June 17, 2024

Best wines of 2021: John Wilson’s favourites and where to buy them


The wine writer picks a dozen that stood out as special for him over the past year

As my friends are always keen to tell me, I have a great job. I may have had my wings clipped over the past 18 months, and have been unable to go to any tastings, but, looking through my notes from the past year, I have tasted some incredible wines, usually in the company of my family, and nearly always over dinner.

Here, I have selected 12 wines that stood out as special, in their price category, over the past 12 months. It would have been easy to pick a dozen great wines costing more than €40, or old vintages uncovered during a house move. But that would not have been much use to you, the reader. 

I still had to make some difficult choices. I could easily have filled several more pages with great wines tasted during 2021. Half of the wines included here are priced in the teens, and all cost less than €40 – just! Five countries are represented.

I hope you enjoy reading what inspired my selection of my best wines of 2021, and I hope it makes you want to go out and try a few bottles that might be new to you. 

White wines

Lots of difficult to pronounce names in my first wine, but the two to remember are Grechetto, a unique Umbrian grape variety, and Roccafiore, one of the leading producers in Umbria. Every time I taste it, I am seduced by the heavenly mix of ripe peach fruits and crisp mineral acidity of the Umbria Grechetto IGT 2019, Fiordaliso, Roccafiore (€17.50, Sheridan’s, The Fumbally, Red Nose Wines, SIYPS.com). If you are feeling flush, the Fiorfiore (about €23) is even better. I drank this last spring with some Danish frikadeller (fishcakes), asparagus and new potatoes; simple but heavenly. 

Chardonnay may not be fashionable in some quarters but, in my book, alongside Riesling, it produces the world’s greatest dry white wines. I tasted more than 30 really great Chardonnays during lockdowns, including the delicious Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2019, Domaine Nicolas (€17.42, winespark.com). This is classic Burgundy with a perfect balance of apple and pear fruits, vibrant acidity plus a smidgen of toasty oak, all at an amazing price. If you are fond of Chablis, Mâcon or Meursault, you should give this a go. Try it with salmon, black sole or creamy chicken dishes.  

Galicia produces some great wines, both red and white. Albariño from Rías Baixas is deservedly popular, but there are plenty of other great wines to discover, including The Flower and The Bee 2020 from Ribeiro (€18.15-€20, independents). It sounds more like a young person’s sex education manual, but this very moreish wine is a perfect example of the great succulent pure fruit-filled wines to be found in Galicia. I have been enjoying this wine for several years now. It never fails to please.

Muscadet has always been one of my favourite wines and it has been fantastic to see a new range of single vineyard Muscadets emerge over the last few years. “It takes Muscadet to a whole new level, ” I wrote about the Les Pierres Blanches 2019, Domaine Luneau-Papin, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine (€25, Whelehans) and it does just that. Light, but certainly not lacking flavour, this is a delicious textured wine with succulent ripe fruits. Serve with seared scallops with butter and lemon, or grilled brill with a herby sauce.

Yes, €30 is a lot to pay for any wine, but in my book the Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2019, Santorini (€29.95 from O’Briens), is worth every cent. This is a unique and wonderful wine, made from vines buried in bare volcanic soils and trained into a basket shape to provide protection from the wind. The Gaia version is a completely seductive mix of floral aromas, rich creamy nectarine fruits and grilled hazelnuts, balanced perfectly by a crisp linear acidity. A must-try wine for 2021. If €30 is beyond your budget, the Lyrarkis Assysrtiko Voila 2020 (€17-€18, independents) from Crete is also worth a try. 

I hesitate to include two expensive white wines, but both were remarkable in very different ways. I have always been fascinated by the wines of Corsica and was delighted to see one wine importer bring in wines from an estate with a high reputation. I wasn’t disappointed with the wines. In 2020, I featured the red and another white, both delicious and worth the €38 price tag. I could have featured either, but strictly speaking, they belong to last year. Somehow a third wine, the L’Altru Biancu 2017, Yves Leccia, Ile de Beaute (organic, €39 from SIYPS.com, 64wine, Green Man Wines) got left to one side, and I so drank it in 2021, and recently bought another bottle. It’s that good!

A victim of the rural exodus from Corsica, Bianco Gentile is a local grape, once revered, that almost became extinct. It has been revived and is regaining a reputation among growers. Serve it as the centrepiece of your dinner with a main course. The textured, elegant pear fruits, the fresh herbs and vibrant citrus make for a magical mix of flavour. I would suggest a seafood risotto, a poached salmon or a plateau de fruits de mer. 

Red wines

I not only featured the Cave Saint-Désirat Syrah 2019 recently, but went out and bought a case when it was on promotion at €10 in O’Briens. It has now returned to (a still very reasonable) €14.45. This is a very traditional French style of wine with lowish alcohol (13 per cent) light dark cherry fruits, and a savoury lightly tannic finish. It is a style of wine I love, as you can drink it with all sorts of dishes, including most red and white meats, as well as cheese. O’Briens tell me that the 2020 vintage is on its way; as both 2019 and 2020 were good vintages in the Northern Rhone, I hope it will be equally good.  

Over the past few years I have featured many wines from southeast Spain, including Vermell from Celler del Roure (€17) and Clos Lojen (€16) from Bodegas Ponce, both widely available from independents. Last year saw the arrival of the organic, fruit-filled Soplo 2018, Rafael Cambra, from Valencia, outstanding value for €15. All three wines mentioned above are widely available from good independent wine shops. They are all made from local grape varieties, from vines growing in cooler sites, giving them a lightness and freshness not always found in this part of the world.

Another all-purpose red, this time from Italy, is the Marche Rosso San Lorenzo ‘Il Casolare’ (€14.95-€15.50, independents). I included it in my staycation mixed case earlier this year, as this is an indispensable slightly up-market house wine. A mere 12.5 per cent in alcohol and full of soft, juicy fruits, this would go perfectly with nibbles, casual pizza, pasta, chicken and pork dishes. If you find it on a restaurant list, as I did recently, it makes a great choice; not too expensive and a good partner with virtually any dish on the menu.

A Beaujolais of some kind will always feature among my wines of the year. It was one of the first wines I came across and one of the first wine regions I visited. Memories aside, it is also one of the great all-purpose wines, light, with juicy ripe fruits, perfect drunk solo, or with all kinds of food. Of the many I tasted over the past 12 months, the fragrant, free-flowing succulent Côte de Brouilly Terres Dorée 2018 from the brilliant Jean-Paul Brun (€23.85, WinesDirect.ie) stood out as special. On a warm summer’s evening, we drank it al fresco, lightly chilled, with a salad and grilled pure pork sausages. 

In 2019, I travelled to the Itata region of Chile, where I met Pedro Parra, a renowned soil and vineyard mapping expert who advises wineries around the world on where to plant new vineyards. He was born in Itata and has now set up his own winery in the region. We descended down into various trenches he had dug to view the differing vineyard subsoils.

The wines, tasted later, were brilliant; lively with crunchy fresh dark fruits. The Vinista 2019, Pedro Parra, Secano Interior Itata (€25.99, Green Man, Corkscrew, wineonline.ie, Blackrock Cellar) is made from the País grape, first brought to this region by the Spanish colonists more than 400 years ago. Itata was one of the first regions in Chile colonised by the Spanish and is home to some of the oldest vines in the world, often untrained, simply trailing along the ground. So drink this to enjoy the lively pure blackcurrant fruits, the savoury plums and the light tannins, and drink it also as a little bit of history revived. 

I love red Burgundy. On song, it is better than any other Pinot Noir, and among the greatest red wines of world. Sadly, prices are rising inexorably due to limited production and high demand. However, basic Bourgogne Rouge in the hands of the best producers is a wonderful thing, and the Bourgogne Rouge 2018, Sylvan Pataille (€31, 64wine, Baggot St Wines, Stationtostation, Matson’s) fits into this category. It has ethereal fragrant dark cherries on nose and palate, silky and elegant with a satisfying grip on the finish. I bought several bottles of this. It was the perfect wine at a post-lockdown dinner with my mother-in-law, alongside an organic roast chicken. More recently, we drank it with duck, but tuna, charcuterie or ham in parsley sauce would all work well. 

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