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 pretty little Riesling from Brooks Winery in Oregon, who continue to produce excellent, varietally correct renditions of the grape that range from bone dry to lightly sweet, as this one is. Chilled down it will make any Riesling lover happy.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have noticed every newspaper and wine website in the universe proclaiming that it’s finally rosé season. This is, of course, complete hogwash, as it’s been rosé season for the past 15 years, at least. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there’s a time of year that ISN’T good for rosé. If you need one to drink soon for under $15, you’d do far worse than to find a bottle of this Olema rosé, a porch pounder from the Cotes de Provence, home of much good pink stuff.
Moving on to red wines, Brooks also sent through a Pinot Noir as well that is quite tasty. Both it and the Riesling are part of the Cahiers line of wines, which are their top-of-the-line multi-site blends. This one has got everything good you want from a Willamette Pinot.
Staying with Pinot for a moment, this week the folks at Duckhorn sent through their four single-vineyard designated Migration Pinot Noirs, two from down south in the Santa Rita Hills, and two from the Russian River Valley. All four are very solid interpretations of the grape, and show their site specificity pretty well, especially when tasted side-by-side.
Finally, I’ve got two big, heavy-as-hell bottles for you. Pity the fool that has to carry a full case of either of these around. Big, heavy glass is supposed to mean class, but mostly all it does is waste gas.
But enough Dr. Seuss. The Shafer Hillside Select should need little introduction, except perhaps with a short moment of silence for the recent passing of its pioneering founder, John Shafer, who lived a long and full life after basically ushering in the era of cult wines in Napa. The 2014 is in typical form, high-octane but reasonably balanced, and showing less new oak than recent vintages.
The other big-bottled-bruiser is Audax, which, as if the heaviest bottle in the universe wasn’t enough to tell you how expensive it must be, also comes with a metal medallion glued on the front of it. It’s not quite as smooth, but will satisfy those looking for a “big-ass Cab.”
All these and more below.
2016 Brooks Vineyards “Cahiers” Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of Asian pear, wet chalkboard and a touch of paraffin. In the mouth, lightly sweet flavors of Asian pear, mandarin oranges and a nice wet pavement minerality have a nice silky texture and crispness. Decent acidity. 12% alcohol. 210 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Olema Ros&eaute;, Cotes de Provence, Provence, France
Palest baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon. In the mouth, bright berry and citrus flavors have a nice zing to them thanks to decent acidity. Silky and perhaps not quite as crisp as it could be, but nonetheless, tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2015 Brooks Vineyards “Cahiers” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, cherry and pomegranate flavors have a zippy edge to them thanks to excellent acidity. A faint dried herbal note emerges on the finish. 13.8% alcohol. 600 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2016 Migration “Bien Nacido Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry pie and raisins. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry flavors mix with a touch of cedar and vanilla. The wood is well integrated here. Good acidity. 13.9% alcohol. 350 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70.
2016 Migration “Drum Canyon Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry juice. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit has an almost searing acidity to it, with the faintest of grippy tannins. Notes of raspberry pastilles linger in the finish. 13.9% alcohol. 185 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ 70.
2016 Migration “Running Creek Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium ruby in the glass with a hint of purple to it, this wine smells of cherry and carob. In the mouth, cherry and cedar and carob flavors have a faint bitterness to them and powdery, tight tannins. Good acidity. 14.5% alcohol. 175 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ 70.
2016 Migration “Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry pie and sweet flowers. In the mouth, exceptionally silky flavors of cherry and raspberry pastilles have an electric brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of dried herb emerge on the finish, turning slightly bitter in the end. 14.5% alcohol. 320 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ 70.
2014 Calla Lily “Audax” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and oak and raisins. In the mouth, cherry and cola flavors are shot through with wood and pulled taut with the drying tannins of that wood lingering in the finish and stripping the mouth of moisture. Good acidity. 14.7% alcohol and an obnoxiously heavy bottle replete with a metal medallion. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.
2015 Shafer Vineyards “Relentless” Syrah, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and a touch of smoke. In the mouth, rich flavors of blackberry pie are draped in a gauzy haze of tannins that tighten around the edges of the mouth as the wine finishes with sour cherry and blackberries. Contains 10% Petite Sirah. Only the faintest trace of its substantial 15.8% alcohol lingers as heat in the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2016 Shafer Vineyards “TD9” Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and black plum. In the mouth, plummy notes of black cherry mix with cedar and oak as tannins gradually tighten their grip on the palate. A slight herbal bitterness lingers in the finish. A blend of 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec. 15.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2014 Shafer Vineyards “Hillside Select” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, rich black cherry, black tea and cola flavors are draped in a heavy, fleecy blanket of tannins that tightens about the mouth as the wine heads towards the finish. The oak is present but reasonably well integrated, poking out a bit in the mid-palate and finish. Pretty well balanced for its prodigious 15.5% alcohol, and packed in its usual, unapologetically heavy bottle. Score: around 9. Cost: $285. click to buy.
2015 Dutton Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Cherry Ridge Vineyard” Syrah, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blackberry briar. In the mouth, blackberry and blackberry leaf mix with a touch of iron filings and cassis as bright acidity and muscular, fine-grained tannins tighten the cheeks. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.