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 really lovely white Burgundies from the Pernand-Vergelesses region of the Cote de Beaune, which is the southern, more white-wine-focused end of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. Pernand-Vergelesses sits near Serrigny, just to the north of the city of Beaune. These two wines come from the venerable Maison Champy, which has been producing the region’s wines for a mere 400 years or so. Today, they are known for their stately cellar in the center of Beaune (a worthy visit for anyone interested in lots of dusty bottles and classy hospitality) and more importantly, for being a firm practitioner of biodynamic cultivation.
Moving south and a bit east, let’s end up in the Marche region of Northern Italy, where the white grape Verdicchio may well achieve its apogee of expression. The one I tasted this week from Garofoli shows much of that potential, oozing as it does with lemony apple and stony goodness. For $$ this is a steal.
Its mate, from the Rosso Conero appellation might be a textbook expression of the grape Montepulciano, which I always find pleasing, but only rarely profound. No matter. This mouthful of black and red fruit has got great balance and everything it needs to be confidently declared a food wine. Just order a pizza.
Next I’ve got a bunch of wines that answer an interesting question. What happens when you take one of Napa’s most celebrated winemakers and plop him down in the Sierra Foothills and tell him to make the best wine he can from the surrounding vineyards?
That’s basically the brand value proposition of Andis Wines, which is the latest consulting project for superstar winemaker Philippe Melka. Melka has made a name for himself making powerful Napa Cabernets that please the critics and the Andis project, not surprisingly, seems to be cut from the same mold.
However, I have to say that Melka’s touch with Zinfandel and Barbera doesn’t quite hold a candle to his work in Napa, at least in terms of what these wines are able to demonstrate. While they were on the tasty side, they were all slightly high-octane, and missing the crisp snap of acidity that would have lent freshness to the wines and balanced out the prodigious alcohol levels. The best of the lot was the Friedlander Zinfandel, but I’d love to have seem what these wines tasted like if they were picked for a degree less of alcohol. Having said all that, most of these wines are about 1/10th the price of Melka’s efforts in Napa, so they aren’t exactly to be evaluated on the same playing field.
Finally, I’ve got a pair of wines from Argentine producer Susana Balbo, whose entry level wines generally represent excellent values, as the Malbec and Cabernet that I tasted this week.
All these and more below.
2017 Maison Champy “En Caradeux” Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Blanc, Cote d’Or, Burgundy, France
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon oil. In the mouth, bright, juicy flavors of lemon juice, lemon curd, and citrus pith have a nice stony snap to them thanks to excellent acidity and a firm mineral backbone. Notes of wet chalkboard and lemon pith linger in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2016 Maison Champy Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc, Cote d’Or, Burgundy, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon zest. In the mouth, slightly sappy flavors of lemon and lemon curd mix with wet stones and white flowers. That sappy resinous note lingers in the finish with lemon pith and lemonade aromas. Excellent acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Garofoli “Macrina” Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC, Marche, Italy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, white flowers and a hint of unripe apple. In the mouth, electric lemon pith and apple flavors have an incredible brightness to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Deep wet chalkboard and wet cement notes linger in the finish with ethereal aromas of lemon balm. Lovely. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2016 Garofoli “Piancarda” Rosso Conero, Marche, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins but remain juicy thanks to excellent acidity. A faint leather and cedar note lingers underneath the rich fruit. Tasty rendition of the Montepulciano grape. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2017 Andis Wines “Barbera d’Amador” Barbera, Sierra Foothills, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and leather and cherry. In the mouth, juicy cherry and leather and cocoa powder flavors have a nice bounce thanks to very good acidity. Faint powdery tannins coat the mouth and a faint citrus peel note creeps into the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2017 Andis Wines “Friedlander Block” Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry pie. In the mouth, very bright flavors of blackberry and pomegranate have a wonderful lift to them thanks to excellent acidity. Faint putty-like tannins coat the top of the mouth. Notes of licorice linger in the finish. 15.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.
2017 Andis Wines “Original Grandpere Vineyard” Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberries and cherries. In the mouth, cherry compote and blackberries pie flavors have a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity. Notes of red vines linger in the finish along with a touch of black licorice. 15.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??.
2018 Susana Balbo “Crios” Malbec, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina
Inky dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of candied blueberries and cassis. In the mouth, juicy blueberry and cassis flavors have a nice soft tannic blanket draped around their shoulders. Good acidity keeps the fruit fresh and if not complex, certainly tasty. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2018 Susana Balbo “Crios” Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cassis flavors mix with cola notes as they are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity and no trace of oak make for a pleasing, if a bit intense, package. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2015 VIK “Milla Cala” Red Blend, Cachapoal Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of humus and green peppers and red fruit. In the mouth, cherry and green bell pepper flavors mix with herbs and cola note under a filmy layer of tannins. Good acidity and length, but a touch green for me. A blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Carmenere, 10% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 1% Syrah. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.