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 couple of excellent value white wines. Peju Winery makes excellent Napa reds but also makes a crisp and reliable Sauvignon Blanc that ages relatively well, as I discovered this week after noticing a bottle that I should have probably reviewed 18 months ago. It was still fresh and bright and quite tasty, so go grab a few and put them on ice. Likewise, the Torrontes from Susana Balbo was also a refreshing mouthful, and at $13, how can you go wrong?
Oregon Chardonnay is having something of a moment, and tasting the Elton Vineyard Chardonnay from Lavinea, it’s not hard to understand why, as it’s crisp and tangy and lean, but with some nice complexity. You could use the same words to describe Stewart Johnson’s rendition of Viognier from Kendrick Vineyards, which focuses primarily on making wines grown in Marin County. Stewart’s latest rosé is also excellent.
While we’re in the pink zone, you should check out the OVR – Old Vine Rosé from Marietta Cellars, which will satisfy many a summer afternoon craving for $14.
I’ve got a couple of Pinots to share this week, including one from Lavinea that has a little age on it and is showing beautifully, along with the brash ripe cherry flavors of the Cuvee Number One from Cattleya Wines.
And we can finish the week out with some Napa Cabs, including the 2016 vintage of Unwritten, a relatively new producer in Napa that I wrote about earlier in the year as part of my coverage of producers in Napa that were new to me. Also worth remarking on was the Redmon Cabernet, which is from a tiny family-run vineyard that Lisa Redmond has shepherded for a couple of decades in St. Helena.
Notes on all these and more below.
2018 Peju Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apple, green grass, and a touch of honeysuckle. In the mouth, bright green apple and kiwi flavors have a faint sweetness to them and bright juicy acidity. Clean and crisp. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Susana Balbo “Crios” Torrontes, Argentina
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candied grapefruit and a touch of melon. In the mouth, grapefruit, star fruit, and a hint of green melon mix with bright acidity and a nice citrus pith note in the finish. Crisp and tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.
2018 Lavinea “Elton Vineyard” Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, vanilla, and lime juice. In the mouth, juicy lemon pith and pink grapefruit flavors have a hint of unripe apple to them, with a touch of sourness along with the mouthwatering bright citrus notes. Lean and crisp. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.
2020 Kendric Vineyards Viognier, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of nectarines and orange peels. In the mouth, apricot, nectarine, and a nice citrus pith brightness are positively juicy with excellent acidity. Quite lean for a California Viognier, and much the better for it in my opinion. Very tasty. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26.
2020 Kendric Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale peachy-pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and white flowers, and sweet cream. In the mouth, bright berry notes also have a faint smoky earth tone to them. Citrus peel and berry linger in the finish. Quite tasty. 12.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2020 Marietta Cellars “OVR – Old Vine” Rosé, California
Light coppery gold in the glass, this wine smells of berries and watermelon. In the mouth, bright berry and watermelon flavors mix with citrus peel amidst a silky juicy mouthwatering package. Excellent acidity. A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, and Grenache Gris. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.
2016 Lavinea “Tulatin Estate” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet with orange highlights, this wine smells of smoked brisket and raspberries. In the mouth, bright raspberry flavors have a nice meaty, almost saline, umami kick to them, with excellent acidity and a hint of green herbs in the finish. Quite tasty. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2019 Cattleya “Cuvee Number One” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and cedar. In the mouth, sweetish cherry and raspberry jam flavors have a rich, ripe intensity, but are backed by pretty good acidity that has a citrus peel kick to it. Barely perceptible tannins. This is ripe California Pinot, for those looking for a more robust interpretation of the grape. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2016 AXR Napa Valley “AXR – V Madrone Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, raisins, and cocoa powder. In the mouth, black cherry, and dried cherry flavors mix with raisins, roasted figs, and chocolate under a fleecy blanket of tannins. Rich and on the ripe side, there’s a hint of port quality to this wine, which some will undoubtedly like. A bit too ripe and rich for my taste. 15.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $160. click to buy.
2016 Lost Cellars “Unwritten” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and herbs. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit mixes with dried herbs and cedar, as excellent acidity keeps the mouth watering and fine, muscular tannins add texture to the whole package. There’s a faint hint of alcoholic heat in the finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.
2016 Ballentine “Fig Tree Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis, and blackberry. In the mouth, notes of espresso and black cherry have a nice medium body and fairly gentle tannic structure. Good acidity and brightness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90.
2016 Redmon Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and plum. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and plum flavors have a nice purity to them, and a sour cherry kick in the finish that accompanies bright acidity. Muscular, but fine-grained tannins round out this quite tasty package. Restrained oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95.