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 all sorts of treats, starting with the latest release from Domaine Carneros of their flagship Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, which is one of California’s finest sparkling wines. I’m continually impressed with the richness of this wine without a single drop of it spending time in wood. It’s a delight.
Next up I’ve got a couple of Verdejos from Rueda, Spain, both of which are excellent values, with a slight preference on my part for the Protos bottling which at 12 bucks is a steal of a wine if you’re looking for something friendly and delicious.
Lang & Reed has been making Loire-inspired wines in California for a long time, and in recent years the brand has been doubling down on its commitment to Chenin Blanc. This is a perfect example of what treasures can be unearthed in California. Proprietor John Skupny found some older vines in Mendocino and boy are we lucky he did. This is a distinctive wine with great character.
There’s never a bad time to drink pink, which is why I’ve got four different Italian rosés for you, each a great value and a welcome antidote to anyone who’s been watching the price of those rosés from Provence climb in value. Why pay $100 for a bottle of refreshing citrus and berry brightness when you can pay $14? Don’t miss the “Torrerose” from Masseria li Veli, which proves why Negroamaro is one of the best grapes for making rosé.
Before we get out of rosé territory, it’s definitely worth noting the very rare pink bottling from Napa stalwart Smith-Madrone, which has only made a bottle of rosé twice before. This blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc might surprise you with its bright juicy cherry goodness.
For those who are still looking for reds to go with their grilled steaks this summer, I’ve got two options for you, a leaner, polished wine from Australia’s Wynns Coonawarra Estate, which has a real elegance to it, as well as a Cabernet from Tierra Roja in Napa which expresses some more typical Napa richness.
That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines below.
2014 Domaine Carneros “Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs” Chardonnay, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green and moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of yeasty bread, lemon zest, and lemon pith. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers wonderfully balanced flavors of lemon curd, roasted nuts, lemon oil, toasted sourdough, and a faint salinity that keeps the salivary glands gushing. Crisp and bright with excellent acidity, this is a lovely mouthful. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2020 Buil & Gine “Nosis” Verdejo, Rueda, Spain
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of Meyer lemon curd and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon curd, grapefruit, and peach flavors have decent acidity and a faint chalky texture to them. Bright and cheerful. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a plastic cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Protos Verdejo, Rueda, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lemon and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon, citrus pith, and grapefruit flavors have a cheery, sunny disposition, with a hint of peach emerging on the finish. Very good acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2020 Lang & Reed “Talmage” Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince paste, grapefruit pith, and vanilla. In the mouth, flavors of quince and grapefruit mix with creme anglaise and a faint nutmeg quality that is as compelling as it is surprising. Very good acidity, which I wish were slightly more aggressive, but that’s a quibble. The wine has a pretty, silky texture. 40-year-old vines grown on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino. Spends 14 months in barrel. 13.5% alcohol. 50 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2021 Fattoria La Valentina Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and orange peel. In the mouth, juicy cherry and red plum flavors mix with orange zest, which lingers with a faint hint of bitterness in the finish. A note of dried fennel creeps in as well. Excellent acidity. 13% alcohol. 100% Montepulciano. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.
2021 Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Scaia” Rosato, Veneto, Italy
Pale peachy pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of strawberry, watermelon, and redcurrant have a wonderfully tangy bright acidity to them and a clean, aromatic finish. Very tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a Vinolok glass stopper. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Garafoli “Kòmaros” Rosé Blend, Marche, Italy
Palest baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and cream. In the mouth, strawberries, vanilla, and white floral notes have a silky texture and juicy brightness. A hint of citrus peel lingers in the finish. Perhaps not quite as snappy as I would like, but the flavors are hard to argue with. 100% Montepulciano. 13% alcohol. Closed with a plastic cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.
2021 Masseria li Veli “Torrerose” Negroamaro Rosé, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of peaches and watermelon rind and white flowers. In the mouth, flavors of watermelon rind, peach, redcurrant, and citrus peel have a nice, crisp acidity and wonderful balance, with notes of orange zest lingering through a long finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.
2021 Smith-Madrone Rosé, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
A pale ruby in color with bluish highlights, this wine smells of cherries and plum skin. In the mouth, bright cherry and sour cherry flavors have a juicy tartness and a faint tannic grip, as fantastic acidity keeps the saliva flowing through a long finish. A blend of 33% Merlot and 67% Cabernet Franc that is co-fermented in stainless steel. 14.1% alcohol. 165 cases made. This is only the third time in its history that Smith-Madrone has made a rosé. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Wynns Coonawarra Estate “John Riddock Limited Release” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, chocolate, and minty pine oil. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, cassis, and black plum flavors have a wonderful elegance thanks to excellent acidity. Barely perceptible tannins hang wispy and ghost-like in the background letting the silky fruit do its thing on the palate before they stiffen slightly in the finish. Very pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2019 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and sweet tobacco. In the mouth, rich, somewhat sweetish flavors of black cherry, licorice, and cassis are tinged with cocoa powder and a touch of espresso. Good acidity, but comes across as fairly ripe and sweet. Barrel fermented and then aged in new French oak for 30 months before bottling. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases made. Comes in a somewhat heavier bottle than it needs to, weighing 1.65kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $175. click to buy.