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 past week brought an interesting set of wines from Spain and Italy to my kitchen table, along with one absolutely outstanding Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Let’s start with three wines I was particularly excited to receive recently. The estate of Parés Baltà in Spain’s Penedes (Cava) region, makes extremely soulful wines farmed biodynamically and organically. The wines are made by two young sisters-in-law, while the estate is run by their husbands and other members of the Cusiné family, who trace their winemaking heritage in the region back to 1790. I just adore the deeply mineral expressions of the Xarel-lo and their “Cosmic” blend of Xarel-lo and Sauvignon Blanc, and the “Indigena” Grenache basically explodes out of the glass with incredible aromatics. If you haven’t had wines from these folks, I recommend seeking them out. They’re not that expensive, but can be tricky to find.
I’ve written about the wines of Abel Mendoza before, who makes very clean natural wines (no added sulfur) deliberately outside of the Rioja classification. Mendoza ages his wines in French Oak and for shorter periods of time than is required for them to be labeled as Rioja Blanca, and he chooses to make single-variety wines labeled as such. I tasted three more of his whites this week, and found each delicious and compelling.
The folks at Château Moulin-à-Vent have been making a pretty big effort to market themselves to the US lately. Originally named Chateau des Thorins, with a history of making fine Gamays going back to 1732, the estate was renamed Château Moulin-à-Vent (after the nearby windmill) in 1924. The Moulin-à-Vent region of Beaujolais was given AOC status in 1936 with the identical namesake. This week I tasted a pair of wines that the estate sent for side-by-side tasting, the 2019 vintage and the 2009 vintage of their main Gamay bottling. They were clearly the same wine from the same place, but at very different points in their lives. The older wine had a slightly stinky nose, but resolved beautifully on the palate, remaining quite appealing in its old age. The younger wine was pretty and refined, and likely to more people’s taste.
The Bolgheri region of Tuscany became famous in the 1990s (and remains so) thanks to Sassicaia and a number of other high-profile Bordeaux-style blends that are made in the gravelly soils sloping down towards the Ligurian sea south of the city of Livorno. After Sassicaia was “discovered” prices for vineyards and the wines they produce shot sky high in a region that was charmingly rustic prior to that point. But there was a good reason for that. The warm weather and stony, well-drained soils provide an opportunity to make wines of great power and finesse, as many have proven. Tenuta Argentiera was established in 1999 and re-planted in 2000, incorporating the previously existing and long-standing estate Tenuta di Donoratico. The estate sent along three wines for me to try recently—their two flagship reds, and a less expensive red, all three of which are worth seeking out.
While the quality of the wines were quite high this week, with a significant deliciousness quotient, by far the highlight of the week was the newest release of Cabernet Sauvignon from Spottswoode. One of my favorite estates in Napa Valley, Spottswoode makes $230 Cabernets that easily compete with the valley’s $800 Cabernets. Even though they’re significantly less expensive than their peers, I still can’t afford to buy the wines myself, but that doesn’t keep me from adoring them. The 2018 that just hit the market recently may be one of the best bottles this estate has ever produced. Balanced, energetic, poised, and powerful (without being sweet, too rich, or overripe) this is what happens when Napa Cabernet gets classy. If you are in that small segment of wine drinkers or collectors who buys wines in this price class, I recommend going deep on this vintage of Spottswoode. It’s going to get better for a couple of decades and last for a few more than that. Yowza.
2020 Parés Baltà “Calcari” Xarel-lo, Penedes, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith, yellow plums and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, electrically bright candied lemon flavors are welded to an incredibly stony, cistern-deep minerality that is quite breathtaking. Faint saline notes linger in the finish. Fantastic acidity, and just a wonderful electrically bright quality to the wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2020 Parés Baltà “Cosmic” White Blend, Penedes, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of crushed rocks, lemon pith, and green apple. In the mouth, green apple, lemon and wet pavement have a fantastic stony core. Excellent acidity and a nice faint tannic texture round out the wine. Immensely refreshing and crisp. A blend of 85% Xarel-lo and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2020 Abel Mendoza Malvasia, Rioja, Spain
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemongrass, citrus pith and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, gorgeously saline flavors of lemon pith, grapefruit and wet chalkboard have a fantastic acidity and deeply wet-chalkboard minerality that lingers with a chalkiness in the mouth as the wine finishes crisp, clean and with just a hint of the vanilla of oak. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50.
2020 Abel Mendoza Grenache Blanc, Rioja, Spain
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear, apricot, and star fruit with a hint of bruised apple. In the mouth, faintly saline flavors of peach, pear, and yellow plum have a lovely silky texture and excellent bright acidity. Complex and rich, but not overbearing, this is a delightful mouthful. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50.
2020 Abel Mendoza Viura, Rioja, Spain
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of grapfruit pith and a hint of new oak. In the mouth, silky flavors of yellow plum, lemon curd, and the vanilla of oak have a nice rich weight to them as well as a bright salinity. Excellent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.
2019 Parés Baltà “Indigena” Grenache, Penedes, Spain
Light to medium ruby in the glass with just a hint of purple, this wine smells of aromatic herbs and berries. In the mouth, bright strawberry jam and hucklebery flavors are shot through with floral and herbal flavors that are very disarming, and a wonderful scent of thyme lingers in the finish, with a piney pungency. Fantastic acidity and barely perceptible tannins. A head turning wine to be sure. Extremely delicious. I recommend serving slightly chilled. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent, Beajolais, Burgundy, France
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of saddle leather, dried herbs and berries. In the mouth, bright mulberry and herb flavors have a faintly meaty quality with hints of flowers. Excellent acidity and faint muscular tannins. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2009 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent, Beajolais, Burgundy, France
A cloudy dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of horse sweat and saddle leather and dried herbs. In the mouth, beautiful flavors of dried berries, forest floor and dried herbs mix with a very pretty umami quality somewhere between dashi and bone broth. Not nearly as funky on the palate as you’d have expected given its initial aromas. Nice acidity, very faint tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.
2019 Tenuta Argentiera “Villa Donoratico” Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and vanilla. In the mouth, black cherry fruit dances right on the edge of being overripe, with hints of raisins in the mix, along with cola, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Smooth, with fine-grained, relatively restrained tannins and excellent acidity. A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot aged in a mix of big and small barrels. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2018 Tenuta Argentiera “Argentiera” Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cocoa powder. In the mouth, black cherry, cocoa powder, cola and dried herbs have a bright, lively acidity that brings more sour flavors of plum skin into the mix. Faint, fleecy tannins stiffen across the palate giving the wine an athletic, muscular quality. Notes of licorice root and bitter chocolate linger in the finish. A blend of 40% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc that ages in 50% new French oak barrels for 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2019 Tenuta Argentiera “Poggio ai Ginepri” Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chopped green herbs and cherries and blackberries. In the mouth, bright blackberry and black cherry flavors have a nice herbal brightness, made juicy with excellent acidity. Hints of dried and fresh herbs, along with licorice and black cherry linger in the finish with just a tiny hint of salinity. Faint, putty-like tannins. Tasty. A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Half the wine is aged in oak, the other half in steel. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, earth, and flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous black cherry, plum, violets and dried herbs have an incredibly brisk freshness thanks to outstanding acidity. Gorgeous hints of earth, carob and licorice root linger with cola nut in the finish. Supple, muscular, but impeccably refined tannins run through the wine like a satin sheet pulled taut across a shapely body. Striking and fabulous. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $235. click to buy.