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.
For those of you who are (apparently like the rest of the world) excited about California Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll find a lot to love in the rendition from Barnett Vineyards, who can be found at the top of Spring Mountain in Napa, but who have gone over the hill to Dry Creek Valley to source their fruit for their Andrews Vineyard version of the wine. Think liquid passionfruit and flowers.
Speaking of floral, there’s a lot to like in the Muscadelle (also known sometimes as Sauvignon Vert) from Moret Brealynn, who wants you to enjoy your floral melon glass of crisp goodness while donating money (from every bottle) to animal shelters.
Likewise, the reliably tasty Pinot Gris from Kathleen Inman in Russian River, has a touch of floral quality along with its pear and herbal qualities.
Graham Tatomer has been making some of California’s best Rieslings for some time. Most are dry or off-dry, but occasionally he manages to get some excellent late-harvest fruit, as the little (375ml) bottle from the Kick-on Ranch demonstrates, with the lightness and cleanliness that great acidity can bring to even a very sweet wine.
I’ve got a couple of Chardonnays to recommend to you this week as well. The first is a quaffer that will also be easy on the pocketbook from Ron Rubin, who produces an un-oaked version to keep his wife Pam happy.
The second is a much more ambitious bottling, from Neely Wines in Portola Valley, whose Bee Block is typically my favorite of their single-vineyard, block-designated Chardonnays.
And before we dive into red wine, let’s make a brief stop in orange territory. Namely the skin-fermented Picpoul pét-nat from Two Shepherds Winery with the very cute name (to accompany its cute can): Natty Pets. With a nice fizz, a touch of tannic grip, and some fun apricot fruitiness, this is a very successful canned wine. For 8 bucks? Come on!
Finally, I’ve got three Pinot Noirs of note. The first is a new (to me) bottling from Dutton-Goldfield that they call Mendocino Hills, from a few sources in Mendocino county that deliver some nice cranberry and cherry character.
The other two wines are a new collaboration between Pinot veteran Adam Lee (of Siduri fame) and grower John Wagner in Santa Barbara County. These two wines offer a lot of bang for their buck, with bright fruit flavors for $25-35—an impressive feat in California Pinot Noir.
Notes on all these below.
2022 Barnett Vineyards “Andrews Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest straw in the glass, this wine smells of passionfruit and citrus. In the mouth, bright passionfruit flavors have a tiny hint of sweetness, with very good acidity and nice crisp cleanliness, and floral notes that linger through the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. 615 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.
2021 Moret Brealynn Wines “Stray Cats” Muscadelle, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples, melon, and white flowers. In the mouth, green melon, citrus pith, and honeysuckle flavors have a nice aromatic sweetness to them layered on top of a crisp clean core of fruit. 13.0% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. 75 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $23. click to buy.
2021 Inman Family Wines Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears and pastry cream. In the mouth, pear and pear skin flavors mix with grapefruit and a nice lemon peel citrus quality. Excellent acidity. 13.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2021 Tatomer “Kick-on Ranch” Late Harvest Riesling, Santa Barbara County, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied citrus peel and honey. In the mouth, wonderfully bright honey and mandarin orange peel flavors are so vibrant with acidity that it’s hard to believe there are 70 grams per liter of residual sugar here. Finishes clean and bright. Mouthwatering. 10.2% alcohol. 375ml bottle. Score: around 9. Cost: $??
2022 Ron Rubin Winery “Pam’s Un-Oaked” Chardonnay, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and pineapple. In the mouth, bright lemon curd and pineapple flavors are crisp and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Not particularly complex, but hard to argue with the flavors. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Certified B Corp. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2020 Neely Wine “Spring Ridge Vineyard – Bee Block” Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and white flowers with a hint of pastry cream. In the mouth, lemon curd and pastry cream are layered on top of a nice core of minerality. Delicate acidity (which I wish was slightly stronger) creeps up in the finish along with a lovely beeswax aroma. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2022 Two Shepherds Wine “Natty Pets” Picpoul, Dunningan Hills, California
Dark yellow-gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of dried apricots, orange peel, and guava. In the mouth, guava, orange peel, and peach flavors have a nice prickly brightness with a soft mousse and a light tannic grip. Excellent acidity, and quite successful rendition of the pet-nat form, albeit in a very handy 250ml aluminum can format. 75% of the blend sees 10 days of skin contact, with the other 25% pressed to stainless steel for fermentation. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $8. click to buy.
2020 Dutton-Goldfield “Mendocino Hills” Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cranberry and raspberry fruit have a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity which brings in a little herb and citrus peel into the finish. Faint, barely perceptible tannins. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2021 Babs Wine Company “Dial Tone ” Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and cherry. In the mouth, bright sweetish flavors of cherry and cranberry have a light tannic grip and wonderful bouncy juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Not horribly complex, but definitely pleasurable. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2021 Babs Wine Company “Busy Signal” Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of candied raspberry and black raspberry fruit. In the mouth, boisterous bright raspberry and cherry fruit flavors have a faint tannic grip and excellent juicy acidity. There’s a light cedar note that lingers in the finish. A crowd-pleaser of a Pinot Noir. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.