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 I’ve got a Riesling, a bunch of Chardonnays, some Pinots and some killer Zinfandels to share.
Let’s start with the Riesling, from the venerable Wittmann estate in Westofen, Germany. This is the fully dry, or “Trocken” version of their estate Erste Lage (the equivalent of Grand Cru) vineyard Riesling that sits nearby the winery. It’s classically styled with wonderful balance.
We’re going to move on to Chardonnay next, but stay in Germany, and to be fair, this wine is just as much Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) as it is Chardonnay. Made by Weingut Weinreich, it’s also got some age to it, and some of what were undoubtedly fresh citrus qualities are mellowing into secondary notes that are quite interesting.
I’ve got two full Chardonnays to recommend next, the first from Oregon’s J. Christopher winery, a no-malo, neutral oak rendition of Chardonnay that raised some eyebrows when first released. As a result the winemaker Jay Somers named it “Cuvee Lunatique” but it’s proved so popular no one thinks him a lunatic anymore.
The Rued clone remains one of California’s most popular selections for Chardonnay plant material, and it takes its name from a vineyard in Sonoma’s Green Valley now farmed by the Dutton family. The Chardonnay that Dutton Goldfield makes from that vineyard has a richness and opulence to it, despite retaining the cutting edge of acidity that keeps it refreshing.
The Dutton brothers also farm the Azaya Ranch Vineyard in the Marin County portion of the rather new Petaluma Gap AVA, and it is one of my favorite sites of theirs for Pinot Noir, yielding fresh, snappy wines with real depth and complexity. The 2018 is perhaps the best rendition I have yet tasted of what that vineyard has to offer.
Speaking of Pinot Noir, I’ve got four more to share with you this week, two from Oregon and two more from California.
The Oregon bottlings are quite different in their expression. The Lange wine offers unusually dark blue and black fruit character with a rich complexion, while the J. Christopher wine has a savory, herbal quality that is breathtaking. The Abbey Ridge vineyard is one of Willamette Valley’s oldest, and this 2016 bottling shows that it’s still going strong after 40 years. This single vineyard bottling was the star of this week’s tasting lineup for sure.
Williams Selyem needs little introduction to Pinot-files, as perhaps the first “cult” producer of Pinot Noir in California. I’ve got two of their top bottlings to review this week, one of which, the Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard bottling, was a bit more oak-influenced than I’d like, but still worth drinking. The Eastside Road Neighbors bottling was a bit more integrated and exciting.
Last but not least, I’ve got a couple more Zinfandels from specialist Limerick Lane outside of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley. Both of these wines are brimming with acidity and positively bursting with juiciness. Of the two I think I slightly preferred the Estate Cuvee, which features a modicum of Syrah and Petite Sirah, but the straight Zinfandel named “Marquis” was pretty damn good as well and a great demonstration of just how compelling the variety can be in the right hands.
2018 Wittmann “Westhofener Erste Lage” Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of tangerine oil and Asian pears. In the mouth, beautifully vibrant flavors of Asian pear and wet chalkboard mix with mandarin orange and a hint of grapefruit, all crackling with excellent acidity and mineral backbone. Fully dry with no real hint of sweetness. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2015 Weinreich “Weissburgunder Chardonnay” White Blend, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light to medium gold in color, this wine smells of baked apples and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, baked apple, candied lemon peel, old parchment and a touch of dried honey are all enlivened with bright acidity. A hint of marmalade lingers in the finish. A blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $15. click to buy.
2018 J. Christopher “Cuvée Lunatique” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of fresh apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, apples and grapefruit flavors have a nice zingy brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of citrus pith linger in the finish. Quite fresh and snappy. This wine is prevented from going through malolactic conversion and sees only neutral oak. A decision, when first made, that was responsible for the name of the wine. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Rued Vineyard” Chardonnay, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and butterscotch. In the mouth, particularly silky flavors of lemon and butterscotch have decent, but slightly soft acidity and a nice grapefruit pith note in the finish. Creamy as all get out. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and redcurrant and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, wonderfully stony flavors of cranberry and raspberry have a nice earthy savoriness to them along with a bright redcurrant sourness in the finish that is quite mouthwatering. Excellent acidity and barely perceptible tannins. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5 . Cost: $62. click to buy.
2017 Lange Winery “Three Hills Cuvee” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cranberry. In the mouth, darker flavors of black cherry mix with a touch of green herbs and earth. Faint tannins and decent acidity round out the package, which definitely leans towards the darker side of Pinot. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2016 J. Christopher “Abbey Ridge” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry and a hint of red apple skin. In the mouth, beautifully silky notes of red apple skin, raspberry and cherry fruit are shot through with dried sage and thyme. Faint, dusty tannins creep about the edges of the palate as hints of bitter orange linger in the finish. Quite savory. This vineyard, one of the Willamette Valley’s oldest, hosts 40-year-old vines. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5 . Cost: $65. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of new oak and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, black raspberry and cherry fruit is definitely shot through with the toasty new oak signature that hangs right on the edge of overwhelming the fruit. Good acidity with hints of floral notes in the finish, but at the moment, the wood is dominant. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.
2018 Williams Selyem “Eastside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry fruit and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit mixes with cherry and cranberry under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity and a nice citrus brightness, with a hint of new oak lingering in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.
2018 Limerick Lane “Marquis” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of freshly smashed blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, blue and black fruits are bursting with acidity and shot through with chopped green herbs and a touch of black pepper that lingers in the finish. Phenomenally bright, balanced, and mouthwatering with no hint of its prodigious 15.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.
2018 Limerick Lane “Estate Cuvée” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, extremely juicy flavors of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry have a wonderful brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Somewhat effortless with only the faintest heat in the finish hinting at the 14.8% alcohol. Very tasty. A blend of 63% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 10% Petite Sirah. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.