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 all sorts of interesting stuff.
Lets start with a shockingly good and quite unusual wine. Pepe Raventos is a name known to wine geeks. He started the now quite well-known Raventos i Blanc project, which is making some of the highest quality and stunningly terroir-driven Sparkling wines in the traditional Cava region. Except they’re not Cava. Raventos decided to leave the appellation so that he could make wines true to a specific patch of soil that is the Raventos estate, which has been in the family since 1497, and is in the area known as Conca del Riu Anoia. Always an innovator, Raventos recently started a separate “garage” project a couple of years ago to make wines with as little intervention as possible (aka what some people call Natural Wines) and this “Vinya del Noguer” is one of his inaugural efforts. It’s stunning and worth trying as an expression of terroir and the Xarel-lo grape, which is almost always relegated to simplistic, anonymous renditions of itself from within a Cava blend.
Next let’s look at a couple of more robust whites from California. FEL is a second label of sorts for the Cliff Lede winery in Napa, and their rendition of the well-known Savoy vineyard’s Chardonnay is quite tasty and refreshing.
In Napa, the Gratus winery has made an unusual blend of whites from both the Northern and Southern Rhône valley, and has kept restraint when it comes to the oak, leaving a nice pear-driven bottle that is fairly unique in flavor profile for a Napa white.
It’s Spring, which means every mainstream publication on the planet has declared it Rosé Season, but savvy wine lovers know that season lasts 12 months. But wineries tend to release their Rosés in the Spring, so here I go playing into the fashion. I really like the berry notes of the Inman Family “Endless Crush” bottling, and for the money the Tenuta Monteti wine is also a worthwhile bottling, though it lacks the edge of the Inman.
Syrah? Shiraz? same difference. Yalumba is one of Australia’s most storied producers, and rightly so. This wine shows that Shiraz can have restraint and poise. Zinke Wines from Santa Barbara has made a pretty-well balanced Syrah from Ballard Canyon that doesn’t show much of its prodigious ripeness, matched as it is with some savory characteristics. The project is the work of Michael Zinke, who went to school to become a chef, but ended up falling in love with wine instead.
There’s not much to say but the typical suggestion to enjoy the Ridge Lytton Springs field blend of mixed-blacks, which is great, as usual.
Finally I’ve got a couple of micro-production Cabernets from Jericho Canyon Vineyard, a property near Calistoga that sold grapes for years and eventually got into bottling their own stuff. Their Solair bottling is worthy, but perhaps a bit over-the-top for my tastes. I prefer their single-block bottling of Cabernet which is everything that most people want in a big Napa Cabernet, minus heavily overt oak treatment, which wins it points in my book.
Notes on all these and more below.
2017 Pepe Raventos “Vinya del Noguer” Xarel-lo, Spain
Palest yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of chamomile, bee pollen and wintersweet blossoms. In the mouth, flavors of exotic citrus and citrus pith have a fantastic, stony minerality to them and a gorgeous aromatic sweetness that hovers at the edge of perception. Excellent, filigreed acidity and a long citrus oil finish with a touch of candle wax round out the package. Wowza. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2016 FEL “Savoy Vineyard” Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and candied lemon peel. In the mouth, bright lemon and grapefruit flavors have a nice juicy zing, thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a lovely candied grapefruit note that lingers in the finish. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2017 Gratus White Blend, Napa Valley, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and pastry cream. In the mouth, pears (both Asian and regular) mix with the slight bitterness of pear skin and a touch of white flowers. Decent acidity and length. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23.
2018 Inman Family Winery “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California
A pale, perfect baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries with a hint of watermelon rind. In the mouth, tart raspberry and green strawberry flavors have a wonderful zip thanks to excellent acidity. There’s also a more “serious” faintly tannic grip to the wine that is very pleasing. Lengthy finish. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2018 Tenuta Monteti “TM” Rosé, Tuscany, Italy
Palest baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and wet stones. In the mouth, watermelon rind and strawberry flavors have a nice crisp snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. Faint sweetness lingers in the finish. Simple and delicious. Mostly Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14.
2017 Yalumba “Samuel’s Collection” Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia, Australia
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry, roasted figs and a hint of black pepper. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and cassis flavors have a nice bounce to them thanks to excellent acidity. Fleecy, fine-grained tannins coat the edges of the mouth, and an aromatically sweet, candied blackberry note lingers in the finish. Tasty. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “Ponzo” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and a touch of cocoa powder. In the mouth, blackberry and cassis flavors are shot through with black pepper and mixed herbs. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit fresh and mouthwatering while powdery tannins coat the mouth and flex their muscles in the finish. Contains 3% Petite Sirah. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “Lytton Springs” Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and earth, black cherries and mixed herbs. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors mix with blackberry and licorice. A hint of apple cider spices lingers with the licorice flavor in the finish with powdery, mouth-coating tannins. Excellent acidity keeps the whole package fresh and mouthwatering with a touch of oak added in. A blend of 69% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignan and 2% Mourvedre. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2015 Zinke Wine Co. “Kimsey Vineyard” Syrah, Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly smoky black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, notes of smoky oak and black cherry and cassis mix together with a nice earthy savory backdrop. Decent acidity. 15.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2015 Jericho Canyon Vineyard “Solair” Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, silky flavors of black cherry and black plum are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Bright acidity keeps the wine fresh, but there’s a hint of bitterness in the finish and a sense of the higher-octane, 15.1% alcohol. Nonetheless, a tasty wine. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.
2015 Jericho Canyon Vineyard “West Wall” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors are wrapped in a suede blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity and depth with an earthy rumble beneath the fruit. Very tasty and nicely balanced. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.