It’s been a long time coming for New Zealand to produce our Wine of the Year. Here are the Top 10 Wines of 2021.
The JamesSuckling.com tasting team rated more than 25,000 wines in 2021, pushing its all-time total to nearly 150,000.
We found so many exciting wines among the ones we rated last year, from 2018 Bordeaux and Napa reds to 2020 German and Austrian whites, not to mention all the other superb wines from Argentina, Australia, California, Italy and New Zealand. We also found a few gems from Chile, Hungary, Portugal and South Africa.
Best 100: The Top 10 Wine Bottles of 2021
The main criterion that went into selecting this year’s list of the best 100 wines of the world was quality, which is why none scored fewer than 98 points. Another factor was that the wines must have had a minimum production of 4,000 bottles. Then we looked at pricing and, finally, what we call the “wow” factor. The latter are wines that excite us emotionally as well as technically.
And there’s a lot to be emotional about! Our Top 10 Wines of 2021 are all perfect wines — 100-pointers. It’s been a great year for perfect wines — 38 in total. It’s a combination of great terroir with incredible single-vineyard wines, winemaking such as superlative vintage champagnes, and serious dedication in the vineyard — like making tiny-production sweet wines.
However, it’s been a long time coming for New Zealand to produce our Wine of the Year, the Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu Maté’s Vineyard 2020. It’s also the first time our Wine of the Year is a white wine. And while most people think the best wines of the island nation are pinot noir or even sauvignon blanc, we’ve long thought its chardonnays are truly world-class, easily competing with the best internationally, particularly France’s Burgundy.
All the chardonnays at Kumeu River are whole-cluster pressed and fermented with wild yeasts, and they spend close to a year on their lees. New oak is limited in use, which is why the wines have such a crisp yet ripe and complex character to them — and the Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu Maté’s Vineyard 2020 shows unequalled power with complexity. I call it the “Montrachet of New Zealand”. Plus, it sells for about US$50 a bottle.
Our No 2 Wine of the Year is also a first for our Top 100. It’s the first time a Chianti Classico has been in the Top 10 Wines and it highlights the superb quality of the reds carrying the moniker of Gran Selezione — the Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ceniprimo 2018. This is a relatively new appellation for the famous Tuscan region and highlights the best quality of single-vineyard wines from Chianti Classico.
At No 3, the Dönnhoff Riesling Nahe Hermannshöhle GG 2020 is a top single-vineyard Riesling from undoubtedly one of the greatest producers of wine in Germany. The Dönnhoff family’s steep hillside vineyards produce some of the most compelling dry white wines in the world. And the Dönnhoffs make some of the best wines of our tastings each year.
I still remember the day that contributing editor Nick Stock sent me an email about the Mount Mary Yarra Valley Quintet 2019, our No 4 wine. It read: “Oh man … so, so good.” The Bordeaux blend is one of the greatest we’ve ever tasted from Australia and is clearly first-growth quality. Nick said it “was concentrated with pitch-perfect balance”. It’s a blend of 44 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot, 6 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent malbec and 5 percent petit verdot.
The phrase “pitch-perfect balance” could easily be applied to the Aubert Chardonnay Napa Valley Sugar Shack Estate Vineyard 2019, too, at No 5. The handmade chardonnay shows incredible refinement and depth. Owner and winemaker Mark Aubert is the best chardonnay maker in the United States and he has an immense eye for detail in both his viticulture and winemaking. He speaks with such knowledge and precision when he describes his production processes at every level. He reminds me of a Swiss watchmaker.
The Continuum Napa Valley Sage Mountain Vineyard 2018 at No 6 is a Bordeaux blend and highlights the greatness of Napa Valley’s wonderfully harmonious and high-quality 2018 vintage. The mountain vineyard of Continuum produced incredible quality wine from organically grown grapes.
Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2008 is the most structured bottling I’ve tasted of what I consider one of my favourite prestige cuvée blanc de blancs champagnes. It’s our No 7 wine on the list. Thanks to the great 2008 vintage, the champagne is so tight and dense, with fantastically fine phenolics that touch every centimetre of your palate in a caressing and energetic way.
The Romano Dal Forno Amarone Della Valpolicella Monte Lodoletta 2015 at No 8 is clearly the greatest young Amarone we’ve ever tasted and it highlights the region’s movement away from big, high-octane Amarones to a style of precision and balance. Sure, it’s still very rich, as it should be, but the tannins nicely frame the fruits.
At No 9, the Dominus Napa Valley 2018 is one of my favourite reds from the United States. Owner Christian Moueix, winemaker Tod Mostero and the rest of the team at Dominus know how to subtly coax their vineyards in Yountville to deliver wines of real character and harmony.
Rounding off our Top 10 Wines, the Château Trotanoy Pomerol 2018 showcases the superb 2018 vintage for Bordeaux, and this perfect wine is a fraction of the cost of the other 100-pointers from the vintage, though it’s still slightly more than US$300 a bottle.
The Top 5 Wine Bottles of 2021: Hall of Fame
Of the 100 wines that most impressed the JamesSuckling.com tasting team in 2021, here are the top five:
KUMEU RIVER CHARDONNAY KUMEU MATÉ’S VINEYARD 2020
This is such impressive chardonnay in terms of power and complexity, delivering so much with such poise. Aromas of lemons and peaches intersect with lightly spicy oak and brioche on the nose.
BARONE RICASOLI CHIANTI CLASSICO GRAN SELEZIONE CENIPRIMO 2018
The aromas are so complex, with crushed cherries, sour cherries, peaches, bark and hints of meat. Incredible finish with such intensity and beauty. Hard not to drink, but one for the cellar.
DÖNNHOFF RIESLING NAHE HERMANNSHÖHLE GG 2020
The greatest wines are clear right from the very beginning, because not only is there a super-abundance of perfect ripeness, but everything fits so beautifully that you’re instantly captivated. That’s exactly the way this dry riesling masterpiece is.
MOUNT MARY YARRA VALLEY QUINTET 2019
This is a great Quintet, one of the best in fact. Here’s a wine that combines such elegance, power and polish to a level seen in the best wines of Bordeaux in the best vintages.
AUBERT CHARDONNAY NAPA VALLEY SUGAR SHACK ESTATE VINEYARD 2019
Such an aromatic nose of fresh hay, Meyer lemon, baked green apple and dried herbs. Full-bodied with such an incredible amount of refinement. Sleek and seamless.
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This story first appeared on PrestigeOnline Hong Kong