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 the two newest releases of Chardonnay from the venerable Russian River producer DuMOL, made by the steady hand of winemaker Andy Smith. Both of these wines are excellent and strike the perfect balance between nervy-juicy acidity and rich fruit that California Chardonnay can do when someone really treats it right. Neither white Burgundy nor the buttered-oak-and-pineapple of old, these are a great representation of what much California Chardonnay could aspire to achieve.
In addition to the Chardonnays I’ve got one more of DuMOLs Pinot Noirs to share this week, the “Ryan” bottling, which offers a darker interpretation of Pinot Noir fruit, but with great acidity and juiciness.
Next I’ve got a couple of wines from a relatively new project out of Bennet Valley. The Dry Stack Vineyard has new owners, and those new owners turned to a friend, well-known winemaker Jesse Katz of Aperture Cellars to make their wine for them. These are a couple of the first efforts from the vineyard—their latest Sauvignon Blanc, and a white blend from 2017. It will be interesting to see where this project goes.
Lastly, I’ve got what couldn’t be more diametrically opposed interpretations of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa to share. The first are a pair of wines from Nickel & Nickel winery, known for its single-vineyard, modern and rich interpretations of Napa Cabernet. Of these two, I preferred the Hayne Vineyard Cabernet which had slightly better-integrated oak, brighter acidity and more refined tannins. The Element 28 is a bit of a beast—brawny, chewy and needing a couple of years before it will be in drinking shape, in my opinion. Both offer ripe, dark, sweetish fruit.
On the other end of the spectrum, the latest Cabernet from Ashes & Diamonds is a lean, European-style interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon that isn’t afraid of pyrazines, the compounds responsible for flavors like green bell pepper. Picked on the early side, for a 13.8% alcohol level, this wine shows the herbal, more savory side of Cabernet.
Notes on all these below.
2018 DuMOL “Ritchie Vineyard Old Vines – Chloe” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and a touch of butterscotch. In the mouth, faintly sweet floral notes mix with lemon curd and grapefruit pith. Juicy and bright thanks to excellent acidity, with notes of pomelo zest lingering in the finish. Excellent. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2018 DuMOL “Charles Heintz Vineyard – Isobel” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of pineapple and lemon curd. In the mouth, intense lemon curd and pineapple flavors have a juicy brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a touch of butter here, but mostly neon lemon zing. Lemon pith in the finish. Outstanding. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 Aesthete “Dry Stack Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Bennett Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and cut green grass. In the mouth, green apple and grassy notes have decent bite to them thanks to much better acidity than the previous vintage of this wine. There’s a touch of heat on the finish, but this is a juicy and bright greenish mouthful. 14.4% alcohol. 150 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30.
2017 Aesthete “Dry Stack Vineyard” White Blend, Bennett Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream and pears. In the mouth, pear and lemon citrus flavors mix with a touch of wet pavement and yellow herbs. Juicy and bright with good acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2018 DuMOL “Jentoft Vineyard – Ryan” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, raspberry and black raspberry fruit has a wonderful stony quality, backed by faint, gauzy tannins and supported by a darker earthy note. Good acidity and length as cedar and cranberry notes linger in the finish. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2018 Nickel & Nickel “Element 28” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky purple in color, this wine smells of intense black cherry and graphite. In the mouth, massive, muscular tannins wrap flavors of black cherry and cassis in an tight grip and don’t let go. Good acidity, but a bit extracted and massive for my taste. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.
2018 Nickel & Nickel “Hayne Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, rich, and expansive blue and black fruits billow through the mouth with a roiling cloud of tannins that find every nook and cranny of the mouth and bring a chalk-dust texture to the wine. Slightly high-toned, with excellent acidity, I’m missing something in the middle of the palate but that’s a quibble. This is a very good wine for its style. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2017 Ashes & Diamonds “Number 2 – Red Hen Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, green herbs and a touch of green bell pepper. In the mouth, cherry and tobacco notes mix with sweet oak and a touch of chopped green herbs, all under a fleecy blanket of fine-grained tannins. Excellent acidity and easy drinking with its 13.8% alcohol, this is a wine with a distinctly old-world conception. It reminds me of the golden days of Clos du Val Cabernet bottlings in Napa. Not for those looking for opulent, ripe Cabernet, but definitely for anyone who likes acidity and an herbal quality to their Cabernet. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.