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 another tranche of wines from the Andis project, a Sierra Foothills label that’s sprung for the services of Napa superstar winemaker Philippe Melka. These two whites are both competent and offer some promise, but I wish they were snappier with more acidity and (in the case of the Sauvignon Blanc) a bit less ripeness. I’m especially excited to see what this Semillon ends up being like as this project evolves.
I’ve got a fairly tropical California Chardonnay for those who want a bit of richness but without the oak. Alma Cattleya a project by Colombian native Bibiana González Rave who has been making wine in California for some time. She started her Cattleya label in 2012, and recently launched this Alma Cattleya line of wines. The Pinot Noir from the same label is a bit more simplistic, but still tasty.
Any interest in some skin-fermented Grüner Veltliner? If you’re a fan of orange wines, I definitely recommend checking out the latest iteration of this wine from Solminer, Dave Delaski’s project from Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. But wait, there’s more. Delaski is also making a sparkling Riesling as well and I had the chance to taste it for the first time. It’s a younger, fresher kind of sparkling Riesling, and a fun little experiment. And if that weren’t enough of an embrace for his Austrian wife’s heritage, Solminer also makes a Blaufränkisch in a fresh, “glouglou” style that is the best rendition of the grape I’ve had from the states.
Moving to other reds, I’ve got a pair of wines that match the whites I reviewed last week from Maison Champy, the venerable Beaune-based Burgundy house. Both are worth seeking out, but especially the “Les Vergelesses” bottling from Pernand-Vergelesses, which has a wonderfully electric brightness to it and great purity of fruit.
And now for some darker and more southerly pursuits. I’ve got two more wines from Viña VIK, the money-is-no-object project in Chile dreamt up by tech-insurance-trading-and-more-billionaire and hotelier Alexander Vik. Carved out of the Millahue Valley (a sub-valley to Cachapoal), VIK spared literally no expense in the design, construction, planting, and winemaking for this project, and it has paid off. The wines are excellent, if perhaps a bit predictable. Icon wines of Chile? Yes. Readily distinguishable from similar wines made in Napa or Washington State? Not really. But if you’re in the market for luxury Bordeaux-style blends from the New World, these will hold their own against wines costing 3 or 4 times as much from Napa.
All these and more below.
2018 Andis Wines “Codevilla Vineyard Old Vine” Sauvignon Blanc, Sierra Foothills, California
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet kiwi and green apple fruit. In the mouth, silky flavors of green apple and gooseberry have a very nice complexion, but lack the acidity to make them truly come alive. Some nice wet stone notes linger in the finish along with green apple. Very tasty but needs more verve. Made from 45 year-old vines planted in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Aged in a combination of French oak and steel. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2018 Andis Wines “Bill Dillian Vineyard” Semillon, Sierra Foothills, California
Palest, almost colorless gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and greengage plum skin. In the mouth, green apple and chamomile flavors have a wonderful silky texture but not enough acidity to make them as exciting as they could be. There’s a nice underlying minerality to the wine, but I wish it had more snap. 40 year-old vines. 13.5% alcohol. 428 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2017 Alma de Cattleya Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and pineapple. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and pineapple flavors have a nice zip to them thanks to excellent acidity, and little trace of oak. Notes of grapefruit pith and a faint resinous note linger in the finish. Quite tasty. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2018 Solminer “Curarse la Cruda – de Landa Vineyard Skin Fermented” Grüner Veltliner, Los Olivos District, Santa Barbara, California
A light amber gold in the glass, this wine smells of Ranier cherries and dried citrus rind. In the mouth, a lightly muscular sheaf of tannins wraps around a core of creamsicle and sarsaparilla flavors which bounce with a nice acidity. The texture of the tannins complement a deeply mineral backbone to the wine. Very well done. 10.5% alcohol. 100 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33. click to buy.
2018 Solminer “Poil de Chiene – Method Ancestrale” Riesling, Santa Barbara, California
Light cloudy yellow in color with fine bubbles, this sparkling Riesling made in the traditional style smells of apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, citrus pith and apple and greengage plum flavors have a faint mousse and a nice bite thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a light cream sherry note in the finish. A competent Sekt. 12.9% alcohol. Disgorged March 2019. 353 bottles made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2015 Maison Champy Beaune Premier Cru, Cote d’Or, Burgundy, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark earth and raspberry bramble. In the mouth, flavors of freshly turned potting soil mix with raspberry and raspberry leaf. Excellent acidity lends a faint citrus note to the finish and keeps the fruit fresh and mouthwatering. The faintest powdery tannins sneak into the finish and caress the front of the mouth. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2015 Maison Champy “Les Vergelesses” Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and wet earth. In the mouth, raspberry and black raspberry flavors are dusted with powdery tannins that gain strength as the wine lingers through a long finish. Fantastic acidity keeps the fruit bright and lends itself to a sour cherry note in the finish that is mouthwatering. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60.
2017 Alma de Cattleya Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry pastille flavors are intense and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Fruit forward and not horribly complex, this is nonetheless a tasty bottle of wine that will make many very happy. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2017 Solminer “deLanda Vineyard” Blaufränkisch, Los Olivos District, Santa Barbara, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of violets, licorice, and candied blueberries. In the mouth, fantastic boysenberry and mulberry flavors are intensely aromatic and wonderfully bright with juicy acidity. Hints of the intensely citric passionfruit linger in the finish. Something of a revelation for this variety in California. Run don’t walk your way to a bottle. Incredibly refreshing at a mere 12.2% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2013 Viña VIK “VIK” Red Blend, Cachapoal Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and graphite and a touch of oak. In the mouth, very refined flavors of cherry, tobacco, pencil shavings and hint of cocoa powder have excellent acidity and balance. Elegant, fine-grained tannins dust the edges of the mouth, and notes of potpourri linger in the finish. Quite poised and refined. A blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Carmenere, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Merlot. 13.99% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $165 (but usually can be found for $145). click to buy.
2013 Viña VIK “La Piu Belle” Red Blend, Cachapoal Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with a hint of black pepper and graphite. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis flavors mix with a darker earthy note and touches of licorice. Powdery tannins coat the mouth and linger with fresh black currants in the finish. A blend of 54% Carmenere, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 14% Syrah. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.