Vinography Unboxed: Week of 4/23/23

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 week, like last, is a little heavy in Pinot Noir, but before we dive into that ocean, let’s dip our toes into the hottest category in California right now, Sauvignon Blanc. No know knows exactly why all of a sudden everyone wants to drink California Sav Blanc, but for some reason they do, and most wineries can’t seem to get their hands on enough grapes.

I got a bottle from Sutro Wine Company this week, which makes a reliably tasty version from their ranch in Alexander Valley. It’s pretty textbook in its profile, with nice green fruit notes and excellent acidity.

OK, now that we’ve done that, on to the Pinot Noir. I’m particularly excited to tell you about this wine from Kara Tara, which is the personal project of one of my favorite South African winemakers Rüdger van Wyk, whose primary gig is making wine for Stark-Condé wines in Stellenbosch. But he’s recently started making his own stuff under the label Kara Tara, and this Pinot Noir is stupendous, especially when you learn that it’s a mere $20 per bottle. Frankly, finding Pinot Noir of that quality for under $30 is a challenge. At twenty bucks, it’s something of a miracle.

The Pinot I tasted this week from Shaw & Smith, hailing from the Adelaide Hills of Australia, is a pretty decent value too, offering bright fruit and good balance.

When I first began exploring the smaller wineries of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I came across a winemaker named Jerry Murray, and was very impressed with his work at Patton Valley Vineyards. From there he went on to make great wines at Van Duzer, and at Domaine Carneros in Anderson Valley before returning to Oregon to work as a consultant and start his own label Project M Wines, along with his wife Meg. The two Pinots of his I tasted this week were both excellent and showed an affinity for the savory side of Pinot to balance out the fruit.

I also tasted some California Pinot Noirs (and a Syrah) from Darling Family Wines, a small label by husband-and-wife team Tom and Ashley Darling. The two decided to hit pause on their corporate jobs on the east coast and come work a harvest in 2017. While they were out here in California, someone offered them a couple of tons of Syrah, and, well, that was the beginning… of the rest of their lives. They’ve never left, and now they’ve gone all-in on their small label. They have a light touch in the cellar, and are making honest wines with nice expressions of place.

And because we cannot live on Pinot alone, I’ve also got a reasonably priced Barolo to recommend from Perla Terra, a label started by the wine importer Dalla Terra, as well as a Sangiovese from Tenuta Di Capezzana, one of the oldest wine estates in Italy.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2022 Sutro Wine Co “Warnecke Ranch” Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass, grapefruit juice, and green apples. In the mouth, bright green apple, cut grass, and gooseberry flavors have a nice briskness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Grassy notes linger in the finish. 13.5% alcohol.  Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2020 Kara Tara Pinot Noir, Western Cape, South Africa
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raspberry and redcurrants. In the mouth, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors merge with sour cherry and green herbs for a tangy, sourish, and mouthwatering experience. Faint tannins dust the edges of the mouth, and notes of dried herbs and dried flowers linger in the finish. Excellent acidity. Dry-farmed vines grown at 250-350 meters of elevation. Spends 12 months in 10% new French oak. An unbelievable deal at this price. 13.0% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2021 Shaw & Smith Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, raspberries, citrus peel, herbs, and a faint woody, stemmy quality mix with faint tannins and excellent acidity. There’s a faint umami note in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2021 Project M Wines “Personify” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, earthy cranberry and cherry flavors have a nice citrus peel acidity and lovely herbs, and fresh river-mud savory notes. Hints of herbs and citrus peel linger in the finish. An intriguing wine. 13.6% alcohol.  Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2021 Project M Wines “Momtazi Vineyard” Pinot Noir, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, cherries, and raspberries. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and cherry have a nice herbal earthy note to them, balancing the savory with fruit, as faint tannins barely brush the edges of the palate. Excellent acidity and length. 13.5% alcohol.  Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2021 Darling Family Wines “Turnstone Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and flowers. In the mouth, bright raspberry, redcurrant, and cranberry flavors have a faint tannic grip and lovely citrus-peel acidity. The tannins gain some more weight in the finish, along with scents of citrus oils. This tiny two-acre vineyard is 10 miles from the ocean at 240 feet above sea level on Goldridge, sandy-loam soils. 12.0% alcohol.  Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60.

2021 Darling Family Wines “Sans Soufre” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wood mulch and cranberries. In the mouth, earthy flavors of cranberry and cherry are wrapped in a powdery, muscular sheaf of tannins. Notes of soil and raspberries linger in the finish as the mouth is coated with tannin. 12.5% alcohol.  Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.

2021 Darling Family Wines “Zayante Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Dark garnet in the glass with purple highlights, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry fruit is wrapped in a gauzy-but-muscular blanket of tannins. Floral notes and bright acidity mark the finish. Clean and bright with a nice earthy undertone that is faintly iron-inflected. 13.2% alcohol.  Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Perla Terra Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
Light ruby in the glass with orange highlights, this wine smells of strawberries, dried flowers, and a touch of road tar. In the mouth, muscular fine-grained tannins wrap around a core of strawberries, dried herbs, cherry, and leather. Good acidity, with hints of citrus peel in the finish. 14% alcohol.  Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2018 Tenuta Di Capezzana “Villa de Capezzana” Carmingano, Tuscany, Italy
A hazy dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and licorice. In the mouth, bright cherry flavors have a faint minty quality as they are enveloped in a thick fist of tannins that flexes its muscles as the wine heads through the finish. Faint citrus peel notes and earthy qualities linger in the finish. Good acidity and freshness. 14.5% alcohol.  Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.