Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/29/20

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 past week included a couple of interesting Rieslings of note. The first is a pitch-perfect, bone dry Riesling from Ravines, a pioneering little winery in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The proprietor Morten Hallgren was one of the first European-trained penologists in the region when he started his winery in 2001, and he helped to popularize the style of dry Riesling that has become a signature not only of his winery, but of the region. Taste this bottle, and you’ll understand why. Later I’ve got a Bordeaux blend from Ravines that shows a similar level of confidence.

The other Rieslings on offer this week are the two inaugural releases from Cole Ranch, which used to be just a vineyard, then it became America’s smallest AVA, and now it is a tiny wine brand, thanks to Mike Lucia, who bought Cole Ranch in 2019. The name of this chilly mountainous vineyard site in Mendocino County has long been on the back label of some of California’s quirkiest wines, but now it’s moving to the front as Lucia launches a wine label dedicated to making wine from some of the oldest vines at the site. The two Rieslings he chose to release are identical in every way except for their pick dates, with the “R2” Riesling representing a pick date 12 days later than the ordinary bottling. Both are very interesting expressions of this site.

Next I’ve got a nice white Rhône blend from Troon Vineyards in Oregon’s Applegate Valley. A blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, there’s lots to love about this crisp blend of stone fruits and herbs that Troon produces biodynamically.

Moving on to reds, let’s start with the Azaya Ranch Pinot Noir from the Marin County section of the relatively new Petaluma Gap AVA. It’s admirable for its bright fruit and mix of herbs.

Darker yet would be the Sinister Hand from Owen Roe, a red Rhône blend that consistently delivers lots of flavor for a decent price.

Lastly, let’s have a look at one of Campania’s top wines, made by the venerable Feudi di San Gregorio. This Aglianico (which in recent years has apparently been repackaged in a somewhat ostentatious matte-black bottle) comes from some of Campania’s oldest vines, 100 years or older with trunks as thick as trees, trained in the old pergola style. Able to age for decades, this wine is a true taste of what Campania is capable of.

Tasting Notes

2017 Ravines “Dry” Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of freshly peeled tangerine with a hint of candle wax. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of mandarin orange, Asian pear and rainwater have a fantastic acidity and wet chalkboard minerality behind them, making them quite effortless across the palate. Perfectly balanced, nay poised, and wonderfully tasty. Only the faintest hint of aromatic sweetness lingers in the finish with the scent of honeysuckle, otherwise, quite dry. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Cole Ranch Riesling, Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California
Light to medium gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine pith and cooked apples. In the mouth, bright tangerine pith mixes with Asian pear and a woody herbal bitterness that makes the finish a bit savory. Receives no additions except a small dose of sulfur dioxide before bottling. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34.

2019 Cole Ranch “R2” Riesling, Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California
Light to medium blonde in color, this wine smells of baked apples and quince paste. In the mouth, intense apple and pear flavors are tinged with orange peel have a nice wet chalkboard minerality and a touch of bitter pear skin and citrus peel that lingers in the finish. This wine was picked 12 days later than its sibling. Receives no additions except a small dose of sulfur dioxide before bottling. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $34.

2019 Troon Vineyard “Côtes du Kubli – Cowhorn Vineyard” White Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet apricots and Asian pears. In the mouth, wonderfully peachy flavors of apricot, Asian pear and jicama have a faint floral quality and a charming aromatic sweetness. A touch of pear skin leaves a slightly astringent, savory note in the finish. A blend of 42% Viognier, 35% Marsanne, and 23% Roussanne. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35.

2018 Dutton Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry with a hint of exotic flowers. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit are bouncy with excellent acidity and have a hint of earth and green herbs to balance them out. Faint tannins dust the edges of the palate. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2019 Owen Roe “Sinister Hand” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium to dark purple in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors mix with a touch of boysenberry and licorice. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh, and a gauzy layer of tannins gains strength in the finish. Very tasty. A blend of 57% Syrah, 18% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, 2% Cinsault, and 5% of what the producer describes as “White Rhone,” which presumably is a blend of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/29/20

2017 Ravines “Maximilien” Red Blend, Finger Lakes, New York
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, green bell pepper, and a touch of oak. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is lean and crisp thanks to excellent acidity, and shot through with green herbs and toasty notes of oak. The purity of the cherry fruit is quite commendable. Faint, powdery tannins make themselves felt as the wine finishes. The overall impression here is quite refined and confident, if a bit restrained in its fruit. Perhaps a touch too much oak influence at this young age, but I predict that will fade with the few years that this wine will continue to improve if left alone. Tasty now, but only going to get better. A blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 54% Merlot. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2017 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, chopped green herbs, a touch of green bell pepper, and sweet oak. In the mouth, cherry and licorice and cassis flavors mix with the mocha toastiness of new oak. Very good acidity, and supple, powdery tannins. Notes of licorice linger in the finish. Barrel fermented in new French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $165. click to buy.

2012 Feudi di San Gregorio “Serpico” Aglianico, Irpinia, Campania, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and black cherry, and earth. In the mouth, wonderfully floral flavors of black cherry and earth are tinged with lavender and a touch of leather. A thick blanket of suede-like tannins wraps the core of fruit, but the tannins are quite pliable and mellowing, making this easier to drink than its sibling wine of the same vintage, the Piano di Montevergine. Wonderfully brisk acidity makes for a rather refreshing quality to the wine. 100-year-old vines, FTW. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/22/20

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 past week included wines from all over the place. But let’s start quite close to home, at least for me. Urban Legend Cellars is a small operation working out of the “wine ghetto” on the island of Alameda, near Oakland. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steve & Marilee Shaffer, who are “recovering” engineers from Silicon Valley who decided they wanted to make wine. They purchase grapes from a wide range of sources, and make a number of wines, including this Vermentino, from the Clements Hills sub-AVA in Lodi. It’s quite fresh and tasty, and might easily convert anyone to Vermentino’s charms.

A little farther afield I’ve got a cracking Chardonnay from J. Christopher Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which illustrates perfectly why people are so excited about Oregon Chardonnay. It’s crisp and citrusy, and gorgeous.

You could say the same thing about the Dr. Loosen Riesling from the famed “spice garden” vineyard, Ürziger Würtzgarten, in Germany’s Mosel River Valley. One of Germany’s more famous sites for Riesling, made by one of Germany’s more famous names makes for a scintillating example of the form.

Let’s move on to reds.

Before I dive deep into a pool of Syrah, I’ve got a Pinot from J. Christopher winery that will be of interest to anyone who likes their Pinot Noirs more on the savory, earthy side.

I was recently sent a number of Côtes-du-Rhônes, which were a lovely reminder of how I really should be drinking more of them. All were compelling, from the lean dark fruit flavors of Stephane Ogier’s rendition, to the more savory, brooding qualities of Delas Frere’s interpretation.

But my favorite example of Côtes-du-Rhône comes from Clos Bellane, a small organic producer that sits at more than 1200 feet of elevation on steep, limestone slopes outside the village of Valréas, which sits in the northern part of the southern Rhone wine region.

Vigneron Stephane Vedeau purchased the Clos Bellane estate in 2007 and is making really remarkable wines there, as this, his entry-level wine, demonstrates. It’s wonderfully aromatic, incredibly fresh and bright, and just a delight to drink. And at between $16 and $20, it’s a shockingly great value.

Back on this continent, I was really delighted to see just how fresh the Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Columbia Valley Syrah was in its expression of boisterous blackberry fruit. A bit father south in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyard is making whole-cluster fermented Syrah where you can really taste the influence of the stems, making for a savory interpretation of the grape.

Lastly, I’ve got one of the regal wines of Taurasi, the Piano di Montevergine from venerable producer Feudi di San Gregorio. This wine comes from the estate’s oldest plantings of Aglianico at an elevation of around 1300 feet above sea level in the Irpina region of Campania, not far from Mount Vesuvius. Even at 8 years of age, this wine is still a bit of a monster when it comes to tannins, and needs some air to mellow, as well as perhaps some more time in the bottle. In my personal experience it is a wine that rewards significant aging, especially if you appreciate the leather and dried flowers scents that Aglianico can offer with some time in the bottle. Now, however, the Piano is a bit forte, if that’s your speed.

Tasting Notes

2019 Urban Legend Cellars “Gill Creek Ranch” Vermentino, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of poached pear in sweet cream. In the mouth, bright pear and pastry cream flavors have a slight tinge of lemongrass and chamomile. Silky textured, this wine has a very nice acid balance and crisp finish with a hint of orange peel. 13.1% alcohol. 168 cases made. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24.

2018 J. Christopher “Olenik Vineyard” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is quite floral, with a gorgeous quartz-like crystalline quality and juicy lemon and lemon pith flavors, and a touch of green apple. Very elegant and poised with just a hint of salinity in the finish. . 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Ürziger Würtzgarten Spätlese” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine zest and white flowers with a hint of lemon cucumber. In the mouth, gorgeous exotic citrus flavors mix with honeysuckle and rainwater minerality, all sizzling with excellent acidity. Lightly to moderately sweet, but definitely in my sweet spot. 8.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “JJ” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit shot through with a hint of barnyard funkiness. In the mouth, pure bright cherry and raspberry fruit has a nice zing thanks to excellent acidity. There’s some bitter cedar and herb notes lingering in the finish along with that faint hint of manure. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Clos Bellane Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Valréas, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich cherry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of cherry mix with incredibly aromatic herbs like wild thyme and lavender even as a crystalline stony quality makes the whole red and black fruit concoction glint and shimmer on the palate. Barely perceptible tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2017 Stephane Ogier “Le Temps Est Venu” Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark cherry fruit and a touch of forest floor. In the mouth, juicy black cherry flavors are shot through with dried sage and other dried herbs making for quite a savory impression. Very faint powdery tannins creep about the edges of the mouth, while a faint bitter herb and orange-peel note lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2018 Delas Freres “Saint-Esprit” Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and potting soil. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, cassis, and wet earth have a wonderful freshness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a faint green herbal kick that meshes with a definite stony quality. Dark and brooding, yet without feeling heavy, and quite delicious. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington
Medium to dark purple in color, this wine smells of rich blackberry fruit with a hint of woodsmoke. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy blackberry and cassis flavors are positively electric on the palate thanks to fantastic acidity. Faint, powdery tannins dust the palate while notes of licorice emerge on the finish. Excellent. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2018 Troon Vineyard “White Family Selection” Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth and chopped herbs. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis flavors are shot through with a cedary, incense quality, thanks no doubt to the whole cluster fermentation, which seems to have imparted a sort of woody note from the stems. Excellent acidity and freshness, with tightly wound, muscular tannins that flex through the finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2012 Feudi di San Gregorio “Piano di Montevergine – Riserva” Aglianico, Taurasi, Campania, Italy
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather, dried flowers, and licorice. In the mouth, massive, billowy tannins envelop a core of black cherry, licorice root, and dried flowers, even as earthier, darker notes rumble about in the basement. Good acidity, but still massive even with 8 years of age. Give it some air, or better yet, another 5 years in the bottle. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

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