One of the more difficult issues I’ve had to deal with since joining the Robert Parker Wine Advocate team three years ago is managing the flow of samples. With three large regions to cover (Australia, New Zealand and the South of France), there is no shortage of wines to review. And determining which wines to taste is a challenge.
Our readers expect reviews from certain benchmark producers on a regular basis—and so do the producers and their various representatives. Highly visible wines and collectibles fall into this category of “must-taste” wines, although I sometimes wonder how much utility reviews of some of these wines provides. Does anyone really need me to tell them that the latest vintage of Jean-Louis Chave’s Hermitage is one of the best (often the best) in the appellation? Or that a wine like Penfolds Grange is excellent?
Still, it is a privilege to taste them, and the reviews hopefully provide a glimpse of what those wines taste like, for collectors seeking to add to their stockpiles or for aspirational wine lovers seeking a vicarious thrill. Perhaps more importantly, benchmark wines give an indication of the sort of qualities our reviewers are seeking to reward, making it possible for readers to calibrate their tastes to ours.
While these wines are exciting to taste for their sheer quality—and often for the history behind them—there is another kind of vinous thrill to be had in discovering new producers, new wines and new regions. And to do that requires tasting a lot of wines that aren’t already benchmarks or from well-known producers and wine regions. That’s what I take to be the essence of Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s Top 100 Wine Discoveries
With that in mind, it was natural that I focused my initial short list of discoveries on regions that haven’t received much prior attention in The Wine Advocate: the vast, untapped troves of wines coming out of Languedoc and Roussillon and the tiny, overlooked Swan Valley in Western Australia. Other parts of Australia and New Zealand have the advantage of being hotbeds of experimentation and seemingly constant growth in the number of producers, which made them naturals for inclusion.
For me, the harder part of assembling my list of discoveries was finding them in the relatively traditional Rhône Valley, which Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck previously covered so ably for this publication. Fortunately, I was able to find a few new micro-cuvées this year that represented the Rhône’s spirit of innovation, zeroing in on the relationships between terroir, vine age, grape variety and winemaking that might previously have been blended into larger-production wines. While I’m not always a proponent of the dramatic multiplication of bottlings that we’ve seen in the Rhône Valley over the past decade or so, the wines I picked out as discoveries certainly merited that distinction.
Going forward, I anticipate finding more new producers and new wines in the Rhône, as the European Union continues to subsidize the development of young winemakers on the one hand and as cooperative cellars continue to modernize and update their operations and wine offerings on the other. Once COVID-related travel restrictions begin to ease, I can’t wait to get back out into the French countryside and find more gems to report on.