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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/5/23

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 wide variety of interesting wines, but perhaps none so “wide” away from my normal tasting regimen as a wine made from American native grape varieties in Missouri. I recently got a number of wines from Terravox, which specializes in producing wines from various indigenous grape varieties that were bred by the earliest viticultural pioneers in America. Many of the wines didn’t appeal to me, but the white made from a grape called Hidalgo was a pleasant surprise. Crisp, bright, and with a nice combination of savory and fruity notes, it’s a wine I would be happy to drink.

Closer to home, I received a couple of bottles on my doorstep from Stewart Johnson of Kendric Vineyards, one of the stalwart producers from Marin County. I’ve been following Johnson’s efforts for perhaps close to a decade now, and he has settled into a really nice groove in his winemaking, with predictably tasty results. His Viognier continues to be one of the best renditions of the variety made in California in my opinion (crisp, lean, and not at all oily or flabby) and his Sangiovese is frankly unbeatable for its true varietal expression of the grape, something very few people manage to achieve in California. Johnson’s prices are unusually reasonable in a world of constantly climbing SRPs, so I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Also reasonably priced are the wines from Two Shepherds winery, whose products I’m always happy to taste and recommend. I’ve got two skin-fermented “gris” varieties to show you this week, a Grenache Gris and Trousseau Gris, along with their Grenache Noir. I really loved the Trousseau Gris, for its peachy, berry goodness.

When wine lovers normally think of the Carmenere grape variety, their first thoughts are probably about Chile, where the grape has become something of a signature variety after many decades of being mistaken for Merlot. If they are really wine savvy, the second place a wine geek might think of when it comes to Carmenere would be Bordeaux, which is where it became most popular in the early 19th Century (though it is believed that the variety originally hails from Croatia). All of which is to say the Soave region of Italy is not likely to be high on the list of expected sources of the grape, yet nonetheless, I’ve got a Carmenere from Inama, one of Soave’s best producers, for you this week. Carmenre made its way to the Veneto region of Italy along with some other Bordeaux varieties, and in 2009 Italy recognized its first DOC specifically for the grape: Carmenere Colli Berici. While many people have abandoned its cultivation, Inama has kept a plot with which they make their tasty “Carmenere Piu” or “Carmenere Plus” wine (which includes a bit of Merlot). It’s got an unusual herbal character that may delight or mystify, depending on your inclination.

Few people realize (or remember) that the modern California wine industry is, at best, younger than 50 years of age. Very few wine producers survived the very long 13 years of illegality to be resurrected after the repeal of prohibition in 1933. That’s why it’s quite impressive for a winery such as La Jota Vineyard Co. to be celebrating its 125th anniversary. Founded in 1898, high on the slopes of Howell Mountain in Napa, the winery achieved modest success but fell victim to Prohibition like so many others. Revived in 1974, the winery became well-known in the 1990s for its powerful mountain Cabernet Sauvignons, leading to its purchase in 2005 by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke. The winery remains one of the jewels in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio, with the wines made by Chris Carpenter.

In celebration of this anniversary, the winery has released two library wines from the 2005 vintage, their first varietal Merlot bottling, and a selection from their Cabernet Franc vineyard, planted in 1976. It was a treat to taste both of these wines, which have held up relatively well, but I would say definitely need to be drunk now rather than saved for much longer.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2021 Terravox Hidalgo, Missouri
Light gold in the glass with orange highlights, this wine smells of honey, apple cider, and peach pit. In the mouth, lean stony flavors of celery, citrus pith, and a touch of baked apple have a nice crispness to them. Not a particularly complicated wine but one that is easy to drink. This grape is a 19th-century cross between two American grape varieties: Delago and Brilliant. 9.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2021 Kendric Vineyards Viognier, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, citrus peel and a hint of peach. In the mouth, bright and zingy peach pit, lemon peel, and unripe apricot flavors are positively crackling with excellent acidity. Crisp, bright, and oh-so-drinkable. Not your typical California Viognier. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.

2021 Two Shepherds “Skin Fermented – Fanucchi Vineyard” Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A pale coppery ruby color in the glass, this wine smells of berries and peaches and wildflowers. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of berries, plum skin, orange peel, and a touch of herbs have fantastic acidity and a nice sour cherry note in the finish along with a faint tannic grip. Delicious. Organically farmed, 45-year-old vines. Fermented with native yeasts for 5 days on the skins then aged in a neutral barrel and bottled unfined and unfiltered. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.

2021 Two Shepherds “Skin Fermented – Estate Vineyard, Daenen Block” Grenache Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A light coppery ruby in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and orange peel. In the mouth, juicy bright strawberry, sour cherry, and orange peel flavors mix with a touch of nougat, as faintly yogurty vanilla cream notes linger in the finish. Nice texture and stoniness. I don’t love the creamy notes, but they probably won’t be objectionable to die-hard natural wine fans. Organically farmed with a regenerative, no-till approach. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in steel before being bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulfur additions. 13.1% alcohol. 25 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28.

2019 Two Shepherds “Arya & Austin’s Vineyard” Grenache Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry, earth, and a hint of incense. In the mouth, lightly muscular tannins wrap around a core of strawberries, earth, dried herbs, and a touch of carob. Quite savory in quality, and the tannins tighten through the finish. Very good acidity. Organically farmed, fermented with native yeast in a neutral barrel, aged in barrel for 16 months before bottling unfiltered with minimal sulfur additions. 12.67% alcohol. 75 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2020 Kendric Vineyards “Reward Ranch” Sangiovese, Shenandoah Valley of California, Sierra Foothills, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry, licorice, and earth. In the mouth, bright cherry, sawdust, citrus peel, and earth flavors have a wonderful brightness and a powdery tannic texture. Excellent acidity and freshness, making for a wonderfully drinkable wine. Few people are making Sangiovese anywhere near this good in California. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28.

2020 Inama “Carmenere Piu” Carmenere, Veneto, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and a hint of camphor. In the mouth, cherry and plum flavors mix with camphor and cedar with notes of dried herbs and spices lingering in the finish with a hint of citrus peel. Powdery tannins. A blend of 85% Carmenere, 15% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2005 La Jota Vineyard Co. “Howell Mountain” Merlot, Napa Valley, California
Very dark ruby in color, this wine smells of black cherry and prunes. In the mouth, prunes, raisins, and dried black cherry flavors are enveloped by a plush, powdery cloud of tannins. Good acidity. Slightly tired at this point, but still pleasurable. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $125.

2005 La Jota Vineyard Co. “Howell Mountain” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of roasted figs, cocoa powder, and dried cherries. In the mouth, minty flavors of smoked meat, roasted figs, dried cherries, and cocoa powder have a faint salinity to them as powdery, mouth-coating tannins add structure to the wine. Hints of raisins and prunes linger in the finish, but the acidity keeps things quite fresh. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.

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