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 wines that are, quite simply, fun to drink. It’s mostly reds this week, but let’s start with a white. Or more correctly, an orange wine to start.
Troon Vineyard in Oregon decided to make wines in terra cotta amphorae last year, and filled three of them with Vermentino, two with whole berries, one with whole bunches. They sealed them up for 10 months and then opened them up, dumped them out, and pressed the fruit and bunches that were left. The result is an amber-colored very aromatic and yet still quite stony expression of fruit that is simply a delight to drink. I’ve also got a Troon Syrah a bit farther down in the list that is worth drinking, especially if you like your Syrahs on the savory side.
Equally delightful was the carbonically macerated Trousseau by Rootdown Cellars. Carbonic maceration involves sealing whole bunches of grapes in a fermentation vessel with lots of carbon dioxide. Instead of yeasts on the outside of the grapes beginning to ferment the grapes, instead fermentation begins inside the individual berries, usually resulting in fruitier, fresher flavors, which this wine possesses in spades. It’s fantastically delicious.
Sticking with Rootdown for a moment, I’ve also got their Pinot Noir from Cole Ranch, which is the property that proprietor Mike Lucia purchased in Mendocino. Cole Ranch happens to be America’s smallest AVA, consisting of just a single small vineyard, and it’s up high in the hills, and therefore makes some pretty cool-climate wines, with emphasis on the cool. This Pinot is bright and fresh and worth checking out.
While on the subject of Pinot Noir, I’ve got a couple of them from Marin County, courtesy of reliable producer Dutton-Goldfield. Both are showing the bright fruit you’d expect from the cooler climes of Marin, with great acidity and juiciness.
I recently received the 2017 releases from Aperture Cellars, the winery project that is a partnership between photographer father Andy Katz (whose images have been featured here on Vinography) and his son, winemaker Jesse Katz. Aperture focuses (if you’ll excuse the pun) primarily on expressions of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, and makes several single-vineyard wines, of which I’ve got two on show this week. Both are very different, but equally tasty.
Still in the Cabernet department, and one notch higher in price than the already pricey Aperture wines, you’ll find the Chappellet Pritchard Hill bottling, which is their flagship Cabernet. It’s as regal and powerful as you would expect for the price, I just wish they’d stop using their obscenely heavy bottles, which are so bad for the environment.
Last but not least, I’ve got another single-vineyard, old-vineyard Zinfandel from Limerick Lane. This expression of the Bedrock Vineyard is remarkably savory, and will be an interesting experience for anyone who thinks they really know what Zinfandel tastes like. It’s also got a tannic structure not often found in Zinfandel, so quite unusual all around. But worth seeking out. These old vineyards all need our support.
2019 Troon Vineyard “Amphora Amber” Vermentino, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Cloudy pale amber in the glass, this wine smells of wet autumn leaves, quince, and exotic melon. In the mouth, quince and orange-fleshed melon flavors have a nice peachy aromatic sweetness to them, even as a stony wet pavement minerality rumbles around the palate, leaving a faint saline quality on the finish. Faint tannic grip and fantastic acidity make this a really pleasurable wine to drink. Fermented on the skins for 10 months, with 33% of the wine made with whole clusters. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2019 Rootdown Cellars “St. Amant Vineyard” Trousseau, Amador County, Sierra Foothills, California
Pale ruby in color, not unlike a rosé, this wine smells of forest berries and wet pavement. In the mouth, wild strawberry and cranberry fruit crackles with bright acidity, and hints of flowers and herbs tickle the edges of the palate along with faint tannins that gain strength over time. Beautifully fresh and, frankly, chuggable. Carbonically macerated. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2019 Rootdown Cellars Pinot Noir, Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry pastilles. In the mouth, bright raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors have a crystalline brightness to them and a gorgeous wet chalkboard minerality. Fantastic acidity keeps this wine very fresh and bright. While perhaps not as complex as it could be, the fruit is pure, quite delicious and hard not to love. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2018 Dutton-Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Marin County, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, very fresh flavors of cherry and cranberry also have a touch of new oak to them, which lingers, cedar-like in the finish along with a hint of dried herbs. Give this a year to integrate the oak, and it will be all the better for it. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.
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.
2018 Troon Vineyard “Kubli Bench” Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of carob and exotic wood shavings. In the mouth, camphor wood, dried herbs, and black tea flavors mix with a dark berry fruit for a decidedly savory interpretation of Syrah. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh and putty-like tannins grip the palate. Notes of licorice root linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $30. click to buy.
2017 Aperture “Oliver Ranch Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and cassis. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, blackberry, and cola flavors have a bright buoyancy thanks to fantastic acidity. Faint, gauzy tannins drape over the frame of fruit. There’s a touch of alcoholic heat in the finish along with some very pretty cassis fruit. Quite pretty. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2017 Aperture “SJ Ranch Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, dark earth, and licorice. In the mouth, a touch of woodsmoke wafts around a deep core of black cherry and cassis with those darker earthier notes rumbling below it. Powdery tannins hang like a gauzy cloud through the mouth. Excellent acidity, with notes of licorice root in the finish. Very dark, slightly mysterious. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2017 Chappellet “Pritchard Hill” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Inky purple in color, this wine smells of blackberry, black cherry, and a touch of struck match. In the mouth, suede-like tannins wrap around a core of black cherry, cocoa powder, and blackberry fruit. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth-watering, and the tannins, while muscular, are supple and don’t flex too hard. Nicely balanced, and built for long-term aging. 14.5% alcohol. Packaged in an obscenely heavy bottle. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.
2018 Limerick Lane “Bedrock Vineyard” Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberry and dusty earth. In the mouth, dusty muscular tannins wrap around a core of earthy licorice root, boysenberries, and carob, as the powdery tannins fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. There’s an herbal earthiness that lingers in the finish. Quite savory for Zinfandel. This vineyard was planted in 1854. 15.2% alcohol. 100 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.