My Wines of 2020

My Wines of 2020

Thursday 24th December 2020
by Mark Dearing

My Wines of 2020

In the absence of most things this year, wine has played a rather more important role than one might expect. At its most fundamental, it has helped to blot the tedium of everyday life, providing both intellectual stimulation and invigorating refreshment – allowing one to momentarily whisk off to far flung corners of the world. And while I certainly missed the luxury of drinking mature wine in convivial settings, I have at least been reminded not only of wine’s restorative power, but also how thrilling a new vintage can be, even when experienced from afar.

For all that though, fine wine is clearly a social pursuit at its core, and while we have all found ways to adapt, I for one look forward to regaining a bit of normality in 2021. With the limited social interaction 2020 has afforded, it should come as no surprise that many of my most memorable wines this year are made up of new releases or samples that have yet to hit the market. However, I was lucky enough to travel in the months of January and February to Washington State, California and Piedmont. A few days before heading to the US, in the midst of Burgundy En Primeur, I was invited to lunch by an enormously generous friend and client, and it is here that we kick off with the first of my most memorable wines of the year. In a luxurious line-up, it was the satin-like Roumier Bonnes Mares 2002 that stood apart for its resplendent, soaring, hedonistic perfume and the most cashmere-like of tannins. I knew even then that I was unlikely to drink another Burgundy of that level this year.

After ten days of non-stop tasting in Washington and California on the MW programme, I cannot help but look back not on those days but on the night of the Super Bowl, spent with a handful of course mates (and Napa residents), our last night before going our separate ways. In a Japanese restaurant, a small group of us were handsomely furnished from the cellar of a true bon vivant, making up a stunning array of (blind) fully mature wines from all over the world. Despite its terrible reviews on many a website, I loved the Caymus Cabernet 1982 and indeed Clos du Val 1980 – a Pinot Noir from the Napa Valley!

In Piedmont in February, we were blown away by the quality of the 2016s. A wine that resonates above all others is Bartolo Mascarello’s Barolo 2016 – a sure fire candidate for the magic three digits if ever there were one. Fratelli Alessandria’s Monvigliero 2016 and Brovia’s Villero 2016 complete a triumvirate of traditional highlights. To that I would add Azelia’s fabulous range as a whole, and in particular, their inaugural Cerretta bottling. And that would be the final curtain call for travel in 2020. Not a bad way to end, I must admit, even if it was in mid-February!

At home in London, I have drunk more South African wine than ever before, and I continue to assert that amongst the top 20 or so producers, it is the most exciting and undervalued fine wine region anywhere in the world right now. At the top end, I was blown away by David & Nadia’s Plat Bos Chenin Blanc 2019 – a wine that encapsulates all that I love in a wine. It is authoritative and full, but deft, racy and complex, with a proper no-mucking-about, taut acid line and an intensely mineral flavour profile. On the red front, Donovan Rall’s Ava Syrah 2019 is a spellbinding wine with depth, character and authenticity, not to mention a bit of sumptuous, glossy fruit too. I must also mention Storm Wines, both the Vrede Chardonnay 2019 and Ridge Pinot Noir 2018 – two wines that I love, and our taking over the agency a personal highlight after several years of my admiring (and drinking) their boutique, thirst-quenching wines from the sidelines. From Spain, Ultreia de Valtuille 2018 is my red of the year, a wine that Raul Perez himself believes is one of the best he has ever made, followed by Artuke’s Rioja La Condenada 2018 in second place. I cannot wait to revisit it in five years’ time.

Finally, to Germany. Saving the best ‘til last? Perhaps. The country most fully represented in my cellar and fridge at any one time, it was disappointing not to make it to the wine regions this year. However, a tasting of the 2019 VDP Auction Wines almost made up for it, such were the lofty heights we experienced. From Brauneberg, Fritz Haag’s Im Falkenberg Grosses Gewachs lives long in the memory, as do Egon Muller’s Scharzhofberger Kabinett Alte Reben and Spatlese, JJ Prum’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese and Willi Schaefer’s Domprobst Spatlese Fuder 13. But it is (on today’s recollection at least) a dry wine from the Nahe that I most adored. Emrich-Schonleber’s Auf der Ley GG 2019 is an absolute model of clarity and poise. Verily a thinker’s Riesling. If only I could afford to buy it!