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 raft of Chardonnays from the relatively new Alma Fria label, whose Pinots wowed me last week. Started by Carroll Kemp, the founder and winemaker at Red Car, and his winegrower friend Jan Holtermann, Alma Fria is a small production outfit focused on making wines from the coldest parts of the Sonoma Coast AVA. The wines are fantastic and worth seeking out. This week’s Chardonnays included the superstar bottling from the Campbell Ranch, which is everything I would want in a California Chardonnay – verve, brightness, crispness, and mouthwatering flavors.
Moving to reds, there’s a Malbec from the venerable Catena family in Argentina, a red blend from Kelly Fleming in Napa, and a relatively new brand called Scattered Peaks, which is a collaboration between veteran winemaker Joel Aiken and founder Derek Benham. The two have sourced fruit from various vineyards to craft a very pretty, very classic Napa red wine that shows some restraint in its use of oak and ripeness, both of which I appreciate.
Finally, there are a couple of other wines worth mentioning this week — a Syrah from Fields Family wines in Lodi that brings all sorts of savory spiciness to the table for your enjoyment — plus a Malbec from closer to home in Alexander Valley from Devil Proof, the collaborative project between Jesse Katz and his father, photographer Andy Katz, who many of you know from the images I post regularly here on my site. Jesse is one of California’s hottest young winemakers, and his Malbecs are highly acclaimed for a reason.
All these and more below.
2015 Alma Fria “Plural” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit, white flowers, and a touch of cold cream. In the mouth, tangy, slightly resinous flavors of lemon zest, pink grapefruit, citrus pith and a hint of white flowers are vibrant with acidity. Silky and very pretty with a deep mineral backbone. Delicious. 13.4% alcohol. 180 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2014 Alma Fria “Plural” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, white flowers, and lemon oil. In the mouth, juicy lemon, grapefruit and floral flavors are bursting with zingy acidity and an excellent underlying minerality. Not a trace of oak marring this very pretty fruit. 13.5% alcohol. 185 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2015 Alma Fria “Campbell Ranch Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, pomelo pith, and white flowers. In the mouth, wet chalkboard minerality is shot through a matrix of pink grapefruit, lemon zest, and a touch of malic green apple skin. Positively electric with acidity. Fantastic. 13.3% alcohol. 95 cases made. Score: between 9.5. Cost: $??.
2014 Alma Fria “Campbell Ranch Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, unripe apples, lemon curd and a touch of pine resin. In the mouth, wonderfully sappy flavors of lemon curd, lemon zest, candied grapefruit and wet chalkboard are electric with acidity. Quite delicious. 13.3% alcohol. 95 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??
2014 Sanford Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of candied raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of raspberry and sour cherry are bright with juicy acidity. The oak is relatively restrained and lingers in the finish with notes of raspberry pastilles. Barely perceptible tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2015 Catena “Appellation Lunlunta” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and cassis. In the mouth, espresso, black cherry and blueberry flavors mix with hints of leather and tapenade. Faint tannins and good acidity. Needs some air. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $27. click to buy.
2014 Kelly Fleming Wines “Big Pour” Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, espresso and cassis. In the mouth, strong flavors of toasted oak wrap around a core of deep black cherry and cassis. Ripe and rich, and lacking a bit in acidity, this brawny wine will appeal to those who like their cabs ripe. A blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec and 8% Syrah. 14.9% alcohol. 883 cases produced. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2015 Scattered Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of ripe cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, rich cherry, cola, and tobacco notes are welded to a deep earthy frame, and draped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Well integrated oak means the fruit and the dark earth shine beautifully with just a grace note of mocha lingering in the finish. Good acidity and great length. A very well made wine and a fantastic value. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2014 Fields Family Wines “Estate Vineyard” Syrah, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and vanilla. In the mouth, gorgeous blackberry and cassis flavors mix with licorice and violets. Fantastic acidity keeps the fruit juicy, and what smelled like a whiff of oak on the nose resolves to white flowers and a touch of spice. Very expressive and quite delicious. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2015 Devil Proof “Farrow Ranch” Malbec, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and cassis and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry and blueberry flavors are gorgeously bright and juicy thanks to fantastic acidity. Powdery tannins coat the mouth, and a hint of spice and tangy red licorice linger in the finish along with a deep rumbling bass of blackberry pie. Delicious and rich. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.