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 wide range of wines.
Perhaps a good place to start — well really always a great place to start — is with an excellent rosé Champagne from the reliable producer Bruno Paillard.
Closer to home, and also on the refreshing side, you’ll find the latest vintage of Ridge’s Chardonnay, made from the Monte Bello Estate vineyard. My recollection is that the prior release — the 2015 — was showing a lot of oak, but while this wine has unmistakable traces of the American oak that Ridge favors, it is nicely integrated to the wine, and much less in your face. Which I find to be a very good thing.
Moving on to the reds, let’s start with a very pretty Pinot Noir from the tiny biodynamic producer Cooper Mountain. This wine all but sings with brightness, and will please those looking for elegance in their Pinots.
Moving on to richer styles, we’ve got a couple of beauty Bordeaux blends from Buty winery in Washington state. The first, which honestly is more Syrah based, has a very nice exotic character, while the second is more Cabernet with just a dose of Syrah, but is even nicer.
Ridge also showed up with a few reds this week including their perennially beautiful Geyserville bottling which is always very tasty; plus their East Bench Zinfandel which does everything you want a Zinfandel to do.
Rounding out the robust red category, we’ve got a very burly but quite balanced Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Binomio and a red blend from Primus, a Veramonte brand in Chile, which is always a great value.
Finally we’ve got a couple of quirky wines to pay attention to. The first is a zany 12.8% alcohol, whole cluster fermented Syrah from Lodi, which pretty much busts every stereotype or expectation you might have of a Lodi wine. The second is a Cabernet Franc from Santa Barbara that has a wonderful zing to it, and a lightness that isn’t easily found in other California Cabernet Francs.
All these and more below.
NV Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee Extra Brut Rosé, Champagne, France
A light peachy copper color in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of cantaloupe, citrus peel, and unripe berries. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of citrus peel, green strawberries, crabapples and wet chalkboard. Fantastically bright acidity and a nice finish round out a very pretty bottle. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $58. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “Monte Bello Estate Vineyard” Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and pomelo pith. In the mouth, bright flavors of lemon curd, vanilla, white flowers, and a touch of turmeric have a wonderful lift and zing thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint touch of heat on the finish, but not so much as to be objectionable. There’s wood here, to be sure, but it thankfully takes a very back seat to citrus flesh and minerality. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2014 Cooper Mountain Vineyards “Mountain Terroir – Meadowlark” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of exotic dried flowers, cherries, and forest berries. In the mouth, wonderfully crystalline flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, and dried flowers have a fantastic brilliance thanks to excellent acidity. A bright, cheerful wine with some wonderful depth of earth hiding shyly behind the fruit. Only the faintest of tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2014 Buty Winery “Rediviva of the Stones – Rockgarden Estate” Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly meaty blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, cassis, blueberry, and tapenade flavors have just a tiny note of red, bloody meat to them, making for an exotic, somewhat brutish character. Good acidity and length. A blend of 77% Syrah, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Mourvedre. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2014 Buty Winery “Columbia Rediviva – Phinny Hill Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and wet stone. In the mouth, this wine is surprisingly stony, with cherry and blackberry notes somewhat hemmed in between notes of wet chalkboard and wet pavement. Excellent acidity and no trace of wood make for a very refreshing, bright wine, but I suspect it will blossom more with time. Contains 20% Syrah. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2013 Binomio “Riserva” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, licorice, and figs. In the mouth, rich muscular tannins coat the mouth and grip flavors of leather, blackberry, cherry and dried flowers. Brilliant acidity keeps this wine quite fresh in the mouth, and frankly, mouthwatering through the finish. Despite their strength, the tannins are fine grained and built to last. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “Geyserville” Red Blend, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of burnt marshmallow, blueberry pie, and mulberries. In the mouth, fleecy tannins nestle around a core of blackberry and mulberry fruit that is juicy with excellent acidity. Wonderful notes of dried flowers and licorice linger in the finish. Poised and exotic and utterly quaffable. This wine has always tasted “purple” to me. Or put another way, if purple had a flavor, this would be it. A blend of 73% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 7% Petite Sirah and 3% Alicante Bouschet. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “East Bench” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and blueberry and licorice. In the mouth, faint tannins grip flavors of blackberry, cassis and black pepper without a trace of sweetness. Instead the spiciness of the black pepper lingers through a finish bright with notes of tart grape skin. Excellent acidity and length, with little sign of its 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.
2014 Primus “The Blend” Red Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of tapenade, cherries, and a touch of herbs. In the mouth, cherry and black cherry flavors mix with spiced molasses and hints of green herbs. Sandpapery tannins linger in the finish along with hints of chopped herbs. Good acidity and length. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2016 Fields Family Wines “100% Whole Cluster” Syrah, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of dried and fresh flowers and forest berries. In the mouth, spicy, herbal notes mix with berries and a touch of nuttiness. Nutty is about the right way to describe this wine, which is certainly unlike just about every other Lodi wine you’ve ever had in its leanness, primary qualities and its remarkably low 12.8% alcohol. While the wine lacks some depth and complexity that would make it fantastic, it’s remarkably interesting and worth trying. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2015 F2 Wines “Falconiere” Cabernet Franc, Los Olivos, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plum and flowers and a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, spicy and nutty flavors of plum, roasted nuts, sour cherry and a touch of citrus peel are bright and bouncy thanks to mouthwatering acidity. Peppy and quite flavorful. 13.5% alcohol. 100 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45.