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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/15/20

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 had a preponderance of Grenache for some reason. But before we get into the red stuff, let’s talk about the one white wine that came out of the pile this week, which was the white blend that the folks at Anaba produce each year. Done in the style of a Southern Rhone white blend, this combination of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Picpoul strikes a nice balance between ripeness and crispness and is bound to please anyone looking for a white wine that is both exciting and complex.

While I’m on the subject of Anaba, I’ve also got their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir called “Westlands,” which is a nice brambly mix of raspberry and cherry and will appeal to those who prefer a savory component in their Pinots.

So now let’s talk Grenache. I’ve got wines from California, Australia, and France this week, all showcasing different sides of this juicy bright grape.

First, from France — the Languedoc to be specific, though the wine is labeled as Vin de France — we’ve got the “Las Combes” from Chateau Maris, a biodynamic producer in the Minervois known for being one of (if not THE) most sustainable wineries on the planet. Most of the winery’s wines are Syrah dominated, but this expression of pure Grenache is fun and funky with both sweet and savory notes that make it intriguing.

From Australia, we’ve got one of the top Grenache bottlings of McLaren Vale, made from old vines growing in sand. Yangarra is a venerable producer there, and makes excellent wines. This one is a prime example, though I found it a bit angular and not as exciting as I would like. Nonetheless it is a fine example of the form, and so nice to see a top wine bottled under screw cap in a bottle that doesn’t weigh an extra 3 pounds.

And now let’s visit with someone who has been focused on Grenache for decades in California, Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. The winery came to prominence as a darling of Robert Parker, and has maintained its vision and personality with a sort of singular focus. Over time the winery has converted from its long-standing organic practices to biodynamic viticulture, and the wines are better for it. Of the three wines on offer this week, my favorite is the whole cluster interpretation of Grenache which incorporates savory notes along with the sweet strawberry fruit that dominates the other two wines.

Transitioning to deeper red wines, let’s spend a moment in Bordeaux, where I’ve got two wines that are part of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) family of wines. Both are extremely well crafted expressions of Bordeaux, but my favorite of the two is the Blason de L’Evangile, which has a wonderful darker fruit quality along with savory elements.

Finally, I got two wines from producer Poliziano, nestled at the top of the hill town of Montepulciano, not far outside of Siena in the Tuscany region of Italy. Sometimes known as Baby Brunello, the Sangiovese-wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano have similar aging regimens and style to their more famous neighbors to the west, if perhaps not being quite their equal in refinement or power. However, for fans of Sangiovese, they can offer a lot of deliciousness for the dollar, often running less than one third of what a good Brunello will cost you.

Notes on all these wines below.

2018 Anaba Wines “Turbine White” White Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear and Asian pear with hints of white flowers. In the mouth, a blend of Asian pear and peach flavors has a nice crisp brightness underneath a floral and more honeyed complexion. Tasty, bright, clean and delicious. with notes of bee pollen lingering in the finish. A blend of 30% Viognier, 28% Grenache Blanc, 26% Marsanne, and 16% Picpoul. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2016 Anaba Wines “Westlands” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and raspberries and sawdust. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors mix with the light vegetal note of bramble and sawdust. Faint tannins dust the top of the mouth and good acidity keeps the fruit bright. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $64. click to buy.

2017 Chateau Maris “Las Combes” Grenache, France
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of struck match and strawberry jam. In the mouth, bright strawberry jam flavors mix with a hint of funkiness with some tight fine-grained tannins. Good acidity and brightness shines through the wine, which hangs in an interesting balance between sweetness of fruit and savoriness of herbs and whatever that hint of sweat is in the wine. Yes, I recommend drinking this. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2015 Yangarra “High Sands” Grenache, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries, strawberries and aromatic herbs. In the mouth, bright herbal flavors mix with the strawberry fruit, under a blanket of powdery tannins. Excellent acidity makes the cheeks pucker, but the overall package feels a bit high-octane. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2017 Beckmen Vineyards “Purisima Mountain Vineyard” Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam. In the mouth, strawberry jam and dried flowers have a distinct sweetness and a faint tannic grip to them. Only the tiniest hint of heat in the finish betrays the substantial 15.4% alcohol. Distinct and impressive. 550 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Beckmen Vineyards “Purisima Mountain Vineyard – Clone #1” Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, Central Coast, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black olive and blackberry pie. In the mouth, blackberry and black olive flavors are quite tasty, with a hint of saltiness that makes the mouth water, but they don’t have enough acidity to kick them up to the next level of deliciousness. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??

2017 Beckmen Vineyards “Purisima Mountain Vineyard – Whole Cluster” Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and herbal notes. In the mouth, bright strawberry and herbal notes have a faint sweetness to them and a light tannic grip. Very pretty and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. A touch of heat lingers in the finish, hinting at the wine’s 14.9% alcohol. 375 cases. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2016 Moulin de Duhart Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac, Mèdoc, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and wet earth. In the mouth, wet earth and green herbs mix with black cherry and a touch of cola nut. Fine-grained tannins buff the edges of the mouth, and good acidity keeps the mouth watering. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $109. click to buy.

2014 Blason de L’Evangile Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Libournais, Bordeaux
France Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cigar box. In the mouth, juicy black cherry fruit is shot through with pencil shavings and cedar. Savory, salty notes linger in the finish. Fantastic of tannins. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2016 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano, Tuscany, Italy
A cloudy medium garnet in the glass fading to ruby at the rim, this wine smells of cherry and earth and a touch of leather. In the mouth, cherry and leather and a bit of cigar box are clasped in a soft suede glove of tannins but with some muscle behind it. Excellent acidity and length. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 Poliziano Rosso di Montelpulciano, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and strawberry fruit. In the mouth, strawberry and cherry flavors have a hint of woodsmoke to them, draped as they are in a fuzzy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps the fruit fresh. Notes of turned earth linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.