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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/19/20

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 some whites from here and there. The Salvestrin Sauvignon Blanc from the Crystal Springs Vineyard in St. Helena delivers the brisk greenness that many SB lovers will be looking for, though in perhaps more of a New Zealand character than a California one, with kiwi and passionfruit flavors. Of the three Chardonnays I tasted this week, the Dutton Goldfield Walker Hill Vineyard bottling was my favorite, offering that very keen balance between crispness and richness that I have come to think of as the modern incarnation of California Chardonnay. While it was not as complex, the Calera Chardonnay did what it always does, which was to deliver fantastic flavor for the money, given its perennial $25 price point.

Farther afield, I’ve got a Grenache Gris to recommend from the ultra-green Chateau Maris in southern France. And by ultra-green, I mean biodynamically farmed with horse and plow, and made in an eco-friendly winery constructed from hemp. It’s got a distinctive fruit character including the oddly named flavor “linalool” which is the technical term for the combination of fruit flavors found in Juicyfruit gum or Fruit Loops cereal. But don’t take that to mean that the wine is cloying — far from it. The Brama is crisp and quite pretty.

Lastly, I’ve got the Viognier from Calera, wonderfully crisp and laden with stone fruit, and like its Chardonnay cousin, a perpetually excellent value, and one of the better incarnations of this difficult grape varieties in California.

We’ll finish up this week with a few more reds from Chateau Maris, all biodynamically farmed and focused on Syrah. The first, “Les Planels,” is grown on clay and limestone and aged in a combination of wood and concrete. The second “Dynamic,” is from one of the estate’s top parcels, a combination of sandstone and limestone soils that is fermented and aged in large format wooden barrels. The last is the winery’s top bottling “Les Amandiers” comes from the oldest vines on the estate, that grow in a limestone and clay soil and is aged in new French oak.

Notes on all these wines below.

2018 Salvestrin “Crystal Springs Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of passionfruit, white flowers and candied green apples. In the mouth, green apple and gooseberry flavors have a decent bounce to them, but honestly a bit more acidity would be appreciated. Clean and crisp, with nice green fruit flavors but not particularly exciting. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 Dutton Goldfield “Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon, verbena and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, juicy flavors of lemon curd and grapefruit mix with melted butter and a touch of toasty oak. Silky and bright but with more delicate acidity — lacking a certain zip. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2017 Calera Vineyards Chardonnay, Central Coast, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and cold cream and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, flavors of lemon curd, apple and a touch of melted butter have a slightly muted intensity, pleasing as they are. Decent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 Dutton Goldfield “Walker Hill Vineyard – Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of butterscotch and lemon curd and cold cream. In the mouth, floral notes of cold cream meld with lemon curd and a touch of butterscotch over a faint wet cement backbone. Nice finish, decent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2015 Chateau Maris “Brama” Grenache Gris, Vin de France
Light gold in color, this wine smells of lemon zest, wet chalkboard and a touch of guava. In the mouth, flavors of melon and linalool mix with brighter notes of citrus and Asian pear. Good acidity and a tiny hint of bitterness in the finish round out this attractive wine. There’s also just the faintest of tannic grip. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2017 Calera Vineyards Viognier, Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of fresh and dried apricots. In the mouth, silky flavors of peach, apricot and white flowers have a nice summery cleanliness to them, and are backed by excellent acidity. The faintest earthy note surfaces in the finish, adding complexity to the floral and stone fruit character. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2016 Chateau Maris “Les Amandiers” Red Blend, Minervois-La Liviniere, Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Inky, nearly opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of black olive tapenade, Vegemite, and blood. In the mouth, silky flavors of black cherry, black olive, and blackberry have a wonderful stony, wet chalkboard minerality to them, even as they are dark and resonant. The acidity and minerality keep this wine from being jammy and rich, despite its prodigious ripeness. Barely perceptible tannins. Powerful. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $111. click to buy.

2017 Chateau Maris “Les Planels” Red Blend, Minervois-La Liviniere, Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black olives, stewed prunes, and dark miso paste. In the mouth, blackberry and black cherry flavors have a rich savory quality as notes of black olive and earth meld with the fruit. There’s a stony backdrop to the wine, and very wispy, fine-grained tannins hanging in the background. Good acidity. The word that comes to mind is brooding. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2016 Chateau Maris “Dynamic” Syrah, Minervois-La Liviniere, Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and gunpowder. In the mouth, intense blueberry, blackberry and cassis flavors have an interesting flinty, smoky note with hints of citrus lingering in the finish. Excellent acidity keeps the fruit bright and only the barest hint of heat on the finish betrays the prodigious 15% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.