Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/13/22

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

This past week included a wonderfully bright and zippy and deeply stony expression of the volcanic terroir of Italy’s Soave region. The Inama Family has been making wine for 50 years and has become one of the standard-bearers for Soave and its Garganega grape. This particular wine is a single plot of pergola-trained vines grown in old fractured basalt, and is as pitch-perfect an expression of Soave as you’ll ever find. I highly recommend it.

I received two vintages of an unsual skin-fermented Pinot Gris recently, grown in the far north of California. Humbolt County is better known for its marijuana and redwoods than for its wine, but Adrian Jewell Manspeaker and his wife Lily grew up there, and feel strongly about its potential as a winegrowing region. I was fairly impressed with the 2020 vintage of their Joseph Jewell Pinot Gris, done in a strong ramato style to the point that it is a definite rosé in character. The 2021 has a bit more funk to it, which may appeal to some, but I preferred the cleaner 2020 wine.

The 2020 vintage of John and Tracey Skupny’s Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc (formerly North Coast, now just a California appellated wine) offers its usual great value for the money, with classic varietal character, restrained winemaking, and general deliciousness.

I got a decidedly Sine Qua Non vibe when I unboxed a group of samples from the brand new producer Terre Et Sang recently. In particular I was dismayed at the pretentious weight of the bottles, which clock in at 1.8 kilograms apiece. The wines I can recommend this week are almost on opposite ends of the Syrah spectrum, one from the old X block at Bien Nacido, with lots of whole cluster and low alcohol, the other a rich, ripe brawny bottle of fruit.

Lastly, I was sent a bunch of wines from Truett-Hurst winery, one of the more unusual wineries in Sonoma County. Just looking at its website, you’d think it was a small family-run estate winery, with 26 acres of vineyards focused on organic and biodynamic wine production. That’s true. On the other hand, it’s also a public corporation that has historically made several hundred thousand cases of wine every year, many of them private labeled brands for grocery stores and retailers, including Trader Joes (though this part of its business was apparently sold in 2018). It’s hard to reconcile those two realities, just as it’s hard to know exactly what is in the bottle you’re drinking, unless it bears the “Estate” designation like the Petite Sirah below, which presumably means certified organic and biodynamic production. Of the wines I sampled this week, my favorite was the Rattler Rock Zinfandel, which had more of a red fruit character and great juiciness.

Notes on all these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2020 Inama “Carbonare – Vecchie Vini” Garganega, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and lime zest. In the mouth, bright and delicious lime and lemon flavors mix with green apple skin and wonderfully crackling wet stone minerality. Fantastic acidity and brightness, with a long saline finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2020 Joseph Jewell “Ryan Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris, Humboldt County, California
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel, wet earth, and plum. In the mouth, bright plum and citrus notes mix with a hint of dried flowers and herbs. There’s a light tannic grip to this wine, which along with good acidity makes for a nicely balanced and complex mouthful. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2021 Joseph Jewell “Ryan Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris, Humboldt County, California
Pale to light ruby in the glass with distinctly chunky bits of sediment, this wine smells of red apple skin, plum and orange peel. In the mouth, dried herbs and plum skin mix with orange peel and a touch of berries. Good acidity and a hint of yogurty tang in the finish. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2020 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed hazelnuts, green herbs and cherries. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is shot through with green herbs and a touch of cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and lightly grippy tannins. Very tasty. 14.5% alcohol. 508 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2020 Terre et Sang “Passenger” Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of licorice and blackberry pie with some floral notes overtop. In the mouth, juicy and rich blackberry and black cherry flavors are shot through with black pepper and brightened by brisk acidity. Rich but not brawny, the wine is quite well balanced for its 15.7% alcohol. Contains 10% Grenache. Nasty heavy bottle weighing 1.8 kg when full. 115 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $75.

2020 Terre et Sang “X Block – Bien Nacido Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
A very dark, hazy garnet in the glass this wine smells of sweet blackberry fruit. In the mouth, juicy ripe and unripe blackberry fruit has a nice brisk freshness and a tangy herbal zip. Excellent acidity and a faint tannic texture over a stony underbelly, but somewhat lean and missing a little something. 85% whole cluster. 13.1% alcohol. 130 cases made. Nasty heavy bottle weighing 1.8 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/13/22

2019 Truett-Hurst “Red Rooster – Old Vine” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries, raisins, and roasted figs with hints of licorice. In the mouth, blackberries, raisins, chocolate and licorice flavors have juicy acidity but also some heat in the finish, thanks to the 15.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2019 Truett-Hurst “Rattler Rock – Old Vine” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberries and blackberries. In the mouth, bright blackberry and strawberry flavors have a nice juiciness and crisp freshness thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of herbs and licorice enter the finish, along with some alcoholic heat. 15.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2019 Truett-Hurst “Single Vineyard Collection – Rockpile” Petite Sirah, Rockpile, Sonoma, California
Inky opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, faintly sweet blueberry, blackberry, and black cherry fruit is lush and rich and dark. The wine coats the mouth with fine powdery tannins and teeth-staining fruit. If you like ’em big and bold, this is your wine. Very good acidity keeps things fresh in the mouth. 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Truett-Hurst “Single Vineyard Collection – Estate” Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, blueberries, and black cherry. In the mouth, rich blueberry and black cherry fruit has a nice brisk freshness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a muscular tannic texture to the wine that increases its grip over time. Candied blueberries and floral notes linger in the finish. Rich, dark, and powerful, for those who like such things. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/6/22

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 few very nice, relatively inexpensive white wines I’m happy to recommend, beginning with a nice Sardinian Vermentino from Surrau, which offers a wonderful floral and citrus character.

Sticking with the floral theme, Sokol Blosser’s Estate Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley is also floral, with wonderful pear notes to complement the flowers, and most crucially, lots of acidity to keep the wine crisp and zingy.

A Pinot Blanc from the meticulously Biodynamic producer Alois Lageder rounds out the bright and crisp portion of this week’s reviews. Pinot Blanc is an underrated grape variety that can offer a lot of pleasure in the glass. Lageder’s is a pretty classical rendition.

Three Sticks Winery sent along a bunch of wines. I reviewed a few last week, and now a few more this week, including their mailing-list-only Alana Chardonnay, which did a perfectly poised balancing act between minerality and ripeness that I quite admired. The two Pinots I tasted from them this week were also excellent, both expressions of the eastern side of the sprawling Sonoma Coast AVA. There’s nothing particularly coastal about these two vineyards, but that shouldn’t detract from their ability to produce great fruit, which they have been doing for years. Both wines offer bright berry and cherry qualities, with excellent acidity.

I also received a German Pinot this week from August Kesseler, a well-known producer in the Rheingau, and it offered some bright, event boisterous fruit flavors that global warming has now made possible in the historically chilly area. At $25 it will satisfy Pinot Noir lovers looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy their favorite grape.

Lastly I received two special bottlings from Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Vineyards, one lovingly named after his dog Cairo, the other named after his family home in Napa. Both bottlings (one from the 2016 vintage and 2017) are nicely balanced between richness and restraint, offering slightly lower than average alcohols for Napa. I think I slightly preferred the Cairo, but that would really be splitting (dog) hairs.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2021 Surrau “Branu” Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia, Italy
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange blossom water and lemon curd. In the mouth, lightly salty flavors of orange peel, orange blossom water, and pomelo zest have a slight prickliness on the tongue and a nice crisp aspect thanks to very good acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2020 Sokol Blosser “Estate” Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, pears, and unripe apples. In the mouth, juicy and bright lemon pith, Asian pear, daikon radish, and wet pavement minerality are bright and savory and very tasty. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2020 Alois Lageder “Versalto” Pinot Bianco, Dolomites, Italy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and lemon pith. In the mouth, bright lemon pith and grapefruit juice have a zippy, tangy quality thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp, bright, and juicy, with a hint of sour tanginess in the finish. Demeter-certified biodynamic. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33. click to buy.

2020 Three Sticks “Alana Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale yellow gold in the glass with green highlights, this wine smells of lemon curd and cold cream. In the mouth, lemon curd and melted butter mix with brighter apple and wet chalkboard flavors for a nice balance of rich and crisp. There’s a nice lemon zest note in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75.

2020 Three Sticks “Durell Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
A hazy medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry flavors crackle with excellent acidity and hints of dried herbs and citrus peel linger in the finish. Barely perceptible tannins. Bright and juicy. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/6/22

2020 Three Sticks “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
A slightly hazy medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and pomegranate. In the mouth, bright raspberry and pomegranate flavors are juicy thanks to excellent acidity, and there’s a nice stony undercurrent to the wine, with faint tannins and a hint of dried herbs lingering in the finish along with citrus peel brightness. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2019 August Kesseler “The Daily August” Pinot Noir, Rheingau, Germany
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberries and raspberries. In the mouth, bright boysenberry and raspberry fruit flavors are shot through with hints of green herbs. Good acidity and brightness. There’s a hint of bitterness in the finish along with a faint tannic grip. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 Gamble Family Vineyards “Cairo” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cola, and licorice. In the mouth, juicy flavors of black cherry, cola, licorice root, and wet earth have a nice freshness thanks to excellent acidity. Muscular tannins grip the edges of the mouth, as notes of oak and earth linger in the finish. Named after the owner’s dog. Spends 20 months in oak. 14.1% alcohol. 505 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2016 Gamble Family Vineyards “Family Home” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, black cherry and blackcurrant flavors are fresh with excellent acidity and hints of dark chocolate and green herbs. Lightly muscular tannins and a touch of licorice root linger in the finish. Spends 20 months in oak. 14.2% alcohol. 698 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.

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An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

Portugal remains one of the more under-appreciated wine-producing countries on the planet in my opinion. Even as it has recently become the darling destination for permanent ex-pats, who have moved there fleeing everything from pandemics to politics. As a source for great (and great value) wines, from crisp whites to rich reds and everything in between, it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Most wine drinkers’ experience with Portuguese wine doesn’t go much farther than Port, which I think is actually one of the least interesting products when it comes to Portuguese wine. Port is historically significant, age-worthy, blah, blah, blah, but I personally get a lot more excited about the country’s dry wines, made from the many indigenous grape varieties that grow in the many wine regions blanketing the country.

And by blanketing, I mean blanketing. One of Portugal’s defining characteristics and claims to fame when it comes to wine is the fact that literally every square inch of the country falls within one of its 13 major wine regions.

These regions play host to roughly 250 indigenous grape varieties and another 80 endemic grapes that have been cultivated in the country for centuries. Given its small size, that also lets Portugal claim the prize for the most indigenous grape varieties per square kilometer of any country in Europe.

Being so small, and representing 350 miles of Europe’s most western coastline, it’s easy to think of Portugal as primarily a country of coastal, maritime-influenced wines. That, however, is far from the truth and brings us to the topic of today’s post, the wine region known as Dão.

Mountain Viticulture

If there’s one thing you need to remember to keep the Dão wine region distinct in your mind, think mountains.

A view from the Serra da Estrela Mountains, which mark the Eastern edge of Dão

A hilly, elevated region of the country, surrounded on three sides (north, west, and east) by significant mountain ranges, Dão hosts almost 45,000 acres of vines on primarily decomposed granite and shist-based soils. That might sound like a lot of acres, but for a region the size of Dão, that’s only around 11% of the region’s land.

Most of the winegrowing takes place between 1200 and 1600 feet of elevation, but as in many places around the world, vineyard plantings continue to climb in elevation and have been planted in Dão up to 2500 feet above sea level.

With the mountains blocking any significant weather from the Pacific to the west, Dão possesses a largely continental climate, with hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters, averaging between 30 and 50 inches of rain annually. Its mountainous topography ensures a wide variety of microclimates, most of which have significant diurnal temperature ranges, even in the heat of summer.

The combination of topography, climate, and soils gives the region the ability to produce fresh, bright wines of many varieties, often with more elegance and finesse than the country’s warmest (and more famous) wine regions.

An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

Birthplace of a Grape

Modern DNA analysis not only makes it possible to understand the parent-offspring relationships between wine grapes but also to get a sense of where they came from geographically speaking. In the case of Portugal’s most famous native grape, Touriga Nacional, all roads point to the Dão.

Touriga Nacional, of course, is the leading red grape used in Port wines, and the superstar of many of the region’s top red wines, especially from the Douro Valley. But it first sprung to life in the mountains of the Dão, where perhaps not coincidentally there is a small town with the name Tourigo.

In the earliest days of winemaking in Portugal (think pre-20th Century) the vast majority of red wine was made from Touriga Nacional, but as a perpetually low-yielding grape that has difficulty self-pollinating, it fell from favor to the point that only a couple of thousand acres remained by the 1980s.

An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

Plantings of the grape grew rapidly starting in the 1990s up until the present day, with acreage now standing at around 26,000 nationally.

Touriga Nacional is the most frequently planted red grape in the region, along with Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz (aka Aragonez or Tempranillo), and Jaen (aka Mencia). The most common white varieties include Encruzado, Malvasia Fina, Bical, and Cerceal Branco (not to be confused with the Sercial variety from Madeira).

From these varieties, and many others, the producers in the region make sparkling wines, rosés, crisp whites, lightly colored reds, and richer meatier reds as well, though reds have long made up the majority of the region’s production.

A Region Emergent

The Dão wine region was established as a distinct bounded wine region in 1908, shortly after the first such region was established in 1906 for Port. But Dão didn’t become an official, modern DO (Denominação de Origem) until 1990.

So why did one of the country’s oldest wine regions take so long to be defined in more contemporary wine terms? Blame the dictator.

In the 1940s, in a sort of misguided attempt to boost the region’s wine quality, dictator António de Oliveira Salazar mandated that only cooperative wineries could make wine in the region. This resulted in there being, by default, only 10 wine producers in the region, each of which had rights to purchase grapes from the tens of thousands of small-time growers dotting the region. No other commercial winemaking was allowed.

An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

During the nearly 40 years that these rules stayed in place, the lack of competition and the absence of incentives to improve quality had the unfortunately predictable result. Wine quality suffered dramatically, production dropped, grape prices plummeted, and many growers turned to other crops for their livelihoods.

In 1979, when Portugal joined the EU, rules like this were left by the wayside, and for the first time, small independent producers of quality could emerge and point the way for a region that, in effect, needed to re-invent itself.

And that’s precisely what Dão has been doing for the last 40 years. There are now more than 150 small producers making wine in the region, along with 5 remaining cooperatives. Tiny, individual, privately-owned vineyards constitute much of the region’s vineyard acreage, which makes for a challenging environment for anyone looking to make quality wine, even on a small scale.

An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

Compared to many of the other wine regions in Portugal, Dão is off the radar, even for serious wine lovers. This is why, I suppose, they were recently in town and sponsoring a lunch for journalists and wine buyers, which I attended.

Here are the wines we tasted, a number of which were excellent.

Tasting Notes

An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

2016 Quinto do Cerrado “Espumante” Sparkling Wine, Dão, Portugal
Pale peachy pink in the glass, with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and stone fruit with floral notes. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of citrus peel, apricot, toasted bread, and a hint of salinity. Very drinkable. Technically a blanc-de-noirs with a blend of 40% Alfrochiero and 60% Touriga Nacional. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15.

2021 Casa da Passarella ‘A Descoberta’ Rosado of Touriga Nacional, Dão, Portugal
Pale baby pink in the glass with purplish highlights, this wine smells of sour cherries and strawberries. In the mouth, cherry and blueberry notes have a nice crispness and tangy finish. Good acidity. A blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Tangy and tart. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10.

2020 Quinta de Cabriz “Reserva” Encruzado, Dão, Portugal
Palest greenish gold in color, nearly colorless, this wine smells of apple and lemon, with softer acidity. Lush and silky. But with some green herb notes. Spends about 3 months in oak. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $14.

2017 Tesouro da Se “Private Selection” White Blend, Dão, Portugal
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of oak and dried herbs and spices with lemon cucumber. In the mouth, lemon cucumber and a hint of salinity mix with lemon and herbs. Interesting. A blend of Malvasia Fina, Encruzado, and Cerceal Branco. Spends 6-8 months in oak. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $14.

2020 Caminhos Cruzados “Reserva” Encruzado, Dão, Portugal
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stone and citrus pith, with similar flavors and hints of orange peel plus a touch of tannic grip. Decent acidity. Vert pretty flavors. Spends 12 months in oak. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

2020 Taboadella “Reserva” Jaen, Dão, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty dried herbs, flowers, and dark fruits. In the mouth, super juicy blackberry and dried herbs mix with dried flowers and beautiful, powdery tannins. Wonderfully delicious and vibrant. Jaen is the Portuguese name for Mencia. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Quinta dos Carvalhais Touriga Nacional, Dão, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry, black plum, and cassis flavors are shot through with espresso and the nutty notes of toasted oak. Excellent acidity, with just a touch of heat on the finish. A complex wine that has more to unfold over time. This estate is owned by Sogrape, the country’s largest producer of wine. It is one of the region’s largest, despite only having roughly 250 acres of vineyards. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

An Afternoon’s Dalliance With Dão

2020 Adega de Penalva “Indigina” Red Blend, Dão, Portugal
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty dried herbs, sawdust, and black cherry. In the mouth, fleecy tannins wrap around a core of dried herbs, licorice root, black cherry, and black tea. Slightly bitter notes in the finish. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Jaen, and Tinta Roriz. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. click to buy.

2019 Textura Wines “Encoberta” Red Blend, Dão, Portugal
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs and a hint of bloody meat. In the mouth, grippy, muscular tannins wrap around a core of juicy blackberry and sour cherry mixed with dried herbs. Excellent acidity. A blend of 50% Alfrochiero, 20% Touriga Nacional, 20% Jaen, and 10% Tinta Roriz. 35% whole cluster. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2021 Borges Vinhos “Meia Encosta” Red Blend, Dão, Portugal
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and black plum, with hints of dried flowers. In the mouth, vibrant acidity brings juicy plum and plum skin fruit flavors wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Hints of dried herbs and flowers linger in the finish. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Jaen, Alfrochiero, and Tinta Roriz. Outstanding. Score: around 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2016 Casa da Passarella “Villa Oliveira – Vinha das Pedras Altas” Red Blend, Serra da Estrela, Dão, Portugal
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of citrus oil, dried herbs, and spicy blackberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, sour cherry, blackberry, and raspberry flavors are wrapped in fleecy tannins. A blend of Baga, Alfrochiero, Touriga Nacional, Alverlao, Tinta Pinela, Jaen, and Tinta Carvalia. Fermented in a mix of different vessels (steel, oak, and cement). Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/18/22

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

This past week included an excellent value white from the folks at Donnafugata, who make their Anthìlia white wine primarily with the grape Catarratto, one of my favorites from Sicily, though lesser-known than its typical bedfellow Carricante. It’s crisp and salty, and juicy and wonderfully ready for a hot day on the porch, and can often be found for less than $20.

I also tasted two more of Merry Edwards’ current releases, the estate’s Russian River and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. I’m not sure why the Sonoma Coast bottling ended up in such a heavy, planet-unfriendly bottle, but it’s my favorite of the two bottlings, with a nice zingy acidity that makes it very easy to drink.

Two of the newest releases from the tiny producer Dogwood & Thistle made their way to my door recently as well, and the Pinot has a vibrant juiciness that is very compelling, and the Carignan, while needing a year or two to settle down, is quite tasty as well.

When it comes to weightier wines, let’s begin with the perennially tasty Smith-Madrone Cabernet, made high on the slopes of Spring Mountain by two brothers who have doggedly stuck to their vision for what Napa Cabernet should be for many years—namely restrained and ageworthy. Their 2019 is a beautiful expression of their style and of the steep hillsides they farm.

Gundlach-Bundschu has a long history (and a long history of mispronunciation). They’re actually one of California’s oldest wineries, which is why when they issued an Anniversary Cuvée recently, it had a three digit number attached to it. This “Vintage Reserve” bottling deserves a bit more cellaring before it is drunk, but it will be a worthwhile wine to watch over the long term.

Finally, the folks at Quintessa are finally ready to release their 2019 flagship wine, a Bordeaux blend with a dash of Carménère as a nod to the founder Augustin Hunneus’ Chilean heritage. Of course Carménère came to Chile from Bordeax in the first place, so it’s all a virtuous circle of celebration, so to speak. But on to the wine. It’s a showstopper of a wine, that has a lithe, effortless quality to it that is extremely riveting. Enough acidity and tannic muscle to age well, but still quite accessible in its youth. If you’re in the market for $200+ Napa Cabernet, this one delivers.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2021 Donnafugata “Anthìlia” Catarrato, Sicily, Italy
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and lime zest. In the mouth, margarita and margarita salt flavors have a nice saline zing to them with lime and grapefruit lingering in the finish. Electric acidity. Quite delicious. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2020 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass with a faint haze, this wine smells of cherry and raspberries. In the mouth, powdery tannins wrap around raspberry and black raspberry flavors in a gauzy haze, while hints of citrus peel creep into the finish. Good acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Comes in a nasty heavy bottle weighing 1.62 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.

2020 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs, cranberry, and cherry. In the mouth, dusty tannins wrap around a core of sour cherry and cranberry fruit which leans towards raspberry in the finish as the acidity kicks the salivary glands into overdrive. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $64. click to buy.

2021 Dogwood & Thistle Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth, slightly candied raspberry flavors are juicy and bright with excellent acidity, plus they’re tinged with a hint of dried herbs and flowers that linger into the finish. Zippy, bouncy, and bright, with a nice fruit expression. A crowd pleaser of a wine. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2021 Dogwood & Thistle “Testa Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County, California
Medium purplish garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs, huckleberries, and boysenberries. In the mouth, powdery, muscular tannins wrap around a core of boysenberry and huckleberry fruit, shot through with green herbs. The tannins get stiffer through the finish. This will be better in a couple of years, but it’s fairly tasty now. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/18/22

2019 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed dried flowers, tobacco leaf, and black cherries. In the mouth, wonderfully intense black cherry and forest floor notes have a hint of pencil lead and more of the moist pipe tobacco scent that is so alluring. Excellent acidity and very well-integrated oak round out the package. The tannins are quite restrained, and fine-grained, like a soft suede against the top and sides of the mouth. Elegant. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2018 Gundlach-Bundschu “Vintage Reserve 160th Anniversary” Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of dusty black cherry and cassis with hints of chocolate and cola. In the mouth, lush cherry cola flavors mix with blackcurrant and licorice as a muscular fist of fine-grained tannins slowly closes around the core of fruit. Excellent acidity and length. Powerful, and in need of a few years to reach its full potential. 14.5% alcohol. Comes in a nasty heavy bottle, weighing 1.65kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $140. click to buy.

2019 Quintessa Proprietary Red Wine, Rutherford, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, juicy and bright black cherry, black currant and black plum flavors snuggle down into a fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity brings some plum-skin tanginess into the finish along with a hint of licorice root. A nicely elegant wine with great freshness and acidity, remarkably light on its feet, like an Olympic athlete with zero body fat. A blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot, 2% Carménère, and 1% Petit Verdot that spends 22 months in 60% new French oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $230. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/4/22

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

This past week included a very pleasant white wine from Portugal’s Symington Family, who run the Quinta da Fonte Souto in the Alentejo region. This blend of Arinto and Verdelho offers flavors that might be a nice change from your usual white wine.

I’ve also got a couple more canned wines from Maker Wine to recommend, their Chardonnay from Handley Cellars and their red blend from Gilbert Cellars in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills appellation. Both are straightforward and pleasant and deliver good flavor for the price.

Quigley Family Wines is a small, estateless wine brand run by winemaker Patrick Quigley, his brother, and father. Buying fruit from a number of vineyards, the Quigleys are making small lots of wine in a restrained style, with lower ripeness, old oak, native yeasts, and low sulfur additions. They sent along their Syrah from the famed Alder Springs Vineyard (not just famous because of the name), and it’s a lovely cool-climate rendition of the grape that will appeal to those who like the wines of the northern Rhône.

Lastly, but certainly not least this week, I’ve got three more recent releases from Aperture Cellars, including what I think is the best of their 2019 Cabernets, the SJ Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Jesse Katz (son of my friend and photographic collaborator Andy Katz) makes rich, powerful wines that at their best have a remarkable finesse and grace. The 2019 SJ Ranch bottling is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

The other two wines, the less expensive “Soil Specific” Cabernet, and the Del Rio single vineyard bottling are also excellent, and worth your attention if you’re in the market for these kinds of wines.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2020 Quinta da Fonte Souto White Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple, star fruit, and lemon cucumber. In the mouth, green apple, lemon cucumber, and a touch of greengage plum have a nice bright acidity and a faint mineral quality. Fresh and bright, though with a tiny bit of heat in the finish. A blend of 75% Arinto and 25% Verdelho. 60% of the blend was fermented in oak barrels, the rest in stainless steel. Post fermentation, the wine was aged in a mix of new and used oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2021 Maker Wines “Handley Cellars” Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of apple and a touch of melted butter. In the mouth, lemon juice, golden apple, and pastry cream flavors have a nice filigreed acidity and just the faintest hint of tannic texture to them. Straightforward and pleasant Chardonnay for those who want to taste the grape and not any wood. 13% alcohol. Packaged in a 250ml can Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $10.

2019 Maker Wines “Gilbert Cellars” Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Washington
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, blackberry and oak. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors mix with black plum. Very good acidity keeps the salivary glands cranking, while faint muscular tannins grip the edges of the palate. The oak appears on the finish as well, though it doesn’t hit you over the head. 14% alcohol. Packaged in a 250ml can Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12.

2019 Quigley Family Wines “Alder Springs Vineyard” Syrah, Mendocino County, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries, iodine, and a touch of woodsmoke. In the mouth, rich blackberry and earth flavors have a savory herbal note to them as well. Powdery tannins coat the mouth and flex their muscles as the wine finishes with notes of licorice and black cherry. Savory and deep, with just a hint of salinity. 13.1% alcohol. 69 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/4/22

2019 Aperture Vineyards “Soil Specific” Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, cherry and cola flavors have a bright sweetish complexion and supple, suede-like tannins. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth watering, and there’s only a faint hint of heat in the finish that betrays the 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2019 Aperture Vineyards “Del Rio Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, juicy bright cherry fruit has a fantastic weightlessness on the palate as excellent acidity and gauzy, ghostlike tannins float through the mouth. Juicy and bright with notes of cola lingering with blackberry in the finish. Exceptional. 14.7% alcohol. Comes in a nasty, heavy bottle weighing 1.8 kg when full. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2019 Aperture Vineyards “SJ Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry, tobacco and a hint of licorice. In the mouth, gorgeously juicy flavors of cherry and cola mix with plum and a touch of pipe tobacco. Fantastic acidity and power with very little weight. Elegant, even majestic. No trace of the 14.9% alcohol. Comes in a nasty, heavy bottle weighing 1.8 kg when full. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $150.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/14/22

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

This past week included a few of the new releases from Aperture Cellars in Sonoma County, the Son-Father project of winemaker Jesse Katz and his photographer dad, Andy Katz, who is a friend, and whose work I occasionally feature here on Vinography. This week I tasted their newest two white ones, one of which is a fairly breathtaking Sauvignon Blanc, which includes a tiny bit of Semillon from a new estate vineyard at Aperture. It’s barrel fermented and made with the techniques of Bordeaux Blanc, but is unmistakably California in its expression. The Chenin Blanc they sent along is pretty tasty as well.

I also tasted a number of new releases from Kendric Vineyards in Marin County’s Petaluma Gap AVA. Winemaker Stewart Johnson make small quantities of wine with great care and little ostentation, and these latest releases are great examples of that combination, with a crisp Chardonnay, a delicate Pinot Noir and a decidedly cool-climate, savory Syrah. Like many places dismissed by some for being too cool, Marin County increasingly turns out some excellent wines.

In addition to his whites, I also tasted the 2018 vintage of Jesse Katz’ Devil Proof project, which used to be just a single bottling of Malbec from Farrow Ranch in Alexander Valley, but now includes a bottling made from purchased fruit grown in the Rockpile AVA high above Lake Sonoma. Katz bought the Farrow Ranch property last year. I think that in past vintages, I have always preferred the Farrow Ranch bottling, but this year I think the edge goes to Rockpile which has some extra lift and brightness. Both are serious and muscular wines, but manage to walk that fine line between heft and elegance.

Lastly, I tasted the latest vintage of The Prisoner, the wildly successful red blend pioneered by winemaker Dave Phinney, and the core of the ever-expanding The Prisoner Wine Co. portfolio. The Prisoner has always been a rich, dark, sweeter red wine, with legions of devoted fans. It’s been a while since I tasted it, and was happy to see that its sweetness and ripe fruit are still balanced by excellent acidity, making it much more drinkable than some other copycat red blends on the market.

That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines below.

Tasting Notes

2021 Aperture Vineyards “Soil Specific” Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of cape gooseberries and lemon oil. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of gooseberry and passionfruit have a bright zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of candied green apple linger in the finish. Quite tropical but with enough acid backbone to make those flavors electrifying. Outstanding. Includes 3% Semillon, and is barrel fermented in 30% new oak. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2021 Aperture Vineyards “Soil Specific” Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and Asian pears with hints of citrus pith. In the mouth, pear, citrus pith, and Asian pear flavors mix with some floral notes and hints of grapefruit that linger in the finish. Bright, juicy, and with just a touch of salinity. The wine doesn’t sing out its varietal nature—despite being very tasty, it would be hard to peg this as a Chenin Blanc in a blind lineup. 12.7% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Kendric Vineyards Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and grapefruit flavors mix with a hint of melted butter. I wish there was slightly more acid here, but the wine is balanced and there’s a faint tannic grip to the finish. 13.4% alcohol. 80 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.

2019 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, raspberry leaf, and red apple skin. In the mouth, bright, faintly saline flavors of raspberry, redcurrant, and sour cherry have a lovely gauzy tannic structure and pretty citrus peel acidity. Delicious and quite sensuous on the palate. 13.6% alcohol.300 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2019 Kendric Vineyards Syrah, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, white pepper, and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry and white pepper flavors have a faint saline quality to them and are backed by muscular, fleecy tannins. Lovely herbal and savory bone broth notes linger in the finish along with the blackberry florals. Tasty. 13.4% alcohol.175 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/14/22

2018 Aperture Vineyards “Devil Proof – Rockpile Ridge” Malbec, Rockpile, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of earthy blueberry and black cherry fruit with hints of dried flowers. In the mouth, vaguely minty flavors of black cherry and blueberry have a remarkable freshness to them, as fantastic acidity keeps the saliva flowing with blackberry and blueberry notes lingering with hints of florals in the finish. Powdery, gauzy tannins coat the mouth but stay out of the way, letting the fruit shine. Deep, rich, and powerful but without much weight, this wine is a prizefighter in perfect conditioning and form. There’s a hint of raisin and chocolate in the finish. I believe that this is the first vintage I have slightly preferred the Rockpile bottling to the Farrow Ranch bottling. 14.9% alcohol. Unfortunately, it comes in a nasty, ostentatiously heavy bottle weighing 1.76 kg when full. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $249. click to buy.

2018 Aperture Vineyards “Devil Proof – Farrow Ranch” Malbec, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, rich and dark flavors of blueberry, black cherry, and blackberry are wonderfully juicy with fantastic acidity. Gauzy tannins brush the edges of the mouth, but let the fruit take center stage on the palate. The oak is incredibly well integrated and its flavors barely register amidst the dark fruit. Despite being big, this wine is not heavy and shows only a little of its 15.1% alcohol. Quite tasty. Unfortunately, it comes in a nasty, ostentatiously heavy bottle weighing 1.76 kg when full. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $225. click to buy.  

2019 The Prisoner Wine Company “The Prisoner” Red Blend, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie, licorice, and smoky roasted figs. In the mouth, sweetish, rich flavors of blackberry, licorice, chocolate, grilled figs, and prunes have surprisingly bright acidity and hints of raisins and caramel linger in a port-like finish. Definitely on the sweeter side, with 8 grams per liter of residual sugar, but the substantial 15.5% alcohol doesn’t show itself that much in the wine. This is not my personal style of wine, but for those who enjoy the rich and dark side of wine, this will undoubtedly satisfy. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $33. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/7/21

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 past week included some delicious bottles, starting with a brand new release from the mother-and-daughter pair I call the Lorenza Ladies. Melinda Kearney and her daughter have made one of California’s most reliably delicious rosés for the last 14 years under the brand Lorenza. For the first time, they now have a white wine, a Picpoul Blanc from Lodi that is zippy and fresh and aromatic and, unsurprisingly, delicious. They sent both this new white and the latest vintage of their rosé to me recently. Both are worth seeking out for their value and flavor.

This week I was also sent two of California’s more storied white wines. The first is the Chenin Blanc that Chappellet winery has been making for ages and ages. It’s a favorite of the winery’s patriarch Molly Chappellet, whose signature the bottle now bears. For the longest time, this was one of the only (if not the only) varietal Chenin Blancs made in California. Plenty of other people have now jumped on the bandwagon of this fantastic grape variety, but this is definitely still the state’s OG Chenin Blanc.

The other OG white I tasted this past week was the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, which has the distinction of being the highest scoring Sauvignon Blanc in California according to some critics. That may be why the winery has decided to put it into a bottle that weighs as much as many top Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, a move I find disappointing. The wine, which features 6 months of sur lie aging with twice weekly battonage (stirring of the lees) delivers predictably rich flavors and a silky texture.

Merry Edwards Winery also sent along their Meredith Estate Pinot, and while it, too, has a far-too-heavy bottle, it delivered its usual bright, juicy rendition of ripe-but-balanced Russian River Pinot Noir. It’s pretty hard not to like this wine, which has the acid and structure to age well for decades.

Ashes & Diamonds burst onto the Napa scene in 2014 and immediately set itself apart from many other wineries in any number of ways, from its mid-century design aesthetic to the employment of not one but two top winemakers. And then there were the winery’s decidedly old-school wines, which quite deliberately harkened back to the Napa wines of the 1960s and 1970s. Ashes and Diamonds sent along their Mountain Cuvee, a Bordeaux blend from the Saffron Vineyard on Mount Veeder made by Diana Snowden Seysses. Clocking in at only 13% alcohol, this is a savory, aromatic, lithe Bordeaux-style blend that will instantly charm you.

The folks at Tenuta Arceno (aka Jackon Family Wines, who bought the property in 1994) sent along their Chianti Classico Riserva, which is brimming with the bright cherry fruit, smoky earth, and herbs that you want from a good Chianti. This one includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, which melds quite nicely with the Sangiovese. Aged in neutral oak, this wine has a very nice savory, umami note in the finish.

To finish up, I’ve got four wines from Booker Wines in Paso Robles. Run by winemaker Eric Jensen and his wife, the estate became certified organic with the 2021 vintage, and makes expressive, big-boned wines that you might expect from Paso Robles. Jensen sent along four of his wines, spanning price points and various vineyard sites, all of which offered richer, riper flavors, with well-integrated oak, and generally very good balance. The wines show a certain amount of restraint, with alcohol levels that are fairly low for Paso Robles. I only wish Jensen’s choice of glass reflected that same restraint. They’re far too heavy for a winery that is ostensibly interested in sustainability.

That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines follow below.

Tasting Notes

2021 Lorenza Picpoul Blanc, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of orange pith and grapefruit pith with a hint of white flowers. In the mouth, bright and juicy orange peel, apricot, grapefruit, and yellow herbs all but burst with fantastic acidity. Fresh, bright, aromatic, and delightful. The Lorenza ladies deliver, as always. 10.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $28.

2021 Chappellet “Signature” Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince paste and lemon rind. In the mouth, baked quince, grapefruit pith, grapefruit juice, and pear flavors have a lighter acidity than I would like, and a faint bitter tannic grip in the finish, like the flavor and texture of Asian pear skin. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2020 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, candied gooseberries, and vanilla. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of gooseberry and green apple have a slightly candied aspect, as notes of lime zest and grapefruit pith linger in the finish. There’s enough acidity to keep this wine from feeling flabby in the mouth, but I wish it had more zip. Definitely on the rich side. 14% alcohol. Packaged in an unusually heavy (for Sauvignon Blanc) bottle, weighing 1.6 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2021 Lorenza “True” Rosé, California
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon rind, citrus peel, and green strawberries. In the mouth, unripe strawberry, watermelon, rosehip, and floral notes have a bright zip thanks to excellent acidity. A silky texture and clean zesty finish make for a mouthwatering package. A blend of 44% Mourvèdre, 27% Carignan, 17% Cinsault, and 12% Grenache. 11.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2020 Merry Edwards “Meredith Estate” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black raspberries. In the mouth, juicy and bright cherry and raspberry flavors have a faint citrus peel brightness to them. Excellent acidity and silky texture, with just a faint bitter note in the finish. Slightly on the riper side, but well-balanced and tasty. 14% alcohol. Packaged in a bottle that weighs far more than it needs to, coming in at 1.63 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $88. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/7/21

2019 Ashes and Diamonds “Mountain Cuvee No. 4 – Saffron Vineyard” Red Blend, Mount Veeder, Napa, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, chopped herbs, and plum. In the mouth, the wine is light and fresh with great acidity and a nice cherry and tobacco quality with hints of dried herbs and fennel seed. Conveys an impressive smoothness. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 28% new oak for 19 months. Made by Diana Snowden Seysses. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2018 Tenuta di Arceno “Riserva” Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, cherry, and dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy acidity buoys flavors of cherry, earth, and woodsmoke shot through with flavors of dried herbs. Hints of blood orange, meat, and fennel linger in the finish. 90% Sangiovese, with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2019 Booker Vineyard “Fracture” Syrah, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and blackberries. In the mouth, tight, powdery tannins wrap around a core of blackberry, woodsmoke, and black plum. Notes of licorice linger in the finish. 14.6% alcohol. Comes in a particularly heavy bottle weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2019 Booker Vineyard “Harvey and Harriet” Red Blend, San Luis Obispo, Central Coast, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and licorice. In the mouth, rich brawny flavors of black cherry, blackcurrant, and licorice are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps things bright and juicy, but the fruit is dense and the tannins thicken over time. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Booker Vineyard “My Favorite Neighbor” Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo, Central Coast, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco leaf, and blackcurrant. In the mouth, blackcurrant and black cherry flavors are shot through with a touch of Nutella and licorice. Billowy, fine-grained tannins coat the mouth. 14.4% alcohol. Not “my favorite” bottle weight – clocks in at 1.66 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2019 Booker Vineyard “Oublié” Red Blend, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of raisins, black cherry, and blackberries. In the mouth, rich black cherry, licorice, and blackberry flavors are dusted with powdery tannins that stiffen over time. A darker earthy rumble underneath everything. Ripe, rich, dense. A blend of 34% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 27% Mourvèdre, 4% Tannat, and 4% Petite Sirah. 14.1% alcohol. Comes in an awfully heavy bottle weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/31/22

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

This past week included all sorts of treats, starting with the latest release from Domaine Carneros of their flagship Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, which is one of California’s finest sparkling wines. I’m continually impressed with the richness of this wine without a single drop of it spending time in wood. It’s a delight.

Next up I’ve got a couple of Verdejos from Rueda, Spain, both of which are excellent values, with a slight preference on my part for the Protos bottling which at 12 bucks is a steal of a wine if you’re looking for something friendly and delicious.

Lang & Reed has been making Loire-inspired wines in California for a long time, and in recent years the brand has been doubling down on its commitment to Chenin Blanc. This is a perfect example of what treasures can be unearthed in California. Proprietor John Skupny found some older vines in Mendocino and boy are we lucky he did. This is a distinctive wine with great character.

There’s never a bad time to drink pink, which is why I’ve got four different Italian rosés for you, each a great value and a welcome antidote to anyone who’s been watching the price of those rosés from Provence climb in value. Why pay $100 for a bottle of refreshing citrus and berry brightness when you can pay $14? Don’t miss the “Torrerose” from Masseria li Veli, which proves why Negroamaro is one of the best grapes for making rosé.

Before we get out of rosé territory, it’s definitely worth noting the very rare pink bottling from Napa stalwart Smith-Madrone, which has only made a bottle of rosé twice before. This blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc might surprise you with its bright juicy cherry goodness.

For those who are still looking for reds to go with their grilled steaks this summer, I’ve got two options for you, a leaner, polished wine from Australia’s Wynns Coonawarra Estate, which has a real elegance to it, as well as a Cabernet from Tierra Roja in Napa which expresses some more typical Napa richness.

That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines below.

Tasting Notes

2014 Domaine Carneros “Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs” Chardonnay, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green and moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of yeasty bread, lemon zest, and lemon pith. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers wonderfully balanced flavors of lemon curd, roasted nuts, lemon oil, toasted sourdough, and a faint salinity that keeps the salivary glands gushing. Crisp and bright with excellent acidity, this is a lovely mouthful. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2020 Buil & Gine “Nosis” Verdejo, Rueda, Spain
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of Meyer lemon curd and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon curd, grapefruit, and peach flavors have decent acidity and a faint chalky texture to them. Bright and cheerful. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a plastic cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2021 Protos Verdejo, Rueda, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lemon and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon, citrus pith, and grapefruit flavors have a cheery, sunny disposition, with a hint of peach emerging on the finish. Very good acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2020 Lang & Reed “Talmage” Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince paste, grapefruit pith, and vanilla. In the mouth, flavors of quince and grapefruit mix with creme anglaise and a faint nutmeg quality that is as compelling as it is surprising. Very good acidity, which I wish were slightly more aggressive, but that’s a quibble. The wine has a pretty, silky texture. 40-year-old vines grown on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino. Spends 14 months in barrel. 13.5% alcohol. 50 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2021 Fattoria La Valentina Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and orange peel. In the mouth, juicy cherry and red plum flavors mix with orange zest, which lingers with a faint hint of bitterness in the finish. A note of dried fennel creeps in as well. Excellent acidity. 13% alcohol. 100% Montepulciano. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2021 Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Scaia” Rosato, Veneto, Italy
Pale peachy pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of strawberry, watermelon, and redcurrant have a wonderfully tangy bright acidity to them and a clean, aromatic finish. Very tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a Vinolok glass stopper. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2021 Garafoli “Kòmaros” Rosé Blend, Marche, Italy
Palest baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and cream. In the mouth, strawberries, vanilla, and white floral notes have a silky texture and juicy brightness. A hint of citrus peel lingers in the finish. Perhaps not quite as snappy as I would like, but the flavors are hard to argue with. 100% Montepulciano. 13% alcohol. Closed with a plastic cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/31/22

2021 Masseria li Veli “Torrerose” Negroamaro Rosé, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of peaches and watermelon rind and white flowers. In the mouth, flavors of watermelon rind, peach, redcurrant, and citrus peel have a nice, crisp acidity and wonderful balance, with notes of orange zest lingering through a long finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2021 Smith-Madrone Rosé, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
A pale ruby in color with bluish highlights, this wine smells of cherries and plum skin. In the mouth, bright cherry and sour cherry flavors have a juicy tartness and a faint tannic grip, as fantastic acidity keeps the saliva flowing through a long finish. A blend of 33% Merlot and 67% Cabernet Franc that is co-fermented in stainless steel. 14.1% alcohol. 165 cases made. This is only the third time in its history that Smith-Madrone has made a rosé. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Wynns Coonawarra Estate “John Riddock Limited Release” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, chocolate, and minty pine oil. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, cassis, and black plum flavors have a wonderful elegance thanks to excellent acidity. Barely perceptible tannins hang wispy and ghost-like in the background letting the silky fruit do its thing on the palate before they stiffen slightly in the finish. Very pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2019 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and sweet tobacco. In the mouth, rich, somewhat sweetish flavors of black cherry, licorice, and cassis are tinged with cocoa powder and a touch of espresso. Good acidity, but comes across as fairly ripe and sweet. Barrel fermented and then aged in new French oak for 30 months before bottling. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases made. Comes in a somewhat heavier bottle than it needs to, weighing 1.65kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $175. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/26/22

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

This past week included a couple of really excellent California Sauvignon Blancs. The first was from Spottswoode, a producer who has been perfecting the form for many years. Their blend of Napa and Sonoma fruit represents, for me, a quintessential expression of what California Sauvignon Blanc can be.

I’ve had Flora Springs‘ Soliloquy bottling of Sauvignon Blanc before, but I think this 2021 bottle they sent me recently might be the best one I’ve ever had. If you don’t know the story of Soliloquy, apparently there was a block of Sauvignon Blanc that always tasted different when it came time for picking and winemaking. Eventually the winery sent the fruit to the UC Davis plant lab, and they confirmed that it was a unique, spontaneous mutation, or clone of Sauvignon Blanc, different than any they had seen in California before. That fruit has formed the basis for the Soliloquy bottling ever since (which also traditionally includes some other grapes as well).

Getting a new wine from Bonny Doon Vineyard has historically never been much of a surprise. Founder and now (after selling the brand) Director of Winemaking Randall Grahm was always a perpetual tinkerer, with new wines continually popping up like mushrooms after a rain. The surprise, really, is that Bonny Doon Vineyards hasn’t had an orange wine until now. Having an orange version of Le Cigare (Grahm’s most famous brand that pokes fun at the anti-UFO laws of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) somehow seems to make perfect sense, and the winemaking team at Bonny Doon seems to have hit it out of the park (or the galaxy?) with this new wine, which they cleverly released on national UFO day (June 24th, in case you were as ignorant as I). It’s an easy-to-love skin-contact white that seemingly has the potential to persuade many a wine drinker that orange is the thing.

This week I also popped open (quite literally) the latest vintage of Two Shepherds’ canned wine Bucking Luna, a sparkling blend of Cinsault and Carignane that once prompted me to write an article called “Two Canned Wines That Are Worth a Damn.” This latest vintage is also. Worth a damn, that is. It’s tasty stuff. And if that weren’t enough, Two Shepherds has also decided to make a piquette from basically the same grapes, which is lower alcohol, with slightly less intense flavors, and all the chalky grip that you expect from Piquette. If you’re unfamiliar with what Piquette is, it’s not really wine at all. It’s a fermented drink made from the mash of grape skins leftover after winemaking (known as pomace) mixed with water. It’s got a bit more of a beer-like quality, and it’s all the rage these days in some circles.

OK, leaving the frivolity behind for now, let’s get serious with a great value from Napa. It’s a little sad to use that phrase with a wine that costs $90, but in today’s world, that is what counts as a value wine from Napa. Spottswoode’s Lyndenhurst is always a reliably delicious bottle, and one that I can usually better afford when I am dining out, as opposed to the markups that happen on their normal bottles. I suspect this 2019 is still a bit young, and will improve with a little bit of time.

Lastly I’ve got two dessert wines to recommend, both made with the grape Semillon and both of a very similar style (and method of production) yet from very different places.

Most wine lovers have heard of Sauternes, the legendary sweet wine of Bordeaux produced through the action of botrytis cinerea, the so called “noble rot.” More geeky wine lovers may have heard of Barsac, which is the same kind of wine but made in a neighboring village. But if we want to play the obscure Bordeaux dessert wine game, we then move to Cérons, which is an even smaller, more out-of-the-way village in the same region, but which makes the same kinds of wines. Chateau du Seuil (not to be confused with the Provence wine estate with the same name) organically farms 61 acres south of Bordeaux, and is mostly focused on dry reds and whites, but also makes a tiny amount of this dessert wine.

Once upon a time, comparing Napa to Bordeaux was de rigueur, but no one says such things anymore, certainly not in Napa. But back in that era when Napa looked east, the question naturally arose, if Bordeaux does Sauternes, what could Napa do. The folks at Far Niente winery became somewhat obsessed with the idea in the 80s, and spent a great deal of time, energy, and money figuring out how to get botrytis to happen in a serious way in a region where if it appeared at all it was quite spotty. If you can imagine people walking through the vineyards at night dabbing botrytis spores onto grapes by headlamp, or visiting the vineyard every day to pick only the (sometimes individual) grapes that have been affected by the noble rot, you’ve got an idea of the lengths to which these folks go in order to make this wine every year. They call the wine Dolce, and it’s something of a triumph of persistence and dedication. It’s also pretty darn tasty.

Tasting Notes

2021 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemonade and green apples. In the mouth, juicy bright lemon and green apple flavors are all but bursting with mouthwatering acidity. Clean, crisp, refreshing and very delicious. In my mind, this is what every California Sauvignon Blanc should aspire to be. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2021 Flora Springs “Soliloquy” White Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and green melon. In the mouth, green apple, candle wax, white flowers and a bit of green melon all have bright juicy snappiness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Floral notes and lime zest linger in the finish. A blend of 73% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Chardonnay and 15% Malvasia. Spends 6 months in French oak barrels. This may be the best vintage of this wine I’ve had. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2021 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Le Cigare Orange” White Blend, Central Coast, California
A pale to light bronzey-orange color in the glass, this wine smells of apricots, citrus peel, and peaches. In the mouth, a faint tannic grip surrounds bright citrus and peach flavors that are zingy with juicy acidity. This is a gateway orange wine for sure, with just a touch of the usual effects of skin contact, but it succeeds brilliantly. A blend of 40% Grenache Gris, 40% Grenache Blanc, 10% Grenache Noir, and 10% Orange Muscat fermented on the skins for 10 days before being pressed into steel tanks. 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2021 Two Shepherds Winery “Bucking Luna” Sparkling Red Blend, California
A dark cloudy garnet in the glass with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of boysenberry, huckleberry, and black cherry. In the mouth, boysenberry and black cherry flavors are borne on a soft, quickly dissipating mousse, and feature nice notes of citrus peel and herbs. Good acidity. This is a pretty darn successful canned wine. A blend of 40% Carbonically macerated Carignan and 60% Cinsault. 11.5% alcohol. Packaged in 250ml can. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/26/22

2021 Two Shepherds Winery “Maxzilla” Piquette, California
Light to medium garnet in color with a coarse effervescence, this wine smells of boysenberries and wet dirt and crushed herbs. In the mouth, a coarse mousse delivers chalky flavors of black cherry and boysenberry. These flavors are a bit dilute, and backed by a tart, tannic quality, but as piquettes go, this is a pretty decent one. Made from 35% Carbonically macerated Carignan and 65% Cinsault. 7.5% alcohol. Packaged in 250ml can. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $5. click to buy.

2019 Spottswoode “Lyndenhurst” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cedar, and cocoa powder. In the mouth, bright cherry and cola flavors mix with a touch of cocoa powder, cedar, and some strawberry high notes. Fantastic acidity keeps the fruit incredibly juicy while powdery, wispy tannins add texture in the background. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2014 Chateau du Seuil Cérons, Bordeaux, France
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of candied orange peel, nail polish remover, and caramel. In the mouth, moderate to very sweet flavors of caramel, orange blossom, dried apricot, and honey flavors have a faint bitterness to them and a touch of coffee flavor. There’s also a little heat in the finish. 100% Semillon, partially barrel fermented then aged for 16 months in new French oak. 13% alcohol. 375ml bottle. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.

2012 Dolce Napa Valley White Dessert Wine, Napa Valley, Napa, California
A light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey, dried apricots, peach pie and a touch of nail polish remover. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of silky flavors of peach, honey, and butterscotch are tinged with just a touch of citrus peel bitterness, which adds complexity. The acidity is fading a bit here, but is enough to keep the wine from being cloying. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. 13.5% alcohol. 375ml bottle Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/19/22

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

This past week included a handful of wines from a winery that prefers to be known by its initials, RG|NY. RG stands for Rivero Gonzáles, a winemaking family from Mexico that in 2019 purchased a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island in New York. Their early releases are interesting. My favorite among them was the very lean, citrusy Viognier, but both the sparkling riesling and very light-bodied Cabernet Franc had merits as well.

I also received an Argentinian Malbec recently that is grown at one of the highest-altitude vineyards in the world. The Hess Family has long been a pioneer in the region of Salta, and their Bodega Colomé brand is one of the better wine values in Argentina. Their “El Arenal” Malbec is a single-vineyard expression of a sandy site with more than 8000 feet of elevation and sings with a rich, robust, and powerful voice.

The real star—nay, scene-stealer—this week, were the latest releases from Corison Winery in Napa. I’ve been writing about Cathy Corison and her wines for years, as I’m a fan of her old-school, low alcohol, restrained interpretation of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Her wines rarely exceed 14% in alcohol, yet they never lack for perfume or flavor, and they age exquisitely.

I don’t know what to say about her 2019 vintage effort other than it blew me away. Her 2019 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon may well be the best-tasting new release I’ve ever had from the winery. It offers an incredible aromatic landscape in the glass while delivering a spectacular level of elegance and finesse on the palate. The companion Cabernet from the Sunbasket Vineyard doesn’t quite have the finesse of her standard St. Helena bottling…. yet. It has a more youthful expression that is perhaps not fully resolved. The Cabernet Franc that she calls “Helios” from the same vineyard is more settled in its identity, and positively delicious.

These wines aren’t cheap, but they are among the best that Napa Valley has to offer, and compared to other top Napa wines that are 4 to 6 times their price, they are positively a bargain. Put a few bottles away for 10 years and prepare to have your mind blown.

Tasting Notes

2020 RG|NY Viognier, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of apples, lemon, and apricots. In the mouth, juicy and bright flavors of Asian pear, apricot, and citrus pith have a nice tangy juiciness to them thanks to excellent acidity. It might be hard for me to peg this as Viognier if tasted blind, so lean and citrusy as it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty. 12.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2020 RG|NY “Scielo” Sparkling Riesling, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light cloudy yellow-gold with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of mandarin orange pith and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of lemon oil, citrus pith, and winter melon. Lightly tart, with good acidity. My guess is that this is an un-disgorged bottle-fermented wine. No information is available on the bottle or the website about its winemaking, however. 10% alcohol. Closed with a crown cap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2020 RG|NY Cabernet Franc, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and a hint of nut skin. In the mouth, faintly candied flavors of cherry, green herbs, and caramel have a nice silky texture and good acidity. This is a somewhat simpler incarnation of Cabernet Franc but not an unappealing one, especially if you think of it as a dark rosé, which it nearly resembles. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackcurrant, cocoa powder, and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors are surrounded by fleecy tannins as bright cassis and blackberry notes linger in the finish with a hint of citrus peel. Excellent acidity. Brimming with youthful energy and a spring in its step. Not fully knit together yet, I don’t think. Needs a little time. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $225. Not yet released.

2019 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plums, cherries, and crushed hazelnuts. In the mouth, bright plummy flavors mix with cherry and cola as fantastic citrusy acidity electrifies the palate. Tight muscular tannins grip the edges of the tongue and the sides of the mouth, as the wine finishes juicy with hints of aromatic herbs. Excellent. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100. Not yet released.

2019 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of flowers, dark ripe plums, and blackcurrants. In the mouth, gorgeously supple, velvety tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and cassis fruit that has a wonderful purity to it. Hints of graphite and dried flowers float across the palate, as bright acidity keeps the fruit juicy and the saliva flowing. Outstanding. The incarnation of elegance, and largely untouchable by most other Napa Cabernet. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $110. Not yet released.

2019 Colomé “El Arenal” Malbec, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and blackberries. In the mouth, rich blackberry and blueberry fruit is wrapped in a massive fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps things juicy as rich earth and notes of citrus and cola linger in the finish. Grown at the jaw-dropping altitude of 8530 feet above sea level in extremely sandy soils, this wine comes from the El Arenal vineyard. 4.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

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