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 bunch of wines from only a couple of producers, rather than the usual smattering. Let’s start with the three wines that were thrust into my (quite willing) hands on the eve of my departure from a recent trip to Hungary. As a matter of advance warning, they will be exceedingly hard (but not impossible) to find in the United States, but that shouldn’t keep me from praising them, nor you from seeking them out, as they are really excellent.
Founded in 2012, Gilvesy winery is from the Balaton region of Hungary, part of the Pannonian Basin that was once a huge, relatively shallow sea and which sported quite a few undersea volcanoes that today poke up from the plain and offer remarkable volcanic terroirs for winegrowing. Gilvesy calls one particular hill home — Szt. Gyorgy-Hegy, or “Saint George’s Hill.” Gilvesy is a Canadian-born Hungarian Architect who returned to Hungary in 1992 to settle in the Balaton area, where he gradually fell deeper and deeper in love with the wines.
These three wines each are distinctive and delicious, from the Bohem Cuvee, which is an unusual blend of white varieties, including Balaton’s ubiquitous Olaszrizling (no relation to Riesling). The more proper Riesling (or Rizling, as the Hungarian’s have it) is true to form and wonderfully complex, but my favorite is the Furmint, which demonstrates why the volcanic soils of the region are so revered in complexity with its stony quince and chamomile flavors.
Back closer to home, Stewart Johnson has been one of the earliest modern proponents for Marin County winegrowing in the Bay Area, and has been making small quantities of Pinot Noir for many years under the label named after his father, Kendrick. I’ve had the wines several times over the past decade, and they continue to improve, much more thanks to Johnson’s hand than any help from global warming, which has also undoubtedly improved the prospects for Marin wines.
Johnson’s Viognier is a wonderfully fresh rendition of the grape and his Chardonnay also very zesty. His rosé is equally appealing, but my favorite was the Pinot, which was delicate and quite savory in its forest floor and raspberry qualities. As a small producer who sells mostly direct-to-consumer, Kendrick wines also remain relatively affordable.
The single-vineyard wines of Calera can’t really be called affordable anymore, but they do remain some of California’s most legendary Pinot Noirs, thanks to their ageworthiness and the small quantities of each produced. Calera was purchased by Duckhorn two and a half years ago. Josh Jensen named Mike Waller as head winemaker in 2009, and under the new ownership he remains winemaker, ensuring the consistency of these wines moving forward. The latest vintage is a testament to this consistency.
Notes on all these wines below.
2018 Gilvesy “Bohem Cuvee” White Blend, Balaton, Hungary
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, wet chalkboard and cucumber. In the mouth, very tasty and very mineral notes of lemon cucumber, citrus peel, and white flowers. A hint of orange zest lingers in the finish. Very tasty. A blend of Olaszrizling, Rhine (regular) Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15.
2017 Gilvesy “Szt. Gyorgy-Hegy” Riesling, Balaton, Hungary
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, citrus peel and a hint of paraffin. In the mouth, wonderfully dry flavors of mandarin orange, wet chalkboard and Asian pear mix with a juicy silky texture. Very good acidity and length. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15.
2017 Gilvesy “Szt. Gyorgy-Hegy – Varadi” Furmint, Balaton, Hungary
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of dried honey and quince. In the mouth, wonderfully citrus and bright quince, lemon, and white floral flavors have a mouthwatering acidity and a nice chamomile note in the finish. Simply gorgeous. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18.
2018 Kendric Vineyards Viognier, Petaluma Gap, Marin County, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of peaches and orange peel. In the mouth, peachy bright goodness washes over the palate with just the faintest hint of sweetness. Gorgeously juicy, and absent the bitterness that can sometimes accompany this variety. Good acidity — could have more zip but I’m not complaining. Very tasty. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24.
2017 Kendric Vineyards Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Marin County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of ripe apples and pineapple. In the mouth, apple and pineapple flavors are bright and fruity, with decent acidity. Hints of citrus peel linger in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2018 Kendric Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin County, California
Palest baby pink in color, this wine smells of rosehips, citrus zest and a hint of something more feral. In the mouth, zingy berry and hibiscus flavors mix with citrus notes and mouthwatering acidity. Tasty. 12.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2016 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin County, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor and raspberries. In the mouth, wonderfully earthy notes of raspberry and redcurrant mix with a touch of cedar and green herbs that taste like there were some stems included in fermentation. Savory and tasty. Excellent acidity. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2016 Calera Vineyards Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, slightly saline cherry and raspberry flavors have a wonderful gauzy tannic texture and gorgeous umami flavors that emerge as the wine moves across the palate, leaving a hint of meatiness in the finish along with raspberries. Good acidity and balance, despite its 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2016 Calera Vineyards Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin and raspberry jam. In the mouth, velvety flavors of red apple skin, raspberry and sweet cedar are cushioned in fine grained tannins and linger with notes of dried herbs in the finish. Excellent acidity and balance, and surprisingly showing some aged characteristics even at this early date. 14.5% alcohol Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2016 Calera Vineyards Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of potpourri, cedar and red berries. In the mouth, red apple skin, dried cherries and raspberry flavors have a wonderful brightness thanks to excellent acidity, as well as a gorgeous, fine grained tannic backbone. Notes of lavender and other herbs linger in the finish. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.