Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20

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 included a number of interesting wines.

Let's begin with the second vintage from a project called Monte Rio Cellars, which is one of the newest enterprises by New York superstar sommelier Patrick Cappiello. After many years on the floor, Patrick has refocused his time on wine projects and makes Monte Rio Cellars wines in a shared facility owned by Pax Mahle in Sonoma County, which was recently profiled in the New York Times.

A guy who has won nearly every award and accolade available as a sommelier could easily have shown up in Napa and begun a $200-a-bottle Cabernet project or a $80 Pinot Noir label. But Cappiello had something else in mind. "It's a real thing, not like a project where I slap my name or label on a wine to sell it," Cappiello told me in a conversation earlier in the year. "I'm trying to make more volume rather than jack up the price. I wanted to try to do something quality at a lower price. My goal is to make wine and learn how to make wine. My agreement was to come work for [Pax's] winery, and start this brand which I self-funded from my retirement."

Perhaps less surprisingly, Cappiello targeted restaurants as a prime outlet for his wines, which would have been a good strategy in any other time than this one. Now he's scrambling to get a direct-to-consumer web site up for a brand that didn't have a plan to go direct-to-consumer. "It's a little scary for sure," says Cappiello. "I don't have anything to fall back on."

The wines have made their way into retail channels, so you'll be able to buy them with links below, and I have to say they're pretty darn good for the price. Cappiello has, in addition to going against the grain with the price point of the wines, decided to focus on lesser-known grape varieties. Just how contrary is he? Well, let's just say he's making a dry White Zinfandel. Of his four wines, I think my favorites are the racy interpretation of French Colombard and his rendition of the Mission (Pais) grape variety.

Moving on, I have two other worthy whites to recommend -- the Estate Chardonnay from Eden Rift, the snazzy reincarnation of a large wine project in the Cienega Valley. While their initial releases under a slick new brand (and new ownership) didn't impress me, I see things in this Estate Chardonnay that suggest they may be headed towards higher levels of quality. This wine has finesse and depth to it.

I reviewed a couple of wines from Two Shepherds winery last week, and I've got two more this week. The first, a bright and snappy Vermentino from Yolo county, and the second, an absolutely delicious vin gris, a rosé of Pinot Gris whose pink skins, left in contact with the juice for a few days can yield great deliciousness, as this wine amply proves.

Speaking of rosé you will want to back up the truck for the Sokol Blosser rosé of Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley. It's got everything you want in a pink wine, and a very attractive price to boot.

Lastly, I've got two more serious reds, a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, made by a woman who has been called the Queen of Pinot, Merry Edwards, and a pricy Cabernet Franc made by Rosemary Cakebread under her small label Gallica. Both are worth drinking.

Notes on all these and more below.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars French Colombard, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lime juice and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly racy, with mouthwatering acidity and lean, zippy flavors of lime and lemongrass. Quite refreshing. Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20A porch pounder to be sure at a mere 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Eden Rift "Estate" Chardonnay, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, bright notes of pineapple, oak, lemon curd and melted butter have a nice silky texture and good acidity. The scent of oak creeps into the finish of the wine slightly more than I would like, but overall this is a well-made wine that has a nice balance to it. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemony grapefruit and green apple flavors have a brisk brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a lean, picked-early 11.5% alcohol. Not super complex, but easy to drink. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds "Windmill Vineyards" Vermentino, Yolo County, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of lemon cucumbers and star fruit. In the mouth, lemon cucumbers and wet chalkboard flavors have a wonderful stony quality with a faint chalky aftertaste. Aged for 6 months in half stainless, half used barrels. 11.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2018 Sokol Blosser "Evolution" Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon curd. In the mouth somewhat simple flavors of lemon curd mix with grapefruit brightness thanks to excellent acidity. A textbook Chardonnay, lacking perhaps some complexity but not pleasure, especially at fifteen bucks a bottle. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2019 Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and hibiscus. In the mouth, snappy flavors of strawberries, crabapples and citrus have a wonderful faint tannic grip and a mouthwatering juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Delicious.12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds "Charbec Vineyard - Skin Fermented" Pinot Gris Rosé, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
A light coppery pink in color, this wine smells of melon and Rainer cherries. In the mouth, deliciously peachy, melon and berry flavors have an exotic swirl of technicolor flavor and the faint tannins left from the skin fermentation that offer a chalky texture in the finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. 375 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars "Dry White Zinfandel" Rosé, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries. In the mouth, lean flavors of berries and citrus peel have a nice tart brightness to them that recalls pink Smartees™. Crisp and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Rosehip notes linger in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars Mission, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light ruby in the glass to the point of looking like a dark rosé, this wine smells of wet redwood bark, earth, and strawberry jam. In the mouth, flavors of black tea, raspberries, and plum are wrapped in a surprisingly muscular fist of fleecy tannins that flex their muscles through the finish which has a scent of orange peel. A surprisingly substantial wine for its light color and mere 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and cranberry compote. In the mouth, riper sweetish cherry and cranberry flavors have a richness to them, but stay bright thanks to excellent acidity. Faint suede-like tannins creep around the edges of the mouth. Definitely on the more robust side of California Pinot Noir. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2017 Gallica Cabernet Franc, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, crushed hazelnuts and chocolate. In the mouth, cherry cola flavors are shot through with faint notes of spicy green herbs and a modicum of sweet new oak. Leathery tannins persist in the mouth for some time along with the sweet vanilla of oak. I'd like this wine a lot more if its aftertaste was more wine and less wood. Includes 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Certified organic grapes. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $180.

The Wine World is Prejudiced Against Higher Alcohols

I must begin by saying quite clearly that I am not, myself, free from prejudice.

Let me give you an example: I regularly pick up a bottle of California Pinot Noir, turn it around to take in the back label and... wince? grimace? gag? when I see an alcohol level of 14.8%. It's true. I have some reasons for this prejudice, ones that like any bigoted person I personally believe to be justified and rational (where Pinot comes from they generally try not to let it get that ripe), but the strength of my justification doesn't mean I'm not prejudiced.

It's also important to note (if only for my own moral sense of myself) that I look for every opportunity to prove my instincts wrong, and delight in my comeuppance when they are. I don't ever hesitate to taste any wine sample put in front of me, and I have had more than a handful of California Pinot Noirs that were beautifully balanced and showed no trace of their high-fourteens alcohol level. Were they ripe? Of course. But they were balanced in that ripeness and neither harsh, nor hot.

Would I buy a bottle of California Pinot Noir that was 14.8% alcohol? Only if it were from a producer I knew very well, and I'd definitely think twice before doing it.

So there you have it. I'm prejudiced for sure.

But that's in the context of a very specific wine grape, and the grape's most common (some would say historic but I want to avoid that, because I do not hold history on a pedestal) interpretation in the hands of its most celebrated winemakers.

Even with my careful language there, however, I can get into trouble. Some of you are no doubt voicing (or sotto voce-ing) at the moment about the difference between what is on the label and what is in the bottle. And you'd be correct. There's often quite a difference.

Here in California, you're legally allowed to fudge the alcohol level that is written on the label. If you list an alcohol level of 14% or lower, you have to be only accurate to within 1.5% (but it must be measurably at or below 14%. So that killer 12.5% Pinot any local hipster is excited to buy could actually be 14% alcohol! If you list a wine as having higher than 14% alcohol on the label, you have to be slightly more accurate, with a margin for error of only 1%. Which means your favorite 15.2% Napa Cab (a large majority) could be as high as 16.2% alcohol.

Of course there are many upstanding producers who truly label their wines accurately, no matter what the alcohol level.

The Wine World is Prejudiced Against Higher Alcohols

In Europe, it seems, things are somewhat the opposite. The laws are stricter, with only a .5% tolerance allowed, but producers are required to use only whole and half units to express this percentage, which means that it is much more often an approximation. Likewise, enforcement may not be as strict. My anecdotal conversations with winemakers in Europe over the years suggests that many of them, especially smaller ones, never change the alcohol levels on their labels from year to year, no matter what the final number may be.

This may be part of the reason why it seems that a large percentage of European producers have significantly understated the alcohol levels in their wines for years.

I hope you'll forgive the tangent into labeling requirements because I want to come back to my point. (Yes I have one).

Despite the ambiguity of labeling, a real and growing prejudice seems to exist amongst wine lovers against wines of higher alcohol. I'm talking about wines that have numbers like 15.5% on the label.

If you don't believe me, just try posting a photo of a bottle on social media and mentioning that the alcohol is 15.5%, and watch all the people who will suggest they'd avoid such a bottle based on the alcohol alone. No matter how much you gush about it. No matter how balanced a wine it actually is.

Some people will go so far as to say they'd never drink any dry wine above 15% alcohol. Which of course closes them off to much of the Southern Rhone, California Zinfandel, a lot of Napa Cabernet, Amarone, Valtellina Sfursat, Ribera del Duero, some great dry reds in the Douro, and on and on.

Now I personally believe that's a prejudice of a different level than what I generally call my "preference" for lower-alcohol Pinot Noir.

And this is the point where I try to argue that those people's point of view is far more pernicious than mine.

There's alcohol level, and then there's balance.

Yes, I know, we can't entirely avoid the fact that a 15% alcohol wine gets you sloshed a bit faster than a 13% one, but alcohol was invented to be and always will be a drug, so complaining about how quickly you get drunk from the thing invented to get you drunk is a mostly ridiculous argument in my book.

It's not about whether you can have 4 glasses or two and a half before you fall asleep on the couch (which is where a few glasses puts me at my age now). Instead it's about whether you enjoy the ride getting there. And the problem with some higher-alcohol wines is that they can be hot and bitter, angular and blocky, heady and just plain high-octane.

Most people don't like the feeling of taking a swallow of wine and having it feel like you've just done a shot of vodka. If they did, they'd just drink vodka. It's cheaper and more reliable booze.

Some people, it turns out, are genetically more, or less, sensitive to the "heat" of alcohol. It's one of the biologically-driven components that make up Master of Wine Tim Hanni's Vinotypes, which Hanni has attempted to ground in real scientific fact about neurological and sensory differences among individuals.

Regardless, it's primarily the flavor and sensation of high-alcohol wines that have turned people off to them.

There's nothing wrong with that. I not only sympathize, I feel the same way. I hate it when my wine has the aftertaste of ethanol.

But I do think there's something wrong, or at the very least highly unfortunate, about closing yourself off to a world of wine, or even an individual wine without having tasted it first.

It's fine to have tasted a lot of Amarone and decide you don't like it. It's not fine to merely say you don't think you'd like it because it clocks in at 15% alcohol.

And don't get me started on Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Etna Rossos. There are so many wines that nudge into the 15% range that have incredible depth, balance, minerality, vibrant acidity and truly no trace of the blocky, searing qualities that make the worst high-alcohol wines all but undrinkable.

Wine quality (from my critical point of view) depends heavily on balance, and as so many people have said before me, wine can be balanced at many different levels of alcohol. It can also be unbalanced at any level of alcohol. If I had a dollar for every disjointed, discombobulated 13% alcohol wine I've ever tasted... you get the idea.

The point is, lower-alcohol might be preferable to more and more people these days, but lower alcohol does not make for inherently better wine. And refusing to drink or even try higher alcohol wines out of hand plays into the stereotype of snobbishness that has dogged the wine culture of America for years.

Yes, have your preferences. Embrace them and follow them where they lead. But nothing good comes from too closed a mind, and those who refuse to look never find hidden treasures.

Don't judge a wine by the alcohol percentage on the label! Dismissing a wine based purely on its alcohol level does you, and the world of wine, a great disservice.

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 5/3/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren't Flipboard inclined, here's everything I've strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

A Wine Geek's Guide to Chardonnay Clones Around the World
Sean Sullivan gets into it.

Champagne's Workhorse Grape Steps into the Spotlight
Meunier FTW.

Post Lock-Down Opportunity for Wineries
Rob McMillan does what he does best. Analyze.

A $7 million fund for out-of-work bartenders could end up not helping most applicants. Why?
Not promising.

Can California Zinfandel Get Its Groove Back?
Matt Kettman on the malaise and its next incarnation.

Möet: Diversity is Key in Rosé Champagne Production
Warm grapes, apparently, too.

The disintegration of the wine tourism economy
Everybody hurts.

South African Wine Exports Resume for the Second Time
Not a moment too soon.

Why I love Pinot Noir
Anthony Hamilton Russell speaks.

Berkeley's Donkey and Goat Winery is throwing a drive-through wine party
The pickup party reinvented.

The Latest News from Italy's Wineries and Wine Groups
The Drinks Business checks in with a few.

Wine Importers Battle an Increasingly Volatile Market
Feels like a yo-yo.

During the Renaissance, Drinking Wine Was a Fight Against Physics
You think some wine glasses are ridiculous now?

The Tricky Dance of Sharing a Winery in the Pandemic Era
Eric Asimov checks in with a group trying to take care of business.

Pandemic effects - northern v southern hemisphere
Nick Lander checks in on some producers.

In defense of buttery Chardonnay
Aint nuttin wrong with a little buttah, says Esther.

A chip off the Mondavi block
Jancis talks with the newest generation.

Joe Fattorini: just what makes a wine 'comforting'?
Joe tries to answer the question.

Australian wineries seek to recover from bushfire ruin
Adam Lechmere checks in down-under with some heartbreaking stories..

Sake Brewers Are Turning to Wine for Inspiration
A great article about what is new.

A Mental Health Guide for Beverage and Hospitality Professionals
Unfortunately something people need more than ever.

Alcohol and anxiety: Dallas doctor and wine expert shares his thoughts on drinking during a pandemic
Glass of wine or Xanax? The choice is easy.

The latest on mouse, the wine taint of our times
Geek info on mouse taint.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 4/26/20

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 included three Sauvignon Blancs in honor of International Sauvignon Blanc Day, which was yesterday, May 1st. Some have described New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as perhaps the most dependable wine in the world -- meaning that even if you choose one at random, you're likely to get a decent quality wine that tastes similar to what you'd expect it to taste like. I tend to agree. What this also means is that there's a lot of New Zealand Sauv Blanc that is just "OK." Of the three I've got below, the one that rises above the others is the Ata Rangi "Raranga" bottling from the Martinborough area at the southern end of New Zealand's North Island. It's got the best combination of green, tangy, mouthwatering flavors that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc does so well. The Neudorf and Nautilus wines are no slouches either.

Moving on to things closer to home for me, I'm very excited to be tasting some of the newest releases from Two Shepherds this week. Two Shepherds is the project of one William Allen, former wine blogger and software sales executive who has plunged wholeheartedly into the wine world and figured out how to make excellent wine in the process. His most recent releases are the best I've had from his little label, I'll have more tasting notes next week, but for now if you're a fan of Trousseau Gris, you'll love his interpretation of this grape, which offers orange peel and floral notes with a hint of earthier, more serious stuff in the background. And the Cinsault he offered from the famous Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi is also a winner.

I wrote a bit about the All-Petite-Sirah project Mountain Tides last week, and I've got a few more tasting notes to share this week, most notably their rosé of Petit Sirah which suggests to me that a lot more people ought to be trying to make pink versions of this grape. It's outstanding. Alongside that, I've also got notes on a couple of their single-site Petite Sirahs, each quite good.

In the Pinot Noir department I've got a couple of Sokol Blosser's single-vineyard Pinot's this week, which oddly seemed to show wildly different levels of oak influence -- more difference than I would expect from some of the top bottlings from such an experienced producer. Of the two wines I reviewed this week, I preferred the Old Vineyard Block, with its dusty earthy fruit that sang of Oregon.

Finally, I've got two wines from Southern Oregon this week, Vinography Unboxed: Week of 4/26/20courtesy of producer Abacela, a pioneer in the region and perhaps the winery singlehandedly responsible for the exploration of Tempranillo as a signature grape in the region. In addition to their reserve Tempranillo, I also tasted their Tinta Amarela, an obscure Iberian grape that has a distinct and interesting personality, and is worth finding for the curious wine drinkers out there who want to taste something different.

Notes on all these and more below.

2018 Ata Rangi "Raranga" Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough, New Zealand
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and gooseberries. In the mouth, green apple and gooseberry flavors have the bright juiciness of passionfruit as the wine kicks the saliva glands into overdrive. Nice mineral undertone and neon green gorgeousness. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2017 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, New Zealand
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck flint and cut grass. In the mouth, green apple and cut grass flavors have a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity, but the wine fades slightly on the palate and isn't as dynamic as I might like. Tasty nonetheless. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2019 Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, honeysuckle and cut grass. In the mouth, freshly cut grass, lime zest and green apple mix with a tart sourish brightness that is almost electric thanks to excellent acidity. Lean and somewhat astringent, but dynamic. The sourness grows on you. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 Two Shepherds "Skin Fermented - Fanucchi Vineyard" Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A light peachy color in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel, white flowers and just a hint of butterscotch. In the mouth, butterscotch, orange peel and faint vanilla flavors have a wonderful silkiness and brightness to them, thanks to excellent acidity. For a skin fermented wine there's very little tannic grip here, just that faintest earthy, citrus peel flavor that lingers in the finish. Outstanding. 12.1% alcohol. 325 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Mountain Tides Rosé of Petite Sirah, California
Palest salmon pink in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, crabapples and unripe pear. In the mouth, very lean and brisk flavors of sour cherry, crabapple and citrus peel are juicy and bright thanks to excellent, even aggressive acidity. I can't remember if I've ever had a rosé of Petite Sirah, but if they're going to be this tasty, I certainly hope to have more. 11.8% alcohol. 125 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2016 Two Shepherds "Bechthold Vineyard" Cinsault, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium ruby in color the point of almost resembling rosé, this wine smells of dried herbs and strawberries. In the mouth, bright strawberry and herb flavors are zingy with acidity and tinged with hints of cola and dried citrus peel. This is what people call a smashable wine, or as the French say, "glou glou." Give it a slight chill and watch out, you'll need three bottles. 13.3% alcohol. 30 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.

2017 Sokol Blosser "Goosepen Block" Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of redwood bark and mulling spices. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors are shot through with the spiciness of oak with the wood and its tannins lingering for a long time in the finish. A bit too much wood influence here for me. The winery's smallest vineyard block, at 2.5 acres, is named after their (unsuccessful) attempt to use geese for weed control once upon a time. 13.5% alcohol.450 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2017 Sokol Blosser "Old Vineyard Block" Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and red berries. In the mouth, wonderfully earthy flavors of raspberry and cherry are held firmly in a smooth but muscular fist of tannins that linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and much better integrated oak than some of their other single-vineyard wines. This one has longevity. 14% alcohol. 500 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Mountain Tides "Palmero Family Vineyard" Petite Sirah, Borden Ranch, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Inky dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries and chopped green herbs. In the mouth, ripe blueberry and blackberry flavors mix with chalk-dust tannins that coat the mouth and provide a faintly grainy texture to the wine which finishes with floral and licorice notes. Excellent acidity keeps this from being too weighty on the palate. 14.4% alcohol. 75 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2018 Mountain Tides "Grist Vineyard" Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark purple in color, this wine smells of doused campfire, blackberries and licorice. In the mouth, licorice, blackberries and cassis flavors are dark in quality, but bright in acidity, making this at once brooding and juicy at the same time. Floral and licorice notes linger in the finish. 14.4% alcohol. 75 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2016 Abacela Tinta Amarela, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of licorice and cassis. In the mouth, boysenberry and licorice flavors have a wonderfully bright aspect thanks to excellent acidity as well as a powdery blanket of tannins that wraps around the core of fruit. This unusual Portuguese grape variety doesn't seem to have the depth or complexity of Tempranillo, but it is tasty and quite distinctive nonetheless. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??.

2015 Abacela "Reserve - South East Block" Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather, raisins and chocolate. In the mouth, fleecy tannins surround a core of dried cherry, raisin and fresh cherry fruit. Deeper, earthy leather and black cherry flavors fill the lower register of the wine, while a touch of bergamot lingers in the finish. Burly and serious. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

Vinography Images: Escape from the Cool

Escape from the Cool
SANTA YNEZ, CA: A Cabernet vineyard at Dierberg Star Lane Vineyards is above the fog near Santa Ynez, California. Despite its proximity to the coast, higher elevations and other unique micro-climates escape the persistent influence of the fog and allow this generally cool section of Santa Barbara County to grow Bordeaux grape varieties.

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100 Tastes From the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting

For those in the wine trade, one of the characteristics of Spring has long been the proliferation of wine tasting events. These events, which often have a public component as well, begin in February and by April, an ambitious wine taster can easily be going to three or four per week.

Now, of course, nothing of the sort is happening. The last place anyone wants to be is jostling shoulder to shoulder and sharing pours from a communal wine bottle that is often handled by scores of people before it is empty.

But, such tastings are fantastic opportunities to taste wine, and, more importantly, educate one's palate. They can also be a load of fun.

One of my favorite tastings each year is the Wine & Spirits Top 100 event, which coincides with the publishing of their Top 100 wines of the year. Most of the wineries honored in that annual issue show up to pour their awarded wines as well as whatever else they may have brought along.

At the end of the annual tasting, I always find myself wishing I had another couple of hours to wander around and taste wine. Perhaps this is partly because of the bottomless oyster bar with fresh kumamoto oysters, a welcome respite from rounds of tasting, but mostly the wines on offer are generally of such high quality that I simply would like to taste them all.

100 Tastes From the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting

Sitting here now in self-isolation with time to finally compile my notes and scores for these wines, such a tasting seems like an incomparable luxury -- a hallmark of a different time and place, far removed from current circumstances. Reviewing the wines I tasted offers something of a reverie of flavor and pleasure that after only a few months already has a tinge of nostalgia for me.

If you're stuck at home (and who isn't?) looking for wines to buy, this might be an interesting list to explore. There are wines here to fit any price point, and pretty much every one of these wines will deliver pleasure and personality in equal measure.

I can only hope that events such as this will be held once again as we emerge from the strictures that mark this current battle against our invisible foe.

Here are my roughly 100 scores from the 2019 Top 100 tasting held this past Autumn in San Francisco.

2004 Bollinger Brut R.D., Champagne, France. Biscuit, brioche seaweed, shells and crushed rocks to infinity and beyond. Killer. $165 - Buy.
2011 Roederer Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France. Perfect balance fruity biscuit, seaweed and crushed shells. Wowza. $70 - Buy.

NV Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée, Champagne, France. $50 - Buy.
NV Paillard Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France. Bright balanced, juicy, chalky with sea air. $80 - Buy.
NV Paillard Extra Brut Première Cuvée RosÉ, Champagne, France. Hint of funk, bright berry and lanolin. $60 - Buy.
2009 Roederer Brut Nature Philippe Starck, Champagne, France. Lean, crisp, mineral and bright. $95 - Buy.

2014 Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery Brut, Finger Lakes, New York. Bright and juicy. $25 - Buy.
2014 Pere Ventura Gran Reserva Brut Rosé, Cava, Spain. Tangy citrus and apple, unusual, herbal. $59 - Buy.
2016 Pere Ventura Tresor Reserva Brut, Cava, Spain. Smooth, mellow but bright. $18 - Buy.
2008 Vesselle Grand Cru Brut Prestige, Champagne, France.

2016 Donnafugata Ben Rye, Passito di Pantelleria, Italy. Honey, apricot nutty goodness, citrus peel with a finish forever. $43 - Buy.

2017 Antinori Cervaro della Sala Chardonnay, Umbria, Italy. Smoky flinty, juicy, bright, lemon and grapefruit. $59 - Buy.
2011 Argyros 4 Years Barrel Aged Vinsanto, Santorini, Greece. $60 - Buy.
2018 Argyros Estate Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece. $29 - Buy.
2017 Brooks Ara Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Chalky, bright, lean and juicy. $26 - Buy.
2015 Chanin Wine Co. Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California. $39 - Buy.
2017 Cobb Wines Doc's Ranch Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California. Sappy, bright, juicy lemony gorgeousness. $70 - Buy.
2015 Domaine Matrot Charmes, Meursault Premier Cru, Burgundy, France. Bright sappy, lemon, grapefruit. $100 - Buy.
2017 Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery Gewürztraminer, Finger Lakes, New York. Gorgeous, juicy, floral, orange peel, crisp. $16 - Buy.
2017 Lingua Franca Estate Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamettte Valley, Oregon. Juicy, sappy, lemon curd and mineral. $50 - Buy.
2005 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco, Rioja, Spain. Nutty, lemon peel, nut skin. $46 - Buy.
2017 Schloss Gobelsburg Gaisberg Riesling, Kamptal, Austria. $43 - Buy.
2017 Suertes del Marques Valle de la Orotava Vidonia Listán Blanco, Tenerife, Canary Islands. Salty flinty, bright citrus bang. $45 - Buy.

2017 Brooks, Estate Riesling, Willamettte Valley, Oregon. $34 - Buy.
2017 Deovlet Wines Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, California. Apple, lemon, bright. $32 - Buy.
2017 Guigal La Doriane, Condrieu, Rhone Valley, France. $115 - Buy.
2016 Meroi Zitelle Pesarin Friulano, Friuli Colli Orientali, Italy.
2017 Patz & Hall Goldrock Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California. $70 - Buy.
2018 Ridge Vineyards Adelaida Vineyard Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles, California. Salty and bright, juicy, citrus, and greengage plum. $35 - Buy.
2013 Rodriguez Vazquez Escolma White, Ribeiro, Galicia, Spain. Nutty, oxidative, bright and salty. $65 - Buy.
2017 Schloss Gobelsburg Renner Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria. $48 - Buy.
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Grenache Blanc, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California. $33 - Buy.
2017 Zorah Wines Voski, Rind, Armenia. Crisp, citrus peel, apple. $40 - Buy.

2013 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy. Elegant bright, sandalwood, cherry, hint of barnyard, long finish. Exquisite. $315 - Buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Juicy and bright, with that coconut and cherry. Polished, elegant and deeply resonant. $200 - Buy.
2015 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy. Juicy bright, long, tasty and sour cherry. Perhaps the best I've tasted it. $250 - Buy.

2013 Fratelli Alessandria Monvigliero, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy. Stunning. Suede-like tannins, lovely fruit and gorgeous balance. Wow. $85 - Buy.
2017 Big Table Farm Earth Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Smooth, juicy, herbal, juicy, excellent.
2016 Chanin Wine Co. Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California. Stunning, bright, juicy, floral, crystalline, wizardly. $59 - Buy.
2016 Cobb Wines Diane Cobb Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California. Sappy juicy, crystalline, bright, raspberry gorgeousness. $119 - Buy.
2013 Elvio Cogno Ravera Bricco Pernice, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy. Gorgeous, bright supple, juicy, long, long long. Delicious. $139 - Buy.
2013 Conterno Fantino Castelleto Vigna Pressenda, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy. Gorgeous supple, lovely tannins. Stunning fruit and balance. $80 - Buy.
2016 Corison Winery Sunbasket Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California. Gorgeous cassis, cherry. Amazing acidity, Stunner. $195 - Buy.
2017 Deovlet Wines Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California. Floral, fantastic, berry brightness and mouthwatering acidity. $60 - Buy.
2015 Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa, California. Gorgeous, bright, hint of oak, great acidity. Killer bottle of Cabernet. $169 - Buy.
2015 Moric Neckenmarkt Blaufrankisch, Burgenland, Austria. Gorgeous, sour cherry mulberry, fantastic acid. Super. $85 - Buy.
2015 Moric Lutzmannsburg Blaufrankisch, Burgenland, Austria. Bright cherry mulberry, bright, great acidity, long. Stunner. $110 - Buy.
2007 Moric Lutzmannsburg Blaufrankisch, Burgenland, Austria. Gorgeous, red apple skin, bright, plush tannins. Aging beautifully.
2014 Penfolds Grange Shiraz South Australia. Oak, cherry, balanced and bright, long finish. Effortless. Smooth operator. $570 - Buy.
2017 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy. Bright, with tight tannins, long juicy, sandalwood and cherry. Excellent. $45 - Buy.
2016 W.T. Vintners Damavian Blocks 30 & 31 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington. Incredibly floral, profound, bright, juicy, gorgeous. $49 - Buy.

2016 Antinori Tignanello, Tuscany, Italy. Cherry berry, cola, and all juicy. $120 - Buy.
2016 Brooks Sunny Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamettte Valley, Oregon. Gorgeous earthy - berries and wet dirt $50 - Buy.
2016 Calera Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California. Sweet, juicy, smooth and gorgeous. $75 - Buy.
2014 Chevalerie Cuvée Chevalerie, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. Gorgeous, supple, tangy, berry, fine tannins, mineral.
2014 Elvio Cogno Ravera Barolo, Piedmont, Italy. Citrusy, bright, with leathery tannins. Delicious. $69 - Buy.
2017 Conterno Fantino Vignota, Barbera D'Alba, Piedmont, Italy. $48 - Buy.
2002 Corison Winery Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California. Ruby brick, miso, red apple skin.
2016 Cristom Vineyards Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamettte Valley, Oregon $75 - Buy.
2015 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, California. Bluer, black fruit, juicy bright. $150 - Buy.
2015 Grattamacco, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy. Bright juicy, long, cherry, with its share of oak. $75 - Buy.
2015 Guigal, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. $30 - Buy.
2017 Lingua Franca The Plow Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamettte Valley, Oregon. Bright, with raspberry floral notes. $65 - Buy.
2007 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Tinto, Rioja, Spain. Bright juicy, tight and bright. $35 - Buy.
2016 Mullineux Schist Syrah, Swartland, South Africa. Gorgeous fine tannins, great acid. $120 - Buy.
2013 Rocca di Montegrossi Gran Selezione Vigneto San Marcellino, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy. Great. $49 - Buy.
2015 Terre Rouge DTR Ranch Syrah, Sierra Foothills, California.
2014 Vega-Sicilia Valbuena 5°, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Oak influenced, elegant. $170 - Buy.
2016 Zorah Wines Karasi, Rind, Armenia. Berry, juicy, bright, herbs and flowers. $39 - Buy.

2016 Alessandria Priora Barbera Superiore, Verduno, Piedmont, Italy. $18 - Buy.
2017 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Juicy, herbal. $45 - Buy.
2014 Burlotto Monvigliero, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy. $199 - Buy.
2018 Burlotto Pelaverga, Verduno, Piedmont, Italy $30 - Buy.
2015 Calera Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California. More citrusy, evolved, red apple skin. $60 - Buy.
2016 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard River Stones Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. Juicy bright, supple, blue and black fruit $150 Buy.
2014 Chevalerie Cuvée Galichets, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. $23 - Buy.
2016 Domaine Matrot La Pièce Sous Le Bois Rouge, Blagny Premier Cru, Burgundy, France. $77 - Buy.
2016 Grattamacco L'Alberello, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy. Oaky, tannic, but earthy smooth. $65 - Buy.
2016 J. Christopher Winery Abbey Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamettte Valley, Oregon. $65 - Buy.
2010 López de Heredia Cubillo, Rioja, Spain. $25 - Buy.
2016 Moric Blaufrankisch, Burgenland, Austria. Juicy, bright and tangy. $35 - Buy.
2017 Moric Blaufrankisch, Burgenland, Austria. Beautiful mulberry fruit, supple tannins. $27 - Buy.
2016 Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz, South Australia. Juicy cherry, blackberry. $50 - Buy.
2016 Rocca di Montegrossi, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy. Juicy and bright. $20 - Buy.
2015 Rocca di Montegrossi Geremia, Tuscany, Italy. $40 - Buy.
2017 Suertes del Marques Viñas Viejas El Chibirique Listán Negro, Tenerife Valle de la Orotava, Canary Islands. Struck match, mineral, bright, juicy berry, smoky. $26 - Buy.
2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California $60 - Buy.
2016 Terre Rouge L'Autre Grenache, Sierra Foothills, California. $30 - Buy.
2009 Vega-Sicilia Unico, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Barnyard, with a bit of VA, but still compelling. $500 - Buy.
2016 W.T. Vintners Boushey Vineyard Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington. $40 - Buy.

2017 Catena Zapata, Malbec, Argentina. $17 - Buy.
2016 J. Christopher Winery Basalte Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamettte Valley, Oregon. $30 - Buy.
2016 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California. $40 - Buy.
2015 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Foothills in the Sun Vineyard Reserve Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington. Savory, green lively herbs, earth. $75 - Buy.
2015 Rodriguez Vazquez A Torna Dos Pasas Tinto, Ribeiro, Galicia, Spain. Juicy, tangy, sour cherry. $30 - Buy.

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 4/26/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren't Flipboard inclined, here's everything I've strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Feature: Coronavirus is changing the way Italian winemakers operate
Maybe permanently.

What Does "Freshness" Mean in Wine?
Geek language.

The coronavirus impact on wine "probably irreversible" without dramatic action
The OIV has some dire predictions.

Coronavirus may cut wine sales in Europe by half: OIV
Like this one.

Re-thinking en primeur
It's about time.

Royal Romanians
Jancis admires some Romanian wine.

Why Napa's Top Winemakers Take to the Hills to Craft Their Cabernets
Robb Report talks hillside Cab.

While Napa cabernet grapes still in demand, sales stall elsewhere in California North Coast
Andy Beckstoffer's view of the world.

'Drink small to save little wineries'
Buy from the little ones.

California Wine's State of Uncertainty
Blake Gray asks around.

2020: the new normal, and grape and wine production
Dr. Richard Smart offers some perspective.

How California's appetite for Oregon's grapes fueled a wine war
Esther runs down the conflict.

Spring Frosts Follow a Mild Winter
Gentlepeople, start your sprinklers.

US Drought Could Last A Century As We Now Enter A Megadrought, Study Finds
Ruh roh.

'Things are totally out of control' |Q&A with wine 'antisnob' Tim Hanni
Jim Boyce chats with Tim Hanni

When Did 'Malo' Become a Bad Word?

" target="_blank">Why wine movies keep falling flat
Robert Joseph has it right.

European Winemakers May Have to Turn a Billion Liters of Wine into Industrial Alcohol
What's a billion liters of wine between friends?

Tom Wark on the New and Complex Reality for Independent Fine Wine Retailers Mid-Pandemic
Tom knows of what he speaks.

Tracing the Origin Story of Pét-Nat
Where the trend came from. Excellent piece.

How Anyone Can Become a Winemaker
Anyone with the time, energy, and lack of income needs.

To Industry Insiders, The Immediate Future For Wineries Is Grim
No good news.

South African wine industry facing devastation
No exports are a killer.

The South African Wine Industry Responds to the Effects of the Ban on Exports
A true travesty.

Here's How South Africans Are Dodging Virus Alcohol Ban
The criminals will win.

'The Vines Just Don't Wait': France Nervously Looks Toward Harvest as Sales Plummet
A slow moving train wreck.

Court Crushes Bryant Winery Lawsuit
A new kind of winery dirt.

The Subtle Symphony of the Winery
Wineries are not quiet.

Napa's Own Game of Thrones Story
Blake Gray loves a dramatic headline. And a good story, but ain't no dragons or murders.

In Pairing Wine and Food, Experience Is the Best Teacher
In which Eric Asimov quotes yours truly.

Should JaM Cellars be allowed to monopolize buttery Chardonnay?
Esther on frivolous lawsuits.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

"So when are you going to quit your day job and focus on wine?" If I had a nickel for every time in the last decade that close friends and well-meaning strangers asked me that question, I wouldn't need a day job.

But for the first time, I actually have an answer to that question. The answer, folks, is: today.

Three months ago I gave 90-days notice to my business partners, and last week I walked out of my office to do what people have been asking me about for more than a decade.

It remains a well-known cliché: to have worked so hard in order to achieve something, and then in the moment of attainment, to not entirely be sure what to do next. To become unmoored and momentarily confused at the absence of headwinds that have been present so long that they have become a part of you.

Yes, this all feels very weird.

For more than fifteen years, I have been working my tail off as an entrepreneur. I started my own experience design and consulting company in 2005 with a partner, and ever since then -- even on vacation -- only twice have I gone more than a few days without checking my work e-mail (a few weeks' paternity leave and a fly fishing trip off the grid in Alaska). When you're a small business owner, you can never switch things off completely.

Over those 15 years of working 50- or 60-hour weeks, the business grew, slowly but surely. I was able to support my family, save a little for retirement, and hire some more people. It was difficult and rewarding. We did good work, and were successful, counting brands such as Google, Twitter, YouTube, Room & Board, Gymboree, Blurb and Franklin Templeton as clients.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

Almost exactly one year prior to starting my company, I also started a blog. Originally it was just as a way of learning what blogs were, because my clients at the time were asking me about them. There was never any question about what kind of blog I would write. Wine had long been an obsession, and writing a natural activity for me as a consultant in the domain of marketing.

Vinography and my business were born only a year apart, and they grew together at first. Being the boss of a young and growing company meant that I could control my own schedule. No one was going to yell at me for skipping out of the office one afternoon to attend a public wine tasting, and I could fly off to wine regions around the world several times per year on press trips without anyone hassling me about how much paid time off I had accumulated. Life was good.

Vinography in the early years was an endless source of joy, and a true creative outlet. I'd write 5 to 10 posts each week and still have energy and inspiration for more. Wine blogging was in its infancy, and I was helping to define and shape the medium. I was happy. My "night job" as I called it (really, what I did instead of watching TV) was endlessly satisfying. I won awards. I spoke at wine events. I was offered a column on Jancis Robinson's web site. I profitably self-published a wine book that Eric Asimov liked.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

But the consulting business grew in both revenues and staff. We sold the company (really, merged it) to a friend's agency in 2014 to become a larger, more capable firm. Some of the work weeks crept upwards from 60-hours closer to 70. My daughter stopped napping. Life got more complicated and more busy.

For the past six or seven years, I've watched and almost viscerally experienced my avocation -- my primary personal passion -- squeezed to the point of near death. Those of you who are faithful readers can't help but have noticed the reduction in the volume and quality of my writing. For the last couple of years from my perspective, Vinography might as well have been on life support.

But leaving behind a company you started and a six-figure income to go pursue a dying art that pays on average less than minimum wage is not something that any sane person would contemplate. At least not without a trust fund or the kind of social safety net that America seems hell-bent on never providing to its citizens. Few people could possibly support a family on a wine writer's income, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

So I waited. And worked. And eked out the little bits of time that I could find to feed my blog and the passion that still drove me to write.

Then about a year ago, my business partners and I sold the company properly. Not for buy-me-an-island kind of money. Not even for now-I-don't-really-have-to-work-for-a-living money. But for enough money that it took a chunk out of the retirement goal and padded the savings account enough to make me feel like I could take a sorely needed break from the constant hustle. Just enough to make me feel like I wasn't leaving my business partners completely in the lurch.

The deal came with the so called "golden handcuffs" for three years, but in January, after only one of those three years, I decided I was tired and ready for a change.

Call it a sabbatical. A hiatus. A self-imposed residency at a one-man writing workshop. A self-indulgent reward for a decade and a half of hustle.

For every person over the years who has asked me about quitting my day job to write about wine, there has been another (usually in the wine industry) who has long assumed that Vinography WAS my day job. While certainly flattering, that supposition has always shocked me a bit, as I would personally be pretty disappointed at my output if it were the result of 40 hours of work per week instead of the average 8 to 10 that I've been able to manage in recent years.

So now, pandemic and its imposition of house cleaning, cooking, and home schooling duties notwithstanding, I am going to do what many of you thought I was doing all along. I'm going to write about wine like it's actually my job to do so. I'll do a little consulting on the side, just to make sure we can still pay our bills, but the vast majority of my time will be focused on Vinography.

There's some sprucing up to do around these parts, and my focus will first be to get the site back to the quality and volume of content for which I can be proud again. After that's taken care of, who knows what more I might be able to do? I've never had the opportunity to find out, but I'm certainly not going to miss the chance.

I hope you'll continue to come along for the ride, and see where this new beginning on an old journey takes me. I, for one, can't fucking wait.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 4/19/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren't Flipboard inclined, here's everything I've strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

In the Swartland with Eben Sadie (2) in the cellar, and tasting the wines
Jamie and Treve explore some of South Africa's prepositions.

JaM Cellars sues The Wine Group, alleging copyright infringement
A frivolous lawsuit filed for PR value only, methinks. So don't click on this link.

How coronavirus is causing confusion with states' alcohol laws
And hopefully change.

Is the coronavirus pandemic the beginning of changes to the three-tier system?
Jeff has some thoughts.

One-third of Australia's wineries could go under because of coronavirus pandemic, industry warns
Horrific thought.

US Wine Losses from COVID-19 Could Reach $5.94 Billion
At least.

South Africa makes U-turn and bans wine exports
With, no doubt, disastrous consequences.

Is French wine the greatest in the world?
Jon Bonné vs. Andrew Jefford.

A Gathering of Growers
Franck Duboeuf on his dad.

Why Restaurants Are So Fucked.

South Australia 2020 - unforgettable
But not necessarily in a good way.

Amid a pandemic, business as usual puts Napa Valley's farmworkers at risk
A very important story and topic.

China's viticulture in transition
Links between ancient China and elsewhere.

How to run a virtual wine tasting
Thoughts from Adam Lechmere.

Rosa Kruger: the queen of the Cape's old vines
A nice profile.

Lockdown will prove to be wine's finest hour
We shall see. And you can too.

Can virtual wine tastings be saved?
Only by becoming not tastings.

Remaking Burgundy
Tim has some thoughts about what we can learn about Burgundy from Champagne.

California bulk wine you'll actually want to drink
Esther rounds up her week of isolation.

A Virtual Winery Opening: Sonoma Winemaker Jesse Katz Planned to Open his Tasting Room this Month
What's a guy gonna do?

Ropiness in wine, a new fault for me
Jamie Goode talks faults.

A New Take On Corona-Influenced Wine Sales In The U.S.
Liza Zimmerman interviews Christian Miller.

France Defines Natural Wine, but Is That Enough?
Eric Asimov discusses the new legislation.

How to Find (and Discuss) Natural Wines
Eric Asimov offers tips.

End of an Era at Domaine Carneros
Eileen Crane steps down.

Will the Real Grenache Please Stand Up?
Let's not get categorical about grapes.

Coronavirus throws 'a curve ball' for Napa Valley Wine Academy
And every other educational institution.

Saint-Emilion 2020 Harvest May Suffer From Hail Damage
Early enough to merely reduce yields for now.

COVID-19 could permanently reshape the business of wine in Napa Valley
Napa and everywhere.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 4/13/20

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 was mostly about bigger red wines, but before we get to these wines (and in some cases their obscenely heavy bottles -- more on that in a moment) one white wine stood out this week, from a producer who reliably makes excellent Chardonnays among other things. The MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Chardonnay did a good job balancing ripe fruit, barrel influence and the brightness of acidity. I'd say this was a bit ripe for my tastes, but will appeal to many who want a high-quality California Chardonnay without breaking the bank.

Speaking of values, it's nearly impossible to beat that value of Calera's Central Coast Pinot Noir. It lists at the winery for $30 but you can find it at retailers as low as $22, and at that price there aren't many California Pinot Noirs that can touch it. It's not horribly complex, but it's wonderfully satisfying in its ripe berry expression.

Now, moving on to more weighty wines, let's look at two Sangioveses from Poliziano, a producer in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. First, they have their single-vineyard Vino Nobile di Montalcino, "Asinone," which comes from a roughly 27-acre vineyard with stony-clay soils on the south side of the Montepulicano hill. The wine spends 18 months in barrels (6 months more than required by regulation) and at least 1 year in bottle before release. It's a regal interpretation of Sangiovese and can hold its own with many Tuscan Sangioveses.

Also from Poliziano, though under a separate brand name, The Lohsa Morellini di Scansano is also Sangiovese, but from the region surrounding the town of Scansano, which is in the southwest part of Tuscany, closer to the ocean. There are few regulations on Morellini di Scansano save that it must be 85% Sangiovese.

So now let's return to California and look at a few Napa Cabernets. I tasted quite a few Napa Cabs this week, and a whole bunch of them came in obnoxiously heavy bottles. Many of these wines had oak and ripeness proportional to their weights, and so didn't even make the cut for sharing with you this week, but a few of them did, and they merit some derision for what has become a real problem in this age of climate crisis. If you haven't read my article "Ending the Aesthetic Fallacy of Heavy Wine Bottles," please give it a quick once over.

Then you'll understand why this week I'm saying, Shafer Vineyards. WTF? It's time to get rid of the 1KG+ massive glass bottles. Shafer already made a bold move in the last few years, changing all their corks to DIAM. They were worried about a backlash from their customers, and no one said a thing. They need to take the same spirit and apply it to their bottles, which, in the case of the Hillside Select are egregiously heavy.

The Hillside Select is the winery's top Vinography Unboxed: Week of 4/13/20bottling and comes from the winery's steepest hillsides along their Stags Leap estate. The 2015 is nicely knit together at this point, with extremely well integrated wood. Clocking in at 15.3% alcohol, it remains pretty well balanced with only a tiny bit of heat in the finish, which kept it from getting a higher score from me.

I also tasted the estate's TD-9 red blend, which is named after the family tractor and is a more affordable wine, if perhaps lacking the regal voluptuousness of the Hillside Select.

Three more reds from Napa this week as well. Let's begin with the inaugural bottling of a new wine called The Cowgirl and The Pilot. Made by the second generation of the Trefethen family, it is named in honor of Janet and John Trefethen (who are the rodeo queen and navy pilot referenced by the name). After 25 years of making a noteworthy Merlot, Trefenthen will be using this label for their top Merlot each year. The wine possesses admirable structure and an edge that not many Merlots manage in Napa.

Lastly, I've got a Cabernet from a producer that is new to me -- Martin & Croshaw which shows some nice restraint; and a Napa Cabernet that manages to cost less than $35, which is a rather remarkable achievement in itself. The Silver Ghost won't win awards for depth or complexity, but as a Napa Cabernet house wine, it would certainly not turn anyone off.

Notes on all these below.

2016 MacRostie Winery & Vineyards "Wildcat Mountain" Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and pineapple. In the mouth, lightly saline flavors of pineapple and lemon curd have a wonderful neon yellow brightness to them thanks to very good acidity. 14.6% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Calera Vineyards Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth, cranberries and dried herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry flavors have a wonderfully, bouncy and bright aspect thanks to excellent acidity, while herbs and a touch of earth creep into the finish. Lovely balance, and a real contender for best CA Pinot under $25 (price at winery is $30). 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2015 Poliziano "Asinone" Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano, Tuscany, Italy
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of cedar and cigars and red fruit. In the mouth, powdery, gauzy tannins gain strength as they grasp flavors of cherry, sandalwood, dried herbs and earth in a tightening fist of structure. Very pretty and elegant, however, and bound to improve with age. Delicious. 14.5% alcohol. 100% Sangiovese. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2017 Poliziano "Lohsa" Morellini di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this Sangiovese smells of cherry, leather, and a bit of dried herbs. In the mouth, earthy flavors of cherry and cedar and leather are wrapped in muscular tannins that linger along with notes of leather and earth in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2015 Shafer Vineyards "Hillside Select" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa, California
Inky opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry cola and black cherries. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cola flavors are very juicy thanks to excellent acidity. The fruit nestles into a velvety bed of tannins. The wood is extremely well integrated here and doesn't stick out at all. Unfortunately, thanks to the 15.5% alcohol there's a bit of heat on the finish. As usual, comes in an obscenely heavy bottle. Shafer, you switched to DIAM to save your wines and none of your customers cared, why not switch to lighter bottles and save the planet? Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $275. click to buy.

2017 Shafer Vineyards "TD-9" Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells like sweet mocha and cherry. In the mouth, mocha and cherry are backed by velvety tannins and linger with notes of sweet vanilla in the finish. A blend of 62% Merlot, 22% Malbec, and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. Reasonably well balanced for its 15.3% alcohol, with just a touch of heat in the finish. The bottle is still a bit heavy, but why not use this one for the Hillside Select? Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2016 Trefethen Family Vineyards "The Cowgirl and the Pilot" Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly minty black cherry and the barest whiff of green bell pepper. In the mouth, that mintiness continues with black cherry and black plum flavors that are buoyed by excellent acidity and backed by fine-grained tannins. Herbal notes join the fruit through a long finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2016 Martin & Croshaw Vineyard "MC4" Cabernet, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of roasted figs and black cherries. In the mouth, black cherry and raisins have a cool freshness to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wood is reasonably well integrated here, lingering cedar-like in the finish with a hint of mintiness. Faintest tannins powder the edge of the palate. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2017 Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of ripe black cherry. In the mouth, somewhat simple ripe black cherry and black plum flavors have a nice plushness to them, with fleecy tannins that wrap around a the fruity core. This isn't a horribly complex wine, but its price point makes it something of a steal in Napa. 14.5% alcohol. 6100 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.