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 all sorts of great stuff.
Starting with the whites, there’s a nice Sauvignon Blanc from Aperture Cellars that offers plenty of green in your glass, and if you’re looking for a bit more lemon, you can check out the Ladera and Shaffer Chardonnays. The Shafer is made, per the house style, quite rich, so if you’re looking, as I am, for something a bit leaner, you should check out the Ladera. However anyone who wants a ripe, polished, and just-a-touch buttery California Chardonnay will definitely enjoy the Shafer.
The wines I’m most excited about this week are the early releases from a new wine project called Alma Fria, which was co-founded by Carroll Kemp, the founder and winemaker at Red Car, who has sold his stake in his original company and started Alma Fria with Jan Holtermann. The two will continue to be focused on wines from the Western Sonoma Coast, including from Holtermann’s vineyard near Sea Ranch. The first couple of vintages I’ve tasted have been fantastic, and in particular the 2015 Pinot from the Doña Margarita vineyard is a complete knockout.
On the richer side, I’ve got a very competent and delicious Cabernet from Chimney Rock to recommend, plus a very nice Chilean red blend of 50% Carmènere and 50% Cabernet from Neyen (a brand owned by Veramonte).
Finally, two bottles of Bordeaux showed up this week, one a beautifully aged Grand Cru from St. Emilion, the other a restrained and elegant, but incredibly tasty Merlot classified as Bordeaux Superieur. I recommend both highly.
That’s what I got this week. Enjoy!
2017 Aperture Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apple and a hint of cut grass. In the mouth, green apple, kiwi, and cut grass flavors are green and tart and juicy with excellent acidity. A green SweetTart note lingers in the finish, with a hint of salinity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2015 Ladera “Pillow Road Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and cold cream. In the mouth, lemon curd, pineapple, and a touch of salty buttered popcorn are positively electric yellow with brilliant acidity. The wood is beautifully integrated here and the fruit shines through. An excellent wine. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2016 Shafer Vineyards “Red Shoulder Ranch” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd, pineapple, and oak. In the mouth, bright pineapple and lemon curd flavors are zingy with excellent acidity. What was very overt wood on the nose is much better integrated in the body of the wine, surfacing just a silky, nutty note amidst the lemon and pineapple. Long finish, with just a touch of heat betraying its 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2015 Alma Fria “Plural” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry leaf and raspberries. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit mixes with a pine duff and dried herb quality for a nice counterpoint to the juiciness of the berry notes. The faintest of tannins are barely perceptible and the acidity is brisk and tasty. A faint bitter herbal note lingers in the finish. 13.2% alcohol. 320 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2015 Alma Fria “Holtermann Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earthy raspberry and a touch of forest floor. In the mouth, faint, fleecy tannins surround a core of cool raspberry and earth and herbs, vibrant with excellent acidity. Hints of citrus peel linger in the finish. Beautifully balanced and elegant. Restrained at this point in its evolution, but promises to blossom in the bottle. Fantastic. 13.4% alcohol. 95 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2014 Alma Fria “Holtermann Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light ruby in the glass with a hint of garnet at the core, this wine smells of cherry and dried flowers and a touch of potpourri. In the mouth, gorgeous red apple skin, raspberry and cherry flavors mix with a hint of cedar and forest floor. Faint tannins and brilliant acidity make this a mouthwatering experience, while deeper rumbles of earthiness add complexity., even as this sweet floral note suffuses the finish. Outstanding. 13.1% alcohol. 140 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2015 Alma Fria “Doña Margarita Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
A slightly cloudy medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries, forest floor, and a touch of kumquat. In the mouth, gorgeous red apple skin, cherry and raspberry flavors are shot through with a hint of fresh dashi broth and grapefruit. Wonderfully bright, balanced and elegant. Mouthwatering acidity. Incredibly balanced and poised with a remarkable depth and complexity despite its lithe vibrancy. Phenomenal. 13.2% alcohol. 172 cases made. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2015 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cola, and cocoa powder. In the mouth, bright cherry cola flavors are nestled into a downy bed of fine grained tannins. Faint floral notes linger with cola nut and hints of espresso in the finish. Excellent acidity and very well integrated wood. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $99. click to buy.
2012 Neyen Red Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, nutmeg, and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, cherry, cola nut, tobacco leaf and a bright plummy quality are all wrapped in a leathery glove of muscular tannin. There’s a faint weedy greenness to the wine, but it doesn’t cross the line into objectionable territory. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit fresh, and the wood is well integrated and complementary. A blend of 50% Carmenère and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2012 Domaine Emile Grelier Bordeaux Superieur (Merlot), Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, very smooth cherry and earth and wet pavement flavors are gorgeously set against a backdrop of powdery tannins that lightly brush the edges of the mouth. Fresh and cool and a touch minty in the finish. Excellent. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.
2006 Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne Bordeaux Blend, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux
France Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dried cherries, leather and cigar box, with a touch of meaty, herbal overtones. In the mouth, cocoa powder, licorice, black cherry and notes of dried flowers swirl under a gauzy haze of fine grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. Fresh and beautifully young despite being 12 years old. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.