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 couple of wines from Neely Wine, a small, family-run outfit that is following in the great tradition of Stanford faculty running wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation of California. The winery owns and farms the Spring Ridge Vineyard, which begins in Portola Valley and heads up the eastern flanks of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Both their Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir have a nice lean vivacity to them and show great restraint in winemaking, highlighting the fruit rather than the barrel.
The rest of this week’s wines are something of a comparison panel, of sorts, engineered by the folks at Wines of Chile, who decided to send me six Cabernet Sauvignons, three from the Colchagua Valley and three from the Maipo Valley.
As a result, we have to do a little geographical explication.
The Maipo Valley is the closest major wine region to Chile’s capital, Santiago, right in the middle of the country, that proximity having made it one of the first wine regions to be planted in the country. Maipo tends to be warm and dry, and the vineyards are mostly set into the foothills of the Andes Mountains, which provide a little cooling elevation and are responsible for the alluvial gravel that led early French viticulturalists to suggest to the recently independent Chileans that they should plant the Bordeaux varieties.
The southern border of the Maipo Valley is formed by another (much larger) East-West valley known as the Rapel Valley. The Rapel is split into two separate wine regions, and the southern portion is known as the Colchagua valley. The slightly lower elevations of this valley, higher annual rainfall (than Maipo), and its fertile soils have meant this region has long been some of Chile’s best agricultural land. But Colchagua possesses very similar soils to Maipo, thanks again to the ever-present Andes, and the seemingly infinite number of rivers that run down out of the Cordillera. Given its previous focus on traditional agriculture, Colchagua is a relatively newer wine region, with fewer big names than Maipo.
It’s interesting that the Chileans sent wines from these two regions as a compare-and-contrast, as they’re actually quite similar in the broadest terms, not unlike asking someone to compare and contrast Oakville and St. Helena in Napa. It’s tough to generalize (or alternatively extrapolate) much difference from just a few wines. It might be much easier to compare the individual sites of each vineyard than it would be to compare the two valleys.
But, strictly speaking about the six wines below, I found the wines from Colchagua to exhibit slightly more herbal, savory tones, while the Maipo wines tasted slightly riper and fruitier. Across the six, I enjoyed the Echeverria and the Torres wines just slightly more than their compatriots, though all were pretty tasty, with some being excellent values.
I must note with some prejudice that the Echeverria wine comes in an offensively heavy bottle, one of the most egregious I have experienced in some time. The glass itself weighs more than a kilogram, a ridiculously ostentatious statement that clearly suggests the winery cares more about its branding than the environment.
That’s all for this week!
2019 Neely “Bee Block” Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon curd and lemon pith have a very nice snap to them thanks to good acidity and faint hints of tropical fruits like papaya and mango lingering in the finish. 13.3% alcohol. 595 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $46. click to buy.
2019 Neely “Hidden Block” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of cranberry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright redcurrant and raspberry flavors have a hint of pomegranate and a green and dried herb savoriness that is appealing. There’s even a slight saline quality to the finish. 12.5% alcohol. 254 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Terranoble “Gran Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of faintly smoky earth and red fruits. In the mouth, juicy cherry and herb flavors mix with a hint of licorice and dried flowers. There’s a faint saline quality to the wine. Also faint tannins. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2016 Echeverria “Limited Edition” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, the wine has a stony purity to it, with cherry and tobacco notes mixing with cola and a nice earthiness. Excellent acidity and very fine-grained tannins. 14% alcohol. Comes in a stupidly heavy bottle weighing 1.86kg when full. One of the worst I’ve seen. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2018 Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass and bright cherry fruit. In the mouth, cherry, green herbs, and a hint of green bell pepper mix underneath a gauzy haze of tannins. Good acidity. Certified sustainable. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2017 Viña Aquitania “Lazuli” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and a hint of black olive. In the mouth, that fruity-and-savory quality continues with cherry, black olive, herbs, and a hint of tobacco wrapped in a gauzy haze of tannins. Good acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2018 Los Vascos “Cromas – Gran Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly smoky green herbs and red fruit. In the mouth, cherry and green herbs mix with dried sage and a touch of licorice root. Good acidity, very faint tannins, and a touch of heat in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2018 Miguel Torres “Reserva Especial Cordillera de los Andes – Parcela Coluvión” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, black cherries, and cola with just a hint of fresh green herbs. In the mouth, cherry cola flavors mix with a touch of cinnamon and cocoa powder. Quite pretty. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.