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 one of the better renditions of Albariño that I’ve had from California in recent memory. Only about 300 acres of Albariño are planted in California, making it about as common as Grenache Blanc, occupying less than a third of the acres dedicated to Gewürztraminer in the way of another comparison. This variety, which is best known in the racy, lean white wines of northwestern Spain and Portugal, in California often lacks the searing acidity found in its European forbears. I’ve always chalked that up to a combination of the Californian tendency to pick the variety far too late and the grape being planted in inappropriate places. In its arguably most famous incarnations, the wines of Rias Baixas and Vinho Verde, Albariño is grown in rocky, often sloping vineyards with alluvial or primary rock soils and is often harvested to achieve somewhere between 11% and 12% potential alcohol by volume.
Rosemary Cakebread has made her Albariño in that style (if slightly riper), sourcing grapes from Matthew Rorick’s eclectic, rocky vineyard in Calaveras County in the Sierra Foothills. She’s managed to preserve some of the raciness of the grape despite having barrel fermented it after some extended skin contact.
I’ve also got her rosé this week, which is worth a look as well, made from an unusual combination of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chappellet is a well-known name in Napa, having made wines up on Napa’s famed Pritchard Hill for decades. In 2017 they launched a series of wines known as the Grower Collection, along with a tasting room dedicated to these “cool climate” wines in the town of Sonoma. The wines are made by the long-time Chappellet winemaker Phillip Titus and feature grapes sourced from some of Sonoma’s best growers. The wines are made in what I might consider a more conventional or mainstream California style, leaning towards the riper end of the spectrum of flavors, and featuring significant use of oak in flavor and texture. This week I’m featuring both a Chardonnay and a Pinot from their collection.
The rest of the wines this week are Pinot Noirs as well, with the latest estate Pinot from Eden Rift, which continues to rise in quality, as well as a wine from Argyle winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
I’ve got a couple more wines from Merry Edwards Winery (recently purchased by Champagne Louis Roederer), with my favorite of the two being her Olivet Lane Pinot Noir from one of the sweet spots in the Russian River Valley.
Lastly, I’ve got two wines from the original cult Pinot Noir label Williams-Selyem. They sent me their 2018 Pinot Noir lineup recently and it’s a humdinger of a selection. This week I’m featuring two of their regional wines, the Central Coast Pinot made down near Chalone, and their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, both of which are excellent, with the Sonoma Coast bottling drinking like some of their wines that are twice the price.
2019 Gallica “Rorick Heritage Vineyard” Albariño, Calaveras, Sierra Foothills, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of steely green apple and white flowers. In the mouth, very lean and racy green apple and lime zest flavors mix with pomelo pith and a touch of honeysuckle. One of the more varietally correct Albariños from California I’ve ever tasted. Excellent. Contains a tiny bit of Muscat Blanc. 13% alcohol. Grown at 2000 feet elevation, certified organic. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2018 Chappellet “Grower Collection – El Novillero Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of apples, white flowers and melted butter. In the mouth, white flowers, melted butter, popcorn and vanilla flavors have a very nice, juicy acidity and a hint of toasty wood that lingers in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $49. click to buy.
2019 Gallica “Estate” Rosé, St. Helena, Napa, California
Pale peachy pink in color, this wine smells of the rind of an orange fleshed melon and a touch of redcurrant. In the mouth, brisk citrus peel and redcurrant flavors have a nice bite to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a SweetTart note to the citrusy finish and a touch of chalky bitterness on the palate. A blend of 76% Petite Sirah and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28.
2018 Merry Edwards “Olivet Lane” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry and cranberry fruit is bouncy and bright thanks to excellent acidity. Citrus and raspberry notes burst bright in the finish with mouthwatering effects. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raspberry, and cherry fruit with a hint of potting soil behind the fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry notes mix with that darker earthier tone as a touch of citrus peel lingers in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2018 Chappellet “Grower Collection – Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and raspberry. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry fruit has a nice sweetish complexion and hints of cedar and herbs. More wood influence than I would like. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $49 . click to buy.
2018 Eden Rift “Estate” Pinot Noir, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry with a hint of herbs. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit flavors are backed by a faint bitterness that lingers with a citrus peel tinge into the finish. Bitter orange and cedar and winter savory. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $52. click to buy.
2018 Argyle Winery “Grower Series” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of juicy cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have a slightly candied quality, but also feature a hint of herbs to back them up and keep them from being too confectionary. There’s a deeper black tea note to the wine that lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $27 . click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and candied redcurrants. In the mouth, wonderfully bright raspberry and redcurrant and hibiscus notes are juicy and bouncy and wonderfully boisterous on the palate. Excellent acidity with notes of citrus peel and dried flowers in the finish above well-integrated oak. Outstanding. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $79. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, San Benito County, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit is bright with juicy acidity and touched by the faintest gauzy tannins that linger with hints of citrus peel and dried herbs in the finish. Excellent. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.