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 included a bunch of really fun wines that I’m excited to recommend to you.
Let’s start, as one always should, with bubbles. Most people don’t think often of the North Fork of Long Island when it comes to wine, especially not when it comes to sparkling wine. But not only is there some excellent sparkling wine made there, there’s even a winery dedicated to it, named Sparkling Pointe. Their Brut Nature has a nicely lean profile.
In my opinion, Cuvaison‘s sparkling wines have been improving in recent years, and their most recent rosé release amply demonstrates this with its friendly and energetic berries and wonderfully bright sour cherry acidity. Brunch anyone?
If you had told me years ago that the hottest ticket in California wine would one day be Sauvignon Blanc, I would have laughed in your face. I’m still shaking my head at this phenomenon, but apparently, everyone wants to buy it, and the wineries can’t make enough of it. So if you’re one of the folks contributing to the shortage here’s another candidate for your consideration, the Chalk Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc. It’s faintly sweet, which I don’t care for, but most people won’t even notice as they glug it chilled on a hot day.
A couple of nice whites from Oregon also arrived recently. The Spiral white wine from the biodynamic Cowhorn estate is a pretty and delicious Rhône-style blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.
A bit farther north, winemaker Jerry Murray makes a tasty Chardonnay named “Annica” from the Eola-Amity Hills at his Project M Wines brand. It’s got a wonderfully juicy lemon profile that will likely age quite well.
Murray’s Pinot Noir from the Tulatin Hills is even more compelling than the Chardonnay, offering a wonderful crystalline purity that will appeal to any serious Pinot lover.
Two Shepherds also sent along their old-vine Carignan from Trimble Vineyard in Mendocino, and it has a lot to offer, especially for anyone who enjoys the berry-cola notes of Dr. Pepper.
Another wine that might compete very well in the “fun” category of eminently drinkable and delicious wines that don’t require much from the drinker would be the Rosso Piceno from the Marche family of Garafoli. At $15 this wine is an absolute steal for all its bright cherry deliciousness.
Closer to home, I have two more wines from the Perlegos brothers, who farm their family’s vineyards in Lodi, including the ancient Zinfandel vines of the Stampede Vineyard, which is one of Lodi’s old vineyard treasures. The Perlegos Wines Cinsaut was tasty and bright. Still, the 2020 vintage of their Stampede Zinfandel is positively stupendous—just bursting with bright fruit, and vibrating with fantastic acidity and a deliciously reasonable alcohol level of 14.1%. It’s definitely one of the better mouthfuls of Zinfandel I’ve had in a while. If you’ve not had a glass of Zinfandel in a while, try this wine and remember why that’s a damn shame.
Lastly, I’ve got a few top-tier (but still “affordable” at least by local standards) Napa Cabernets to recommend. The Baldacci “Black Label” Cabernet Sauvignon is straightforwardly satisfying with its combination of polish, oak influence, and dark fruit. Those who appreciate broad-shouldered, more powerful Cabernet will enjoy this wine.
Those who appreciate slightly leaner Cabernet that shows some green herbs in addition to lush cherry fruit may appreciate the “Paramount” bottlings from Gamble Family Vineyards. Both the 2017 and 2018 share restrained alcohol levels, and seem to have been picked for freshness rather than opulence. I favored the 2017, which is evolving nicely, but both wines are worth checking out.
Notes on all these below.
MV Sparkling Pointe “Brut Nature” Champagne Blend, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Light gold in the glass with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of apples and lemon pith. In the mouth, apple, pear, and toasted sesame seed flavors mix with a hint of yeasty bread, all borne on a voluminous mousse. Good acidity, faint salinity in the finish along with citrus pith. A blend of 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Chardonnay, aged for 36 months on lees in the bottle. 12.5% alcohol. 273 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2019 Cuvaison Sparkling Brut Rosé, Carneros, Napa, California
Palest peachy pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and watermelon with hints of citrus peel. In the mouth, citrus peel and citrus pith mix with watermelon rind and sour cherry. Fantastically bright acidity keeps the salivary glands working for a long time. Tasty. A blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay that spends 24 months on the lees in bottle. 12.0% alcohol. 525 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2021 Chalk Hill Estate Winery “Estate” Sauvignon Blanc, Chalk Hill, Sonoma, California
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apples and passionfruit. In the mouth, sweetish green apple flavors continue in the candied vein, with a silky texture and decent acidity. Just a touch too sweet for me, but will likely please many. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2021 Cowhorn Vineyard “Spiral” White Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of apples and pears with hints of lemon oil. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of lemon juice, pears, apples, and grapefruit pith have a juicy bounce to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a hint of dried yellow herbs in the finish. Quite pretty. A blend of 39% Marsanne, 39% Roussanne, 22% Viognier. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.
2021 Project M Wines “Anicca” Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and greengage plums. In the mouth, bright lemon curd flavors are juicy with excellent acidity and silky on the palate. Hints of butterscotch and lemon zest enter the picture as the wine finishes long and lovely. 12.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2021 Project M Wines “Bednarik Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Tualatin Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, bright cherry and cranberry flavors mix with raspberry and a hint of dried herbs. This wine has a crystalline quality, bright and chiseled with barely perceptible tannins. Quite pure and lovely. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2020 Two Shepherds “Trimble Vineyard” Carginan, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and Dr. Pepper soda. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy, even crunchy flavors of boysenberry, citrus peel, cola, and a touch of dried herbs have a light, athletic tannic structure to add texture to the mouthwatering fruit. Fantastic acidity. Made from 80-year-old dry-farmed organic vines. Fermented 100% whole cluster with native yeasts in neutral barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 11.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2021 Garafoli “Farnio” Rosso Piceno, Marche
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit with a hint of cola and green herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy cherry fruit has a lovely purity to it, as hints of dried herbs and flowers add a little complexity but don’t get in the way of the joyous expression of cherry. Faint tannins, excellent acidity. A blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Perlegos Family Wines Cinsaut, Clements Hills, Lodi, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, bright black cherry and boysenberry flavors are shot through with citrus peel and even some orange juice notes. A touch of cola and licorice root linger in the finish along with bright juicy acidity. Tasty. Includes some whole cluster fermentation, with native yeasts. 12.2% alcohol. 100 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28.
2020 Perlegos Family Wines “Stampede Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright blackberry fruit and flowers. In the mouth, the wine has a wonderful juiciness, with faint tannins backing up blackberry, boysenberry, and blueberry flavors that are lit up with excellent acidity. There’s a lightness and freshness here that is extremely compelling. Hints of licorice root and dried herbs in the finish along with a touch of citrus peel. Effortlessly joyous. This vineyard was planted in the 1920s and features an unusual diamond-shaped spacing between its old gnarled vines. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32.
2019 Baldacci Family Vineyards “Black Label” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich black cherry and oak. In the mouth, rich cherry and toasted oak flavors mix with mocha and cola. Very good acidity keeps things lively on the palate, and the tannins are fine-grained and relatively restrained as they grip the edges of the palate. 14.5% alcohol. Comes in a much heavier-than-needed bottle, weighing 1.64 kg when full, meaning the bottle weighs more than the wine inside. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2017 Gamble Family Vineyards “Paramount” Red Blend, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and cola. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis flavors have a nice freshness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of green herbs and cola enter the mix as powdery, wispy tannins coat the mouth. Nicely restrained use of oak and an overall balanced wine. A blend of 33% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. 14.1% alcohol. 715 cases produced. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2018 Gamble Family Vineyards “Paramount” Red Blend, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cola and black cherry with a hint of struck match. In the mouth, cherry and cola flavors mix with mocha and a touch of charred oak. Excellent acidity and fine-grained tannins that coat the mouth and only gently squeeze the palate. Pretty. A blend of 33% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot. 14.1% alcohol. 707 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.