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 was an all-California week, and involved a number of interesting wines.
Let’s start with the reliably excellent Riesling from Smith-Madrone, who have thumbed their noses at the world for decades and made Riesling from the slopes of Spring Mountain, where everyone else would be growing Cabernet. The wine is usually excellent, but I do think this is the best it’s ever tasted on release.
Speaking of reliable, I’ve also got a couple of Pinots from Dutton-Goldfield, both tasty and delicious, but very different in character. The Russian River bottling is bright juicy fruit, and the Anderson Valley wine has a deeper soulful earthiness to it.
Before we leave the Pinot Zone, there were also two wines this week from Josh Jensen’s Calera vineyard, where for forty years, Jensen has been making uniquely California wines on top of his limestone mountain. Of the two, I preferred the Reed Vineyard bottling, which is already starting to show some of the beautiful spiciness that characterizes this wine as it ages.
Moving down the spectrum of darkness, I recommend the Qupé Syrah from Sawyer Lindquist. Bob Lindquist has been making some of California’s best Syrahs for decades, and this wine is very true to his deft handed approach.
And finally let’s move to Napa, where we had a number of wines this week, including representations from two branches of the Mondavi family. The first being Robert Mondavi Vineyards’ To Kalon Reserve Cabernet, which is the winery’s top offering and beautifully made (if slightly heavier on the oak than I would like). The second is Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, which continues to be one of my favorite wines in Napa for its elegance and depth. The 2015 is yet another standout vintage from this singularly focused label.
All these and more below.
2015 Hudson Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Bright yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, pineapple, and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, intense lemon and pineapple flavors have a nice mineral backbone, but the wine is quite rich and ripe. Intense — a bit too much for my taste. Decent acidity. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of Asian pear and wet chalkboard and a touch of paraffin. In the mouth, Asian pear, lemon zest, and tangerine juice flavors are zippy with excellent acidity. Clean crisp, with a nice wet chalkboard minerality. This wine is always excellent, but the 2015 strikes me as exceptionally well balanced and exciting. 12.6% alcohol. Score: between 9strong> and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.
2015 Dutton Goldfield “Angel Camp Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry jam. In the mouth, wonderfully bright cherry and pomegranate flavors have a fantastic juiciness thanks to excellent, mouthwatering acidity. A nice, earthy, forest floor note lingers under the juicy fruit along with a touch of oak. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $58. click to buy.
2015 Dutton Goldfield “Freestone Hill Vineyard – Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberries, cherries, and wet earth. In the mouth, juicy cherry and cranberry flavors tingle merrily on the palate thanks to excellent acidity. But a deeper, earthy bass note moves this wine away from frivolous and towards serious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.
2015 Calera “de Villiers Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, pomegranate and raspberries. In the mouth, intense cherry and sour cherry flavors mix with raspberry and dried herbs. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh and bright in the mouth, and lingering for a long while on the palate along with faint chalky tannins. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2015 Calera “Reed Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of red apple skin, raspberries, and dried herbs. In the mouth, silky textured cranberry and raspberry flavors are electric with bright acidity that leaves citrus peel and dried herb notes lingering in the finish along with faint, chalky tannins. Wonderfully juicy and delicious now, but just wait 10 years, and wheee! 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2014 Qupé “Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard” Syrah, Edna Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberries and a hint of pepper. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and white pepper flavors have a wonderful spiciness to them and a lovely mouthwatering kick thanks to excellent acidity. A nice cedary note lingers in the finish with faint, powdery tannins. Tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2015 Chappellet Vineyard Merlot, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plum and cherry jam with hints of chocolate. In the mouth, cherry, cola, and plum flavors are bright with juicy acidity and plush in texture. Notes of plum and cocoa powder linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2015 Chappellet Vineyard “Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cola and cassis. In the mouth, cherry cola and a hint of green tobacco mix with a plush dark chocolate flavor as a blanket of fleecy tannins envelops the palate. Excellent acidity and very well integrated oak leaves a faint toasty note in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2015 Continuum “Sage Mountain Vineyard” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cassis and a hint of herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of cherry, cola, licorice and dried herbs mix with the faint vanilla of French oak. Wonderfully elegant with chiseled features and a gorgeous, supple texture. Powdery, muscular tannins linger in the finish with notes of cola nut and nutmeg. Outstanding, as usual. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.
2014 Robert Mondavi “To Kalon Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil shavings, espresso and red fruit. In the mouth, lovely cherry and tobacco flavors mix with graphite and a touch of dried flowers. Supple suede-like tannins wrap around the core of fruit, and excellent acidity keeps things lively through the finish. Very pretty and balanced, showing very little of its 15% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.