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 recent vintage of what I regularly describe as the best Riesling made in Napa (not that it has a lot of competition). Smith-Madrone has been making Riesling on the slopes of Napa’s Spring Mountain for a long time, and the wines are predictably tasty. The 2016 vintage is showing extremely well at this point, and I think it is my favorite in recent memory.
I’ve also got a couple of whites from New Zealand to share this week, including a small-production from Jules Taylor wines, which is a lush Sauvignon Blanc that doesn’t fall into the trap of tasting like the “standard” Kiwi Sav Blanc, but instead forges its own path of deliciousness. Her Pinot Noir is also worth paying attention to.
From slightly farther south, I’ve got the Golden Egg Chardonnay from Tony Bish. As opposed to last week, which was a bottling from a special barrel, this week there’s a bottling from, you guessed it, a special egg. Supposedly the first concrete egg made in New Zealand. I didn’t miss the oak, and neither will you.
While we’re in New Zealand, and in Hawke’s Bay, let’s not leave off without mentioning this really pretty (and first I’ve tasted of the variety from Hawkes Bay, at least that I can recall) Gamay from Easthope Family Wines. It’s delicious and intriguing and makes me want to taste other examples from the region.
And now for something completely different. Let’s go way up into the northern part of Italy’s Piedmont region to the little hill town of Castagnole Monferrato for one of Piedmont’s best-kept secrets: the grape known as Ruchè. Thought to be indigenous to this town and the surrounding communities, it is only grown in dribs and drabs, having been replaced by the much more popular Nebbiolo and Barbera. It’s an incredibly floral, juicy wine that smells like few other grapes, and is bound to turn heads. Given its relative obscurity, if you can find it, you’ll also find it affordable.
Luca Ferraris is the largest producer of Ruchè in the region, and makes several bottling of which I have notes on two this week. The first is their “Clasic” which is fermented in steel and then aged in large oak casks for six to nine months before bottling. It is released young and fruity.
The second bottling is their Vigna Del Parroco, or “Parson’s Vineyard” Ruchè, which comes from a parish vineyard tended by Don Giacomo Cauda, the man given significant credit for keeping Ruchè alive as a tradition. This bottling is a more serious, more savory rendition of the grape, and ages for longer in oak casks before release.
Back closer to home, I’ve got a nice current-release Syrah from the Alder Springs Vineyard up in Northern Mendocino, and three of Nickel & Nickel’s single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa. My favorite of the three was the State Ranch, but all three are worthy, and feature that wonderful acid balance and supple tannin that I think of as a hallmark of Napa’s 2018 vintage.
2016 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Light blonde in color, this wine smells of citrus oil and Asian pear juice. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy tangerine, Asian pear, and lemon pith flavors have a gorgeous honeysuckle edge to them that makes for a perfect balance to the zippy acidity in the wine. Excellent, as usual, but perhaps even better than recent vintages. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Jules Taylor Wines “OTQ – On the Quiet – Meadowbank Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of golden apples and a touch of passionfruit. In the mouth, apple and star fruit flavors turn citrusy and bright as the wine finishes. Crisp and juicy, with a nice silky texture. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2017 Tony Bish “Golden Egg” Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd with a hint of yellow flowers. In the mouth, bright and juicy lemon curd flavors mix with a touch of honeysuckle. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth-watering, and I’m not missing the oak in the slightest. Fermented and aged in a concrete egg which the winery says is the first to have been made locally in New Zealand. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2017 Easthope Family Winegrowers Gamay, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of potting soil and chopped green herbs with a few red berries mashed up alongside. In the mouth, raspberry and strawberry flavors are shot through with thyme and other dried herbs along with a touch of peeled willow bark. Excellent acidity, and nicely savory. 100% whole cluster fermentation, and aged in neutral oak for 9 months before bottling. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.
2018 Jules Taylor Wines Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of raspberry and pomegranate fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry, cranberry and raspberry fruit is juicy with excellent acidity. Hints of citrus peel enter the finish along with the faint rasp of tannins. Juicy and uncomplicated, with just a touch of herbaceousness. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Luca Ferraris “Clàsic” Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry jam and sage and a hint of exotic camphor wood. In the mouth, juicy and bright strawberry and cedar and herbal notes have a zingy quality thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of flowers linger in the finish with ghostly wisps of tannin. I’d be hard-pressed to guess this wine was 15% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15.
2018 Luca Ferraris “Vigna del Parroco” Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry jam, dried cherries, and dried flowers. In the mouth, notes of licorice root, strawberry jam, and dried sage have a wonderful brightness and citrusy notes that linger in the finish with the barest hint of gauzy tannins. There’s some heat on the finish as well, but wonderfully savory notes. 15% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2018 Nickel & Nickel “State Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa, California
Very dark purple in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, excellent acidity keeps flavors of cassis, black cherry, and blackberry extremely fresh and bright. Tightly wound tannins are fine-grained and built for the long hall. Excellent, with well-integrated oak that leaves only a hint of mocha on the finish. Supple, faint tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2018 Nickel & Nickel “Martin Stelling Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Inky purple in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and earth with lovely floral high notes. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis flavor have a dark savory licorice-root character, but are kept fresh thanks to excellent acidity. Very fine-grained tannins show remarkable restraint. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $185. click to buy.
2018 Nickel & Nickel “C.C. Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa, California
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and black cherry. In the mouth, dark licorice, earth, and black cherry flavors have a brooding savory note to them as faint tannins grab at the edges of the mouth. Excellent acidity keeps it fresh, but a tiny bit of alcoholic heat creeps into the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2016 Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah, Mendocino County, California
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, rich blueberry and blackberry fruit join cassis and a touch of licorice as hints of dried herbs and wet chalkboard, along with excellent acidity, keep the wine fresh. Faint tannins. Grown at 2600 feet on a relatively steep vineyard site. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $44. click to buy.