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 few perennial favorites. Let’s get started with the Smith-Madrone Riesling, arguably the finest (and one of the very few) Rieslings made in Napa. Made high up on Spring Mountain, this wine always delivers classic varietal character with a nice balance between fruit and mineral components, and will age nicely.
Since we’re on alternative white varieties planted in Napa, we might as well move onto another undersung gem of Napa, the Chenin Blanc from Chappellet Vineyards. Chappellet has been making Chenin for a long time in Napa, and when many would have stopped in favor of more Cabernet Acreage, they’ve stuck with it, and we all get to benefit from their dedication, as the wine is reliably tasty.
Speaking of reliable, you’d be hard pressed to find a wine that better fits the definition than the Jordan Chardonnay, whose 2017 vintage, like almost every one before, delivers a nicely balanced interpretation of California Chardonnay. Not too lean, not too rich, just Goldilocks right.
Much the same could be said of the Inglenook Sauvignon Blanc, which offers a decidedly European interpretation of the grape, thankfully absent the oak and heavily tweaked aromas that some versions of this grape can have.
And lastly, before we move on to some Pinot, how about a crisp, mineral-driven alternative white from Italy? Friuli makes many great white wines, but the one you’re most likely to be served if you stop off in a little cafe or into someone’s house is a glass of Friulano (formerly Tocai Friulano). This unpretentious white grape makes tasty, if uncomplicated wines that are no-nonsense and friendly and almost always a great value.
As for Pinots this week, I was lucky enough to get a box of some of Williams Selyem’s vineyard designated wines, all of which are excellent and worth the tariff (if you’re into paying big money for California Pinot Noir). In particular, the Rochioli Riverblock bottling surges with dynamism and character, as well it should from one of California’s “grand cru” sites. The Williams-Selyem Estate vineyard is also maturing into a wonderful piece of terroir, and the 2017 bottling from this vineyard shows wonderfully bright fruit and sappy juiciness.
Lastly, Cartograph cellars in Healdsburg (a little brand started by former blogger and journalist Alan Baker) offered up their estate-grown Pinot Noir for tasting, and it was pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a carefully tended, small-production Russian River Pinot Noir. Delicious and seemingly downright affordable compared to those pricey William Selyems.
Notes for all these and more below.
2016 Smith Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and citrus oil. In the mouth, a hint of paraffin, citrus pith and honeysuckle have a delicate acidity and nice wet pavement minerality. Pretty. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Chappellet “Signature” Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of quince paste and honey. In the mouth, quince, honey, and a touch of grapefruit have a nice faint bitterness to them along with that honeyed aroma. Very good acidity and balance. Notes of dark honey linger in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $38. click to buy.
2017 Jordan Winery Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and melted butter flavors are welded to a crisp citrus and mineral backbone making this wine quite balanced between richness of flavor and lean texture and tautness. Quite drinkable. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2017 Scarbolo Friulano, Friuli, Italy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of apples, pears and a touch of cucumber. In the mouth flavors of lemon cucumber, green apple and a hint of lime zest offer a crisp bright package made lively with excellent acidity. There’s a faint tannic grip in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.
2017 Inglenook Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, Napa, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of unripe apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, bright lemony and grapefruit flavors mix with green apple and zingy, zippy acidity. Excellent pomelo pith notes linger through the finish. Refreshing and delicious. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem “Eastside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium hazy garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, excellent acidity makes flavors of raspberry, cedar, vanilla and a touch of cherry quite lively. The wood is present but well integrated. Barely perceptible tannins. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $95. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem “Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry fruit with dried herbs layered over top. In the mouth, beautifully textured flavors of raspberry, black raspberry and flowers are mixed with a touch of herbs. Excellent acidity. The faintest of powdery tannins hang back at the edges of perception as the wine finishes long and beautiful with floral overtones. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $140. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem “Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried herbs, freshly turned earth, and this gorgeously sweet cherry aroma. In the mouth, cranberry and cherry flavors mix with pomegranate and herbs with a wonderfully bright citrusy acidity that makes the mouth water. Excellent. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $160. click to buy.
2017 Williams Selyem “Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet black raspberry and cherry aromas. In the mouth, juicy cherry and black cherry flavors have a nice brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. A faint herbal note backs up the lush, sweet fruit and the faintest of powdery tannins coat the mouth. Tasty. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9 . Cost: $85. click to buy.
2016 Cartograph “Estate” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sawdust and cranberries. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry flavors mix with darker earthier notes touched by a hint of dried herbs. Good acidity and length. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $68. click to buy.