100 Amazing Wines 2022: 6 Rhone-style red varietals & blends

Approximately 2,000 wines were evaluated in 2022 for the Amazing 100 list, to discover fine wines in all styles, from a diversity of regions and American Viticultural Areas and across all price points.|
Amphora GSM Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Amphora GSM Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Amphora Wines

2018 Sonoma County GSM ($42)

Owner/winemaker Rick Hutchinson has long had a fondness for Rhone and Italian varietals, plus zinfandel and petite sirah. He’s made them whether they were fashionable or not, and he was way ahead of his time by choosing years ago to age some of his wines in clay amphorae he fashioned himself, as the Greeks and Romans did long ago. All the vino kids are into amphorae now, and also into GSMs — blends of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. Hutchinson’s 2018 GSM combines the fresh strawberry and red-plum character of grenache, savory meatiness from syrah and the earthiness and structure of mourvedre. His petite sirahs are brawny and loaded with black and blue fruit character. In 2008, he became one of the first California producers of teroldego, a northern Italian varietal.

Jeff Cohn Cellars

2018 Domaine des Chirats Rockpile Vineyard Rockpile Syrah ($95)

Expensive? You bet. Amazing? Yes. Interesting story behind it? Of course. Jeff Cohn, maker of excellent big-bodied syrahs, zinfandels and Rhone-style blends, collaborates on each vintage of this wine with Yves Cuilleron, a noted vigneron in France’s northern Rhone Valley. It’s made in Sonoma County, from grapes grown in the Rockpile AVA in the northwest part of the county (“chirats” is French for “pile of granite stones”). It’s amusing wordplay, though with an authentic partnership and serious intent. That’s reflected in the price. The wine is deep purple in color, with voluptuous, mouth-coating black and blue fruit and classic syrah savoriness. Despite its concentration, it’s finely balanced, with what Cohn calls “a liquid mineral component that is the essence of Rockpile Vineyard.” Too rich for your blood? Then look to the 2018 El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley Grenache ($50), a pretty, firmly structured red that’s lip-smacking good.

Pax Mahle Wines

2021 Sonoma Hillsides Sonoma County Syrah ($55)

Pax Mahle is in the vanguard of winemakers using natural and low-intervention methods to produce wine. Such styles aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, though I find Mahle’s syrahs (a specialty of his) are charming far more often than not. He buys only grapes grown organically, sustainably or biodynamically, in cool coastal regions, and adds nothing unnatural to the grapes or wine in the cellar (no commercial yeasts, manufactured nutrients, fining agents, etc.). Mahle also tends to harvest fruit earlier than most, preferring his wines to be lean, crisp, low in alcohol and ideal with food. The Sonoma Hillside Syrah ticks these boxes, as does Mahl’s 2020 Sonoma Coast Syrah ($36), though it comes with Pax’s own heads-up: Because of smoke from 2020 wildfires, he picked the grapes for this bottling even earlier than normal. Buyers beware, or embrace.

Smith Story Wine Cellars

2021 Brave Carbonic Syrah Sonoma Mountain ($36)

With a name like theirs, Alison and Eric Smith Story are expected to tell some tales. Indeed, they have them. He was born in the Bay Area, she in Fort Worth, Texas. They met while working at K&L Wine Merchants in the Bay Area, eloped in Hawaii in 2013 and planned Smith Story Wine Cellars in their heads. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, they began making their wines in Sonoma County from purchased grapes, opened a tasting room in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley and adopted a goldendoodle named Lord Sandwich (a regular on Instagram, @SandwichtheDoodle). Then Ali got cancer (she’s recovering nicely, it appears) and they recently relocated their tasting room to Bacchus Landing in Healdsburg. So raise a glass of this energetic, fruity syrah in honor of Ali’s bravery and that of others experiencing difficult times. Or sit back and savor the couple’s 2019 Sonoma County Cabernet Franc ($56) or 2019 Pickberry Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($75).

Truett Hurst Syrah Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Truett Hurst Syrah Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Truett Hurst

2019 Estate Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah ($56)

Truett Hurst has gone through several management changes over the years, but there is one constant: organic grape growing guru Paul Dolan, who left Fetzer Vineyards in 2002 to get involved in other brands. Petite sirah and zinfandel have played huge roles for Dolan-led wineries, and this not-so-petite wine from the Truett-Hurst estate vineyard in Dry Creek Valley is textbook. It’s a big wine, 14.8% alcohol, with black and blue fruit, dark chocolate, espresso and significant yet surprisingly supple tannins. The estate relies on maintaining a healthy “holistic” farming environment, with biodynamic and organic certification — a plus for many consumers. In addition to the petite sirah, winemaker Ross Reedy’s 2019 Rattler Rock Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($49) and 2019 Estate Zinfandel ($69) are powerhouses.

Two Shepherds

2019 Arya & Austin’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Grenache Noir ($38)

Proprietor/winemaker William Allen planted grenache on his estate in 2011, farmed it organically, fermented the fruit with native yeast, aged it for 16 months in neutral oak barrels and used only minimal amounts of sulfur. Natural-wine purists might question any sulfur addition (the compound acts as a preservative), but Allen’s low-intervention philosophy serves him well with this spicy, red-fruited wine with a racy finish. Arya and Austin are Australian shepherds, but not the Two Shepherds; the original two are Allen and partner Karen Daenen.

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