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 three Sauvignon Blancs in honor of International Sauvignon Blanc Day, which was yesterday, May 1st. Some have described New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as perhaps the most dependable wine in the world — meaning that even if you choose one at random, you’re likely to get a decent quality wine that tastes similar to what you’d expect it to taste like. I tend to agree. What this also means is that there’s a lot of New Zealand Sauv Blanc that is just “OK.” Of the three I’ve got below, the one that rises above the others is the Ata Rangi “Raranga” bottling from the Martinborough area at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s got the best combination of green, tangy, mouthwatering flavors that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc does so well. The Neudorf and Nautilus wines are no slouches either.
Moving on to things closer to home for me, I’m very excited to be tasting some of the newest releases from Two Shepherds this week. Two Shepherds is the project of one William Allen, former wine blogger and software sales executive and his partner Karen Daenen. Their most recent releases are the best I’ve had from his little label, I’ll have more tasting notes next week, but for now if you’re a fan of Trousseau Gris, you’ll love his interpretation of this grape, which offers orange peel and floral notes with a hint of earthier, more serious stuff in the background. And the Cinsault he offered from the famous Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi is also a winner.
I wrote a bit about the All-Petite-Sirah project Mountain Tides last week, and I’ve got a few more tasting notes to share this week, most notably their rosé of Petit Sirah which suggests to me that a lot more people ought to be trying to make pink versions of this grape. It’s outstanding. Alongside that, I’ve also got notes on a couple of their single-site Petite Sirahs, each quite good.
In the Pinot Noir department I’ve got a couple of Sokol Blosser’s single-vineyard Pinot’s this week, which oddly seemed to show wildly different levels of oak influence — more difference than I would expect from some of the top bottlings from such an experienced producer. Of the two wines I reviewed this week, I preferred the Old Vineyard Block, with its dusty earthy fruit that sang of Oregon.
Finally, I’ve got two wines from Southern Oregon this week, courtesy of producer Abacela, a pioneer in the region and perhaps the winery singlehandedly responsible for the exploration of Tempranillo as a signature grape in the region. In addition to their reserve Tempranillo, I also tasted their Tinta Amarela, an obscure Iberian grape that has a distinct and interesting personality, and is worth finding for the curious wine drinkers out there who want to taste something different.
Notes on all these and more below.
2018 Ata Rangi “Raranga” Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough, New Zealand
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and gooseberries. In the mouth, green apple and gooseberry flavors have the bright juiciness of passionfruit as the wine kicks the saliva glands into overdrive. Nice mineral undertone and neon green gorgeousness. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2017 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, New Zealand
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck flint and cut grass. In the mouth, green apple and cut grass flavors have a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity, but the wine fades slightly on the palate and isn’t as dynamic as I might like. Tasty nonetheless. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2019 Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, honeysuckle and cut grass. In the mouth, freshly cut grass, lime zest and green apple mix with a tart sourish brightness that is almost electric thanks to excellent acidity. Lean and somewhat astringent, but dynamic. The sourness grows on you. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2018 Two Shepherds “Skin Fermented – Fanucchi Vineyard” Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A light peachy color in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel, white flowers and just a hint of butterscotch. In the mouth, butterscotch, orange peel and faint vanilla flavors have a wonderful silkiness and brightness to them, thanks to excellent acidity. For a skin fermented wine there’s very little tannic grip here, just that faintest earthy, citrus peel flavor that lingers in the finish. Outstanding. 12.1% alcohol. 325 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Mountain Tides Rosé of Petite Sirah, California
Palest salmon pink in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, crabapples and unripe pear. In the mouth, very lean and brisk flavors of sour cherry, crabapple and citrus peel are juicy and bright thanks to excellent, even aggressive acidity. I can’t remember if I’ve ever had a rosé of Petite Sirah, but if they’re going to be this tasty, I certainly hope to have more. 11.8% alcohol. 125 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2016 Two Shepherds “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium ruby in color the point of almost resembling rosé, this wine smells of dried herbs and strawberries. In the mouth, bright strawberry and herb flavors are zingy with acidity and tinged with hints of cola and dried citrus peel. This is what people call a smashable wine, or as the French say, “glou glou.” Give it a slight chill and watch out, you’ll need three bottles. 13.3% alcohol. 30 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.
2017 Sokol Blosser “Goosepen Block” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of redwood bark and mulling spices. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors are shot through with the spiciness of oak with the wood and its tannins lingering for a long time in the finish. A bit too much wood influence here for me. The winery’s smallest vineyard block, at 2.5 acres, is named after their (unsuccessful) attempt to use geese for weed control once upon a time. 13.5% alcohol.450 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2017 Sokol Blosser “Old Vineyard Block” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and red berries. In the mouth, wonderfully earthy flavors of raspberry and cherry are held firmly in a smooth but muscular fist of tannins that linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and much better integrated oak than some of their other single-vineyard wines. This one has longevity. 14% alcohol. 500 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2018 Mountain Tides “Palmero Family Vineyard” Petite Sirah, Borden Ranch, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Inky dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries and chopped green herbs. In the mouth, ripe blueberry and blackberry flavors mix with chalk-dust tannins that coat the mouth and provide a faintly grainy texture to the wine which finishes with floral and licorice notes. Excellent acidity keeps this from being too weighty on the palate. 14.4% alcohol. 75 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.
2018 Mountain Tides “Grist Vineyard” Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark purple in color, this wine smells of doused campfire, blackberries and licorice. In the mouth, licorice, blackberries and cassis flavors are dark in quality, but bright in acidity, making this at once brooding and juicy at the same time. Floral and licorice notes linger in the finish. 14.4% alcohol. 75 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2016 Abacela Tinta Amarela, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of licorice and cassis. In the mouth, boysenberry and licorice flavors have a wonderfully bright aspect thanks to excellent acidity as well as a powdery blanket of tannins that wraps around the core of fruit. This unusual Portuguese grape variety doesn’t seem to have the depth or complexity of Tempranillo, but it is tasty and quite distinctive nonetheless. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30.
2015 Abacela “Reserve – South East Block” Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather, raisins and chocolate. In the mouth, fleecy tannins surround a core of dried cherry, raisin and fresh cherry fruit. Deeper, earthy leather and black cherry flavors fill the lower register of the wine, while a touch of bergamot lingers in the finish. Burly and serious. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.