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 couple of heavy hitters, but before we get to those wines, let’s talk about the opposite of heavy hitters, the light, fresh, crisp ethereal beauty of Riesling.
Two beauties showed up this week, both from Germany. The first, a beautifully dry rendition of Riesling that tastes just like taking a big bite out of a perfectly ripe Asian pear. This Morstein bottling from Driessigacker in the Rheinhessen is everything you want a dry Riesling to be. Deeply mineral and refreshing it will delight anyone who is a fan of the grape.
Likewise, the Kabinett-level Riesling, just slightly sweet, from Dr. Hermann is another excellent example of the form. From the famous “Spice Garden” vineyard on the steep slopes of the Mosel river, this wine has that characteristic petrol whiff that mixes with all the citrus goodness you could want.
Moving on to reds, I got a pair of Pinots from Williams-Selyem this week, their Russian River and San Benito County bottlings and both are delicious, though the Russian River bottling is clearly the crowd pleaser with its candied raspberry bursting on the palate.
Williams-Selyem also threw in their Zinfandel for the first time in memory, and it is definitely on the lush side, but if you like the idea of blackberry pie in a glass, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.
Now moving on to an array of Cabernets, I’ve got a slightly unusual Cabernet blend from Monteti in Tuscany, which is quite fresh and tasty (and a steal for $25), along with two wines from the Jericho Canyon Vineyard, which is an excellent site in Napa Valley. I prefer their reserve bottling to the “East Elevation” as it is slightly brighter, but both are worthy.
The two big guns this week are wonderfully different examples of world-class California Cabernet that need no introduction.
The Dalla Valle Maya is wonderfully seductive, bright, juicy and incredibly drinkable in its cherry plushness. Unlike many wines of its ilk, it retains a fantastic level of acidity and exercises some restraint in its expression of oak. If you can afford that kind of wine, it’s a remarkable apogee of the form.
The Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is also one of America’s classic wines, and this vintage is as good as I can remember ever having upon release. As usual it is incredibly fresh, picked less ripe than just about anything in Napa, and bursting with herbs and savory notes in addition to its bright cherry goodness. This vintage also shows a lot less of its American oak cooperage than usual, which is much to my liking, leaving the coconut and whiskey barrel to be hints of spice, rather than main ingredients. It’s a cool customer and a wine that will cellar for decades and improve for at least 10-15 years.
All these and more below.
2013 Dreissigacker “Westenhovener Morstein” Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, crisp and dry flavors of Asian pear and mandarin zest have an electric edge to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Mouthwatering and quite persistent, this wine soars through the finish dripping with Asian pear goodness, even going so far as to incorporate the faint bitterness of Asian pear skin in addition to the floral flesh. Outstanding. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $47. click to buy.
2016 Dr. Hermann “Ürziger W¨rzgarten” Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine oil and whiff of diesel. In the mouth, flavors of honeysuckle and tangerine have a wonderfully chalky texture and a deep mineral backbone. Excellent acidity keeps the wine crisp and fresh amidst the slight to moderate sweetness. Excellent. 7.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry pie and raspberry jam. In the mouth, candied (to the point of being even faintly sweet) raspberry fruit has a bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint, powdery tannins coat the mouth while the fruit just gushes across the palate leaving raspberry pastille flavors in the finish. Boisterous and hard not to love. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, San Benito County, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and raspberry pastilles. In the mouth, raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors are draped in gauzy tannins and mix with pomegranate pips as the wine finishes. Gorgeously bright acidity keeps things lively as the wine moves across the palate. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $78. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem “Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of freshly baked blackberry pie. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and licorice flavors positively burst with juicy acidity. Faint, squeaky tannins buff the edges of the mouth. Nicely balanced for its 15.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5-9 . Cost: $100. click to buy.
2015 Dalla Valle “Maya” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and vanilla. In the mouth, gorgeously silky flavors of cherry and cola have a beguiling aromatic sweetness to them, and a juiciness thanks to fantastic acidity. Nestled into a velvety bed of tannins the fruit sings pure through the finish, accented by notes of tobacco and cola nut that turn towards roasted nuts after a looong while. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $425 to list members, usually $475 or higher at retail. click to buy.
2015 Jericho Canyon Vineyard “East Elevation” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet black cherry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and chocolate-covered raisin flavors are buffed by fleecy tannins that settle like a blanket on the palate. Tastes ever-so-slightly overripe, but the oak is well integrated and the acidity good. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.
2015 Jericho Canyon Vineyard “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, bright cherry, cola and tobacco leaf flavors are juicy with excellent acidity. Hints of flowers and herbs emerge on the finish along with a nice earthy rumble, as fine grained tannins coat the mouth and begin their muscular squeeze. Nicely balanced with just the faintest heat in the finish. No alcohol specified on label (not sure how they can get away with that? Perhaps I was not sent the true commercial label). Score: around 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.
2013 Monteti “Caburnio” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with a hint of purple still left in it, this wine smells of green herbs, cherry, and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, juicy cherry and forest floor flavors are shot through with green herbs and nestled into a suede blanket of tannins. Cool and fresh, with only modest oak influence, this wine has great acidity and balance. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Alicante, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “Lytton Estate” Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry and a touch of wet earth. In the mouth, thick, fleecy tannins wrap around a core of cassis, black cherry and licorice tinged with blue flowers. Good acidity and length, but not overpoweringly rich, thanks to its modest 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.
2015 Ridge Vineyards “Monte Bello” Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth, green herbs, and a touch of coconut and licorice. In the mouth, cherry and green herb flavors are wrapped in a gauzy haze of fine grained tannins and shot through with notes of dried flowers and a touch of gun smoke and whiskey barrel. The oak seems much better integrated in this vintage than in recent new releases, at least to my memory. Excellent acidity and gorgeous freshness make this quite appealing to drink even now, though we all know it will be so much better in a decade or more. A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $215. click to buy.