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 some wines that you don’t see all that often, along with something of a lesson in quality-to-price ratio. I recently received a couple of sample bottles of Bordeaux Blanc. I wasn’t familiar with either producer, but Bordeaux Blanc is something of a rarity for me, certainly when it comes to samples, but also in terms of what I come across on wine lists, in stores, etc. I just don’t see a lot of these wines, though perhaps that will start changing given the current Sauvignon Blanc craze sweeping America.
In any case, I pulled these two bottles out and opened them up. One with a cork, one with a screw cap. I tasted them both. They were both pretty tasty. Not amazing, but pretty tasty. The first one from Château Couhins had a slightly smoky note that suggested expensive oak barrels, the Château la Freynelle by Véronique Barthe a lovely fruity freshness. I gave both of them the same score. And then imagine my surprise when I found out one of them was $250 per bottle and one of them was $15!
My friends, you don’t always get what you pay for. Especially in the world of wine.
In keeping with the “you don’t see these every day” theme, I also got a pair of Albariños this week. Considering the furor over Sauvignon Blanc at the moment, perhaps we’re also about to see the stars align for an explosion of Albariño? Equally refreshing and with a similar flavor profile, Albariño is just much less common in California, though it’s been around for decades. The two wines I received represent two equally compelling interpretations of the grape, so to speak. The Croma Vera version is fruitier, perhaps more “California” in style, but with the bright acidity and snap you expect from the variety. The Edio Vineyards version is more in tune with the Rias Baixas version of Albariño, lean and steely. There’s an irony here, in that the Croma Vera comes from the SLO Coast, a climate that much better resembles the grape’s homeland in coastal northern Spain, whereas the Edio is grown in a high-elevation mountain climate in El Dorado county. Keep an eye out for the tasty GSM “Frank’s Blend” from Edio as well.
I also tasted a couple more wines this week from Darling Wines—a very lean Pinot Gris and an interesting Pinot Noir, both from the Petaluma Gap AVA.
Moving to the darker shade of reds, we can begin with a crunchy, surprisingly (in a good way) lean interpretation of Nero d’Avola from the Perlegos brothers in Lodi, as well as a classically profiled Cabernet Sauvignon from Post & Beam, which is a sub-brand of Far Niente winery in Napa.
It’s tough to taste Barolo’s when they’re too young, and the bottle of Pio Cesare “Barolo Pio” that got sent to me recently is a good example, but this one will likely blossom with some time in the bottle.
Lastly, and certainly not least, I recently received the latest vintage of Insignia from Joseph Phelps. Their flagship Cabernet-dominant red blend is reliably one of Napa’s top bottlings every year and one that (though expensive) is made in quantities that allow ordinary humans (or at least humans who can afford it) to get their hands on a bottle without being on a mailing list. The 2019 vintage is beautifully accessible now but will improve for the next 10 years for sure.
Notes on all these below.
2017 Château Couhins Graves Blanc, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon oil, white flowers, and a hint of smoke. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of lemon oil, grapefruit, and passionfruit mix with a bit of green apple skin leaving a faintly pleasant bitterness in the finish. Contains 2% Sauvignon Gris. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $250. click to buy.
2022 Veronique Barthe Château La Freynelle Bordeaux Blanc, France
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers and lemon peel. In the mouth, flavors of passionfruit, lemon blossom, and a touch of green apple mix with a hint of candle wax. Excellent acidity and a lovely silky texture. A blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, and 10% Muscadelle. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Croma Vera Wines Albariño, Edna Valley, SLO Coast, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples and a hint of candied lemon. In the mouth, candied lemon and green apple flavors are wonderfully bright and sourish, with excellent acidity and a faint salinity. Quite tasty. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2020 Edio Vineyards Albariño, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, California
Palest gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of green apple and wet steel. In the mouth, bright green apple flavors have a stony, wet-chalkboard quality as excellent acidity and hints of lime zest linger in the finish. Classically profiled. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28.
2022 Darling Wines “La Cruz Vineyard” Pinot Gris, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Light blonde in the glass with a hint of bronze to it, this wine smells of pears and a hint of unripe apricots. In the mouth, bright acidity makes flavors of pear, citrus pith, and dried herbs juicy on the palate, though the overall sensation is more savory than fruity. A very lean wine at just 10.8% alcohol. 75 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.
2021 Darling Wines “Grand Vent Vineyard ” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Light to medium ruby in the glass, with a faint haze, this wine smells of spiced red apple skin, dried herbs, and redwood bark. In the mouth, red apple skin, raspberries, and dried apple flavors are shot through with mulling spices and cedar. Powdery tannins flex their muscles in the finish. Quite pretty but tastes very evolved for its young age. 12.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2021 Johan Vineyards “Estate” Pinot Noir, Van Duzer Corridor, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of potting soil and raspberries. In the mouth, lean, herbal flavors of raspberries and bramble have a faint barnyard quality to them. Silky texture, with lightly grippy tannins. 12.2% alcohol. Demeter-certified biodynamic. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $37. click to buy.
2020 Edio Vineyards “Frank’s Blend” Red Blend, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, California
Light ruby in the glass with garnet highlights, this wine smells of flowers, boysenberries, and a hint of herbs. In the mouth, bright flavors of boysenberry, strawberry, and sour cherry have a tangy quality and even a little salinity as faint notes of bitter herbs emerge in the finish along with dried citrus. A blend of 65% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, and 15% Syrah. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.
2021 Perlegos Family Wines “Fernow Ranch” Nero d’Avola, Mokelumne River, Lodi, California
Medium purple in the glass, this wine smells of blackberries and leather. In the mouth, tangy blackberry flavors have a nice sourish quality that makes the mouth water along with excellent acidity. There’s a faint herbal note that creeps into the finish. Light cotton-ball tannins. Nicely restrained. 12.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $31. click to buy.
2021 Post & Beam Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackcurrant. In the mouth, plush muscular tannins grasp a core of black cherry and blackberry fruit that has orange peel notes and excellent acidity. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish with a touch of licorice root. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $49. click to buy.
2019 Joseph Phelps “Insignia” Red Blend, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black cherry fruit with hints of dried flowers. In the mouth, rich flavors of black cherry, cola, and black plum are shot through with mocha and cocoa powder. Excellent acidity and beautifully supple tannins. As usual, quite seamless and well-balanced. A blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. 14.5% alcohol. Packaged in a slightly heavier bottle than it needs to be, weighing 1.53 kg when full. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $352. click to buy.
2019 Pio Cesare “Barolo Pio” Barolo, Piedmont, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of slightly smoky engine oil and strawberry jam. In the mouth, leathery tannins wrap around a core of strawberry and earth and leather. Good acidity. Needs time. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.