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 I’ve got a Riesling, a bunch of Chardonnays, some Pinots and some killer Zinfandels to share.
Let’s start with the Riesling, from the venerable Wittmann estate in Westofen, Germany. This is the fully dry, or “Trocken” version of their estate Erste Lage (the equivalent of Grand Cru) vineyard Riesling that sits nearby the winery. It’s classically styled with wonderful balance.
We’re going to move on to Chardonnay next, but stay in Germany, and to be fair, this wine is just as much Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) as it is Chardonnay. Made by Weingut Weinreich, it’s also got some age to it, and some of what were undoubtedly fresh citrus qualities are mellowing into secondary notes that are quite interesting.
I’ve got two full Chardonnays to recommend next, the first from Oregon’s J. Christopher winery, a no-malo, neutral oak rendition of Chardonnay that raised some eyebrows when first released. As a result the winemaker Jay Somers named it “Cuvee Lunatique” but it’s proved so popular no one thinks him a lunatic anymore.
The Rued clone remains one of California’s most popular selections for Chardonnay plant material, and it takes its name from a vineyard in Sonoma’s Green Valley now farmed by the Dutton family. The Chardonnay that Dutton Goldfield makes from that vineyard has a richness and opulence to it, despite retaining the cutting edge of acidity that keeps it refreshing.
The Dutton brothers also farm the Azaya Ranch Vineyard in the Marin County portion of the rather new Petaluma Gap AVA, and it is one of my favorite sites of theirs for Pinot Noir, yielding fresh, snappy wines with real depth and complexity. The 2018 is perhaps the best rendition I have yet tasted of what that vineyard has to offer.
Speaking of Pinot Noir, I’ve got four more to share with you this week, two from Oregon and two more from California.
The Oregon bottlings are quite different in their expression. The Lange wine offers unusually dark blue and black fruit character with a rich complexion, while the J. Christopher wine has a savory, herbal quality that is breathtaking. The Abbey Ridge vineyard is one of Willamette Valley’s oldest, and this 2016 bottling shows that it’s still going strong after 40 years. This single vineyard bottling was the star of this week’s tasting lineup for sure.
Williams Selyem needs little introduction to Pinot-files, as perhaps the first “cult” producer of Pinot Noir in California. I’ve got two of their top bottlings to review this week, one of which, the Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard bottling, was a bit more oak-influenced than I’d like, but still worth drinking. The Eastside Road Neighbors bottling was a bit more integrated and exciting.
Last but not least, I’ve got a couple more Zinfandels from specialist Limerick Lane outside of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley. Both of these wines are brimming with acidity and positively bursting with juiciness. Of the two I think I slightly preferred the Estate Cuvee, which features a modicum of Syrah and Petite Sirah, but the straight Zinfandel named “Marquis” was pretty damn good as well and a great demonstration of just how compelling the variety can be in the right hands.
2018 Wittmann “Westhofener Erste Lage” Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of tangerine oil and Asian pears. In the mouth, beautifully vibrant flavors of Asian pear and wet chalkboard mix with mandarin orange and a hint of grapefruit, all crackling with excellent acidity and mineral backbone. Fully dry with no real hint of sweetness. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2015 Weinreich “Weissburgunder Chardonnay” White Blend, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light to medium gold in color, this wine smells of baked apples and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, baked apple, candied lemon peel, old parchment and a touch of dried honey are all enlivened with bright acidity. A hint of marmalade lingers in the finish. A blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $15. click to buy.
2018 J. Christopher “Cuvée Lunatique” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of fresh apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, apples and grapefruit flavors have a nice zingy brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of citrus pith linger in the finish. Quite fresh and snappy. This wine is prevented from going through malolactic conversion and sees only neutral oak. A decision, when first made, that was responsible for the name of the wine. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and butterscotch. In the mouth, particularly silky flavors of lemon and butterscotch have decent, but slightly soft acidity and a nice grapefruit pith note in the finish. Creamy as all get out. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and redcurrant and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, wonderfully stony flavors of cranberry and raspberry have a nice earthy savoriness to them along with a bright redcurrant sourness in the finish that is quite mouthwatering. Excellent acidity and barely perceptible tannins. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5 . Cost: $62. click to buy.
2017 Lange Winery “Three Hills Cuvee” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cranberry. In the mouth, darker flavors of black cherry mix with a touch of green herbs and earth. Faint tannins and decent acidity round out the package, which definitely leans towards the darker side of Pinot. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2016 J. Christopher “Abbey Ridge” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry and a hint of red apple skin. In the mouth, beautifully silky notes of red apple skin, raspberry and cherry fruit are shot through with dried sage and thyme. Faint, dusty tannins creep about the edges of the palate as hints of bitter orange linger in the finish. Quite savory. This vineyard, one of the Willamette Valley’s oldest, hosts 40-year-old vines. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5 . Cost: $65. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of new oak and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, black raspberry and cherry fruit is definitely shot through with the toasty new oak signature that hangs right on the edge of overwhelming the fruit. Good acidity with hints of floral notes in the finish, but at the moment, the wood is dominant. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Eastside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry fruit and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit mixes with cherry and cranberry under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity and a nice citrus brightness, with a hint of new oak lingering in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.
2018 Limerick Lane “Marquis” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of freshly smashed blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, blue and black fruits are bursting with acidity and shot through with chopped green herbs and a touch of black pepper that lingers in the finish. Phenomenally bright, balanced, and mouthwatering with no hint of its prodigious 15.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.
2018 Limerick Lane “Estate Cuvée” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, extremely juicy flavors of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry have a wonderful brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Somewhat effortless with only the faintest heat in the finish hinting at the 14.8% alcohol. Very tasty. A blend of 63% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 10% Petite Sirah. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.
Troon Vineyard is now both Demeter Biodynamic® and CCOF Organic Certified. Certainly, that’s an accomplishment that I am more than proud of attaining in the minimum required three years. Yet, there are parts of both certifications that have always made me uncomfortable.
The USDA Organic certification has been largely taken over by industrial organic farms. For example, the massive national distribution of certain organic salad brands. It even allows hydroponic agriculture. The concept of “organic” agriculture that does not involve soil certainly does not meet the standards I would set for a natural food growing system.
Then there is biodynamics, which I was drawn to in two ways. First, I had tasted too many excellent wines made biodynamically and I aspired to make wines with that kind of life and energy. I wanted to make better wine and was convinced this was the way to achieve that goal. Second, was the focus in biodynamics on rebuilding soil microbiome through a proactive series of probiotic applications based around compost, compost teas and other fermented applications. I believed that the tenets of biodynamics created an ideal framework to rebuild our soils and, indeed they did at Troon Vineyard. Almost every biodynamic winegrower I know, I was drawn to the regenerative farming concepts of biodynamics, but was less than comfortable with Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophical side of biodynamics. Like most biodynamic wineries, we focused on the practical aspects of biodynamics and more-or-less ignored the Anthroposophical side.
Apparently, many others had the same feeling I did as there is now a new certification that incorporates the best of both organic and biodynamics while actively incorporating the human element. This new certification includes an essential word — regenerative. Called the Regenerative Organic Certification it combines the restrictive nature (telling you what you can’t use) of organic certification with the proactive, probiotic nature of biodynamics and creates a more complete structure for rebuilding soil. As it says on their website, “farm like the world depends on it.”
My search for a framework for regenerative viticulture soon transformed into the broader view of the “whole farm” concept that defines biodynamics. Practicing regenerative agriculture is more than simple organic viticulture. Biodiversity creates more biodiversity and is the key to regenerative agriculture. At Troon Vineyard our viticultural inputs now include cider apple trees, vegetable gardens, sheep, chickens, grains, bees, pollinator habitats and compost — lots and lots of compost.
The Regenerative Organic Certification excites me as it incorporates all the things I find important about the Organic and Biodynamic® Certifications while also resolving my concerns with both. I also find the addition of social fairness as a cornerstone of the program brings an important element not included in the other programs. Obviously, industrial farms would have difficulties meeting this requirement. The animal welfare requirements, which are also included in the Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard, are also important additions as many animals on organic certified farms, while better than industrial feed lots, do not live in humane conditions.
We will certainly keep both our Organic and Demeter Biodynamic® Certifications. You have to be certified organic to achieve the Regenerative Organic Certification and the framework of biodynamics has achieved all I had hoped and more.
The focus on regeneration is what is key to me. We have to put back more than we take to establish a natural food growing system. Farm like the world depends on it — because it does.
Here is some recommended reading on regenerative agriculture:
SANTA MARIA, CA: A hillside Chardonnay vineyard shines emerald beneath hills of the same color near Santa Maria, California. This is the Solomon Hills Vineyard, the westernmost planting in the Santa Maria Valley, owned and operated by the Thornhill Company, who also farm the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard nearby.
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Happy Saturday, and I hope, if you’re reading this, you are healthy and well. This week, I have a mix of wines from different, interesting regions.
Tasca d’Almerita produces a wide range of delicious, value-driven wines from Sicily. These are zesty, bright white wines from indigenous grapes, and the Etna Rosso packs a lot of punch for the price.
I’ve written a lot about Arizona wines in the past, since I’ve been visiting the state to hike and visit family for the past 10 years or so. The Arizona wine scene is diverse, and my favorites tend to be hard to find. But Aridus, based in the high-elevation region of Willcox, makes more widely-available wines that offer a good introduction to what the state has to offer.
Living in DC, I will admit my local bias: I am passionate about the land and wines of the commonwealth of Virginia. I recently joined a virtual chat with Virginia wine guru Frank Morgan and four wine producers to taste and talk about what’s going on in Virginia wine these days. If you haven’t tried Virginia Petit Manseng or Petit Verdot, and are up for venturing out into new territory, there are two excellent examples in this report.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2019 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Capofaro Didyme – Italy, Sicily, Salina IGT
Light yellow color. Peachy and tropical on the nose with pineapple and guava topped in orange blossom and honeysuckle. Juicy and plump on the palate, medium acidity, with papaya, peach nectar and lemon. Lots of floral, herbal components woven in nicely. It’s fun and approachable but quite a lot going on for it as well. 100% Malvasia di Lipari, aged 4 months on the lees in stainless steel. (88 points IJB)
2019 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Whitaker Grillo – Italy, Sicily, Mozia
Light yellow color. Nose shows zesty, bright elements of white flowers, oregano and mint over top of peaches and limes. On the palate this is punchy and peachy with bright acid and a light, fresh appeal. Peaches, limes and papaya mix with notes of basil, white flowers and chalk dust. Fun, lively but shows complexity, too. 100% Grillo aged three months on the lees in stainless steel. (88 points IJB)
2019 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Tascante Buonora Etna Bianco – Italy, Sicily, Etna
Pale straw color. Aromas show daisies, peach blossom, with guava, lime, wild green herbs. On the palate, this is punchy, creamy but bright and focused with peaches, guava, lemons, along with notes of saline, celery seed and salty minerals. Flinty, floral, fresh, a lot of complex, vibrant elements. Made from Carricante, all stainless steel, no maloactic fermentation. (89 points IJB)
2017 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Tascante Ghiaia Nera Etna Rosso – Italy, Sicily, Etna
Pale ruby, autumnal color. Aromas of spicy herbs, clove and black pepper mix well with juicy raspberries, wild cherries, spicy red currants. Medium-bodied, dusty and crisp on the palate, this is accessible and vibrant but shows solid complexity as well. Tangy red cherries and currants, blended with airy, floral, wild herb tones (rose petals, crushed limestone, oregano, black pepper. Dusty, earthy, mineral tones on the finish. Fun, friendly, inviting, but sports depth and balance as well. All Nerello Mascalese, aged 24 months in Slavoniak oak. (90 points IJB)
2015 Aridus Chardonnay Barrel Select – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
Rich yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd and bruised pear with salted peanut, pecans, whipped butter. Plump texture on a medium-bodied frame with balanced acid and notes of nougat, honeycomb, butterscotch and white tea to mix with the apricot and yellow apple fruit. A fun, crowd-friendly style. (86 points IJB)
2016 Aridus Grenache – USA, Arizona, Cochise County
Deep raspberry color. Nose shows melted red licorice with spicy red currants and raspberries, topped in smoky earth, a dry rub of paprika, pepper and red pepper flakes. On the palate, this is a medium/full-bodied wine with a juicy and fun appeal, low tannins, medium/low acidity. Cherries and raspberries mix with pepper, clove, paprika and rose petals. Ripe but nuanced. Showing freshness and spiciness – solid introduction to Arizona’s take on Rhone varieties. Includes 10% Graciano, aged 18 months in oak. (88 points IJB)
2017 Aridus Tempranillo – USA, Arizona
Deep purple color. Aromas show jams of sweet raspberries and red cherries, along with some tobacco, smoky earth, warm clay and mesquite smoke. Plush texture on a medium-bodied palate with some moderate acidity for balance, showing a smooth, chewy but fresh approach. Jammy raspberry and plum fruit mixed with notes of oregano, creosote, dusty earth. Ripe and fun, but fresh and shows savory complexity – a killer grill wine that could also age for a few. (88 points IJB)
2017 Aridus Petite Sirah – USA, Arizona, Cochise County
Dark purple color. On the nose, I get blackberry, roasted figs, with black pepper, pine, wild herb tones. Full-bodied, the tannins have this chewy feel and medium/low acidity holds it together. The blackberry and black currant fruit mixes well with notes of tar, dark chocolate, black tea and some mineral, rocky tones and cedar. If you’re a Petite Sirah fan, and interested in Arizona wines, you have to check this one out. Aged in 90% new oak for 28 months. (88 points IJB)
2018 Acrobat Winery Pinot Gris – USA, Oregon
Light yellow, copper-tinged color. Perfumed aromas of dandelion and magnolia petals, with cucumber slices, over top white peach and kiwi fruit. Texture is juicy and ripe with pleasantly balanced, bright acidity. Lemon and white peach fruit blend with verbena, dandelion, some chalky, flinty tones. Quite complex and balanced for a wine at this price point. Solid value! (88 points IJB)
2018 Narmada Winery Chardonel Mom – USA, Virginia, Northern Virginia, Rappahannock County
Light yellow color. Bright aromas of lemons and peaches and lots of tropical flowers, topped with nettle and sea salt notes. Juicy chunks of pineapple, peach and papaya on the palate, but this is a focused wine with precise acidity. The 1.7% residual sugar is woven in really well, and the acidity keeps this zesty and fresh. Lots of floral complexity, verbena, mint, sea salt. Really interesting stuff, worth checking out, especially for the price. It made me think of a blend between Alsace and Alto Adige white wines. A stainless steel blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonel and Chardonnay. (88 points IJB)
2018 Walsh Family Wine Petit Manseng North Gate Vineyard – USA, Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Light gold color. Delicious, inviting nose of white peaches, guava, limes, along with honey, white flowers and a cool kick of sea salt and chalk dust. Plump texture but the acidity is focused and sharp, mixed with juicy nectarines, peaches and lemons. I get complex elements of almond skin, honeyed green tea, with rushing minerals and chalk dust. Deep but precise, complex but gluggable, this is a beautiful Petit Manseng that should age nicely. (90 points IJB)
2018 Blenheim Vineyards Cabernet Franc – USA, Virginia
Vibrant purple color. Juicy, fresh aromas of plums, tangy blackberries and black cherries, with smoky, earthy tones, anise and magic marker. Accessible on the palate with dusty tannins and fresh acidity, with a core of tangy black cherry and blackberry fruit. Notes of violets, tobacco, mint mix with graphite and cedar. Tangy, fresh, but enough depth, too. Delicious and a solid value, reliable Virginia Cab Franc. Sourced from two sites in Shenandoah and Southern Virginia. Aged nine months in 90% French and 10% American oak. (88 points IJB)
2017 Williamsburg Winery Petit Verdot Reserve – USA, Virginia
Vibrant purple color. Nose shows tart dark currants and plums, saucy black cherries, with smoky, graphite, charcoal tones, cocoa powder and some leather, too. Vibrant acidity meet grippy tannins, and the balance is impressive. The fruit is a warm, tart compote of blackberry and black currant, tossed with oregano, anise, roasted coffee, cocoa, cedar and graphite. Lovely now but this deserves some time in the cellar (four to six or so). All Petit Verdot, aged in 40% new French oak. (90 points IJB)