Hello and 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.
As a wine lover, I occasionally have the experience of opening a bottle of wine and having a glass and thinking to myself, “Jeez, I really don’t drink enough of <insert a certain kind of wine here>.” That’s certainly the reaction I had after my first mouthful of the lovely Chateau Hostens-Picant white wine from the Côtes de Bordeaux. The dry white wines of Bordeaux are often overlooked in favor of their much more famous red (and sweet white) brethren, but these blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon can be quite tasty. For me, the key is to get a wine that hasn’t seen too much new oak, a flavor that can overwhelm the delicate floral, fruit, and mineral tones that these wines show when they’re at their best. If you, like me, haven’t had a good Bordeaux Blanc in a while, you might want to give this one a try.
California Chardonnay has been going through a transition of late, as the pendulum swings away from the extreme ripeness and “tropicality” of the early 2000s back towards wines that display a freshness in favor of so much opulence. The example from Far Niente is an excellent example of a wine that, a decade ago, leaned a bit ripe for my taste, but now has a wonderful verve and snap even while it continues to express the full-sun ripeness of California.
I’ve got several sets of Pinot Noir this week, the first from the Duckhorn Brands label called Migration, which sources fruit from various top sites around California. Of the two on offer this week, I prefer the Dutton Ranch bottling, which has a really nice purity of cherry fruit to it.
The second set of Pinots is from renowned producer Williams Selyem. Their Sonoma County bottling is juicy and bright and everything you’d want from a Sonoma Pinot, but it’s hard to compete with the Westside Road Neighbors bottling, which is perennially one of my favorite expressions of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both are young and drinkable now but will age into fuller expressions of their potential. I’ve also got a Zinfandel from Williams Selyem that ain’t too shabby either.
The third set comes from Dutton-Goldfield, a producer whose wines frequently end up here in the Unboxed reviews. Of the two wines I tasted this week, the Van Der Kamp bottling was my favorite, showing the brisk, bright fruit that this vineyard has become known for.
Before leaving Pinot Noir territory, I want to especially note a spectacular bottle of the stuff from Fromm Winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Deeply alluring, with an incredibly floral aspect, the “Cuvée H” bottling is an assemblage made from various cuts of single-vineyard wines that the estate makes. But this wine could easily be mistaken for a top cuvée at most wineries. At $35 it’s an unbelievable steal, as very few Pinot Noirs at that price point offer so much distinctive quality and aromatic expressiveness.
Now, moving on to Cabernet-based wines, I’ve got a final set of wines from Knights Bridge Estate, whose single-vineyard bottlings I’ve reviewed in recent weeks. These wines are a bit less expensive than those and offer nice expressions of dark fruit from Knights Valley, a part of Sonoma County that gets little attention.
Speaking of slightly less expensive, I got my first taste of Post & Beam this week, a new label in the Far Niente family of wines. Designed to be a slightly more accessible wine, it displays the polish of its much more expensive relatives, but at an attractive sub-$50 price tag that has become increasingly rare in Napa.
Last, but certainly not least, I’m excited to point you towards a phenomenal value from Italy. The Cabernet-based blend “Lagoon” from Tuscan producer Aia Vecchia. Located in the Bolgheri region, which is home to some of Italy’s most famous reds, like Sassicaia and Ornellaia, Aia Vecchia has made an incredibly approachable and tasty red blend that is shocking in its level of quality for a sub-$20 price tag. This might be your next “house red” especially if you find yourself frequently grilling up some steaks.
Notes on all these wines below.
2018 Chateau Hostens-Picant “Cuvee des Demoiselles Sec” White Blend, Côtes de Bordeaux, France
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of golden apples, green apples, and papaya. In the mouth, star fruit, green apple, and candied grapefruit mix with a touch of orange blossom. Juicy bright and wonderfully crisp. A hint of woody bitterness lingers in the finish. A blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, and 5% Muscadelle. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Far Niente Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and lemon pith. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and white flowers mix with pineapple and melted butter. Juicy and bright, this wine has a lovely balance between the riper more buttery notes of California Chardonnay and the leaner more high-acid version of the grape. The oak here is more textural than flavor, though there is a hint of vanilla and toast through the finish. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2018 Migration “Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit flavors have a silky texture and wonderful juiciness thanks to excellent acidity, plus a hint of chopped herbs. Notes of orange peel and cedar linger in the finish. Very pretty. 14.5% alcohol. 201 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2018 Migration “Drum Canyon Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earth and raspberry fruit touched with dried flowers. In the mouth, raspberry and floral notes mix with an almost creamy quality that marries fruit and a more savory, saline flavor profile. 14.1% alcohol. 211 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70.
2019 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and cedar, and raspberry flavors are wrapped in a felt blanket of tannins that is soft and pliable but offers some lovely texture to the juicy fruit. Excellent acidity and length. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 Williams Selyem “Westside Road Neighbors” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of lavender, raspberries, and dried flowers. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of raspberry, dried herbs, forest floor, and redcurrant have a zingy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery tannins gain a faint firmness as the wine finishes long with hints of citrus and flowers. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $110. click to buy.
2018 Fromm Winery “Cuvee H” Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of an intensely sweet floral scent that I can’t quite put my finger on as well as raspberry and cherry aromas. In the mouth, very pretty cherry and raspberry flavors are bright with juicy acidity. Hints of cedar and dried herbs creep into the finish along with a hint of citrus pith. Distinctive and very pretty. A blend of wines from the estate’s various single-vineyard bottlings. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2018 Dutton-Goldfield “Van Der Kamp Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Mountain, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright cranberry and cherry flavors have a wonderful briskness thanks to excellent acidity and a lovely stony earthy note that rumbles along under the bright fruit and soaring dried floral notes that linger into the finish. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??
2018 Dutton-Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and raspberry fruit layered over an earthy backdrop. In the mouth, wet earth, raspberry, cherry, and oak flavors swirl together, but the oak is definitely the dominant flavor as the wine heads towards the finish. Just a bit too much wood for me here. I’m also surprised that the acidity isn’t brighter. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $68. click to buy.
2019 Williams Selyem “Fanuccchi-Wood Road Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of sweet, freshly baked blackberry pie. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and blueberry flavors are shot through with a spice of black and pink peppercorns mixed with dried flowers and a faint salty kick in the finish. 15.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $95. click to buy.
2018 Post & Beam Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, bright black cherry flavors mix with a touch of cola nut and black currant. Fine-grained, velvety tannins buff the edges of the palate. Excellent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2017 Knights Bridge “KB Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, graphite and earth. In the mouth, black cherry, tobacco, espresso and dried herb flavors are brawny and powerful, propped up by muscular tannins. Notes of licorice and espresso linger in the finish. Good acidity and length. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2017 Knights Bridge “KB Estate” Red Blend, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of raisins, chocolate, and black cherries. In the mouth, chocolate, cherries, and hints of tobacco have a plush richness, and not quite enough acidity to stay vibrant in the mouth. Round and soft, with good flavors, though. Soft, billowy tannins. A blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2017 Knights Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, bright black cherry and cassis flavors are shot through with leather and tobacco. Faint leathery tannins wrap around the core of fruit. Very good acidity keeps the wine fresh. 14.5% alcohol. 272 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2018 Aia Vecchia “Lagone” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco, earth, and a touch of oiled leather. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, graphite, leather, and cedar are beautifully fresh thanks to excellent acidity. Faint muscular tannins nudge the edges of the palate as the herbal-tinged cherry fruit heads for a long finish. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. An outstanding value. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.