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 features a number of interesting California wines, ranging from classic to hip. In the former category, the Smith-Madrone Riesling never fails to deliver the kinds of flavors and stony qualities that make Riesling so beloved by many wine geeks.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to get more hip than a low-sulfite version of Picpoul Blanc from Two Shepherds winery with its limey, floral qualities. Two Shepherds also sent along two versions of Cinsault (or Cinsaut, as they spell it), one bright and lean and crunchy, the other darker and more substantial. Both are worth enjoying.
Somewhere in the middle, more traditionally familiar, I’ve got a Sauvignon Blanc and a rosé from Aesthete Wines, who make wines from their Dry Stack Vineyard in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley. Their Sauvignon Blanc is tropically minded, while the rosé (of Pinot Noir) is leaner and more savory in quality.
Last but not least, I’ve got three more wines to recommend to you from the folks at Alegría Vineyards and Acorn Winery. Their Alvarinho (spelled the Portuguese way because there are lots of little bits of other Portuguese varieties in there) and their Grüner Veltliner are both pleasingly on target in conveying varietal character. And their Axiom Syrah, while showing a decent amount of oak at this point in its life, will likely mellow into something quite pleasing with a little time.
Notes on all these below.
2018 Smith-Madrone Riesling, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and mandarin pith. In the mouth, flavors of white flowers and orange pith mix with wet pavement and a touch of winter melon. There’s a chalky texture in the finish. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2022 Two Shepherds Wine “JDM Organic Farm” Picpoul Blanc, Dunnigan Hills, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lime zest and white flowers. In the mouth, flavors of finger lime, pastry cream and wet chalkboard have a light grippy texture and a sneaky acidity that builds over time. Fermented with native yeasts .75% aged in neutral oak, 25% in stainless steel. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. Certified organic. 11.5% alcohol. 175 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2019 Aesthete “Dry Stack Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Bennett Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of passionfruit and white flowers. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of tropical fruits, passionfruit, and vanilla have a silky texture. Excellent acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2021 Acorn Wines “Alegría Vineyards” Alvarinho, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples and honeysuckle. In the mouth, green apple, yellow plum, and pear flavors have a nice brisk brightness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s citrus peel and a hint of bee pollen in the finish. Tasty. An Albariño-dominant (80%) co-fermented field blend that contains about 15 other Portuguese white grape varieties including Arinto, Malvasia Fina, Louiero, Verdelho, and Gouveio. Grapes are foot trodden and then whole-cluster pressed into tanks with selected Portuguese yeast. One third is aged in oak, the rest in stainless steel. Certified sustainable. 12.5% alcohol. 95 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $37. click to buy.
2021 Acorn Wines “Alegría Vineyards” Grüner Veltliner, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears, baking spices, and lemongrass. In the mouth, lightly spicy flavors of pear and lemongrass mix with hints of peaches and apricots. Very good acidity. Tasty. A co-fermented field blend of 80% Grüner Veltliner, along with 23 other grape varieties, including Roter Veltliner, Traminer, Eherenfelser, Silvaner, Kerner, Rotgipfler, Viognier, and others. Call it a California Gemischter Satz. Foot tread and then whole-cluster pressed. One third is aged in oak, the rest in stainless for 10 months. Certified sustainable. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $37. click to buy.
2021 Aesthete “Dry Stack Vineyard” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Bennett Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of raspberries and watermelon. In the mouth faintly saline flavors of citrus peel, watermelon rind, and a touch of raspberries have a nice snap, thanks to very good acidity. There’s also a faint chalky texture to the wine. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2022 Two Shepherds Wine “L’il Trouble” Cinsault, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cranberry and plum. In the mouth, cranberry, plum, and cherry flavors have a tangy sour cherry quality that is accompanied by mouthwatering acidity. Crunchy, juicy, and made to be drunk slightly chilled. Fermented with native yeasts, but given half the “usual” maceration time. Made with organic grapes, bottled unfined and unfiltered. 10.7% alcohol. 280 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.
2021 Two Shepherds Wine “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault, Lodi, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit with a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth, strawberry and cherry flavors mix with a hint of cocoa powder and cola as lightly grippy tannins coat the mouth and stiffen with time. There’s a faint licorice-root bitterness in the finish. Silky texture. 135-year-old vines, head-trained and dry-farmed. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in a neutral puncheon. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 12.2% alcohol. 170 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2019 Acorn Wines “Alegría Vineyards – Axiom” Syrah, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of vanilla, blackberry, and blueberries. In the mouth, blackberry, blueberry, and mocha flavors are shot through with vanilla and oak. The wood is reasonably well integrated here. Decent acidity. Contains 3% Viognier. Gets a 3-day cold soak before native fermentation. Ages for 19 months in 25% new French oak. Certified sustainable. 14.6% alcohol. 240 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.