Reviewers’ Favorites 2022: Joe Czerwinski – A Year to Remember

Personally, 2022 has been a crazy-busy year. A major wine region to take over reviewing, plus a slew of new administrative duties left little time for kicking back and just enjoying life. This roundup is my chance to take stock of the year that was and realize that there was more to 2022 than just a hamster-wheel of work—that I’m fortunate to have a job that allows the tasting of great wines and accumulation of good memories.

As our business returned (mostly) to pre-pandemic normalcy, Robert Parker Wine Advocate held our first in-person consumer event since 2019, celebrating with our Matter of Taste Zürich in early April. In two days, we hosted 3,000 attendees thirsty to get back to sharing some of the great wines recommended by our reviewers. It was a hedonistic bacchanal to kick off the year, one sure to be repeated and reproduced in other cities in 2023.

The event in Zürich allowed us to introduce the newest member of our reviewing team, Perth-based Erin Larkin, who has taken over and expanded our Australia coverage well beyond what was possible from my distant vantage point in New York. The downside, from a narrow, self-centered perspective, is that I can’t highlight any superb Aussie wines below. Readers will have to wait until her favorites list is published to see what she has chosen and make do in the meantime with my picks from France and Napa.

A Wine for the Cellar:
2019 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape (France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf du Pape)
Paul-Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes

The 2019 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape is a wine that will be finding a place in my own cellar, and I can hardly think of another more worthy representative of a terrific vintage. Anyone who has tasted older vintages from this classic estate knows that they age well for two decades or more. And with just one cuvée produced (and one in white), there is a decent volume available to consumers. The 2020 is a solid second choice. Consider this a safe bet, emblematic of many other terrific options from the region. The 2019 vintage was a great one in the Rhône Valley—choosing just one wine was a tough decision that I hope many of you won’t have to make.

A Producer That's Under the Radar:
Vignobles Levet (France, Rhône, Northern Rhône)
(Photo by Agnès Levet, courtesy of the winery)

In the rarified, expensive world of Côte Rôtie, Guigal dominates the landscape, but there are dozens of small domaines that often don’t get the headlines. Some have grown into larger entities (Stéphane Ogier), while others are renowned for top-flight wines (Jean-Paul and Corinne Jamet, Rostaing), but one that deserves greater recognition is Vignobles Levet. Founded by Bernard and Nicole Levet (née Chambeyron) and now run by their soft-spoken daughter, Agnès, the estate now consists of close to five hectares in 11 parcels, with almost half of the vines more than 70 years old. There’s a Condrieu, from a friend’s vineyard, but the gems are the three Côte Rôties: Améthyste (a blend of several parcels), Maestria (mostly fruit from La Landonne, labeled as Les Journaries in the United States) and La Péroline (from La Chavaroche, and labeled as that in the United States). Traditionally made, with a high proportion of whole bunches, these are sturdy, savory and complex wines that reward cellaring.

A Wine To Drink Now:
2019 Andre Perret Condrieu Chery (France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Condrieu)
Coteau de Chery vineyard (Photo courtesy of Andre Perret)

Sticking with the Rhône theme, and having just wrapped up a trip in the Northern Rhône, I have Condrieu on my mind, specifically the Chery bottling from André Perret. While I reviewed the 2019 earlier in the year—and it’s probably drinking best at the moment—the 2020 version may be even better, but currently the notes are only in my notebook. These are flamboyant, exotic wines that balance those aspects of Viognier with the mineral notions presumably imparted by the region’s unique terroir. That the vines are 80 years old probably helps, too. André’s daughter, Marie, is doing much of the work these days, and quality remains exceptional. The 2021 I tasted out of tank comes from a difficult vintage but remains a strong effort.

A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability:
2019 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon (USA, California, North Coast, Napa Valley, St. Helena)
(Photo courtesy of Spottswoode)

At Spottswoode, in the heart of the Napa Valley, biodynamic principles are applied (the property is Demeter-certified), with great attention paid to regenerative soil practices, including rotating cover crops. Along the edges of the vineyards and even embedded within are several insectariums of flowering plants to promote biodiversity, plus nesting boxes for swallows, bluebirds and birds of prey. The first Certified B Corporation winery in Napa, Spottswoode has been recognized with the Robert Parker Green Emblem for sustainability since it was first awarded. As important, the wines are consistently at the top of their class, like the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon.

A Wine That's Especially Good Value:
2019 Truchard Syrah (USA, California, North Coast, Napa Valley, Los Carneros)
Part of the Truchard lineup on display at the winery in the Carneros region of Napa Valley (Photo courtesy of Truchard)

It’s become a challenge to find high-quality Napa Valley wines at even somewhat affordable prices—less than, say, $50. Sure, there are castoff lots sold under various fanciful brands and aimed at the bargain-hunting crowd, but outside of those questionable “opportunities,” pickings are slim. That’s where smart consumers reach for Truchard wines. This family-owned winery based in Carneros excels at producing solid varietal wines at realistic prices. My favorite of the three I reviewed last year was the 2019 Syrah, but the 2020 Chardonnay scored just as well, while the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon was just behind. Best of all, the current vintages sell for $40 or less.

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