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 included a few wines that qualify as excellent values, starting with the Stemmari Grillo from Sicily, which is a nice, lemony expression of the grape and an excellent buy at $11 a pop.
That’s all for white wines this week. Ready for the reds?
The folks at Château du Moulin-à-Vent have been sending me a bunch of wines lately, and this most recent wine is one of their small parcel selections. The Les Vérillats vineyard is about 10 acres in size and features very shallow sandy soils. The vines are between 50 and 65 years old, and they have yielded some wonderfully savory, mineral-inflected Gamay. This wine is tasty now but it will be superb in a few years, I think.
Some folks in Chile wanted to send me a bunch of Cabernets but a Carmenere also slipped into the box by pure accident. That’s a bit ironic, given how for decades the Chileans thought Carmenere was actually just finicky Merlot. I guess it’s always slipping in without people noticing. The Gran Reserva from Terranoble is a pretty serious and substantial wine that will satisfy a lot of red wine lovers, and for the price tag of $20, it’s a steal.
Alice Sutro‘s wines from her family’s Alexander Valley estate are always reliably good. I received two recent releases this week, and of the two the Cabernet is my favorite, but it will benefit from a few years in the bottle if you have the patience.
Duckhorn‘s 40th anniversary Howell Mountain Cabernet also showed up this week, and as one might have expected, it offered powerful, polished confidence in the glass, though with a surfeit of oak from my perspective. Nonetheless, it’s a well-made wine that will satisfy many.
Much more in tune with my sensibilities was the 2018 from Smith-Madrone, made by the Smith brothers high on Spring Mountain. Mountain fruit, high acidity, and a restrained old-school character mean this wine is built for the long haul. And returning to the value conversation, at only $60 it’s a relative steal in a valley where the average price seems to be three digits these days.
Lastly, I got a couple of really outstanding Syrahs from Andrew Latta in Washington State. Latta got his start as a globe-trotting sommelier but kept finding that he was most excited about the Washington state wines he was putting on his list. So he jumped ship, so to speak, and put down roots, buying fruit to make his first wines in 2011, and gradually ratcheting up production every year since. Latta takes a very traditional approach to his winemaking, using natural yeasts and aging for a long time in mostly neutral, large barrels, letting the vineyard sites and the grapes do the talking, and they don’t speak so much as sing. The two Syrahs he sent are complex and stony and wonderfully restrained while at the same time being powerful and expressive. I highly recommend them.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy.
2019 Stemmari Grillo, Sicily, Italy
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of golden apples and choux cream. In the mouth, lemon curd and vanilla custard have hints of apple and butter to them, along with a faint aromatic sweetness. Decent acidity but could be brighter. There’s just the barest hint of a little salinity. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $11. click to buy.
2019 Château du Moulin-à-Vent “Les Vérillats” Gamay, Moulin-à-Vent, Beaujolias, Burgundy, France
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of mulberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, the wine has a quite stony quality, with the fruit leaning decidedly savory, as boysenberry and strawberry flavors mix with earth and pavement. Faint herbal and dried floral notes linger in the finish. Faint, gauzy tannins that gain more muscle through the finish. Excellent acidity. Quite tasty, but I’d guess this wine will blossom with some time in the bottle. 65-year-old vines in organic conversion.13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2018 Terranoble “Gran Reserva” Carmenere, Maule Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, plum, and cherry. In the mouth, bright plum and cherry fruit are backed by a hint of cedar and powdery, fine-grained tannins. Excellent acidity keeps things quite fresh in the mouth as notes of herbs linger with the fruit. Refined and poised. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Sutro “Warnecke Ranch” Merlot, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and black cherry. In the mouth, hints of cedar and orange peel mix with plum and plum skin flavors under a fleecy blanket of tannins. There’s a crushed nut quality too, that lingers with the grip of the tannins in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2019 Sutro “Warnecke Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry fruit is juicy and bright with excellent acidity even as it is wrapped in a stiff muscular skein of tannins that grip the palate firmly. Well-integrated wood shows up as the faintest aroma in the finish. Refined and powerful, this wine needs a few years in the bottle to fully express itself. 15% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $64. click to buy.
2017 Duckhorn “40th Harvest” Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cola nut and cocoa powder. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry and oak swirl under a felt-like blanket of tannins. The wood stands out in the finish, slightly parching the mouth. Good acidity, just a bit too much oak for my taste. 14.5% alcohol. 2000 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $105. click to buy.
2018 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and plum skin. In the mouth, juicy and fresh flavors of black cherry and plum are shot through with mint and other green herbs, with hints of oak peeking through an herbal-savory quality that also shows some flavors of iodine. Fine-grained tannins flex their muscles as the wine finishes. Excellent acidity. Built for the long haul, in the old-school style. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $59. click to buy.
2017 Latta Wines “Dana Dibble – Freewater Rocks Vineyard” Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of meaty black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, savory, even saline flavors of black cherry and roasted meat mix with dried herbs and flowers as faint-but-muscular tannins flex in the background. Excellent acidity.14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2017 Latta Wines “Lawrence Vineyard” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, a hint of camphor, and earth. In the mouth, juicy flavors of blackberry and earth have a savory, dried herb quality along with a faint smokiness. Deeply savory and with fine-grained, stony tannins. Excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.