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Ten Natural Wine Fascinations of 2022
Ten bottles that pierced the fog.
I’ll recall 2022 as the year I finally hit wine saturation: the point in a wine professional’s career when exposure to wines outpaces the ability of one person to enjoy them. It was during my book tour, when at a certain point I began bashfully asking my hosts for pilsner.
Wine saturation is a phenomenon familiar to vignerons, as well as successful retailers, sommeliers, importers, and so on. (If until this October I hadn’t quite experienced its full effect, it’s only because I have never been terribly successful.) It is, mercifully, not a permanent condition.
During the waning months of 2022, I found certain bottles could still pierce the fog of wine saturation. They still stimulated the imagination and the taste buds. This was my key criterion when compiling this list of my ten favorite natural wines of the year.
As for last year’s list, I removed from consideration any impossible-to-find micro-cuvées. I tried to limit the selection to wines I returned to several times throughout the year, seeking them out on wine lists, or opening them at home with friends.
Certain themes emerge, some more obvious than others. There’s a lot of Burgundy, because I spent a fair bit of time there this year reporting for two issues of the newsletter. Most of the wines derive from vineyards farmed at extremely low yields. Almost all possess an invigorating, saline fillip of CO2 at opening. I believe just one may have seen a tiny sulfite addition; the rest, zero.
What the profiles of these wines share is a certain immaterial sensation of la sève - of vine sap, the lifeblood. It shines through in every sip, thanks, in most cases, to a combination of fine, well-farmed terroir, low yields, and soft, hands-off vinification.
TEN NATURAL WINE FASCINATIONS OF 2022
In alphabetical order.
Clos Fantine (Famille Andrieu) - Vin de France “Lanterne Rouge” 2021
Until I joined the Andrieu family for harvest in 2021, I had the mistaken idea that their Vin de France cuvée “Lanterne Rouge,” from cinsault and aramon, was in some way a lesser, more entry-level cuvée than their iconic Faugères. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Much of the cinsault and aramon in “Lanterne Rouge” derives from very low-yielding vines over a century old, situated on pure schiste just outside the family’s house. Aramon, today banned in Faugères appellation wines due to its historical association with overcropped, thin wines, shows an unexpectedly expressive face in such conditions. Balanced, vertical, and crunchy, the wine projects an aroma of clementine and china bark as entrancing as it is refreshing.
Further reading: Harvest 2021 at Clos Fantine
Cascina degli Ulivi (Stefano Bellotti) - Vino da Tavola “Filagnotti” 2013
I’m bending one of my own rules to include this magnificent, well-aged cortese, which my friend the (now former) NOMA head sommelier Mads Kleppe opened during a meal at that restaurant back in May. If I already had a preference for “Filagnotti” among the late Novi Ligure maestros corteses, it was for being somewhat more consistent than the others. All can veer wildly from lumpen, semi-sweet, and oxidized to chiming, razor-keen perfection depending on the vintage. 2013, however, is for “Filagnotti” what 2015 is to Sébastien “Babass” Dervieux’s “Roc Cab”: a dry vintage rendered thrilling and sublime by a touch of botrytis. I spent the rest of 2022 leaping for younger bottles of “Filagnotti” wherever I saw them, inspired by a new, belated awareness of the dizzying heights this cuvée can attain. (2016 is also tasting trim and superb these days.)
Further reading: My first visit to Cascina degli Ulivi, back in 2011
Arnaud Chapuis - Vin de France “Ouverture” blanc 2020
Arnaud Chapuis’ tiny estate in the Hautes Côtes stands out in Burgundy for his minimally worked soils, his very low yields, his ripe harvest, his patient, twenty-four-hour manual press. His pinot noir is masterful. But his work with aligoté is unique in its glowy sumptuousness, surpassing, in purity and impact, even the dry late-harvest experiments of the de Moors. Alongside the sinuous, saline 2021 “Goutte d’Or” aligoté by Chapuis’ friends at Domaine Dandelion (which wine should be on this list, too, but I only tasted it once), the “Ouverture” blanc is definitive proof that aligoté, in the right hands, can match the nobility of any chardonnay or savagnin.
Further reading: The Primitive Art of Arnaud Chapuis
Fabio Gea - “Onde Gravitazionali” 2019
Late in 2021 I visited Barbaresco eccentric Fabio Gea en route to a rendez-vous on the other side of the Alps with Savoie savant Jean-Yves Péron. Gea confided me two bottles, a red and a pét-nat, one to give to Péron, and another for myself. I kept “Onde Gravitazionali,” a sandstone jar-aged blend of barbera, nebbiolo and dolcetto distinguished by a chiseled, articulate limestone profile. I opened it earlier this year over a boozy dinner at Jones Restaurant with my friend / mentor Corine Andrieu of Clos Fantine. Months later she told me it was one of her favorite bottles of the year, too.
La Garagista (Deirdre Heekin) - “Ci Confonde Rosso” 2021
Somerville, MA natural wine maven Lauren Friel opened a bottle of Vermont natural wine pioneer Deirdre Heekin’s 2021 “Ci Confonde” for me in late October during an event to promote The World of Natural Wine, and I proceeded to drain it almost solo in a probably shockingly quick fashion. A three-day, de-stemmed maceration with pigéage lent depth and body to this marquette from the “Vergennes” vineyard, while an extended period on lees in bottles (it wasn’t disgorged until July) seems to have masterfully finessed the tannins. The result is bracing and saline, harmonious and full-fruited, a blackberry bush in full bloom.
Further reading: The World of Natural Wine at Wild Child (a live talk during which I was drinking - and briefly discussing - “Ci Confonde”)
Matassa (Tom Lubbe) - Vin de France “Brutal Rouge” 2020
A fifty-fifty blend of syrah and muscat from the same vineyard, harvested towards the end of July (!), Tom Lubbe’s iris-scented 2020 “Brutal Rouge” provided inspiration throughout the year for me. I couldn’t recall ever tasting a red wine so whole and expressive at just 10.5% alcohol. My girlfriend, who dislikes muscat and rarely takes an interest in specific wines, also took a shine to the “Brutal Rouge,” and soon purchased the remaining stock at Liquiderie Cave. I even had a vague plan to attempt to emulate the blend myself during harvest this year, but to my chagrin I never managed to locate any abandoned muscat vines near Béziers. Perhaps next year!
Domaine Jean-Jacques Morel - Saint Aubin Rouge 2019
Under-sung Saint Aubin organic permaculture and natural wine pioneer Jean-Jacques Morel once explained to me how he determined when to devat and press a tank of whole-cluster pinot noir. Rather than measuring sugar density, he would wait until flies in the cellar began to approach the liquid surface of the grape mass. It meant fermentation had calmed and carbon dioxide production had begun to fall off. Morel’s fermentations always continued in barrel, always took a long time. (Blame - or credit - low nitrogen in his musts, itself due to permanent grass cover in his vines.) Certain vintages can show challenging levels of volatility. Not 2019, Morel’s swan-song before retirement. It has body, length, refined tannins, sustained red florals, a long life ahead of it. A rare example of perfection in radically natural, non-négociant red Burgundy.
Further reading: The Tao of Jean-Jacques Morel (May 2022)
Vin Noé (Jon Purcell) - Bourgogne Pinot Noir “Gueule d’Amour” 2021
Jon Purcell’s Côte Chalonnaise pinot noir came in multicolored and, by his initial estimation, disturbingly underripe in the cool, rainy fall of 2021. After three days’ maceration he pressed it, thinking to cut his losses and make a simple Bourgogne Rosé. He barreled the wine along with his reds, though, and throughout the year came to recognize in it the potential for something more. The 2021 “Gueule d’Amour” is not a rosé after all, but rather a keen, saline pinot noir dancing just this side of refreshment at the frontier of underripeness. Aesthetically, it exists at a liminal zone where no one in modern Burgundy seems to dare to tread; it is the territory of low-alcohol visionaries from other regions, of Axel Prüfer, Tom Lubbe, or Franz Strohmeier. “I think it’s going to change the way I vinify reds going forward,” Purcell told me in early summer.
Further reading: From San Diego to Saint Aubin: Vin Noé
Jérôme Saurigny - Vin de France “Béclair” 2020
Back in the early 2010s, when I was first discovering the natural wine scene of Anjou alongside my late friend Josh Adler, we were shocked by the hazy, tawny wines of a vigneron with long gray hair by the name of Thierry Béclair. At the time, the wines seemed to us like the worst caricature of natural wine. When I reencountered Béclair and his wines at an apéro chez Patrick Desplats last year, everything had changed. Béclair wore a fresh haircut. His wines were bright and vital. Surely, I too, had changed as a taster. I’d come around to adoring quite a few hazy, occasionally murky wines - like those of Rochefort zero-zero sorcerer Jérôme Saurigny, whose cuvée “Béclair,” an uplifting, majority-sauvignon elixir, is perfectly illustrative of the thunderbolt on its label. (Confusingly, it does not derive from fruit purchased from Béclair, as the name once led me to believe. Saurigny does no négociant purchases.)
Vinyas d’Emprempta (Famille Vinyas) - “Piotxa”
Sommelière Amanda Smeltz first introduced me to the miraculous wines of Vinyas d’Emprempta at Monocrom in Barcelona with our friend Bill Fitch a few years back. I finally met Isidre Vinyas and his daughter Berta earlier this year at Paris wine agent Adrien Sage’s portfolio tasting at Jones Restaurant. On their phones they showed me some unforgettable images of the century-old macabeu and pansera vines that yield “Piotxa”: spindly little goblets protruding improbably from what looked like a practically soil-free agglomeration of rock. I gravitate towards all the Vinyas’ wines, wherever I find them. But “Piotxa” is what I drank repeatedly at Jones this year, keen to relive its breathtaking combination of granular mineral intensity and open-sky lightness.
Were these wines of any interest to you? Top ten lists are not ordinarily my thing. But it’s a way to congratulate the vignerons, and share a little about what I was drinking this year.
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