Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/20/21

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.

How long has it been since your tastebuds were truly electrified? While the predictable flavors of your favorite wines are comforting, the wine world is an exciting place and we all need a bit more novelty from time to time. That’s why you’re going to love the white blend from Quinta do Crasto, one of the most venerable producers in Portugal’s Douro Valley. This blend of three grapes you’ve likely never tasted before (Voisinho, Gouveio, and Rabigato) is like listening to a new piece of music from a genre you’ve never experienced before, I promise.

I’ve got a couple of rosés to recommend this week as well. The first is a somewhat sumptuous incarnation of Pinot Noir from Pellegrini in the Russian River Valley, and the other is a simple, crisp berry rendition of Montepulciano from the Marche region of Italy.

Speaking of novelty, most people have never had a Kékfrancos (also known as Bläufrankisch elsewhere in Europe) from Hungary. I’m convinced that this is one of the great red grapes of the world for its fabulous flavor profile and its transparency to the place it’s grown. This rendition comes from Sebestyen, a tiny winery in Szekszárd, Hungary run by a brother-and-sister team of Csilla and Csaba Sebestyen. Csilla worked as a sommelier in Michelin-starred restaurants before joining her brother in the family winery, which farms a small vineyard high on a chilly, windy plateau south of Szekszárd. This colder site produces an elegant version of Kékfrancos, which they age in used 500 liter Hungarian and French oak barrels for 19 months. It’s excellent.

As long as we’re on the topic of Hungary, I’ve got a Cabernet Franc from Heumann to offer as well, which was grown in several vineyards, one of which has a high limestone content, which has added some structure and acidity to this wine. Cabernet Franc is one of the international grape varieties that makes truly distinctive wines in Hungary.

I’ve got two more Pinot Noirs from the Land of Promise winery, whose Terra del Promissio vineyard has become a popular source of very high-quality Pinot Noir Fruit. These two wines differ in their clonal composition, the first being a selection of only two clones from the vineyard, the latter (appropriately named E. Pluribus Unum – “from many, one”) contains all the clones grown in the vineyard.

Jumping back to Portugal, I’ve got two reds from Quinta do Crasto, their “Crasto Superior” blend that has slightly more wood than I would like, but the wonderful combination of ripeness and freshness that the Douro can deliver, and their varietal bottling of Touriga Nacional, which also features prominent oak, but which also has some aging potential.

Chris Bilbro founded Marietta Cellars in the Russian River Valley and raised three sons, all of which became successful and talented winemakers in their own right. Scot Bilbro remained with the family estate and continues to make excellent wines, including the lovely “Angeli” Zinfandel I’ve got for you this week, which hits all the right notes of fruity, juicy fun that you would want from a Zinfandel. I’ll review more of his wines next week.

Last, and certainly not least, I’ve got the mind-bending second-label wine from Spottswoode Winery in Napa. Why mind-bending? Because this $85 Napa Cabernet is better than wines three times its price. Plenty of estates would give (or should give) their right arm to make a flagship wine this good. It doesn’t hurt that this wine comes from a spectacular vintage (2018) and is the product of some organic and biodynamically farmed vineyards. Named after the linden trees that bloom in the estate’s gardens, Lyndenhurst Cabernet is one of Napa’s great values and one I find myself buying frequently at restaurants whenever I see it, as it is often much easier to stomach at restaurant markups than many other Napa Cabernets.

Notes on all these wines below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Quinta do Crasto “Crasto” White Blend, Douro, Portugal
Palest straw-green in color, this wine smells of grapefruit, green apples, and chamomile. In the mouth, lovely green apple, lemongrass and pink grapefruit flavors have a fantastic brightness thanks to excellent acidity and a nice underlying wet-pavement minerality that is quite arresting. Gorgeous finish with hints of dried herbs and grapefruit pith. This is pure novelty for your tastebuds, for sure, as it doesn’t taste like any common white wine most people would have had. A blend of 40% Viosinho, 30% Gouveio, and 30% Rabigato. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2020 Pellegrini “Olivet Lane Vineyard” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale salmon-pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon and strawberries. In the mouth, quite silky flavors of strawberry and watermelon have a surprising volume on the palate, but don’t have quite as much acidity as I would like. Notes of citrus peel emerge on the finish, as does just a tiny bit of heat. Comes across as slightly viscous, but the flavors are nice. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $40. click to buy.

2020 Garofoli Rosato of Montepulciano, Marche, Italy
A pale coppery pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and watermelon. In the mouth, somewhat simple flavors of strawberry and citrus peel have a nice light crispness to them. Decent acidity, and a faint tannic grip that adds a little complexity. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Sebestyén “Nanai” Kékfrancos, Szekszárd, Hungary
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dusty roads, mulberries, blackberries, and camphorwood. In the mouth, slightly spicy black fruit and red fruit flavors mix with herbal notes of camphor and winter savory. A hint of citrus brightness lingers in the finish. Excellent acidity and balance. Made from a tiny vineyard, and aged in 500-liter, old oak barrels from Hungary and France for 19 months. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2017 Land of Promise “Terra de Promissio” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry. In the mouth, cherry, cranberry, and raspberry flavors have a nice brightness to them thanks to very good acidity. Faint tannins and a citrus brightness linger in the finish with just a touch of heat. Clones 777 and 115. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2017 Land of Promise “E Pluribus Unum” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry flavors are shot through with dried flowers and hints of herbs. Soft on the palate, with a filigreed acidity, I find myself wanting just a bit more cut to this wine. But the flavors and texture are lovely, with the faintest whisper of tannins. Contains a mix of all five of the clones planted in the vineyard. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Quinta do Crasto “Crasto Superior” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherries, raisins, and roasted figs. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and raisins have a decent freshness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a hint of stoniness under the fruit. Not thick or overly rich at all, despite the dried fruit aromas, and quite drinkable, with a hint of wood in the finish. A blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Roriz, and 5% Sousão aged in French oak for 12 months. Barely perceptible tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2016 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, oak, and a hint of bergamot. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors are shot through with Earl Gray tea and the distinctly toasty note of oak. Unfortunately, there’s just too much wood flavor for me at this point in the wine’s youth to make it exciting. Though with 5 to 10 years, I’m betting it will take a back seat. Excellent acidity and wonderful stony freshness make this quite easy to drink, but for the wood. Very little tannic presence to speak of. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.

2019 Marietta Cellars “Angeli” Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of juicy blackberry fruit with a hint of Earl Gray tea. In the mouth, juicy and bright blackberry and black tea flavors have a nice peppery brightness to them and a faint tannic grip. Hints of bergamot and candied fennel seeds linger in the finish as the tannins squeeze the palate a bit. A really lovely rendition of Zinfandel. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.  

2016 Heumann Cabernet Franc, Villányi, Hungary
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black plum and crushed nuts. In the mouth, flavors of plum, plum skin, and black cherry are shot through with citrus peel brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Muscular tannins wrap around the core of the fruit, and notes of jalapeño linger in the finish along with citrus peel and a nutty, woody quality. Grown on loess soils with a high concentration of limestone, this wine is fermented in stainless tanks and aged in Hungarian oak barrels. 15% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2018 Spottswoode “Lyndenhurst” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackcurrant with hints of tobacco leaf. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis flavors have a hint of cola and herbs to them. Beautiful, fine-grained tannins have a light, athletic profile, and notes of dried herbs linger in the finish. This is a refined, impeccably balanced wine, with a fabulous tension between fruit and savory herbal notes. It will age beautifully. It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around that this is the “second label” wine, given how damn good it is. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.