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 bunch of interesting wines, but by far, the stars of the show were the recent releases of small batch wines from Hirsch Vineyards, a pioneering producer on the fringes of the far West Sonoma Coast. Hirsch has always had great terroir, and the wines the family is now producing are at the top of their game, as evidenced by their absolutely cracking Chardonnay and East Ridge Pinot Noir which were positively fantastic this week. These wines aren’t cheap, and they’re made in minute quantities, but so worth the effort to find them.
Moving on, the Chardonnays from Dutton Goldfield and Lynmar are much easier to find, and worth seeking out, as are the Pinot Noirs from Dutton Goldfield, one of which is an odd little number appropriately named “Deviate” — much riper and richer than this producer usually makes.
Finally, for those looking for something more substantial (I heard someone use the phrase “car crushing Cabernet” today) we’ve got the Cala Lily “Ultimate Red” which is bordering on too robust for me.
More details on all of these below.
2014 Dutton Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of salty buttered popcorn and lemon curd. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of buttered popcorn, lemon curd and pink grapefruit pith have a nice juicy brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Good length and balance, with just the lightest touch of wood. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2012 Lynmar Estate “Quail Hill Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and cold cream. In the mouth, silky textured, rich flavors of lemon curd and lemon rind are salty and delicious on the palate. Melted butter mixes with pomelo pith and a wisp of underlying minerality. On the rich side, but thankfully not slaked with oak. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $64. click to buy.
2015 Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light yellow-gold with a hint of cloudy haze in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, the wine is wonderfully poised between richness and zippy lean brightness. Gorgeous lemon curd and lemon oil flavors mix with wet chalkboard and white flowers. Fantastic balance and depth, with a hint of resinous quality. 12.5% alcohol. 245 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60 click to buy.
2014 Dutton Goldfield “Angel Camp Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit is backed with a faint flavor of earth and the powdery texture of fine-grained tannins. Juicy and delicious thanks to excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2014 Dutton Goldfield “Deviate” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and a hint of raisins. In the mouth it is dark and rich and sweet, and basically earns its name, not necessarily resembling most Dutton Goldfield Pinots. Lightly grippy tannins and good acidity are there, but the fruit is quite ripe and rich, especially for a Sonoma Coast Pinot. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2013 Calla Lily “Ultimate Red” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, rich black cherry, cola, and cocoa powder flavors are muffled under a fleecy blanket of tannins. For those who like big wines, this is a crowd pleaser. A bit massive for my tastes, but reasonably well balanced, nonetheless. Could use a little more acidity, but there’s enough to keep everything moving across the palate. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2014 Hirsch Vineyards “San Andreas” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and raspberry leaf with a hint of floral aromas. In the mouth, bright raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors mix with a hint of cedar. There’s sour cherry and a touch of earth on the finish. Great acidity and length. Very faint tannins. 30 of the vineyard’s 60 parcels go into this representative wine. 12.7% alcohol Score: around 9. Cost: $60 click to buy.
2014 Hirsch Vineyards “West Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine is beautifully perfumed, with sweet redcurrant and raspberry pastille aromas. In the mouth, wonderfully delicate flavors of raspberry and redcurrant are suffused with a very pretty aromatic sweetness. Gorgeous acidity and a fantastically long finish. Very faint tannins almost don’t appear until the third or fourth mouthful. Frankly just stunning. Made from three different old-vine, rocky blocks along the ridge to the north of the winery. 12.7% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $85 click to buy.
2014 Hirsch Vineyards “Raschen Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and wet stone and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, sour cherry and very lean raspberry flavors have a sourness and a light bitterness of green herbs to them. The fruit is wrapped in a tight skein of tannins and brushed with minerality. Excellent acidity. This comes from the section of the vineyard right behind the winery. The vines were planted in 2002. 12.6% alcohol. Score: between 9strong> and 9.5. Cost: $85
2014 Hirsch Vineyards “Block 8” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry fruit and hints of floral notes. In the mouth, beautiful raspberry and cherry fruit has a wonderfully crystalline, pure aspect to it that is very compelling. There’s also this wonderful umami kick on the finish that reminds me of red miso. Gorgeous acidity and the faintest of tannins. This is the only single block wine made by Hirsch, from one of its northernmost vineyard parcels. It’s unique in its rocky, high-iron-oxide soil that ranges from 40-70% rock as you move up the slope. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $85
2014 Hirsch Vineyards “East Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry with a touch of nutmeg and cedar. In the mouth, phenomenally bright raspberry, redcurrant and sour cherry flavors burst on the palate even as a gauzy blanket of tannins gathers weight on the tongue, eventually settling like a weighty suede blanket. Beautiful fruit, gorgeous acidity and great herbal notes lingering in a long finish with a touch of earth. Wonderful. Comes from one of the warmer sites on the property, an east-facing protected valley of older vines, widely spaced and affected by phylloxera, which limits the maturity of the fruit, and drastically reduces the yield. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $85 click to buy.