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Vinography Unboxed: Week of November 8, 2015

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’s tasting was all about the red wine. And let’s just get it out of the way. The 2012 Ridge Monte Bello was pretty much owning the kitchen table no matter what else I put on it this week.

But despite few wines being able to compete with its regal poise, several other big reds recommended themselves as well.

For starters there are a pair of wines from Velenosi, whose proprietress, Angela Velenosi has little competition for the title of being the queen of the Marche region of Italy. For 30 years she’s been making all sorts of good stuff, and her intensely aromatic Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, and her Roggio di Filare blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese are both worthy of attention, even as they occupy separate ends of the pricing spectrum.

Star Lane Vineyards has been making very serious Bordeaux varieties in Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon for years, so it’s no surprise that their 2011 Astral bottling is an excellent wine.

Finally, winemaker Jean Hoefliger, who has been making the wines at Alpha Omega for some time recently started a small project called The Debate which shows off three different Beckstoffer single-vineyard expressions of Cabernet from the very cool 2011 vintage. All three are interesting and worth of attention.

There are a few Pinots in there, too, including the Sonoma Coast bottling from Flowers, which most people will find very hard not to like.

All that and more below. Enjoy!

2013 Spell Winery “Nichole’s Blend” Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and green herbs. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry flavors mix with a green herbal note and faint, powdery tannins. Good acidity, but not as much depth as I would like. 14.3% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2013 Spell Winery “Terra de Promissio Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and forest floor flavors mix with a light green bitterness that builds through the finish to the point of being somewhat dominant. Faint powdery tannins and good acidity. 14.5% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2012 Maggy Hawk “Jolie” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of candied cherries and candied apples. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry flavors mix with a hint of green herbs and something slightly earthier and darker. Fine, powdery tannins linger through the finish. Good acidity. 14.5% alcohol .312 cases produced. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.

2012 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of bright candied raspberries and herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and crushed herb flavors have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint, putty-like tannins hang around the edge of the mouth as the wine finishes long and slightly nutty. Very tasty.13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2010 Velenosi “Roggio del Filare” Red Blend, Rosso Piceno Superiore, Marche, Italy
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dark cherry and cassis. In the mouth, very ripe and rich cherry and cola flavors mix with a sweet dark chocolate character that is quite compelling. The fruit edges toward slightly raisined in the finish, but it’s hard not to love the lush richness of this wine. A serious crowd pleaser, but perhaps slightly sweet for some people. A blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2013 Velenosi “Querci’antica” Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, Marche, Italy
Dark purple in the glass, this wine all but leaps out of the glass with powerful aromas of burnt rose petals, melted licorice, and cassis. In the mouth, flavors of cassis and dried flower petals are draped with a fleecy blanket of tannins that linger along with sweet floral aromas through a long finish. Delicate and very aromatic, this wine also has a darker earthy note that adds bass to the soprano high notes. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2011 Star Lane Vineyard “Astral” Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of gorgeously rich and bright cherry fruit mixed with a hint of dark chocolate. In the mouth plush velvety tannins wrap around a core of juicy cherry fruit mixed with cola and dark chocolate. There’s also something of an umami salty tang to the wine that makes it quite mouthwatering even at this point in its evolution. An earthy note lingers underneath the fruit with a touch of green herbs surfacing in the finish. Wonderfully restrained. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2012 Ridge Vineyards “Monte Bello” Red Blend, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Very dark garnet with purple highlights in the glass, this wine smells of chocolate covered coconuts, mint, and dark red fruits. In the mouth, gorgeously silky flavors of cherry, woodsmoke, green herbs, and that characteristic touch of bourbon barrel always found in these wines aged in American oak. Supple, powdery tannins linger behind the bright fruit, juicy with excellent acidity. Regal and poised, but just a baby yet. There’s a reason this is among America’s greatest wines. Let it mature for 5-10 years and prepare to have your mind blown. A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $180. click to buy.

2011 The Debate “Beckstoffer Dr. Crane” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, dark cherry and a hint of cola nut mix with a darker earth quality under a layer of gauzy tannins. Excellent acidity keeps this wine quite bright and lithe on the palate, and only at the end of the long finish does the sweet vanilla of oak emerge, but as a grace note. And graceful a wine this is. Excellent. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $325. click to buy.

2011 The Debate “Beckstoffer To Kalon” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed green herbs, ripe cherries, and a touch of mint chocolate and oak. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of black cherry are shot through with minty dark chocolate and a deeper peaty earth note that is quite compelling. Powdery tannins coat the palate, but fabulous acidity and a very modest level of alcohol keep this wine feeling quite light on the palate. Some oak influence emerges on the finish in a way that isn’t ideal. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $325. click to buy.

2011 The Debate “Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark cherry, wet earth and a hint of mint. In the mouth dark black cherry and mint mix with much deeper earthier notes that turn slightly bitter in the finish. Powdery tannins coat the mouth and linger for a long time. Excellent acidity and length. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $325. click to buy.