August 2021 Tasting Report: Italian, Spanish and German Classics, Plus Some Napa Flash

We went heavy on the world’s classic wine regions during our August tastings, and with more than 2,300 ratings moved closer to our goal of uncorking 25,000 bottles for the year. The post August 2021 Tasting Report: Italian, Spanish and German Classics, Plus Some Napa Flash appeared first on

August 2021 Tasting Report: Italian, Spanish and German Classics, Plus Some Napa Flash
The Artadi Alava Viña El Pison 2018 stood out among a number of Riojas in the Tasting Team's ratings in August. (Photo by

We are tasting between 500 and 800 wines every week at the moment, and we compile our findings into a Weekly Tasting Report. We don’t think any other wine media organization is publishing so many new tasting notes so quickly. Many of the ratings we publish are for wines tasted just the previous day! And because so many of the wines we taste are the latest releases, often not yet available in the market, this ensures that all Premium Subscribers of (who get access to the latest wine scores and tastings notes) are among the first to learn about the newest wines.

We are now also collating all the ratings published in a month in one large single report for your convenience, too. You can read about the wines below, and subscribers can access the scores and tasting notes in the ratings list at the bottom of this article.

We published 2,303 wine ratings in August, from 10 countries. Here’s how the tastings broke down (you can click “sort by” in the notes search engine below to search by each individual country):

Australia – 197
Chile – 4
China – 12
France – 125
Germany – 196
Italy – 1,122 (Abruzzo, 6; Basilicata, 2; Campania, 252; Emilia-Romagna, 19; Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 5; Lazio, 3; Lombardy, 3; Marche, 5; Northeast, 124; Piedmont, 63; Puglia, 6; Sardinia, 9; Sicily, 250; Tuscany, 206; Umbria, 19; Veneto, 70; Other regions, 33)
New Zealand – 8
South Africa – 4
Spain – 415 (Andalucia, 4; Aragon, 34; Castilla y León, 94; Castilla-La Mancha, 34; Cataluna, 24; Extremadura, 2; Galicia, 40; Islas Baleares, 2; La Rioja, 127; Murcia, 12; Navarra, 18; País Vasco, 2; Valencia, 18; Other regions, 4)
United States – 231

Climate change was on our minds as we entered the month of August, with warming temperatures, drought, flooding and raging wildfires among the prime challenges faced by winemakers across the globe. How producers deal with the volatile climatic conditions may be the key to their survival. As Giovanni Gaja of the Gaja wine family in Italy said, “Adaptation is all about survival – you have to adapt and change, and don’t be afraid to change.”

“It’s really scary because we are seeing the effects of climate change,” Gaja said. “It’s the vineyard management that has been a complete revolution in five years. It’s been so unpredictable,” he said. “It’s difficult to forecast.”

With one of the Gaja family’s top vineyards hit badly by hail in 2018, their 2018 Gaja classic Barbaresco was a blend of seven vineyards rather than being a single-vineyard venture. But one grape that seems to be adjusting well to climate change is nebbiolo, which is more easily reaching maturation given the increased warmth, making it more easily drinkable when young. Fortunately, the 2019 vintage, at least in Tuscany, did not face the same issue, and in fact could be on par with the wonderful 2015. The Galatrona 2019 is a prime example of the excellence of that year, and a “pure merlot sensation,” according to James.

And if you’re looking for a Super Tuscan red from the same year, the Mazzei family’s just-released blend of merlot and sangiovese, the Siepi 2019, from the Chianti Classico region, is “their best wine ever.” Another “best ever” bottle from the same year could be the Galardi Campania Terra di Lavoro 2019, which has a deep and silky structure and endless finish. It’s just another one of many standouts from southern Italy.


BUBBLING BEAUTY Laurent-Perrier Champagne Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée N.23 NV Magnum: a different Grand Siècle?

TASTING ARTADI 2018: James and Artadi winemaker Carlos Lopez de Lacalle discuss what makes the Artadi 2018 vintage special.


The theme of wine maturing earlier under the new climatic conditions may be more common, but so will the theme of drinking great wines when they are young, as can be seen in the Opus One Napa Valley 2018, whose “subtlety and complexity are terrific, with so much aromatic complexity as well as depth and length. The center palate shows such poise. It’s a near perfect example of the ultimate in intensity and balance of vintage,” James said.

There were several more fresh, energetic reds from Napa Valley that we tasted, especially from the 2018 vintage. Favia’s Oakville and Coombsville cabernets have “exquisite drinkability” that is representative of the magic of Napa reds from that year, as does Andy Erickson’s new release of Leviathan, which may be “one of the best values in reds out there with a steakhouse vibe,” according to James.

The extraordinary 2019 and 2020 vintages in Germany also impressed during our August tastings, with Senior Editor Stuart Pigott finding several fantastic bottles, especially from the Rheingau. At the top of the list were rare sweet wines from Weingut Robert Weil, like the Riesling Rheingau Kiedrich Gräfenberg Trockenbeerenauslese 2020. Stuart said there was “no need for discussion about whether this is amazing or not, here is a stunningly concentrated riesling TBA with sensational brilliance!” Weil’s Riesling Beerenauslese 2020 was also superb.

On the dry white side, Müller-Catoir’s offerings continue to be some of the best in Germany, particularly the Müller-Catoir Riesling Pfalz Bürgergarten Im Breumel GG 2020.

Although Germany’s 2019 vintage is considered the greatest modern vintage ever, 2020 is already nipping at its heels, and the number of 99- and 100-point bottles birthed that year give it the legs to go the distance.


Italy’s Mount Etna region also came into focus in our August tastings, with the terroir-driven wines coming out of the volcanic region at the same time unique, rustic and even mysterious. The reds, with their uncanny way of expressing the volcanic soils of the vineyards, are described according to when lava flowed down from the crater. And some of the top Etna reds have come from the Benanti family.

Stuart said after tasting a few hundred Sicilian wines with Tasting Editor Jo Cooke that “Sicily has been on a roll for many years, but that didn’t prepare us for the dazzling perfume and breathtaking elegance” of Benanti’s Etna Rosso Serra Della Contessa Particella No. 587 Alberello Centenario Riserva 2015, which comes from a one-hectare parcel planted with 100-year-old, head-pruned nerello mascalese and a smaller number of nerello cappuccio vines, as does the dazzling Etna Rosso Rovitello Particella No. 341 Alberello Centenario Riserva 2015.


There were also single-vineyard wines from Spain’s Rioja region that expressed world-class character, like the stunning Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez Rioja Las Beatas 2018, which James called a “magical wine that shows mind-blowing pedigree and length.”

Telmo Rodriguez himself said during a Tasting Interview that he’s convinced that his unique creations represent the true character of Rioja wines and are a throwback to the origins of the winemaking history and traditions of the region, and also offer a glimpse of the future. “There is an amazing energy in Spain,” Rodriguez said. “I am giving the opportunity to the younger generation to work together… you are going to be able to follow this and you are going to be keen. You are going to be following this amazing movement.”

Another standout Rioja during the month was La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 2010 – a longtime favorite, as well as the Contino Rioja Gran Reserva 2015, which is equally perfumed and aromatic but shows a little more concentration from the ripe and fresher vintage. The 2018 Rioja vintage is also coming on strong, as best expressed by the Artadi Alava Viña El Pison 2018.

The U.S., France and Australia also gave us some bottles for thought in August, including Australia’s Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 2017 and Yangarra Grenache McLaren Vale Ovitelli 2019, but perhaps our most compelling tasting was a special bottling of the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Grand Siècle Grande Cuvée N.23 NV Magnum. James said he was “blown away by the complexity of the subtle aromas” of this full-bodied, energetic and powerful pour. If you’re looking to really unpop a cork, this could be the one that rips a hole through the ceiling!

You can read the full tasting notes for all the wines we tried in August in the list below.

– Vincent Morkri

Note: You can sort the wines below by country, vintage, score, and alphabetically by winery name, and can search for specific wines in the search bar.

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