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 few gems from Italy, starting with the very fresh Vermentino from Olianas, a label out of Sardinia. Vietti also sent along some of their latest releases, including their Barbera and Dolcetto which are among some of the best values in the wine world, in my opinion. Young now, these two wines will age beautifully for a few years, and the Barbera for more than a decade.
Closer to home, I started tasting my way through the latest Pinot releases from Big Table Farm, the little biodynamic producer in Oregon recently anointed by the New York Times as among the most impressive small labels from the Willamette Valley. The wines just keep getting better and better, and they deserve all the accolades they’re getting.
There were a couple of new releases from Ridge Vineyards there as well, including the always impressive Lytton Springs bottling which, along with its cousin Geyserville, is usually one of the best red blends made in California each year. The 2014 doesn’t disappoint.
Finally, we move into big shouldered territory with a few releases from Shafer Vineyards, including their very impressive 2013 Hillside Select. This wine is not always my style, massive and ripe though it is, but the 2013 is undeniably seductive, and will make those who want a big Napa Cab gaga for its ripe espresso and cherry goodness.
All these and more below. Enjoy.
2016 Olianas Vermentino, Sardinia, Italy
Light gold in color, this wine smells of poached pears and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, snappy wet chalkboard minerality is shot through with pear and citrus pith brightness. Notes of lemon zest linger in the finish with a hint of bitter pear skin. Tasty and fresh. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2015 Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Palest salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of rosehips and strawberries. In the mouth, tart crabapple and green strawberry flavors have a nice zip thanks to excellent, even severe acidity. Citrus notes linger in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22 click to buy.
2015 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves, dried flowers, and cherry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of cherry, earth, carob, and sandalwood mix with the scents of dried flowers and herbs. Faint, very powdery tannins hang back at the edges of the mouth. Excellent acidity and length. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2015 Big Table Farm “Sunnyside Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and cherry fruit tinged with earth. In the mouth, exceedingly silky and elegant flavors of raspberry, cherry and wet earth have a weightless quality to them that is very appealing and delicate. Excellent acidity and length with basically imperceptible tannins. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2015 Vietti “Tre Vigne” Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and leather and dried flowers. In the mouth, intensely citrusy flavors of mulberry and cherry mix with deeper notes of leather and potting soil. Excellent acidity and faint tannins round out the package. Good length. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18 click to buy.
2015 Vietti “Tre Vigne” Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and blackberry. In the mouth, blueberry and black cherry flavors mix with leather and earth scented with dried flowers. Powdery tannins coat the mouth, but not enough to make the wine feel heavy. Excellent acidity lifts everything, lingering floral in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $22. click to buy.
2015 Shafer Vineyards “TD-9” Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of ripe cherry and tobacco leaf and oak. In the mouth, rich, vaguely sweet and layered flavors of cherry, chocolate, plum and mocha frapuccino mix with a dollop of oak nestled in a bed of faint, velvety tannins. Decent acidity keeps the fruit fresh, and there’s not much sign of the wines prodigious 15.3% alcohol. A blend of 56% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65 click to buy.
2013 Shafer Vineyards “Hillside Select” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, dark chocolate and toasted oak. In the mouth, teeth staining black cherry and cassis flavors mix with chocolate and rich espresso notes. The wood is present but pretty nicely integrated here, and the tannins velvety, voluminous and smooth. Ripe, as this wine always is, but nicely balanced despite its 15.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $299. click to buy.
2015 Ridge Vineyards “Pagani Ranch” Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of freshly baked blackberry pie right out of the oven. In the mouth, tangy blackberry and blueberry flavors are utterly appealing with their mouthwatering acidity and a caramelized brown sugar finish that lingers for some time on the palate. A blend of 83% Zinfandel, 10% Alicante Bouschet and 7% Petit Sirah. High octane at 15% alcohol, but remarkably balanced and tasty. Score: around 9 . Cost: $48. click to buy.
2014 Ridge Vineyards “Lytton Springs” Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of ripe cherries and black plums. In the mouth, beautifully intense flavors of blackberry, black cherry, licorice, peat and sage have a mouthwatering brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Gorgeous length and depth, with a finish that sails on for minutes as faint tannins strengthen their grip on the edges of the palate. A blend of 72% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane and 2% Mataro (aka Mourvedre). 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $39. click to buy.