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 interesting wines. Let’s start farthest afield with the dry Riesling from Gunderloch in Germany Rheinhessen. This is a very nice bottling with a wonderful balance that makes it quite easy to drink, and despite no real sweetness it avoids being too tart, instead opting for crisp and mouthwatering.
The other white wine this week was a perennial performer, the Rued Vineyard Chardonnay from Dutton Goldfield, which offers everything you’d really want in a California Chardonnay, especially if you were of the opinion that oak isn’t one of those things. Oh there’s wood there, to be sure, but it plays second fiddle to lemony goodness.
This week included three Pinots from Oregon — two of the latest releases from Big Table Farm, showing their usual earthy and herbal character amidst bright fruit — and a very easy-to-drink, entry-level option from Cooper Mountain Vineyards. At $25, it’s a heck of a tasty bottle of Pinot.
There’s also a solid Tempranillo from Lodi, a Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley, an unusual Solera-style blend of multiple vintages from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and two big reds worth remarking on individually.
The first is a wine known as High Dive, which smells like a carefully constructed brand play, as much as it does a very pretty blend of Bordeaux varieties with a judicious use of oak. If you’re looking for a juicy wine and don’t mind paying Napa prices, you’d do worse than to pick this one up. It’s tasty.
Finally, the most intriguing (and disappointing) wine of the week was a bottling of Saint Macaire — an obscure Bordeaux grape variety you’d be excused for never having heard of. I was quite excited to taste this wine, but after tasting it, I definitely am left still wondering exactly what that grape tastes like, since at 16% alcohol it was picked at a ripeness level that essentially equalizes almost all grapes to a general mean of “ripe red and black fruit.” It’s far from awful — I am, after all, recommending it. But it definitely didn’t live up to its potential.
2015 Dutton Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and cold cream. In the mouth, lemon curd, cold cream and lemon zest flavors mix with notes of pink grapefruit and citrus pith. Bright and zippy thanks to excellent acidity. Very little trace of oak. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $54. click to buy.
2015 Gunderloch Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith, pear, and tangerine oil. In the mouth, zingy flavors of tangerine, Asian pear, and wet chalkboard have a crystalline transparency. Gorgeous stony minerality, and not a whiff of sweetness makes this an effortless, bright mouthful. 12% alcohol. Closed with screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2014 Cooper Mountain Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and cherry jam. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit is boisterous thanks to excellent acidity. A touch of herbal earthiness emerges on the finish. Not complicated, but pretty damn tasty, especially for the price. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25 . click to buy.
2016 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pine duff and raspberries and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, green herbs and fresh, ripe raspberries mix with deeper forest floor notes and a hint of mushroom. Faint, powdery tannins and gorgeous, filigreed acidity. Very tasty. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.
2016 Big Table Farm “Pelos Sandberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry jam with notes of wet dirt. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of cherry and earth mix with herbs and a touch of dried flowers. The faintest of tannins hang at the edges of perception. Delicate acidity. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2014 Fields Family Wines “Lot 13 Vineyard” Tempranillo, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry compote and dusty roads. In the mouth, rich cherry, sawdust and leather flavors are bright with excellent acidity and draped in lightly gauzy tannins. Sour cherry notes linger in the finish. Nicely balanced. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2016 Sidebar Cellars “Old Vine” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberries and blueberries and a touch of licorice. In the mouth, blueberry and blackberry fruit has a wonderful earthy backdrop and faint buttery tannins. Wonderfully floral and bright with hints of cedar bark. Excellent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.
2014 High Dive Cellars “High Dive” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cocoa powder. In the mouth, cherry, dried cherry and cola flavors are juicy and bright with fine grained tannins and excellent acidity. Notes of cola nut and cedar and cocoa powder linger in the finish. A textbook Napa red with beautifully integrated (and barely perceptible) oak. Ripe, but not overdone. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2015 Hanna Winery “Hanna Reserve – Red Ranch” Saint Macaire, Sonoma County, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, leather, and a hint of gaminess. In the mouth, rich and powerful cassis and black cherry flavors have a hint of sour cherry and a touch of wet dog funkiness to them. Notes of blackberry linger in the finish with thick but powdery tannins. This is perhaps the only varietal bottling of this obscure Bordeaux blending grape made in the United States, but thanks to being picked super-ripe, I’m not sure I fully understand what it tastes like, even though I’ve now tasted this wine. Clocks in at 16% alcohol, though it must be said, it doesn’t betray too much of that on the palate. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.
NV Left Bend “Mashup V3” Red Blend, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of whiskey barrel, coconut and red fruit. In the mouth, tasty flavors of cherry, cola nut, and black olives have a nicely savory salty quality blended with the sweet fruit and the grace notes of coconut and whiskey. Pretty tasty despite the rasher of American Oak. Faint tannins and good acidity. A blend of 50% Syrah, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc from five vintages spanning 2010 to 2015, solera style. 75 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $58. click to buy.