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 an interesting look at Sauvignon Blanc across three wildly different interpretations of the grape. First, and perhaps most classic, we’ve got a Bordeaux Blanc from Château Rieussec, a relatively well known producer of the sweet wine Sauternes in Bordeaux. Owned by the Rothschild family of Château Lafite Rothschild, the winery produces a couple thousand cases of a dry white wine each year from the same vineyards they use for their Premiere Cru Sauternes. It’s very classic in form, bone dry and very satisfying.
Next up, we’ve got perhaps one of California’s quintessential Sauvignon Blancs, the award winning wine from Merry Edwards, which holds the distinction of being the highest rated Sauvignon Blanc by the Wine Spectator, if my memory serves. It’s honey and apple and the creaminess you get when barrel fermenting this grape. Luckily the new oak component to the wine is somewhere around 17%, so most of the wood comes through in texture rather than flavor.
Finally, we’ve got another California Sauvignon Blanc from Cuvaison, but this one is fermented and aged in concrete eggs, offering a leaner flavor profile than the Merry Edwards. I liked this wine but would have liked it more if it had been picked earlier and left with a bit more acidity. Still, it was flavorful and distinctive.
Before we depart from the whites, I also tasted a Gary Farrell Chardonnay this week that offers a pretty typical California Chardonnay profile and will satisfy someone looking for a decent, rich-bodied Chardonnay for under $30.
Moving on, I got a pair of rosés from Domaine de Cala in Provence. They are both very worth drinking — crisp, delicious, and zingy — however I didn’t find the prestige bottling to be significantly better than the ordinary bottling. With a $20+ price difference between the two, sticking with the cheap version is the way that I would go.
In terms of reds this week, I have three interesting characters.
The first is a very smoky, earthy, savory interpretation of Tannat and Malbec from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, where Troon Vineyard does biodynamic winegrowing and makes individualistic wines. Anyone looking for the sweetish blue/black fruit of Southern Hemisphere Malbec or Tannat will be disappointed here, as this wine offers more herb and earth than fruit.
Next we’ve got a classic Alexander Valley Cabernet from stalwart producer Sutro Wines, who make distinct single-vineyard Cabernets that are the equal of many Napa producers at half the price.
Lastly, let’s take a trip to Abruzzo – with this lovely reserve Montepulciano from Binomio, located in San Valentino, is a collaborative project between two established Italian producers, Stefano Inama of Inama Azienda Agricola and Sabatino di Properzio of Fattoria La Valentina. The two met at a wine fair in the late 90s and decided to start a project focused on producing accessible Montepulciano that doesn’t require years to be ready to drink. While I think they’ve succeeded, this Riserva will blossom even further with a few years in the cellar.
Notes on all these wines below.
2018 Château Rieussec “R” Bordeaux Blanc, Bordeaux, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and gardenia blossoms. In the mouth, floral notes mix with a touch of candle wax and lemon pith. Crisp and delicious and everything you’d want a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon to be. 12.5% alcohol. A blend of 54% Sauvignon Blanc, and 46% Semillon from the estate’s Premiere Cru Sauternes vineyards, aged mostly in steel with a bit in barrels. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of ripe apple and honey. In the mouth, candied green apples, honey and a touch of gooseberry have a tangy, bright acidity that sneaks up on you a bit, lingering with lime zest bitterness in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.
2018 Cuvaison “Méthode Béton” Sauvignon Blanc, Carneros, Napa, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine has a muted nose of apples and honey. In the mouth, green and golden apple flavors mix with a touch of honey and floral notes. Fermented and aged on the lees in concrete eggs. Crisp and nice, but missing some of the edge I would like. Wish it had more acidity. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $40.
2017 Gary Farrell “Russian River Selection” Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and crisp apples. In the mouth, apple and pineapple flavors mix with a touch of lemon curd and citrus pith. Good acidity and length. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2018 Domaine de Cala “Prestige” Rosé, Coteaux Varois en Provence, Provence, France
Palest salmon pink in color, this wine smells of dried citrus peel and a hint of struck match. In the mouth, bright and tangy citrus peel, rosehips and redcurrant flavors have a sour, mouthwatering quality thanks to excellent acidity. Slightly less fruity than the non-prestige bottling, but other than that and the taller bottle, much the same deliciousness. A blend of 40% Grenache, 29% Syrah, 16% Rolle, and 15% Cinsault. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Domaine de Cala Rosé, Coteaux Varois en Provence, Provence, France
Palest salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, wonderfully bright berry and citrus notes are electric with fantastic acidity, and briskly clean across the palate, leaving a floral berry quality with hints of watermelon in the finish. Textbook Provencal rose. Textbook delicious. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2017 Troon Vineyard “Cuvée Pyrénées” Red Bled, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and doused campfire. In the mouth, that dark, smoky quality persists with notes of wet earth, black cherry, licorice and redwood bark. Muscular tannins grip the tongue as herbal and woody notes linger in the finish. Brooding. A blend of 53% Tannat and 47% Malbec. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2017 Sutro Vineyard “Warnecke Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and licorice flavors have a wonderfully bright blackberry juiciness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Muscular tannins close in on the fruit, squeezing the palate as the wine finishes with floral and herbal notes and that bright almost citrus zing of acidity. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55.
2015 Az. Ag. Binomio “Riserva” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzi, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and sawdust and licorice. In the mouth, black cherry and licorice notes have a bright juicy zing thanks to excellent acidity. The fruit is wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins which squeezes tighter as the wine finishes with notes of sour cherry and licorice root. Nice earthy undertones rumble around in the basement. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.. Cost: $45. click to buy.