Reviewers’ Favorites 2022: Mark Squires

I cover mostly emerging regions, with Portugal (and Port) the most established of the group. Personally, I would not call Portugal’s table wines “emerging” anymore, but that depends on where you are located. Even Portugal is not yet a benchmark region—other than Port—for most of the world. That means that many of my selections may be things you’ve never heard of if you are not already a fan. That’s not a bad thing for curious and open-minded tasters. In fact, it can be a very good thing. You may discover new loves and new life-long favorites.

That’s a long way of saying that I often choose these selections to make a point, not just to throw out high-scoring wines. It’s nearly impossible to choose just one example in each category without having a large group behind them that could’ve been chosen. Mostly, my point centers around the exploration of regions and/or grapes that you might not know.

A Wine for the Cellar:
Chris Forbes (left) and David Guimaraens (right) of the Fladgate Group, showing me this 2017 Quinta de Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Port and other fine Ports.

After that introduction promising something different, we actually start with a traditional classic. This is a wine that Port lovers will certainly have heard of. One of the more expensive and more prestigious Ports, this comes solely from the old-vines plots at Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas. If you want a classic cellar selection, not much is better than high-end Port. This has plenty of stuffing and power, but it is not wholly impenetrable. The days when you had to wait 30+ years for Port to be drinkable are vanishing, but this will still do a lot better around 2030 and better still around 2040. After that, who knows? It should outlive many of us.

A Wine That's Under the Radar:
During one of my previous visits to his winery, George Skouras holds an earlier vintage of the Labyrinth and the more typical Megas Oenos upon which it is based.

This could also be a place for bargains in this article, but how about a great wine that is unusual in vinification and not so common? George Skouras of Domaine Skouras once upon a time decided to make a solera of all the vintages of his Megas Oenos brand (which is roughly an 80/20 blend of Agiorgitiko and Cabernet Sauvignon). He called the solera “Labryinth.” The “9917” in the latest version references that the solera began in 1999 and continued with the latest vintage, the 2017. As time has gone on, the solera has gotten fresher and the wines have become less complex, but arguably even better. The solera gets an infusion of the new vintage every year to the tune of 40%, so obviously, these would seem a lot younger of late. Lately, these also seem increasingly magnificent. Labryinth somehow seems to be better than the sum of its parts. Alas, it has also become quite expensive, soaring to $217 in this release.

A Wine for Tonight: 
2013 Wölffer Estate Fatalis Fatum (USA, New York, Long Island)
Winemaker Roman Roth and vineyard manager Richie Pisacano of Wölffer Estate in a photo I took a few years back

This Bordeaux blend has a few years on it now. It is in a very good place, so there is no longer any need to wait. It is not too expensive (current releases are $40), so you don’t have to obsess much either. It still has plenty of life left, but this is a good one to yank tonight. You haven’t got anything from New York, you say? Ok, that is my hidden agenda with this wine. There is more to good wine than the same old, same old.

A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability:
The winery’s “slow forward” motto indicates a transition to organics that “has been steady, deliberate and challenging.” (Photo courtesy of the winery)

This familiar Reserva has gone organic, along with pretty much everything else at the winery. That’s the overall plan. This large, iconic winery was fully certified in 2019. If you ask the average Portuguese consumer, the winery stands for fine value wines most of all—this nice Reserva is only $25 as a suggested retail price—but that’s not all it is about. There is also a focus on sustainability lately. With over 778 hectares (1,922 acres) in total, 673 hectares (1,663 acres) are under vine, almost all of which are certified organic. According to the winery, this makes the Esporão Group “one of the world’s largest producers of certified organic wines.” It is run by João Roquette of the family that owns it. Their other properties, such as Quinta dos Murças in Douro, are also 100% certified organic. There are initiatives on water use, energy use, packaging, local labor and more. At this point, the winery has many examples. As a result, it received Michelin’s Eco Distinction award in the fall of 2022. Let the selection for this article be a symbol of both good pricing and sustainability.

A Wine That’s Especially Good Value:
Francisco Antunes, the winemaker for this wine at Aliança (owned by Bacalhôa)

It’s hard to know where to start. There have been so many great values over the last year from the Finger Lakes, to Greece to Portugal and others. This time, let’s go to Portugal, which justly has a reputation for values, and over to Bairrada, a good value region in Portugal, to get some Baga. This property is now owned by Bacalhôa, which has an array of values of its own in other regions. But Baga is increasingly popular, and this is a lot of wine for the price.

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