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 an excellent value white from the folks at Donnafugata, who make their Anthìlia white wine primarily with the grape Catarratto, one of my favorites from Sicily, though lesser-known than its typical bedfellow Carricante. It’s crisp and salty, and juicy and wonderfully ready for a hot day on the porch, and can often be found for less than $20.
I also tasted two more of Merry Edwards’ current releases, the estate’s Russian River and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. I’m not sure why the Sonoma Coast bottling ended up in such a heavy, planet-unfriendly bottle, but it’s my favorite of the two bottlings, with a nice zingy acidity that makes it very easy to drink.
Two of the newest releases from the tiny producer Dogwood & Thistle made their way to my door recently as well, and the Pinot has a vibrant juiciness that is very compelling, and the Carignan, while needing a year or two to settle down, is quite tasty as well.
When it comes to weightier wines, let’s begin with the perennially tasty Smith-Madrone Cabernet, made high on the slopes of Spring Mountain by two brothers who have doggedly stuck to their vision for what Napa Cabernet should be for many years—namely restrained and ageworthy. Their 2019 is a beautiful expression of their style and of the steep hillsides they farm.
Gundlach-Bundschu has a long history (and a long history of mispronunciation). They’re actually one of California’s oldest wineries, which is why when they issued an Anniversary Cuvée recently, it had a three digit number attached to it. This “Vintage Reserve” bottling deserves a bit more cellaring before it is drunk, but it will be a worthwhile wine to watch over the long term.
Finally, the folks at Quintessa are finally ready to release their 2019 flagship wine, a Bordeaux blend with a dash of Carménère as a nod to the founder Augustin Hunneus’ Chilean heritage. Of course Carménère came to Chile from Bordeax in the first place, so it’s all a virtuous circle of celebration, so to speak. But on to the wine. It’s a showstopper of a wine, that has a lithe, effortless quality to it that is extremely riveting. Enough acidity and tannic muscle to age well, but still quite accessible in its youth. If you’re in the market for $200+ Napa Cabernet, this one delivers.
Notes on all these below.
2021 Donnafugata “Anthìlia” Catarrato, Sicily, Italy
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and lime zest. In the mouth, margarita and margarita salt flavors have a nice saline zing to them with lime and grapefruit lingering in the finish. Electric acidity. Quite delicious. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2020 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass with a faint haze, this wine smells of cherry and raspberries. In the mouth, powdery tannins wrap around raspberry and black raspberry flavors in a gauzy haze, while hints of citrus peel creep into the finish. Good acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Comes in a nasty heavy bottle weighing 1.62 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.
2020 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs, cranberry, and cherry. In the mouth, dusty tannins wrap around a core of sour cherry and cranberry fruit which leans towards raspberry in the finish as the acidity kicks the salivary glands into overdrive. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $64. click to buy.
2021 Dogwood & Thistle Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth, slightly candied raspberry flavors are juicy and bright with excellent acidity, plus they’re tinged with a hint of dried herbs and flowers that linger into the finish. Zippy, bouncy, and bright, with a nice fruit expression. A crowd pleaser of a wine. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2021 Dogwood & Thistle “Testa Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County, California
Medium purplish garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs, huckleberries, and boysenberries. In the mouth, powdery, muscular tannins wrap around a core of boysenberry and huckleberry fruit, shot through with green herbs. The tannins get stiffer through the finish. This will be better in a couple of years, but it’s fairly tasty now. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2019 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed dried flowers, tobacco leaf, and black cherries. In the mouth, wonderfully intense black cherry and forest floor notes have a hint of pencil lead and more of the moist pipe tobacco scent that is so alluring. Excellent acidity and very well-integrated oak round out the package. The tannins are quite restrained, and fine-grained, like a soft suede against the top and sides of the mouth. Elegant. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2018 Gundlach-Bundschu “Vintage Reserve 160th Anniversary” Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of dusty black cherry and cassis with hints of chocolate and cola. In the mouth, lush cherry cola flavors mix with blackcurrant and licorice as a muscular fist of fine-grained tannins slowly closes around the core of fruit. Excellent acidity and length. Powerful, and in need of a few years to reach its full potential. 14.5% alcohol. Comes in a nasty heavy bottle, weighing 1.65kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $140. click to buy.
2019 Quintessa Proprietary Red Wine, Rutherford, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cola. In the mouth, juicy and bright black cherry, black currant and black plum flavors snuggle down into a fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity brings some plum-skin tanginess into the finish along with a hint of licorice root. A nicely elegant wine with great freshness and acidity, remarkably light on its feet, like an Olympic athlete with zero body fat. A blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot, 2% Carménère, and 1% Petit Verdot that spends 22 months in 60% new French oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $230. click to buy.