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 features all white wines from across the country and one entrant from Germany. Let’s start with some truly delicious Chardonnays from California and Oregon.
The star this week was the 2015 Smith Madrone Chardonnay which really hits all the right notes. Regular readers know I’m a fan of this producers wines, but their Chardonnay doesn’t always thrill me. The 2015, however, is a stunning effort and one that fans of various styles of California Chardonnay are bound to love, as it walks a fine line between old and new world styles.
The other two Chards from Oregon are also worth looking at, but very different in style, with the Big Table Farm in its floral delicacy, and the Ponzi reserve showing sap and resin and basically masquerading as Burgundy.
Before we move on to some interesting wines from a state many people don’t think of as a wine producer, let’s make a brief stop in the Baden region of Germany for a Pinot Gris that has a lot going on for it. The Salwey Pinot Gris is bone dry and comes from a Grosses Gewachs or “Great Growth” vineyard, something akin to a Burgundy Grand Cru.
A couple alternative Napa white wines were also on offer this week, a Sav Blanc from Quintessa that is full of green goodness, and a Sav Blanc / Semillon blend from Signorello that is definitely worth paying attention to.
But now lets leave the realm of the expected, and head off to Michigan, where I’ve got several wines from a family run producer known as Brengman Brothers, who make wines on the Leelenau Peninsula near Traverse City. Michigan has proven its ability to make aromatic white wines of high quality, and these wines from Brengman Brothers support that reputation. My favorite was the somewhat unusual blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, but the rest of the wines are competent as well.
2015 Smith Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of lemon curd, candied grapefruit and a touch of butterscotch are positively electric with acidity. Phenomenally mouthwatering and delicious. There’s oak at work here, but it plays mostly into the silky texture of the wine, leaving the rich fruit and the explosive acidity to shine. This wine is a great example of a middle path for California Chardonnay, one which displays sun-drenched richness but at the same time keeps with the tradition of high acidity freshness that we all expect in our Burgundian Chardonnays. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2016 Big Table Farm Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stone, bee pollen and white flowers. In the mouth, delicate flavors of chamomile, lemon pith and pink grapefruit have just a touch of oak and a lacy acidity. Pretty and subtle. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2014 Ponzi Vineyards “Reserve” Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of sappy greengage plum and lemon pith. In the mouth, wonderfully resinous flavors of lemon pith, lemon oil, and candied grapefruit have a nice zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. Positively old-world in its complexion. Very tasty. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2013 Salwey “Oberrotweiler Eichberg Grosses Gewachs” Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany
Medium to dark blonde in color, this wine smells of candied lemon rind, pear skin, and bee pollen. In the mouth, candied lemon rind, pomelo pith, and a faint honeyed character make for a complex and interesting mouthful. Not a hint of sweetness in this wine, but a touch of sultanas in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15.
2015 Signorello Estate “SETA” White Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of salty candle wax, lemon oil, and oak. In the mouth, faintly waxy flavors of lemon, grapefruit and oak have a nice salty tang to them and a nice bit of citrus pith sourness on the finish. Very good acidity. Perhaps slightly more oak influence than I would like, but a pretty wine nonetheless. A blend of 66% Sauvignon Blanc and 34% Semillon. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.
2016 Quintessa “Illumination” Sauvignon Blanc, California, North Coast
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of green apples and kiwi. In the mouth, flavors of passionfruit, kiwi and gooseberries have a wonderfully silky texture to them and a nice purity. I find myself wishing for more acidity however, as the delicious flavors feel a bit flabby on the tongue. Tasty, though. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $39.click to buy.
2016 Brengman Brothers “Block 65 Blend” White Blend, Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan
Light gold in color, this wine smells of orange blossoms and citrus oils. In the mouth, a pleasing melange of citrus, honey, peach juice and white flowers flows across the palate. Decent acidity and a lovely silky texture. Unusual, but quite effective. A blend of 40% Viognier, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, and 30% Pinot Gris. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2016 Brengman Brothers “Crain Hill Vineyard – Gary’s Reserve” Gewurztraminer, Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan
Light to medium blonde in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and rose petals. In the mouth, silky flavors of orange peel, roses and other blossoms have a nice brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wine escapes the typical traps of bitterness and oiliness, thanks to having been harvested on the earlier side. Tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.
2016 Brengman Brothers “Crain Hill Vineyard – Spatlese” Riesling, Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet stone and honeysuckle. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of honeysuckle, poached pear and quince paste have a nice silkiness to them and enough acidity to keep the wine from being syrupy. Not quite as dynamic as I would like, but pleasant and tasty. 10% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30.
2016 Brengman Brothers “Crain Hill Vineyard – Beerenauslese” Riesling, Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan
Light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and orange peel. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of honey, apricot, and touch of brown sugar mix with good acidity and a nice chalky minerality. The wine is not quite as dynamic as I would like, but is pretty nonetheless, with a poached pear note in the finish. 8.4% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35.
2016 Brengman Brothers “Crain Hill Vineyard – Selection de Grains Nobles” Gewurztraminer, Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan
Medium gold in color, this wine smells of candied orange peel and honey. In the mouth, moderate to very sweet flavors of orange peel and apricot have a nice ethereal lightness to them and enough acidity to keep them from being cloying, though they lack the intensity I would expect from a fully botrytized Gewurztraminer. 10.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35.