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 some really lovely wines, including an especially fantastic Riesling. Dr. Ernie Loosen is well known to Riesling lovers as one of the top producers in Germany’s Mosel River valley. He produces a dizzying array of Riesling wines, a few of which carry the designation Grosses Gewächs, a class of wine invented by an organization of the top German wine producers. GG’s as they are known, must be dry Rieslings, and must come from Grand Cru or Grosse Lage designated vineyard. This one is from the Erdener Treppchen vineyard, just outside the village of Erden. Treppchen means “little staircase” and refers to the fact that this vineyard is so steep that growers build stone staircases to help them scramble up its slate slopes. This bottle is regal Riesling, plain and simple.
I’ve also got a couple of wines from Notre Vue estate this week, a rather large estate in the Russian River Valley. Their Chardonnay Musque is a clone of Chardonnay that has Muscat-like qualities of melon and green apple that might intrigue anyone who has not tried this particular flavor of Chardonnay. Their rosé, made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre is more of a classic style and comes packaged in an unusual bottle.
Smith-Madrone has long been a favorite producer of mine up on Napa’s Spring Mountain. Their Chardonnay leans towards the richer side of the grape, but there’s plenty of acid and salinity in the wine to make it enjoyable. They also sent along their 2016 Cabernet which is predictably lovely, with wonderful hints of green herbs and other savory notes that are unfortunately rare in Napa Cabernet these days.
J. Christopher wines started as a tiny project by guitarist-turned-winemaker Jay Somers, but quickly turned into something more when he teamed up with none other than the aforementioned Ernst Loosen. Loosen purchased a bunch of vineyard land in the Willamette Valley, and together he and Somers have built the brand into a dependably excellent source of Oregon Pinot Noir. Of the two wines I’m reviewing this week, the “Dundee Hills Cuvée” is my favorite, bright with floral raspberry notes.
Last but not least, I’ve got a couple more wines from Alder Springs Vineyard, in the hills of Northern Mendocino. Their Syrah is decidedly cool climate in character, and quite delicious for it, while their GCM (where “C” is Cunoise, rather than Syrah) blend is juicy and spicy and quite tasty as well. I recommend them both.
Notes on all these below.
2017 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Treppchen Alte Reben Grosses Gewachs” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and tangerine peel. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of Asian pear, mandarin zest, and white flowers have a rich sumptuousness to them even as laser-etched acidity makes for a crisp and refreshing mouthful. Gorgeous finish with hints of floral notes and citrus oil. Fully dry, with no trace of sweetness. Made from 100-year-old vines in the Erdener Treppchen Vineyard, which carries the designation of Grosse Lage, the German equivalent of Grand Cru. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $52. click to buy.
2019 Notre Vue Chardonnay Musque, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green melon and green apple. In the mouth, green apple and lemon curd flavors mix with grapefruit and a touch of oak. Silky textured with decent acidity, there’s a faint alcoholic heat in the finish. Made from the Musque clone of Chardonnay and therefore a very different flavor profile from your standard California Chardonnay. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36.
2017 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and butterscotch. In the mouth, intense buttered popcorn and lemon curd flavors have a wonderfully saline quality that, along with excellent acidity, keeps the mouth-watering. Notes of melted butter and toasted oak linger in the finish with a touch of grapefruit and a faint hint of alcoholic heat. Rich and on the ripe side, but quite tasty. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2019 Notre Vue Red Blend Rosé, Chalk Hill, Sonoma, California
A pale peachy-pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon and strawberries. In the mouth, strawberries and watermelon flavors are bright and juicy thanks to very good acidity. Nicely textured and satiny, but also crisp and delicious. A blend of 34% Grenache, 33% Syrah, and 33% Mourvèdre. 12.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29.
2016 J. Christopher “Basalte” Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor and cherries. In the mouth, earthy cherry flavors mix with black raspberry and chopped herbs. Silky texture, excellent acidity and very faint tannins with a touch of citrus in the finish. 13.5% alcohol Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.
2016 J. Christopher “Dundee Hills Cuvée – Special Selection” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of peeled willow bark and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit has a bouncy zing thanks to excellent acidity. Beautiful herbal and floral notes linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2016 Alder Springs Vineyard “Kinesis” Red Blend, Mendocino County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mixed berry jam and dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy cherry, cranberry and strawberry flavors all but burst on the palate thanks to excellent acidity. Faint tacky tannins join flavors of cedar and dried herbs in the finish. Very tasty. A blend of 63% Mourvèdre, 31% Grenache, and 6% Cunoise. 13.5% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $45.
2013 Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah, Mendocino County, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black olive, white pepper, and cassis. In the mouth, blackberry fruit is tinged with woodsmoke and white pepper. Faint powdery tannins dust the corners of the mouth, and good acidity keeps the wine lively. 13.5% alcohol. 250 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45.
2016 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black pepper, cut fresh herbs, and just a hint of green bell pepper. In the mouth, wonderfully bright and juicy flavors of cherry, cola, and a touch of pipe tobacco have faint fresh herbal notes backing them up as well as gorgeous acidity. Powdery, fine-grained tannins ghost the edges of the mouth, as a hint of bell pepper lingers in the finish. Really lovely. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.