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 is a bit of a continuation of last week’s Riesling fest, but with some other interesting things thrown in. I suppose I should admit that a couple of these wines this week were frankly lost in the cellar for a while. It is not uncommon for a bottle or three or five to continually get shifted to the bottom of the pile of samples just by happenstance, and therefore wait quite some time for a review.
That’s certainly true of the first wine this week, so with apologies to maestro Randall Grahm, I’m just now tasting his 2018 Picpoul bottling which is charming and quite fun to drink even with a little age on it.
I’ve also got a lovely Pinot Blanc from German producer Maximin Grünhaus in the Mosel river valley, which is definitely a great choice for anyone looking for a Chardonnay alternative with a bit more crispness.
Now for a brief slate of Rieslings. (See what I did there?).
The star of this week’s Riesling show is definitely the Maximin Grünhaus single vineyard “Herrenberg” Kabinett, which achieves what really great Riesling can do—transcending a little sweetness to be somehow ethereal, like the scent of white blossoms on the night air.
It’s a little hard, therefore to compare that producer’s more entry-level “Monopol” Riesling to it, but it’s a worthy entrant itself.
In addition, I’ve got the dry Fritz Haag Riesling, also from the Mosel valley which has a lovely balance that I think hits the perfect note for the fully dry “Trocken” style.
Moving into reds this week, another lost bottle was the 2017 Chateau Maris “La Touge” their entry-level, schist-planted Syrah, that has all the dark brooding savoriness and salinity that you would want in a biodynamically-farmed Syrah from southern France. It’s an interesting comparison to the flagship Syrah bottling from one of California’s masters of the form Qupé vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Perhaps not surprisingly, the California wine is more fruit-forward, but it has its own savory edge that keeps it from being too jammy.
Lastly, but certainly not least this week, I’ve got a couple of wines from the extremely popular and well-lauded Washington State producer Quilceda Creek. Their Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is bright and juicy as is the slightly more oak-influenced “Palengat” which features a touch of Cabernet Franc blended in for interest.
2018 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Beeswax Vineyard” Picpoul, Arroyo Seco, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit and white flowers. In the mouth, cheery grapefruit and star fruit flavors have a delicate acidity and a silky heft, like a touch of baby fat. Floral and pretty. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2018 Maximin Grünhaus Pinot Blanc, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of star fruit, celery and unripe apples. In the mouth, green apple, chamomile, and pear skin flavors have a nice snap thanks to very good acidity. There’s a honeyed note in the finish. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2018 Fritz Haag Riesling Trocken, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange oil and wet felt. In the mouth, juicy acidity enlivens flavors of unripe pear, green apple, and pomelo pith, even as a faint honeyed note steals across the palate. Bone dry, but beautifully balanced and not austere in the least. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.
2018 Maximin Grünhaus “Monopol” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of unripe apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, tart and zingy citrus and crab apple flavors are mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity that has a steely edge to it. Slightly austere, but seemingly quite dry and quite tasty. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2018 Maximin Grünhaus “Herrenberg” Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and jasmine. In the mouth, crystalline flavors of mandarin orange and honeysuckle have a gorgeous bright acidity and deeply glassy minerality that is stunning and delicious. Clean, crisp, and lightly sweet, this is regal Riesling. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.
2017 Chateau Maris “La Touge” Syrah, Minervois la Liviniere, Languedoc, France
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rusted metal, meat, and cassis. In the mouth, blackberry and cassis flavors have a nice stony underbelly to them, with excellent acidity and a nice savory herbal umami character in the finish. Excellent. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2017 Qupé “Bien Nacido Hillside Estate” Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of white pepper, leather, and black cherry. In the mouth, savory herbal notes mix with black cherry and blackberry flavors under a leathery throw of tannins. Notes of lavender and blueberries linger in the finish. This is a wine just beginning its journey towards excellence. Very good acidity. 14% alcohol. 450 cases of (ahem) rather heavy bottles made Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2017 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with hints of floral notes. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis mix with chopped herbs and leathery, muscular tannins. Notes of licorice and orange peel linger in the finish as excellent acidity makes the mouth water. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $160. click to buy.
2017 Quilceda Creek “Palengat” Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and oak. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cola flavors mix with the toasty vanilla of new oak. Fine-grained tannins buff the edges of the mouth, and good acidity keeps the rich, ripe fruit lively. Somewhat rich and woody for my taste, but an excellent wine. A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.