Vinography Unboxed: Week of 2/28/21

Welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. 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.

Maybe because it’s Spring. Maybe because I need a little electricity in my life these days. Maybe because it kicks ass? I’ve been having some truly excellent Chenin Blanc experiences lately, both of my own choosing as well as thanks to spring sample shipments. This week I received two recent Chenin releases from Lang & Reed, the Loire-inspired producer in Napa that’s been making Cabernet Franc for longer than most in the valley. Six or eight years ago proprietors John and Tracy Skupny added Chenin to their portfolio, and they’ve been getting better and better. These two new bottlings are great, but the Mendocino County wine is positively fantastic. Run, don’t walk, to get thyself a bottle of electric pink grapefruit and quince goodness.

One of the chiefest virtues of any wine lover is a sense of curiosity. The wine world is so wide and varied, life is too short to just keep drinking the same grapes over and over again. That’s why I’m always thrilled to taste one I haven’t before. This week I got to taste Voskehat, an indigenous Armenian grape variety, courtesy Zulal wines, a brand developed by the WineWorks enological consulting firm in Armenia. Zulal means “pure” in Armenian, and Voskehat is a pure delight. Their renditions of the much more familiar (to me) Areni Noir grape are also worth checking out.

Speaking of mountainous wines, other than the few I regularly buy myself, I don’t get to taste a lot of wines from the spectacular Valtellina region of Italy, so I was quite pleased to get a couple from producer Tenuta Scerscé this week. Both are worth seeking out for their high-acid, savory, berry qualities.

And while we’re in Europe, let’s not overlook the phenomenal value of the Adega de Borba Reserva, a blend of local Portuguese grape varieties that hits all the right notes of savory, fruity, rich, but still with wonderful freshness. At $20 in some locations, it’s a steal. While it might be tricky to find, it’s not hard to spot, sporting a label made out of natural cork.

Closer to home we can close out this week’s tasting with three wines from Paso Robles. The first is a surprisingly light-colored Cunoise, Mourvedre, and Grenache blend from Kukula winery, which has a very pretty lift and brightness that belies its rather substantial alcohol level. The other two wines are from Dinner Vineyards. Of the two, I prefer the Cabernet-dominant blend, which has a bit more balance, but also a bit more wood. The neutral-oak aged Syrah has great flavors but doesn’t quite have the zip I wanted it to have.

Notes on all these wines below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Lang & Reed Wine Company Chenin Blanc, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and membrillo. In the mouth, wonderfully bright and crisp flavors of quince, pear, and yellow herbs have a fantastic citrus pith and pink grapefruit zing, thanks to excellent acidity. Delicious and completely mouthwatering. 13% alcohol. 269 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Lang & Reed Wine Company Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County, California
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of crème anglaise, poached pear, and pink grapefruit. In the mouth, gorgeous grapefruit and pear flavors are positively mouthwatering as they gush with acidity. Faint aromatic sweetness suffuses the wine as a membrillo note lingers in the finish. This is a pitch-perfect rendition of Chenin and perhaps my favorite that this venerable producer has ever made. Comes from 40-year-old vines in the Talmage Bench area of Mendocino County. Outstanding. 13% alcohol. 261 cases produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Zulal Voskehat, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of Fuji apples, white flowers, and a touch of citrus pith. In the mouth, crisp and bright apple and pear flavors have a lovely floral overtone, as crisp acidity makes the mouth water. There’s a faint wet chalkboard minerality vibrating underneath it all. Quite pretty. Voskehat is an indigenous Armenian grape variety. This is my first taste of it, but I count myself as a fan already. Reminds me of Vernaccia. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Zulal Areni Noir, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest berries and dried flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully bright boysenberry and mulberry flavors have a beautiful dried herb backdrop and lovely faint tannins that gently add structure to the rather boisterous wine. Quite tasty, with fantastic acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30.

2018 Zulal “Reserve” Areni Noir, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and cherries, and cranberry. In the mouth, bright cherry, cedar, cranberry, and a darker brown-sugar flavor are all lively and bright thanks to excellent acidity. Faint tannins linger with a hint of candied fennel seeds in the finish. The wood is very well integrated here, and offers some nice structure and texture along with the bright fruit flavors. Aged in Caucasian (yes, from the Caucasus region that is modern-day Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan) and French oak for 18 months. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Tenuta Scerscé “Nettare” Rosso di Valtellina, Lombardy, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, almost rosé-like in hue, this wine smells of vegemite and dried roses, with a hint of asphalt. In the mouth, wonderfully taut, powdery tannins wrap around a core of strawberry and dried flowers, herbs and a bit of citrus peel. Excellent acidity. 100% Nebbiolo aged in concrete. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33. click to buy.

2016 Tenuta Scerscé “Infinito” Sforzato di Valtellina, Lombardy, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of potting soil and dried flower petals. In the mouth, intense strawberry and sour cherry flavors mix with cedar and burnt orange peel. Fantastic acidity and faint, tacky tannins round out a very pretty, yet powerful wine. Alpine Nebbiolo in all its elegance. Made with grapes dried for two months prior to fermentation. Aged in large format oak barrels. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $64. click to buy.

2015 Adega de Borba “Riserva” Red Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Medium garnet in the glass, headed towards ruby, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully stony flavors of blackberry, black cherry and a hint of cedar mix with notes of forest floor and dried herbs. Lovely, balanced, and very juicy thanks to excellent acidity. A blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Aragonez (Tempranillo), and 20% Castelão. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2017 Kukula “Aatto” Red Blend, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberries and cola. In the mouth, juicy strawberry, rhubarb, and some green herbs have a nice zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a muscular, powdery web of tannins that gains firmness as the wine finishes with very little trace of its 15.4% alcohol. A very pretty blend of 45% Cunoise, 35% Mourvedre, and 20% Grenache. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Denner Vineyards “Dirt Worshipper” Syrah, Central Coast, California
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of meaty black olive, black cherry, and blackberry pie. In the mouth, rich blackberry and blueberry flavors fall somewhat flat on the palate, needing more acidity to keep them fresh. A thick “weighted blanket” of tannins descends on the palate and lingers with blueberry notes and a faint bitterness in the finish. Good flavors but I think perhaps just a touch too ripe for my taste. Includes 1% each of Viognier and Roussanne fermented with 45% whole cluster. Aged for 21 months in 15% new French oak, 7% new Hungarian oak, and 78% neutral oak barrels. 14.8% alcohol. 1294 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2018 Denner Vineyards “Mother of Exiles” Red Blend, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, plush flavors of black cherry and blackberry are nestled into a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps the wine bright and juicy, though that’s not enough to keep this from feeling a little thick in the mouth. Nonetheless, the oak is well-integrated and the overall package fairly seductive. Lovers of big, dark wines will enjoy this immensely. A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Aged 23 months in 75% new French oak. 14.4% alcohol. 1210 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.