My Top Red Wines of the Year–2022

Following my list the other day of my Top White Wines, here are the top red wines that I tasted this year. In order to be considered, the wine had to be received as a sample, rated well into the “Outstanding” category, and earned a “Whoa” (or at least came really close). No attention was paid to price, region, or whether it had a ridiculously heavy bottle (although those B.A.B. might be excluded in the future).

Once again, I tasted well over a thousand wines this year, and here are the top ten reds, at least according to me. As one would expect, there are several Pinots, a couple of Rhône-style blends, and, surprisingly, a couple of Cabs.

2019 Booker Vineyard Oublie, Paso Robles, CA:Retail $75. 33% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 28% Mourvèdre, 5% Tannat, 4% Petite Sirah. The 2014, the first vintage of this wine, was a bit of an afterthought that scored in the Top Ten wines of the year for the Wine Spectator. The name (which means “forgotten”) comes from Counoise (which was originally in the blend) which is a bit of a forgotten grape. Lovely magenta in the glass. Rich nose of plum, black currant, and blackberry. Whoa. Spice, earth. Yowza. Luscious on the palate with an intense acidity, rich mouthfeel, and really incredible fruit. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.

I was able to visit Booker for the first time this year.

2020 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor, Puente Alto, Chile: Retail $140, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot. One of the icons in Chilean winemaking, I was honored to open this bottle with several other journalists and winemaker Enrique Tirado on a Zoom call this afternoon. Enrique took us on a brief history of the wine, a virtual tour of the vineyard, and an informative look into how he blends the wines from 151 different plots to come up with what goes into the bottle. This wine, perhaps needless to say for a cuvée that collectors hold onto for decades, is exquisite. Shortly after opening, this wine was singing with rich, dark fruit, a touch of mocha, a slight but lovely herbal aspect (sage), and an earthy even spicy aspect on the nose. The palate is rich without being overpowering or unctuous with intense fruit, a balancing and zingy tartness, loads of earth, that mocha aspect from the nose, and soft, silky tannins that, while not fully integrated, suggest a lengthy and healthy future ahead of this wine. Remarkable. And whoa. Outstanding. 96 Points.

2019 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Le Ciel Serein, Carneros, CA: Retail $60. Under cork. Right off the bat this wine gets a Whoa as the nose was off the charts: fruity (ripe black cherry), dark earth, thyme, and even some cola. Yowza. The palate was surprising with really bright fruit, several layers of complexity, and depth. The driving forces here, however, are the acidity, which is magnificent, and the finish, which is quite lengthy. Out of the gate, this wine was gangbusters and really only got better as we progressed our way through the bottle. Whoa.  Outstanding. 96 Points.

2017 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $95. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Same two vineyards as the standard Cab: Bacchus and Phinny Hill. Only the best barrels are selected, which usually end up being about 5 or 6 barrels. Whoa. Lovely color with an enchanting nose of blackberry and blueberry. Plum. Luscious, but nowhere near over the top. Whoa. Holy cow. The fruit is intense but well-trained—not one to show off barking or jumping all over you. Great acidity and depth with some tannins, yes, but once again soft and approachable. I am by no means a “Cab guy” but this wine is on the verge of transformational, causing me to rethink what wines I like to drink. Yowza. Outstanding Plus. Extraordinary. 97 Points.

2017 Rock Wall Wine Co. Zinfandel Alegria Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $45. Big Ass Bottle. Field blend (about 75% Zinfandel, with 22 other varieties). A lot to unpack here. First, the wine is made by Shauna Rosenblum, and if that last name is not immediately identifiable, well, the name “Kent Rosenblum” also known as the “King of Zinfandel” does not speak to you either. Well Shauna, even after the passing of her father in 2018, is doing quite well and, as with many cooler climate Zins, this should appeal to Pinot lovers as well. Second, this fruit is from the Alégria Vineyard, which is owned by Betsy and Bill Nachbaur (owners of ACORN Winery), two of my favorite people in Russian River. Fairly light (at least for a Zin) with dark fruit and plenty of spice, this is close to gangbusters on the nose. But. The palate takes it to gangbusters and beyond. Great fruit, off the charts tartness, and layers of complexity that one rarely sees in Zinfandel (although it is clearly possible). Whoa. Yowza. An incredible wine, regardless of price. Outstanding. 96 Points.

2019 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Clavelles, France: Retail $150? 100% Grenache. I was one of the first Americans to taste the first iteration back in 2015, and I get to have that honor again for this 2019. Les Clavelles is the name of a 1.2-hectare (just under 3 acres) plot at the junction of la Nerthe and la Crau (one of the more famous plots in Chateauneuf). Quite light in color, so much so that one could be easily convinced that this was a Chambolle-Musigny, for example. The nose is a bit shy but more perfumed than the other 2019s from La Nerthe that I tasted, with red currant, raspberry, and red plum. Yowza. The palate? Holy Mother of God. Rich, but elegant, powerful yet graceful. Concentrated fruit, plenty of la Nerthe earth, significant but silky tannins. How do you evaluate a wine that touches the taste buds in such a manner? Which do I prefer, les Clavelles or les Cadettes? That is truly a loaded question. Extraordinary. 97 Points.

2018 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $60. 86.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 7.5% Cabernet Franc. There are few wines that I receive as samples every year about which I get more excited than those from Smith-Madrone. And I know I am not alone in the wine writing/blogosphere when it comes to that sentiment. All it takes is one encounter with Stu Smith and it is easy to become hooked. Let’s just say that Stu does not shy away to share an opinion, which is so refreshing in a wine industry that seems much more focused on “message” and “image.” I scheduled an hour interview with Stu a couple of years ago and it lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours. And it was one of my absolute favorite interviews I have ever conducted. And the wine? Whoa. Medium to dark color with intense fruit aromas of blackberry, plum, and cassis. Whoa. There is a hint of oak (21 months in 50% new French), a dash of spice (clove, black pepper), and a sliver of herbs (sage, mint, basil). Whoa. The palate is even more worthy of remark as the fruit initially dominates, followed by a perfectly balancing acidity, and then the potpourri of flavors: spice, oak, sage. The lasting finish reveals that wonderful balance and just a hint of nearly integrated, soft tannins. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2018 Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir The Sly One, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $65. Oh boy. Where to start? All cards on the table, I adore the dynamic Tongue Dancer Duo of James and Kerry MacPhail and I consider them both friends. But. I sincerely believe that a) they expect me to be honest when reviewing their wines, and b) would instantly call be on any bs should I stray from the truth in any way. Luckily (although also predictably), all of the Tongue Dancer wines have been ridiculously delicious. This one included. Rich, dark fruit, vanilla, hints of oak, eucalyptus, and clove. Whoa. The palate is rich, but also tart, and balanced. Another Whoa. I have tried numerous TDW(ines) at this point and this one just muscled its way into the leading group. Yowza. Outstanding. 96 Points.

2019 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Ultra, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $90. Big Ass Bottle. The dynamic duo at Tongue Dancer, James and Kerry MacPhail, identify the absolute best barrel from the vintage (a scant 25 cases) to classify as their “Ultra” (both a Pinot and Chardonnay). This is my second The Sly One Pinot and this is every bit as solid and fantastic as the first (2018). Dark in the glass with dark cherry, graphite, black pepper, a bit of sriracha, and oodles of verve. Whoa.The palate is voluptuous but also svelte with opulent fruit but also gripping acidity, this is a study in tension. Sure, there are “bigger” Pinots and there are certainly more subtle wines, but this breaks down the barrier between the two. Bold yet balanced, subtle and shy but also shocking, this is the classic clash in contrast. And it is lovely. And Bold, but also delightful. Bravo James and Kerry! And whoa. And a holy cow. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2017 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari Estate Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $80. Under cork. This my last bottle of a series of wines that I received from Bon Pari (hopefully, I will get a few more!). While the labeling has changed slightly, the essence of this wine has remained steadfast. This is a big, powerful Pinot, with oodles of depth, multiple layers, and an encompassing tartness that unifies the wine, rendering it one of the best #RRV Pinots that I have tried. Rich, intense fruit, incredible spice, vanilla, oak. The palate is perhaps more worthy of remark with all that fruit, the balancing tartness, and the lengthy, lingering finish. It is becoming cliché with this producer, but “Yowza” and “Whoa.”  Outstanding. 96 Points.

2016 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $80. I imagine that there are not many who know of Bon Pari as the production is quite small, but over the last few years, the brand has rushed to the forefront of my consciousness. Why? While the wines might not be in my wheelhouse as they are big, bombastic, and even boisterous–they are also extremely well-made, well-balanced, and on the verge of iconic. Example. This Russian River Valley gem flexes its power from the jump: big, juicy fruit, lip-smacking tartness, just a few jars short of a full spice rack (with clove at the forefront), and a lengthy, layered finish. Yowza. And a whoa or three. Lovers of Pinot should either start or end their quest with Bon Pari as it is certainly a defining wine. Extraordinary. 97 Points.

2017 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $70. Yet another vintage of the wine that I consider among the best Pinot Noirs in the U.S. Like the previous vintages I have tried, this is a fruit-forward wine, showcasing all of that red berry fruit for which Sonoma is known. Great tartness, as well, that serves to balance all of that fruit. It is clear that the wine has spent some time in wood, too, with vanilla and an oaky presence, with a depth of character that is fairly rare, at least these days. A fantastic, amazing wine. Outstanding. 96 Points.

Honorable Mention

These wines, all Pinots, were tasted during my Fifth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir. They all scored highly but since I was not able to sit with the wine and continually evaluate it over the course of an evening or a couple of days, I excluded them from contention. Yeah. I know. I am a jerk.

  • 2018 Brooks Pinot Noir Red Letter, Willamette Valley, OR ($80, 95 pts.)
  • 2021 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, CA ($25, 95 pts.)
  • 2019 Stephen Ross Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vineyard, Edna Valley ($55, 95 pts.)
  • 2020 Sailer Family Wines Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County ($50, 95 pts.)
  • 2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Fox Trot, Anderson Valley ($40, 96 pts.)

My Red Wine of the Year

I am not going to lie, this was tough. Really tough. I was absolutely blessed this year looking over these wines (and I had to eliminate several others otherwise this post would be 4,000 words). In the end, I opted for a wine from Châteauneuf-du Pape, which was hand-delivered and was utterly fantastic.

2019 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des Cadettes, France: Retail $120. 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Syrah, 17% Grenache, 3% Others. This wine, one of the top cuvées produced at la Nerthe, is almost always co-fermented, but not this time due to the spread of maturity at harvest. Instead, the fruit was vinified separately but aged together. La Nerthe used to harvest the plots basically in the same order, but it is becoming much more unpredictable and “all over the place” due to the dramatic global heating. In the glass? Whoa^2. Holy crap. I said I could smell the flagship CdP for days, well this would be longer than that. Christophe says this is close to ’98 which he considers the benchmark for Cadettes. Rich, almost unctuous fruit, blackberry pie, and cassis, woven in with hints of earth and other-worldliness. Black pepper and clove whoa. Rich, and weighty, this is an amazing wine. Laden with those dark and some red fruit, an understated elegance underscores this wine—it has all the components in spades, but none outshines the others. Whoa. Extraordinary. 98 Points.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tannat, Viognier, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to My Top Red Wines of the Year–2022

  1. Remi says:

    So many beauties here!


  2. BetsyNachbaur says:

    Thanks, for the shoutout. We’re honored to be mentioned, in your write up.
    We totally agree that Shauna’s 17 Rockwall Alegria Zin was fabulous. She (and her dad) made beautiful wines from our grapes, for many years.
    Thanks again, happy new year, and we hope to welcome you back to CA in 2023.
    Betsy & Bill

    Sent from my iPhone
    Betsy Nachbaur


  3. shanehubble13 says:

    Thank you for the great recommendations! Can’t wait to try!


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