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 a couple of interesting Rieslings of note. The first is a pitch-perfect, bone dry Riesling from Ravines, a pioneering little winery in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The proprietor Morten Hallgren was one of the first European-trained penologists in the region when he started his winery in 2001, and he helped to popularize the style of dry Riesling that has become a signature not only of his winery, but of the region. Taste this bottle, and you’ll understand why. Later I’ve got a Bordeaux blend from Ravines that shows a similar level of confidence.
The other Rieslings on offer this week are the two inaugural releases from Cole Ranch, which used to be just a vineyard, then it became America’s smallest AVA, and now it is a tiny wine brand, thanks to Mike Lucia, who bought Cole Ranch in 2019. The name of this chilly mountainous vineyard site in Mendocino County has long been on the back label of some of California’s quirkiest wines, but now it’s moving to the front as Lucia launches a wine label dedicated to making wine from some of the oldest vines at the site. The two Rieslings he chose to release are identical in every way except for their pick dates, with the “R2” Riesling representing a pick date 12 days later than the ordinary bottling. Both are very interesting expressions of this site.
Next I’ve got a nice white Rhône blend from Troon Vineyards in Oregon’s Applegate Valley. A blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, there’s lots to love about this crisp blend of stone fruits and herbs that Troon produces biodynamically.
Moving on to reds, let’s start with the Azaya Ranch Pinot Noir from the Marin County section of the relatively new Petaluma Gap AVA. It’s admirable for its bright fruit and mix of herbs.
Darker yet would be the Sinister Hand from Owen Roe, a red Rhône blend that consistently delivers lots of flavor for a decent price.
Lastly, let’s have a look at one of Campania’s top wines, made by the venerable Feudi di San Gregorio. This Aglianico (which in recent years has apparently been repackaged in a somewhat ostentatious matte-black bottle) comes from some of Campania’s oldest vines, 100 years or older with trunks as thick as trees, trained in the old pergola style. Able to age for decades, this wine is a true taste of what Campania is capable of.
2017 Ravines “Dry” Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of freshly peeled tangerine with a hint of candle wax. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of mandarin orange, Asian pear and rainwater have a fantastic acidity and wet chalkboard minerality behind them, making them quite effortless across the palate. Perfectly balanced, nay poised, and wonderfully tasty. Only the faintest hint of aromatic sweetness lingers in the finish with the scent of honeysuckle, otherwise, quite dry. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Cole Ranch Riesling, Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California
Light to medium gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine pith and cooked apples. In the mouth, bright tangerine pith mixes with Asian pear and a woody herbal bitterness that makes the finish a bit savory. Receives no additions except a small dose of sulfur dioxide before bottling. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34.
2019 Cole Ranch “R2” Riesling, Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California
Light to medium blonde in color, this wine smells of baked apples and quince paste. In the mouth, intense apple and pear flavors are tinged with orange peel have a nice wet chalkboard minerality and a touch of bitter pear skin and citrus peel that lingers in the finish. This wine was picked 12 days later than its sibling. Receives no additions except a small dose of sulfur dioxide before bottling. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $34.
2019 Troon Vineyard “Côtes du Kubli – Cowhorn Vineyard” White Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet apricots and Asian pears. In the mouth, wonderfully peachy flavors of apricot, Asian pear and jicama have a faint floral quality and a charming aromatic sweetness. A touch of pear skin leaves a slightly astringent, savory note in the finish. A blend of 42% Viognier, 35% Marsanne, and 23% Roussanne. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry with a hint of exotic flowers. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit are bouncy with excellent acidity and have a hint of earth and green herbs to balance them out. Faint tannins dust the edges of the palate. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2019 Owen Roe “Sinister Hand” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium to dark purple in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and cola flavors mix with a touch of boysenberry and licorice. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh, and a gauzy layer of tannins gains strength in the finish. Very tasty. A blend of 57% Syrah, 18% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, 2% Cinsault, and 5% of what the producer describes as “White Rhone,” which presumably is a blend of Marsanne and/or Roussanne. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.
2017 Ravines “Maximilien” Red Blend, Finger Lakes, New York
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, green bell pepper, and a touch of oak. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is lean and crisp thanks to excellent acidity, and shot through with green herbs and toasty notes of oak. The purity of the cherry fruit is quite commendable. Faint, powdery tannins make themselves felt as the wine finishes. The overall impression here is quite refined and confident, if a bit restrained in its fruit. Perhaps a touch too much oak influence at this young age, but I predict that will fade with the few years that this wine will continue to improve if left alone. Tasty now, but only going to get better. A blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 54% Merlot. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.
2017 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, chopped green herbs, a touch of green bell pepper, and sweet oak. In the mouth, cherry and licorice and cassis flavors mix with the mocha toastiness of new oak. Very good acidity, and supple, powdery tannins. Notes of licorice linger in the finish. Barrel fermented in new French oak. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $165. click to buy.
2012 Feudi di San Gregorio “Serpico” Aglianico, Irpinia, Campania, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and black cherry, and earth. In the mouth, wonderfully floral flavors of black cherry and earth are tinged with lavender and a touch of leather. A thick blanket of suede-like tannins wraps the core of fruit, but the tannins are quite pliable and mellowing, making this easier to drink than its sibling wine of the same vintage, the Piano di Montevergine. Wonderfully brisk acidity makes for a rather refreshing quality to the wine. 100-year-old vines, FTW. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.