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Introducing Vinography Unboxed

bigstock-Overhead-view-of-a-twelve-bott-31810241.jpgI've been sitting on the horns of a minor dilemma. For eight years, I've written about wine precisely the way I want to -- primarily telling stories about the people, places, and histories behind the wine. I've long maintained that in doing so the tasting note for the wine is one of the least important aspects of my reviews, and that Vinography would never become the equivalent of the last 30 pages of every wine magazine, simply a long litany of tasting notes, one after the other.

But there's a reason, of course, that wine magazines like the Spectator and Wine & Spirits end up with pages and pages of tasting notes and scores. There's simply a lot of wine out there. Unlike those magazines, however, I have no self-imposed charter to be comprehensive in my coverage, so I don't feel a lot of pressure to cram as many wine reviews as I can into this space.

These days, however, I'm feeling another kind of pressure: a mounting ethical problem. I get a lot of wine samples. And while I have never, and will never, break my ethical commitment to taste every single wine that is sent to me for review, the other demands in my life (day job, family, etc.) mean that only the tiniest percentage of those wine samples ever results in a review on Vinography. These days, the wine has to really wow me to rise above the sea of bottles that arrive each month.

I've now gotten to the point where the ratio of what I receive and the ratio of what I write about in the way I want to write about it has gotten too far out of whack for me to be comfortable. I do my best to stem the tide of samples when they pile up too high, but shutting off the tap would be difficult indeed. And in truth, I don't think I would want to simply stop receiving samples, as I enjoy the survey of the wine world they provide.

So I've decided to compromise, and introduce a feature here on Vinography called Unboxed. Once per week I will offer tasting notes and scores from recently received samples that I think are worth mentioning to my readers. While it pains me to limit my assessment of these wines to a tasting note and numerical score, I'm opting for that discomfort over my remorse at not being able to give a lot of wineries both the due praise they deserve and a certain return on their investment of time and money in sending me a sample.

I will continue to focus most of my effort, time, and passion in telling the stories that I think make wine meaningful and memorable, but I hope with Unboxed, I can also direct some small measure of attention to the efforts of winemakers who deserve to be recognized for the quality of their efforts.

I welcome your thoughts on whether you find these recommendations of use. And without further ado, I present the first installment of Vinography Unboxed: The best wines to show up on my doorstep in the past few weeks.


2009 St. Urbans-Hof "Goldtröpfchen Piesport Erste Lage" Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin and mandarine oranges. In the mouth, mandarine orange flavors mix with wet stone minerality and a bright lemony zest note that lingers in the finish with a note of pear and apple. Juicy bright, with delicate acidity, this wine is quite comely. Lightly sweet. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2011 Finca Las Nubes Torrontes, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of rose petals and exotic citrus. In the mouth the wine offers flavors of rose petals, orange peels, and tropical white flowers CH07-CUT-OUT-2.jpgwithout a trace of sweetness. A tangy citrus acidity emerges mid-way across the palate and lingers with rose notes in the finish. Unusual. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2009 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of pineapple and cold cream, with a nice stony, wet granite note. In the mouth, restrained flavors of lemon zest, wet stones, and cold cream mix with a hint of pineapple and other tropical fruits. Notes of citrus zest linger in the finish. Pretty. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2005 Glen Carlou "Grand Classique" Bordeaux Blend, Paarl, South Africa
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherries and a hint of graphite and leather. In the mouth, very faint tannins dust a beautifully supple smooth wine that tastes of leather, graphite, and dark cherry fruit. Seamless and aging very well, this wine is quite easy to drink. A blend of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 8% Petite Verdot, 6% Malbec, and 5% Cabernet Franc. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. Other vintages seem to be available, but not the 2005.

2008 Russian Hill Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, wet earth, and violets. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful smoothness and seamlessness, with powdery tannins that provide a matrix for black raspberry and cherry flavors that linger with floral overtones in the finish. Nice acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2005 Gloria Ferrer "Jose S. Ferrer Selection" Pinot Noir Carneros, Sonoma, California
Light ruby in the glass with a distinct brick red cast at the edges, this wine smells of red apple skin, cedar, and brown sugar. In the mouth, the wine is quite pretty, with soft, powdery tannins and flavors of dried cherry, leather, cedar, and wet earth. Beautifully textured and silky, the wine still has nice acidity. Drinking quite well, but not clear how long it will last. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2009 Four Cairn Syrah, Napa Valley, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, white pepper, and a meaty, freshly-blown-out match quality. In the mouth, juicy cassis and blackberry and blueberry fruit has a meaty note, but also the slight burn of alcohol on the finish. Good acidity makes the fruit bright and juicy. Smoky notes linger in the mouth. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2009 Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet black cherry cola. In the mouth cassis and black cherry mix with chocolate and a distinct sweetness on the palate. Powdery, caymus_ss_09.jpgmouth-coating tannins cover every nook and cranny of the mouth while the bright, juicy, and unfortunately sweet fruit moves across the palate. Nice finish, but too sweet for me. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2009 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis, with hints of graphite. In the mouth, the wine has a a distinct sweetness to it, with strong cassis and black cherry flavors. Powdery, voluminous tannins fill the mouth like a marshmallow, leaving the bright fruit buoyed with bright acidity. Clearly a very well made wine, but a bit too fruity and sweet for my taste today. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2009 Vale do Bomfim Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, fleecy tannins wrap around a core of cassis and black cherry fruit mixed with earthier notes. Good acidity keeps the fruit bright. Not horribly complex, but tasty. A blend of 30% Tinta Barroca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinto Roriz, and 5% Tinto Cao. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2010 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch Emerald Ridge Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and pomegranate. In the mouth, black cherry and black raspberry flavors have a deep intensity and a tiny hint of sweetness while notes of violets and anise hover in the background. Faint tannins make an appearance late in the long finish. Surprisingly intense. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $58. click to buy.

2006 Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and sandalwood incense. In the mouth, voluminous tannins wrap around a core of cherry and sandalwood flavors with a hint of cola. Smoky notes of incense linger on the finish. Excellent acidity and a very light body make this wine a pleasure to drink. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2010 Amalaya Red Blend, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis, woodsmoke, and white pepper. In bottle_637_Amalaya.jpgthe mouth, bright cassis, blackberry, and white pepper flavors mix harmoniously with a deeper earthiness accentuated by fairly muscular tannins. Good acidity keeps the fruit quite juicy and tasty. 75% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Tannat, 5% Syrah. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2009 Morgan Winery Syrah, Monterey County, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, cassis, and white pepper. In the mouth, flavors of white pepper and blackberry mix with cassis and cedary notes. Leathery tannins wrap around the core of juicy fruit, bright with excellent acidity. Quite tasty. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2008 Il Borro "10 Annata" Red Blend, Tuscany
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of meaty, leathery cherry and espresso. In the mouth flavors of leather, earth, and cherry mix nicely with good acidity and stiff, leathery tannins. Nice texture. A hint of crushed dried herbs lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??. I sadly couldn't find anyone selling this wine online.

2008 Hess Collection "19 Block Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry cola and dark chocolate. In the mouth cherry cola and black cherry flavors are wrapped in a scarf of heavy, but supple tannins. Flavors of dark chocolate and cedar linger in the long finish. Rich, dark and pleasurable, but thanks to good acidity and earthy notes, quite balanced. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

Image of case of wine courtesy of Big Stock

Comments (18)

1winedude wrote:
09.07.12 at 4:40 AM

Bro, you're hitting on almost exactly why I stuck with the reviews that I offer on twitter and then wrap-up weekly on Mondays on the blog. I still can't taste everything sent to me, but those minis offer at least 2 things: 1) exposure of more of the wines I'm sent or otherwise have a hands to taste but to which I can't give a more formal feature due to time / etc., & 2) a challenge for me to try I summarize what I think a wine is all about in such a short space and still have it be meaningful.

So I think you're onto something valuable here, Alder, and it will mean that more of your thoughts on those wines can get "airtime."

Bill Smart wrote:
09.07.12 at 9:10 AM

This is really cool concept Alder. I like it.

Joanna Breslin wrote:
09.07.12 at 9:16 AM

This is extremely gracious on your part! Bravo!

tom farella wrote:
09.07.12 at 9:54 AM

Certainly understandable and welcome, in my opinion. Having watched you work over the 8 years, I always worry that you'll burn out which would be a drag. A little levity, a little fun and all your integrity makes this a great proposition. Cheers!

Lee Alderman wrote:
09.07.12 at 9:54 AM

Alder - I really enjoy your stories and I'm glad you're sticking to that as your primary voice. However, I also really enjoyed this feature and look forward to some more.

lori narlock wrote:
09.07.12 at 1:25 PM

I like it.

TJ Jones wrote:
09.07.12 at 5:16 PM

I appreciate all of your writing. Don't know how you do it. Write whatever helps prevent you from burning out. Cheers, TJ

Cody Rasmussen wrote:
09.07.12 at 9:56 PM

Love your candor. Cheers.

Jim Rollston wrote:
09.08.12 at 10:20 AM

Nice to show the respect to the makers and marketers of these wines to include them in your work, even though in a way that is outside your normal "box".

I would also say it is nice to see a critic mention in print when a red wine is sweet. It has always amazed me that some of the other prominent wine critics do not mention when a big red wine has noticeable residual sugar - it is fairly common in some wine styles/regions, yet is rarely mentioned in print, which I find odd.

Tish wrote:
09.08.12 at 11:22 AM

Good idea. One thought: Presuming you are only writing up wines you recommend, doesn't it make sense to drop the numbers? All of them should be 8.5-9.5, right?

Alder wrote:
09.08.12 at 2:03 PM

Thanks Tish. Perhaps unlike some, I believe scores have value. There's a big difference between a wine somewhere around an 8.5 and a wine somewhere around a 9.5.


Mark wrote:
09.08.12 at 6:05 PM

Really Alder its come to the point that you delete any comment that is not obsequious...tell us how a 10 point scale never gets to 5 or below...5 of 10 is average even for someone from No Cal...if you didn't hang out with those like mr parr you wouldn't be subject to such banter...so remember no intellectual exchange just an obsequious herd...I love using the same words Joe Biden learned while a member of the working class....

Alder wrote:
09.08.12 at 8:13 PM


Your obsession with Rajat Parr, whom I've met on a couple of occasions, but whom I am yet to know well enough to "hang out with", is worrisome. Perhaps you should get some professional help. As long as you stay in the realm of "stupid" like this comment, as opposed to impugning people's reputations like your last comment, I'm happy to let them stand.

My 10 point scale does actually go to five or below, I just don't waste my time or my readers by writing about them. And as for what is "average" go talk to your second grade teacher about why 70% on a test earns you an "average - c" grade.

Gary wrote:
09.08.12 at 9:27 PM

Thanks for this idea and the notes. I seized a half day in Napa Valley last month and used your notes from the Cab tasting to fashion a winery tour. Thank you very much.

09.09.12 at 8:19 PM

Excellent solution to a real challenge. Well written and informative too.

09.10.12 at 2:32 PM

Ok, so I'll add something to my "Mark" moniker to not get stuck in with the above comments etc. Having one of the most common names in existince is awfully fun sometimes.

Anyway Alder-I definitely wouldn't stop receiving samples. Outside of the the points you made, let's be honest getting free wine is kind of fun and if a side project stops being fun, then it stops being worth the time. Plus, I think you probably receive a good amount of juice that you wouldn't find on your own.

Sarah wrote:
09.12.12 at 9:27 PM

Alder - I love your candor and the detail in your reviews. Does it make sense, given your dealing with being overwhelmed by samples, to bring on board others (trusted friends, family, etc) who can help you with the review? Perhaps holding a guided tasting where you have the ability to participate (and therefore have perspective on) what's tasted, but to delegate the writing to others such that you're limiting your effort to edit/veto power? Just a thought. I'm sure people would line up to help. I'd be in that line. ;)

Tom Thornton wrote:
09.14.12 at 9:43 AM

Great idea. I liked seeing your tasting notes back in the earlier days so I'm glad they'll be a more regular feature.

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