Reviewers' Favorites 2021: Mark Squires

I cover mostly emerging regions, with Portugal (and Port) the most established of the group. Personally, I would not call Portugal “emerging” anymore, but that depends on where you are located. Even Portugal is not yet a benchmark region other than Port for most of the world. That means that most of my selections may be things you’ve never heard of. That’s not a bad thing for curious and open-minded tasters. In fact, it can be a very good thing. Often, you get the best values in lesser-known areas. You can also find amazing wines that may really ring the bell. You may discover new loves.

That’s a long way of saying that I mostly choose these selections to make a point, not just to throw out high-scoring wines. It’s nearly impossible to choose just one example in each category without having a large group behind them that could’ve been chosen. (In fact, I’ve even cheated a bit and mentioned some other names, but even that can only take us so far.) So, these often have a point, an agenda. Mostly, that point will center around exploration of regions and grapes that you might not know. Some of them might change your life. 

A Wine for the Cellar:
Left: The 2018 Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa; Right: Members of the family that owns Crasto, Miguel and Tomas Roquette, with winemaker Manuel Lobo in the back

For the most part in these selections, the wines have some emphasis on value or reasonable pricing so that everyone might at least try some. For the cellar selection, though, there is a different emphasis. The first time I went to Crasto, I listened to one of the brothers that helps run the property tell a group that Vinha da Ponte was their best wine. Meanwhile, I was thinking that the Reserva Old Vines was a pretty acceptable substitute at a fraction of the price, and what I’d pick for their best wine in most years is this: the Vinha Maria Teresa, a bottling produced only in the best vintages for it. Now, this isn’t so cheap. However, it is one of the oldest plots at Crasto, a centenary vineyard with 4.7 hectares. The wine has plenty of sex appeal, but also a serious backbone and the ability to hold a couple of decades without a problem.

A Wine That's Under the Radar:
(Photo courtesy of Alpha Estate)

One might argue that all of Greece is under the radar, and unfairly so, but among many examples I might select, let’s start here. Xinomavro to my mind is Greece’s best red grape. I often make analogies to Nebbiolo. Alpha Estate in Amyndeon in Northern Greece is one of Greece’s flagship wineries with distribution in many countries. This version of Xinomavro tends to be refined and a bit more approachable; some can be far more rustic. Made from ungrafted bush vines planted in 1919, this is of high quality and somehow also manages to come in at a very reasonable list price of $36. I could go on for a long time about how Greece in general and Alpha Estate in particular deserve more attention for many bottlings, but let’s start here.

A Wine for Tonight:
(Photo courtesy of Caves Transmontanas)

At this time of year, we’re often talking about celebrations, toasts and the like. I review wines from lots of places that make sparklers you have probably never heard of. The Finger Lakes is a great source (Wiemer, Ravines, Damiani, among others). There are also some fine examples on Long Island in New York (Lenz, Paumanok, among others), not to mention other places (Horton is doing a nice job in Virginia), but some that you might actually have an easier time tracking down outside of the East Coast, USA, come from Portugal. Bairrada is a great value region for sparklers, but one of the most prominent producers in Portugal is this one in Douro, colloquially known as Vértice. It was founded in 1989 with the input of Jack Davies, then the owner of Schramsberg in Napa Valley. The Gouveio is one of the upper-level offerings. It may have been surpassed or equaled of late by the producer’s new excursions into Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and R.D. wines, but it was the first I saw from them that made me sit up and take notice. We joked that it was their “geek” wine, not easy or simple, a bit oxidative in style and aggressive. Unlike lots of producers, also, their labels tell you when the wine was disgorged, so you know what bottling you are getting, apart from the vintage date. This 2012 is the latest release, but the 2013 will be reviewed shortly online, along with the rest of their fine lineup. If you can’t find one, the other is likely a good substitute.

A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability:
Julia Kemper (Photo courtesy of Julia Kemper Wines)

The greener we go the better these days. Some wineries need no special hints in that regard. Julia Kemper owns one of the fine wineries in Portugal’s Dão region. She also does some things a wee bit differently. All of her wines (since she started in 2003) are biodynamic and certified organic. You'll also note the 2013 vintage date here. It sounds like a reevaluation of a previously released wine, but this was just released in the USA and reviewed this summer. Julia told me that "we keep each vintage for some years before we release them into the market, with some exceptions….” Her wines are very reasonably priced despite their quality, the late release and the care with which they are made. This beauty only had a list price of $38. One of the nice things about producers like this is that I almost could’ve picked her for every category—something for tonight, a fine value, something green, something under the radar. You get the idea. 

A Wine That’s Especially Good Value: 
2019 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling Reserve (USA, New York, Finger Lakes)
Hermann J. Wiemer owners Oskar Bynke (front left) and Fred Merwath (front right)

I review Portuguese wines, which results in so many value picks that it is sometimes bewildering to contemplate. Just in a region like Vinho Verde, you could start talking about values and not stop for a long time. Then, don’t even get me started on what fabulous values unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Ports are. Then, do you know how many great deals there are in regions that may be less familiar to you, like Bairrada, Dão, Lisboa, Alentejo and so on? You can drink well for modest money. Let’s put it that way.

So, let’s do something different, even if it is far less familiar, or Portugal will subsume everything. The Finger Lakes in New York is making an effort to shed its localized emerging-region status. I don’t think it is quite there yet, but let’s give it a helping hand here. They make wonderful Rieslings, their signature grape. I could have chosen many others, including the Konstantin Frank 2019 Eugenia (yes, I just cheated; that’s another $5 or so), but I’m forced to stop with just one. Let’s try this from one of the most iconic wineries in the Finger Lakes. From a great vintage, it should age a couple of decades. It’s pretty brilliant. And it’s $29.

More articles from this author