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’s selection of wines is as excellent as it is eclectic. I’m pretty excited to share some of these wines with you.
Let’s start off with a bang: an absolutely fabulous Chardonnay from Walter Scott Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I reviewed a couple of their wines last week, but none have been as thrilling as this Chardonnay which recalls many of the swoon-worthy qualities of white Burgundy. But at $40, it’s half the price of the entry-level for most Premier Cru bottlings. Walter Scott’s “Sojeau Vineyard” Pinot also shows up farther down in the list today, and it’s an umami-driven bottle of pleasure as well.
I’ve got a few bottles from Two Shepherds Winery this week, two of which feature some extended skin contact. The first is their orange Grenache Blanc that they call “Centime” which macerates for 12 days on the skins and has a wonderful spicy pear and citrus quality. The second is their skin-fermented Pinot Gris which you’d be forgiven for confusing with a rosé, especially given its color. Five days on the skins makes this almost a ruby color, but it’s zippy and tangy and tasty no matter what color you think it is.
Before we leave Two Shepherds behind, a little farther down you’ll also find their carbonically-macerated Carignan, which is nothing so much as the equivalent of purple SweetTart, but wine. Tangy, mouthwatering goodness.
OK, now on to even more eclectic wines.
Ever heard of the grape Csókaszölö? Neither had I until I received a bottle of it in the mail this week. Csóka means “jackdaw” and “szölö” means grape in Hungarian, for whatever that’s worth. It happens to be an ancient Hungarian grape variety saved from extinction by József Szentesi, who was the first to bottle it in 2004. The Bussay Winery has about 1 acre planted, thanks to it being the favorite grape of founder Dr. Laszló Bussay. His daughter now runs the winery, but continues to make the wine. Most of the wine was aged in an old 1000 liter cask, with some extra in stainless.
On my first visit to Hungary, I quickly fell in love with the grape Kadarka, which makes a pale, low-alcohol, high-acidity red wine that’s akin to the very trendy Trousseau and Poulssard from the Jura region of France. It can’t take much in the way of oak or other manipulation without getting overwhelmed. But when treated delicately it can offer ethereal splendor, as this example from the Vida Winery demonstrates. Made from gnarly, 100-year-old vines, hence the name “Bonsai,” this wine was fermented and aged in steel and is totally delicious. At $21, it’s also a screaming bargain.
Closer to home, I’ve got a couple more wines from Halcón Vineyards, high in Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands. They’ve sourced some Pinot Noir from the excellent Oppenlander Vineyard that is quite delicious, but the real star this week is their Mourvèdre that grows in their chilly, high-elevation vineyard. Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey harvest this fruit at lower sugar levels to make a brisk expression of Mourvèdre that is crunchy with acidity, and wonderfully savory.
Last, but not least, I’ve got a fine bottle of Burgundy to recommend from Nicolas Potel’s Domaine de Bellene in the form of his old-vine Nuits-Saint-Georges. While not nearly as regal or finessed, you may also find intriguing a wine called Bellenos, which does something that was actually against the law at one point: mixing Burgundian Pinot Noir and Gamay from Beajolais. It’s a fun little wine, and not just because of its slightly sacrilegious nature.
Notes on all these and more below.
2019 Walter Scott “Cuvée Anne” Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of salty toasted hazelnuts, pine resin, and citrus peel. In the mouth, gorgeous, resinous flavors of lemon juice, lemon pith, and pink grapefruit have an electric salinity that makes the mouth water. Fantastic juiciness and silky texture. Made in a very Burgundian style, and incredibly delicious for it. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2017 Two Shepherds “Centime – Catie’s Corner” Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium amber in the glass, this wine smells of cinnamon-spiced baked apples and dried orange peel. In the mouth, tangy flavors of dried apple, orange peel, pear, and baking spices have a nice bright citrusy edge, thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint tannic texture that you’d expect from 12 days of macerating on the skins. 11.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2020 Two Shepherds “Skin Fermented – Clarbec Vineyard” Pinot Gris, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
A pale ruby with copper highlights, this wine smells of wet felt and candied orange peel. In the mouth, dried citrus peel, dried apple, and redcurrant flavors have a nice zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of dried sage and barley linger with citrus peel in the finish. Faint tannins scrape the edges of the mouth. Organically farmed Pinot Gris spends 5 days on the skins fermenting with native yeasts, and then another 5 months in a neutral barrel. Orange wine? Rosé? You be the judge. 12.2% alcohol. 550 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2017 Peter Vida “Bonsai” Kadarka, Szekszárd, Hungary
Light ruby with orange highlights in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers and redcurrant. In the mouth, dried herbs, orange peel, dried cherries, and strawberry flavors have a beautiful citrus brightness to them that lingers through a long finish. Notes of dried flowers and licorice root peek into the bright core of the wine. Faint, faint tannins hang like ghosts in the edge of the mouth. Made from 100-year-old Kadarka vines, fermented and aged in steel. A classic example of why this grape is so great. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2018 Bussay Csókaszölö, Zala, Hungary
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed nuts, dried flowers, and plums. In the mouth, tart plum and sour cherry flavors mix with roasted nuts and dried herbs. Orange peel notes accompany citrusy acidity and woody, sawdust, and earth flavors in the finish. Tasty and intriguing. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18.
2018 Halcón Vineyards “Oppenlander Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry with hints of dried flowers. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors mix with cedar and faintly muscular tannins as notes of orange peel and dried herbs linger in the finish. Bright acidity, and lovely texture. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2019 Walter Scott “Sojeau Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly meaty red berries, dried herbs, and a whiff of struck match. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant fruit is shot through with a salty, dashi savoriness as green herbs and wet pavement linger with citrus and redcurrant in the finish. Faint, powdery tannins have a slight grip to them. Mouthwatering and very delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2018 Domaine de Bellene “Vielles Vignes” Nuits-Saint-Georges, Burgundy, France
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of floral raspberries and black cherry. In the mouth, faint, fine-grained tannins flex their athletic muscles to grasp flavors of raspberry, raspberry leaf, and dried flower petals. Lovely acidity lends a faint citrus peel note to the wine, and a nice stony minerality comes through along with a hint of earth. Made from 68-year-old vines. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in 50% new French oak.13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $78. click to buy.
2018 Maison Roche de Bellene “Bellenos – Cuvee Terroir” Red Blend, Coteaux Bourguignons, Burgundy, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and raspberries and cedar shavings. In the mouth, grippy tannins wrap around a core of raspberry and boysenberry fruit. Hints of herbs and road dust mix with the fruit, lingering through the long finish. A (once) sacrilegious blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, blending the north and the south of the region. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2018 Halcón Vineyards Mourvedre, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of spices and mulberries and incense. In the mouth, cedar, herbs, and incense mix with raspberry and mulberry flavors in a gorgeously savory, but mouthwatering combination. Notes of citrus peel and grapefruit add zing to this intriguing spicy mouthful. This may be one of the coldest sites for Mourvedre in the state. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2020 Two Shepherds “Wiley Carbonic – Trimble Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County, California
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and bubblegum. In the mouth, chalky tannins fill the mouth and wrap around a core of boysenberry and sour cherry fruit that is SweetTart tangy and mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. If you turned a purple SweetTart into wine, you might get this one. Made from 75-year-old, head-trained, dry-farmed vines grown organically. As the name suggests, this was carbonically macerated, letting the fermentation begin within the whole berries. 11.8% alcohol. 175 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.
2018 Halcón Vineyards “Tierra – Theopolis Vineyards” Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of smoky blackberry and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, blackberry and blueberry flavors are deep and dark but not thick, thanks to excellent acidity. Chewy, putty-like tannins coat the mouth, and notes of herbs and dried flowers linger in the finish. Quite a mouthful.13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.