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June 2022 Tasting Report: Tuscan Roadshow, Champagne Bliss and Hungary’s Reawakening

James and Associate Editor Claiire Nesbitt taste new vintages of the wines of Renzo Cotarella (left), and Piero Antinori (second left), including the 2019 Tignanello and Solaia. (Photos by
Our June tastings covered a broad canvas, with Italy, Spain, Hungary and France leading the way in giving us bright, fresh and tantalizing offerings among the 2,775 wines we rated from 16 countries. James and the tasting team have mostly been in Europe for the last two months, with a brief interlude in New York City in early June for our Great Wines of the World Grand Tasting sessions.
James and the team have spent much of the time at James’ European home base in Tuscany, meeting with and interviewing the region’s top winemakers and drilling deeper into regions such as Chianti Classico and Bolgheri. There was much excellence in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages from such names as Luce and Solaia, among others. 2019 was one of the best vintages for Bolgheri, while 2018 pipped 2019 in Chianti Classico. Chianti also brought us some fantastic single-vineyard Chianti Rufinas in 2018, under the new Terraelectae designation – now the top moniker for Chianti Rufina.
These are pure sangiovese that are aged a minimum of two years in wood, with the 2018 vintage the first year the category can be used. But it brought two sensational offerings in the Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Vigna Montesodi Terraelectae Riserva 2018 and Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Vigna Montesodi Terraelectae Riserva 2019. These both highlight the newfound freshness and vibrant structure Tuscan winemakers are aiming for.
Claire with some of the top Chianti Classicos we tasted during the month in Tuscany.
James also roamed into one of his favorite spots in Italy during the month, Montalcino, to visit with some of the top Brunello producers, including Casanova di Neri, Eredi, Fuligni and Siro Pacenti. With hot and dry weather becoming more of a norm in Montalcino, as elsewhere, vineyards with northern and eastern exposures may now have an advantage over the southern ones, with the current vintage of Brunello, 2017, illustrating this perfectly – most are very rich and big with lots of body, alcohol and tannins. Still, James said he preferred “balanced and fresher Brunellos such as 2018, or 2016 and 2015.”
James and Associate Editor Claire Nesbitt also tapped into Brunello barrel samples from 2019, 2020 and 2021, with the 2019s presenting “lots of pretty fruit and balance,” and 2020s showing oodles of ripeness because of the hot grape-growing season. The 2021s, meanwhile, offered serious tannin structure and richness due to the warm growing season and reduced crop levels from spring frosts.
Staying on the Italian theme, we also tasted a few Barolos in June, including from the Langhe’s Roberto Voerzio, who gave us the stupendous old-vine barbera, Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba Pozzo dell’Annunziata 2017, and the magnum-only Barolo, Roberto Voerzio Barolo Torriglione 2017.
And if you wanted bubbles during the month, we were practically bathing in them. James and the tasting team popped into Champagne in June, where they tasted hundreds of new or soon-to-be-released Champagnes, rating many 95 points or more. One of the perfect Champagnes we tasted, the single-vineyard Henri Giraud Champagne Argonne Brut Rosé 2012, left James and the team “literally speechless … with its unique mind-bending character,” adding evidence to the contention that Champagne is the best value in fine wine at the moment. Some other collectible and popular prestige cuvee Champagnes we tasted included the coming releases of the single-vineyard wonder from Krug, Clos de Mesnil 2008, and the coming vintages of Dom Perignon, such as the 2013 and the P2 2004, which were all exciting and fascinating to taste.
Left: James said the Henri Giraud Champagne Argonne Brut Rosé 2012 was “one of the greatest rosé Champagnes I have ever tasted in my career.” | Right: James, Associate Editor Claire Nesbitt and Tasting Manager Kevin Davy taste new releases of Champagne in Epernay.
Senior Editor Stuart Pigott was also traipsing around Europe, for one to wrap up his annual report on Hungary but also to explore the wines of Alsace more fully. The wines of Villa Tolnay jumped out to Stuart in his Hungary tastings, so much so that he said that the owner, Philipp Oser, is “driving the Hungarian wine renaissance.” Especially pleasing were the Villa Tolnay Rajnai Rizling Badascony Csobáncz 2020, a dry riesling, and the red Villa Tolnay Cabernet Franc Badascony Csobáncz 2019, which he said were “redefining what’s possible with these grape varieties in Hungary.”
Also on the remarkable side were the wines of Szepsy, in Tokaj, at the northeastern end of Hungary. Their lineup of dry whites each had “a very distinct personality, but it was the Szepsy Furmint Tokaji Szent Tamás 46 2017 that wowed me most,” Stuart said. Just behind were Szepsy’s “incredibly concentrated and refined” dessert wines, including the “mind-boggling” Szepsy Tokaji Aszu Betsek 6 Puttonyos 2017 and the “stunning” Szepsy Tokaji Szamarodni 2016.
During his tasting marathon in Alsace, Stuart came across some incredible dry rieslings. The Grand Cru dry rieslings from Dirler-Cade from the 2020 vintage, he said, “have the combination of power, expressiveness and clarity we associate with Alsace riesling in a very high form,” and the Grand Cru Rangen and Grand Cru Kastelberg, from Julien Schaal’s 2021 vintage, also stood out. But it was the Dirler-Cadé Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Kitterlé Terre 2020 that Stuart said was “the most exciting wine” he had tasted from the region this year.
Szepsy’s lineup of dry whites (left) and dessert wines is at a world-class level.
But, Stuart, added, a combination of changing consumer preferences and climate change are continuing to push the region’s reorientation toward more radical new wines, the most exciting of which is the Mélanie Pfister Pinot Gris Alsace Silb 2019. Stuart was also impressed by the very cool and restrained but concentrated and silky Mélanie Pfister Pinot Noir Alsace Hüt 2019. Together, he said, these wines are helping to seal Pfister’s position “as one of the region’s most important rising stars.”
Stuart came across the first perfect pinot noir we have ever experienced in the region – the Albert Mann Pinot Noir Alsace Grand H 2020, which was part of the strong 2020 vintage that tipped the 2019 in Alsace and also bettered neighboring Germany’s 2020 as a whole, according to Stuart.
We were equally as hard at work in our Hong Kong tasting office, where Senior Editor Zekun Shuai tapped into Spain’s vibrant Mediterranean sensibility by way of some well-made mencias from Ribeira Sacra in the north to precise and spicy renditions of garnacha from Rioja and Calatayud, including Bodega Virgen de la Sierra’s Finca Gemelo 2019 and Finca Santos 2019, whose “juicy red and blue fruit with a streamlined palate full of resolved tannins make them a joy to taste and drink,” according to Zekun.
Jacky Barthelme with his sterling Pinot Noir Alsace Grand H 2020, left, and Pinot Noir Alsace Clos de la Faille 2020.
The Bodegas Roda Rioja Cirsion 2019 shows how a modern Rioja can become a classic.
The Gonzalez Byass Jerez Tio Pepe Cuatro Palmas Amontillado NV (left) is a truly stunning, concentrated and profound amontillado.
One of Spain’s most exciting and aspirational projects, Envinate, meanwhile, showed us what drinkability, originality and locality are all about in their Envínate Vinos Atlánticos Migan 2020, which is a sensational expression of mainly listan negro coming from two parcels of wild and braided 100-year-old-plus vines. And from the white spectrum, the Envínate Vinos Atlánticos Palo Blanco 2020 is a rare, brilliant expression of listan blanco from the best parcel for the grape grown on old vines at an altitude of 600 meters.
Rioja also delivered by way of the Bodegas Roda Rioja Cirsion 2019, which epitomizes how a modern Rioja producer can become a classic, with superb and consistent quality. And one of Rioja’s most idiosyncratic traditionalists, Lopez de Heredia, demonstrated how premium quality can marry so well with the taste of tradition with his Viña Bosconia and Viña Tondonia from the 2011 vintage, which not only showed aged, savory complexity and length but also a bright vibrancy from the zesty fruit.
And there were also plenty of tasty albariños from Spain, including the Sal da Terra Albariño Rías Baixas 2020 – a pure, elegant and complex offering – as well as the Zárate Albariño Rías Baixas El Palomar 2020, another intense and zesty albariño with nuanced aromas.
And for a sterling amontillado, try Gonzalez Byass’s recent release, the Gonzalez Byass Jerez Tio Pepe Cuatro Palmas Amontillado NV, which is a truly stunning, concentrated and profound amontillado – super intense, salty but bright, and tangy on the palate with an endless finish. A unique sherry, for sure, and one that will hopefully tide you over during these hot summer months.
– Vince Morkri, Managing Editor

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