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 few more new releases from Oregon pioneers in two parts of the state. Let’s start with Sokol Blosser, one of the early outfits in the Willamette Valley, founded by Susan Sokol Blosser in 1971, before most people thought Oregon was even capable of growing grapes. I’ve got three wines to share from them this week, their delicious, zippy estate Chardonnay, their aromatic and bright white blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and finally their Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir. All are worth seeking out.
Abacela is the second Oregon Pioneer to talk about this week, having been one of early wineries in Southern Oregon and the first to plant Tempranillo, which has since become a signature grape for the region. I’ve got one of their Tempranillos this week — one that receives less barrel aging, and one of their single-block reserve Syrahs.
Back closer to home I’ve got one of Sonoma County’s most reliably delicious Pinot Noirs, the (admittedly pricey) Westside Road Neighbors bottling from the venerable Williams Selyem. This wine is made of fruit from, as you might have guessed, neighboring properties on Westside Road close to the winery.
The last couple of weeks I’ve featured wines from the tiny producer Two Shepherds, and I’ve got one more to share this week, which is a very light, gulpable version of Mourvedre, picked early and treated lightly to make for a medium-bodied interpretation of the grape that is interesting and tasty.
Last but not least, let’s look at two darker reds, the first a project from the folks at Veramonte winery in Chile, owned by the Gonzales Byass wine empire from Spain. Neyen is a separate project from Veramonte with its own winery focused on making a single red wine that represents the terroir of the Colchagua Valley, where the winery is located, and expresses the personality of the Carmenere grape along with other blending partners such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
And closer to home, finally I’ve got the Merlot from Peju Province winery in Napa, with its cherry, chocolate, cola flavors that many are looking for in a nice Napa Bottle.
Notes on all these below.
2018 Sokol Blosser Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and cold cream. In the mouth, wonderfully bright lemon curd and lemon pith flavors are juicy with excellent acidity. Zero trace of wood in the wine. Lean and mouthwatering. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2018 Sokol Blosser “Pinot Blanc / Pinot Gris” White Blend, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears poached in cream. In the mouth, lemony grapefruit and pear flavors have a nice bouncy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Just a touch of vanilla lingers in the finish along with the citrusy snap of Asian pear. Tasty. A blend of 60% Pinot Blanc and 40% Pinot Gris. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28.
2018 Sokol Blosser “Hyland Vineyard” Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright, almost candied raspberry aromas. In the mouth, juicy raspberry and redcurrant flavors have a vibrancy thanks to excellent acidity, but are also draped in gauzy tannins that gain strength as they persist through the finish with hints of vanilla and a touch of wood. 14.5% alcohol. 225 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Westside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black raspberry and cranberries, with a touch of cedar. In the mouth, cranberry and cherry flavors are silky and slightly oak inflected, as well as being dusted with faint powdery tannins. Despite its leaner 13.7% alcohol the fruit here leans towards the bluer, blacker side of Pinot Noir, but with excellent acidity to keep things tasting fresh and juicy. I say give this wine a couple of years. Score: around 9. Cost: $109. click to buy.
2016 Two Shepherds “Old Vine” Mourvedre, Contra Costa County, California
A light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of flowers and blueberries. In the mouth, juicy blueberry and mulberry flavors have a citrus brightness to them and an unusually light body thanks to being picked at a mere 12.7% alcohol. Excellent acidity keeps chopped herbs and berry flavors zinging through the finish, gripped by the smooth musculature of tannins. 75 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2017 Abacela “Fiesta” Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and leather and cherries and oak. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of cherry and wood and leather. I’m surprised how much you can taste the barrels on this wine considering only 3% of them are new and only 25% are American oak, which lends a faint whisky-barrel quality to the finish. For being the “fruit driven” more youthful bottling from this producer, it ends up being a somewhat serious mood in the mouth. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2015 Abacela “Reserve – South Face Block” Syrah, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of white pepper and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry and white pepper flavors have a nice lift thanks to excellent acidity. Faint, fine-grained tannins and notes of woodsmoke linger in the finish. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.
2015 Neyen Red Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, plum and black cherry fruit has a faint hint of green herbs and fleecy but muscular tannins underneath. Notes of forest floor linger in the finish with licorice root and black plum. Good acidity but could be more. 13.5% alcohol. A blend of 45% Carmenere and 55% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $69. click to buy.
2015 Peju Province Winery Merlot, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of minty cherry and chocolate In the mouth, rich black cherry, cola, and mint chocolate flavors have a woody bitterness to them as the wine finishes. Good acidity keeps things lively, but there’s also some alcoholic heat on the finish. Aggressive, muscular tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.