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 pretty lovely vintage champagne from Maison Henriot, the storied Champagne house that’s been making tasty bubbles since 1808. This bottle “celebrates” the 2012 vintage, which you’d think is the last thing someone would want to do if they had lived through it. Hail, frost, deluges, and scorching heat waves all marked the 2012 vintage in the Champagne region and the crop was quite mixed in quality and quantity as a result. Or as the perpetually optimistic farmer might say, “lots of aromatic diversity.”
Blending many different sites and batches of wine, and then letting it age for a long time on the lees, the folks at Henriot have demonstrated their skill in blending as well as the power of patience with their release of the 2012 Millesime, which is a deliciously complex and balanced Champagne that is well worth its tariff, provided you’re in the market for Champagnes in the three digit price-range.
This week I was also introduced to the wines of a tiny producer in Sonoma County that I’d never heard of, Darling Family Wines. Proprietor Thomas Darling and his wife Ashley got started in 2017 after Thomas worked a harvest and stumbled across the chance to get a couple barrels worth of excellent Syrah. It turned out pretty well, and the Darlings haven’t looked back since. They take a fairly low intervention approach to winemaking, with lots of whole cluster, and very little new oak. Of the Chardonnay, two Pinots and two Syrahs they sent me, my favorite was the Flocchini Vineyard Syrah from the Petaluma Gap, which had some very nice cool-climate aromatics.
In addition to those I tasted an excellent value from Portugal’s Alentejo region in the form of the Quinta da Fonte Souto red blend named “Souto,” a property in the Symington Family of wines. A blend of Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, and a bunch of other grapes, this wine represents a rich mouthfilling red for those who might be willing to try something off the beaten path. At only $25, it represents a small investment in taste exploration that I promise will pay dividends.
Lastly, I also tasted through a group of wines from Duca di Salaparuta, the largest private wine company in Sicily, and one of the islands olderst producers, having been founded in 1824. While the wines aren’t earthshatteringly great, for twenty bucks, they’re pretty damn good, from their rich Grillo to their stony Nerello Mascalese. If you’re a fan of highly aromatic reds, you might also enjoy their Nero d’Avola, which has soaring floral aromatics that will stop most wine drinkers in their tracks.
Notes on all these below.
2012 Henriot “Millésime” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of lemon peel and buttery croissant. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of lemon peel, grapefruit pith, warm bread, dried herbs, and faintly saline flavors with a kick of kumquat on the finish. Quite tasty. A blend of 54% Chardonnay and 46% Pinot Noir, aged for 8 years on the lees. 6 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2020 Darling Wines “La Cruz Vineyard” Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green apple, grapefruit pith, and lemon zest with a touch of honey. In the mouth, flavors of lemon curd and pink grapefruit have a slightly softer acidity, silky texture, and a touch of honeyed aroma that lingers through the finish. I’d like a little more zip here. 12.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $49. click to buy.
2020 Duca di Salaparuta “Kados” Grillo, Sicily, Italy
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey, peaches, and a touch of butterscotch. In the mouth, peachy and grapefruit flavors mix with a touch of honey roasted nuts. Very good acidity and length. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2020 Darling Wines “Mariah Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge, Mendocino, California
A medium, slightly hazy garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor and berries. In the mouth, raspberry and earth are wrapped in flavors of green herbs and green wood. Lightly grippy tannins stiffen through the finish. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2020 Darling Wines “Grant Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth and forest berries. In the mouth, powdery tannins wrap around a core of earth and berry and dried herbs and flowers. I wish there were just slightly more of an acidic edge to this wine. The tannins stiffen in the finish. 12.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55.
2019 Darling Wines “Flocchini Vineyard” Syrah, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
A very dark, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and dried herbs. In the mouth, blackberries, white pepper, and wet earth have a stony quality, with powdery tannins that fill the mouth. Decent acidity. 11.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45.
2018 Quinta da Fonte Souto Red Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, black cherry, and herbs. In the mouth, rich flavors of blackberry and blueberry are shot through with dried herbs and dried citrus peel. Faint fleecy tannins wrap around the core of fruit as hints of cedar and herbs linger in the finish. A blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Alfrocheiro, and 10% of various other old vine varieties, all grown around 1640 feet of elevation. 50% of the blend was aged in older French oak barrels, the rest in steel. 14.3% alcohol. 2469 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2019 Duca di Salaparuta “Passo delle Mule” Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bergamot, roasted figs, and black tea. In the mouth, flavors of raisins and prunes have a heady perfume of bergamot and dried flowers. A touch of citrus peel lingers in the finish. Faint powdery tannins coat the moth, as the wine soars aromatically through the finish. Very good acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2018 Duca di Salaparuta “Lavico” Nerello Mascalese, Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass with orange highlights, this wine smells of dried flowers and berries. In the mouth, flavors of berries and dried flowers are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of powdery tannins that seems to coat the mouth, leaving a very stony impression on the palate. Notes of berries and citrus peel linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.