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 really excellent California Sauvignon Blancs. The first was from Spottswoode, a producer who has been perfecting the form for many years. Their blend of Napa and Sonoma fruit represents, for me, a quintessential expression of what California Sauvignon Blanc can be.
I’ve had Flora Springs‘ Soliloquy bottling of Sauvignon Blanc before, but I think this 2021 bottle they sent me recently might be the best one I’ve ever had. If you don’t know the story of Soliloquy, apparently there was a block of Sauvignon Blanc that always tasted different when it came time for picking and winemaking. Eventually the winery sent the fruit to the UC Davis plant lab, and they confirmed that it was a unique, spontaneous mutation, or clone of Sauvignon Blanc, different than any they had seen in California before. That fruit has formed the basis for the Soliloquy bottling ever since (which also traditionally includes some other grapes as well).
Getting a new wine from Bonny Doon Vineyard has historically never been much of a surprise. Founder and now (after selling the brand) Director of Winemaking Randall Grahm was always a perpetual tinkerer, with new wines continually popping up like mushrooms after a rain. The surprise, really, is that Bonny Doon Vineyards hasn’t had an orange wine until now. Having an orange version of Le Cigare (Grahm’s most famous brand that pokes fun at the anti-UFO laws of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) somehow seems to make perfect sense, and the winemaking team at Bonny Doon seems to have hit it out of the park (or the galaxy?) with this new wine, which they cleverly released on national UFO day (June 24th, in case you were as ignorant as I). It’s an easy-to-love skin-contact white that seemingly has the potential to persuade many a wine drinker that orange is the thing.
This week I also popped open (quite literally) the latest vintage of Two Shepherds’ canned wine Bucking Luna, a sparkling blend of Cinsault and Carignane that once prompted me to write an article called “Two Canned Wines That Are Worth a Damn.” This latest vintage is also. Worth a damn, that is. It’s tasty stuff. And if that weren’t enough, Two Shepherds has also decided to make a piquette from basically the same grapes, which is lower alcohol, with slightly less intense flavors, and all the chalky grip that you expect from Piquette. If you’re unfamiliar with what Piquette is, it’s not really wine at all. It’s a fermented drink made from the mash of grape skins leftover after winemaking (known as pomace) mixed with water. It’s got a bit more of a beer-like quality, and it’s all the rage these days in some circles.
OK, leaving the frivolity behind for now, let’s get serious with a great value from Napa. It’s a little sad to use that phrase with a wine that costs $90, but in today’s world, that is what counts as a value wine from Napa. Spottswoode’s Lyndenhurst is always a reliably delicious bottle, and one that I can usually better afford when I am dining out, as opposed to the markups that happen on their normal bottles. I suspect this 2019 is still a bit young, and will improve with a little bit of time.
Lastly I’ve got two dessert wines to recommend, both made with the grape Semillon and both of a very similar style (and method of production) yet from very different places.
Most wine lovers have heard of Sauternes, the legendary sweet wine of Bordeaux produced through the action of botrytis cinerea, the so called “noble rot.” More geeky wine lovers may have heard of Barsac, which is the same kind of wine but made in a neighboring village. But if we want to play the obscure Bordeaux dessert wine game, we then move to Cérons, which is an even smaller, more out-of-the-way village in the same region, but which makes the same kinds of wines. Chateau du Seuil (not to be confused with the Provence wine estate with the same name) organically farms 61 acres south of Bordeaux, and is mostly focused on dry reds and whites, but also makes a tiny amount of this dessert wine.
Once upon a time, comparing Napa to Bordeaux was de rigueur, but no one says such things anymore, certainly not in Napa. But back in that era when Napa looked east, the question naturally arose, if Bordeaux does Sauternes, what could Napa do. The folks at Far Niente winery became somewhat obsessed with the idea in the 80s, and spent a great deal of time, energy, and money figuring out how to get botrytis to happen in a serious way in a region where if it appeared at all it was quite spotty. If you can imagine people walking through the vineyards at night dabbing botrytis spores onto grapes by headlamp, or visiting the vineyard every day to pick only the (sometimes individual) grapes that have been affected by the noble rot, you’ve got an idea of the lengths to which these folks go in order to make this wine every year. They call the wine Dolce, and it’s something of a triumph of persistence and dedication. It’s also pretty darn tasty.
2021 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemonade and green apples. In the mouth, juicy bright lemon and green apple flavors are all but bursting with mouthwatering acidity. Clean, crisp, refreshing and very delicious. In my mind, this is what every California Sauvignon Blanc should aspire to be. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2021 Flora Springs “Soliloquy” White Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and green melon. In the mouth, green apple, candle wax, white flowers and a bit of green melon all have bright juicy snappiness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Floral notes and lime zest linger in the finish. A blend of 73% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Chardonnay and 15% Malvasia. Spends 6 months in French oak barrels. This may be the best vintage of this wine I’ve had. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2021 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Le Cigare Orange” White Blend, Central Coast, California
A pale to light bronzey-orange color in the glass, this wine smells of apricots, citrus peel, and peaches. In the mouth, a faint tannic grip surrounds bright citrus and peach flavors that are zingy with juicy acidity. This is a gateway orange wine for sure, with just a touch of the usual effects of skin contact, but it succeeds brilliantly. A blend of 40% Grenache Gris, 40% Grenache Blanc, 10% Grenache Noir, and 10% Orange Muscat fermented on the skins for 10 days before being pressed into steel tanks. 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.
2021 Two Shepherds Winery “Bucking Luna” Sparkling Red Blend, California
A dark cloudy garnet in the glass with coarse bubbles, this wine smells of boysenberry, huckleberry, and black cherry. In the mouth, boysenberry and black cherry flavors are borne on a soft, quickly dissipating mousse, and feature nice notes of citrus peel and herbs. Good acidity. This is a pretty darn successful canned wine. A blend of 40% Carbonically macerated Carignan and 60% Cinsault. 11.5% alcohol. Packaged in 250ml can. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. click to buy.
2021 Two Shepherds Winery “Maxzilla” Piquette, California
Light to medium garnet in color with a coarse effervescence, this wine smells of boysenberries and wet dirt and crushed herbs. In the mouth, a coarse mousse delivers chalky flavors of black cherry and boysenberry. These flavors are a bit dilute, and backed by a tart, tannic quality, but as piquettes go, this is a pretty decent one. Made from 35% Carbonically macerated Carignan and 65% Cinsault. 7.5% alcohol. Packaged in 250ml can. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $5. click to buy.
2019 Spottswoode “Lyndenhurst” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cedar, and cocoa powder. In the mouth, bright cherry and cola flavors mix with a touch of cocoa powder, cedar, and some strawberry high notes. Fantastic acidity keeps the fruit incredibly juicy while powdery, wispy tannins add texture in the background. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2014 Chateau du Seuil Cérons, Bordeaux, France
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of candied orange peel, nail polish remover, and caramel. In the mouth, moderate to very sweet flavors of caramel, orange blossom, dried apricot, and honey flavors have a faint bitterness to them and a touch of coffee flavor. There’s also a little heat in the finish. 100% Semillon, partially barrel fermented then aged for 16 months in new French oak. 13% alcohol. 375ml bottle. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.
2012 Dolce Napa Valley White Dessert Wine, Napa Valley, Napa, California
A light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey, dried apricots, peach pie and a touch of nail polish remover. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of silky flavors of peach, honey, and butterscotch are tinged with just a touch of citrus peel bitterness, which adds complexity. The acidity is fading a bit here, but is enough to keep the wine from being cloying. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. 13.5% alcohol. 375ml bottle Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.