Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/26/21

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

This week might easily have the sub-headine “The week of great values,” as the first few wines I’ve got here are all super delicious, and all under $25.

Where might one find such a font of vinous values, you ask? Why Italian white wine, of course. From north to south, Italy makes fabulous white wines that often trade at a tiny fraction of the price commanded by its famous red wines.

Take the La Valentina Pecorino, for instance, with its stony lemon brightness that you’d want to drink with practically anything you eat (including of course, Pecorino cheese). It’s a mere $17. Then there’s the slightly more regal Arneis from storied producer Vietti, with a faintly saline apple and lemon complexion.

From the same neighborhood as the Arneis you’ll also find the Enrico Serafino Gavi di Gavi, the grape from the commune of the same name in Piedmont, singing its white floral and lemon cucumber song for a mere $16.

If you know me, you’d have predicted that one of these wines would certainly be a white wine from the slopes of Mount Etna. Yes, I’m volcano-obsessed, and this deeply mineral expression of Carricante from Tasca d’Almerita just lights me up, and for $19 its a steal.

Last but not least, Askos and you shall receive. As wine lovers we should always be in search of new experiences for the palate, so here’s one for you from Masseria Li Veli that will deliver far more than its mere $19 tariff: Verdeca. It’s an ancient and slightly mysterious grape indigenous (maybe) to the Puglia region of Italy. I say maybe because according to the world’s leading grape geneticist, it’s identical to a grape also found in Greece. Who had it first? We don’t know. But if you try it now, you’ll enjoy it so much, that won’t matter.

Closer to home, I have a set of new releases from a young brand called Marine Layer, not to be confused with the retro-styled clothing brand of the same name. This is yet another wine project from the peripatetic Baron Ziegler, who runs an import company as well as several wine brands up and down the West Coast. As far as I can tell, Marine Layer is the spinoff from a set of wines with the same name at one of Ziegler’s previous projects, Banshee Wines. The wines are well-made expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. In fact, they’re delicious. I have just one gripe with them, and that’s the fact that in the name of premium branding, they’re packaged in ridiculously heavy bottles with wax over the cork. I don’t mind the wax, as its relatively thin and easy to remove. The heavy bottles, though, are horrible for the environment and need to go away.

Merry Edwards’ wines have always found their highest expression in her single-vineyard bottlings, and this week I’ve got two of them, from the Bucher Vineyard and a site called Warren’s Hill, which I think is the better of the two (excellent) bottles, thanks to its positively electric acidity. Merry sold her winery in 2019 to the Champagne house Maison Louis Roederer, but it continues to make high quality wines in the same style.

And now for something…. darker. Jonata is a well-known name in some circles by virtue of having the same owner as Screaming Eagle, billionaire Stan Kroenke. Located in Ballard Canyon down in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara, it produces a number of Rhone-style wines that lean towards richness and opulence. Winemaker Matt Dees tends to keep them lively, with good acidity, though, so they’re still drinkable in their richness. I’ve got two of their new releases this week, the Fenix, which is a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend, and Todos, which is a blend of all 10 grapes farmed on the estate.

Last but not least, I’ve got the latest release from a small estate in Saint Helena run by the energetic and enthusiastic Linda Neal, for whom her little vineyard, Tierra Roja, is the culmination of a life-long passion for farming. Neal fell in love with agriculture at an early age, and geared the rest of her life, including college and career around it. The second-to-last chapter of that career involved 20 years of vineyard management. Now she has only one vineyard to manage, and some help with that, which was particularly important for this 2018 vintage, because for the first time, Neal wasn’t involved in the harvest. Instead she was volunteering for the Peace Corps in Morocco. She clearly left things in good hands, as her 2018 Cabernet is brimming with energy and depth.

Notes on all these below!

Tasting Notes

2019 Fattoria La Valentina Pecorino, Colline Pescaresi, Abruzzo, Italy
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of dried lemon rind and a touch of sea air. In the mouth, faintly saline flavors of lemon zest, lemon pith, and pomelo have a bright zip thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a wonderful mineral backbone to this wine, with a faint chalky grip to it. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2020 Vietti Arneis, Roero, Alba, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, lemon and lemon pith mix with golden apple, wet chalkboard and white floral notes for a crisp, faintly saline mouthful with fantastic acidity. Delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.        

2020 Enrico Serafino “Grifo del Quartaro” Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
Palest straw in the color, this wine smells of lemon cucumber and white flowers. In the mouth, lovely floral notes mix with star fruit and green apple with a hint of candied guava. Lean and bright with excellent acidity and a chalky mineral backbone, this is a delight of a wine. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2020 Tasca d’Almerita “Tascante Buonora” Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy
Palest straw to the point of being nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement, pomelo pith, and unripe apples. In the mouth, deeply stony flavors of lemon and lime pith mix with grapefruit juice and wet chalkboard. Fantastic acidity makes for a crisp, zingy expression of the volcano. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2020 Masseria Li Veli “Askos” Verdeca, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers and sweet pastry cream. In the mouth, delicate flavors of lemon pith, grapefruit zest, white flowers and oyster shell have a fabulous brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Very refreshing. Verdeca is a rare Puglian grape variety that is apparently also found in Greece by the name Lagorthi. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/26/21

2018 Marine Layer “Aries” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemons and pastry cream. In the, mouth, lemon curd and pastry cream flavors have a nice edge to them thanks to very good acidity, as well as a nice silky texture. Hints of vanilla in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Comes in an absurdly heavy bottle, weighing 1.68 kg full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2018 Marine Layer “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, lemon and grapefruit flavors have a faint toasty note to them, and decent, but not fantastic acidity. Good flavors but missing some dynamism. 13.2% alcohol. Comes in an absurdly heavy bottle, weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Marine Layer “Lyra” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and a hint of chocolate. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit is silky and smooth, with excellent acidity that keeps things quite juicy across the palate. Hints of citrus peel enter the finish with barely perceptible tannins. 13.8% alcohol. Comes in an absurdly heavy bottle, weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Marine Layer “Gravenstein Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberries and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and sour cherry are zippy and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint kumquat and dried floral note in the finish with just a touch of the herbal quality that comes from some stem inclusion in the fermentation. Quite pretty. 13.2% alcohol. 125 cases made of absurdly heavy bottles, weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2019 Merry Edwards “Bucher Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly smoky raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry notes mix with herbs and powdery tannins that lightly coat the mouth. There’s a faint smokiness in the finish, with a hint of alcoholic heat. Excellent acidity. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $63. click to buy.

2019 Merry Edwards “Warren’s Hill” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, fantastic acidity makes flavors of cherry and raspberry come alive and bounce across the palate. Faint, gauzy tannins coat the mouth and flavors of citrus peel linger in the finish along with bright cherry. Excellent. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/26/21

2018 Jonata “Fenix” Red Blend, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco and earth. In the mouth, rich black cherry and licorice notes are wrapped in a suede-like blanket of tannins. Faintly bitter licorice root notes linger in the finish along with cola nut. Thankfully there’s enough acidity here to keep things fresh and balance out all that plush richness. A blend of 66% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2018 Jonata “Todos” Red Blend, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of faintly smoky blackberry and black cherry fruit with some chopped herbs. In the mouth, a rich, velvety melange of blackberry, black cherry, licorice and cola swirls under its soft blanket of tannins. Decent acidity. Definitely on the rich side, with the faintest hint of heat on the finish. A blend of all 10 grape varieties grown by the estate: 45% Syrah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 9% Petite Sirah, 5% Merlot and 6% of five other varieties. 14.4% alcohol. 2640 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2018 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Saint Helena, Napa, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, iodine, and cassis. In the mouth, intense and juicy black cherry, blackcurrant and cola flavors are tinged with vanilla and a hint of toasted oak. Supple, muscular tannins wrap around the core of the wine but don’t put too much of a squeeze on the palate, letting long notes of blackcurrant and black cherry linger in the finish with a hint of licorice. Powerful and intense, but pretty well balanced, with excellent acidity. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases of bottles too heavy for their own good, weighing 1.65 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $170. click to buy.        

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Tasting Some of Colorado’s Best Wines

I don’t do a lot of wine judging. At least I haven’t done so in the past. In part, this was because the pesky day job kept me from being able to jet off and lock myself in a room for four days to taste hundreds of wines. When I do take the time to judge wine competitions, I’ve always been biased towards competitions run by up-and-coming wine regions, or for regions that I don’t know well, and for which I would like to deepen my experience and knowledge.

My annual trip to judge the Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition fits into the first category. Colorado wine isn’t on most people’s radar, despite a long history of grape growing in the state. The fact that I also grew up in Colorado sweetens the deal a bit. So spending a couple of days tasting close to 100 local wines lets me support the home team, so to speak, with the hopes of encouraging rising quality.

Some of the lovely hues from competition wines.

The Colorado Governors Cup Competition evaluates wines, fruit wines, meads, and sakes (but not ciders) made in Colorado. A vast majority of the wines evaluated are made with Colorado-grown grapes, but that is not a requirement for entry into the competition, and occasionally a wine will be made from trucked-in fruit.

During this competition, I and my fellow judges agree on medals for the better wines, and then, in the end, select a group of wines that become the “Governor’s Cup Collection” – a set of wines that are sold as a unit to anyone interested in trying the best of what the state has to offer. There are some years where we can’t quite narrow the list to around 12 bottles, so sometimes, like this year, we end up with 14 wines.

I was particularly pleased this year to see that Colorado vintners have increased their exploration of alternative grape varieties, and as the results demonstrate below, with no small success. While Colorado does have a long history of growing grapes, a truly commercial wine industry is a relatively recent phenomenon, and we’re far from anyone having figured out the right grapes to grow in all the right places. Up-and-coming regions such as Colorado need to keep experimenting for a while to see what truly shines in their unique terroirs.

Tasting Some of Colorado’s Best Wines
My fellow judges.

Once all the medal winners from the entire competition have been announced, I’ll offer my personal scores and tasting notes for the wines, but for now, here’s what I thought of the 14 wines that the judges selected for this year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup Collection.

It is important to note that the tasting notes and scores below are mine and mine alone, and in many cases, they differed from the rest of the judges at the competition. Where available, I have provided costs and links to purchase.

Tasting Notes

2018 BookCliff Vineyards, Graciano
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of brambly berries and green herbs. Boysenberry and herbs linger with tacky tannins through a long finish. Good acidity that has a citrus peel snap to it. An excellent rendition of this grape that shows great promise. Score: between 8.5. and 9.

2018 BookCliff Vineyards Reserve Syrah
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet oak and blackberries. In the mouth, sweet oak and blackberry fruit flavors are wrapped in leathery tannins that are fairly aggressive. I wish there was less oak on this wine, but many will find it appealing. Score: around 8.5.  

2019 Buckel Family Wine Cinsault
Light ruby in color, this wine smells of exotic herbs and flowers. In the mouth, silky flavors of red apple skin and peach and berries are spicy and floral and quite pretty. I wish it had more acidity, but it’s a pretty great wine, with subtlety, varietal expression, and deliciousness. Very faint tannins. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.  

2020 Buckel Family Wine Pétillant Naturel Rosé
Pale peachy pink in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of scrambled eggs and berries. In the mouth, flavors of pink Smarties mix with a hint of grapefruit, all with a tangy sour quality. Fizzy mousse. Fun. Score: around 8. Cost: $28. click to buy.  

2019 Carboy Winery Teroldego, Grand Valley
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and earth. In the mouth, cassis and blackberry flavors are silky and smooth, and seamless, but with less acidity than I would like. But damn, it certainly does taste like Teroldego. Score around 8.5.

2019 Carlson Vineyards “Tyrannosaurus Red” Lemberger, Grand Valley
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs and boysenberries. In the mouth, boysenberry and herbs mix with some earthy notes and a touch of citrus on the finish. Faint tannins. Could have more acidity, but very expressive and quite exciting as a demonstration of what this variety might be able to do in Colorado. I just wish everyone would call it Blaufränkisch instead. Score: between 8.5. and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.  

NV Sauvage Spectrum “Sparklet Candy Red” Verona, Grand Valley
Very dark garnet in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of forest floor and cassis. In the mouth, earthy herbal notes suggest tree bark along with blackberry fruit. Surprisingly savory. Verona is a patent-pending American hybrid grape developed in the late 90s. Score: around 8.

2020 The Storm Cellar Rosé of St. Vincent, Grand Valley
Light baby pink with a slight coppery hue, this wine smells of orange peel and hibiscus. In the mouth, rosehip and citrus peel mix with lovely bright acidity and a hint of cotton candy. Delightful, and possibly the best American hybrid rosé I’ve ever had. The St. Vincent grape has been cultivated in the Midwest since the late 70’s. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.  

2018 Turquoise Mesa Winery Merlot, Grand Valley
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oak, cherry, and plum. In the mouth, cedar and plum fruit is bright and juicy with excellent acidity. There’s a touch too much oak and its mocha flavor here for my taste, but this is an extremely well-made wine. Faint tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.  

2019 Whitewater Hill Vineyards Chambourcin, Grand Valley
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of wet dog, brambly berry. In the mouth, brambly blueberry and cassis mix with blackberry and tree bark. There’s a wet dog note on the finish. Chambourcin is a French-American hybrid grape developed in the late 60s. Score: around 7.

2019 Continental Divide Winery, Gewürztraminer, Grand Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lychee and orange peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of orange peel, white flowers, and rainwater have a nice cleanness to them. I’d like more acidity, but quite pretty and nicely balanced. Faint sweetness. 16 g/l residual sugar. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.      

2020 Plum Creek Winery “Palisade Festival” White Blend, Grand Valley
Near colorless in the glass, with a hint of greenish-gold, this wine smells of honeydew melon and candied green apple. In the mouth, brightly aromatic flavors of green melon and green apple, and kiwi are bright and juicy with decent acidity. A blend of Aromella (a winter-hardy hybrid related to Traminette), Riesling, and Chardonnay. Score: between 8.5 and 9. click to buy.      

2019 Redstone Meadery Tupelo Mountain Honey Wine
Medium gold in the glass, this mead smells of roasted nuts and dried honey. In the mouth, honey roasted nuts and quince paste flavors have a dry hay quality to them. Good acidity and long finish. Quite tasty. Score: around 8.5. click to buy.      

NV Carlson Vineyards Cherry Wine, Grand Valley
Bright ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin, dried cherries, and orange peel. In the mouth, tangy bright orange peel, dried cherry, and honey flavors have only a faint sweetness to the wine’s benefit with a very balanced overall complexion. Good acidity. 55 g/l of residual sugar. Made with 100% Grand-Valley-grown Montmorency cherries. Score: between 8.5 and 9. $14. click to buy.      

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/28/21

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.

As a wine lover, I occasionally have the experience of opening a bottle of wine and having a glass and thinking to myself, “Jeez, I really don’t drink enough of <insert a certain kind of wine here>.” That’s certainly the reaction I had after my first mouthful of the lovely Chateau Hostens-Picant white wine from the Côtes de Bordeaux. The dry white wines of Bordeaux are often overlooked in favor of their much more famous red (and sweet white) brethren, but these blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon can be quite tasty. For me, the key is to get a wine that hasn’t seen too much new oak, a flavor that can overwhelm the delicate floral, fruit, and mineral tones that these wines show when they’re at their best. If you, like me, haven’t had a good Bordeaux Blanc in a while, you might want to give this one a try.

California Chardonnay has been going through a transition of late, as the pendulum swings away from the extreme ripeness and “tropicality” of the early 2000s back towards wines that display a freshness in favor of so much opulence. The example from Far Niente is an excellent example of a wine that, a decade ago, leaned a bit ripe for my taste, but now has a wonderful verve and snap even while it continues to express the full-sun ripeness of California.

I’ve got several sets of Pinot Noir this week, the first from the Duckhorn Brands label called Migration, which sources fruit from various top sites around California. Of the two on offer this week, I prefer the Dutton Ranch bottling, which has a really nice purity of cherry fruit to it.

The second set of Pinots is from renowned producer Williams Selyem. Their Sonoma County bottling is juicy and bright and everything you’d want from a Sonoma Pinot, but it’s hard to compete with the Westside Road Neighbors bottling, which is perennially one of my favorite expressions of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both are young and drinkable now but will age into fuller expressions of their potential. I’ve also got a Zinfandel from Williams Selyem that ain’t too shabby either.

The third set comes from Dutton-Goldfield, a producer whose wines frequently end up here in the Unboxed reviews. Of the two wines I tasted this week, the Van Der Kamp bottling was my favorite, showing the brisk, bright fruit that this vineyard has become known for.

Before leaving Pinot Noir territory, I want to especially note a spectacular bottle of the stuff from Fromm Winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Deeply alluring, with an incredibly floral aspect, the “Cuvée H” bottling is an assemblage made from various cuts of single-vineyard wines that the estate makes. But this wine could easily be mistaken for a top cuvée at most wineries. At $35 it’s an unbelievable steal, as very few Pinot Noirs at that price point offer so much distinctive quality and aromatic expressiveness.

Now, moving on to Cabernet-based wines, I’ve got a final set of wines from Knights Bridge Estate, whose single-vineyard bottlings I’ve reviewed in recent weeks. These wines are a bit less expensive than those and offer nice expressions of dark fruit from Knights Valley, a part of Sonoma County that gets little attention.

Speaking of slightly less expensive, I got my first taste of Post & Beam this week, a new label in the Far Niente family of wines. Designed to be a slightly more accessible wine, it displays the polish of its much more expensive relatives, but at an attractive sub-$50 price tag that has become increasingly rare in Napa.

Last, but certainly not least, I’m excited to point you towards a phenomenal value from Italy. The Cabernet-based blend “Lagoon” from Tuscan producer Aia Vecchia. Located in the Bolgheri region, which is home to some of Italy’s most famous reds, like Sassicaia and Ornellaia, Aia Vecchia has made an incredibly approachable and tasty red blend that is shocking in its level of quality for a sub-$20 price tag. This might be your next “house red” especially if you find yourself frequently grilling up some steaks.

Notes on all these wines below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Chateau Hostens-Picant “Cuvee des Demoiselles Sec” White Blend, Côtes de Bordeaux, France
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of golden apples, green apples, and papaya. In the mouth, star fruit, green apple, and candied grapefruit mix with a touch of orange blossom. Juicy bright and wonderfully crisp. A hint of woody bitterness lingers in the finish. A blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, and 5% Muscadelle. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Far Niente Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and lemon pith. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and white flowers mix with pineapple and melted butter. Juicy and bright, this wine has a lovely balance between the riper more buttery notes of California Chardonnay and the leaner more high-acid version of the grape. The oak here is more textural than flavor, though there is a hint of vanilla and toast through the finish. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2018 Migration “Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have a silky texture and wonderful juiciness thanks to excellent acidity, plus a hint of chopped herbs. Notes of orange peel and cedar linger in the finish. Very pretty. 14.5% alcohol. 201 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2018 Migration “Drum Canyon Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and raspberry fruit touched with dried flowers. In the mouth, raspberry and floral notes mix with an almost creamy quality that marries fruit and a more savory, saline flavor profile. 14.1% alcohol. 211 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70.

2019 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and cedar, and raspberry flavors are wrapped in a felt blanket of tannins that is soft and pliable but offers some lovely texture to the juicy fruit. Excellent acidity and length. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Williams Selyem “Westside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of lavender, raspberries, and dried flowers. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of raspberry, dried herbs, forest floor, and redcurrant have a zingy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery tannins gain a faint firmness as the wine finishes long with hints of citrus and flowers. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $110. click to buy.  

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/28/21

2018 Fromm Winery “Cuvee H” Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of an intensely sweet floral scent that I can’t quite put my finger on as well as raspberry and cherry aromas. In the mouth, very pretty cherry and raspberry flavors are bright with juicy acidity. Hints of cedar and dried herbs creep into the finish along with a hint of citrus pith. Distinctive and very pretty. A blend of wines from the estate’s various single-vineyard bottlings. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Dutton-Goldfield “Van Der Kamp Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Mountain, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cranberry and cherry flavors have a wonderful briskness thanks to excellent acidity and a lovely stony earthy note that rumbles along under the bright fruit and soaring dried floral notes that linger into the finish. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2018 Dutton-Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and raspberry fruit layered over an earthy backdrop. In the mouth, wet earth, raspberry, cherry, and oak flavors swirl together, but the oak is definitely the dominant flavor as the wine heads towards the finish. Just a bit too much wood for me here. I’m also surprised that the acidity isn’t brighter. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2019 Williams Selyem “Fanuccchi-Wood Road Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of sweet, freshly baked blackberry pie. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and blueberry flavors are shot through with a spice of black and pink peppercorns mixed with dried flowers and a faint salty kick in the finish. 15.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $95. click to buy.  

2018 Post & Beam Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, bright black cherry flavors mix with a touch of cola nut and black currant. Fine-grained, velvety tannins buff the edges of the palate. Excellent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Knights Bridge “KB Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, graphite and earth. In the mouth, black cherry, tobacco, espresso and dried herb flavors are brawny and powerful, propped up by muscular tannins. Notes of licorice and espresso linger in the finish. Good acidity and length. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/28/21

2017 Knights Bridge “KB Estate” Red Blend, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of raisins, chocolate, and black cherries. In the mouth, chocolate, cherries,
and hints of tobacco have a plush richness, and not quite enough acidity to stay vibrant in the mouth. Round and soft, with good flavors, though. Soft, billowy tannins. A blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2017 Knights Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, bright black cherry and cassis flavors are shot through with leather and tobacco. Faint leathery tannins wrap around the core of fruit. Very good acidity keeps the wine fresh. 14.5% alcohol. 272 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.  

2018 Aia Vecchia “Lagone” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco, earth, and a touch of oiled leather. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, graphite, leather, and cedar are beautifully fresh thanks to excellent acidity. Faint muscular tannins nudge the edges of the palate as the herbal-tinged cherry fruit heads for a long finish. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. An outstanding value. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

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Cameron Hughes is At It Again

What is it they say about the major mistakes we make in life? Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

Cameron Hughes was once on top of the wine world. As California’s first serious negociant, he built a multi-million dollar business on packaging up leftover and unsold wines from wineries. Under iron-clad contracts swearing him to secrecy, Hughes would then sell that wine (which would often retail for $40, $60, or even as much as $80) in numbered lots under his own label, Cameron Hughes Wines, for much less than half the original retail price.

Hughes exploited a little-known aspect of the wine world to which consumers have little visibility. Almost every wine producer (save the very biggest of them) invariably makes more wine than they sell each year. Sometimes there are barrels or tanks of wine that just don’t make the cut—they don’t meet the quality standards of the producer. Not every row of every vineyard produces fruit of the same quality, and such variation is simply the reality of agriculture.

But even more commonly, wineries have excess wine at the end of a season because they don’t think they can sell it all. You see, that 3000 case winery whose mailing list you’re on has both a vested interest in making sure that not everyone who wants to buy their wine can do so (oh, the psychology of scarcity), as well as a very real fear of being stuck with bottles they paid to produce but that no one wants to buy.

Hughes hit it big by making what looked like two brilliant moves at the time. First, he struck a deal with Costco to sell the wines there, tapping into that retailer’s rise as one of the top sellers of wine in the country. Second, he managed to squarely target the weakest, softest part of the fine wine world’s underbelly: the wines we pay $50 or even $100 for cost only a tiny fraction of that to produce, in part due to the idiocy of the Three-tier System, and the 50% markup forced at each tier of distribution.

The flip side of that soft underbelly is the psychology of many a wine buyer, for whom a $20 wine that drinks like a $50 or $100 wine is the oenological equivalent of mainlining heroin. The furor of delight at the prices, and endless speculation about the sources of Hughe’s juice, led to sold-out frenzies for the wines as they hit Costco shelves and the Cameron Hughes web site.

Hughes, however, made one fatal mistake when he came up with the idea for his business. And that was simply the formula for his business model. It went something like this: identify a parcel of wine available on the bulk market; buy it; blend it if necessary; bottle it; sell it.

That might not sound problematic to most of us, which is why it was such an easy mistake to make. After all, it’s basically the same formula that any winery follows, with the exception that they have to plant, grow, and harvest grapes and then make them into wine at the front end.

The issue comes down to a question of growth and scale. The reason that wineries can’t grow their revenues and profit very fast comes from the fact that all those steps require a lot of money, even if you’re starting with wine already in a tank somewhere. Keeping up with demand, let alone growing at a reasonable pace means forking over more and more money for wine, more money for barrels, more money for bottles, more money for places to store them—before you have sold a single bottle.

Which is why in 2015, with $15.3 million in debt, the banks decided they had better things do than keep lending Hughes money, and so they placed the business into receivership. Unable to pull himself out of bankruptcy, Hughes watched the company he founded sold to the highest bidder, and soon found himself an employee of Vintage Wine Estates, owners of several other wine brands including Clos Pegase, Girard, Cosentino, and Swanson among others.

Cameron Hughes Wine is still an active brand, doing exactly what Hughes had been doing all along. At last count they’re up to Lot 732 and they’ve still got Cameron on their web site talking about why it’s crazy to pay $60 for a 92-point Cabernet when you can buy it from Cameron Hughes for $18.

After a few years of being an employee, and licking his wounds a little, Hughes began exploring other ventures. His first efforts were trying to do roughly the same thing with beef that he was doing with wine. The result was the Holy Grail Steak Co. which is the place to go if you want some seriously good beef, and don’t mind paying for it. Warning: the prices are not quite as “value-oriented” as they were with the wine project. On the other hand, it’s not so easy to get your hands on high-grade Japanese wagyu.

Along the way Hughes realized the flaw in his original business model and in a flash of insight, saw how to fix it.

The solution was simple: you have to sell the wine to consumers before you buy it from the producer.

In a word: futures.

Presumably at a certain point earlier this year, a particular non-compete clause in a certain receivership purchase contract expired, and Hughes decided it was time to take a second swing at the whole negociant model, but this time with cash flow as his prime directive.

The result is de Négoce Wines.

Here’s how it works.

Hughes goes out, as he always has, and finds parcels of high-quality wine on the bulk market. He signs a purchase contract with the winery with fairly generous payment terms that give him a little while to pay the bill. He then turns around and offers most, but not all, of that wine via e-mail to his customers for sale at a shockingly low price per bottle, with the stipulation that customers must purchase in quantities of 12 bottles.

Customers place orders for however many cases they want, until the quantity he has decided to offer is sold out. Money in hand, Hughes then pays the producer, buys the bottles, fills them, and ships the wine off to his soon-to-be-very satisfied customers.

In a stroke of brilliance, Hughes has decided to take a page from drug dealers the world over and hold back a certain quantity of each wine, which he plans on making available to purchase by his customers at a later date, albeit for roughly 20-30% more than the wine sold for on release. Fall in love with that $10 Cabernet? You can get more in 6 months, but for $13 a bottle. First come, first served.

It’s hard not to admire the chutzpa of this business model, especially when it’s backed by a quality product. And I guess that’s what I have to admit here as the guy who got to sit down and taste through twenty or so of de Négoce’s past and future releases. Somehow Hughes has managed to pull off the hat trick of both improving the quality of the wines he’s offering while dropping prices to astonishing levels.

The idea of selling wine that would retail for $125 per bottle for $18, and wines that would sell for $60 for $10, forces us to confront some fairly nasty truths about just how margins in the wine world really work. Now, it’s not like the folks who are selling wine to Hughes are still making a profit on it. In all likelihood, they’re at best breaking even on the costs of producing it. But still. The idea that several barrels that could have easily been blended into a wine that is sitting on the shelf for $60 can make a profit for a guy like Hughes when he sells it at $10 is enough to make your head explode. And if the wine is really good, and you’re the person who’s paying $10 for that wine, it’s enough to send you into paroxysms of consumer delight.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I can vouch for those numbers.

Hughes shared with me the “secret” list of his first 80 or 90 wine lots, so I got to see the names of the producers and vineyards that these wines come from. They are blue-chip names that I receive samples from. Wineries whose principals I interact with at trade tastings, whose tasting rooms are situated along the main arteries of Wine Country. That is to say: they’re more than legit.

As usual, there’s some variability to the wines. I don’t love them all. Some aren’t wines that I’d write about. But quite honestly, as you can see from the scores and the notes below, most of them are wines that I would be prompted to feature in my weekly wine sample reviews.

And some are so spectacularly good for the prices that Hughes is charging it even makes my fingers twitch towards the “subscribe” button on his web site. I have way too much wine already, and this wine writing gig leaves me with plenty of open samples to drink when I want something with dinner, but who among us doesn’t feel the urge to buy something that we know is amazing when it goes on sale for 80% off its normal price?

Hughes is approaching the release of his 50th wine for de Négoce, and seems to be going strong, gleefully managing the whole business on his iPhone like someone who’s figured out how to get paid really well for doing what he loves most in the world, which I suppose is really what he’s managed to finally accomplish.

Of course, while he might have figured out how to protect himself from the financial risks of a bad business model, he still remains subject to the forces at work in the wine industry, and this year, there are a lot of those.

“Yeah, about a million gallons of wine just got pulled off the market in the last week,” Hughes admits while rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and looking up at the smoke-tinged skies above us as we sit outside tasting these wines.

Like many, Hughes will be looking farther afield than normal when it comes to 2020 vintage wines, but with a market that was already in a state of over-supply, I’m betting even the apocalypse vintage won’t slow Hughes down for very long.

Cameron Hughes is At It Again

Tasting Notes

2019 de Negoce “No. 16” Sauvignon Blanc White, Sonoma County, California
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of kiwi and gooseberry. In the mouth, candied green apple and gooseberry mix with a touch of kiwi. There’s a faint sweetness to the wine and great acidity. Fermented in a combination of cement and oak barrels. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $108 per 12-bottle case.

2019 de Negoce “No. 23” Chardonnay White, Carneros, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream and lemon curd. In the mouth, slightly bitter notes of lemon cream and unripe apples have a nice crispness thanks to excellent acidity. Other than the bitterness, there’s not much sign of wood. Saw 35% new oak and a good measure of whole-cluster-pressed fruit. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $108 per 12-bottle case.

2017 de Negoce “No. 7” Pinot Noir Red, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, notes of herbs and raspberry and cedar. Good acidity, length. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $120 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 19” Pinot Noir Red, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Medium garnet in the glass, but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry with a hint of herbs. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit mix with dried herbs and faint, dusty tannins. Citrus notes on the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $144 per 12-bottle case.

2019 de Negoce “No. 24” Pinot Noir Red, Carneros, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs and raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, meaty notes of raspberry and cranberry. Juicy fruit, no trace of oak, and nice acidity. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $108 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 31” Zinfandel Red, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and licorice. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and bramble flavors mix with licorice and a touch of black pepper. There’s a faint heat on the peppery finish. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $96 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 61 – Tank Sample” Zinfandel Red, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this tank sample smells of floral blackberry and blueberries. In the mouth, bright and fresh blueberry and blackberry flavors have zingy acidity and really nice length. There’s a touch of heat in the finish but otherwise, this is a very pretty wine. Alcohol is unknown as of yet. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 32” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of faintly minty cherry and cola notes. In the mouth, black cherry and cherry flavors mix with green herbs and earth draped in a heavy blanket of leathery tannins. This wine retails for $50. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $144 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 43” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blueberries. In the mouth, blueberry and pencil shavings mix with leathery tannins and a bit of cedar. The tannins flex their muscles through the finish. 69% Oakville, 39% St. Helena. Producer in Oakville. Would have sold between $50-$60 a bottle. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 17” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and plum and bright fruit. In the mouth, juicy plum and cherry and black cherry fruit are wrapped in supple tannins and quite bright with excellent acidity. Very tasty. Includes 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $144 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 30” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, rich, ripe and extracted black cherry and blueberry jam. Fleecy tannins. Decent acidity but super-ripe and rich. Well-integrated oak. A bit much for me. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $192 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 42” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cocoa and cola. In the mouth rich black cherry and cola flavors are supple and wrapped in putty-like tannins. Excellent acidity and very good balance given its 15.1% alcohol. Normally sells for $125 a bottle. Score: around 9. Cost: $216 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 01” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and toasted oak. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis mix with dried herbs and a hint of bitter bark. Good acidity but a bit bitter. Normally a $50-a-bottle Cabernet. 15% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120 per 12-bottle case.

2017 de Negoce “No. 02” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet oak and black cherry. In the mouth, bright black cherry and cassis flavors mix with blueberry and hints of herbs. Drying, fine-grained tannins but quite well-knit together. Excellent acidity keeps this wine quite fresh. Excellent, but perhaps with a bit too much oak for my taste. Most people will love it. $90 a bottle under its own label. 15% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $180 per 12-bottle case.

2019 de Negoce “No. 70 – A – Tank Sample” Pinot Noir Red, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this tank sample smells of candied raspberries. In the mouth, bright raspberry pastille fruit is juicy and offers a hint of herbs. Excellent acidity. Very tasty. Alcohol unknown. Score: around 9. Cost: $TBD per 12-bottle case, which will feature 3 bottles each of No. 70 wines A thru D.

2019 de Negoce “No. 70 – B – Tank Sample” Pinot Noir Red, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this tank sample smells of raspberry and redcurrant. In the mouth juicy redcurrant and prickly pear jam flavors are bright and juicy. Fantastic acidity. Alcohol unknown. Score: around 9. Cost: $TBD per 12-bottle case, which will feature 3 bottles each of No. 70 wines A thru D.

2019 de Negoce “No. 70 – C – Tank Sample” Pinot Noir Red, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this tank sample smells of raspberry and herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and sour cherry flavors have fleecier more muscular tannins than this wine’s peers. Nice acidity and length. Alcohol unknown. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $TBD per 12-bottle case, which will feature 3 bottles each of No. 70 wines A thru D.

2019 de Negoce “No. 70 – D – Tank Sample” Pinot Noir Red, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this tank sample smells of juicy sour cherry and raspberry fruit. Wonderfully bright, mouthwatering acidity lingers long with citrus peel and a touch of watermelon. Pretty killer stuff I’d drink a bottle of in a heartbeat. Alcohol unknown. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $TBD per 12-bottle case, which will feature 3 bottles each of No. 70 wines A thru D.

2018 de Negoce “No. 82 – Tank Sample” Red Blend Red, Walla Walla, Washington
Inky garnet in the glass, this tank sample smells of cigar box, black cherry, and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry fruit is clasped in a muscular fist of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps it quite fresh and bright. Powerful and broad-shouldered. But not overly rich. An excellent wine that will turn a lot of heads. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 23% Petit Verdot. 45% new oak. $95-per-bottle normally. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $180 per 12-bottle case.

2018 de Negoce “No. 50 – Tank Sample” Cabernet Sauvignon Red, Walla Walla, Washington
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this tank sample smells of black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, black cherry, cassis, tobacco, and graphite have a smooth, even polished complexion. Faint powdery tannins coat the mouth. Excellent acidity. 100% Cabernet. 41% new oak. $165 on release under its own label. Score: around 9. Cost: $180 per 12-bottle case.

These wines can be purchased only via e-mail offers which you can get by subscribing at de Négoce’s web site.

Cameron Hughes is At It Again

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Two Canned Wines That Are Worth a Damn

Canned wine is having a moment right now. Sales are skyrocketing as people (more younger than older) respond to what is undeniably a great value proposition: smaller quantities, portability, chillability, cute packaging, and the ability to open and drink one without a corkscrew or a glass.

Yet even now, canned wine suffers a bit from the same problem as bag-in-a-box wines: few people are putting decent wines into this format. That’s rapidly changing though, as many traditional wineries are waking up to the potential of this format. I wrote about the rise of canned wines for Jancis Robinson earlier in the year, describing how companies like Free Flow Wines can barely keep up with the demand from new producers and old, all of whom want to put their wines in aluminum.

I haven’t made anything close to a comprehensive tasting survey of wine in cans (as if such a thing were possible given the rate at which new ones are popping up) but I’ve tried a bunch and found most to be lackluster. The most promising variety seem to be the rosés, whose crisp acidity and affinity for fridge temperatures seem to do best in the canned format.

However I’ve come across two wines recently that have significantly upped the game when it comes to wine in a can.

The first is a remarkably decent rendition of Pinot Noir from MAKER wines, a wine label that grew out of a year-end Stanford Business School project by Sarah Hoffman and Kendra Kawala. I actually was a guest speaker in their Business of Wine class when these two ladies were finishing their MBAs, and they cornered me after class to excitedly tell me about their idea, which was basically to go out and find good winemakers that would be willing to collaborate on making great small-batch editions of canned wine.

It’s been pretty cool to see them go from idea to execution, and while their first efforts were just OK, this latest Pinot Noir is very tasty and definitely worth drinking, as it is a collaboration with Lulu Handley. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Lulu is the daughter of Milla Handley, the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir pioneer that we tragically lost to Covid-19 a few weeks ago. Lulu clearly inherited her mother’s touch with Pinot Noir, and the collaboration with MAKER has yielded by far the best canned Pinot Noir I have had the pleasure of tasting.

And now for something completely different.

Most Americans have not had the pleasure of drinking sparkling red wine. Sparkling Shiraz is a sort of underground cult wine in Australia, and Lambrusco has long since dropped off of most Americans’ radar. But sparkling red wine can be wonderfully refreshing, not to mention a tasty thing to drink with dinner.

William Allen, like many of us men, could only avoid listening to the advice of the woman in his life for so long. His partner, Karen Daenen, has been telling him he ought to try making wine in a can for some time. With a day job running consumer research for Jackson Family Wines, her opinions often carry some weight in the Two Shepherds household.

But Allen wasn’t impressed with most canned wines he had tried, and hadn’t come across the right batch of fruit in his portfolio to try it. But then two things happened in rapid succession. He made a new rosé from a batch of Yolo County Cinsault he didn’t love, and Covid-19 exploded on the world.

“Frankly, I was afraid we were going to go out of business,” he says. “So I shut everything down—threw everything into stainless, locked it up tight, and prepared to weather the storm.”

But like many small producers who had fully embraced social media and DTC sales, Two Shepherds saw a significant bump in sales as people stocked up for the lockdown and rallied to support the brands they love. All of a sudden, Allen had some breathing room and more than a little time on his hands.

“So I started experimenting to see what could make this rosé better,” he says. His winery is next door to a cider maker and brewery, so he put on his mask and wandered over to see what carbonation might do to the texture of the wine. It helped. But not enough.

And then, in a flash of insight, he thought to blend in some of the carbonically macerated Carignan that he had sitting in a tank, and the wine came alive.

“Call it a combination of trial and error, luck, and some good winemaking, but it just sang,’ says Allen. The only thing left to do was to figure out what to call it. And since his donkey had just given birth to a new baby girl a few weeks before, he chose little Luna as the namesake for the perfect pandemic wine label if there ever was one: a baby donkey kicking the now-familiar Coronavirus cell model.

Therefore this can of wine can rightfully be described as Kick-Ass Organic Southern-Rhone Party-in-a-Can. It’s delicious, and is not only the best sparkling red wine I’ve ever had from California, it’s the best sparkling red I’ve had that isn’t one of the new-wave Lambruscos that are deservedly turning heads among the wine cognoscenti.

You’ve been warned. Canned wine is now officially a thing, and here are two worth buying by the six pack.

2019 MAKER “Lulu Handley” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry cherry and herb flavors have excellent acidity and a faint tannic backbone, that gives it some nice dimensionality. Brisk and fresh thanks to the low, 13% alcohol. Packaged in six-packs of 250ml cans. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. Currently available as part of a mixed six-pack, or individually to members of their Can Club. click to buy

2019 Two Shepherds “Bucking Luna” Sparkling Cinsault, California
Medium garnet in color with mellow, small bubbles that fade quickly, this wine smells of sweet berries and a touch of dried flowers. In the mouth, a very faint mousse delivers crisp flavors of mulberries, cherries, and a touch of dried herbs that all have a wonderful freshness thanks to a very low octane 10.5% alcohol. Excellent acidity plus the bubbles make this a damn refreshing mouthful. Think: the organically-farmed NorCal answer to Lambrusco. Gimme a six-pack of this and a pepperoni pizza and watch out! Contains 25% carbonically macerated Carignan. Packaged in 375ml cans. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $11 per can, $118 per twelve-pack. click to buy

The post Two Canned Wines That Are Worth a Damn appeared first on Vinography.

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 7/5/20

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/21/20

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 excellent values from Italy among other places. Two of them came from Gioacchino Garafoli, a dynastic producer in the Marche that’s been making wine under their last name since the late 1800s. Their Verdicchio and their Rosé of Montepulciano are both steals at $15 and under as is their red Montepulciano named Piancarda. Their slightly elevated, oak-aged Verdicchio is also worth paying attention to.

Sticking with Italy for the moment I’ve also got a couple more wines from Veneto producer Inama. Their Vigneti di Carbonare Soave Classico has a faint whisper of wood to it and is quite lemony tasty, while the difficult-to-pronounce “Bradisismo” blend of Cabernet and Carmenere is also quite tasty in its herbal, red fruit goodness.

I’ve reviewed the wines of Acumen previously, but their newest Sauvignon Blanc has just been released, and it’s worth a look for classic lemon-lime essence.

The Jordan Chardonnay is likewise dependably tasty, and a relative bargain at $35.

The real star of this week, however, is a small production rosé made by Kathleen Inman in the Russian River Valley. It’s deliciously bright, juicy, fruity, and snappy, with that gorgeously silky texture that Pinot Noir rosé can have if treated right. This is a wine picked and pressed for rosé, and its worth the slightly higher tariff you’re paying for basically single-vineyard pink Pinot Noir.

In addition to all these, I’ve got Flora Springs’ Merlot and Jordan’s Cabernet below as well, both solid examples of their form.

Tasting Notes:

2017 Inama “Vigneti di Carbonare” Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy
Light gold in color, this wine smells of ripe golden apples warmed by the sun. In the mouth, juicy pear and lemon pith flavors have a hint of butteriness to them, and a touch of butterscotch in the finish. Excellent acidity makes the mouth water and a nice wet chalkboard minerality lingers for a while. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.

2019 Acumen “Mountainside” Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and grapefruit. In the mouth, lemon and lime flavors mix with a touch of cut grass and sweet celery. Good acidity and length, with a hint of herbal bitterness in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Garafoli “Macrina” Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC, Marche, Italy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and pears. In the mouth, zingy lemony pear and apple flavors have a nice wet chalkboard background to them. Floral notes linger in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2017 Garafoli “Podium” Verdicchio, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC, Marche, Italy
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon and grapefruit pith with a hint of oak. In the mouth, flavors of lemon and grapefruit mix with a touch of buttery vanilla. Good acidity and length. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Jordan Winery Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and lemon curd. In the mouth, lemon curd and grapefruit flavors have a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity. A faint hint of toastiness lingers in the finish with notes of lemon curd and grapefruit pith. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Inman Family Winery “Endless Crush – OGV Estate” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and watermelon rind. In the mouth, juicy watermelon rind, berries and hibiscus have a fantastic bright snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp, clean and quite delicious, a tiny bit of kumquat lingers with the berries in the finish. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2019 Garafoli “Komaros” Montepulciano Rosato, Marche, Italy
Pale ruby pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon rind. In the mouth, crisp and bright flavors of watermelon rind and hibiscus have a nice bounce thanks to excellent acidity. A faint sour cherry note lingers in the finish. Pretty. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2017 Inman Family Winery Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth, cherry and cedar and raspberry mix with an earthier, forest floor quality. Faint tannins dust the edges of the mouth as the wine lingers with a touch of dried herbs. Good acidity and length. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2016 Inama “Bradisismo” Red Blend, Veneto, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and chopped green herbs and a touch of green bell pepper. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and cola mix with green herbs and touch of dark earth. Excellent acidity and fine grained, dusty tannins. A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenere. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2017 Flora Springs Merlot, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and black plum. In the mouth, plummy cherry and cassis mix with chocolate and a touch of tobacco. Good acidity and well-integrated wood leave a mocha note in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2017 Garafoli “Piancarda” Rosso Conero, Marche, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and a touch of woodsmoke and leather. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors have earthier, leathery notes but excellent acidity that gives a citrus kick to the dark fruit. Leathery tannins feel somewhat restrained around the edges of the mouth. Hints of herbs in the finish. Made with the Montepulciano grape. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2016 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors are smooth and nestled into a gauzy bed of tannins. A hint of herbs lingers in the finish, with a fresh, medium-bodied feel to the wine, thanks to its restrained 13.8% alcohol. Good acidity, but not super dynamic. Even-keel and pleasant. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $58. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20

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 number of interesting wines.

Let’s begin with the second vintage from a project called Monte Rio Cellars, which is one of the newest enterprises by New York superstar sommelier Patrick Cappiello. After many years on the floor, Patrick has refocused his time on wine projects and makes Monte Rio Cellars wines in a shared facility owned by Pax Mahle in Sonoma County, which was recently profiled in the New York Times.

A guy who has won nearly every award and accolade available as a sommelier could easily have shown up in Napa and begun a $200-a-bottle Cabernet project or a $80 Pinot Noir label. But Cappiello had something else in mind. “It’s a real thing, not like a project where I slap my name or label on a wine to sell it,” Cappiello told me in a conversation earlier in the year. “I’m trying to make more volume rather than jack up the price. I wanted to try to do something quality at a lower price. My goal is to make wine and learn how to make wine. My agreement was to come work for [Pax’s] winery, and start this brand which I self-funded from my retirement.”

Perhaps less surprisingly, Cappiello targeted restaurants as a prime outlet for his wines, which would have been a good strategy in any other time than this one. Now he’s scrambling to get a direct-to-consumer web site up for a brand that didn’t have a plan to go direct-to-consumer. “It’s a little scary for sure,” says Cappiello. “I don’t have anything to fall back on.”

The wines have made their way into retail channels, so you’ll be able to buy them with links below, and I have to say they’re pretty darn good for the price. Cappiello has, in addition to going against the grain with the price point of the wines, decided to focus on lesser-known grape varieties. Just how contrary is he? Well, let’s just say he’s making a dry White Zinfandel. Of his four wines, I think my favorites are the racy interpretation of French Colombard and his rendition of the Mission (Pais) grape variety.

Moving on, I have two other worthy whites to recommend — the Estate Chardonnay from Eden Rift, the snazzy reincarnation of a large wine project in the Cienega Valley. While their initial releases under a slick new brand (and new ownership) didn’t impress me, I see things in this Estate Chardonnay that suggest they may be headed towards higher levels of quality. This wine has finesse and depth to it.

I reviewed a couple of wines from Two Shepherds winery last week, and I’ve got two more this week. The first, a bright and snappy Vermentino from Yolo county, and the second, an absolutely delicious vin gris, a rosé of Pinot Gris whose pink skins, left in contact with the juice for a few days can yield great deliciousness, as this wine amply proves.

Speaking of rosé you will want to back up the truck for the Sokol Blosser rosé of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s got everything you want in a pink wine, and a very attractive price to boot.

Lastly, I’ve got two more serious reds, a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, made by a woman who has been called the Queen of Pinot, Merry Edwards, and a pricy Cabernet Franc made by Rosemary Cakebread under her small label Gallica. Both are worth drinking.

Notes on all these and more below.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars French Colombard, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lime juice and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly racy, with mouthwatering acidity and lean, zippy flavors of lime and lemongrass. Quite refreshing. A porch pounder to be sure at a mere 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Eden Rift “Estate” Chardonnay, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, bright notes of pineapple, oak, lemon curd and melted butter have a nice silky texture and good acidity. The scent of oak creeps into the finish of the wine slightly more than I would like, but overall this is a well-made wine that has a nice balance to it. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemony grapefruit and green apple flavors have a brisk brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a lean, picked-early 11.5% alcohol. Not super complex, but easy to drink. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds “Windmill Vineyards” Vermentino, Yolo County, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of lemon cucumbers and star fruit. In the mouth, lemon cucumbers and wet chalkboard flavors have a wonderful stony quality with a faint chalky aftertaste. Aged for 6 months in half stainless, half used barrels. 11.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2018 Sokol Blosser “Evolution” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon curd. In the mouth somewhat simple flavors of lemon curd mix with grapefruit brightness thanks to excellent acidity. A textbook Chardonnay, lacking perhaps some complexity but not pleasure, especially at fifteen bucks a bottle. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2019 Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and hibiscus. In the mouth, snappy flavors of strawberries, crabapples and citrus have a wonderful faint tannic grip and a mouthwatering juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Delicious.12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds “Charbec Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris Rosé, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
A light coppery pink in color, this wine smells of melon and ranier cherries. In the mouth, deliciously peachy, melon and berry flavors have an exotic swirl of technicolor flavor and the faint tannins left from the skin fermentation that offer a chalky texture in the finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. 375 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars “Dry White Zinfandel” Rosé, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries. In the mouth, lean flavors of berries and citrus peel have a nice tart brightness to them that recalls pink SmarteesVinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20. Crisp and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Rosehip notes linger in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars Mission, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light ruby in the glass to the point of looking like a dark rosé, this wine smells of wet redwood bark, earth, and strawberry jam. In the mouth, flavors of black tea, raspberries, and plum are wrapped in a surprisingly muscular fist of fleecy tannins that flex their muscles through the finish which has a scent of orange peel. A surprisingly substantial wine for its light color and mere 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and cranberry compote. In the mouth, riper sweetish cherry and cranberry flavors have a richness to them, but stay bright thanks to excellent acidity. Faint suede-like tannins creep around the edges of the mouth. Definitely on the more robust side of California Pinot Noir. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2017 Gallica Cabernet Franc, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, crushed hazelnuts and chocolate. In the mouth, cherry cola flavors are shot through with faint notes of spicy green herbs and a modicum of sweet new oak. Leathery tannins persist in the mouth for some time along with the sweet vanilla of oak. I’d like this wine a lot more if its aftertaste was more wine and less wood. Includes 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Certified organic grapes. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $180.

The post Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20 appeared first on Vinography: A Wine Blog.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20

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 number of interesting wines.

Let’s begin with the second vintage from a project called Monte Rio Cellars, which is one of the newest enterprises by New York superstar sommelier Patrick Cappiello. After many years on the floor, Patrick has refocused his time on wine projects and makes Monte Rio Cellars wines in a shared facility owned by Pax Mahle in Sonoma County, which was recently profiled in the New York Times.

A guy who has won nearly every award and accolade available as a sommelier could easily have shown up in Napa and begun a $200-a-bottle Cabernet project or a $80 Pinot Noir label. But Cappiello had something else in mind. “It’s a real thing, not like a project where I slap my name or label on a wine to sell it,” Cappiello told me in a conversation earlier in the year. “I’m trying to make more volume rather than jack up the price. I wanted to try to do something quality at a lower price. My goal is to make wine and learn how to make wine. My agreement was to come work for [Pax’s] winery, and start this brand which I self-funded from my retirement.”

Perhaps less surprisingly, Cappiello targeted restaurants as a prime outlet for his wines, which would have been a good strategy in any other time than this one. Now he’s scrambling to get a direct-to-consumer web site up for a brand that didn’t have a plan to go direct-to-consumer. “It’s a little scary for sure,” says Cappiello. “I don’t have anything to fall back on.”

The wines have made their way into retail channels, so you’ll be able to buy them with links below, and I have to say they’re pretty darn good for the price. Cappiello has, in addition to going against the grain with the price point of the wines, decided to focus on lesser-known grape varieties. Just how contrary is he? Well, let’s just say he’s making a dry White Zinfandel. Of his four wines, I think my favorites are the racy interpretation of French Colombard and his rendition of the Mission (Pais) grape variety.

Moving on, I have two other worthy whites to recommend — the Estate Chardonnay from Eden Rift, the snazzy reincarnation of a large wine project in the Cienega Valley. While their initial releases under a slick new brand (and new ownership) didn’t impress me, I see things in this Estate Chardonnay that suggest they may be headed towards higher levels of quality. This wine has finesse and depth to it.

I reviewed a couple of wines from Two Shepherds winery last week, and I’ve got two more this week. The first, a bright and snappy Vermentino from Yolo county, and the second, an absolutely delicious vin gris, a rosé of Pinot Gris whose pink skins, left in contact with the juice for a few days can yield great deliciousness, as this wine amply proves.

Speaking of rosé you will want to back up the truck for the Sokol Blosser rosé of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s got everything you want in a pink wine, and a very attractive price to boot.

Lastly, I’ve got two more serious reds, a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, made by a woman who has been called the Queen of Pinot, Merry Edwards, and a pricy Cabernet Franc made by Rosemary Cakebread under her small label Gallica. Both are worth drinking.

Notes on all these and more below.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars French Colombard, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lime juice and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly racy, with mouthwatering acidity and lean, zippy flavors of lime and lemongrass. Quite refreshing. A porch pounder to be sure at a mere 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Eden Rift “Estate” Chardonnay, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, bright notes of pineapple, oak, lemon curd and melted butter have a nice silky texture and good acidity. The scent of oak creeps into the finish of the wine slightly more than I would like, but overall this is a well-made wine that has a nice balance to it. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemony grapefruit and green apple flavors have a brisk brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a lean, picked-early 11.5% alcohol. Not super complex, but easy to drink. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds “Windmill Vineyards” Vermentino, Yolo County, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of lemon cucumbers and star fruit. In the mouth, lemon cucumbers and wet chalkboard flavors have a wonderful stony quality with a faint chalky aftertaste. Aged for 6 months in half stainless, half used barrels. 11.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2018 Sokol Blosser “Evolution” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon curd. In the mouth somewhat simple flavors of lemon curd mix with grapefruit brightness thanks to excellent acidity. A textbook Chardonnay, lacking perhaps some complexity but not pleasure, especially at fifteen bucks a bottle. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2019 Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and hibiscus. In the mouth, snappy flavors of strawberries, crabapples and citrus have a wonderful faint tannic grip and a mouthwatering juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Delicious.12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Two Shepherds “Charbec Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris Rosé, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
A light coppery pink in color, this wine smells of melon and ranier cherries. In the mouth, deliciously peachy, melon and berry flavors have an exotic swirl of technicolor flavor and the faint tannins left from the skin fermentation that offer a chalky texture in the finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. 375 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars “Dry White Zinfandel” Rosé, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries. In the mouth, lean flavors of berries and citrus peel have a nice tart brightness to them that recalls pink SmarteesVinography Unboxed: Week of 5/3/20. Crisp and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Rosehip notes linger in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Monte Rio Cellars Mission, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light ruby in the glass to the point of looking like a dark rosé, this wine smells of wet redwood bark, earth, and strawberry jam. In the mouth, flavors of black tea, raspberries, and plum are wrapped in a surprisingly muscular fist of fleecy tannins that flex their muscles through the finish which has a scent of orange peel. A surprisingly substantial wine for its light color and mere 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and cranberry compote. In the mouth, riper sweetish cherry and cranberry flavors have a richness to them, but stay bright thanks to excellent acidity. Faint suede-like tannins creep around the edges of the mouth. Definitely on the more robust side of California Pinot Noir. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2017 Gallica Cabernet Franc, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, crushed hazelnuts and chocolate. In the mouth, cherry cola flavors are shot through with faint notes of spicy green herbs and a modicum of sweet new oak. Leathery tannins persist in the mouth for some time along with the sweet vanilla of oak. I’d like this wine a lot more if its aftertaste was more wine and less wood. Includes 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Certified organic grapes. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $180.

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