Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/8/21

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 week included a couple of excellent value white wines. Peju Winery makes excellent Napa reds but also makes a crisp and reliable Sauvignon Blanc that ages relatively well, as I discovered this week after noticing a bottle that I should have probably reviewed 18 months ago. It was still fresh and bright and quite tasty, so go grab a few and put them on ice. Likewise, the Torrontes from Susana Balbo was also a refreshing mouthful, and at $13, how can you go wrong?

Oregon Chardonnay is having something of a moment, and tasting the Elton Vineyard Chardonnay from Lavinea, it’s not hard to understand why, as it’s crisp and tangy and lean, but with some nice complexity. You could use the same words to describe Stewart Johnson’s rendition of Viognier from Kendrick Vineyards, which focuses primarily on making wines grown in Marin County. Stewart’s latest rosé is also excellent.

While we’re in the pink zone, you should check out the OVR – Old Vine Rosé from Marietta Cellars, which will satisfy many a summer afternoon craving for $14.

I’ve got a couple of Pinots to share this week, including one from Lavinea that has a little age on it and is showing beautifully, along with the brash ripe cherry flavors of the Cuvee Number One from Cattleya Wines.

And we can finish the week out with some Napa Cabs, including the 2016 vintage of Unwritten, a relatively new producer in Napa that I wrote about earlier in the year as part of my coverage of producers in Napa that were new to me. Also worth remarking on was the Redmon Cabernet, which is from a tiny family-run vineyard that Lisa Redmond has shepherded for a couple of decades in St. Helena.

Notes on all these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Peju Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apple, green grass, and a touch of honeysuckle. In the mouth, bright green apple and kiwi flavors have a faint sweetness to them and bright juicy acidity. Clean and crisp. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Susana Balbo “Crios” Torrontes, Argentina
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candied grapefruit and a touch of melon. In the mouth, grapefruit, star fruit, and a hint of green melon mix with bright acidity and a nice citrus pith note in the finish. Crisp and tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2018 Lavinea “Elton Vineyard” Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, vanilla, and lime juice. In the mouth, juicy lemon pith and pink grapefruit flavors have a hint of unripe apple to them, with a touch of sourness along with the mouthwatering bright citrus notes. Lean and crisp. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2020 Kendric Vineyards Viognier, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of nectarines and orange peels. In the mouth, apricot, nectarine, and a nice citrus pith brightness are positively juicy with excellent acidity. Quite lean for a California Viognier, and much the better for it in my opinion. Very tasty. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26.

2020 Kendric Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale peachy-pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and white flowers, and sweet cream. In the mouth, bright berry notes also have a faint smoky earth tone to them. Citrus peel and berry linger in the finish. Quite tasty. 12.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2020 Marietta Cellars “OVR – Old Vine” Rosé, California
Light coppery gold in the glass, this wine smells of berries and watermelon. In the mouth, bright berry and watermelon flavors mix with citrus peel amidst a silky juicy mouthwatering package. Excellent acidity. A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, and Grenache Gris. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2016 Lavinea “Tulatin Estate” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet with orange highlights, this wine smells of smoked brisket and raspberries. In the mouth, bright raspberry flavors have a nice meaty, almost saline, umami kick to them, with excellent acidity and a hint of green herbs in the finish. Quite tasty. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.        

2019 Cattleya “Cuvee Number One” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and cedar. In the mouth, sweetish cherry and raspberry jam flavors have a rich, ripe intensity, but are backed by pretty good acidity that has a citrus peel kick to it. Barely perceptible tannins. This is ripe California Pinot, for those looking for a more robust interpretation of the grape. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2016 AXR Napa Valley “AXR – V Madrone Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, raisins, and cocoa powder. In the mouth, black cherry, and dried cherry flavors mix with raisins, roasted figs, and chocolate under a fleecy blanket of tannins. Rich and on the ripe side, there’s a hint of port quality to this wine, which some will undoubtedly like. A bit too ripe and rich for my taste. 15.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $160. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/8/21

2016 Lost Cellars “Unwritten” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and herbs. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit mixes with dried herbs and cedar, as excellent acidity keeps the mouth watering and fine, muscular tannins add texture to the whole package. There’s a faint hint of alcoholic heat in the finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2016 Ballentine “Fig Tree Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis, and blackberry. In the mouth, notes of espresso and black cherry have a nice medium body and fairly gentle tannic structure. Good acidity and brightness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90.

2016 Redmon Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and plum. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and plum flavors have a nice purity to them, and a sour cherry kick in the finish that accompanies bright acidity. Muscular, but fine-grained tannins round out this quite tasty package. Restrained oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95.

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That Heat Dome: How Are Vines Coping?

On 29 June, as the so-called heat dome settled over British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, the weather station near the Red Mountain AVA of Washington recorded an ambient temperature of 117.8 °F/47.7 °C. That was the third of what would be four days of high temperatures above 112 °F/44 °C which came hard on the heels of more than a week of highs above 95 °F/35 °C. Since then the daytime highs have not fallen below 97.7 °F/36.5 °C. Temperatures are expected to climb higher still in the coming days.

As untold billions of shoreline molluscs literally cooked in their shells, hundreds of people died from heat exhaustion, and scientists were presented with incontrovertible evidence that human-caused climate change bore responsibility for the heat, like many I found myself wondering just how the wine grapes were doing under the broiler.

‘I was pretty scared at first’, said Dick Boushey, who farms 300 acres (121 ha) in Washington’s Yakima Valley and manages another 300 acres of vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. ‘But now, in the second week of this heat, I’m feeling a little bit better.’

Water was the primary determining factor for how vines weathered the heat, especially in the sandy, fast-draining soils of the Yakima Valley.

Boushey and his crews began irrigating in advance of the heat, and essentially they haven’t stopped since. ‘Perhaps counter-intuitively, I’ve also been putting on more compost, trying to get more organic matter into the soils, which should help with water-holding capacity’, said Boushey. While the water and the fertiliser are driving more vigorous growth in the vines than Boushey would want at this point in the growing season, that’s a trade-off he’s willing to make if it means he can avoid more serious losses. Nonetheless, he hasn’t got through the heat event scot-free.

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/14/21

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 week offered an unusually strong set of samples beginning with an absolutely fabulous white Rioja from the boutique producer Abel Mendoza. Husband-and-wife team Abel Mendoza and Maite Fernandez farm about 50 acres and make about 6000 cases of hand-crafted wines each year. The two have been making their own wines since 1988, and have made a name for themselves producing single-variety white wines in a region where, until recently, such wines were not allowed. This white, however, features all 5 white varieties that the couple grows, and it is a stunning expression of fruit and minerality that stopped me in my tracks. Their Seleccion Personal Rioja, which I also tasted this week, is equally as compelling. I highly recommend both wines.

There was a time (as recently as 15 years ago) when California rosé pretty much sucked. One of the problems it faced was that most folks in California didn’t know how to make it well. Most rosés were from saignee, meaning juice that was just pulled out of a tank that would go on to make red wine, rather than being wines that were made from grapes picked specifically to make rosé. Those crappy California rosés were all usually quite dark in color, and at the time, it was rare to see a pale, pink rendition that resembled the rosés of Provence. Now, thankfully, properly picked-for-rosé wines are much more common in California, and so it’s not uncommon to find wonderfully pale-colored pink wines from all over the state.

Having said that, the rosé I tried this week from Raeburn is perhaps one of the most pale-colored I’ve ever seen in California, but that lack of color doesn’t translate to a lack of flavor, however. It offers the bright range of refreshing flavors everyone has come to love in these versatile, delicious wines. I wonder, perhaps, if the pale color may be just an extra little hedge against the risk of smoke taint, the compounds of which are found in the skins of affected grapes. Regardless, there is zero perceptible taste of smoke in this wine, so either such efforts paid off, or there wasn’t anything to worry about.

Perhaps the most impressive wine I tasted this week was the latest wine from the collaboration between Burgundy’s Jean-Nicolas Méo (of Domaine Méo-Camuzet), and music entrepreneur Jay Boberg (among other things, one of the founders of IRS Records) named Nicolas-Jay. Along with the help of Associate Winemaker Tracy Kendall, this estate has been making exceptional Pinot Noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for several years, with a particular emphasis on single-vineyard bottlings. Every year, however, there have always been some barrels or blocks that stand out, even from their single-vineyard focus, and in 2018, the trio decided to assemble a wine from these standout, best-of-the-best lots of wine. To this new wine they gave the name “L’Ensemble” and it truly sings. At the moment it is quite young, but the wine is both delicious and indicative that it will become even more so with age.

This week I also tasted two new releases from Acumen, one of Napa’s more interesting young wine labels. Their “Mountainside” wines are their less-expensive bottles, and both the Cabernet and the Red Blend are very tasty, and like all the Acumen wines, show a restraint of both alcohol and oak that are admirable for Napa.

Lastly, the wine world has been a bit abuzz lately with the announcement of the Penfolds California Collection, the venerable Australian producer’s set of California wines. Comprised of four wines, two of which, quite unusually, are blends of wine from both California and Australia, these were a pretty impressive set of wines.

The wines range in price from $50 to a whopping $700, but all display the extremely competent winemaking that has turned Penfolds into a powerhouse producer. My favorite of the group was the “Lot 149,” a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from both Napa and Australia that had an herbal zing and wonderful juicy acidity. Despite having 85.1% of the wine come from Napa, with 14.9% of the wine coming from outside the US, the wine has received the most generic appellation designation there is in this country: “American.” If only all American Cabernet Sauvignon was this good.

The other three wines are definitely worth seeking out, though I suspect the Quantum bottling may end up being little more than a collectors curiosity.

Tasting Notes

2019 Abel Mendoza “5V” Rioja Blanca, Spain
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit, melon, and candied grapefruit. In the mouth, juicy and bright Asian pear, melon and grapefruit flavors mix with dried yellow herbs and a wonderful citrus pith and saline quality that builds through the finish. Fantastically balanced between richness and mouthwatering juiciness. A blend of the five white grape varieties (hence the name) grown on the estate: Torrontes, Viura, Grenache Blanc, Tempranillo Blanco, and Malvasia. 14.5% alcohol. 3797 bottles made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2020 Raeburn Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest peach in color, to the point of being nearly colorless — certainty one of the lightest rosés I’ve had from California, this wine smells of watermelon and strawberry gum. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of watermelon, strawberry and raspberry fruit have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity, with an orange peel citrus note as well as a little jalapeño heat on the finish. Perhaps slightly candied for my taste, but doubtless a crowd-pleaser. An unusual blend of 74% Pinot Noir, 22% Zinfandel, and 4% Grenache. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2018 Nicolas Jay “L’Ensemble” Pinot Noir, Oregon, Willamette Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a slightly shy nose of dried flowers, raspberries, and cherry aromas. In the mouth, beautiful filigreed acidity brings flavors of raspberry, cherry, and forest floor alive. There’s a deep stoniness to this wine that is quite compelling, as well as a coiled potential that suggests it will blossom into something even more spectacular with age. Lovely faint tannins linger in the finish with hints of orange peel and cherry. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in 33% new French oak for 14 months. 13.5% alcohol. 1145 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.  

2017 Abel Mendoza “Seleccion Personal” Rioja, Spain
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich cherry and dark earth, shot through with dried flowers. In the mouth, cherry and earth and forest floor flavors mix with the exotic perfume of dried flowers and herbs. Gorgeously savory, with suede-like tannins that hang back at the edges of the palate and excellent acidity, this is an understated powerhouse of a wine that has beautiful balance and poise. It’s got a gorgeous voice, but it’s not shouting at you. Step closer and listen closely to what it has to say. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $61. click to buy.

2018 Acumen “Mountainside” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cocoa powder, and tobacco. In the mouth, cherry, boysenberry, chocolate, and cola flavors have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint tannins buff the edges of the palate while notes of slightly-bitter and earthy licorice root linger in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2018 Acumen “Mountainside” Red Blend, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, plum, and a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, plummy fruit and green herbs mix with cola and a berry note that are all juicy with excellent acidity. There’s a hint of bitterness in the finish that reminds me of Chinese medicinal tea.14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/14/21

2018 Penfolds “Bin 600 – Cabernet Shiraz” Red Blend, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors are bright and slightly spicy, with excellent acidity and a nice powdery, gauzy throw of tannins. Hints of orange peel linger with the blackberry bramble in the finish. Tasty. A blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Shiraz, some of which comes from a vineyard planted by Penfolds in the Camatta Hills of Paso Robles in the 1980s. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Penfolds “Bin 704” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis, tobacco and earth. In the mouth, rich black cherry, cola, and licorice flavors are wonderfully savory and juicy with excellent acidity. The wood influence here is subtle and not overwhelming, though it does surface in the finish, leaving the wine with a faint woody aftertaste. A nicely made wine, though. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2018 Penfolds “Bin 149” Cabernet Sauvignon, USA
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis and black licorice. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and blackberry flavors have a faint minty juiciness that it’s easy to imagine comes from the Australian component of this blend, though that’s not entirely certain. Quite juicy and very tasty, with supple, fleecy tannins that wrap around the mouthwatering core of fruit. Notes of mint and green herbs linger in the finish along with black cherry and licorice. Juicier and more satisfying than the Napa-only bottling that is part of this collection. Labeled a “Wine of the World,” this is an unusual blend of 85.1% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and 14.9% Australian Cabernet. In all likelihood, this is the single best Cabernet without an AVA designation you’ll ever have. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $149. click to buy.

2018 Penfolds “Quantum – Bin 98” Cabernet Sauvignon, USA
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cola flavors have a nice juicy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s an interesting cedar and camphor quality to this wine, with a high-note that has an herbal incense quality to it. Very fine-grained tannins and a long finish. A blend of 87% Napa Cabernet, and 13% Australian Cabernet. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $700. Yes, you read that correctly. $700. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/10/21

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 Chardonnays. The first is the Oro de Plata Chardonnay from Keller Estate, which is prevented from going through malolactic conversion, and is aged in old oak barrels, but nonetheless has a nice creaminess along with its brisk citrus brightness. The other is one of the better canned wines I’ve come across, a limited edition Chardonnay from Iron Horse Vineyards, which revives the estate’s old Tin Pony brand name. Unfortunately this particular offering is sold out, but you can bet there will be more canned wines from Iron Horse in the future, so consider this fair warning to keep your eye out.

Moving on to Pinot, I’ve got a couple of them from Yamhill Valley Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Of the two, my favorite was the “Tall Poppy” bottling, which possessed a lovely finesse and very pretty forest floor quality. Both Keller Estate and Flowers Vineyards also had Pinots in this week’s tasting, each distinctive and pretty, both highlighting the cherry and cranberry qualities that Sonoma Pinot Noir can deliver.

Keller has also been making a Syrah co-fermented with a couple rows of Viognier for a few years under the name “Rotie,” and their 2017 vintage showed some lovely stony blackberry and black cherry qualities and the promise of improvement with age.

Sticking with Syrah for a moment, I felt obliged to point readers towards the Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône, if only because it is a remarkable steal at $12 a bottle. It’s not going to blow any minds, but at that price, it’s a great deal.

Lastly, I’ve got two wines from the biodynamically-farmed boutique winery Troon Vineyards in Oregon’s Applegate Valley. The newly released Cuvee Pyrénées, a blend of Tannat and Malbec, is almost shockingly savory, reminding me of the deeply earthy and herbal qualities of Cahors. The 2018 Tannat is slightly more generous in its fruit, and wonderfully mineral-driven, suggesting a long life ahead of it.

Notes on all these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2019 Keller Estate “Oro de Plata” Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and pink grapefruit. In the mouth, bright lemony and grapefruit flavors mix with a touch of cream and a faint grassiness. Nicely silky, despite the fact that malolactic was avoided in this wine. Good acidity and length. Fermented in stainless and aged in neutral oak. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.    

2019 Iron Horse “Tin Pony” Chardonnay, Green Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells a little of struck-match (which blows off over time) and butterscotch and grapefruit. In the mouth, lemon juice, pink grapefruit, butterscotch, and a touch of toasted brioche combine with a hint of salinity and excellent acidity. 13.8% alcohol. Packaged in 250ml cans and sold in sets of four. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48 per four pack – sold out.

2016 Yamhill Valley Vineyards “Tall Poppy” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and raspberries. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of raspberry and redcurrant have a wonderful lift and brightness thanks to excellent acidity. The faintest wisp of tannins lingers in the finish along with notes of dried herbs and pine duff. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Yamhill Valley Vineyards “Estate Reserve” Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and raspberries shot through with a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry fruit flavors mix with green herbs and a hint of peeled willow bark. A touch of toasty oak lingers in the finish with a hint of astringency. Good acidity. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/10/21

2018 Keller Estate “El Coro” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry fruit have a nice lift thanks to excellent acidity and a faint herbal backdrop as barely perceptible tannins dust the edges of the mouth. A touch of citrus peel lingers in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $67. click to buy.

2018 Flowers Vineyards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, silky notes of cherry and raspberry are shot through with cedar and citrus peel. Faint notes of oak linger in the finish along with the faintest of tannins. Excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Troon Vineyard “Cuvée Pyrénées – White Family Selection” Red Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of freshly turned potting soil, molasses, leather and a touch of blackberries. In the mouth, leathery tannins wrap around a decidedly savory core of dark black fruits that are less present than the herbal, earthy notes of camphor wood, sage, and freshly dug earth. Good acidity. Tasted blind I could imagine confidently pegging this as a wine from the Cahors region of France. 14.3% alcohol. A blend of 70% Tannat and 30% Malbec. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2018 Troon Vineyard “White Family Selection” Tannat, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry. In the mouth, dark and juicy flavors of blackberry and boysenberry mix with a wet chalkboard or wet pavement minerality that is quite stark. Gorgeous acidity makes the wine quite refreshing, and fine-grained tannins flex in the background. Everything suggests this wine will age beautifully. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of a bit of struck match layered over cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, slightly leathery tannins surround flavors of black cherry and cassis with a touch of meaty, black olive savoriness. Notes of dusty earth linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2017 Keller Estate “Rotie” Syrah, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie. In the mouth, blackberry and black cherry flavors have a nice briskness to them thanks to excellent acidity. The fine-grained tannins are muscular and supple, if a bit tight. There’s a lift to the dark fruit that presumably comes from the co-fermented Viognier, but this is nevertheless a slightly brooding wine. It will likely improve in the bottle for several years. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/8/20

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.

The weekly dip into press samples has its ups and downs. Some weeks, I have to taste through a couple of cases of wine before I end up with the eight or ten bottles that I choose to highlight here each week.

Occasionally though, as I grab bottles in the cellar, I get extremely lucky, and this week was one of those weeks. I opened wine after wine this week to find fantastic stuff to share with you.

Let’s start with a positively shimmering example of Sauvignon Blanc, and quite possibly the best I can recall having from Oregon of all places. Gorgeously zippy, green and mouthwateringly delicious, I highly recommend you seek out this bottle from J. Christopher cellars.

I’ve long appreciated Gundlach Bundschu’s (GunBun to their friends) rendition of Gewürztraminer, which is floral and crisp and quite light on its feet. Gewurtz call all-too-easily be made into a syrupy or bitter phenolic mess, and so it takes a confident hand to steer it to the places where it achieves greatness: either as ambrosia or, in this case, as a beautifully aromatic, refreshing mouthful.

Last week I featured a lovely Williams Selyem Chardonnay and this week I’m presenting its mate, from the winery’s estate vineyard. It’s a bit leaner in expression and wonderfully floral, but also crackling with acidity. If you’re in the market for top-tier California Chardonnay this is one to add to your list.

Now I will admit to being a bit of a Riesling nut. On the whole, your average Riesling is better than a lot of other average wines. But when it really gets going, world-class Riesling is something else entirely. I’m happy to say I’ve got three examples of that form today, two from Robert Weil and one from Dr. Loosen.

Robert Weil is a venerable producer in the Rheingau region of Germany, and I’ve got two expressions of the very same vineyard to share with you this week. The vineyard in question is the Gräfenberg vineyard, in the little town of Kiedrich, which has been one of the most storied vineyards in the region for hundreds of years. It is one of Germany’s Grosse Lage sites, that country’s equivalent of Grand Cru, and it is owned by Weingut Robert Weil, who makes several wines from its 25 or so acres.

The two Gräfenberg wines I’m sharing this week are the totally dry Grosses Gewachs Riesling, and the later-picked Spätlese Riesling. They are both incredible renditions of what German Riesling can do in the right place and in the right hands, light, crystalline, mouthwatering and capable of aging for decades. If you don’t mind a little sweetness, try the Spätlese, or if you prefer things perfectly dry, go for the GG. You can’t go wrong with either, though.

The Erdener Treppchen vineyard is also a well-known name in the Mosel valley, translating literally to “The Little Staircase of Erden,” so-called because the angle of the hillside required steps to be carved to allow workers to access its heights. Ernie Loosen is one of the Mosel’s rock-star winemakers, and therefore it’s no surprise that his rendition of what the Treppchen can offer is gorgeous. There’s so much acidity in this wine, that despite its sugar levels, it doesn’t taste particularly sweet.

After all that waxing rhapsodic about Riesling, it’s going to be hard to get you to imagine how excited I am about the two Zinfandels I’m sharing with you this week. Once upon a time I tasted a lot of Zinfandel every year, but I have fallen out of the habit. It’s nice to be reminded what a spectacular grape it can be from the right site and in the right hands. And boy what a combination of those two things does the Limerick Lane bottling of the 140-year-old Banfield Vineyard offer. This is one of the best Zinfandels I’ve had in years. It’s just stupendous, and there’s not much more to say than that.

The Carlisle Vineyard Zinfandel is also totally fantastic, and had I not tasted the Banfield just before, it would have easily bowled me over as well. Both are fantastic examples of what older vines can do, and how fresh and balanced Zinfandel can be, even as its alcohol levels reach 15%, if made correctly.

As a small coda to all that excitement, let me also draw your attention to the modest Cabernet Sauvignon from Gundlach Bundschu. Their Sonoma Valley bottling is what most people are looking for in a Cabernet, rich, ripe, and supple.

Tasting Notes

2018 J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest gold, nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, cut grass and gooseberries. In the mouth, deliciously bright green apple and cut grass flavors mix with kiwi and electric lime juice, as fantastic acidity makes the mouth water. A hint of salinity makes for a margarita-with-salt finish that utterly satisfies. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2019 Gundlach Bundschu “Estate Vineyard” Gewürztraminer, Sonoma Coast, California
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of orange peel and orange blossom. In the mouth, notes of orange blossom water, lychee, and white flowers have a wonderful crisp crystalline quality thanks to excellent acidity. Fresh, bright, and silky. Dry as a bone and utterly refreshing. Highly recommended. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Williams Selyem “Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, cold cream and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of lemon curd and lemon pith mix with a hint of bitter grapefruit and white flowers as the wine shimmers crystalline thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp and bright with grapefruit pith lingering in the finish with just a touch of toasted oak and a whiff of heat. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Kiedrich Gräfenberg Spätlese” Riesling, Rheingau, Germany
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, honeysuckle and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, phenomenal acidity makes flavors of mandarin orange, honeysuckle and Asian pear positively thrum with electricity as the salivary glands kick into overdrive. Gorgeous acidity and wet pavement minerality. Lightly to moderately sweet. 9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Kiedrich Gräfenberg Grosses Gewachs” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Palest, nearly colorless greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin and tangerine oils. In the mouth, beautifully weightless flavors of tangerine zest, white flowers, Asian pear and rainwater float ethereally across the palate on crystalline wings. Gorgeous acidity and phenomenal balance. Regal, and as is required for the GG designation, bone dry without any trace of sweetness. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Treppchen” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and mandarin zest. In the mouth, crystalline flavors of honeysuckle and gardenia mix with Asian-pear juiciness. Fantastic acidity makes the sugar levels seem lower than they are, so that this wine tastes only lightly sweet, as wet stone minerality and white flowers linger in the finish. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Limerick Lane “Banfield Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet-purple in the glass, this wine smells of candied blueberries, exotic flowers and mulberries. In the mouth, gorgeous berry flavors are a technicolor rainbow of red and blue and black flavors. Blueberry, then mulberry, then cherry, then acai and more. You wanna know what old vines give you? In a word: complexity. This vineyard was planted in 1880, and damn if it ain’t still singing like a rockstar. Zero trace of this wine’s 15.1% alcohol. Snappy, balanced and frikkin’ delicious. 100 cases made. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $ click to buy.

2018 Limerick Lane “Carlisle Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium purple in color, this wine smells of dusty road and blackberries. In the mouth, gorgeous blackberry bramble is positively mouthwatering thanks to fantastic acidity. Blueberry and cassis notes linger in the finish, but the wine is oh-so-light on its feet despite 14.9% alcohol. Utterly delicious. This vineyard was planted in 1927. 100 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

2016 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis and green herbs. In the mouth, black cherry, blackberry and chopped green herb flavors have a faint espresso bitterness to them as they head towards a licorice infused finish, sweetened with the vanilla of new oak. Excellent acidity keeps the wine feeling brisk. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/11/20

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 relatively textbook incarnation of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which affirms the adage that the genre is one of the most reliable in the world of wine. Generally, you’re gonna get something that matches your expectations and tastes pretty good, as this one from Jules Taylor does.

On the other hand, or you might say, the other hemisphere, I’d also strongly suggest you consider the J. Christopher incarnation of the same grape, which is a deliciously cut grass and green fruit expression that I’d be happy to drink any day of the week.

German rosé is a much less-well-known genre than New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s one to which we should all pay a bit more attention. This very pretty bottling from Weingut Wittmann in Germany’s Rheinhessen region is worth finding if you like racy, savory pink wines. This family has been making wines in the region for 350 years and is one of the more well-known estates in Westofen. Their wines have been biodynamically produced since 2004 (an early adopter of such practices), and are generally excellent.

Moving on to reds, I’ve got a bunch of Pinots worth paying attention to this week. Let’s start with two really lovely single-vineyard wines from Anderson Valley by cult Pinot Producer Rhys Vineyards. Both are excellent and worth seeking out.

I’ve also got a few Oregon Pinots as well, two from Big Table Farm, the small biodynamic producer in Gaston, and two from J. Christopher Cellars, which is the joint venture between winemaker Jay Somers and Mosel vintner Ernie Loosen, of Dr. Loosen fame. All four are worth pursuing.

Lastly, let’s head back to the Southern Hemisphere for a little Shiraz. The first from the venerable Barossa house of Yalumba, who sent through their “Samuels Collection” Shiraz. Yalumba has been making wines in the Barossa since 1849, and their wines show the confidence of experience, including this moderately priced effort.

It was intriguing to taste what a master of Syrah does with Shiraz, but that’s exactly what we’ve got in the Tournon Shiraz from Michel Chapoutier. And it offers wonderfully juicy, bright blackberry purity that seems fresher and less jammy than some interpretations of the grape from Down Under.

Tasting Notes

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Trocken” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of tangerine oil and Asian pear. In the mouth, lovely, silky flavors of Asian pear and mandarin oranges have a wonderful wet chalkboard quality and a beautiful crispness. Bone dry without a trace of sweetness, nonetheless, there’s an aromatic honeysuckle quality to the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2019 Jules Taylor Wines Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of gooseberries and cut grass. In the mouth, bright green apple and gooseberry flavors have a clean brightness thanks to decent acidity. Straightforward, but pleasurable. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 J. Christopher “Über Sauvignon – Croft Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest greenish-gold in color, almost colorless in the glass, this wine smells of cut green grass and green apple. In the mouth, cut grass, kiwi, and green apple flavors have a juicy brightness with savory herbal notes and a wonderful salinity. Uber, indeed. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.

2018 Wittmann Rosé of Pinot Noir, Rheinhessen, Germany
Palest baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and hibiscus. In the mouth, bright hibiscus and strawberry flavors have a wonderful citrus snap and silky texture that is quite alluring. Deliciously balanced with excellent acidity and the faintest bit of aromatic sweetness that pairs with a faint herbal bitterness in the finish. Includes some Sankt Laurent fruit as well. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $16.

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Bearwallow Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of earth and candied redcurrant. In the mouth, raspberry and redcurrant flavors are fantastically juicy with hints of dried flowers and cedar. Phenomenal acidity keeps the wine bright and zippy, as notes of candied orange peel linger in the finish. Layered and delicate with barely perceptible tannins. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2018 Rhys Vineyards “Porcupine Hill” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit and a touch of orange peel. In the mouth, raspberry, orange peel, and redcurrant flavors mix with dried herbs and a touch of earth. Excellent acidity, silky texture, and the faintest of powdery tannins. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2018 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, cranberry and forest floor. In the mouth, beautifully savory notes of dried herbs and pine duff mix with raspberry and cranberry notes under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Good acidity, but I would love a little more edge to this wine. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2018 Big Table Farm “Cattrall Brothers Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of green herbs, including a touch of marijuana, redcurrant and raspberry. In the mouth, redcurrant and rhubarb flavors mix with dried and fresh herbs that take on a deeper, earthier note as they head to the finish. There’s a touch of citrus peel that creeps into the finish as well. Lovely acidity and faint, powdery tannins that show a little muscle over time. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “Volcaniqe” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and sweet cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is shot through with dried herbs and a hint of raspberry jam that lingers in the finish with a touch of citrus peel acidity. Nice juiciness, with herbal notes that gain strength over time. Faint, gauzy tannins.13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “Sandra Adele” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and dried herbs have a beautiful aromatic sweetness to them. Notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Faint tannins and good acidity. Named for Jay Somers’ mother. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Yalumba “Samuels Collection” Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry shot through with pink peppercorns. In the mouth, blackberry and black pepper notes mix with licorice and a touch of lavender. Good acidity and fine, powdery tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2016 Tournon “Mathilda” Shiraz, Victoria, Australia
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet blackberry and dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy blackberry pastille flavors mix with a touch of citrus peel brightness and a hint of cedary wood. Excellent acidity and very faint tannins make this a particularly easy-drinking approach to Shiraz. Made by legendary Rhône producer Michel Chapoutier. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 9/20/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on 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.

The Birth of ‘Wine Country’ Is a Story of Bugs, Taxes and War
A brief history of California wine.

Meet the maker: the Portuguese vintners taking natural wine back to its roots
NatGeo does wine.

‘I Have To Work’: Agricultural Workers In The West Harvest Crops Through Fire Smoke
When that’s the only way to put food on the table, you work.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Orange Wine—But Were Too Afraid to Ask
The Robb Report skims the surface, but does get some ket things right.

Smoke, wildfires challenge West Coast wine industry
Stories from Oregon.

Napa Winemakers Are Pledging Over $1 Million to Make the Wine Industry More Inclusive
Excellent news.

Uncertainty Reigns in Spain’s Strange Vintage
Rough times.

Canada’s Napa Valley Seeks Elusive Audience: Canadian Wine Drinkers
Not just America that has f*cked up wine shipping laws.

Sicilian Wine Pioneer Diego Planeta Dies
He helped put Sicily back on the map.

Harvest Finally Brings Good News for Champagne
Quality looks very high.

Smoke and Mirrors: Fixing a Fiery Vintage
Blake Gray learns some of the options.

Recalling Justice Ginsburg as a Champion of the Wine Industry
Tom Wark reminds us she was on our side for wine, too.

Mozel Watson: Harlem’s wine god
Great story!

The seemingly impossible: an artisanal bottle of California wine for $10
It’s hard to imagine they can keep this up.

Wine Sales Up, Winery Profits Down
A new survey shows a double-edged sword.

Champagne Growers Help Cultivate The Grape Varieties Of The Future
Climate change requires change.

Around the World, the 2020 Wine Harvest May Be Most Troubled Ever
Elin McCoy goes ‘round the world for a harvest rundown.

After hazy weeks, threat of smoke taint lingers over Napa Valley grape crop
There will be more stories like this coming out soon.

Iron Age wine press yields clues to Phoenician building techniques
Excellent winemaking process.

The Vanishing Point
A lovely piece of writing.

The grands crus of Bordeaux in the summer of ’69
A wonderful reverie.

Women, Wine and the Uncomfortable Conversation We Need To Have
A worthy long read.

Fires Leave 2020 Vintage in the Balance
A rundown of the troubles.

How Will Weeks of Wildfire Smoke on the West Coast Impact the 2020 Vintage?
Badly, is the answer.

California farmworkers say they didn’t get masks during wildfires
Awfulness.

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 9/20/20 appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/30/20

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 some really lovely wines, including an especially fantastic Riesling. Dr. Ernie Loosen is well known to Riesling lovers as one of the top producers in Germany’s Mosel River valley. He produces a dizzying array of Riesling wines, a few of which carry the designation Grosses Gewächs, a class of wine invented by an organization of the top German wine producers. GG’s as they are known, must be dry Rieslings, and must come from Grand Cru or Grosse Lage designated vineyard. This one is from the Erdener Treppchen vineyard, just outside the village of Erden. Treppchen means “little staircase” and refers to the fact that this vineyard is so steep that growers build stone staircases to help them scramble up its slate slopes. This bottle is regal Riesling, plain and simple.

I’ve also got a couple of wines from Notre Vue estate this week, a rather large estate in the Russian River Valley. Their Chardonnay Musque is a clone of Chardonnay that has Muscat-like qualities of melon and green apple that might intrigue anyone who has not tried this particular flavor of Chardonnay. Their rosé, made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre is more of a classic style and comes packaged in an unusual bottle.

Smith-Madrone has long been a favorite producer of mine up on Napa’s Spring Mountain. Their Chardonnay leans towards the richer side of the grape, but there’s plenty of acid and salinity in the wine to make it enjoyable. They also sent along their 2016 Cabernet which is predictably lovely, with wonderful hints of green herbs and other savory notes that are unfortunately rare in Napa Cabernet these days.

J. Christopher wines started as a tiny project by guitarist-turned-winemaker Jay Somers, but quickly turned into something more when he teamed up with none other than the aforementioned Ernst Loosen. Loosen purchased a bunch of vineyard land in the Willamette Valley, and together he and Somers have built the brand into a dependably excellent source of Oregon Pinot Noir. Of the two wines I’m reviewing this week, the “Dundee Hills Cuvée” is my favorite, bright with floral raspberry notes.

Last but not least, I’ve got a couple more wines from Alder Springs Vineyard, in the hills of Northern Mendocino. Their Syrah is decidedly cool climate in character, and quite delicious for it, while their GCM (where “C” is Cunoise, rather than Syrah) blend is juicy and spicy and quite tasty as well. I recommend them both.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes:

2017 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Treppchen Alte Reben Grosses Gewachs” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and tangerine peel. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of Asian pear, mandarin zest, and white flowers have a rich sumptuousness to them even as laser-etched acidity makes for a crisp and refreshing mouthful. Gorgeous finish with hints of floral notes and citrus oil. Fully dry, with no trace of sweetness. Made from 100-year-old vines in the Erdener Treppchen Vineyard, which carries the designation of Grosse Lage, the German equivalent of Grand Cru. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $52. click to buy.

2019 Notre Vue Chardonnay Musque, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green melon and green apple. In the mouth, green apple and lemon curd flavors mix with grapefruit and a touch of oak. Silky textured with decent acidity, there’s a faint alcoholic heat in the finish. Made from the Musque clone of Chardonnay and therefore a very different flavor profile from your standard California Chardonnay. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36.

2017 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and butterscotch. In the mouth, intense buttered popcorn and lemon curd flavors have a wonderfully saline quality that, along with excellent acidity, keeps the mouth-watering. Notes of melted butter and toasted oak linger in the finish with a touch of grapefruit and a faint hint of alcoholic heat. Rich and on the ripe side, but quite tasty. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2019 Notre Vue Red Blend Rosé, Chalk Hill, Sonoma, California
A pale peachy-pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon and strawberries. In the mouth, strawberries and watermelon flavors are bright and juicy thanks to very good acidity. Nicely textured and satiny, but also crisp and delicious. A blend of 34% Grenache, 33% Syrah, and 33% Mourvèdre. 12.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29.

2016 J. Christopher “Basalte” Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor and cherries. In the mouth, earthy cherry flavors mix with black raspberry and chopped herbs. Silky texture, excellent acidity and very faint tannins with a touch of citrus in the finish. 13.5% alcohol Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “Dundee Hills Cuvée – Special Selection” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of peeled willow bark and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit has a bouncy zing thanks to excellent acidity. Beautiful herbal and floral notes linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2016 Alder Springs Vineyard “Kinesis” Red Blend, Mendocino County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mixed berry jam and dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy cherry, cranberry and strawberry flavors all but burst on the palate thanks to excellent acidity. Faint tacky tannins join flavors of cedar and dried herbs in the finish. Very tasty. A blend of 63% Mourvèdre, 31% Grenache, and 6% Cunoise. 13.5% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $45.

2013 Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah, Mendocino County, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black olive, white pepper, and cassis. In the mouth, blackberry fruit is tinged with woodsmoke and white pepper. Faint powdery tannins dust the corners of the mouth, and good acidity keeps the wine lively. 13.5% alcohol. 250 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45.

2016 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black pepper, cut fresh herbs, and just a hint of green bell pepper. In the mouth, wonderfully bright and juicy flavors of cherry, cola, and a touch of pipe tobacco have faint fresh herbal notes backing them up as well as gorgeous acidity. Powdery, fine-grained tannins ghost the edges of the mouth, as a hint of bell pepper lingers in the finish. Really lovely. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/5/20

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 couple of wines from an organic and biodynamic producer outside of Barcelona in the Penedes region of Spain. Better known for the Spanish sparkling wine Cava, Penedes has long produced some still wines, but is seeing something of a renaissance in the use of the traditional Cava grapes to make terroir-driven, very interesting white wines. These two from Pares Balta, a family operation with dual sinter-in-law winemakers, are perfect examples of why there is more to Penedes than Cava. Made from Xarel-lo, they sing a beautiful stony song.

Closer to home, the Beacon Hill Riesling from Oregon shows that variety continues to hold promise in the region, while the Wester Reach Chardonnay from DuMOL delivers pretty, lemony goodness for those who enjoy California Chardonnay on the leaner side.

I’ve got two pink wines to share this week, and my favorite of the two was the shockingly pale Raeburn rosé from the Russian River Valley. California winemakers are rarely brave enough to make rosés this pale, but when they do, it pays off, as it does with this wine and its tangy strawberry and watermelon flavors.

Beacon Hill sent along a couple of their single vineyard Pinots this week, both of which were excellent, but even the incredibly tasty Beacon Hill Vineyard bottling didn’t match the spectacular zing of their La Sierra Vineyard Pinot, which was a crystalline wonder of red fruit that would set any Pinot Lover’s heart aflutter.

Last, but not least, I’ve got one more wine from Fattoria Valentina in Abruzzi. Named “Spelt” this entry-level Montepulciano comes with a screwcap closure and perhaps a slight surfeit of wood, but if you like your wines smoky, then this might be for you.

Tasting Notes:

2019 Pares Balta “Calcari” Xarel-lo, Penedes, Spain
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of star fruit and white flowers backed by wet pavement. In the mouth, delicious white flowers and wet chalkboard minerality take on a citrus pith and faint unripe apple quality as the wine cuts a linear path across the palate. There is some weight here, silky textured and slightly voluminous, leaving the impression of a beautiful mineral fog moving across the palate. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2019 Pares Balta “Cosmic” Xarel-lo, Penedes, Spain
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of melting snow, white flowers and green apple. In the mouth, green apple and white floral flavors are welded to a deeply mineral, wet chalkboard quality that extends to a faint drying, tannic texture as the wine finishes with hints of pomelo pith and chamomile. Gorgeous. Includes 15% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Beacon Hill “Beacon Hill Vineyard” Riesling, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of Asian pears and citrus zest. In the mouth, ever-so-faintly-sweet flavors of Asian pear and mandarin orange have a nice snap thanks to excellent acidity. Beautifully balanced and delicious with notes of orange pith lingering in the finish. 12.9% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $26.

2018 DuMOL “Wester Reach” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream and Meyer lemon curd. In the mouth, floral notes of cold cream, lemon curd and white flowers have a wonderful silky texture and a nice acidity to them, with the oak making itself felt solely in the texture of the wine. Supple and delicious. 14.1% alcohol. 3352 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $57. click to buy.

2019 Raeburn Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
One of the palest rosés I’ve ever seen from California, this wine is almost colorless with just a whisper of pink to it. It smells of bubblegum and strawberries. In the mouth, juicy strawberry and watermelon flavors mix with a nice citrus twang. There’s not quite as much acidity as I would like, but with a good chill on it this one will be a helluva porch pounder. A blend of 66% Zinfandel, 26% Pinot Noir, 8% Grenache. 13.5% alcohol. 13,000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Balverne “Forever Wild” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and berries. In the mouth, citrus and unripe strawberry flavors have a bright edge to them thanks to excellent acidity. A touch of bitterness lingers in the finish with citrus and crab apple tartness. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2018 Beacon Hill “Beacon Hill Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and wet earth. In the mouth, wonderfully earthy notes of cherry and cranberry turn zingy and sour with raspberry brightness in the finish touched by a hint of brown sugar. Excellent acidity and nice herbal notes round out a very pretty wine. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Beacon Hill “La Sierra Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of beautiful fresh raspberries and some floral notes. In the mouth, lovely crystalline flavors of raspberry, sour cherry and redcurrant have a fantastic clarity and mineral backbone to them with hints of herbs and cedar backing up the stony fruit. Gorgeous acidity and texture, with faint, gauzy tannins. Outstanding. 12.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2016 Fattoria Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzi, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and leather and a touch of woodsmoke. In the mouth, doused campfire flavors are shot through with black cherry and closed in a fist of woody tannins that somewhat dry the mouth. The wine gives the impression of having too much burnt wood influence from the barrel. Good acidity, but a bit too toasty for my taste. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/17/20

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 one of the better renditions of Albariño that I’ve had from California in recent memory. Only about 300 acres of Albariño are planted in California, making it about as common as Grenache Blanc, occupying less than a third of the acres dedicated to Gewürztraminer in the way of another comparison. This variety, which is best known in the racy, lean white wines of northwestern Spain and Portugal, in California often lacks the searing acidity found in its European forbears. I’ve always chalked that up to a combination of the Californian tendency to pick the variety far too late and the grape being planted in inappropriate places. In its arguably most famous incarnations, the wines of Rias Baixas and Vinho Verde, Albariño is grown in rocky, often sloping vineyards with alluvial or primary rock soils and is often harvested to achieve somewhere between 11% and 12% potential alcohol by volume.

Rosemary Cakebread has made her Albariño in that style (if slightly riper), sourcing grapes from Matthew Rorick’s eclectic, rocky vineyard in Calaveras County in the Sierra Foothills. She’s managed to preserve some of the raciness of the grape despite having barrel fermented it after some extended skin contact.

I’ve also got her rosé this week, which is worth a look as well, made from an unusual combination of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chappellet is a well-known name in Napa, having made wines up on Napa’s famed Pritchard Hill for decades. In 2017 they launched a series of wines known as the Grower Collection, along with a tasting room dedicated to these “cool climate” wines in the town of Sonoma. The wines are made by the long-time Chappellet winemaker Phillip Titus and feature grapes sourced from some of Sonoma’s best growers. The wines are made in what I might consider a more conventional or mainstream California style, leaning towards the riper end of the spectrum of flavors, and featuring significant use of oak in flavor and texture. This week I’m featuring both a Chardonnay and a Pinot from their collection.

The rest of the wines this week are Pinot Noirs as well, with the latest estate Pinot from Eden Rift, which continues to rise in quality, as well as a wine from Argyle winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

I’ve got a couple more wines from Merry Edwards Winery (recently purchased by Champagne Louis Roederer), with my favorite of the two being her Olivet Lane Pinot Noir from one of the sweet spots in the Russian River Valley.

Lastly, I’ve got two wines from the original cult Pinot Noir label Williams-Selyem. They sent me their 2018 Pinot Noir lineup recently and it’s a humdinger of a selection. This week I’m featuring two of their regional wines, the Central Coast Pinot made down near Chalone, and their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, both of which are excellent, with the Sonoma Coast bottling drinking like some of their wines that are twice the price.

Tasting Notes

2019 Gallica “Rorick Heritage Vineyard” Albariño, Calaveras, Sierra Foothills, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of steely green apple and white flowers. In the mouth, very lean and racy green apple and lime zest flavors mix with pomelo pith and a touch of honeysuckle. One of the more varietally correct Albariños from California I’ve ever tasted. Excellent. Contains a tiny bit of Muscat Blanc. 13% alcohol. Grown at 2000 feet elevation, certified organic. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2018 Chappellet “Grower Collection – El Novillero Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of apples, white flowers and melted butter. In the mouth, white flowers, melted butter, popcorn and vanilla flavors have a very nice, juicy acidity and a hint of toasty wood that lingers in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $49. click to buy.

2019 Gallica “Estate” Rosé, St. Helena, Napa, California
Pale peachy pink in color, this wine smells of the rind of an orange fleshed melon and a touch of redcurrant. In the mouth, brisk citrus peel and redcurrant flavors have a nice bite to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a SweetTart note to the citrusy finish and a touch of chalky bitterness on the palate. A blend of 76% Petite Sirah and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28.

2018 Merry Edwards “Olivet Lane” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry and cranberry fruit is bouncy and bright thanks to excellent acidity. Citrus and raspberry notes burst bright in the finish with mouthwatering effects. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raspberry, and cherry fruit with a hint of potting soil behind the fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry notes mix with that darker earthier tone as a touch of citrus peel lingers in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2018 Chappellet “Grower Collection – Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and raspberry. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry fruit has a nice sweetish complexion and hints of cedar and herbs. More wood influence than I would like. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $49 . click to buy.

2018 Eden Rift “Estate” Pinot Noir, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry with a hint of herbs. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit flavors are backed by a faint bitterness that lingers with a citrus peel tinge into the finish. Bitter orange and cedar and winter savory. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $52. click to buy.

2018 Argyle Winery “Grower Series” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of juicy cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have a slightly candied quality, but also feature a hint of herbs to back them up and keep them from being too confectionary. There’s a deeper black tea note to the wine that lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $27 . click to buy.

2018 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and candied redcurrants. In the mouth, wonderfully bright raspberry and redcurrant and hibiscus notes are juicy and bouncy and wonderfully boisterous on the palate. Excellent acidity with notes of citrus peel and dried flowers in the finish above well-integrated oak. Outstanding. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $79. click to buy.

2018 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, San Benito County, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit is bright with juicy acidity and touched by the faintest gauzy tannins that linger with hints of citrus peel and dried herbs in the finish. Excellent. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

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