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 number of interesting wines.
Let’s begin with the second vintage from a project called Monte Rio Cellars, which is one of the newest enterprises by New York superstar sommelier Patrick Cappiello. After many years on the floor, Patrick has refocused his time on wine projects and makes Monte Rio Cellars wines in a shared facility owned by Pax Mahle in Sonoma County, which was recently profiled in the New York Times.
A guy who has won nearly every award and accolade available as a sommelier could easily have shown up in Napa and begun a $200-a-bottle Cabernet project or a $80 Pinot Noir label. But Cappiello had something else in mind. “It’s a real thing, not like a project where I slap my name or label on a wine to sell it,” Cappiello told me in a conversation earlier in the year. “I’m trying to make more volume rather than jack up the price. I wanted to try to do something quality at a lower price. My goal is to make wine and learn how to make wine. My agreement was to come work for [Pax’s] winery, and start this brand which I self-funded from my retirement.”
Perhaps less surprisingly, Cappiello targeted restaurants as a prime outlet for his wines, which would have been a good strategy in any other time than this one. Now he’s scrambling to get a direct-to-consumer web site up for a brand that didn’t have a plan to go direct-to-consumer. “It’s a little scary for sure,” says Cappiello. “I don’t have anything to fall back on.”
The wines have made their way into retail channels, so you’ll be able to buy them with links below, and I have to say they’re pretty darn good for the price. Cappiello has, in addition to going against the grain with the price point of the wines, decided to focus on lesser-known grape varieties. Just how contrary is he? Well, let’s just say he’s making a dry White Zinfandel. Of his four wines, I think my favorites are the racy interpretation of French Colombard and his rendition of the Mission (Pais) grape variety.
Moving on, I have two other worthy whites to recommend — the Estate Chardonnay from Eden Rift, the snazzy reincarnation of a large wine project in the Cienega Valley. While their initial releases under a slick new brand (and new ownership) didn’t impress me, I see things in this Estate Chardonnay that suggest they may be headed towards higher levels of quality. This wine has finesse and depth to it.
I reviewed a couple of wines from Two Shepherds winery last week, and I’ve got two more this week. The first, a bright and snappy Vermentino from Yolo county, and the second, an absolutely delicious vin gris, a rosé of Pinot Gris whose pink skins, left in contact with the juice for a few days can yield great deliciousness, as this wine amply proves.
Speaking of rosé you will want to back up the truck for the Sokol Blosser rosé of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s got everything you want in a pink wine, and a very attractive price to boot.
Lastly, I’ve got two more serious reds, a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, made by a woman who has been called the Queen of Pinot, Merry Edwards, and a pricy Cabernet Franc made by Rosemary Cakebread under her small label Gallica. Both are worth drinking.
Notes on all these and more below.
2019 Monte Rio Cellars French Colombard, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lime juice and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, the wine is incredibly racy, with mouthwatering acidity and lean, zippy flavors of lime and lemongrass. Quite refreshing. A porch pounder to be sure at a mere 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Eden Rift “Estate” Chardonnay, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, bright notes of pineapple, oak, lemon curd and melted butter have a nice silky texture and good acidity. The scent of oak creeps into the finish of the wine slightly more than I would like, but overall this is a well-made wine that has a nice balance to it. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2019 Monte Rio Cellars Chardonnay, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemony grapefruit and green apple flavors have a brisk brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a lean, picked-early 11.5% alcohol. Not super complex, but easy to drink. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2019 Two Shepherds “Windmill Vineyards” Vermentino, Yolo County, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of lemon cucumbers and star fruit. In the mouth, lemon cucumbers and wet chalkboard flavors have a wonderful stony quality with a faint chalky aftertaste. Aged for 6 months in half stainless, half used barrels. 11.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2018 Sokol Blosser “Evolution” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon curd. In the mouth somewhat simple flavors of lemon curd mix with grapefruit brightness thanks to excellent acidity. A textbook Chardonnay, lacking perhaps some complexity but not pleasure, especially at fifteen bucks a bottle. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2019 Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and hibiscus. In the mouth, snappy flavors of strawberries, crabapples and citrus have a wonderful faint tannic grip and a mouthwatering juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Delicious.12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Two Shepherds “Charbec Vineyard – Skin Fermented” Pinot Gris Rosé, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
A light coppery pink in color, this wine smells of melon and ranier cherries. In the mouth, deliciously peachy, melon and berry flavors have an exotic swirl of technicolor flavor and the faint tannins left from the skin fermentation that offer a chalky texture in the finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. 375 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2019 Monte Rio Cellars “Dry White Zinfandel” Rosé, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and raspberries. In the mouth, lean flavors of berries and citrus peel have a nice tart brightness to them that recalls pink Smartees™. Crisp and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Rosehip notes linger in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (synthetic) cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Monte Rio Cellars Mission, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light ruby in the glass to the point of looking like a dark rosé, this wine smells of wet redwood bark, earth, and strawberry jam. In the mouth, flavors of black tea, raspberries, and plum are wrapped in a surprisingly muscular fist of fleecy tannins that flex their muscles through the finish which has a scent of orange peel. A surprisingly substantial wine for its light color and mere 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherries and cranberry compote. In the mouth, riper sweetish cherry and cranberry flavors have a richness to them, but stay bright thanks to excellent acidity. Faint suede-like tannins creep around the edges of the mouth. Definitely on the more robust side of California Pinot Noir. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2017 Gallica Cabernet Franc, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, crushed hazelnuts and chocolate. In the mouth, cherry cola flavors are shot through with faint notes of spicy green herbs and a modicum of sweet new oak. Leathery tannins persist in the mouth for some time along with the sweet vanilla of oak. I’d like this wine a lot more if its aftertaste was more wine and less wood. Includes 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. Certified organic grapes. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $180.