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 number of fun wines.
Let’s start with something quite off the beaten path. Depending on how old you are, and when you started drinking wine, you may have heard of Bulls Blood, also known in its native Hungarian as Egri Bikaver. This blend of red grapes from the Eger region of Hungary had a brief moment of popularity in the late Seventies and early Eighties when it became the cheap (and rather terrible) tipple of choice for many people shopping the bottom shelf of the supermarket, but the red blend has a long history. Since around 2000 a renaissance of the wine in the Eger region has resulted in some excellent versions of it, and in 2011, a white partner to Bikaver, named Csillag emerged, also made with mostly local grapes. The version I’ve got to share this week comes from a winery run by a brother-sister team of Gergö and Boglárka Böjt, and it’s excellent.
Since we’re in Hungry, let’s jump ahead and talk a bit about the other Hungarian wine I’m sharing this week, because it’s a doozy. One of the coolest experiences I have as a wine lover is trying wines made from grapes I’ve never heard of. It’s safe to say most people in the world have never heard of the grape Fekete Járdovány. When I first saw it on this bottle I thought it was someone’s name (as Fekete is a common surname in Hungary). But no, Fekete Járdovány is the name of a grape, and as far as the importer of this wine knows, this is the only wine in the world made from it. Believed to be a popular variety in pre-phylloxera Southern Hungary, it almost went extinct, but for the efforts of the Hungarian Vine and Wine Research Institute. Attila Gere of the Gere Winery was interested in the ancient Carpathian varieties in their nurseries and started experimenting with several, the most promising of which has turned out to be Fekete Járdovány. If you want to try something truly exotic and special, go find yourself a bottle of this nutty, lean, spicy light red.
OK, back on the white wine train for a moment, I’ve got the latest Chardonnay from Bibiana Gonzalez Rave’s Cattleya. Rave is a Colombian-born winemaker based in Sonoma County after being trained in France and working harvests all over the world. This Chardonnay is unapologetically Californian, which will no doubt delight some drinkers.
Minus Tide is a relatively new wine brand started by three friends focused on wines made on the chilly coast of Mendocino, and they sent along a couple of their newest wines, both of which are admirable. Their Chenin Blanc is snappy and light on its feet, while their Carignan is positively mouthwatering.
Many California Pinot Noir connoisseurs have encountered wines from the Terre Promissio vineyard, which sells fruit to brands such as Kosta Browne and Williams-Selyem. The latter is responsible for introducing me to the vineyard. But the Karran Family, in addition to selling their fruit, also has a brand of their own, known as Land of Promise from which they make their own wines, and I’ve got two to share with you this week, both perfumed and seemingly more mature than their young vintages would have you believe.
Last, but not nearly least this week, I’ve got two vintages of Château Lassègue, the Grand Cru Saint-Emilion estate established in 2003 as part of the Jackson Family Wines portfolio, thanks in large part to the work of Pierre Seillan, who is the official winemaker for the estate, though these days his son Nicolas Seillan has a significant hand in both the winemaking and management of the estate.
Notes on all these and more below!
2017 Böjt “Egri Csillag Superior” White Blend, Eger, Hungary
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of ripe apples and peaches. In the mouth, juicy apple, citrus, and stone fruit flavors have a nice snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of pink grapefruit linger in the finish. Quite delicious and easy to drink. A blend of 50% Olaszrizling, 32% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Leányka, and 8% Yellow Muscat aged briefly in oak You may have heard of Egri Bikaver, the local “Bulls Blood” red wine, but here’s a much-less-well-known item: an equivalent white blend, called Csillag. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2019 Cattleya “Cuvée Number Five” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of tropical fruits and lemon curd. In the mouth, tropical flavors of papaya, pineapple, and lemon swirl in a silky textured stream across the palate. There’s a touch of heat on the finish. Decent acidity but definitely leans a bit riper than I would like. Thankfully it’s low on the overt wood flavors, which means if you like rich, fruity CA Chardonnays, this is your ticket. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 Minus Tide “Buddha’s Dharma Vineyard” Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemons and poached pear with a hint of white flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully bright lemon and pear flavors have a hint of grapefruit as fantastic acidity keeps the mouth watering. Nice and zesty, with hints of citrus peel in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a technical (plastic) cork. Score: around 9. Cost: $29.
2018 Minus Tide “Feliz Creek Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry, black cherry, and cola. In the mouth, boysenberry and cola flavors have a wonderfully bright sour cherry juiciness that makes the mouth water (think Purple SweetTart) thanks to fantastic acidity. Delicious, with faint tannins that ghost around the edges of the palate. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a technical (plastic) cork. Score: around 9. Cost: $30.
2018 Gere Fekete Járdovány, Villányi, Hungary
Medium ruby in the glass with some bronze highlights, this wine smells of red apple skin, roasted nuts, juniper, and thyme. In the mouth, fine-grained tannins wrap around a core of mulberry, blackberry, and dried apples with distinctly savory qualities. Notes of dusty road, juniper berry, and dried herbs linger in the finish which also has a citrusy twang. Very interesting. This may be the only commercial bottling of this ancient Carpathian grape variety named Fekete Jardovany. It is aged for 10 months in oak barrels. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2019 Walter Scott “Cuvée Ruth” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet with purple highlights in the glass, this wine smells of herbs, flowers, and raspberries. In the mouth, raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors are bright with excellent acidity and dusted with fine-grained tannin. Hints of citrus and dried flowers linger in the finish. Pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $58. click to buy.
2017 Land of Promise “Deo Favente” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium ruby in color, with a hint of orange, this wine smells of red apple skin and mulling spices. In the mouth, bright raspberry, orange peel, and dried herb flavors have a nice silky texture and faint gauzy tannins. Excellent acidity. Tastes like it’s older than it is — blind I would have guessed a 5 to 10-year-old Pinot. Entirely clone 777 of Pinot Noir, picked on the early side. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75.
2017 Land of Promise “Patriae Fidelitas” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of orange peels and mulling spices. In the mouth, mulling spices, orange peel, red apple skin, raspberry jam, and cedar notes mix with a nice amount of brightness thanks to very good acidity. Tastes slightly older than I would expect, showing secondary aromas that usually come with more time. The last picked parcel from the vineyard—includes clone 97, 943, and Calera. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2017 Chateau Lassègue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Libournais, Bordeaux, France
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and blackcurrant with hints of dried herbs. In the mouth, fine-grained muscular tannins firmly grasp flavors of black cherry, black pepper, pipe tobacco, and a touch of espresso. Excellent acidity brings some freshness, with notes of dried herbs and dried fennel seeds lingering in the finish., 14% alcohol. Comes in a somewhat heavier-than-needed bottle that weighs 1.6 kg full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $58. click to buy.
2012 Chateau Lassègue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Libournais, Bordeaux, France
Dark ruby in the glass with a hint of garnet remaining, this wine smells of pencil shavings, cigar box, and red fruits. In the mouth, velvety and smooth, powdery tannins gently clasp flavors of cherry, pencil shavings, mulling spices, and dry earth. Wonderfully floral notes strike a perfumed tone above the mouthwatering core of the wine. Excellent acidity and seamlessness. 13.5% alcohol. Comes in a somewhat heavier-than-needed bottle that weighs 1.6 kg full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2018 Amor Fati “Murmur Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black olives and blackberries. In the mouth, black olive and blackberry flavors have a nice fruity-umami balance, with hints of herbs lingering in the finish. Decent acidity (but I want more) and a slight bit of heat on the finish. Can’t argue with the flavors though. 14.6% alcohol. Somewhat offensive heavy bottle, weighing 1.7 kg full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.