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 was a hot one in Northern California, so I’m going to focus more on white and pink wines this week than red.
Let’s start with a very nice Sauvignon Blanc from a little producer in Sonoma’a Alexander Valley. Blue Rock Vineyards, named for the blue-green Serpentine rocks that litter the vineyard, is a boutique producer that has been making high quality wines for a long time under the radar. This Sauvignon Blanc, with a touch of Semillon is pitch perfect and a great example of what they do. Their Cabernet, farther down on the page, is also worth checking out.
Sometimes you don’t want a complicated wine, you just want something tasty for under $15 that will go well with food. If that’s the zone you’re in, you’d be hard pressed to find a better wine for your money than the Inama Soave Classico, which at $13 is a steal for anyone looking for crisp, citrusy goodness.
Next, I’ve got a couple of Chardonnays from winemaker James MacPhail, who is better known for MacPhail Vineyards, a Pinot-focused brand that is part of the Hess Collection wine empire. But Tongue Dancer is the brand he started with his wife as something of a creative outlet, featuring small batches of wines from vineyards he knows well. I’m featuring two of his single-vineyard Chardonnays this week, as well as his rosé of Pinot Noir, all of which are well-made.
Staying with the theme of small producers, Stewart Johnson has long been a pioneer in the relatively obscure California wine appellation of Marin County. Most people have heard of Sonoma and Napa at this point, but few know that great wine can be made in Marin. Stewart has been making great Pinots from Marin in tiny quantities for a long time. I’m particularly excited this week about his Viognier, which is exactly the way I like my Viogniers—bright, crisp, and not too ripe. If you’re looking to break from your usual white wine habits, this would definitely be one to try. I’ve also got notes on his rosé of Pinot below as well, which is worth checking out, especially at $15 a pop.
Finally, if people have heard of the grape Carmenere, they likely associate it with the country of Chile, which has made Carmenere something of a signature grape after decades of mistaking it for Merlot. Originally from Bordeaux, where it was used as a blending grape until it fell out of fashion, Carmenere has found odd pockets of the world to gain a foothold. I must admit, I had no idea there was anyone making one in the Veneto region of Italy, but Inama, the famed Soave producer, has apparently pioneered the use of the grape there, and is blending it with a touch of Merlot as an alternative to the red wines of Valpolicella. This rendition is particularly encouraging.
2019 Blue Rock Vineyards “Baby Blue Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apples and a touch of gooseberry. In the mouth, bright green apple flavors have a juicy zing, thanks to excellent acidity. A touch more gooseberry and kiwi linger in the finish. Tasty. Contains 5.4% Semillon and 1.3% Viognier. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2019 Inama Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, pear and citrus pith flavors have a nice wet chalkboard minerality to them, and a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Not horribly complex, but a perfectly pleasant crisp white mouthful. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.
2017 Tongue Dancer “Bacigalupi Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greehish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and cold cream. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and vanilla notes mix with candied grapefruit and white flowers. There’s a touch of alcoholic heat in the finish. Good acidity. 14.4% alcohol. 125 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50.
2018 Tongue Dancer “Pratt Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and pastry cream. In the mouth, flavors of lemon curd and pineapple and tropical fruit cocktail are juicy thanks to decent acidity that somehow I wish was more intense. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42.
2019 Kendric Vineyards Viognier, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of fresh apricots and white flowers. In the mouth, apricot and peach flavors have a leaner, citrusy quality, accompanied by bright acidity, making this a welcome interpretation of a grape variety that too often can be flat and flabby in the mouth. This wine is anything but. Offering juicy aromatics and a clean refreshing finish. Excellent. 13.7% alcohol. 175 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2019 Tongue Dancer Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Pale ruby in color, with a hint of bronze to it, this wine smells of watermelon candy. In the mouth, strawberry and watermelon flavors have a faint aromatic sweetness to them and a nice crispness, but I find myself wishing for more acidity to make this wine more dynamic. Nonetheless, the flavors are pleasant. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22.
2019 Kendric Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale coppery pink in color, this wine smells of struck match and rosehips. In the mouth, strawberry and hibiscus flavors have a nice juicy brightness to them thanks to very good acidity. I’d like the wine to have a bit more zip, honestly, but it is certainly tasty, and with a good chill on it, will be perfect for any hot day and it’s a steal at $15. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15 . click to buy.
2016 Inama Piu Carmenere, Veneto, Italy
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of thyme, freshly turned hay and a touch of manure. In the mouth, black cherry flavors mix with chopped green herbs and a touch of dried flowers. For all the dark flavors, the wine is relatively light on its feet, with excellent acidity and a faint stony backdrop to it that is quite pleasant. Faint, powdery tannins dust the mouth like chalk dust. Contains 15% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.
2017 Blue Rock Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and mulling spices. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors mix with a touch of clove and licorice. Decent acidity but I wanted a bit more to keep the wine from feeling a bit heavy on the palate. A tiny hint of alcoholic heat in the finish. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $68. click to buy.