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 some delicious bottles, starting with a brand new release from the mother-and-daughter pair I call the Lorenza Ladies. Melinda Kearney and her daughter have made one of California’s most reliably delicious rosés for the last 14 years under the brand Lorenza. For the first time, they now have a white wine, a Picpoul Blanc from Lodi that is zippy and fresh and aromatic and, unsurprisingly, delicious. They sent both this new white and the latest vintage of their rosé to me recently. Both are worth seeking out for their value and flavor.
This week I was also sent two of California’s more storied white wines. The first is the Chenin Blanc that Chappellet winery has been making for ages and ages. It’s a favorite of the winery’s patriarch Molly Chappellet, whose signature the bottle now bears. For the longest time, this was one of the only (if not the only) varietal Chenin Blancs made in California. Plenty of other people have now jumped on the bandwagon of this fantastic grape variety, but this is definitely still the state’s OG Chenin Blanc.
The other OG white I tasted this past week was the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, which has the distinction of being the highest scoring Sauvignon Blanc in California according to some critics. That may be why the winery has decided to put it into a bottle that weighs as much as many top Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, a move I find disappointing. The wine, which features 6 months of sur lie aging with twice weekly battonage (stirring of the lees) delivers predictably rich flavors and a silky texture.
Merry Edwards Winery also sent along their Meredith Estate Pinot, and while it, too, has a far-too-heavy bottle, it delivered its usual bright, juicy rendition of ripe-but-balanced Russian River Pinot Noir. It’s pretty hard not to like this wine, which has the acid and structure to age well for decades.
Ashes & Diamonds burst onto the Napa scene in 2014 and immediately set itself apart from many other wineries in any number of ways, from its mid-century design aesthetic to the employment of not one but two top winemakers. And then there were the winery’s decidedly old-school wines, which quite deliberately harkened back to the Napa wines of the 1960s and 1970s. Ashes and Diamonds sent along their Mountain Cuvee, a Bordeaux blend from the Saffron Vineyard on Mount Veeder made by Diana Snowden Seysses. Clocking in at only 13% alcohol, this is a savory, aromatic, lithe Bordeaux-style blend that will instantly charm you.
The folks at Tenuta Arceno (aka Jackon Family Wines, who bought the property in 1994) sent along their Chianti Classico Riserva, which is brimming with the bright cherry fruit, smoky earth, and herbs that you want from a good Chianti. This one includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, which melds quite nicely with the Sangiovese. Aged in neutral oak, this wine has a very nice savory, umami note in the finish.
To finish up, I’ve got four wines from Booker Wines in Paso Robles. Run by winemaker Eric Jensen and his wife, the estate became certified organic with the 2021 vintage, and makes expressive, big-boned wines that you might expect from Paso Robles. Jensen sent along four of his wines, spanning price points and various vineyard sites, all of which offered richer, riper flavors, with well-integrated oak, and generally very good balance. The wines show a certain amount of restraint, with alcohol levels that are fairly low for Paso Robles. I only wish Jensen’s choice of glass reflected that same restraint. They’re far too heavy for a winery that is ostensibly interested in sustainability.
That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines follow below.
2021 Lorenza Picpoul Blanc, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of orange pith and grapefruit pith with a hint of white flowers. In the mouth, bright and juicy orange peel, apricot, grapefruit, and yellow herbs all but burst with fantastic acidity. Fresh, bright, aromatic, and delightful. The Lorenza ladies deliver, as always. 10.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $28.
2021 Chappellet “Signature” Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince paste and lemon rind. In the mouth, baked quince, grapefruit pith, grapefruit juice, and pear flavors have a lighter acidity than I would like, and a faint bitter tannic grip in the finish, like the flavor and texture of Asian pear skin. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2020 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, candied gooseberries, and vanilla. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of gooseberry and green apple have a slightly candied aspect, as notes of lime zest and grapefruit pith linger in the finish. There’s enough acidity to keep this wine from feeling flabby in the mouth, but I wish it had more zip. Definitely on the rich side. 14% alcohol. Packaged in an unusually heavy (for Sauvignon Blanc) bottle, weighing 1.6 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2021 Lorenza “True” Rosé, California
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon rind, citrus peel, and green strawberries. In the mouth, unripe strawberry, watermelon, rosehip, and floral notes have a bright zip thanks to excellent acidity. A silky texture and clean zesty finish make for a mouthwatering package. A blend of 44% Mourvèdre, 27% Carignan, 17% Cinsault, and 12% Grenache. 11.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2020 Merry Edwards “Meredith Estate” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black raspberries. In the mouth, juicy and bright cherry and raspberry flavors have a faint citrus peel brightness to them. Excellent acidity and silky texture, with just a faint bitter note in the finish. Slightly on the riper side, but well-balanced and tasty. 14% alcohol. Packaged in a bottle that weighs far more than it needs to, coming in at 1.63 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $88. click to buy.
2019 Ashes and Diamonds “Mountain Cuvee No. 4 – Saffron Vineyard” Red Blend, Mount Veeder, Napa, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, chopped herbs, and plum. In the mouth, the wine is light and fresh with great acidity and a nice cherry and tobacco quality with hints of dried herbs and fennel seed. Conveys an impressive smoothness. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 28% new oak for 19 months. Made by Diana Snowden Seysses. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2018 Tenuta di Arceno “Riserva” Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, cherry, and dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy acidity buoys flavors of cherry, earth, and woodsmoke shot through with flavors of dried herbs. Hints of blood orange, meat, and fennel linger in the finish. 90% Sangiovese, with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2019 Booker Vineyard “Fracture” Syrah, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and blackberries. In the mouth, tight, powdery tannins wrap around a core of blackberry, woodsmoke, and black plum. Notes of licorice linger in the finish. 14.6% alcohol. Comes in a particularly heavy bottle weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2019 Booker Vineyard “Harvey and Harriet” Red Blend, San Luis Obispo, Central Coast, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and licorice. In the mouth, rich brawny flavors of black cherry, blackcurrant, and licorice are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps things bright and juicy, but the fruit is dense and the tannins thicken over time. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Booker Vineyard “My Favorite Neighbor” Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo, Central Coast, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco leaf, and blackcurrant. In the mouth, blackcurrant and black cherry flavors are shot through with a touch of Nutella and licorice. Billowy, fine-grained tannins coat the mouth. 14.4% alcohol. Not “my favorite” bottle weight – clocks in at 1.66 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2019 Booker Vineyard “Oublié” Red Blend, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of raisins, black cherry, and blackberries. In the mouth, rich black cherry, licorice, and blackberry flavors are dusted with powdery tannins that stiffen over time. A darker earthy rumble underneath everything. Ripe, rich, dense. A blend of 34% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 27% Mourvèdre, 4% Tannat, and 4% Petite Sirah. 14.1% alcohol. Comes in an awfully heavy bottle weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.