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 of the new releases from Aperture Cellars in Sonoma County, the Son-Father project of winemaker Jesse Katz and his photographer dad, Andy Katz, who is a friend, and whose work I occasionally feature here on Vinography. This week I tasted their newest two white ones, one of which is a fairly breathtaking Sauvignon Blanc, which includes a tiny bit of Semillon from a new estate vineyard at Aperture. It’s barrel fermented and made with the techniques of Bordeaux Blanc, but is unmistakably California in its expression. The Chenin Blanc they sent along is pretty tasty as well.
I also tasted a number of new releases from Kendric Vineyards in Marin County’s Petaluma Gap AVA. Winemaker Stewart Johnson make small quantities of wine with great care and little ostentation, and these latest releases are great examples of that combination, with a crisp Chardonnay, a delicate Pinot Noir and a decidedly cool-climate, savory Syrah. Like many places dismissed by some for being too cool, Marin County increasingly turns out some excellent wines.
In addition to his whites, I also tasted the 2018 vintage of Jesse Katz’ Devil Proof project, which used to be just a single bottling of Malbec from Farrow Ranch in Alexander Valley, but now includes a bottling made from purchased fruit grown in the Rockpile AVA high above Lake Sonoma. Katz bought the Farrow Ranch property last year. I think that in past vintages, I have always preferred the Farrow Ranch bottling, but this year I think the edge goes to Rockpile which has some extra lift and brightness. Both are serious and muscular wines, but manage to walk that fine line between heft and elegance.
Lastly, I tasted the latest vintage of The Prisoner, the wildly successful red blend pioneered by winemaker Dave Phinney, and the core of the ever-expanding The Prisoner Wine Co. portfolio. The Prisoner has always been a rich, dark, sweeter red wine, with legions of devoted fans. It’s been a while since I tasted it, and was happy to see that its sweetness and ripe fruit are still balanced by excellent acidity, making it much more drinkable than some other copycat red blends on the market.
That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines below.
2021 Aperture Vineyards “Soil Specific” Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of cape gooseberries and lemon oil. In the mouth, exceedingly silky flavors of gooseberry and passionfruit have a bright zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of candied green apple linger in the finish. Quite tropical but with enough acid backbone to make those flavors electrifying. Outstanding. Includes 3% Semillon, and is barrel fermented in 30% new oak. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2021 Aperture Vineyards “Soil Specific” Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and Asian pears with hints of citrus pith. In the mouth, pear, citrus pith, and Asian pear flavors mix with some floral notes and hints of grapefruit that linger in the finish. Bright, juicy, and with just a touch of salinity. The wine doesn’t sing out its varietal nature—despite being very tasty, it would be hard to peg this as a Chenin Blanc in a blind lineup. 12.7% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2019 Kendric Vineyards Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and grapefruit flavors mix with a hint of melted butter. I wish there was slightly more acid here, but the wine is balanced and there’s a faint tannic grip to the finish. 13.4% alcohol. 80 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.
2019 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, raspberry leaf, and red apple skin. In the mouth, bright, faintly saline flavors of raspberry, redcurrant, and sour cherry have a lovely gauzy tannic structure and pretty citrus peel acidity. Delicious and quite sensuous on the palate. 13.6% alcohol.300 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.
2019 Kendric Vineyards Syrah, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, white pepper, and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry and white pepper flavors have a faint saline quality to them and are backed by muscular, fleecy tannins. Lovely herbal and savory bone broth notes linger in the finish along with the blackberry florals. Tasty. 13.4% alcohol.175 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Aperture Vineyards “Devil Proof – Rockpile Ridge” Malbec, Rockpile, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of earthy blueberry and black cherry fruit with hints of dried flowers. In the mouth, vaguely minty flavors of black cherry and blueberry have a remarkable freshness to them, as fantastic acidity keeps the saliva flowing with blackberry and blueberry notes lingering with hints of florals in the finish. Powdery, gauzy tannins coat the mouth but stay out of the way, letting the fruit shine. Deep, rich, and powerful but without much weight, this wine is a prizefighter in perfect conditioning and form. There’s a hint of raisin and chocolate in the finish. I believe that this is the first vintage I have slightly preferred the Rockpile bottling to the Farrow Ranch bottling. 14.9% alcohol. Unfortunately, it comes in a nasty, ostentatiously heavy bottle weighing 1.76 kg when full. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $249. click to buy.
2018 Aperture Vineyards “Devil Proof – Farrow Ranch” Malbec, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, rich and dark flavors of blueberry, black cherry, and blackberry are wonderfully juicy with fantastic acidity. Gauzy tannins brush the edges of the mouth, but let the fruit take center stage on the palate. The oak is incredibly well integrated and its flavors barely register amidst the dark fruit. Despite being big, this wine is not heavy and shows only a little of its 15.1% alcohol. Quite tasty. Unfortunately, it comes in a nasty, ostentatiously heavy bottle weighing 1.76 kg when full. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $225. click to buy.
2019 The Prisoner Wine Company “The Prisoner” Red Blend, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie, licorice, and smoky roasted figs. In the mouth, sweetish, rich flavors of blackberry, licorice, chocolate, grilled figs, and prunes have surprisingly bright acidity and hints of raisins and caramel linger in a port-like finish. Definitely on the sweeter side, with 8 grams per liter of residual sugar, but the substantial 15.5% alcohol doesn’t show itself that much in the wine. This is not my personal style of wine, but for those who enjoy the rich and dark side of wine, this will undoubtedly satisfy. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $33. click to buy.