Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. 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 wonderfully bright and zippy and deeply stony expression of the volcanic terroir of Italy’s Soave region. The Inama Family has been making wine for 50 years and has become one of the standard-bearers for Soave and its Garganega grape. This particular wine is a single plot of pergola-trained vines grown in old fractured basalt, and is as pitch-perfect an expression of Soave as you’ll ever find. I highly recommend it.
I received two vintages of an unsual skin-fermented Pinot Gris recently, grown in the far north of California. Humbolt County is better known for its marijuana and redwoods than for its wine, but Adrian Jewell Manspeaker and his wife Lily grew up there, and feel strongly about its potential as a winegrowing region. I was fairly impressed with the 2020 vintage of their Joseph Jewell Pinot Gris, done in a strong ramato style to the point that it is a definite rosé in character. The 2021 has a bit more funk to it, which may appeal to some, but I preferred the cleaner 2020 wine.
The 2020 vintage of John and Tracey Skupny’s Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc (formerly North Coast, now just a California appellated wine) offers its usual great value for the money, with classic varietal character, restrained winemaking, and general deliciousness.
I got a decidedly Sine Qua Non vibe when I unboxed a group of samples from the brand new producer Terre Et Sang recently. In particular I was dismayed at the pretentious weight of the bottles, which clock in at 1.8 kilograms apiece. The wines I can recommend this week are almost on opposite ends of the Syrah spectrum, one from the old X block at Bien Nacido, with lots of whole cluster and low alcohol, the other a rich, ripe brawny bottle of fruit.
Lastly, I was sent a bunch of wines from Truett-Hurst winery, one of the more unusual wineries in Sonoma County. Just looking at its website, you’d think it was a small family-run estate winery, with 26 acres of vineyards focused on organic and biodynamic wine production. That’s true. On the other hand, it’s also a public corporation that has historically made several hundred thousand cases of wine every year, many of them private labeled brands for grocery stores and retailers, including Trader Joes (though this part of its business was apparently sold in 2018). It’s hard to reconcile those two realities, just as it’s hard to know exactly what is in the bottle you’re drinking, unless it bears the “Estate” designation like the Petite Sirah below, which presumably means certified organic and biodynamic production. Of the wines I sampled this week, my favorite was the Rattler Rock Zinfandel, which had more of a red fruit character and great juiciness.
Notes on all these and more below.
2020 Inama “Carbonare – Vecchie Vini” Garganega, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and lime zest. In the mouth, bright and delicious lime and lemon flavors mix with green apple skin and wonderfully crackling wet stone minerality. Fantastic acidity and brightness, with a long saline finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $27. click to buy.
2020 Joseph Jewell “Ryan Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris, Humboldt County, California
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel, wet earth, and plum. In the mouth, bright plum and citrus notes mix with a hint of dried flowers and herbs. There’s a light tannic grip to this wine, which along with good acidity makes for a nicely balanced and complex mouthful. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2021 Joseph Jewell “Ryan Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris, Humboldt County, California
Pale to light ruby in the glass with distinctly chunky bits of sediment, this wine smells of red apple skin, plum and orange peel. In the mouth, dried herbs and plum skin mix with orange peel and a touch of berries. Good acidity and a hint of yogurty tang in the finish. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2020 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed hazelnuts, green herbs and cherries. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is shot through with green herbs and a touch of cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and lightly grippy tannins. Very tasty. 14.5% alcohol. 508 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2020 Terre et Sang “Passenger” Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of licorice and blackberry pie with some floral notes overtop. In the mouth, juicy and rich blackberry and black cherry flavors are shot through with black pepper and brightened by brisk acidity. Rich but not brawny, the wine is quite well balanced for its 15.7% alcohol. Contains 10% Grenache. Nasty heavy bottle weighing 1.8 kg when full. 115 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $75.
2020 Terre et Sang “X Block – Bien Nacido Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
A very dark, hazy garnet in the glass this wine smells of sweet blackberry fruit. In the mouth, juicy ripe and unripe blackberry fruit has a nice brisk freshness and a tangy herbal zip. Excellent acidity and a faint tannic texture over a stony underbelly, but somewhat lean and missing a little something. 85% whole cluster. 13.1% alcohol. 130 cases made. Nasty heavy bottle weighing 1.8 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75.
2019 Truett-Hurst “Red Rooster – Old Vine” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries, raisins, and roasted figs with hints of licorice. In the mouth, blackberries, raisins, chocolate and licorice flavors have juicy acidity but also some heat in the finish, thanks to the 15.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $49. click to buy.
2019 Truett-Hurst “Rattler Rock – Old Vine” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberries and blackberries. In the mouth, bright blackberry and strawberry flavors have a nice juiciness and crisp freshness thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of herbs and licorice enter the finish, along with some alcoholic heat. 15.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $49. click to buy.
2019 Truett-Hurst “Single Vineyard Collection – Rockpile” Petite Sirah, Rockpile, Sonoma, California
Inky opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, faintly sweet blueberry, blackberry, and black cherry fruit is lush and rich and dark. The wine coats the mouth with fine powdery tannins and teeth-staining fruit. If you like ’em big and bold, this is your wine. Very good acidity keeps things fresh in the mouth. 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 Truett-Hurst “Single Vineyard Collection – Estate” Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, blueberries, and black cherry. In the mouth, rich blueberry and black cherry fruit has a nice brisk freshness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a muscular tannic texture to the wine that increases its grip over time. Candied blueberries and floral notes linger in the finish. Rich, dark, and powerful, for those who like such things. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.