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 interesting white wines from the Central Coast. The first, the Estate Chardonnay from Calera, needs little introduction for long-time California wine lovers, though arguably Josh Jensen’s Pinot Noirs (see below) are more famous than his Chardonnays, but both benefit from the unique limestone outcrop that is his Mount Harlan estate.
Even farther south, Chalone vineyards has been making interesting wines on their volcanic terroir for a long time, including small quantities of Chenin Blanc, which to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had. This version is more in the off-dry style that would make it a delightful accompaniment to something with a bit of spice.
Before we move on to pinker and even darker things, I’ve also got a textbook entry level New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that’s a fantastic value for the money. Wither Hills walks the straight line down the middle in terms of the classic Kiwi form, and fans of that genre will find everything they’re looking for in this wine.
Wither Hills also offered a rosé this week, which doesn’t quite have the same snap as their Sauvignon Blanc, but is a worthy bottle at its price point.
Moving on to reds (and taking a big jump up the price scale) I also got the latest incarnations of the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Calera, and they are truly fantastic. The Reed Vineyard in particular is showing better than I can remember tasting on release in a long time. Elegant, nuanced, and wonderfully pure, these are Pinots that will improve for more than a decade, and are worth their tariff for certain.
Before we leave the Pinot Noir category, I got a random Burgundy from Domaine Louis Latour this week, and found it surprisingly fruit-forward and delightful. Someone looking for a $25 Pinot Noir will be hard pressed to beat it for its vivacious fruit and deliciousness.
Finally I’ve got two deeper reds in from the pile this week, Ridge Vineyards’ Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, which is textbook California old-vine Zin, and the Duckhorn “Three Palms Vineyard” Cabernet, which likewise offers what most expect from Napa. The Three Palms Vineyard is arguably more famous for its Merlot, but Duckhorn has been making great Cabernet from it for years.
Notes on all these below.
2018 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of passionfruit and green apple. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of passionfruit, green apple, and candied lime have a bright zip to them and a nice mouthwatering acidity. Juicy and crisp and pretty typical of the form. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2016 Calera Chardonnay, Mount Harlan, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of cold cream, melted butter and lemon curd. In the mouth, lemon curd, buttered popcorn and grapefruit juice flavors have a nice snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of toasty oak and vanilla in the finish, but overall this wine is quite well balanced. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ 50. click to buy.
2017 Chalone Vineyard “Heritage Vines” Chenin Blanc, Chalone, Central Coast, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of quince paste and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, lightly sweet flavors of pear and honey mix with a nice underlying wet pavement minerality. Honeyed notes linger in the finish. Good acidity, but I wish the wine were slightly less sweet, having said that, my guess is that the goal here was “off-dry” to begin with. 13.5% alcohol. 2400 bottles produced. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??.
2018 Wither Hills Rosé of Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light baby pink in color, this wine smells of candied strawberries and watermelon. In the mouth, watermelon rind and notes of raspberry mix with herbs and a faint aromatic sweetness. Excellent acidity and a light tannic grip round out the package. Decent finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2016 Calera “de Villiers Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry, earth, and herbs. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and cherry have a darker earthier side to them. Powdery but muscular tannins creep up the sides of the mouth as raspberry and redcurrant notes linger in the finish with a hint of cedar. 13.95% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2016 Calera “Jensen Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and mixed herbs. In the mouth, aromatically sweet cherry fruit mixes with cedar and dried herbs, and lingers with a faint sweetness in the finish. Fine grained tannins and excellent acidity round out this charming mouthful. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.
2016 Calera “Reed Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mount Harlan, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and redcurrant pastilles with a touch of floral sweetness and a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of redcurrant and pure raspberry fruit have a filigreed elegance to them and gorgeous acidity to back them up. Faint tannins and beautiful floral notes linger in the finish. A stunner. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2017 Maison Louis Latour “Les Pierres Dorées” Pinot Noir, Coteaux Bourguignons, Burgundy, France
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry jam and flowers. In the mouth, faintly sweet and pure flavors of candied raspberry are bright and somewhat simple. Excellent acidity and a surprising amount of underlying minerality couple with lightly leathery tannins to add complexity to the very forward fruit. Surprisingly candied in quality, but it’s hard not to be charmed by a neon raspberry cordial. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2016 Ridge Vineyards “Pagani Ranch” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of licorice and blackberry pie. In the mouth, licorice, blackberries, and herbal notes mix with olive and a touch of earth. Fleecy tannins cozy up to the edges of the mouth and a nice earthy note of cumin-like spice lingers in the finish. Contains 9% Petite Sirah and 3% Alicante Bouschet. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2015 Duckhorn Vineyards “Three Palms Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis, green tobacco leaf and alcohol. In the mouth, rich flavors of cherry and plum mix with hints of cedar and vanilla and the distinct signature of oak. Fine grained tannins tend to dry out the mouth a little, and the fruit is kept fresh with excellent acidity. There’s something compressed about this wine, where the flavors don’t expand as much as I expect them too, or have as much depth as I would like. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $98. click to buy.