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.
This week included a pretty young Pinot Blanc from Oregon and a fairly powerful Chardonnay from South Africa. Also from Oregon, I’ve got the latest rosé from Troon Vineyards.
A big chunk of the wines this week come from the Sardinian producer Surrau, a relatively new producer in Sardinia, located in the Gallura region, famous for its Vermentino. The grape makes up roughly 70% of the winery’s production across its roughly 140 acres of vineyards, most of which are planted on the decomposed granite that characterizes this region of Sardinia. I’ve got two examples of their Vermentino this week, both of which are excellent. The “Limizzani” is a fresh, early-drinking version of the grape, while the “Sciala” is a slightly richer, slightly more serious interpretation from older vines in sandier soils. But don’t let the word “serious” throw you here, these are both electrically bright wines with mouthwatering freshness.
Surrau also sent along a couple of their reds as well, their Cannonau (better known as Grenache in this part of the world) and their proprietary red wine simply called Surrau, which is a blend of Cannonau and other indigenous red varieties such as Muristellu, Carricagjiola, as well as Carignan. The Rosso Surrau, in particular, is quite distinctive and suggests the potential for excellent development over time.
Moving a bit closer to home, I’ve got a couple recent releases from Ashes and Diamonds, a popular new(ish) property in Napa Valley owned by Kashy Khaledi, a media executive and son of Darioush Khaledi who founded Darioush winery in Napa. The younger Khaledi’s arrival in Napa after a career in advertising and multimedia has produced one of the hippest new destinations in Napa, and an intriguing collaboration with two different winemakers, Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses. The wines produced by these two superstars break the mold of traditional Napa wines, with lower alcohol and leaner, more herbal flavors. This week I tried their Grand Vin, which is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and their Cabernet Franc, both of which were stony and herbal and taut in their expressions of fruit.
The Zinfandel from Dutton-Goldfield might well be just the opposite of that description, with lush blackberry and blueberry fruit that all but gushes out of the glass.
Lastly, I’ve got a couple of the newest releases from Francis Ford-Coppola’s Inglenook Estate. Their Bordeaux-style blend named Rubicon has been produced at the estate since 1978 and in recent years has been crafted in the historic style of the estate, with more restrained alcohol and higher acidity, a change that I think has been to its benefit. There’s definitely some wood influence that shows through in this wine and in its sibling, the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s pretty well integrated into both wines. That said, I think both will reward 5-10 years of cellaring.
Notes on all these and more below.
2018 Yamhill Valley Vineyards Pinot Blanc, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of unripe apple, lemon cucumber, and lemon zest. In the mouth, bright green apple, Fuji apple, and grapefruit flavors have a nice briskness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of green bean or bell pepper in this wine as well giving it a faintly bitter finish. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2017 Capensis “Silene” Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of buttered popcorn, pineapple, and lemon curd. In the mouth, bright lemon curd flavors mix with pineapple and cold cream, with pretty white floral notes lingering with a faint woody flavor through the finish. Excellent acidity keeps the mouth watering as the wine lingers for a long time. Intense and ripe, but with enough brightness to balance its fruit. This is a new bottling for the Capensis label, consisting of fruit sourced from two mountain vineyards – the estate Fijnbosch vineyard and the neighboring Nooitgedacht vineyard, ranging in elevation from 940-1730 feet above sea level. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2020 Troon Vineyard “Kubli Bench” Rosé, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Palest peachy pink in color, to the point of almost looking like a white wine, this wine smells of watermelon rind and rosehips. In the mouth, bright rosehip, wet chalkboard, and dried herb flavors have a lean, savory quality backed by intensely juicy acidity. Notes of citrus peel linger in the finish along with dried herbs. Perhaps slightly more austere than I’d like my rosé to be, but definitely tasty. A blend of 60% Primitivo and 40% Tinta Roriz. 11.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2020 Surrau “Limizzani” Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia, Italy
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of fresh ripe golden apples and lemon blossom with a hint of apricot. In the mouth, snappy Meyer lemon and pink grapefruit flavors are electric with fantastic acidity. Hints of yellow herbs linger through the lemony finish. Mouthwatering and delicious with a hint of salinity. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (plastic) cork. Score: around 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2020 Surrau “Sciala” Vermentino, Vermentino di Gallura Superiore, Sardinia, Italy
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and white peaches. In the mouth, lemon and peach flavors have a wonderful balance between rich ripeness (and the silky texture that goes along with it) and a brisk lemony zippiness thanks to excellent acidity. Flavors of peach, lemon, and lemon cucumber lean a bit herbal as the wine finishes, with hints of citrus zest. Quite pretty. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2019 Surrau “Naracu” Cannonau, Sardinia, Italy
Medium ruby in color with just a hint of garnet, this wine smells of strawberry and chopped herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully herbal notes of strawberry, cherry, and dried herbs have a faint powdery tannin that hangs at the back of the mouth. Excellent acidity. The wine overall has a slightly stony austere quality. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2019 Surrau “Rosso Surrau” Red Blend, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and boysenberry jam. In the mouth, fresh and bright strawberry and boysenberry flavors have a deeply stony aspect to them. Shot through with dried herbs (especially sage) this wine has a wonderful dusty note that lingers with the sage and faint tannins through the finish. Fantastic acidity. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2016 Ashes and Diamonds “Grand Vin No. 3” Red Blend, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet black plum and black cherry. In the mouth, black plum and black cherry fruit are backed by a deep earthy savoriness that incorporates dried sage and dusty roads. There’s a dried floral note that floats around on top of the earthy core, as faint tannins brush the edges of the mouth. This wine gives the impression of waiting to unfurl, like a flower blossom packed tightly before bloom. I’d love to revisit this in 5-10 years. A “proprietary” blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc made by Diana Snowdon Seysses from 30-year-old vines. Fermented whole cluster with native yeasts, and aged in 30% new French oak. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2017 Ashes and Diamonds “Number 4” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of plum, black cherry, and green herbs. In the mouth, green herbs and green bell pepper flavors lend a decidedly savory quality to the plum and cherry fruit. There’s even a faint salinity to this wine, that lingers with herbal flavors and the faintest whisper of tannins through the finish. Definitely not for your average “big bold” Napa wine drinker. A blend of fruit from several different vineyards in the southern part of Napa Valley. Fermented in steel and aged in 30% new French oak barrels for 19 months before bottling. Made by Steve Matthiasson. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Dutton Ranch – Morelli Lane Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet licorice and blackberry pie. In the mouth, blackberry bramble and blueberries mix with a touch of black pepper and licorice. Boisterous to the point of being slightly flamboyant, this is a riotous berry party in the glass, with a touch of heat in the finish. Excellent acidity keeps things moving along, and faint tannins add some texture but don’t get in the way. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2018 Inglenook “Rubicon” Red Wine, Rutherford, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cocoa powder, sweet oak, and red fruit. In the mouth, nutty plum and cherry flavors mix with cola and cocoa powder as well as the faint toastiness of oak. Hints of cedar sawdust and licorice root linger in the finish. Bright acidity keeps the wine fresh. 14.3% alcohol. In a heavier bottle than it needs to be, weighing 1.58 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $145. click to buy.
2018 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black plums, mulling spices, and cedar. In the mouth, beautifully supple tannins wrap around a core of cherry, cedar, and cocoa powder tinged with floral and herbal notes that linger with a faint bitterness in the finish. Quite pretty and refined, with excellent acidity. Delicious now but wait 5 years and watch out. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.