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.
I’ve got a range of wines for you this week from cool-climate Chardonnay to fancy-pants German dessert wine and more.
Let’s start with a couple of new releases from Dutton-Goldfield—their Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay and their Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay is crisp and bright and lean for those looking for a nervy quality to their California Chardonnay (I am). And the Pinot offers a nice earthy cranberry character that will appeal to many.
Sticking with Pinot for a moment, I’ve got one of the latest wines to come off the line at Eden Rift Vineyards, down in the La Cienega valley south of Gilroy, California. It shows a strong signature of the 69% whole cluster fermentation with green herbs and woody notes.
Next up we’re taking a little stroll through the Napa sub-AVA of Saint Helena, with a couple of different Cabernet Sauvignons and red blends from different producers. I liked the restraint showed by the MC4 wine from Martin and Croshaw, a comment that could also be made about the Beringer Home Vineyard Cabernet as well. The “El Coco” from The Crane Assembly has the rich ripeness that has become the signature of its founder Dave Phinney, who invented a wine named The Prisoner.
Two Cabernets from St. Helena Winery both offered a nice plush brightness with well-integrated wood, both feeling like classical expressions of Napa Cabernet.
Before we move onto sweeter options, it’s worth taking a look at the OVR – Old Vine Red from Marietta Cellars, which may well be one of the best wine values in California. It’s a mere $12 online, and offers a nice Zinfandel-like profile that is quite appealing.
I don’t get a lot of sweet wine samples, but I did work through three of them this week, and the three of them could not have been more different. The Jules Taylor late harvest Sauvignon Blanc was full of apricots and honey, while the Campbells Rutherglen Muscat had the coffee nib and caramel thing going on that you expect from that unique tradition in Australia.
Last but certainly not least it’s pretty hard to find fault with one of the Mosel’s great vineyards and an Auslese version of its impeccable Riesling from Dr. Loosen. It’s not cheap, but it’s got the weightlessness and ethereal quality that great Rieslings have.
Notes on all these below!
2018 Dutton-Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch Vineyard” Chardonnay, Marin, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and a hint of pastry cream. In the mouth, creamy, silky flavors of lemon curd and vanilla crème brulee have a nice bright snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2018 Dutton Goldfield “Redwood Ridge” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and a hint of sawdust. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry flavors mix with a muddier earthy note as hints of dried herbs linger in the finish along with a touch of citrus peel. Faint, fine-grained tannins tickle the edges of the palate. Good acidity. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $68. click to buy.
2018 Eden Rift “Terraces” Pinot Noir, Cienega Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries, dried flowers, and green wood. In the mouth, raspberries and peeled willow bark flavors mix with dried flowers and cranberries. There’s a faint woody bitterness that lingers in the finish along with a hint of tannic texture. Fermented with approximately 69% whole cluster (the balance destemmed). 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $64. click to buy.
2017 Martin & Croshaw Vineyard “MC4” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, cherry, tobacco and a touch of dried herbs have a nice fleecy tannic texture and excellent acidity. This is a wine that shows some nice restraint and isn’t trying to be too flashy. Notes of herbs and mint linger in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2018 The Crane Assembly “El Coco – G.B. Crane Vineyard” Red Wine , St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and blueberry compote. In the mouth, sweetish blueberry and blackberry flavors mix with cherry under a wooly throw of tannins. Missing some acidity, but surprisingly smooth given its 15.7% alcohol. A blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. Too ripe for my taste, and I suspect it won’t age well, but likely to please some who are looking for the next darkest, richest thing, which is what co-owner Dave Phinney did so well with the Prisoner (for whose label this wine could easily be mistaken). Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2016 Beringer “St. Helena Home Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
A dark opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of rich cherry and black cherry fruit with a hint of tobacco leaf. In the mouth, cherry and cola and dried herbs have a bright juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of heat in the finish that betrays this wine’s 15.5% alcohol. But some nice dried herb and mint notes linger as well. Very fine-grained tannins. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.
NV Marietta Cellars “Old Vine Red – Lot Number 72” Red Wine, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, blackberry bramble and blueberry flavors have just the faintest hint of sweetness to them, with hints of cedar and licorice root lingering in the finish. Decent acidity, faint tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2016 Saint Helena Winery “Sympa” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors have a creamy quality to them, along with extremely powdery tannins and decent acidity. Smooth and a bit mysterious. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $82. click to buy.
2016 Saint Helena Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and sweet black plum. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors have a plum skin brightness to them as fleecy, fine-grained tannins coat the mouth. Notes of herbs and licorice root linger in the finish, 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $89. click to buy.
2018 Jules Taylor “Late Harvest” Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light amber in color, this wine smells of apricots and honey nougat. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of apricot, honey, and butterscotch have a nice lightness to them thanks to excellent acidity, which also tempers the perception of sweetness. 13.5% alcohol. 147 g/l residual sugar. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
NV Campbells “Rutherglen” Muscat Petite Grains Rouge, Victoria, Australia
A dark amber color in the glass, this wine smells of distilled spirits, bitter orange, and burnt brown sugar. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of burnt brown sugar, butterscotch, coffee nibs, and raisins are weighty and heavy on the tongue. Smooth, with a vanilla caramel finish that goes on for a while. A solera blend made from many vintages, going back two or three decades but primarily the last three vintages. Fortified to 17% alcohol. Tasted from 375ml bottle. Closed with a screwcap. 230 g/l residual sugar. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20 for 375ml. click to buy.
2017 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Prälat Auslese Goldkapsel” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of wildflower honey. In the mouth, wonderfully weightless flavors of honey, lychee, and candied citrus taste only lightly sweet thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a faint chalkiness to the wine as it finishes with hints of candied citrus peel. 9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $110. click to buy.