SANTA YNEZ, CA: The pond at Refugio Ranch near Santa Ynez, California. Water is increasingly one of the most precious resources for California winegrowers as recent droughts and changing regulations make it both more scarce and more expensive every year.
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Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I'm pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
This week began with a little bubbly -- namely a couple of bottles from the venerable Champagne Palmer & Co in Reims, France. In 1947, a group of 7 winegrowers decided to pool their resources and talent to create a single brand, and from that initial partnership, Palmer & Co has grown to hold 494 acres of vineyards and four winemaking facilities. The two wines I opened this week were their vintage brut, a nicely aged 2009 that expresses its time on the lees with elegance and finesse, and their non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, which has the toasty, creamy, biscuity character that good Chardonnay can offer in the Champagne format. Both are highly recommended.
Moving on to things redder and closer to home, I began tasting through some samples from Talley Vineyards on the Central Coast. Their considered winemaking was in evidence in their basic Pinot Noir from the Arroyo Grande Valley -- fruity, juicy and delicious -- as well as in their Syrah, which offered some dark brooding character worth paying attention to.
I also tasted the latest Pinot from Eden Rift Vineyards, the polished and carefully constructed brand that arose from the ashes of the Pietra Santa estate in the Cienega Valley south of Hollister, California. The wines are good, but my hope is that they will get better over time, as the estate finds its way to expressing the impressive site they now control.
Lastly, and hardly least, I've got some Napa Cabernet on offer this week, starting with the estate bottling from Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford. Their 2016 is rich and ripe and bold, if slightly over-oaked for my taste. But that can't erase the deeply tasty cherry cola flavors it presents, which will satisfy most Napa Cabernet lovers.
Next I've got the flagship bottling from Chappellet Vineyards up on Pritchard Hill. They label one wine with Pritchard Hill every year, and it's their finest Cabernet, and hard to argue with on that count. Powerful, broad-shouldered, smooth and supple, this is what most people are looking for when they think Napa Cab.
In the event that you can't spring for the Pritchard Hill (few can), and are looking for something a bit more everyday, Chappellet's Mountain Cuvee is as good a "house red" as you could hope for, offering bright fruit and supple tannins, all driven by excellent acidity for a bargain tariff. A blend of fruit from Napa and Sonoma allows the winery to offer this wine at a price that approaches $25 in some markets, and is a darn steal at that price.
Notes for all these and more below.
2009 Palmer & Co "Brut" Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of toasted brioche, crisp Fuji apples and sea air. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of saltine and apple and lemon curd with a nice biscuity yeasty finish. Excellent bright acidity and lovely length. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.
NV Palmer & Co "Blanc de Blancs" Chardonnay, Champagne, France
Palest gold in the glass with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith. In the mouth, wonderfully bright saline flavors of toasted sourdough bread have a mouthwatering brightness with hints of citrus and apple and sea air. Very appealing. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2017 Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and cranberry flavors have a wonderful freshness and delightful fruity floral character. Excellent acidity brings in flavors of citrus peel through the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2017 Eden Rift Vineyards Pinot Noir, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit with a hint of blueberry. In the mouth, dusty notes of raspberry and mulberry have a faint, powdery tannic texture and a hint of earth and herbal bitterness in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2016 Talley Vineyards "Rincon Vineyard" Syrah, Arroyo Grande Valley, Central Coast, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bloody steak and earth and cassis. In the mouth, rich cassis and blackberry flavors have a nice stony backbone to them but not as much acidity as I would like. The fruit feels a bit heavy on the palate, despite being shot through with a hint of white pepper spice. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2016 Sullivan "Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green bell pepper, tobacco leaf and cherry fruit. In the mouth, rich cherry and cola notes are brisk and fresh with a minty quality to them. Muscular tannins have a slightly drying quality to them, sucking moisture from the mouth. I wish for a little less wood. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.
2015 Chappellet "Pritchard Hill" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis and a hint of woodsmoke. In the mouth, smoky flavors of cherry and cassis mix with espresso and licorice under a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity and a faint hint of violets make for a long and sustained expression across the palate. Powerful and deep, with a rumbling earthy bass note and well integrated wood. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $220. click to buy.
2017 Chappellet "Mountain Cuvee" Red Blend, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly grapey black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis flavors have a nice smooth brightness to them, with powdery tannins and excellent acidity. Somewhat short on the palate, but damn tasty for the price. A blend of 55% Cabernet, 28% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc from both Napa and Sonoma Counties. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.