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.
We can start this week with a bang, which is sort of what your nose and tastebuds feel when you get your hands on the first of four wines I’ve got for you this week from a tiny, tiny family producer in the Tokaj region of Hungary. It’s impossible not to be charmed by these wines, from the arrestingly aromatic Muscat to the deeply ethereal and complex dry Furmint produced from one of the regions most famous vineyards.
Charming is among the first words that come to mind when speaking of Erzsébet Pince, a winery established by Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Prácser and her husband Miklós in 1989 when the fall of Communism meant such things were once again possible. From their magical 17th-century stone cellar, the Prácser family makes a mere 1000 cases of wine each year with a level of care and attention that is rare in a region where most of the wine is made by larger companies. The aging Prácsers continue to manage the vineyards, while their son, Miklós Jr., and daughter Hajnalka (or Hajni to her friends) handle winemaking and marketing/operations respectively. Hajni’s husband, American MW+MS Ronn Weigand pitches in with tasting, blending, and hospitality.
One of Erzsébet’s most unique products is their Betsek Dülö Kabar, an unbelievably rare grape (only a couple of acres planted in the world) from one of the most historically famous vineyards in the Tokaj region. If you’re like me and enjoy tasting new and different things, I highly recommend it. Of course, pretty much anything you can get your hands on from this little producer is worth your time, and if you ever find yourself in the town of Tokaj itself, make sure to stop by their coffee shop for one of the country’s best cups of coffee.
Closer to home, I’ve got a couple of newer releases to share with you from superstar winemaker Katy Wilson, who apprenticed with and then partnered with Ross Cobb before launching her own small label LaRue Wines in 2009. Katy’s primary day job is making wine for Anaba Wines, a Sonoma-based brand that began as a Rhône-focused winery but now produces some pretty stellar Pinot Noirs with Wilson at the wheel.
For her own label, Wilson sticks with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, making small batches of exquisite wines from some of the Sonoma Coast’s top vineyards, including Ross Cobb’s Coastlands and the Klopp Vineyard which Wilson helped plant. That’s the Chardonnay I have to share with you this week, along with her Sonoma Coast blend of Pinot Noir fruit from various sources. The Chardonnay is a knockout, easily one of the best I’ve tasted in many months, and the humble Sonoma Coast blend Pinot Noir is better than many people’s single vineyard efforts.
While we’re on the topic of talented lady winemakers, I’ve been watching (and tasting) with anticipation as Priyanka French settles into her position as head winemaker and winegrower at Signorello Estate (assisted by consulting winemaker Celia Welch). After tasting it in barrel with her last year, French sent along the recently released new wine they have decided to call Signori.
French has decided to make 2 flagship Cabernets from the property. Their Padrone wine has always been a “best barrel” blend off of the entire estate, but with Signori, French has decided to focus on their coolest vineyard parcels on the back side of the hill above the winery, as well as to pull back a little on the extraction and oak program to focus more on finesse. It’s early days for this wine, but I’d say she’s headed in the right direction.
Lastly, I’ve got an interesting Australian Shiraz to recommend from Mt. Yengo, a wine that has a nice freshness to it, with excellent acidity. Mt. Yengo bills itself as Australia’s “first indigenous wine company.” That’s something I greatly applaud, but I wish it sounded a little less like a corporate brand and that they told more of a personal story on their web site. As it is, all I can see is that they use artwork from an Aboriginal artist and give 50 cents from every bottle sold to indigenous causes, both of which are laudable, but don’t exactly make it feel like an indigenous winery. The wine, in any case, is tasty.
Notes on all these below.
2019 Erzsébet Pince “Lunée” Muscat Blanc, Tokaj, Hungary
Near colorless in the glass with a hint of a greenish tinge, this wine smells alluringly of white flowers and ripe honeydew. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of jasmine, honeydew, candied green apples, and a touch of lime juice are juicy and bright and quite refreshing. Despite the initial sweetness, by the time the wine finishes, it has lost that sweetness and leaves just a citrusy, melony tang on the palate. Fermented and aged in steek, with 11 g/l residual sugar. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Erzsébet Pince “Betsek Dülö – Histrical Grand Cru Barrel Selection” Kabar, Tokaj, Hungary
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of chamomile, toasted sesame, and bee pollen. In the mouth, citrus zest, bee pollen, and yellow herbs mix with a faint citrusy twang, as bright acidity and lovely minerality make for a crisp mouthwatering experience. There’s a faint waxy salinity in the finish that is quite tasty. An extremely rare grape, Kabar is a cross between the local Harslevelu grape and the Bouvier variety. It was created in the 1970s and is permitted for use in Tokaj, but almost never is, as there are only a handful of acres of the grape planted in the entire region. Contains 20% Furmint. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??
2018 Erzsébet Pince “Zafir Dülö – Historical Premier Cru Dry” Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears, white flowers, and ginger. In the mouth, pears and gorgeous white floral flavors are shot through with a crystalline minerality that is quite compelling. Silky and aromatically sweet, this wine is sensual, ethereal, and delicious. Contains 10% Harslevelu. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2017 Erzsébet Pince “Tokaji Szamorodni” Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and ripe apricots. In the mouth, moderate to very sweet flavors of apricots, honey, and white flowers have a nice bright acidity that keeps the wine from being cloying, and instead leaves the saliva glands pumping. Very delicious. This style of sweet wine is made with whole bunches of grapes, some of which have been affected by the botrytis “noble” rot. It comes from one of the most famous vineyards in the region, Kiraly Dülö. Fermented in new Hungarian oak and then aged for 12 months in used oak. 149 g/l residual sugar, which more than three times the minimum and standard concentration of Szamorodoni. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.
2019 LaRue “H. Klopp” Chardonnay, Sonoma, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and cold cream. In the mouth, fantastic flavors of stony white flowers, citrus pith (lemon and grapefruit), and just a touch of linalool swirl and shimmer. Fantastic acidity and a pithy zesty finish. Mouthwatering. Goes through malolactic conversion completely, but is picked at a ripeness that allows it to still have a bright laser-like edge even after the loss of some acidity in malolactic conversion. A stunner. 12.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 LaRue Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers, raspberries, and sour cherry. In the mouth, gorgeous and bright raspberry and sour cherry flavors have an intense crystalline quality and hint of stoniness. Dried herbs and citrus peel flavors linger in the finish. Incredible acidity, brightness, and a sensual silky texture. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2020 Mt. Yengo Shiraz, Adelaide Hills, Mt. Lofty Ranges, South Australia
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and black pepper with a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, the wine has a minty freshness as cool flavors of blackberry and blackberry leaf mix with a touch of green herbs. Excellent acidity and the faintest wispy tannins that hang ghostlike at the edges of the palate. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2019 Signorello Vineyard “Signori” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, camphor, and violets. In the mouth, beautifully fresh flavors of black cherry, violets, pipe tobacco, and blackcurrant have a juicy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s only the whisper of sweet oak and a touch of bourbon that emerges in the finish. Very fine-grained, restrained tannins. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $TBD.