Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/21/21

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.

Let’s start this week with a couple of excellent Rieslings from opposite sides of the globe.

The first is a lovely balanced wine that calls itself “medium dry” with only a tiny hint of sweetness. It’s pitch-perfect and one of the better examples of Riesling I’ve had from Oregon in a while. Well done, Bryn Mawr.

The other is from one of Marlborough’s top producers, Fromm Winery, which makes excellent Pinot Noir in addition to Riesling. This one they call Spatlese (yes, without the umlaut), and it’s a moderately sweet, wonderfully mineral experience.

Sticking with New Zealand for a moment, I’ve got a very fresh-tasting Chardonnay from Easthope in Hawkes Bay, which manages to walk the line between richness and raciness quite competently.

Closer to home I’ve got two examples of Chardonnay from high-elevation Mendocino County, courtesy of Alder Spring’s Vineyard. They’re both aging nicely, though the 2014’s fruit is starting to fade a bit in favor of savory, herbal notes.

Headed into red territory, the Migration Pinot Noir offers a strong, pure cherry expression that many will love, while the three wines from Williams Selyem I tasted this week lean a bit more towards raspberry, each with their own charms.

Finally, I’ve got two incarnations of Sangiovese to recommend this week, one deeply earthy, the other plummy and cherry-bright. Both the Selvapiana and the Casanova di Neri represent excellent values.

Tasting Notes

2019 Bryn Mawr “Estate” Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of a hint of diesel and mandarin orange oil. In the mouth, juicy flavors of mandarin and Asian pear and wet chalkboard are bright with fantastic acidity. There’s only the barest hint of sweetness, with a perfect balance. Citrus zest lingers in the finish with a lovely stony quality. 11.8% alcohol. 130 cases made. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2020 Fromm Winery “Spatlese” Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine oil and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of honeysuckle, Asian pear, and mandarin orange have a wonderful wet pavement minerality and a nice filigreed acidity. 7% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Nickel & Nickel “Truchard Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, pineapple, lemon curd, and melted butter have a rich saline quality as flavors of toasty buttered brioche linger with scents of pineapple in the finish. A rich, but vibrant expression of California Chardonnay for those who like the style. A bit ripe for my taste. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $52. click to buy.

2016 Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay, Mendocino, California
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of dried citrus peel, lemon juice, and dried herbs. In the mouth, citrus pith, grapefruit, and dried sage flavors have a faint salinity and a nice silky texture. Excellent acidity and length, though there’s a tiny bit of heat in the finish, surprising given the modest 13.1% alcohol. 119 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39.

2014 Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of baked and dried apples and dried chamomile. In the mouth, dried apple and chamomile flavors mix with lemon curd and grapefruit. Definitely entering its second stage of evolution, with the fruit fading, but the acidity is still brisk and bright. 13.5% alcohol. 350 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $39.

2017 Easthope Family Winegrowers “Skeetfield Vineyard” Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet buttered popcorn and a touch of pineapple. In the mouth, gorgeously saline flavors of pineapple, lemon curd, and melted butter are positively zingy with fantastic acidity. Butter pineapple lingers in the finish. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $48.

2018 Migration “Bien Nacido Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry, cranberry, and raspberry fruit flavors have a bright sweetness to them, along with a wonderful purity. Excellent acidity and faint tannins, but with just a touch of alcoholic heat in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. 117 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $77.

2019 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and cranberry and cherry. In the mouth, sweet cherry and raspberry fruit has a nice purity and excellent brightness thanks to fantastic acidity. Silky and bold with barely perceptible tannins. The sweet vanilla of new oak is clearly present here, but better integrated than the Central Coast bottling. Very easy to drink. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/21/21

2019 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and new oak. In the mouth, rich black cherry, black raspberry, and the sweet vanilla of oak all swirl in a bright silky package across the palate. There’s a slightly candied quality to this wine and a touch more oak presence than I’d like. It may need a little time to settle down. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Williams Selyem “Terra de Promisso Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries, pine duff, and new oak. In the mouth, juicy bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors are shot through with the sweetness of new oak as well as bright floral notes. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish along with the new oak. I think the oak will meld into the wine with time, but for now it’s a little in your face, and a bit too much for me. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2019 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of forest floor and potting soil with a hint of dark fruit underneath. In the mouth, the wine is deeply earthy as well, with wet soil, pine duff, and cedar shavings mixing with cherry and black raspberry fruit. Profoundly savory in quality, with dried herbs lingering in the finish. 13% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Casanova di Neri “Irrosso” Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of meaty cedar and black cherry. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and earthy, cedar flavors have a wonderful salinity to them and a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity, which leaves a faint citrus note lingering in the finish. Fleecy tannins hang about the edges of the mouth. Very drinkable. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/17/20

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 might as well be called German Riesling week, or for that matter. Dr. Loosen week. I grabbed a lot of tall bottles to taste this week.

But before we get deep into the Rieslings, I’ve got a couple of other fresh white wines for you.

The first is the positively charming Pinot Blanc (aka Weissburgunder) made by Wittmann in Germany’s Rheinhessen region. The “100 Hills” is a second, more value-oriented label from this venerable producer, but the wines are quite high quality as this Pinot Blanc and the other dry Riesling below demonstrate. The Pinot Blanc, in particular, goes down extremely easy, especially for less than twenty bucks.

I’ve also got a Gëwurztraminer from Villa Wolf, Ernie Loosen’s property in the Pfalz region of Germany. This one is textbook in its lovely lychee and orange peel freshness, and while perhaps not quite as brisk as I would like, it certainly offers a wonderful aromatic freshness that avoids the cloying qualities that can mark poorly made examples of the grape.

OK, shall we drink some Riesling?

Let’s start with the Wittmann Estate Riesling Trocken, a bone-dry and very mineral-driven expression of Riesling that, despite a touch of austerity, manages to be quite tasty, especially for the price.

Then we’ve got a couple of the value Rieslings from Dr. Loosen that are affectionately labeled “Dr. L” — a dry version and an off-dry version, both of which have their charms, but I found myself gravitating to the dry version. At $12, it’s pretty difficult to argue with either.

Stepping up a notch in price, we then proceed to the Red Slate and Blue Slate bottlings of Mosel Riesling from Dr. Loosen, which are both excellent but the Blue Slate has something quite special in character, offering incredible quality for the price.

And then finally we finish our Riesling tour with two outstanding single-vineyard expressions of the Mosel River Valley from Dr. Loosen: the Erdener Treppchen vineyard, which is one of the region’s steepest vineyards, named after the stone stairs (ladder?) that workers had to install in order to make it up the precipitous slopes; and the famous Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, with its namesake sundial in the midst of the slope. Both Rieslings are cracking with acidity and offer that kind of weightlessness that great Riesling achieves on the best slate soils and in competent hands.

But wait! There’s more. Just in case anyone felt bereft without a red wine this week, I also opened Wittmann’s Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir to us Americans) and found it to be a tart, savory mouthful of herbs and berries, and one that grew on me with some air and time.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Wittmann “100 Hills” Pinot Blanc, Rheinhessen, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon zest and white flowers. In the mouth, juicy and aromatically sweet flavors of lemon curd, pink grapefruit, and meyer lemonade have a lovely brisk bite to them thanks to excellent acidity. Labeled as dry, but comes off as evert-so-faintly-sweet, and rather charming because of it. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer, Pfalz, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candied orange peel and roses. In the mouth, flavors of lychee, orange peel, and rose petals have a very faint sweetness to them that is more aromatic than it is sugary. Good acidity keeps this wine quite light on its feet, but I found myself wishing for more zip to it. The lovely floral aromatics are hard to argue with, however. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Wittmann “100 Hills” Dry Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of tangerine oil and mandarin zest. In the mouth, flavors of Asian pear and mandarin oranges are backed by a wet slate minerality and served up on a silky texture. I wish there were a bit more bright acidity here, but this is a competent and tasty wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Wittmann “Estate” Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine oil and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, silky flavors of Asian pear, grapefruit, and mandarin orange pith are zippy thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderfully dry, without any trace of sweetness, there’s a wet chalkboard quality that lingers in the finish along with citrus pith. Quite lean, but very pretty. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2018 Dr. L Dry Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith. In the mouth, flavors of citrus pith, rainwater, and wet chalkboard have a wonderfully bright crystalline quality to them, as mandarin orange pith and grapefruit pith notes emerge towards the finish. Light and zingy, thanks to excellent acidity. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Dr. L Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candle wax, wet chalkboard, and a spritz of citrus oil. In the mouth, light to moderately sweet flavors of Asian pear, lemongrass, and oyster shell manage to retain a little saline quality, like a touch of oyster “liqueur” remaining in the shell that eventually gives way to star fruit and Asian pear flavors to linger in the finish. Good, but not fantastic acidity. 8.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Red Slate” Dry Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon cucumber, wet chalkboard, and unripe pear. In the mouth, crackling acidity makes flavors of grapefruit pith and unripe pear shimmer with electricity and give way to a deeply stony underbelly. Hints of kumquat linger in the finish with that fruit’s astringent citrus bite. Perhaps slightly austere, but quite a pretty wine. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/17/20

2018 Dr. Loosen “Blue Slate” Riesling Kabinett Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement and white flowers with a hint of citrus. In the mouth, honeysuckle and Asian pear flavors mix with a touch of ruby grapefruit and mandarin orange. Excellent acidity makes this wine quartz-like in its clarity. Very pretty. 8.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of mandarin oil, Asian pear, and a touch of candle wax. In the mouth, the wine bursts with Asian pear, tangerine, and honeysuckle flavors, as electric acidity makes the mouth water unstoppably. Incredibly juicy, with a stony underbelly that gives the wine a weightless, crystalline quality that is quite compelling. Fantastic. 9% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Treppchen Kabinett” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin oil, mandarin zest, and Asian pears. In the mouth, flavors of star fruit, Asian pears, lemon cucumber, and white flowers have a moderate sweetness that fades quickly towards a perception of dryness thanks to the stony acidity that pervades the wine. The dusty flavor of wet chalkboard lingers in the finish. Like many great Rieslings, this has a weightlessness to it that is breathtaking. 8.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2017 Wittmann Spätburgunder, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light ruby in color the point of easily being mistaken for a rosé, this wine smells of comfrey, red berries, and chopped herbs. In the mouth, notes of dried herbs, redcurrant, and citrus peel have a light, bouncy quality thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness that lingers in the finish with a hint of licorice root flavor and dried herbs. Lean and savory, with barely perceptible tannins. While many might not peg this as Pinot Noir, it is nonetheless a pleasant wine to drink. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. 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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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 10/25/20

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 I’ve got a Riesling, a bunch of Chardonnays, some Pinots and some killer Zinfandels to share.

Let’s start with the Riesling, from the venerable Wittmann estate in Westofen, Germany. This is the fully dry, or “Trocken” version of their estate Erste Lage (the equivalent of Grand Cru) vineyard Riesling that sits nearby the winery. It’s classically styled with wonderful balance.

We’re going to move on to Chardonnay next, but stay in Germany, and to be fair, this wine is just as much Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) as it is Chardonnay. Made by Weingut Weinreich, it’s also got some age to it, and some of what were undoubtedly fresh citrus qualities are mellowing into secondary notes that are quite interesting.

I’ve got two full Chardonnays to recommend next, the first from Oregon’s J. Christopher winery, a no-malo, neutral oak rendition of Chardonnay that raised some eyebrows when first released. As a result the winemaker Jay Somers named it “Cuvee Lunatique” but it’s proved so popular no one thinks him a lunatic anymore.

The Rued clone remains one of California’s most popular selections for Chardonnay plant material, and it takes its name from a vineyard in Sonoma’s Green Valley now farmed by the Dutton family. The Chardonnay that Dutton Goldfield makes from that vineyard has a richness and opulence to it, despite retaining the cutting edge of acidity that keeps it refreshing.

The Dutton brothers also farm the Azaya Ranch Vineyard in the Marin County portion of the rather new Petaluma Gap AVA, and it is one of my favorite sites of theirs for Pinot Noir, yielding fresh, snappy wines with real depth and complexity. The 2018 is perhaps the best rendition I have yet tasted of what that vineyard has to offer.

Speaking of Pinot Noir, I’ve got four more to share with you this week, two from Oregon and two more from California.

The Oregon bottlings are quite different in their expression. The Lange wine offers unusually dark blue and black fruit character with a rich complexion, while the J. Christopher wine has a savory, herbal quality that is breathtaking. The Abbey Ridge vineyard is one of Willamette Valley’s oldest, and this 2016 bottling shows that it’s still going strong after 40 years. This single vineyard bottling was the star of this week’s tasting lineup for sure.

Williams Selyem needs little introduction to Pinot-files, as perhaps the first “cult” producer of Pinot Noir in California. I’ve got two of their top bottlings to review this week, one of which, the Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard bottling, was a bit more oak-influenced than I’d like, but still worth drinking. The Eastside Road Neighbors bottling was a bit more integrated and exciting.

Last but not least, I’ve got a couple more Zinfandels from specialist Limerick Lane outside of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley. Both of these wines are brimming with acidity and positively bursting with juiciness. Of the two I think I slightly preferred the Estate Cuvee, which features a modicum of Syrah and Petite Sirah, but the straight Zinfandel named “Marquis” was pretty damn good as well and a great demonstration of just how compelling the variety can be in the right hands.

Tasting Notes

2018 Wittmann “Westhofener Erste Lage” Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of tangerine oil and Asian pears. In the mouth, beautifully vibrant flavors of Asian pear and wet chalkboard mix with mandarin orange and a hint of grapefruit, all crackling with excellent acidity and mineral backbone. Fully dry with no real hint of sweetness. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2015 Weinreich “Weissburgunder Chardonnay” White Blend, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light to medium gold in color, this wine smells of baked apples and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, baked apple, candied lemon peel, old parchment and a touch of dried honey are all enlivened with bright acidity. A hint of marmalade lingers in the finish. A blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 J. Christopher “Cuvée Lunatique” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of fresh apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, apples and grapefruit flavors have a nice zingy brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of citrus pith linger in the finish. Quite fresh and snappy. This wine is prevented from going through malolactic conversion and sees only neutral oak. A decision, when first made, that was responsible for the name of the wine. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2018 Dutton Goldfield “Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and butterscotch. In the mouth, particularly silky flavors of lemon and butterscotch have decent, but slightly soft acidity and a nice grapefruit pith note in the finish. Creamy as all get out. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2018 Dutton Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and redcurrant and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, wonderfully stony flavors of cranberry and raspberry have a nice earthy savoriness to them along with a bright redcurrant sourness in the finish that is quite mouthwatering. Excellent acidity and barely perceptible tannins. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5 . Cost: $62. click to buy.

2017 Lange Winery “Three Hills Cuvee” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cranberry. In the mouth, darker flavors of black cherry mix with a touch of green herbs and earth. Faint tannins and decent acidity round out the package, which definitely leans towards the darker side of Pinot. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “Abbey Ridge” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry and a hint of red apple skin. In the mouth, beautifully silky notes of red apple skin, raspberry and cherry fruit are shot through with dried sage and thyme. Faint, dusty tannins creep about the edges of the palate as hints of bitter orange linger in the finish. Quite savory. This vineyard, one of the Willamette Valley’s oldest, hosts 40-year-old vines. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5 . Cost: $65. click to buy.

2018 Williams Selyem “Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of new oak and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, black raspberry and cherry fruit is definitely shot through with the toasty new oak signature that hangs right on the edge of overwhelming the fruit. Good acidity with hints of floral notes in the finish, but at the moment, the wood is dominant. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2018 Williams Selyem “Eastside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry fruit and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit mixes with cherry and cranberry under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity and a nice citrus brightness, with a hint of new oak lingering in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.

2018 Limerick Lane “Marquis” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of freshly smashed blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, blue and black fruits are bursting with acidity and shot through with chopped green herbs and a touch of black pepper that lingers in the finish. Phenomenally bright, balanced, and mouthwatering with no hint of its prodigious 15.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.

2018 Limerick Lane “Estate Cuvée” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, extremely juicy flavors of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry have a wonderful brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Somewhat effortless with only the faintest heat in the finish hinting at the 14.8% alcohol. Very tasty. A blend of 63% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 10% Petite Sirah. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

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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 7/26/20

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

It’s Riesling week! Or mostly Riesling, as I dig into a big chunk of German samples that came my way recently. We’ve got several key German wine regions represented this week with a wide range of wines, from entry-level to top-tier single-vineyard bottlings.

Just as a reminder for those of you who aren’t used to the Prädikat, or ripeness designations for German wines that suggest the level of sweetness you might find in a wine: Trocken means dry, or with barely perceptible residual sugar, while Kabinett is a bit sweeter, and Spatlese, sweeter still. I don’t have any Auslese wines this week (which is the next notch up the ripeness scale), but I do have a nicely aged Beerenauslese-style wine, which is a step above Auslese, and is made from berries fully affected by the noble rot, botrytis cinerea.

With that, let’s move on to the wines.

Before we get into the Rieslings, I’ve got a pretty nice little Pinot Gris from Villa Wolf in the Pfalz region of Germany. The wine isn’t horribly complicated, but it does the trick for anyone looking for a crisp and tasty aperitif wine or something simple for a sunny day.

Also in the non-Riesling department, Villa Wolf has a pitch-perfect rosé of Pinot Noir that is a match for top pink wines everywhere, and will satisfy any rosé enthusiast. Chill it down, snap off that screw cap, and get busy enjoying summer.

For starters, I’ve got three entry-level Rieslings from Villa Wolf in the Pfalz and Fritz Haag and Maximin Grünhaus in the Mosel. Each of these wines has distinct character, with the Villa Wolf leaning towards the green apple side of the flavor spectrum, while the two Mosel wines have that characteristic petrol and citrus character that marks many Mosel rieslings. All are decent, affordable, and pleasant expressions of Riesling.

But let’s take it to the next level, shall we?

Some entries from Weingut Robert Weil add yet another German wine region to the list this week, the Rheingau. Robert Weil is a venerable, if somewhat newer producer in the region, the family having only made wine in the region since 1875!

I’ve got two Riesling Trockens from Weil, the Keidricher and the Keidrich Turmberg. The estate is located in the town of Keidrich, which lends its name to both of these wines. The first is a mix of different Keidrich vineyard sides, hence “Keidricher,” while the second is from the Turmberg vineyard in Keidrich. Both are excellent, but the Turmberg offers a particularly refined and delicate expression of Riesling.

Next we’ve got two wines made from the same vineyard, but simply picked at different ripeness levels. The Abstberg vineyard (which translates to “abbots hill”) in the Mosel is one of Germanys grand cru vineyards, designated by the Grosse Lage (literally “great site”) designation by the VDP organization whose job it is to decide such things. Maximin Grünhaus makes several Rieslings from this prominent, incredibly steep sloping hill of blue slate that has been planted with vines for more than 1000 years. Both their Kabinett and Spätlese bottlings are superb and wonderful studies in the role of ripeness in wine. Somehow, as can sometimes be the case, the wine with more sugar (the Spätlese) has a lightness and a lift to is that its slightly-less ripe sibling does not. Both are utterly delicious, however, so it’s hard to go wrong.

A few river bends away, in the town of Brauneberg, Weingut Fritz Haag, under the direction of Oliver and Wilhelm Haag, farms another well-known stretch of riverbank known as the Juffer Vineyard (shown in the image above, from my visit there in 2012). In the heart of the Juffer Vineyard, on one of its steepest slopes, sits a huge sundial, the Juffer Sonnenuhr. In an interesting comparison, I’ve got Spätlese wines from the two main sections of the vineyard — same riverbank, same grapes, same ripeness, but just a slightly different section of the vineyard. And the difference is clear. Both are excellent wines, but the section of vineyard surrounding the sundial has something special, which is why it has been picked separately for decades.

Lastly, let’s return briefly to the Rheingau for Hans Lang’s “Nobilis” bottling of Riesling. This wine is a dessert course in itself, moderately, but not cloyingly sweet, offering the many great flavors that botrytis can bring to Riesling with the mellowing effects of age. If you want a sip of liquid sunshine, see if you can find a bottle of this stuff.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy!

Tasting notes

2018 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris, Pfalz, Germany
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of freshly cut pear, wet chalkboard and pomelo pith. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of pear and Asian pear mix with a hint of woody, herbal tone. Grapefruit citrusy notes linger in the finish. Pleasant and tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Riesling, Pfalz, Germany
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of unripe apples, lime zest and white flowers. In the mouth, green apple and Asian pear flavors mix with white flowers and a crisp wet pavement minerality. Very faint sweetness, mostly aromatic, with the mouth left feeling slightly chalky and dry. 11% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of ripe apples, citrus peel and a hint of kerosene. In the mouth, green apple, Asian pear, and mandarin orange flavors have a crisp snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wine has a faint aromatic sweetness but comes across as entirely dry, with a clean, floral finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2018 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhaus “Maximin” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of diesel and citrus zest. In the mouth, apple and tangerine flavors have a nice silky texture and a faint aromatic sweetness to them. Wet chalkboard minerality creeks into the finish, leaving the mouth somewhat parched and chalky. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Keidricher” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange zest and a hint of paraffin. In the mouth, Asian pear, mandarin zest and grapefruit flavors have an angular sharpness to them thanks to aggressive acidity. Steely notes linger in the finish, along with citrus zest. Mouthwatering, and slightly austere, but excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Keidrich Turmberg” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, wet chalkboard, and star fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously filigreed flavors of lime zest, Asian pear, white flowers and citrus pith have fantastic balance and poise with beautiful acidity and length. Outstanding. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2018 Maxmin Grünhaus “Abtsberg VDP Grosse Lage” Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin, honey and exotic citrus. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of honeysuckle, Asian pear and wet chalkboard are mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. Beautifully floral finish. 8.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Maxmin Grünhaus “Abtsberg VDP Grosse Lage” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of honeysuckle and candle wax. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of honey and rainwater mix with mandarin orange oil and Asian pear. Beautiful wet chalkboard minerality leaves the mouth feeling clean and refreshed with scents of white flowers and honey. Moderately sweet. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $44. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Juffer” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pink bubblegum and linalool. In the mouth, lightly sweeter flavors of green apple, Asian pear and tangerine have a gorgeous acidity and beautiful crystalline mineral quality to them. Floral notes linger in the finish. Excellent. 8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin and citrus zest. In the mouth, beautifully bright flavors of Asian pear, white flowers and rainwater have an ethereal lightness to them, an incredible delicacy that seems intricate and weightless. Lightly to moderately sweet, the wine’s finish is clean and crisp, with a distinct and pervasive minerality. Utterly compelling. 7.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $37. click to buy.

2011 Hans Lang “Hattenheimer Hassel – Nobilis” Riesling Beerenauslese, Rheingau, Germany
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of orange marmalade and apricots. In the mouth, silky, slightly weighty flavors of honey, apricot, and canned peaches have enough acidity to keep from being cloying, but they’re still pretty sweet. The finish is clean and tastes of candied citrus peel. 9.5% alcohol. Tasted out of a 375ml bottle. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $149. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany
A pale peachy pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon rind. In the mouth, crisp berry and watermelon flavors have a nice zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Silky textured, but eminently snappy, this is a winner of a pink wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/19/20

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 bunch of white wines, and in particular, a bunch of Rieslings.

But before we get to the Rieslings, let’s not overlook the “Naissance” Sauvignon Blanc from Galerie, Gianna Kelly’s project. This isn’t the current release, as the 2019s have come out, but it’s likely still in the market and worth picking up.

I’ve got Riesling three ways this week. Two from Germany’s Nahe region, both with a couple of years of age on them. The Dönnhoff Tonschiefer is predictably delicious, with wonderful dry and crisp citrus and stone fruit flavors. The Kruger Rumpf has its share of citrus along with the wonderful paraffin notes that can add another layer of dimension to aging Riesling.

And then finally I’ve got a Clare Valley Riesling from Wakefield, which is bright ahd fresh and surprisingly young for a 2017 vintage.

All three of these wines are worthy of seeking out and none will set you back very much.

I discovered several Wakefield bottles in the samples pile this week in addition to their Riesling that had been overlooked for some time, including a Chardonnay, a Cabernet and two vintages of their reserve Shiraz. The Shiraz wines were slightly tired, though still tasty, but the Chardonnay and Cabernet both offered excellent flavors and proved to be aging well.

Before we move on to red wines, I’ve got two well-known names in Napa Chardonnay this week, the Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch and the Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay. Both delivered rich “California” style, but with slightly more restrained use of oak than they might have in past years, which was a good thing from my palate’s perspective.

Finally, in addition to the reds from Wakefield I described above, I also discovered a Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache in the stack this week. This was pleasant but perhaps more subdued than I expected, given only a year in the bottle since release.

Enjoy.

Tasting Notes

2018 Galerie “Naissance” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Pale blonde in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green apples. In the mouth, bright green apple and crabapple flavors have a faint sourness that is positively mouthwatering, as lime juice and lime zest notes emerge in the finish. Very tasty. 13.8% alcohol. 1600 cases made. Closed with a screwcap Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Dönnhoff “Tonschiefer” Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement, lemon pith and mandarin orange oil. In the mouth, zippy Asian pear, mandarin orange and rainwater flavors have a wonderful crispness to them and fantastic acidity that makes the mouth water. Notes of mandarin zest linger in the finish. Delicious. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2017 Wakefield “St. Andrews” Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, green apples and white flowers. In the mouth, juicy citrus pith, grapefruit and candied green apple flavors have a remarkable wet chalkboard minerality to them, as well as an ethereal weightlessness in the mouth. Excellent acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $35.

2016 Kruger Rumpf Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin and mandarin orange zest. In the mouth, tangerine and Asian pear flavors have a creamy texture even as they are crisp and light with a nice crystalline quality to them. Good acidity and pretty, wet chalkboard minerality in the finish. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33.

2018 Shafer Vineyards “Red Shoulder Ranch” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Bright gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, silky, weighty flavors of pineapple, lemon curd, and lemon zest have the creamy vanilla of oak mixed in very well. Decent but not fantastic acidity. For those who like their California Chardonnays rich, this will definitely satisfy. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream and lemon curd. In the mouth, flavors of lemon curd, cold cream, and grapefruit have reasonably well-integrated oak influence and very good acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Wakefield “St. Andrews” Chardonnay, Clare Valley, South Australia
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of butterscotch and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon curd and butterscotch flavors have a wonderful lightness to them, with hints of pomelo pith emerging as the wine finishes. Lacey, delicate acidity runs throughout. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.

2018 Yalumba “Bush Vine” Grenache, Barossa, South Australia
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam and dried herbs. In the mouth, somewhat bitter strawberry, cherry and cedar flavors are oddly subdued. Decent acidity, very faint tannins. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2014 Wakefield “The Pioneer – Exceptional Parcel Release” Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, blackberry and chopped herbs. In the mouth, prunes and blackberry flavors are gathered up in a tight fist of muscular tannins that squeeze a bit as the wine finishes with notes of leather and black cherry. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $100.

2013 Wakefield “The Pioneer – Exceptional Parcel Release” Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cola nut and prunes. In the mouth, rich flavors of mulling spices and black cherry, leather and cola nut have a beautiful woody and saddle leather backdrop to them. Faint tannins and decent acidity. Notes of caramelized brown sugar linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $100.

2016 Wakefield “St. Andrews” Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, mint and dark chocolate. In the mouth, cherry and green herbs have a fine, powdery tannic texture and excellent acidity. Very pretty green herbal notes linger in the finish with the cherry and a touch of leather. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

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Fantastic White Wines and Sparkling from Lucien Albrecht

Back in May I joined Lucien Albrecht winemaker Jėrȏme Keller for some wine (duh) and snacks at a small media get-together. I said “yes” because many of these wines are like old friends, particularly the sparkling and Pinot Blanc. It was an impressive set of bottles, and here are my favorites of the lot.

Idyllic Alsace in the fall.

Lucien Albrecht Sparkling and White Wines

(Note that the 2018 wines were recently bottled and a couple months away from release when I drank them. Their condition at the time was excellent, so I only imagine them currently even better.)

Lucien Albrecht NV Rosé ($23)

When I worked at a Seattle wine shop (Esquin), for many on the staff this bottle was the answer to the question, “What wine is always in your fridge?” Rosé sparkling wine is at the top of my favorites list, and at just over 2o bucks, it’s hard to beat this bottle. Made from Pinot Noir.

Lucien Albrecht 2018 Pinot Blanc Balthazar ($14)

This wine is a slammin’ bargain, so fresh and tasty. Strangely/surprisingly, this wine is actually 70% Auxerrois. So how/why is it labeled “Pinot Blanc”? Good question. I reached out to the folks representing Wines of Alsace, who got in touch with the Committee of Alsace Wines (CIVA). Here’s what I found out.

The rules for still wines are:
  • Producers are allowed to label their wines “Pinot Blanc” regardless of the Auxerrois percentage in it, as “Pinot Blanc” is considered an appellation in this case, now, instead of the grape variety.
  • If the wine is 100% Auxerrois, it can be labeled either Auxerrois or Pinot Blanc.
  • However, if the wine is a blend and not 100% Auxerrois, it cannot be labeled Auxerrois, and must be labeled Pinot Blanc. 

These rules should be changed. Though perhaps for many markets the word “Pinot” in the name gives it a familiar association, unlike Auxerrois which is probably wine anxiety-inducing in comparison.

Enjoy this wine on a deck chair under a pool-adjacent umbrella.

Lucien Albrecht 2018 Gewurztraminer Réserve ($23)

This is a grape that’s been hit-or-miss for me. Dry versions are often stripped of the grape’s aromatic/textural wonders, but too-sweet Gewurztraminers can be overwrought and oily. (Here’s a good dry one from California, BTW.) This offering from Albrecht, however, is classic Gewurz. This is what the grape should be, textbook stuff. There’s a decent amount of sugar in this Gewurz, but you’d never know because it drinks quite dry. Break out the spicy food.

Lucien Albrecht Riesling 2017 Grand Cru Spiegel ($30)

A big step up from the (very fine) regular bottling. “Riesling really shows where it grows,” says Keller. So I can only imagine what a special site Speigel is. Almost completely dry and very age-worthy. It’s cool to find another white wine at 30 bucks or less that can greatly reward your patience. (This Italian Verdicchio is another recent gem along those lines.)

So clear some space in your fridge. Have a couple bottles of sparkling rosé in there for brunch, Tuesday night, grilled salmon, whatever. Reach for some PB when you need a glass after surviving a stiflingly hot, crowded subway nightmare. Maybe the Gewurz with Nashville hot chicken? And the GC Riesling with a roast pork/broccoli rabe/provolone sandwich, transport you to Philly (food-wise).

This post was written on a day where the heat index in Brooklyn at 2:11pm EST was 110 degrees.

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Restaurant Wine List Confidential

Navigating a big restaurant wine list is daunting. Possibly scary. For a geek like me, it can also be hella fun.

I was reminded of this when I was at Nice Matin, a French restaurant in New York City’s Upper West Side. The wine list there is excellent. (Not the one pictured above, BTW.)

And it is big. And leather-bound. And full of French wine. It has true heft. If you dropped it from a foot above your table, it would land with a resounding thump/thwack.

But it reminded me of a a strategy to deal with the large restaurant wine list, deep in verticals and back vintages.

I relate this advice and my (excellent) experience at Nice Matin on today’s episode of Snacky Tunes, which you can hear from 4:30pm-5:3opm EST.

But here’s the gist:

A huge list is either going to panic a novice, who doesn’t know where to begin, or send an expert down the rabbit hole for a stupefying amount of time. Neither are good for you, especially if you are dining with one person or more. (Of course, the first point I should make is ask for help from a sommelier, wine director, or knowledgable employee. But here’s how to focus in on the hidden gems.)

In this case, I glossed over the numerous selections of Burgundy and Bordeaux to zip to a section called (something along the lines of) “Other White Wines.” It’s a hodgepodge of things that don’t fit into a larger category. And it’s often where you can find some interesting bottles and bargains. Also, it’s A LOT shorter selection. Consider it a mini-oasis within an ocean of wine. (Wait, an oasis is in the desert. Well, you know what I mean.)

(If white wine isn’t your thing, look for an “Other Red Wines” counterpart.)

The bottle I found?

Restaurant Wine List Gem: Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Claire Valley, Australia) 2010

Restaurant Wine List ConfidentialIt was $81 on the list. Wine Searcher has the average retail price for the 2017 at $50. So to get a vintage that’s eight years old for that price is a good deal.

(Yes, if I had a brain I would have purchased the wine right on release, cellared it for years, and opened it at home with some fish tacos.)

But, dang! This is an iconic Australian wine and it’s DRY, DRY, DRY, folks. If you ever see an Aussie Riesling on a wine list and you like dry whites, buy it. They are always very limey and they can age forever. This Grosset from the famous Polish Hill vineyard was killer, super-fresh and very interesting. And fun to drink

I’d also like to note that it didn’t come to the table (ok, bar) ice-cold. It was slightly cool and even at that temperature was excellent. When a white wine doesn’t need to be arctic to be enjoyed (like a cheap beer), you know you’ve got something good. (The bottle was subsequently put on ice.)

On Snacky Tunes I mentioned I’d give some more Australian Riesling recos. First, a tip. If it says “Clare Valley” or “Eden Valley” on the label, get it. These are two great areas. Producers to look for besides Grosset include Pewsey Vale, Jim Barry, and Pikes.

Oh, and what if you were walking through Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and passed me while I was talking to someone about Australian Riesling, but thought I said “Austrian”?

GUESS WHAT, YOU’D STILL BE SITTING PRETTY.

Riesling from Austria is equally awesome. Very dry. In general, I’d say a bit richer. Some producers to look out for: Loimer, Prager, Gobelsburger, Brundlemayer.

So when confronted with a massive wine list, look for that rogues’ gallery of wines, the rando reds and whatever whites.

Life update: Last week was my final one at Wine Enthusiast. Grateful for two-plus years of Champagne flute and oaky white wine defending, along with working with a memorable cast of characters. What is next for me? Hmm. I’d be interested in making wine on the West Coast, perhaps in NY, or around the globe. Continuing to live in NYC and getting a writing/editing gig that’s not necessarily food/wine related. Moving to Philly? If you have any advice or leads, send them my way.

Here’s my Linkedin profile.

Wine list pic by Lou Stejskal via Flickr.

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