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Vinography Unboxed: Week of December 6, 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, like last, was full of big reds, the most notable of which was the 2011 bottling of Shafer’s Hillside Select, which was at once both surprisingly herbal, but at the same time clearly very ripe in a tricky year. My recollection from talking with the Shafers that their harvest was in before the rains that complicated many people’s year, so that says something about both their farming and the exposure of the parcel where they get this fruit.

I also feature a couple more Napa wines this week from La Jota, one of the top estates in the Kendall Jackson portfolio. They’re both excellent, and showing less new oak than I have tasted in past vintages.

Not to be left out, the Southern Hemisphere made a strong showing in the Cabernet department this week with wines from Australia and Chile (including a stellar value from Los Vascos), and Italy’s Marche region offered up a red and a white for consideration this week.

Last but not least, I urge you to seek out a couple of Pinot Noirs from perennial favorite Dutton Goldfield, in particular their Marin County bottling from Devil’s Gulch Ranch.

All these and more below!

2014 Velenosi “Querci Antica” Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, Marche, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and white flowers and a hint of quince paste. In the mouth, juicy and bright pear and wet chalkboard flavors have a crisp dryness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Floral notes linger in the finish. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2013 Dutton Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Marin County, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of fantastically bright forest berries. In the mouth, super juicy raspberry, cranberry and cherry flavors have a delicate but racy acidity to them, and they are nestled into a downy pillow of tannins. Delicious and mouthwatering. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2013 Dutton Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry flavors have a juicy bounce thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of dried herbs mix into the wine and linger in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2011 Shafer “Hillside Select” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of violets and cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, deep cassis and black cherry fruit has a fantastic brightness and hints of mint and dark chocolate. Excellent acidity and depth, with very fine grained tannins that gain muscle over time in the mouth. A hint of oak signature on the finish, but quite restrained compared to normal. Just the faintest bit of heat in the finish suggests this wines prodigious 15.5% alcohol, quite an achievement in an extremely cool vintage. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.

2013 Viader Red Blend, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and cassis. In the mouth, slightly sweet flavors of black cherry, tobacco, and bright fresh cherry have a cola finish. Thick muscular tannins wrap around the core of the wine, while juicy acidity keeps the wine bright and juicy. Very young yet, but a wine that will blossom with a little time. Quite tasty. A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Cabernet Franc. 14.9% alcohol. 1350 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2012 La Jota Vineyard Co. Cabernet Franc, Howell Mountain, Napa, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet black cherry and violets. In the mouth, rich black cherry, cassis, and candied violet flavors have a faint sweetness to them. The fruit is enclosed in a gauzy weave of powdery tannins that linger along with a cassis and floral note in the finish. Excellent acidity and thankfully very little trace of new oak. 14.5% alcohol. 355 cases produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2012 La Jota Vineyard Co. Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, black cherry and cocoa powder have a faint sweetness to them and a juicy acidity that makes the mouth water. Powdery, chalk-dust tannins float in a haze through the mouth, and a floral sweetness suffuses the finish. Very pretty, and very little new oak. Yay! 14.5% alcohol. 3928 cases produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2012 Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cola, and a hint of mint. In the mouth, bright cherry and mint chocolate flavors swirl through a haze of thick river-mud tannins that coat the mouth, but don’t dampen the bright exuberance of the wine. Juicy and delicious, with great acidity and length. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2011 Don Melchior (Concha y Toro) “Puente Alto Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto, Maipo, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of new oak, cherry and espresso. In the mouth, notes of espresso and crushed nuts mix with a deeper leather and cherry core that is quite juicy and refreshing, albeit a bit ripe. In some ways this wine is showing more years than its young lifespan might suggest, but that’s not a bad thing. Very fine grained tannins linger with the mouthwatering cherry cola finish. The oak is definitely present, but tolerable. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2011 Miner Family Vineyards “The Oracle” Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and tobacco. In the mouth green bell pepper, cherry, and espresso notes mix with tight muscular tannins that appear to have a slight bitterness to them. Good acidity and length, but a little angular. A blend of 48% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2013 Velenosi “Brecciarolo” Red Blend, Rosso Piceno Superiore, Marche, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and mulberry fruit. In the mouth, juicy cherry and blackberry flavors have a nice wet chalkboard dryness to them and suede-like tannins to add texture and structure. Good acidity and balance with a nice moderate 13.5% alcohol. Quite tasty. A blend of 70% Montepulciano, and 30% Sangiovese. Score: between 8.5 and 9 . Cost: $16. click to buy.

2012 Los Vascos “Grand Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua, Chile
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit with a hint of espresso. In the mouth, cherry and cola are bright and bouncy thanks to excellent acidity even as they are wrapped in a muscular skein of tannins. Good balance and integration of oak. Quite tasty. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2012 Groth “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of high-toned black cherry and cola aromas. In the mouth, black cherry, cola, and toasted oak flavors are pleasant enough but have a very lifted high-octane feel to them. Powdery tannins coat the mouth, but even they too seem to be pushed to the top of the mouth. Missing some deeper notes. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2012 Silverado Vineyards “Estate Grown” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, cherry cola and black cherry flavors are fairly light on their feet, with aggressive thick tannins to back them up. Good acidity and high-toned fruit means that the weightiness of the tannins seems somewhat unbalanced in the wine. Still the flavors are good. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.