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 the always bright and fresh Sauvignon Blanc from Girard in Napa, and likewise consistently excellent, from over the hill, the Jordan Winery Chardonnay, which manages to walk the wonderfully fine line between classically oaky and buttery California Chardonnay and the nervy, acid-driven wines that are redefining the form.
Next we’ve got a pair of Pinots from another reliable producer, Dutton Goldfield. The first is their basic estate Pinot from the cool climes of the Green Valley, and then, even cooler, the Azaya Ranch vineyard from Marin County, which is generally one of my favorites of their Pinot.
Before we move on to a small trove of Cabernet Sauvignon, let’s dally with some less predictable characters, like the Trinafour Rosso Misto, an old-vine field blend that has a really nice mix of fruit and earth. Likewise, the Chappellet Cabernet Franc offers up a handful of roasted nuts, while the Limerick Lane “Rocky Knoll” Zinfandel is a bouquet of black and blue fruit.
I don’t get too many Veneto wines sent to me, so it was fun to taste the Monte Zovo Amarone, which was in classic form, doing what Amarone can uniquely do — offer depth and power but still retain freshness.
Finally, the big guns. Starting with the predictably restrained and elegant Jordan Cabernet, which tends to be a little leaner than others. Heitz Cellars also sometimes leans a little towards the less massive, but their 2013 was powerful and tightly wound still, suggesting some more time may be merited.
Tierra Roja offered their 2015 Cabernet, which was broad and powerful and sweetly aromatic — bound to satisfy anyone looking for the blockbuster side of Napa Cabernet.
The real star this week, however, was the Oliver Ranch Cabernet from Aperture Cellars, made by the young and talented Jesse Katz. What started as a small portfolio of a single Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon has been expanding in recent vintages to include several more single vineyard Alexander Valley wines, including this winner of a wine from the gravelly soils of Oliver Ranch. Make no mistake, this is a big wine, but one that has a lot of finesse to it.
All these and more below.
2016 Girard Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of ripe golden apples, honey, and hay. In the mouth, bright citrusy apple, lemon, tangerine and mango flavors have a nice snap thanks to excellent acidity. On the richer side, but with enough zip to keep things fresh. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2016 Jordan Winery Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and cold cream. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon curd have a touch of pineapple and a touch of vanilla. Subtly integrated oak adds weight to the palate and a hint of toast. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh. Will appeal to a wide range of California Chardonnay lovers. Nicely balanced. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33. click to buy.
2016 Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
A pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon. In the mouth, zingy flavors of watermelon rind, strawberry and raspberry are bouncy and slide silkily across the palate. Excellent acidity and wonderful freshness, with a citrus peel snap in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65.
2015 Dutton Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Marin County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberries with a touch of briary, dry herbs. In the mouth, bright cranberry and pomegranate flavors are wrapped in a lightly stiff canvas of tannins as hints of toasted oak and dried herbs drift by on the breeze. Excellent acidity and wonderfully pure, fresh fruit. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2014 Trinafour “Rosso Misto – Casa Verde Vineyard” Red Blend, Mendocino County, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam. In the mouth, rich strawberry and cherry flavors have a hint of earthiness underneath them, and a nice fleecy tannin that gives texture to the wine. Notes of herbs linger in the finish. Quite pretty, with good acidity. A field blend of 75 year-old vines, mostly Carignan and Grenache. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2013 Monte Zovo Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, raisins, and a touch of smoke. In the mouth, intense flavors of raisins, candied cherries, cedar, and strawberry have a faint tannic backbone and a nice balance, betraying none of the wine’s 16% alcohol. Good acidity and a nice finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $43. click to buy.
2015 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of hazelnuts, chocolate, and cherries. In the mouth, strong flavors of plum and sweet oak dominate, while muscular tannins coat the edges of the palate. Good acidity but a bit too much wood for my taste. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $85 click to buy.
2016 Limerick Lane Cellars “Rocky Knoll” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and blueberries. In the mouth, blackberry and blueberry fruit is bright with excellent acidity and backed by putty-like tannins. Somewhat high toned, but very aromatically pretty. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2015 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and oak. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cocoa powder flavors are bright with excellent acidity. Notes of plum and licorice linger in the finish along with well-integrated sweet, toasty oak. Powdery tannins. A classically styled Napa Cabernet, which means it has a bit too much oak influence for me personally. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $140. click to buy.
2015 Aperture Cellars “Oliver Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis, black cherry, and violets. In the mouth, rich and powerful black cherry, cassis, and licorice flavors are tinged with tobacco and a touch of sweet dark chocolate. Muscular and broad, with very little noticeable oak influence, this wine is a Mr. Universe in the finest Italian suit. Powdery, ethereal tannins, excellent acidity and, yes, balance amidst all its power. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95.
2014 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, tobacco and a touch of oak. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and tobacco are shot through with a coconut, whiskey-barrel flavor of wood, with fine grained tannins hanging at the edge of the palate. Great acidity and a very nice medium-bodied feel, but ultimately, a hair too much wood for my taste at the moment. Give it 5 years. 13.8% alcohol Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $56. click to buy.
2013 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cassis. In the mouth, bright cherry and black cherry fruit is shot through with the vanilla of oak. Tightly wound, muscular tannins build strength on the palate, and begin to dry out the mouth as the wine finishes with a hint of dried herbs. Good acidity, but while there isn’t too much taste of oak, the tannic influence is a bit much at this stage. Wait five years. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.