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 wines from El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills that didn’t make it into my report on the region that will be publised tomorrow on JancisRobinson.Com. Let’s start with two orange wines from Donkey & Goat Winery. The first, a Marsanne wine offers chunky (don’t fear the sediment) flavors of apricot and plum skin. The second is a library vintage of their “Stone Crusher” Roussanne, and it is aging beautifully, with great apricot and herb flavors beautifully balanced with stony minerality.
Sticking with the incredibly small niche of skin-fermented white wines from El Dorado County (how many of these could there be!?!), I’ve got the latest version of a wine called “Milk Fed” by Adam Sabelli-Frisch, a recovering cinematographer, who has decided winemaking is his calling. This is an unusual wine, both for its grape variety (rarely seen in California) and the fact that it is matured in 100% new American oak. Sabelli-Frisch doesn’t usually use new oak on his wines, but wanted to experiment with this one, and the wine holds it pretty well. My experience with an earlier vintage suggests it may improve with some bottle age.
Just one more skin-fermented wine for you before we move on, and that’s the skin-fermented Pinot Gris from Two Shepherds Winery, done in a classic ramato style. It looks like a rosé and tastes like a mix of rosé and white wine, which is to say crisp and bright and berry and delicious, with just a hint of tannic grip.
Now let’s talk Pinot Noir. Jamie Kutch is one of my favorite producers of California Pinot Noir, and his soon-to-be-released 2021 wines are fantastic. I’ve got four single-vineyard versions to showcase for you this week, and each one is deliciously in keeping with Kutch’s style: lean, bright, aromatic, and beatifully balanced. All but the Bohan Graveyard Block feature whole-cluster fermentation. I marvel at the incredible flavors and aromatics Kutch can coax out of these grapes at 12% alcohol, picked at levels of ripeness (and acidity) that some California producers (who believe Pinot Noir isn’t ripe until it tastes sweet) would tell you should produce undrinkably unripe wines. Ha!
Lastly, I’ve got a library vintage of Malbec for you from Madroña Vineyards, one of the bastions of El Dorado County winegrowing. Its aging quite nicely, and beginning to show some secondary aromas and flavors of age, much to this drinker’s delight.
Notes on all these below.
2019 Donkey & Goat “Alveare” Marsanne, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, California
Light amber in color with distinct chunks of sediment floating around in it, this wine smells of wet stone, citrus zest, and candle wax. In the mouth, stony flavors of yellow plum skin, citrus peel, and apricot have a faint tannic grip and a zingy acidic tang that leans towards acidophilus. Tasty. Don’t be scared of the chunks. Planted in 1990, in the Fenaughty vineyard, which sits at 2600 feet of elevation on decomposed granite and red clay loam. Skin-fermented with natural years and then aged in handmade Italian clay vats, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 12.4% alcohol. 89 cases made Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2014 Donkey & Goat “Stone Crusher” Roussanne, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, California
A bright Halloween orange in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves, candle wax, dried apricots, and dried citrus peel. In the mouth, dried and fresh apricot flavors have a lovely zing thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint yogurty tang to the wine and a lovely powdery tannic texture. Notes of citrus peel and herbs linger in the finish. Aging beautifully, and a delight to drink. Skin fermented with natural yeasts and then aged in old oak barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 11.5% alcohol. 4812 bottles made Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2021 Sabelli-Frisch “Milk Fed 5 – Saureel Vineyard” Petit Manseng, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, California
Light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, rangpur lime, and a touch of wood. In the mouth, citrus peel and juice mix with a hint of toasted coconut and sawdust. The acidity here is softer than I would like. Aged in 100% new American oak. 13.5% alcohol. 1200 bottles made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2022 Two Shepherds “Skin Fermented – Clarbec Vineyard” Pinot Gris, Sonoma Valley, California
Pale ruby in the glass with copper highlights, this wine smells of berries and orange peels. In the mouth, flavors of strawberry and sour cherry mix with orange peel and a faint herbal note that adds complexity and tension. Gorgeous bright acidity makes the whole package juicy and delicious, with orange peel notes lingering in the finish. There’s a faint tannic grip to the wine, along with a touch of minerality. Organically farmed fruit, fermented on its skins with native yeasts then aged in a neutral barrel. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with no additions except minimal use of Sulfur Dioxide. 12.2% alcohol. 400 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.
2021 Kutch Wines “McDougall Ranch” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and raspberries. In the mouth, gorgeous raspberry and cherry flavors are suffused with powdery tannins that flex their muscles as the wine moves across the palate. Wonderful Bing cherry aromatics linger in the long finish. There’s also a stony underbelly that is quite compelling. Outstanding. 50% whole cluster. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2021 Kutch Wines “Falstaff Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and marijuana resin. In the mouth, gorgeously silky flavors of raspberry and raspberry leaf mix with citrus peel, dried flowers, and herbs. Faint, gauzy tannins add structure to the wine, as fantastic acidity lingers bright and long through the finish. 50% whole cluster. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2021 Kutch Wines “Bohan Graveyard Block” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of stony cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously mineral raspberry and cherry notes mix with dried herbs and crushed rocks. Dried flowers and a touch of fennel seed linger in the finish. Remarkably delicious. 100% destemmed. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2021 Kutch Wines “Bohan Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor and raspberries. In the mouth, beautifully floral notes of raspberry and cherry have a wonderful sweet perfume to them, with powdery tannins. Gorgeous notes of dried herbs and flowers linger in the finish above a stony underbelly. Beautiful, riveting even. 50% whole cluster. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2021 Kutch Wines “Mindego Ridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of faintly meaty notes of raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, there’s a wonderful savory meaty quality to the wine, a distinct umami note that is wrapped in crystalline raspberry and cherry flavors. Hints of green herbs and woody stems linger in the finish with a hint of citrus peel. Fantastic acidity and stony minerality. 50% whole cluster. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2015 Madroña “Enye Vineyard” Malbec, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of incense and blueberries. In the mouth, faintly saline blueberry pie and blackberry flavors mix with aromatic dried herbs, as hints of raisin, dried fennel seeds, and a touch of cardamom linger in the finish. Very pretty. Grown at 2815 feet of elevation with vines planted in 1997. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.