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 a few more outtakes from my article on the Santa Lucia Highlands, this time from the venerable Testarossa Winery, whose two SLH Chardonnays have a nice balance between richness and bright zingy acidity. I’ve also got their standard SLH Pinot Noir to recommend this week as well, which displays the usual combination of bold fruit and fantastic acidity that the Highlands has become known for.
Speaking of zingy acidity, I’ve got a number of wines this week from one of my favorite tiny producers Graham Tatomer, who makes California’s best renditions of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. These days he’s also making Pinot Noir, and all four wines I’ve reviewed below are excellent.
I’ve got two more Pinot Noirs for you this week, the first from the talented Drake Whitcraft of Whitcraft Winery, whose Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills is positively crackling with crystalline brightness and will appeal to my fellow acid freaks.
Lastly, take a look at the relatively classic Open Claim Pinot Noir from Marnie and Brett Wall, who have enlisted winemaker Tony Rynders to make the wines from their 55-acre estate in Willamette Valley’s newest AVA, Mt. Pisgah. The Walls are taking an allocation approach to selling their wine, which means it will be harder to get and their web site doesn’t actually say how expensive it is, but the over-weight bottle probably tells you all you need to know (i.e. expensive).
Notes on all these below.
2021 Testarossa Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and grapefruit zest. In the mouth, faintly saline flavors of lemon curd, white flowers, and grapefruit pith have a nice stony quality to them, even as there’s a hint of buttery richness in the finish along with orange zest. 14.2% alcohol. 3600 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $33. click to buy.
2019 Testarossa “Rosella’s Vineyard” Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of orange and lemon pith. In the mouth, silky orange and lemon peel flavors mix with pastry cream and vanilla notes. Good acidity with nice length and a touch of woody bitterness in the finish. 14.3% alcohol. 425 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $53. click to buy.
2020 Tatomer “Vandenberg” Riesling, Santa Barbara County, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon blossom and tangerine oil. In the mouth, gorgeously bright lemon peel, lemon blossom, and citrus pith flavors have just the faintest sweetness to them, backed by wet chalkboard minerality. Beautifully balanced and wonderfully compelling. Not to mention delicious. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2021 Tatomer “Paragon” Grüner Veltliner, Edna Valley, SLO Coast, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear and a touch of lemongrass. In the mouth, pear and apple flavors mix with white flowers and a nice wet chalkboard flavor that accompanies a light tannic grip to the wine. Excellent acidity and nice citrus peel brightness in the finish. Juicy and delicious. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2020 Tatomer “Meeresboden” Grüner Veltliner, Santa Barbara County, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, pastry cream, and Asian Pear. In the mouth, Asian pear flavors mix with elderflower, lemongrass, and crushed stone as fantastic acidity accompanies a light chalky texture in the finish. Complex and compelling. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2021 Tatomer “Kick-on Ranch” Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California
A very light garnet in color, to the point of being mistaken for a rosé, this wine smells of freshly chopped herbs, dried flowers, and redcurrants. In the mouth, raspberry and redcurrant fruit has a distinctly savory edge, with flavors of green herbs and woody stems melding seamlessly with the fruit. A lovely dashi-like umami note lingers in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2021 Whitcraft Winery “Radian Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has an incredibly perfumed nose of sweet raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors are crystalline in quality, backed by fantastic acidity and faint gauzy tannins. Citrus peel notes mix with floral and sour cherry qualities in the finish. Outstanding. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $72.
2021 Testarossa Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cranberry, and a touch of brown sugar. In the mouth, silky cherry and cranberry flavors give way to the sweet vanilla and sawdust of new oak, which gains strength in the finish. Almost no tannic texture. 14.1% alcohol. 3700 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $44. click to buy.
2019 Open Claim Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and raspberry bramble. In the mouth, bright raspberry and herb flavors have a nice earthy undertone and hints of orange peel that linger in the finish. Powdery, wispy tannins hang ghost-like in the background as the wine offers a seamless quality across the palate. 13.8% alcohol. Comes in a heavier-than-needed bottle that weighs 1.58 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $??