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 number of wines from the folks at Williams Selyem, who have been making highly-sought-after Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County for a long time. Williams Selyem, in fact, might be called the first “cult” producer of Pinot Noir in California, having begun to allocate its wines to an oversold mailing list of customers before anyone else, despite not having a winery of their own to call home.
These days, Williams Selyem has a gorgeous winery on Westside Road outside of Healdsburg that members of the winery’s mailing list can visit with an appointment, and they continue to make a dizzying array of wines from vineyards they own, as well as vineyards throughout Sonoma County and even farther afield.
This week they sent me a couple of their Chardonnays which were tasty, but didn’t truly excite me. The Williams Selyem Chardonnay style is pretty lean, and these two both seemed almost extreme examples of that form — both honestly needing some time in the bottle before being consumed, I think.
The Pinots they sent me were much more approachable in their youth. All three were excellent but I especially liked their Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard bottling, with which I was not so familiar, but which was really vibrant and juicy. Their Estate Vineyard Pinot was also excellent, as was their Eastside Road Neighbors Pinot, which they make from fruit purchased from various nearby growers.
In addition to the Williams Selyem wines this week I opened two very worthy white wines that I’d like to recommend. The first is an excellent Pinot Blanc from Weingut Dr. Heger in the Baden region of Germany, where they refer to the grape as Weissburgunder. This one is a beautifully delicate, Grand Cru rendition that is worth seeking out.
Last, but certainly not least, comes the Chenin Blanc from Chappellet Vineyards in Napa Valley. Chappellet has been growing Chenin Blanc for decades, starting back when there were a lot more people doing so in the valley, but now they are nearly the last ones standing. Their Chenin Blanc has always been satisfying, and this latest vintage is no different.
Notes on all these below.
2016 Williams Selyem “Estate Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of freshly cut green and golden apples. In the mouth, green apple and pineapple flavors have an oddly yeasty character to them, as notes of chamomile emerge in the finish with a light bitterness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2016 Williams Selyem “MacGregor Estate Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet stones and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemon pith and grapefruit juice have a sharp, almost searing acidity and finish with a faintly bitter, pithy note. Tightly wound and vibrantly crisp, there’s a sourness in this wine I’d imaging enjoying more with some time for it to mellow in the bottle. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2016 Dr. Heger “Ihringer Winklerberg” Pinot Blanc, Baden, Germany
Nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of chamomile tea and white flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously mineral tones of wet chalkboard underlie chamomile, Asian pear, and lemon pith flavors that are delicate and delicious. Excellent acidity. Something of an ethereal wine. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2017 Chappellet Vineyard “Signature” Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith. In the mouth, flavors of citrus pith and unripe pear have a nice zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a sourish lime note in the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38 click to buy.
2017 Domaine Terre Rouge “Vin Gris d’Amador” Rosé, Amador County, Sierra Foothills, California
Pale ruby in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and watermelon. In the mouth, strawberry and apricot flavors have a nice crisp brightness and a silky texture. Berry notes linger in the finish. Tasty. An unusual blend of 41% Grenache, 41% Mourvedre, 6% Roussanne, 6% Grenache Blanc and 6% Viognier. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20 click to buy.
2016 FEL “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and red berries. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors are juicy, bright and rich, with excellent acidity and a faint muscular tannic backbone. Juicy and ripe, but not over the top. Well-integrated oak. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2016 Williams Selyem “Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass with a faint haze, this wine smells of raspberry pastilles. In the mouth, floral raspberry and dried herb flavors are bright and boisterous thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of green herbs emerge in the finish, even as the faint texture of tannins emerge on the palate. Tasty.13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $130. click to buy.
2016 Williams Selyem “Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color with a faint cloudy haze, this wine smells of cherry and cranberries. In the mouth, intense cherry flavors are zippy and bright thanks to excellent acidity, and notes of herbs and flowers waft above the vibrant core of cherry fruit. Intense and exciting. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115. click to buy.
2016 Williams Selyem “Eastside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Cloudy medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry pastilles and flowers. In the mouth, raspberries, mountain strawberries, and green herbs have a wonderful zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. The slightly bitter note of green herbs lingers nicely in the finish as candied raspberry notes waft through the mouth and faint tannins begin their grip. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.