Reviewers’ Favorites 2022: Luis Gutiérrez

In 2021, I reviewed around 2,700 wines from Spain and almost 1,200 from Argentina (Chile and Jura should come in 2023). As on previous occasions, the “favorites” listed here are not necessarily my highest scoring wines—but some are! I’ve also included an element of discovery, excitement and novelty in my selection this year. 

Most of my selections are wines with a very interesting story behind them, as context is very important to me: wine is about people and places. These go beyond their aroma, textures and flavors. These are some of my favorite wines from what I tasted in 2022.

A Wine for the Cellar (Actually, Two for the Cellar): 
2020 Casa Castillo Pie Franco (Spain, Murcia, Jumilla)
I’ve followed Casa Castillo and this wine from ungrafted Monastrell vines planted in 1942 since the first vintage in 1998. Throughout these years, I’ve seen them work, grow, improve and reach levels of sophistication that are remarkable. This comes from one of the less-glamorous regions in Spanish wine fashion, but they have kept their Mediterranean personality, expressing their terroir and variety like no other. 2020, a vintage that was not easy in Spain, provided the perfect conditions to produce a wine that transcends the vintage and is the finest they have ever produced.
José María Vicente from Casa Castillo and one of his Monastrell ungrafted Pie Franco vines

I’ve seen proprietor and winemaker José María Vicente from Casa Castillo develop the property and its wines. I’ve seen him make mistakes, learn from them and look for ways to improve his viticulture and understanding of his vineyards to amazing levels working organically. He’s done what it takes to make world-class wines: travel the world, talk to the best producers, walk their vineyards, purchase and drink their wines and learn from it all. The correlation between the people who do this and those who make the best wines is incredibly high. How can you make great wine if you don’t know great wine?

2019 Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita Supercal (Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Altamira)
The Zuccardi family has eight vineyards in the Valle de Uco in Mendoza (Argentina). They are planting 35 hectares of white varieties in San Pablo—one of the best places for whites for them—they keep buying more land and vineyards there. They have around 300 hectares of vines planted in smaller (40- to 50-hectare) vineyards and produce 1.7 million bottles. But they focus on vineyard work in Altamira, San Pablo and Gualtallary. They are gradually abandoning the 500-liter barrels and moving more to large oak foudres of 2,500 and 5,000 liters.
Pepe (left) and Sebastián Zuccardi and the limestone-rich soils from the Supercal vineyard

For Sebastián Zuccardi, 2019 and 2022 have been excellent and cooler years (2019 the best), 2018 and 2021 are classical (not too warm and not too cold, close to 2022) and 2020 and 2017 warm years. But the different plots behave differently depending on the condition of the year. There is not a best plot year after year; so when it’s too warm and dry, the shallower soils make vineyards get stressed, but they give better results in cooler years with more rain. The plot he calls Supercal is exactly that, a limestone soil that is very shallow, and in 2019, it delivered an amazing wine.

A Wine That's Under the Radar:
Jose Gil is a very young grower in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in the heart of Rioja. He comes from a family of grape growers and started his own project with his wife. They now work eight hectares of vineyards and do all the work themselves. In 2021, they have more plots, and they fermented a white (around 1,000 bottles) and will do a total of 23,000 bottles. The absolute maximum they could do in the future would be around 50,000 or 60,000 bottles.
Jose Gil works a nice array of old vineyards in his village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in the heart of Rioja

This 2020 Camino Ribas is the wine that was previously released under the name La Cóncova, but they had to abandon that because they had problems with the brand. It comes from an extremely old plot—around 130 years old—planted with a field blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura and Palomino, etc. It's in San Vicente bordering Ribas de Tereso, where the altitude reaches 600 meters. The wine is elegant, perfumed and floral but serious, more austere than the others, subtle and insinuating. It's nicely textured with very fine chalky tannins and has a medium body.

A Wine for Tonight:
Pepe Mendoza has led the quality wines from Alicante in the family winery, Enrique Mendoza, but as often happens, he found the need to fly on his own. He was lucky enough to find a property in the village of Lliber in inland Alicante, called Abargues, where he works 12 hectares of old-vine Giró (the local strain of Garnacha), 50- to 80-year-old plants.
Pepe Mendoza, a pioneer from Alicante

2020 was just a perfect vintage—balanced, with good yields and slow ripening to very complete, muscular and long wines. The aim is for fresher and crunchier wines than in the past but mostly through viticulture, understanding the plant and its needs. This is a superb example of the grape, place and vintage that is approachable but can also age in bottle for a good decade. 

Two Wines from Producers That Exemplify Sustainability: 
Recaredo is not only the leading producer of sparkling wines in Spain, but they also exemplify the organic and biodynamic work in their vineyards. As such, they have just received our Robert Parker Green Emblem award. You can read all about it here. This wine was poured at the 2023 Michelin Spain and Portugal Gala in Toledo on the 22nd of November 2022, and the reaction was superb.
Ton Mata, technical director of Recaredo in the zone of Penedès, where they produce sparkling wines of extreme quality and care for the environment

This is a blend of 87% Xarel.lo and 13% Macabeo from a single vineyard from a warm and dry early harvest but within the normal parameters. The soils have a very high content of calcium carbonate (33% active limestone), which gives the wine a very lively palate with a clear salty twist. They look for the expression of the soil here, narrower and more direct, with more tension and with tons of elegance from aging with the lees, very integrated and balanced, keeping the acidity. It was disgorged after 56 months sur lie, because demand outgrows supply. All of their wines are brut nature. 

2021 Chacra Cincuenta Y Cinco (Argentina, Patagonia, Río Negro)
Chacra is the fully certified organic and biodynamic project in Río Negro (Patagonia) from Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, who works 25 hectares of red grapes and a further 15 hectares of Chardonnay, all ungrafted and massal selections in Mainqué. Four yeas ago, they stopped using any chemicals in the vineyard, even sulfur, and have increased the number of beehives and replaced the capsules by beeswax. He has also planted a further 30,000 poplar trees to give shade to the vines. He makes reds from Pinot Noir (this year, there’s also a Malbec) and whites from Chardonnay. For the white wines, he has the help of Jean-Marc Roulot.
Piero Incisa della Rocchetta and his biodynamic warehouse in Chacra in Río Negro (Patagonia)

But all of this would not be as relevant if it did not show in the wines. The wines have purity, elegance and transparency and have improved over the years. Della Rocchetta wants to make the most delicious wines with no science. The élevage for the 2021 Cincuenta y Cinco was different from the past, as it was aged 40% in concrete tanks, 40% in French oak barrels and 20% in clay amphorae. They use cover crops in the vineyard, where they don't even use sulfur or copper. The wine has bright flavors of fresh cherries and raspberries and a citrus twist of orange peel that adds freshness. 

Two Wines That Are Especially Good Value:
2021 Ponce Clos Lojen (Spain, Castilla La Mancha, Manchuela)
The Manchuela region and the Bobal grape often fly under the radar but produce some of the finest wines from central Spain. Ponce is one of the leading quality producers in the appellation; it’s a family winery that works 55 hectares of old, head-pruned and dry-farmed vineyards in the villages of Iniesta, Villanueva de la Jara, Villamalea, Mahora and Villagarcía de Llano in Manchuela from which they produce 150,000 to 220,000 bottles.
Juan Antonio Ponce in one of his old Bobal vineyards in Manchuela

All of their wines represent very good value for the money, but some of them are a real steal, like this 2021 Clos Lojen that retails for $17 USD (and much less in Spain!). It showcases the variety and the region in a sharp and austere way, with lower alcohol and more mineral than fruit-driven. Bobal can deliver rustic wines, but there’s no rusticity here. One to buy by the case and which can be enjoyed now but can also age in bottle. 

2019 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir Valle De Uco (Argentina, Mendoza, Valle de Uco, Tupungato)
Altos Las Hormigas is one of the better-known names from Mendoza in many export markets. It was created by Italian Antonio Morescalchi along with a group of friends and investors, including some leading names like winemakers Alberto Antonini and Attilio Pagli and Chilean soil expert Pedro Parra. They now have 47 hectares in Luján de Cuyo and 54 in Paraje Altamira, all certified organic; they dream of one day using 100% of their own grapes, but they still rely on external growers to reach the 800,000 bottles they produce per year.
The new organic vineyard from Altos las Hormigas in Paraje Altamira

As with Ponce from Manchuela in Spain that I’ve also highlighed here, all of the wines from Altos Las Hormigas are very good value and overdeliver for the price. The 2019 Malbec Terroir Valle de Uco, produced with grapes planted on stony soils in La Consulta and Tupungato, feels like a real bargain. It fermented by plot with indigenous yeasts and matured mostly in concrete (75%) with a part in 3,500-liter oak foudres for 18 months. It has a moderate 13% alcohol and a combination of power, elegance and great freshness; it has very good complexity and is open and talks to you with a wide palette of aromas and flavors. It's very fine and elegant and tastes like a much more expensive wine, with the freshness from the vintage and the cooler place. It has to be one of the finest vintages of this bottling.

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