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 wines included a couple of very interesting wines. For starters, there was the quite rare grape variety Verdeca, one of the thousand or so indigenous varieties in Italy, that can be found in the Puglia region of the country. It’s quite unique in character and worth trying for the thrill of a very new taste on the tongue.
Beauregard had a nice Chardonnay from the cool climes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Nicolas Jay’s Willamette Valley Pinot came with a surprising amount of stuffing, so to speak.
The real star this week, however, was the current release Cabernet from Smith-Madrone, a small producer high on the slopes of Napa’s Spring Mountain, where Stu and Charlie Smith craft honest, unpretentious wines with an old-school approach. The perfection of the 2013 vintage helps take what is usually an excellent wine and push it into outstanding territory. Truly fantastic, if you appreciate Napa Cabernet with poise and restraint, you’ll swoon over this elegant bottling. Highly recommended.
All these and more below.
2015 Masseria Li Veli “Askos” Verdeca, Valle d’Itria, Puglia, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of bee pollen and candied lemon rinds. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon, white peaches, and bee pollen have a weighty presence on the palate. Rich, full, and thick on the tongue, this wine reminds me of the way that Assyrtiko gets with some age on it, slightly waxy and phenolic. Very interesting. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2014 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and cold cream. In the mouth, brilliantly juicy flavors of lemon and pink grapefruit are shot through with the saline notes of melted butter and kelp. Lovely pink grapefruit pith lingers with a salty snap in the finish. Great acidity. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2012 Lynmar Estate “Susanna’s Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of honey roasted nuts and pineapple scented candle wax. In the mouth, silky flavors of pineapple and lemon curd are tangy and bright with good acidity, but there’s a somewhat harsh heat on the finish making for a disjointed experience. 14.4% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2015 Beauregard Vineyards “Bald Mountain Vineyard” Chardonnay, Ben Lomond Mountain, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon oil. In the mouth, flavors of lemon pith mix with pink grapefruit and a touch of tangerine zest. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit fresh, but there’s a lightness to the wine that leaves me missing some depth and complexity. Tasty and zippy to be sure, but missing a little extra sumpin sumpin.Maybe it just needs a year or two in bottle. 12.6% alcohol. 429 cases produced. Score: between 8.5strong> and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2011 Inman Family “Thorn Ridge Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin and wet leaves and orange peel. In the mouth. Silky flavors of red apple skin, raspberries, redcurrant and mulling spices have a wonderful brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Juicy and long, with a hint of incense in the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $50.click to buy.
2015 Nicolas Jay Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and cherry and raspberry. In the mouth, brilliant raspberry fruit has a crystalline quality, but is wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins — unexpectedly fuzzy but no less juicy and dazzling for it. Excellent acidity and notes of citrus peel in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2014 Cadaretta “Windthrow” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of peeled willow bark, cherry and oak. In the mouth, black cherry and strawberry flavors mix with the sweet vanilla of oak. Good acidity and faint tannins round out a rich mouthful. 76% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 9% Grenache. 14.2% alcohol.245 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2014 Cadaretta “Springboard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry cola with a touch of green bell pepper. In the mouth, silky smooth flavors of cherry, cola and cocoa powder have a nice fresh herbal note to them and are lively with excellent acidity. A smooth operator. A blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, and 9% Petit Verdot. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2015 Lopez de Haro Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of berry jam. In the mouth, cherry and strawberry flavors have a nice grippy texture to them thanks to faint tannins, and excellent acidity keeps the fruit bouncy and fresh. Very little wood influence makes for a fresh, if uncomplicated wine. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $9. click to buy.
2013 Lopez de Haro “Crianza” Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and earth and a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully earthy flavors of cherry and wet sawdust and leather are cupped gently in a suede-like palm of tannins. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $10. click to buy.
2009 Lopez de Haro “Reserva” Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain
Medium to dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, cedar, and leather mixed with a bit of dried cherries. In the mouth, flavors of dried cherries, leather and wet dirt mix with a hint of dried flowers as fine grained tannins buffet the edges of the mouth. A touch of citrus peel and cedar linger in the finish. Good acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2013 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco and espresso with a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, beautiful cherry and tobacco leaf flavors bounce with excellent acidity. Hints of graphite and leather and mint swirl in the billowy cloud of fine grained tannins. Poised and elegant, this is a wine that will go two or three decades without blinking. Fantastic. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2013 Dry Creek Vineyard “The Mariner” Meritage, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich cherry and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and black cherry mix with cola and touch of cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and fine grained, fleecy tannins round out the picture of a very pleasing wine. Good finish. A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% alcohol Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.