Reviewers’ Favorites 2021: Luis Gutiérrez

In 2021, I covered more wines from Argentina and Chile than from Spain, which was only partially reviewed. I also tasted a handful of wines from the Jura, despite the difficulties with travelling and logistics given the pandemic. These are not necessarily my highest-scoring wines, but some are! I’ve also included an element of discovery, excitement and novelty in my selection here. 

But they are especially wines that have a very interesting story behind them, as context is very important to me: wine is about people and places. These go beyond their aroma, texture and flavors. These are some of my favorite wines from 2021.

A Wine for the Cellar:
2018 Garage Wine Co. Cru Truquilemu (Chile, Central Valley, Maule Valley, Empedrado)
Garage Wine Co. is one of my favorite growers from Chile. They are outside the mainstream and the industry. They literally started producing their wines in Derek Mossman’s garage, sourcing grapes from unheralded grape varieties, such as Cariñena, Garnacha and other Mediterranean varieties, with the help of traditional growers in regions like Maule and Itata. So, there is a strong sustainability and social component in these wines and the project as such, even if they are not interested in certifications.
Pilar Miranda and Derek Mossman of Garage Wine Co.

After 20 harvests comes their first cru, which they describe as "the spirit of the Truquilemu village with more stuffing.” It comes from a small plot of old-vine Cariñena that produces wines with amazing parameters of freshness and restraint. It was produced in a very simple and slow way, fermenting in open-top lagars with indigenous yeasts, some full clusters and adding lignified stems to avoid carbonic maceration; malolactic took 11 months (!), and the aging in used and neutral barrel was extended over two winters.

A Wine That's Under the Radar:
2018 Per Se La Craie (Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato, Gualtallary)
Per Se could be the most sought-after winery from Argentina, as their wines were produced in minute quantities and exports and sales were not easy. That situation has improved slightly and should gradually get better, as they are producing world-class wines that deserve more recognition.

I was lucky to follow the wines from the very beginning, and I saw how they found a magic place where they planted their vines and started producing even better wines than when they purchased grapes earlier on. The 2018s are all from their own vineyard, which I believe has to be one of the finest terroirs in Argentina. This La Craie comes from a specific plot with poorer and very shallow soils with a high content of chalk (calcium carbonate or limestone), which is what the name of the wine, a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Franc, means in French.

A Wine for Tonight:
Montbourgeau is a leading Jura producer in the village and appellation of l’Etoile, where traditionally they produced mostly white and mostly flor or sous voile wines with a strong Jura twang. But when I tasted their portfolio, I was surprised by a light and delicate red with a very floral nose and an elegant and silky mouthfeel. The winery is seeing some changes with the arrival of the third generation of the family. This red is a good example, but there is also a first-ever white without flor

Poulsard is one of the three red grapes grown in the Jura (the other two are Pinot Noir and Trousseau), and it’s the scarcest and rarest, a variety with very little color and a strong personality—and Montbourgeau’s interpretation of the grape really surprised me. To be honest, I was not expecting such a superb red here. Bravo!

A Wine from a Producer Working Towards Sustainability:
Did you know Peter Sisseck, the creator of Pingus—one of the best reds from Ribera del Duero—has produced a white wine? Yes, but it’s not just another white, it’s a white from his favorite style in Spain: a Fino! Yes, that’s a Fino Sherry, from a superb solera and vineyard he purchased with the owner of Hacienda Monasterio in Ribera del Duero, Sisseck’s day job since 1988 when he arrived in Spain.
The Fino Viña Corrales Pago Balbaína, with Peter Sisseck in the background

Hacienda Monasterio’s owner, Carlos del Río, is from Jerez, from the family that owns González-Byass, and it made sense that he’d go for a Sherry if he had to produce a white in Spain. And Sisseck is more than his employee: they are now not only business partners in this superb project, but they are also family, as Sisseck’s daughter married Del Río’s son!

All of this would only be blah, blah, blah if the wine was not great, of course! They want to make it look like a white wine rather than a Sherry, as Sherry is thought to be a sweet wine in some segments and markets. So, they bottled it in a Burgundy bottle and branded de cork with the year when the wine—a non-vintage blend from a solera—was bottled. This 2021 release is even better, fresher and more elegant than the initial one from 2020.

A Wine That's Especially Good Value:
2018 Vivaltus (Spain, Castilla León, Ribera del Duero)
The Yllera family from Rueda and Ribera del Duero has produced an exciting red with the help of legendary winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet of Petrus fame. They purchased a winery and are sourcing grapes from some of the best growers in the region, including Jorge Monzón from Dominio del Águila in the village of La Aguilera.
Jean-Claude Berrouet, one of the names behind Vivaltus

The 2016 is just being released—sold through La Place de Bordeaux négociant system—a wine I already tasted a couple of years ago but which flew below the radar as it wasn’t yet released. I already tasted the 2018, which follows the path of the initial vintage.

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