Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/7/21

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.

Let’s start with a pleasant oddity. Few people have successfully made good Grüner Veltliner in California. I think it has something to do with people thinking they can grow it and treat it like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. But that has predictably disastrous results. This little number named Stasis, on the other hand, was clearly managed with a deft touch. I don’t know that I’d mistake it for a Wachau wine, but it’s quite tasty and definitely varietally correct.

I’ve written about Kingston Family Vineyards here on Vinography before, and have been tasting their wines since their earliest vintages. That is why I can say with confidence their latest Chardonnay is a knockout, and their best to date. Weighing in at a crisp 12% alcohol, it is bursting with flavor and electric with acidity. Pour this for friends and watch them mistake it for Burgundy.

I also got a bottle of Chalone Chardonnay recently. Chalone is one of California’s strangest, most unique growing sites, and has a history of making compelling wines. Its heavily volcanic and heavily limestone rich soils (two things that generally DO NOT go together, geologically speaking) yield distinctive wines, as this Chardonnay demonstrates.

I had a beautifully aged Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc recently with a friend, and then this week I opened the 2014 Apex 39 from Alder Springs Vineyard, and was floored at how similar this white blend from the northern reaches of Mendocino County managed to be at the hands of winemaker Byron Kosuge. Rich but not weighty, this is a serious, contemplative wine. A bit later, I’ve also got notes on an utterly delicious Grenache and Cunoise blend from the same vineyard.

Last week I tasted some of the reds and whites from Zulal winery in Armenia, but I saved the rosé for this week. It was worth the wait, offering quite a distinctive berry and melon quality with crisp acidity. If you’re a rosé fan and looking for something a little off the beaten path, this is certainly your answer.

Before we have a little Cabernet Franc love fest, let’s take a brief detour into the stony berry brightness of Lombardy’s alpine valley of Valtellina. Nebbiolo grown on a mountainside yields wonderfully light, fresh, stony fruit that is both refreshing and profound. If you haven’t had this version of Nebbiolo you owe it to yourself to try.

Lang & Reed Winery, whose Chenin Blancs I reviewed last week, was started to showcase the pleasures of Cabernet Franc, and that’s what vintners John and Tracy Skupny has been doing for decades. The winery is now transitioning to the next generation of Skupnys even as they continue to refine its Loire-inspired approach. In addition to the entry-level North Coast Cabernet Franc, and the older-vine, single clone Two Fourteen bottling, I received a special library release this week. The Franc de Pied bottling is a tiny bit of wine (576 bottles) representing the very last fruit from some own-rooted vines in Lake County that were torn out while this wine was still finishing malolactic conversion. It’s a tour-de-force of complexity and a wonderful tribute to the memory of a vineyard that is no more. It’s not cheap, but it’s clearly going to age well for many more years.

All these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Stasis “Bee Sweet Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner, Edna Valley, Central Coast, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of pears and dried chamomile. In the mouth, pear, lemon juice and a touch of lemongrass have a bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. A faint woody bitterness lingers pleasantly in the finish. A pretty competent rendition of the variety for California. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $37.

2019 Kingston Family Vineyards “Sabino” Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, lemon pith, and grapefruit zest. In the mouth, wonderfully bright lemon and grapefruit flavors are positively bursting with acidity. Lean, zippy, and gorgeous, with a hint of bergamot and wonderfully stony minerality. Notes of lemon zest and lemon pith linger in the finish. Definitely, the best bottle of Chardonnay this estate has produced. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Chalone Vineyard Chardonnay, Chalone, Central Coast, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and lemon zest. In the mouth, lemon curd, buttered popcorn, and a touch of pineapple mix in a silky textured package kept bright by good acidity. Well balanced between richness and leaner qualities. 14.1% alcohol. 2000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2014 Alder Springs Vineyard “Apex 39” White Blend, Mendocino County, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of apples and white flowers. In the mouth, beautifully lean flavors of apples, pears, white flowers, and a touch of peaches have a faint tannic grip to them as they linger with hints of herbs and green olives in the finish. Wonderfully balanced between savory and fruit flavors at this point in its evolution. Excellent. A blend of 31% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, 21% Picpoul Blanc, and 18% Viognier all grown at 2700 feet of elevation. 13.8% alcohol. 340 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $39.

2018 Zulal Rose of Areni Noir, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
A pale, peachy pink in the glass, this wine smells of red currants and citrus peel. In the mouth, crabapples and red currants mix with a touch of canteloupe melon as bright acidity lingers in the finish with citrus peel brightness. Tasty and distinctive. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2016 Tenuta Scerscé “Essenza” Valtellina Superiore, Lombardy, Italy
Light ruby in the glass—the color of some people’s rosé—this wine smells of potpourri and dried red fruits. In the mouth, wonderfully fresh flavors of strawberry, dusty earth, and dried flowers have a charming briskness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint tannins dust the corners of the mouth and linger with hints of earth in the finish. Lovely. Nebbiolo fruit from 30-50 year-old vines is fermented in steel and then aged in old oak casks for 24 months. 12.5% alcohol. 833 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Lang & Reed Wine Company Cabernet Franc, North Coast, California
A bright medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plum and green herbs and chopped nuts. In the mouth, plum and black cherry flavors are shot through with herbs and a touch of spicy earth. Fairly muscular tannins wrap around the core of fruit and herbs that is wonderfully balanced between savory and fruity. Hints of dried oregano and other herbs linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. 960 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.

2016 Lang & Reed Wine Company “Two Fourteen” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and black cherry and a hint of woodsmoke. In the mouth, rich dark cherry and black plum flavors have a deeply earthy aspect and a licorice root savoriness that is quite compelling. Powdery, muscular tannins wrap around the core of the wine while excellent acidity keeps things fresh, and leaves a hint of green herbs in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. 240 cases produced. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2010 Lang & Reed Wine Company “Franc de Pied” Cabernet Franc, Lake County, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of leather and forest floor, plum, and dried flowers. in the mouth, plum and dried floral flavors are grasped in a thick fist of tannins that gradually put the squeeze on the palate. Gorgeous notes of licorice and violets linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and the muscle of the tannins suggest this wine has at least another decade ahead of itself. Made from own-rooted Cabernet Franc planted in the 1970s. This was the final vintage from these vines before it was replanted. 14.5% alcohol. 576 bottles produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2013 Alder Springs Vineyard “Kinesis” Red Blend, Mendocino County, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam and dried flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully bright strawberry and cranberry fruit has a juicy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. faint tannins buff the edges of the mouth as notes of flowers and licorice root linger in the finish. Fresh, bright, savory, and delicious, even after 7 years in the bottle. Wow. A blend of 49% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre and 32% Cunoise grown at 1800 feet to 2500 feet of elevation. 14.1% alcohol. 375 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2016 Amor Fati “Murmur Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black olives and dark fruits. In the mouth, faintly saline flavors of green and Nicoise olives, blackberries, and licorice are dusted with powdery tannins. Decent acidity. I like the savory components of this wine, but wish it had a bit more vibrancy. Drink soonish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.