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 was an all-red tasting session, with heavy representation Cabernet department with a few other goodies thrown in.
Let’s start with a couple of nice Pinot Noirs, the first from reliable producer Macrostie, who offered up a single vineyard Pinot from the Russian River Valley that had wonderful character and distinctiveness. Likewise, the Pinot from Cartograph showed the same sort of bright fruit and herbal edge.
Last week I featured the new Cigare Blanc from Bonny Doon Vineyards, and this week we’ve got it’s red sibling, also reformulated and repriced as Randall Grahm reboots the Cigare Volant brand. This new version includes a lot more Cinsault and is line priced along with white and pink versions of the wine. It is even more of a great value at its new tariff.
We can ease our way into the Cabernet category with the Lang & Reed “Two Fourteen” Cabernet Franc this week. Named after the clone number of Cabernet Franc found in this Napa Vineyard site, this is a reliably tasty interpretation of Franc by a winery dedicated to the grape. John and Tracy Skupny have been making Loire-inspired reds in Napa for decades, and pretty much everything they make is excellent.
Now on to the Cabernet Sauvignons (and a sneaky Merlot) on offer this week.
We can easily start with Jordan’s reliable Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, showing its usual restrained elegance and freshness. Following that I’ve got a red blend from Paraduxx, the Bordeaux-blend incarnation in the Duckhorn family of wines which shows its breeding with toasty oak and cherry.
Lastly, I’ve got the current releases from Aperture Cellars, the Son-Father collaboration between winemaker Jesse Katz and his father Andy Katz, the photographer whose work I showcase now and again here on Vinography. Several of these single-vineyard Cabernets (and one Merlot, if you read the fine print) are in fine form, but I didn’t find the 2016 vintage as well balanced as the 2015 wines. Having said that, if you like big-boned red wines there’s a lot to love, especially in the aforementioned Merlot (shown at left), which Jesse has named Nomad. The idea here is that he’s going to make a unique vineyard designated wine each year from around Sonoma somewhere, supposedly never to be repeated.
Notes for all these and more below.
2016 Macrostie “Thale’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium ruby in the glass with just a hint of garnet, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry and dried herbs. In the mouth, herbal flavors with a decidedly minty edge meld seamlessly with subdued raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s a chocolate, mint and rooibos character to this wine that is delightful. Excellent acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $58.
2017 Cartograph Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and chopped herbs have a nice chipper brightness thanks to excellent acidity. The herbal notes linger through the finish. 13.9% alcohol. 735 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2018 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Le Cigare Volant” Red Blend, Monterey, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and boysenberries. In the mouth, juicy mulberry and boysenberry fruit have a boisterous quality thanks to excellent acidity. A thin skein of muscular tannins maintains a grip on the fruit and adds structure to counterpoint the cavalier berries. Tasty. A recently reformulated blend of 52% Grenache and 35% Cinsault with 13% Syrah. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2016 Lang & Reed “Two Fourteen” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plums and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, plum and fresh herb flavors have a nutty quality to them as faint but velvety tannins caress the palate. Excellent acidity and nice herbal notes in the finish. Extremely tasty and utterly drinkable. 14.5% alcohol. 225 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2015 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and graphite and a touch of cola. In the mouth, cherry and cola flavors mix with cedar and a hint of herbs that linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and length. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2016 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, rich sweet flavors of cherry and new oak vie for attention as vanilla and chocolate swirl in the background. Velvety tannins. Rich and on the sweetish side, so bound to be a crowd pleaser, but I wish it were a little less oak driven. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $165. click to buy.
2015 Paraduxx “X Squared” Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of smoky oak and tobacco and cherry. In the mouth, smoky flavors of cherry, oak and cola nut have good acidity and lift. Faint suede-like tannins linger with notes of toasted oak and espresso. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $98.
2016 Aperture Cellars “SJ Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich, sweet black cherry and cassis flavors are wrapped in a cloudlike comforter of tannins that billow and seem to almost evaporate as the wine finishes. Good acidity. If you like your red wines on the rich side, look no farther. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115.
2016 Aperture Cellars “Oliver Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and a touch of ethanol. In the mouth, sweetish black cherry and cassis fruit is lush and velvety with powdery tannins dusting the palate. Sweet floral notes linger on the finish. I find myself wishing for a touch more raciness in the wine. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9 . Cost: $115.
2016 Aperture Cellars “Del Rio Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chocolate covered raisins and black cherries. In the mouth, rich, very ripe flavors of black cherry, raisins and chocolate are rich and velvety, but perhaps a bit too overripe for my taste. I want more acidity to balance the ripeness as well. Comes across as slightly high octane. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $115. click to buy.
2016 Aperture Cellars “Nomad – Sugarloaf Vineyard” Merlot, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and plum and cola. In the mouth, cherry cola notes have bright plummy quality. Excellent acidity and brightness help integrate the sweetness of oak and the vanilla character that lingers in the finish. Velvety, powdery tannins. A blend of 93% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $135.