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 of my absolute favorite California Pinot Noirs around, but before we get there, let’s not overlook a couple of fantastic value-priced white wines.
I’m a sucker for volcanic wines of all stripes, but there’s nothing quite like a crisp white wine from the volcanic soils of Sicily. For $15 you can’t possibly go wrong with a wine that does feel like something of a secret, the “La Segreta” white wine from the esteemed folks at Planeta, one of Sicily’s largest producers. It’s crisp and citrusy and vaguely salty and everything you want in a refreshing white. I highly recommend it.
The folks at Troon Vineyard in Oregon have dedicated themselves to any number of worthy pursuits, such as regenerative organic and biodynamic farming and minimizing their carbon footprint. But they’ve also made a strong commitment to keeping fine wine affordable, which is one of the ideas behind their Druid’s Fluid line of wines, which offers a white blend and a red blend each for $25, and each pretty darn tasty.
Now, about those Pinots. A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the “entry-level” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Katy Wilson’s personal label LaRue Wines. This week I’m reviewing two of her heavy-hitter, single-vineyard wines. Except “heavy-hitter” is exactly the opposite of what these wines are, in all their silky, poised elegance and phenomenally juicy fruit. If you’re in the market for the upper echelons of California cool-climate Pinot Noir you definitely should have these wines on your radar.
Australian wine has had a hard time of it recently, after something of a consumer and trade backlash to the fruity ripeness and higher-alcohol trends of the early 2000s. But there is (and was always) more to Australian wine than the bruiser Barossa Shiraz. Yes, many places there get a lot of sun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to make wonderfully balanced, acidity-driven wines, and most people have no idea about some of the cooler climate zones in the country. I’ve got three Australian Shiraz wines this week that are all aiming for a bit more of balance, either through where they’re grown (e.g. the cooler Clare Valley) or how they’re made.
My favorite of the three was the Paradox Shiraz from Yalumba, made from the heart of the northern reaches of Barossa Valley, but picked early, with the idea of preserving acidity and achieving a more savory-style of wine, which I think they have done admirably. The Tellurian “Pastiche” Shiraz has likewise a more herbal freshness to it, along with its juicy blackberry fruit, and comes across as nicely balanced. The Killakanoon has perhaps a more classic ripe flavor profile, but is backed by positively zippy acidity, keeping the slightly more raisinated flavors from sitting heavily on the palate.
Last but not least, I’ve got an honest-to-goodness heavy hitter for you, in the event that you’re in the market for serious brawn. From the offensively heavy bottle to the 16.4% alcohol, there’s nothing small or timid about this wine, including it’s name: “Kissing Vipers.” A Grenache from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Valley, this bottle from the project known as Terre et Sang is aspiring very much to the Sine Qua Non aesthetic, both from a packaging perspective as well as the wine inside the bottle. Having said that, it’s surprisingly well-balanced for its ripeness, though I would suggest it be drunk earlier rather than aged for very long.
Notes on all these wines below.
2021 Planeta “La Segreta Il Bianco” White Blend, Sicily, Italy
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of chamomile, lemon pith, and white flowers. In the mouth, bright citrusy flavors of lemon pith and pomelo have a snappy juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint salinity that lingers with grapefruit zest into the finish. Delightful, fresh, and delicious. A blend of 50% Grecanico 30% Chardonnay 10% Viognier, and 10% Fiano. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Troon Vineyard “Druid’s Fluid” White Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass, lemon cucumber, and Asian pear. In the mouth, bright Asian pear, lemon zest, and white flowers have a juicy bounce thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint green herbal bitterness that lingers in the finish. Quite tasty. A blend of 65% Vermentino, 22% Marsanne, and 13% Roussanne, all biodynamically farmed. Fer ented in neutral oak, where the wine ages for 8 months before bottling. 12.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2019 LaRue “Emmaline Ann” Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers and cranberries. In the mouth, wonderfully crystalline flavors of raspberries, redcurrant, and dried flowers have an incredible juiciness and stony note underneath citrus and hints of herbs. Incredibly dynamic and outstanding. 13..4% Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $80. click to buy.
2019 LaRue “Rice-Spivak” Pinot Noir, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed herbs, wildflowers, and cranberries. In the mouth, stunning faint tannins offer a smooth stony backdrop to cherry and raspberry fruit, as floral and citrus notes linger in the finish. Incredibly seamless, and gorgeous. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.
2021 Troon Vineyard “Druid’s Fluid” Red Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
A hazy medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, woodsmoke, and boysenberries. In the mouth, boysenberry and a hint of smokey manure mix with bright berry acidity and hints of dried herbs that linger in the finish. A blend of 27% Tempranillo, 23% Malbec, 22% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 6% Grenache, 5% Cinsault, and 2% Carignan, all biodynamically farmed. Ages in neutral oak for 10 months. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Kilikanoon “Covenant” Shiraz, Clare Valley, Mt. Lofty Ranges, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of blackberry pie and dried flowers. In the mouth, candied blackberries, dried flowers, and hints of raisins and brown sugar have fantastically bright acidity. Hints of brown sugar and English toffee linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2018 Tellurian “Pastiche” Shiraz, Heathcote, Victoria, Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberry with a hint of spice. In the mouth, cool and fresh minty blackberry and black cherry flavors have a stony quality and a nice juicy acidity that makes this wine quite easy to drink. Hints of dried herbs and cocoa powder linger in the finish along with that minty freshness. 14.4% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2018 Yalumba “Paradox” Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of blackberries, cassis, and dried flowers. In the mouth, fresh and bright flavors of blackberry, green herbs, and licorice are wonderfully juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of tree bark and minty herbs linger in the finish. 14% alcohol. Comes in a heavier-than-it-needs to be bottle weighing 1.64 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2020 Terre et Sang “Kissing Vipers – Bien Nacido Vineyard” Grenache, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry jam. In the mouth, sweetish flavors of strawberry jam and redcurrant jelly mix with a touch of vanilla. Surprisingly only a modest amount of heat marks the finish given this wine’s prodigious 16.4% alcohol. Good acidity. Certainly qualifies as a “fruit bomb.” Comes in an egregiously heavy bottle weighing 1.78 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $75.