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 week was all red wines, starting with some local Pinot Noir and ending with some superstar Sonoma Cabernets.
I will admit my organization of the samples I’ve received in my cellar is not particularly scientific. In fact, at times it can hardly even be described as methodical. And occasionally embarrassing things happen. Like when I’ve received two vintages of some wines from a producer, and don’t realize it. Ordinarily, I’d prefer to review them together, but sometimes they get separated in the pile.
So today you’re getting reviews of some 2017 Pinots from Dutton-Goldfield winery, after I reviewed the 2018 vintage of several of these wines a couple of weeks ago. Both vintages are on the market, so at least these reviews aren’t worthless.
Of the four Pinots from Dutton-Goldfield, I think my favorite this week was the Azaya Ranch Pinot, from the chilly Petaluma Gap AVA. Located in the hills of Marin County, about halfway between Tomales Bay on the west and Highway 101 on the east, this south and west-facing hillside vineyard is protected from the chilliest winds from the coast, making for excellent conditions for cool-climate Pinot Noir. I really enjoy this site’s freshness of fruit, and anyone who appreciates acidity in their wine will love it.
I’ve also got one more wine from Kingston Family Vineyards, several of whose wines I reviewed last week. This “Alazan” Pinot Noir has a lovely balance between herbs and fruit and a unique darker berry character that I really enjoyed.
This week I also tasted two wines from a producer that flies a bit below the radar when it comes to Napa estates. For five generations the Battuello family has been farming 83 acres in the heart of St. Helena, but most people drive right by Battuello Vineyards because they’re tucked down at the end of Ehler’s Lane and there isn’t a big fancy winery to visit.
Like many families that have been farming in Napa for generations, the Battuello family began with nut and fruit orchards and eventually converted to grapes. They remain one of the few producers in Napa who still grows what for decades was locally known as Napa Gamay, but is more correctly known as the Portuguese grape variety Valdigue. Their rendition is on the rich side, but it retains the bright berry freshness and acidity that marks this underrated grape variety. Speaking of dark and rich, their Petit Verdot will fit the bill nicely for anyone looking for a dark red from Napa that is just a bit off the beaten path.
Lastly and certainly not least, for they are among my favorite wines made in California, I’m happy to present my notes on the 2015 vintage from Vérité, which I consider to be the crown jewel of the Jackson Family Estates. Sonoma’s answer to Opus One, Vérité represents a collaboration between Jess Jackson, founder of Jackson Family Wines, and Pierre Seillan, a winegrower and winemaker who spent two decades in Bordeaux before accepting the offer to start a new project in California with Jackson.
Seillan was given carte blanche to make the best wine he could from Sonoma County, which resulted in a selection of vineyard parcels in Chalk Hill, Bennett Valley, Knights Valley, and Alexander Valley, and a meticulous approach to vinification that Seillan (and his daughter, who has grown up to become his assistant winemaker) call “micro-cru” winemaking. The father-daughter team separately vinify and barrel more than 50 individual blocks that are then later assembled into the three iconic wines that the estate has produced since it began in 1998 (actually, the estate began with La Muse and La Joie, and two years later, began to produce Le Desir).
La Muse is a merlot-based blend, La Joie features Cabernet Sauvignon, and Le Desir is always centered on Cabernet Franc.
And what wines they each are. Rivaling (and in my book, often exceeding in finesse) anything that comes out of Napa, these are among the most profound Bordeaux-style wines made in California every year. The 2015 vintage is settling into a beautiful, relaxed elegance in the bottle, and all three of the wines are fantastic, as usual. However, the “La Muse” had just a little extra something to it that thrilled me.
Of course, like most of California’s luxury wines, these bottles are priced out of most wine buyers’ reach, but if you are in the habit of paying several hundred dollars per bottle, I would venture to say there are few better bets in Californian wine.
2019 Kingston Family Vineyards “Alazan” Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, raspberries, and chopped green herbs. In the mouth, brilliantly juicy flavors of raspberry and boysenberry are backed by green herbs and a touch of dusty tannin. Fantastic acidity and great length. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2017 Dutton-Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cedar, and a hint of oak. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry flavors are shot through with the sweet vanilla of new oak. Excellent acidity and length, with barely perceptible tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Redwood Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit is shot through with cedar and dried herbs. Faint but muscular tannins grip the edges of the palate. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Azaya Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth cranberry and raspberry notes mix with dried herbs and a touch of forest floor. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh as notes of green herbs linger in the finish along with citrus-peel brightness. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2017 Dutton-Goldfield “Freestone Hill Vineyard – Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, bright cherry and cranberry flavors have a hint of citrus peel and dried herbs to them. Excellent acidity and only the barest hint of tannins as the wine lingers for a long time on the palate. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.
2018 Battuello Vineyards Valdigue, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and black cherry. In the mouth, rich boysenberry and cherry flavors have a nice freshness thanks to excellent acidity, while notes of cola and flowers linger in the finish. Quite delicious. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45.
2018 Battuello Vineyards Petit Verdot, St. Helena, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry, blackberry and cassis flavors are bright with juicy acidity even as they sit with some weight on the palate. Toasty notes of oak float on top of the dark fruit, and powdery tannins fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. A touch of cola lingers in the finish. Brawny, but not overpowering in its richness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70.
2015 Vérité “La Joie” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, lush, velvety flavors of cherry, green herbs and dark plums are smooth and supple as they move across the palate. Excellent acidity, powdery faint tannins and impeccable balance. This is a poised, regal wine with confidence and grace. Herbal notes linger in the finish with a touch of licorice. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5 . Cost: $350. click to buy.
2015 Vérité “La Muse” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and chocolate. In the mouth, rich cherry cola and cocoa powder flavors are gorgeously juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Cola nut and floral flavors mix with mouthwatering cherry fruit as gauzy tannins coat the mouth. Fantastically balanced and delicious. Impeccable in every way. Effortless to drink, impossible not to love. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $350. click to buy.
2015 Vérité “Le Desir” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, licorice, and earth. In the mouth, fleecy tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and cocoa powder that has a faint herbal bitterness to it. Excellent acidity and lovely sawdusty depths make for complex and delicious wine. Beautifully balanced and graceful to the last drop. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $350. click to buy.