Vinography Unboxed: Week of 6/4/23

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 included a couple of wines from Desparada, a project by winemaker Vailia From on the Central Coast. The wines are on the richer, bolder side of things, and deliberately experimental. My favorite of the wines I tasted last week was the amphora-aged Sauvignon Blanc, which had a liveliness I appreciated.

Dutton-Goldfield also sent along their Dutton Ranch Chardonnay, which is a reasonably-priced crowd-pleaser for those interested in California Chardonnay that bucks the stereotypes.

Gérard Bertrand is a former rugby star with a nose for brand building. He’s recently released his first orange wine, which comes in a fancy faceted bottle, and is quite pleasant. It’s definitely a gateway orange wine, with very little tannic grip to speak of. But for $20, it will likely satisfy a lot of people interested in dipping their toes into the skin-macerated white wine category.

I recently got a 750ml sample of a wine that apparently is only sold in magnum: the Hawkbox Rosé, which is a new label from Reed Skupny (son of John and Tracey Skupny of Lang & Reed wines) and his wife Megan. This one is a rosé of Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyards that hits all the right notes.

Speaking of Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido, I was introduced recently to the El Lugar project by winemaker Coby Parker- Garcia. A bunch of his wines from the SLO Coast will be included in my forthcoming article for Jancis Robinson, but he also threw a Bien Nacido Pinot into the box he sent me, so I’m happy to review that below with great enthusiasm.

Larkmead Vineyards is a relatively well-known name in Napa Valley Cabernet, appreciated for its more restrained winemaking style. In a year when many did not make red wine at all, their 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon is excellent, showing a nice balance between fresh, green herbal tones and ripe fruit.

I’m also happy to recommend a lighthearted red wine from Brunello producer Casanova di Neri. They have taken their beloved Sangiovese grape and blended in some Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot to make what we used to call a Super Tuscan. But unlike those massive, rich wines of the late 1990s and early 2000s, their “IrRosso” is cheerful and easy drinking.

Lastly, I’ve got a couple of red wines from Jeff and John Perlegos, who own one of Lodi’s most historic vineyards, and who make interesting and sometimes unexpected wines in Lodi. Their Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel is classic in style, and their red blend is quite tasty.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2022 Desparada “Carmen – Chelle Mountain Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, York Mountain, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish gold in the glass with a faint haze, this wine smells of green apples and unripe red apples with hints of wet stone. In the mouth, bright green apple flavors have a chalky texture and a hint of yeastiness to them. Excellent acidity lingers with lime juice flavors in the finish with a tiny bit of funk. Fermented with native yeasts and then aged for 4 months in a concrete tulip named Carmen. 14.3% alcohol. Comes in an unnecessarily heavy bottle weighing 1.54 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2022 Desparada “Amphora” Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast, California
Pale straw in the glass with a faint haze to it, this wine smells of passionfruit and ripe apples. In the mouth, those passionfruit and apple flavors continue with a tangy lemon sour brightness thanks to very good acidity. There’s a faint powdery texture or grip to this wine suggesting perhaps a little bit of skin contact. Less ripe than her other bottlings of this grape and much more lively for it. Fermented and aged in an amphora for 4 months. 13.7% alcohol. Packaged in an unfortunately heavy bottle weighing 1.54 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2020 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, with a hint of pineapple and melted butter. In the mouth, bright lemon curd, pineapple, and a touch of caramel sit lively on the tongue thanks to excellent acidity. Rich and juicy but not over the top. 13.5% alcohol. Sustainably Farmed.  Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2020 Gérard Bertrand “Orange Gold” White Blend, France
Light amber-orange in the glass, this wine smells of apricots and yellow plums. In the mouth, plum and apricot flavors mix with a touch of citrus and some more tropical fruit notes. Very little tannic texture, only a wisp that hangs in the background. Good acidity. An unusual blend of 25% Chardonnay, 15% Muscat, 15% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc, 15% Chenin, and 15% Roussanne, are macerated “semi-carbonically” for 10-15 days before being pressed into stainless steel where it finishes fermentation. It matures in oak barrels. Organically farmed. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2022 Rockhound Wine “Hawkbox – Radian Vineyard” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Pale baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and watermelon. In the mouth, bright watermelon and berry flavors have a nice bright acidity and a faint aromatic sweetness. Round and juicy. 13.5% alcohol.  Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $85 (magnum). click to buy.

2021 El Lugar “Bien Nacido Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, faint gauzy tannins wrap around a core of cherry and cranberry, as notes of citrus peel and herbs emerge through the finish. Excellent acidity and balance. Very pretty. 14.2% alcohol. 150 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2021 Desparada “Suitor” Red Blend, Central Coast, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of mocha and plum. In the mouth, plum, mocha, and cola flavors have a nice bright acidity to them, as well as a faint herbal backdrop. Muscular tannins hang on the edges and back of the palate. A little heady and high-toned. A blend of 66% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvgnon, and 16% Petite Sirah. 15.8% alcohol. Comes in a bottle that is heavier than it needs to be, weighing 1.56 kg when full. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $65.

2020 Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, herbs, and cola. In the mouth, cherry cola flavors mix with chopped herbs and a hint of mocha. Fine, powdery tannins caress rather than squeeze the palate, and herbal and mocha notes linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol.  Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125.

2020 Casanova di Neri “Irrosso” Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry with hints of tobacco and green herbs. In the mouth, bright cherry and cedar flavors have excellent acidity that brings in citrus peel notes as lightly muscular tannins grip the palate. Fresh and bright, but not overly complex. Pleasant though. Roughly 15% of the wine is Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. 14% alcohol.  Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2021 Perlegos Family Wines “Stampede Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of licorice and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberries, licorice, black pepper, and earth flavors have only the faintest of tannic textures. Hints of chocolate-covered raisins linger in the finish. Good acidity. Own-rooted vines planted in the 1930s. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2021 Perlegos Family Wines Red Blend, Lodi, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, plum, and a hint of cola. In the mouth, cherry and cola flavors mix with a bit of blackberry and boysenberry. Excellent acidity keeps things bright and fresh as the tannins wrap like starched cotton around the palate. A blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cinsaut, and 25% Carignane. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.