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 goodies, including two exceptional champagnes that were recently released by Champagne Charles Heidsieck. The first is their Brut Reserve, which offers a rich and luscious experience driven by a nice blend of much older reserve wines, which lend the baked apple and butterscotch character that some of us find so appealing in older Champagnes. While it’s not cheap, at $80 a bottle (or less sometimes) it punches well above its weight, and can easily hold its own amongst $150 bottles of Champagne.
Speaking of not cheap, the second wine from Heidsieck is something of a unicorn, with only 1000 bottles available for purchase in the United States. The special Cuvée Champagne Charlie was last made in 1985 but has been resurrected in celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Camille Heidsieck, who may be one of the most famous people in Champagne’s storied history (especially for Americans). Charlie was one of the early pioneers of overseas sales and earned his nickname for traipsing about America in the 1800s hawking his bubbly to any and all who would taste.
Apparently a popular figure at high-society parties on the East Coast, Charlie was eventually arrested in 1861 on suspicion of spying for the Confederates and thrown in jail, only to eventually be pardoned by President Lincoln.
The wine, interestingly enough, despite being nearly 80% reserve wine, tastes fresher and younger, more delicate and precise than the Brut Reserve. Served blind next to each other, the Brut Reserve would easily be picked as the more reserve-wine-driven bottling. Charlie, though, is a gorgeous expression of Champagne and will thrill any of the lucky souls who get a chance to taste it, hopefully on someone else’s dime!
I also tasted a couple of nice Vinho Verdes this week, along with the latest releases from Three Sticks Winery, including their Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay and two single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, of which my favorite was the Walala Vineyard Pinot.
I discovered a bottle of Acorn Vineyards Medley that I had missed in my previous tastings of their samples, and was very happy to open up and enjoy this old-school field blend of more than 60 grape varieties that provides so much pleasure in the glass.
Two new red wines came my way from Troon Vineyards recently: their Tannat and their Syrah, both of which offered wonderfully savory, honest interpretations of the grapes that were on the one hand quite complex, but on the other hand, quite easy to drink.
Artist-turned-winemaker Bibi Graetz has been exploring the Super Tuscan “form” for some time now, and it seems to me that the more time he spends contemplating it, the more simply he chooses to approach it. His two flagship red wines, Testamatta and Colore are now both just 100% Sangiovese, aged in larger format, older oak barrels. It’s been some years since I’ve had these wines but I remember them being brawnier and more rich than these supple, delicate, floral, and delicious bottles I encountered recently.
Lastly, I returned home recently from a 2 week trip to South Africa to find… some South African samples on my doorstep, in the form of two Bordeaux blends from Stellenbosch, both of which are excellent examples of their type. The Rubicon bottling from Meerlust is one of the country’s most venerable wines. The 2017 vintage proved lovely, elegant, and delicious and is aging beautifully.
While Taaibosch is a much younger wine estate than Meerlust (which was established in 1756), it quickly rose to prominence in the last few years as one of the top producers in Stellenbosch, making complex and nuanced wines of real substance. I was only recently introduced to these wines and have found every bottle I’ve tasted quite delicious. The 2018 vintage was the first release of this Crescendo bottling, and it is holding up quite well.
Notes on all these wines below.
MV Charles Heidsieck “Brut Reserve” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light gold in the glass with a hint of green and medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of candied lemon and vanilla and baked apples and a hint of sea air. In the mouth, butterscotch, candied lemon peel, kelp, and toasted sourdough flavors have a rich, salty, gorgeous silky mousse. Delicious. A full meal in a glass. A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 20% Meunier. Reserve wines comprise 50% of the volume, with an average age of 20 years. Spends 3 years on lees. 9.5 g/l sugar. Disgorged in 2022. 2500 bottles imported to the USA. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
MV Charles Heidsieck “Cuvee Champagne Charlie” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France Light greenish gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and crushed oyster shells, brioche, white tea, and a touch of lemongrass. In the mouth, an extremely fine, delicate mousse delivers flavors of lemon pith, a touch of butterscotch, seawater, and that delicate white tea flavor vibrantly across the palate. This wine has fantastic acidity, delicacy, and brightness. 20% of the wine comes from a parcel in Ay, harvested in 2016, and the remaining 80% is made up of reserve wines. This is a special cuvée that was last made in 1985 and has been resurrected for the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder, Charles Camille Heidsieck. Only 1000 bottles were brought into the US via ship. BaScore: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $700. click to buy.
2021 Quinta do Ameal “Loureiro” Vinho Verde, Portugal
Pale straw colored in the glass, this wine smells of lemon blossom and lemon pith. In the mouth, tangy and bright flavors of lemon and lime zest mix with lemon juice and a hint of green apple. Excellent acidity. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2021 Esporão “Bico Amarelo” Vinho Verde, Portugal
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lime and grapefruit zest. In the mouth, electrically bright lime and grapefruit flavors have fantastic acidity and a nice silky texture. Zippy and enervating. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. click to buy.
2020 Three Sticks “Durell Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and a hint of buttered popcorn and pineapple. In the mouth, lemon curd and white flowers mix with lemon pith and grapefruit pith as excellent acidity makes the wine bright and juicy. A hint of pineapple lingers in the finish along with cold cream and a touch of wet pavement. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2020 Three Sticks “Walala Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
A faintly hazy medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit is shot through with faint fines herbes and a touch of citrus peel. Excellent acidity and a nice silky texture round out the package, as the barest hint of tannins caresses the mouth. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2020 Three Sticks “William James Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry jam and a hint of cedar. In the mouth, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry fruit flavors are bouncy with excellent acidity and backed by the barest wisp of tannins that hang gauzily in the corners of the mouth. Very good acidity. A crowd-pleaser of a wine. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75.
2018 Acorn Vineyards “Medley – Alegria Vineyards” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with garnet highlights, this wine smells of cherry and strawberries mixed with a touch of cocoa powder and dried flowers. In the mouth, juicy and bright cherry, strawberry, and licorice flavors mix with a touch of cedar and cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and fine tannins make this a pleasure to drink. Quite delicious. A mix of field blends from various plots, which include Syrah, Zinfandel, Dolcetto, Cinsault, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese, but ultimately adds up to more than 60 different grape varieties. 14.1% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2020 Troon Vineyard Tannat, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of earth, wet redwood bark, and dark black cherry fruit. In the mouth, the wine is earthy and brooding with black cherry and blackberry fruit tinged with a hint of woodsmoke (not smoke taint, mind you, but a touch of campfire). Well-restrained tannins are fine and powdery. Good acidity. Biodynamically certified. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2020 Troon Vineyard Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, black olive, and green herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully stony flavors of blackberry, black olive, and wet steel have a nice chopped herbal note that lingers in the finish. Fine, slightly muscular tannins and good acidity round out the package. Biodynamically certified. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2020 Bibi Graetz “Testamatta” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and freshly chopped green herbs and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright, even lean blood orange and cherry flavors mix with orange peel and sour cherry, dried herbs, and flowers. Faint, barely perceptible tannins. Very light and elegant with a nice sweet aromatic quality to the finish. Great acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.
2020 Bibi Graetz “Colore” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and wet earth, dried herbs, and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright cherry and dusty earth, dried herbs, and sour cherry flavors mix with hints of licorice root in the finish. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.
2018 Taaibosch “Crescendo” Red Blend, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of faintly smoky cherry, licorice, and roasted figs. In the mouth, faintly salty flavors of black cherry, black olive, plum, and dried herbs have a nice freshness thanks to excellent acidity. Fine, powdery tannins gain strength through the finish which has a decidedly umami meatiness. A blend of 42% Cabernet Franc, 36% Merlot, and 21% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2017 Meerlust “Rubicon” Red Blend, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, tobacco leaf, and minty, chopped green herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully bright and juicy flavors of cherry and green herbs, plum skin, and dried flowers have fantastic acidity and a very fine tannic backbone that hangs in the background and lets the lovely silky fruit do all the talking. A medium-bodied claret-style wine, with wonderful freshness. A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $37. click to buy.