Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/8/20

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.

The weekly dip into press samples has its ups and downs. Some weeks, I have to taste through a couple of cases of wine before I end up with the eight or ten bottles that I choose to highlight here each week.

Occasionally though, as I grab bottles in the cellar, I get extremely lucky, and this week was one of those weeks. I opened wine after wine this week to find fantastic stuff to share with you.

Let’s start with a positively shimmering example of Sauvignon Blanc, and quite possibly the best I can recall having from Oregon of all places. Gorgeously zippy, green and mouthwateringly delicious, I highly recommend you seek out this bottle from J. Christopher cellars.

I’ve long appreciated Gundlach Bundschu’s (GunBun to their friends) rendition of Gewürztraminer, which is floral and crisp and quite light on its feet. Gewurtz call all-too-easily be made into a syrupy or bitter phenolic mess, and so it takes a confident hand to steer it to the places where it achieves greatness: either as ambrosia or, in this case, as a beautifully aromatic, refreshing mouthful.

Last week I featured a lovely Williams Selyem Chardonnay and this week I’m presenting its mate, from the winery’s estate vineyard. It’s a bit leaner in expression and wonderfully floral, but also crackling with acidity. If you’re in the market for top-tier California Chardonnay this is one to add to your list.

Now I will admit to being a bit of a Riesling nut. On the whole, your average Riesling is better than a lot of other average wines. But when it really gets going, world-class Riesling is something else entirely. I’m happy to say I’ve got three examples of that form today, two from Robert Weil and one from Dr. Loosen.

Robert Weil is a venerable producer in the Rheingau region of Germany, and I’ve got two expressions of the very same vineyard to share with you this week. The vineyard in question is the Gräfenberg vineyard, in the little town of Kiedrich, which has been one of the most storied vineyards in the region for hundreds of years. It is one of Germany’s Grosse Lage sites, that country’s equivalent of Grand Cru, and it is owned by Weingut Robert Weil, who makes several wines from its 25 or so acres.

The two Gräfenberg wines I’m sharing this week are the totally dry Grosses Gewachs Riesling, and the later-picked Spätlese Riesling. They are both incredible renditions of what German Riesling can do in the right place and in the right hands, light, crystalline, mouthwatering and capable of aging for decades. If you don’t mind a little sweetness, try the Spätlese, or if you prefer things perfectly dry, go for the GG. You can’t go wrong with either, though.

The Erdener Treppchen vineyard is also a well-known name in the Mosel valley, translating literally to “The Little Staircase of Erden,” so-called because the angle of the hillside required steps to be carved to allow workers to access its heights. Ernie Loosen is one of the Mosel’s rock-star winemakers, and therefore it’s no surprise that his rendition of what the Treppchen can offer is gorgeous. There’s so much acidity in this wine, that despite its sugar levels, it doesn’t taste particularly sweet.

After all that waxing rhapsodic about Riesling, it’s going to be hard to get you to imagine how excited I am about the two Zinfandels I’m sharing with you this week. Once upon a time I tasted a lot of Zinfandel every year, but I have fallen out of the habit. It’s nice to be reminded what a spectacular grape it can be from the right site and in the right hands. And boy what a combination of those two things does the Limerick Lane bottling of the 140-year-old Banfield Vineyard offer. This is one of the best Zinfandels I’ve had in years. It’s just stupendous, and there’s not much more to say than that.

The Carlisle Vineyard Zinfandel is also totally fantastic, and had I not tasted the Banfield just before, it would have easily bowled me over as well. Both are fantastic examples of what older vines can do, and how fresh and balanced Zinfandel can be, even as its alcohol levels reach 15%, if made correctly.

Unfortunately both Zinfandels are not in wide circulation due to their small production, so you’ll have to call up Limerick Lane and try to persuade them to sell you some if you’re interested.

As a small coda to all that excitement, let me lastly draw your attention to the modest Cabernet Sauvignon from Gundlach Bundschu. Their Sonoma Valley bottling is what most people are looking for in a Cabernet, rich, ripe, and supple.

Tasting Notes

2018 J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest gold, nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, cut grass and gooseberries. In the mouth, deliciously bright green apple and cut grass flavors mix with kiwi and electric lime juice, as fantastic acidity makes the mouth water. A hint of salinity makes for a margarita-with-salt finish that utterly satisfies. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Gundlach Bundschu “Estate Vineyard” Gewürztraminer, Sonoma Coast, California
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of orange peel and orange blossom. In the mouth, notes of orange blossom water, lychee, and white flowers have a wonderful crisp crystalline quality thanks to excellent acidity. Fresh, bright, and silky. Dry as a bone and utterly refreshing. Highly recommended. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Williams Selyem “Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, cold cream and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of lemon curd and lemon pith mix with a hint of bitter grapefruit and white flowers as the wine shimmers crystalline thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp and bright with grapefruit pith lingering in the finish with just a touch of toasted oak and a whiff of heat. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Kiedrich Gräfenberg Spätlese” Riesling, Rheingau, Germany
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, honeysuckle and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, phenomenal acidity makes flavors of mandarin orange, honeysuckle and Asian pear positively thrum with electricity as the salivary glands kick into overdrive. Gorgeous acidity and wet pavement minerality. Lightly to moderately sweet. 9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Kiedrich Gräfenberg Grosses Gewachs” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Palest, nearly colorless greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin and tangerine oils. In the mouth, beautifully weightless flavors of tangerine zest, white flowers, Asian pear and rainwater float ethereally across the palate on crystalline wings. Gorgeous acidity and phenomenal balance. Regal, and as is required for the GG designation, bone dry without any trace of sweetness. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Treppchen” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and mandarin zest. In the mouth, crystalline flavors of honeysuckle and gardenia mix with Asian-pear juiciness. Fantastic acidity makes the sugar levels seem lower than they are, so that this wine tastes only lightly sweet, as wet stone minerality and white flowers linger in the finish. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2018 Limerick Lane “Banfield Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet-purple in the glass, this wine smells of candied blueberries, exotic flowers and mulberries. In the mouth, gorgeous berry flavors are a technicolor rainbow of red and blue and black flavors. Blueberry, then mulberry, then cherry, then acai and more. You wanna know what old vines give you? In a word: complexity. This vineyard was planted in 1880, and damn if it ain’t still singing like a rockstar. Zero trace of this wine’s 15.1% alcohol. Snappy, balanced and frikkin’ delicious. 100 cases made. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $60

2018 Limerick Lane “Carlisle Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium purple in color, this wine smells of dusty road and blackberries. In the mouth, gorgeous blackberry bramble is positively mouthwatering thanks to fantastic acidity. Blueberry and cassis notes linger in the finish, but the wine is oh-so-light on its feet despite 14.9% alcohol. Utterly delicious. This vineyard was planted in 1927. 100 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60

2016 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis and green herbs. In the mouth, black cherry, blackberry and chopped green herb flavors have a faint espresso bitterness to them as they head towards a licorice infused finish, sweetened with the vanilla of new oak. Excellent acidity keeps the wine feeling brisk. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.