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 past week included wines from all over the place. But let’s start quite close to home, at least for me. Urban Legend Cellars is a small operation working out of the “wine ghetto” on the island of Alameda, near Oakland. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steve & Marilee Shaffer, who are “recovering” engineers from Silicon Valley who decided they wanted to make wine. They purchase grapes from a wide range of sources, and make a number of wines, including this Vermentino, from the Clements Hills sub-AVA in Lodi. It’s quite fresh and tasty, and might easily convert anyone to Vermentino’s charms.
A little farther afield I’ve got a cracking Chardonnay from J. Christopher Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which illustrates perfectly why people are so excited about Oregon Chardonnay. It’s crisp and citrusy, and gorgeous.
You could say the same thing about the Dr. Loosen Riesling from the famed “spice garden” vineyard, Ürziger Würtzgarten, in Germany’s Mosel River Valley. One of Germany’s more famous sites for Riesling, made by one of Germany’s more famous names makes for a scintillating example of the form.
Let’s move on to reds.
Before I dive deep into a pool of Syrah, I’ve got a Pinot from J. Christopher winery that will be of interest to anyone who likes their Pinot Noirs more on the savory, earthy side.
I was recently sent a number of Côtes-du-Rhônes, which were a lovely reminder of how I really should be drinking more of them. All were compelling, from the lean dark fruit flavors of Stephane Ogier’s rendition, to the more savory, brooding qualities of Delas Frere’s interpretation.
But my favorite example of Côtes-du-Rhône comes from Clos Bellane, a small organic producer that sits at more than 1200 feet of elevation on steep, limestone slopes outside the village of Valréas, which sits in the northern part of the southern Rhone wine region.
Vigneron Stephane Vedeau purchased the Clos Bellane estate in 2007 and is making really remarkable wines there, as this, his entry-level wine, demonstrates. It’s wonderfully aromatic, incredibly fresh and bright, and just a delight to drink. And at between $16 and $20, it’s a shockingly great value.
Back on this continent, I was really delighted to see just how fresh the Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Columbia Valley Syrah was in its expression of boisterous blackberry fruit. A bit father south in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyard is making whole-cluster fermented Syrah where you can really taste the influence of the stems, making for a savory interpretation of the grape.
Lastly, I’ve got one of the regal wines of Taurasi, the Piano di Montevergine from venerable producer Feudi di San Gregorio. This wine comes from the estate’s oldest plantings of Aglianico at an elevation of around 1300 feet above sea level in the Irpina region of Campania, not far from Mount Vesuvius. Even at 8 years of age, this wine is still a bit of a monster when it comes to tannins, and needs some air to mellow, as well as perhaps some more time in the bottle. In my personal experience it is a wine that rewards significant aging, especially if you appreciate the leather and dried flowers scents that Aglianico can offer with some time in the bottle. Now, however, the Piano is a bit forte, if that’s your speed.
2019 Urban Legend Cellars “Gill Creek Ranch” Vermentino, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of poached pear in sweet cream. In the mouth, bright pear and pastry cream flavors have a slight tinge of lemongrass and chamomile. Silky textured, this wine has a very nice acid balance and crisp finish with a hint of orange peel. 13.1% alcohol. 168 cases made. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24.
2018 J. Christopher “Olenik Vineyard” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is quite floral, with a gorgeous quartz-like crystalline quality and juicy lemon and lemon pith flavors, and a touch of green apple. Very elegant and poised with just a hint of salinity in the finish. . 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Dr. Loosen “Ürziger Würtzgarten Spätlese” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine zest and white flowers with a hint of lemon cucumber. In the mouth, gorgeous exotic citrus flavors mix with honeysuckle and rainwater minerality, all sizzling with excellent acidity. Lightly to moderately sweet, but definitely in my sweet spot. 8.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2016 J. Christopher “JJ” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit shot through with a hint of barnyard funkiness. In the mouth, pure bright cherry and raspberry fruit has a nice zing thanks to excellent acidity. There’s some bitter cedar and herb notes lingering in the finish along with that faint hint of manure. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.
2018 Clos Bellane Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Valréas, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich cherry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of cherry mix with incredibly aromatic herbs like wild thyme and lavender even as a crystalline stony quality makes the whole red and black fruit concoction glint and shimmer on the palate. Barely perceptible tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2017 Stephane Ogier “Le Temps Est Venu” Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark cherry fruit and a touch of forest floor. In the mouth, juicy black cherry flavors are shot through with dried sage and other dried herbs making for quite a savory impression. Very faint powdery tannins creep about the edges of the mouth, while a faint bitter herb and orange-peel note lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2018 Delas Freres “Saint-Esprit” Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and potting soil. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, cassis, and wet earth have a wonderful freshness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a faint green herbal kick that meshes with a definite stony quality. Dark and brooding, yet without feeling heavy, and quite delicious. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2018 Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington
Medium to dark purple in color, this wine smells of rich blackberry fruit with a hint of woodsmoke. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy blackberry and cassis flavors are positively electric on the palate thanks to fantastic acidity. Faint, powdery tannins dust the palate while notes of licorice emerge on the finish. Excellent. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2018 Troon Vineyard “White Family Selection” Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth and chopped herbs. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis flavors are shot through with a cedary, incense quality, thanks no doubt to the whole cluster fermentation, which seems to have imparted a sort of woody note from the stems. Excellent acidity and freshness, with tightly wound, muscular tannins that flex through the finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2012 Feudi di San Gregorio “Piano di Montevergine – Riserva” Aglianico, Taurasi, Campania, Italy
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather, dried flowers, and licorice. In the mouth, massive, billowy tannins envelop a core of black cherry, licorice root, and dried flowers, even as earthier, darker notes rumble about in the basement. Good acidity, but still massive even with 8 years of age. Give it some air, or better yet, another 5 years in the bottle. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.