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 bit of this and a bit of that from here, near and far.
Let’s start with some crackling mountain wines from the mountainous north of Italy. Up high in the valleys of the Dolomites, there are all sorts of gems to be found, and a couple of the most iconic wines ended up in the samples pile recently.
The Abbazia di Novacella is one of the best producers of Gewürztraminer in the world, and it is a variety that does extremely well in the Alto Adige. Which is to say that the wines express all of the good parts of the grape and none of the bad. Poorly made or grown Gewürztraminer has a heavy, oily unctuousness to it with a lot of bitter phenolics and none of the acidity required to make the floral, rose and orange characters of the grape sing. And of course that’s exactly what good Gewürztraminer does — sing with such sunny, floral purity that it lifts the spirits. This one is a good example of what the grape can do.
Sticking with Dolomites, one of the other grapes the region has long been known for is Pinot Blanc, and one of the more iconic ones is the Castelfeder “Vom Stein” bottling which sizzles with acid and lemony goodness. If you like crisp chardonnay without the oak this stuff is seriously great, especially for the price.
Moving a little to the west, I’ve also got a very pretty Mosel Riesling to recommend this week from the well-known producer St. Urbans-hof. It’s a Riesling in classic form with all the mandarin oil and honeysuckle you’d expect.
Closer to home, but still in the iconic category, I enjoyed revisiting a wine I haven’t had in years — the Newton “Unfiltered” Chardonnay, which was once (and maybe still is?) one of the darlings of California Chardonnay. Certainly before there was Kistler and Aubert, there was Newton Unfiltered, highly sought after by fans of California Chardonnay. I think Newton has backed off of its extremes of oak and butteriness, and settled somewhere very nice, albeit still on the rich end of the California Chardonnay spectrum.
Moving on to reds, I’ve got a Pinot Noir from somewhere that grows great Pinot Noir but that most wine lovers never associate with the grape: Germany. The Franken region of Germany (among others) has been producing excellent Pinot for decades, but not much of it made it stateside until recently. Now German Pinot is sort of a hot underground secret among sommeliers, and some of it is really fantastic. This one is a good example of why.
Or, if you prefer your Pinot grown a little closer to home and to the tune of a bit fruitier song, you might enjoy this producer The Hilt, which I am learning about through this first bottle. The owners purchased the Rancho Salsipuedes in the Santa Rita Hills which is 3,600 acres of gorgeousness in Santa Barbara County. There are two large 100-acre vineyard sides on the property, Bentrock and Radian, both offering rather extreme viticultural conditions — steep slopes of diatomaceous earth buffeted by chilly coastal winds that sweep up the valley over the hills. The wine is juicy and bright and unmarred by too much oak, so the fruit gets to shine through.
Lastly, I’ve got a nice Cabernet from Ladera Vineyards, which always produces reliably good stuff in Napa under the guidance of Pat Stotesbery and his family.
All these and more below.
2015 Castelfeder “Vom Stein” Pinot Bianco, Südtirol – Alto Adige, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and lemon pith. In the mouth, lightly saline lemon pith and lemon curd flavors have a zingy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a nice faint mineral undertone to the wine with a slight tannic grip and scents of flowers in the finish. Pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Gewürztraminer, Valle Isarco, Südtirol – Alto Adige
Italy Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel and wet stones. In the mouth, the wine is delightfully much of the same, with orange peel, wet chalkboard and chamomile notes mixing with bright floral tones through a clean finish completely absent the weight or bitterness that can burden this grape variety. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2018 St. Urbans-hof “Nik Weis” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet stones and honeysuckle. In the mouth, wonderfully mineral notes of crushed wet stones, honeysuckle and mandarin orange mix with a touch of poached pear. Long finish, fantastic acidity. Faintly sweet. 11% alcohol. Score: between 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2016 Newton “Unfiltered” Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, saline flavors of lemon curd and melted butter have a nice snap to them thanks to juicy acidity that makes the mouth water. Intense and rich but pretty balanced. This is perhaps the quintessential California-styled Chardonnay of old, but without being over the top. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9. Cost: $ 55 . click to buy.
2016 The Hilt Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberries. In the mouth, intense cherry and raspberry flavors have a nice snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. On the riper side, but hard to argue with the sunny outlook of the juicy bright fruit. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2016 Newton “Unfiltered” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright, ripe cherry and tobacco leaf and a touch of green bell pepper. In the mouth, cherry and green bell pepper flavors mix with cola and some bitter herbs that linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and freshness, but on the slightly greener side of Cabernet. Not a lush fruit-bomb, but that counts in its favor. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $59. click to buy.
2013 Weingut Stadt Klingenberg Pinot Noir, Franken, Germany
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and raspberry leaf mixed with chopped herbs and flowers. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and herbs have a slightly nutty cedary quality along with a nice underlying minerality. Excellent acidity and quartz-like transparency. Notes of green herbs linger in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2015 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry and cassis and cola nut have a nice freshness to them thanks, in part, to excellent acidity. There’s a green herb mintiness to the wine that lingers in the finish. Quite pretty. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9. Cost: $60 . click to buy.