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 Chardonnays. The first is the Oro de Plata Chardonnay from Keller Estate, which is prevented from going through malolactic conversion, and is aged in old oak barrels, but nonetheless has a nice creaminess along with its brisk citrus brightness. The other is one of the better canned wines I’ve come across, a limited edition Chardonnay from Iron Horse Vineyards, which revives the estate’s old Tin Pony brand name. Unfortunately this particular offering is sold out, but you can bet there will be more canned wines from Iron Horse in the future, so consider this fair warning to keep your eye out.
Moving on to Pinot, I’ve got a couple of them from Yamhill Valley Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Of the two, my favorite was the “Tall Poppy” bottling, which possessed a lovely finesse and very pretty forest floor quality. Both Keller Estate and Flowers Vineyards also had Pinots in this week’s tasting, each distinctive and pretty, both highlighting the cherry and cranberry qualities that Sonoma Pinot Noir can deliver.
Keller has also been making a Syrah co-fermented with a couple rows of Viognier for a few years under the name “Rotie,” and their 2017 vintage showed some lovely stony blackberry and black cherry qualities and the promise of improvement with age.
Sticking with Syrah for a moment, I felt obliged to point readers towards the Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône, if only because it is a remarkable steal at $12 a bottle. It’s not going to blow any minds, but at that price, it’s a great deal.
Lastly, I’ve got two wines from the biodynamically-farmed boutique winery Troon Vineyards in Oregon’s Applegate Valley. The newly released Cuvee Pyrénées, a blend of Tannat and Malbec, is almost shockingly savory, reminding me of the deeply earthy and herbal qualities of Cahors. The 2018 Tannat is slightly more generous in its fruit, and wonderfully mineral-driven, suggesting a long life ahead of it.
Notes on all these and more below.
2019 Keller Estate “Oro de Plata” Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and pink grapefruit. In the mouth, bright lemony and grapefruit flavors mix with a touch of cream and a faint grassiness. Nicely silky, despite the fact that malolactic was avoided in this wine. Good acidity and length. Fermented in stainless and aged in neutral oak. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Iron Horse “Tin Pony” Chardonnay, Green Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells a little of struck-match (which blows off over time) and butterscotch and grapefruit. In the mouth, lemon juice, pink grapefruit, butterscotch, and a touch of toasted brioche combine with a hint of salinity and excellent acidity. 13.8% alcohol. Packaged in 250ml cans and sold in sets of four. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48 per four pack – sold out.
2018 Flowers Vineyards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, silky notes of cherry and raspberry are shot through with cedar and citrus peel. Faint notes of oak linger in the finish along with the faintest of tannins. Excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2016 Yamhill Valley Vineyards “Tall Poppy” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and raspberries. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of raspberry and redcurrant have a wonderful lift and brightness thanks to excellent acidity. The faintest wisp of tannins lingers in the finish along with notes of dried herbs and pine duff. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2016 Yamhill Valley Vineyards “Estate Reserve” Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and raspberries shot through with a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry fruit flavors mix with green herbs and a hint of peeled willow bark. A touch of toasty oak lingers in the finish with a hint of astringency. Good acidity. 14.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Keller Estate “El Coro” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and cranberry fruit have a nice lift thanks to excellent acidity and a faint herbal backdrop as barely perceptible tannins dust the edges of the mouth. A touch of citrus peel lingers in the finish. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $67. click to buy.
2018 Troon Vineyard “Cuvée Pyrénées – White Family Selection” Red Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of freshly turned potting soil, molasses, leather and a touch of blackberries. In the mouth, leathery tannins wrap around a decidedly savory core of dark black fruits that are less present than the herbal, earthy notes of camphor wood, sage, and freshly dug earth. Good acidity. Tasted blind I could imagine confidently pegging this as a wine from the Cahors region of France. 14.3% alcohol. A blend of 70% Tannat and 30% Malbec. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2018 Troon Vineyard “White Family Selection” Tannat, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry. In the mouth, dark and juicy flavors of blackberry and boysenberry mix with a wet chalkboard or wet pavement minerality that is quite stark. Gorgeous acidity makes the wine quite refreshing, and fine-grained tannins flex in the background. Everything suggests this wine will age beautifully. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2017 Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of a bit of struck match layered over cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, slightly leathery tannins surround flavors of black cherry and cassis with a touch of meaty, black olive savoriness. Notes of dusty earth linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2017 Keller Estate “Rotie” Syrah, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie. In the mouth, blackberry and black cherry flavors have a nice briskness to them thanks to excellent acidity. The fine-grained tannins are muscular and supple, if a bit tight. There’s a lift to the dark fruit that presumably comes from the co-fermented Viognier, but this is nevertheless a slightly brooding wine. It will likely improve in the bottle for several years. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.