Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/1/20

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 a number of surprises from around the world.

Let’s start with Southeastern France, in the Savoie region on the flanks of the Mont Blanc Massif, where the transparent Jaquere grape grows on limestone and the Domaine de L’Idylle has been run by the Tiollier family since 1840. I love all their wines for their mineral expression and brightness and this one is no exception. It’s also a great value when you can find the small quantities brought into the US.

On the other side of the alps, you can find the esteemed estate of Hans Wirsching which can trace its winemaking roots back to the 1630s. One of the best known producers in the region, they make a wide range of wines, of which this Silvaner (as they spell it) is one of their better known. The Sylvaner grape is relatively old, and an offspring of Traminer and another Austrian white grape known creatively as “Austrian White.” The Franconia region of Germany is known for producing a lot of high quality Sylvaner, which can have a wide range of expressions. This one is much more on the herbal savory side than the aromatic, floral notes that can possess the wine when picked very ripe. It is quite unusual in aspect but tasty.

Closer to home, I’ve also got notes below on a nice Albariño from Lodi producer Mettler Family Vineyards, and a decent Chardonnay from The Hilt which offers a nice rich, saline expression of Chardonnay that is quite pleasurable.

Next we’ve got an unusual new project from Bodega y Vinedo Nicolas Catena. The Catenas, of course, are known for being among the wine royalty of Argentina, where they make some of the most sought after Malbecs made in that country. This Marchigiana label is something of a departure for them, celebrating as it does natural winemaking in amphorae: all the wines under the label are made with no added sulphur. Not all the wines are drinkable, but this rendition of the grape that Argentines call “Criolla Chica” is wonderfully bright and juicy. Criolla Chica is another name for a grape with the proper name Listán Prieto, better known as Mission or Pais in the Americas. This is a fine rendition of that variety’s perky berry freshness.

Heading into darker territory, we’ll go back to Europe where we’ve got a couple of Italian Pinot Noirs from the Alto Adige region, from producers Elena Walch and Kellerei Kaltern. Both have wonderfully savory qualities as well as delicate fruit and excellent balance.

The star of the Pinot lineup this week, however, can be found closer to home in the oldest block of Pinot Noir planted at Sokol Blosser winery. Their Peach Tree Block offers exuberant fruit and just delightful bouncy brightness that will make most domestic Pinot Noir lovers dance for joy. I’d certainly drink this bottle happily any night of the week.

Finally I’ve got a couple of Cabernets from Napa producer Flora Springs Winery — their standard Napa Cabernet and then their relatively well known top bottling named “Trilogy” which is a blend of Cabernet, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Both are a bit more restrained than some expressions of Napa with a savory component that will please those who want more than fruit in their glass.

Notes on all these wines below.

2016 Domaine de L’Idylle “Cruet” Jacquere, Savoie, France
Palest gold in the glass, nearly colorless, this wine smells of wet stones and lemon pith. In the mouth, crisp and juicy grapefruit, lemon pith and a hint of white flowers mix with a wet chalkboard minerality that is as brisk as a freshly fallen new snow. Clean, bright and delicious liquid stone. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2017 Hans Wirsching Sylvaner, Franken, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of chamomile and exotic citrus. In the mouth, flavors of citrus and unripe pear have an interesting green herbal note that at first seems to numb the tongue not unlike Szechuan peppercorn. Interesting. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Mettler Family Vineyards Albariño, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples and candied lime. In the mouth, apple and lime and Asian pear flavors have a nice snap to them even as a honeyed note creeps into the finish. Tasty, but definitely a California profile of this grape. Good acidity and balance. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2017 The Hilt Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and white flowers. In the mouth, white flowers, pineapple and lemon curd flavors have a nice saline quality to them. Notes of white flowers and melted butter linger in the finish. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2017 Bodega y Vinedos Nicolas Catena “La Marchigiana” Criolla Chica, Argentina
Pale ruby in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves and red berries. In the mouth, red berries and dried herbs have a nice bright savoriness to them. Excellent acidity and faint tannins round out this tasty, juicy mouthful. Fermented and aged in clay pots without added sulfites. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Kellerei Kaltern “Saltner” Pinot Noir, Sudtirol – Alto Adige, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and red apple skin. In the mouth, beautiful red apple skin and redcurrant flavors mix with cedar and dried herbs. Wonderful acidity and balance, this wine has a regal comport, with a long persistent finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.

2016 Elena Walch “Ludwig” Pinot Noir, Sudtirol – Alto Adige, Italy
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth, cherry and dried herbs. In the mouth, darker earthier notes of cherry and raspberry jam have a nice herbal savory character and excellent acidity. A hint of green olive umami lingers in the finish with the red fruit. Interesting and soulful. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29.

2017 Sokol Blosser “Peach Tree Block” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of exotic flowers, raspberry pastilles, and cherries. In the mouth, cherry and sour cherry flavors are bursting with bright acidity. Aromatic herbs complement the juicy fruit flavors and linger for a long time in the finish. Excellent and quite complex. 13.5% alcohol. 260 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2017 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chocolate, black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors have a bright juicy quality thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of tobacco leaf and other herbs linger in the finish. Very faint tannins. 14.2% alcohol. 3034 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2017 Flora Springs “Trilogy” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty roads and cedar. In the mouth, black cherry, cola and blueberry notes mix with a touch of black olive savoriness. Faint, taut tannins buff the edges of the palate, as the wine lingers with notes of olive and licorice. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. 14.5% alcohol. 5500 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.