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 brand-new wines. The first are a new set of releases from Two Shepherds Winery, which include the latest vintage of their perennially good Grenache Blanc, a rosé of Mourvedre, and a wine they’re calling “L’il Trouble” after their newest baby goat, which is a crunchy, glou-glou style of Mourvedre that is just calling for a nice chill and a sunny afternoon.
I also received the very, very new releases from restaurateur Stephen Singer, whose Baker Lane Estate in the Sonoma Coast region was known for excellent cool climate wines for a number of years. The Baker Lane brand was retired, but Singer is back with an eponymous set of wines featuring his artwork on the label and his estate’s fruit in the bottle. Perhaps unsurprisingly the wines are quite good—the Viognier is crisp and juicy with great acidity, and the Syrah has all the cold-climate spiciness you want in Syrah. I just wish in addition to the fancy label (adorned with his own paintings), Singer had opted for earth-friendly glass bottles instead of the somewhat hulking bottles he selected, presumably in service of a luxury impression.
I’ll be honest, sometimes wine samples get shoved into corners in my cellar and get forgotten about or overlooked for some time. As a result, on occasion, I get to feature “slightly aged” wines here. To my chagrin, I’ve got two of those this week, a bottle of Australian Shiraz from Taylors Wakefield in the Clare Valley that is aging beautifully, the other a Zinfandel from Yolo County, a little-known winegrowing area to the west of Sacramento. The winery, Berryessa Gap, is the work of a long-standing farming family that added vineyards to their orchard operations in 2000.
Lastly, I got two wines from the Andrews Family, which farms 1300 acres in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills. In addition to selling grapes to many wineries in Washington, they make their own wine under the brand Trothe, and it’s pretty darn good, especially the 2019 vintage, which is not yet released, but I guess I got a sneak preview of this week. The family is clearly aiming for the luxury end of the Cabernet spectrum (including bottles that are heavier than they need to be), but if you’re in the three-figure Cabernet-buying club, it’s one to consider.
Notes on all these below.
2018 Two Shepherds Winery “A Tribute to Saralee – Catie’s Corner Vineyard” Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of peach and melon and a hint of star fruit. In the mouth, white peach, citrus pith, and winter melon flavors have a pretty, crisp quality as juicy acidity carries the wine through a long finish. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in neutral barrels with one-third done in stainless. Minimal sulfur additions. 12.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2021 Singer Wine “Baker Lane Estate” Viognier, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of apricots and orange peel. In the mouth, juicy apricot, citrus, and Asian pear flavors have a wonderful floral overtone and fantastic juicy acidity. This is quite a lovely wine. 13.8% alcohol. Packaged in an overly heavy bottle weighing 1.66 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $65
2021 Two Shepherds Winery Rosé of Mourvedre, El Dorado County, California
A light coppery pink in color, this wine smells of crushed rosehips, hibiscus, and berries. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy berry and melon flavors have a wonderful citrus kick and the faint savory creaminess that I have come to associate with wines made in a natural style. Fermented with native yeasts and then aged briefly in 25% neutral oak barrels and 75% in stainless with minimal sulfur additions. 10.7% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2021 Two Shepherds Winery “L’il Trouble” Mourvedre, El Dorado County, California
Light ruby in color, this wine smells of huckleberries and strawberries. In the mouth, tangy sour cherry and strawberry flavors have a wonderfully bright citrus acidic edge to them that makes the mouth water. Faint tannins and juicy notes of cherry skin linger in the finish. Somewhere between a rosé and a red, this wine was picked early and then fermented with native yeasts half of the normal time on the skins to make a deliberately crunchy, chillable wine. Aged briefly in a neutral barrel. 10.3% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2016 Berryessa Gap Zinfandel, Yolo County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of roast meat and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry and licorice flavors mix with more savory, meaty notes along with a hint of salinity. There’s a touch of heat in the finish, but otherwise, this wine is aging quite nicely. 14.6% alcohol. 600 cases made. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25.
2016 Taylors Wakefield “St. Andrews” Shiraz, Clare Valley, Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry, licorice, and a hint of mint. In the mouth, rich blackberry flavors have a minty freshness and a little bit of black peppercorn heat to them along with juicy acidity and notes of licorice in the finish. Remains quite fresh across the palate, and I’d say is aging quite nicely. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Singer Wine “Baker Lane Estate” Syrah, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of white pepper and unripe blackberries. In the mouth, vaguely salty flavors of blackberry, white pepper, green herbs, and earth have a really lovely black-olive quality as the wine heads into a long finish. Very delicious. 13.8% alcohol. Packaged in an overly heavy bottle weighing 1.66 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95
2018 Trothe Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry, cassis, and mocha notes mix with darker potting soil as fleecy tannins grab hold of the palate. Thankfully the oak is very well integrated here, leaving the powerful fruit to do its job. Aged over 22 months in 83% new French oak. 14.5% alcohol. Comes in a slightly heavier bottle than it needs to, weighing 1.56 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $190.
2019 Trothe Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco notes. In the mouth, juicy flavors of cherry and tobacco, and cedar mix with hints of cola and dried herbs. Very juicy acidity keeps the wine bright and singing, as powdery tannins coat the mouth. The wood shows up a little in the finish, but it is generally very well integrated. Includes 4% Merlot. Spends 23 months in 77% new French oak. 14.7% alcohol. Comes in a slightly heavier bottle than it needs to, weighing 1.56 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $195. Will be released in the fall.