico 2016 was the best of the trio. Crafted from select Sangiovese grapes and hand-harvested, aging took place in small French oak barriques for 24 months.
At the winery, you will experience a state-of-the-art tasting as good as any in California, and they’re open 7 days a week with full facilities. Salute!…Viticcio.com.
Rico’s Top 5 Picks
When I look at my selections, Paso Robles claimed four of my five discovery spots with three reds and a white and another white coming from Sonoma coast. Some of these turned out to be rediscoveries for me, ones that I had in the past but was great to get reacquainted with newer vintages. Thank you, Frank, for the hand-off and for the great times that we spent enjoying many of these together!
Cass Winery, Viognier, Paso Robles, 2021. $29: Cass is known for French DNA with Paso Personality. I first enjoyed this wine a few weeks ago at Family Winemakers, when 2021 was launched. The 100% viognier is cold fermented in stainless steel creating crisp minerality with pear, honeysuckle, and apricot on the nose that extends to the palate with grapefruit hints on the finish. Great with fettuccine Alfredo or scallops. Casswines.com.
Chalk Hill, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 2019. $26: I was excited to see that Wine Spectator also thought highly of this one as one of its Top 100 of 2021. Aged sur lie (“on the lees”) for 11 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels where the juice is kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and is not racked or otherwise filtered. The resultant Chardonnay had notes of caramel and apple with a creamy mouthfeel. chalkhill.com.
Daou Family Estates, Estate Soul of a Lion, Paso Robles, 2019. $175: Master winemaker Daniel Daou produced another outstanding vintage of Daou’s flagship wine, “Soul of a Lion,” dedicated to Daniel and co-owner Georges Daou’s father. The 2019 vintage experienced good dormant rain and mild temps during harvest allowing extended hang time.
Like all Souls, the 2019 benefits from tight-grained French rosewood barriques (wooden barrels made famous by Bordeaux vintners), 22 months of barrel aging, and additional bottle aging until release.
The hardest decision you will make is when, where, and who you will share this out of world Bordeaux blend with estate free juice, primarily cabernet sauvignon (78%), with black fruit on the palate, floral notes, ultra-high phenolics, and a 97 point Robert Parker score. daouvineyards.com.
J Lohr, Cuvee Pau, Red Blend, Paso Robles, 2015. $50: The J Lohr Cuvee Pau blend replicates wines of the Pauillac district of Bordeaux, mostly cabernet sauvignon and merlot along with accents from cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot. The 2015 J Lohr had all the varietals except for cabernet franc with cassis and black fruit on the nose, plum on the palate, and smooth finish due in part to the equal 18 months in both barrels and bottles. J Lohr recommends decanting an hour before enjoying within the 2022 to 2027 timeframe. Jlohr.com.
McClean Vineyards, Red Blend, Paso Robles, NV. $18: I always like providing at least one good value, under $20 wine, in my top 5. McClean Vineyards NV Red Blend is my pick this go around. I found this super diverse bargain blend, syrah (25%), zinfandel (20%), cabernet sauvignon (18%), grenache (14%), malbec (12%), and mourvedre (11%) at Costco. Both times I popped a bottle, I had it with beef where it paired well. Mccleanwine.com.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web. Reach them at [email protected]