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 two renditions of Sauvignon Blanc, a sort of New World / Old World counterpoint. The Sancerre from Domaine Gueneau got a slight edge on the competent rendition from Dogwood & Thistle in Mendocino, but both are reasonably good values, not to mention tasty. Don’t miss that winery’s slurpable Carignane either, this week.
I’ve also got a trio of rosés to recommend, each offering the lean, crisp berry freshness you want from a nice bottle of pink. In particular, the bottle from McFadden Vineyard, (which also confusingly goes by the name Blue Quail) in the little-known Potter Valley AVA of Mendocino is a screaming deal at $15 a pop. Their old-vine Zinfandel ain’t bad either.
It’s rare that I get sent a bottle of Cahors (the homeland of Malbec), but one showed up recently that is worth seeking out, especially if you’re looking for wines that won’t break the bank. The Petite Etoile is a wonderfully earthy mouthful for 14 bucks.
Recent years have seen many European producers setting up shop in California wine country. Gonzague and Claire Lurton (from the family that owns Château Climens in Barsac) have made their home in Sonoma County, and established a property they are calling either Trinité Estate or Acaibo (which confusingly is the name of one of their wines), where they are producing Bordeaux-like blends. They sent me a couple of their earlier vintages, and they will appeal to those looking for the savory side of Sonoma Cabernet and Merlot.
Lastly, I’ve got two more traditional Napa Cabernets, one from Calla Lily, which leans to the rich and ripe end of the spectrum, and the latest vintage from Unwritten, whose 2018 walks the middle of the ripeness road, and will match most people’s expectations for a big Napa Cabernet.
2020 Dogwood & Thistle Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California
Pale straw with a hint of green in the glass, this wine smells of gooseberries, green apples, and a touch of cut grass. In the mouth, candied green apple and gooseberry flavors have a nice herbal tinge to them, with good acidity to keep things bouncy on the palate. 13.6% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22.
2019 Domaine Gueneau “Les Griottes” Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and green apples. In the mouth, green apples and star fruit flavors mix with white flowers and a nice brisk acidity. A lovely wet-slate quality pervades the finish. Made from 25+ year-old vines, and spends 8 months in steel tanks on the lees before bottling. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2020 Lobo Wines “Wulff Vineyards” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, California
Pale peach in color, this wine smells of citrus peel and hibiscus. In the mouth, bright citrusy berry flavors mix with watermelon and a faint sour bitterness that gets the tastebuds tingling. Very good acidity, and a nice silky texture. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2020 Inman Family “Endless Crush – OGV Estate” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon rind and rosehips. In the mouth, bright tart flavors of watermelon rind, rosehip, and hibiscus are snappy and juicy, thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of orange peel linger in the finish, crisp and dry. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.
2020 McFadden Vineyard “Fontaine” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, Mendocino, California
Pale pink with a peach cast, this wine smells of watermelon and watermelon rind. In the mouth watermelon rind and strawberry fruit flavors are bright and zingy with excellent acidity. There’s a nice freshness to this wine, with a faint savory herbal tinge that lingers in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2019 Dogwood & Thistle “Testa Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry cola. In the mouth, bright plummy boysenberry flavors mix with a faint herbal and faint citrus quality as excellent acidity keeps things bright and fresh. Easy to drink, or as some might say, quite smashable. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2018 McFadden Vineyard “Blue Quail – Old Vine” Zinfandel, Potter Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry pie. In the mouth, bright and juicy blackberry and blueberry flavors have a remarkable freshness to them, but also not a lot of depth. Excellent acidity keeps things juicy but the fruit is somewhat simple. Pleasurable, to be sure, but missing some depth. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2016 Mas des Etoiles “Petite Etoile” Malbec, Cahors, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, dark fruits, and chopped herbs with a hint of meatiness. In the mouth, savory notes of blueberry jam and wet earth are shot through with dried herbs. Faint, grippy tannins, decent acidity. Spends 18 months in steel tanks on the lees. 25-year-old vines. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.
2014 Trinité Estate “Acaibo” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
An inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, tobacco, cherry, cola, and plum skin mix with a darker roasted nut, tea, and leather quality. Good acidity and lightly muscular tannins. Notes of mocha linger in the finish. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 9% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. 14% alcohol. 1621 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2014 Trinité Estate “Amaino” Red Blend, Sonoma County, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of smoked meat and leather, earth, and black fruits. In the mouth, savory flavors of black cherry, black tea, and blackberry mix with leather and earth and faintly meaty quality. Muscular tannins flex through the finish. Good acidity. Quite savory. A blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Merlot. 13.9% alcohol. 463 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2016 Calla Lily “Ultimate Red” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, very ripe and rich blackcurrant and black cherry flavors are embedded in muscular, fleecy tannins that squeeze the palate. Good acidity, but somewhat over the top for my taste. 14.5% alcohol. 1050 cases made. Unnecessarily heavy bottle weighs 1.66 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.
2018 Lost Cellars “Unwritten” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry, black plum, and cassis flavors are shot through with espresso and the nutty notes of toasted oak. Excellent acidity, with just a touch of heat on the finish. Fleecy, plush tannins. 14.8% alcohol. Comes in a ridiculously heavy bottle weighing 1.79 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.