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 we’ve got a bunch of Chenin Blanc to talk about. None of us, I’d wager, are drinking enough Chenin Blanc. It’s simply one of the greatest grapes around. It can be made into sweet wines and sparkling wines, but I like me some plain ‘ole dry Chenin Blanc, like the bottles of Savennières and Vouvray I have to recommend to you this week. The first two wines, especially, from Domaine du Closel – Chateau des Vaults are both excellent and worthy of seeking out. This certified biodynamic estate, run by Evelyne de Pontbriand, is a gem, and in addition to having beautiful grounds, it is one of the few estates in Savennières where you can simply drop by without an appointment to taste.
From farther east along the Loire, I can recommend these two dry Vouvrays as well, which are slightly richer than their stony Savennières cousins, but equally bright and refreshing. The tiny Domaine de la Canopée is run by Jérémy Lajoux, who doesn’t even have a website, preferring to stick with Instagram. Chateau Moncontour, on the other hand, has been around for a while and is better known for their sparkling wines than their still, dry Chenins.
Before we head into red wine territory, I have one more Chenin Blanc for you, this one from Mendocino County, made by Taylor Berkley Boydstun, whose T Berkeley label takes inspiration from the Loire, and tends to focus on grape varieties from the region. His Chenin doesn’t have the snap of the Loire bottlings above, but it is varietally correct and tasty. In addition, Boydstun sent along a couple of Cabernet Francs which are both quite interesting, and manage to have both Loire and California sensibilities. I like that they have distinctly savory components along with their fruit.
Many wine lovers will know that Thomas Jefferson was america’s first wine geek, and that he even planted vines at his estate in Monticello. Fewer will know that Virginia has a thriving wine country and several sub-AVAs. I was sent some Virginia wines a while back—the winners of the state’s annual Governor’s Cup wine competition—and I found a few bottles that I’m pleased to recommend.
Barboursville Vineyards is perhaps one of Virginia’s best known producers, and its longest-running, having been purchased and planted by Gianni Zonin (of the Zonin prosecco empire in Italy) in 1976. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that their Vermentino is worth drinking.
On some of the very same land that Jefferson tried so hard to turn into vineyards, the appropriately named Jefferson Vineyards has finally made his dreams come true, having planted vineyards beginning in 1981. Their red blend will definitely appeal to drinkers of rich red wine. This blend carries the designation Meritage (pronounced like “heritage”), which is a particular designation for a Bordeaux-style blend in which no single grape makes up more than 90% of the blend.
The Pollack Vineyards Meritage shows more of its Cabernet Franc pedigree with nuttier tones, while the Barren Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah offers deeper blueberry flavors for those looking for darker, richer wines.
Last but not least, I’ve got a couple of wines to recommend to you from Acorn Winery, run by Bill and Betsy Nachbaur, who farm one of Sonoma’s oldest vineyards south of Healdsburg. Planted in 1890, their Alegría heritage vineyard of primarily Zinfandel contains fifty or sixty other grape varieties. The winery specializes in field blends of different sorts, and I’m recommending two of them today. Their Zinfandel, which is a cofermentation of many of the different grapes from their old vine block dominated by Zinfandel, and their Medley, which is a more equal cofermentation of a bunch of red and white grape varieties.
That’s it for this week. Notes on all these below!
2019 Domaine du Closel – Chateau des Vaults “Caillardières” Savenniéres, Anjou, Loire, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear skin and lemongrass, in the mouth, tangy lemon peel, lemongrass, pear, and pear skin flavors mix with a hint of quince. Great chalky texture and fantastic acidity. 4.5 g/l residual sugar. Soils are schist and shale with sand. Harvested in mid-maturity. 10 months in barrique, and then 9 months in tank. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $46. click to buy.
2019 Domaine du Closel – Chateau des Vaults “Clos du Papillon” Savenniéres, Anjou, Loire, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement, quince paste, and pear and white flowers. In the mouth, silky flavors of quince, pear, and lemon pith have a nice stony underbelly and excellent acidity. Very long finish but with a little heat. Harvest at mid-ripeness, aged for a year in barrique, and then another 6 months in tank. The soils are shale with some igneous rock. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2020 Domaine de la Canopée “Clarière Sec” Vouvray, Touraine, Loire, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and pear flesh. In the mouth, bright grapefruit and quince flavors mix with a hint of pear skin. Good acidity. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2019 Vignoble Chateau Moncontour “Les Chapelles Sec” Vouvray, Touraine, Loire, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of floral and tropical fruits with hints of wet pavement. In the mouth, floral and tropical fruits are silky with vanilla and lemon tones. Candied grapefruit lingers in the finish. Spends 11 months in barrel. 12.5% alcohol. 2.6 g/l residual sugar. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20.
2021 T. Berkeley Wines “Norgard” Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear and pastry cream. In the mouth, pear and crème anglaise mix with a hint of citrus pith and grapefruit. Good acidity, but I’d love more. Aged 10 months in French oak puncheons and concrete, followed by another 5 months in tank. 13.5% alcohol. 210 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2021 Barboursville Vineyards “Reserve” Vermentino, Virginia
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears, citrus pith, and white flowers. In the mouth, bright pear and citrus peel flavors have a tart juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Citrus pith and pear linger in the finish with a hint of spice. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2019 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage Red Blend, Monticello, Virginia
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and dark cherry fruit. In the mouth, flavors of oak and cherry mix with plum and tart plum skin brightness that accompanies excellent acidity. A bit much wood for me here, but the bright juicy fruit underneath compensates, and the combination will please many people. A blend of 45% Merlot, 40% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $37. click to buy.
2017 Pollak Vineyards Meritage Red Blend, Virginia
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, bright cherry and plum flavors are shot through with citrus peel and crushed nuts. Lightly grippy tannins linger with hints of oak and nuts in the finish. Excellent acidity. A blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 16% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.
2019 Barren Ridge Vineyards Petit Verdot, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earthy blueberry and black cherry. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and blackberry flavors are bright with citrus peel acidity and have a nice dried herb note that lingers with the citrus peel in the finish. Excellent acidity, fine-grained athletic tannins. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.
2021 T. Berkeley Wines “Ophelia” Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and plum skin. In the mouth, plummy flavors of crushed nuts, earth, and dark fruits have a faintly smoky quality, as fleecy tannins wrap around the core of fruit. Very good acidity, and a nice herbal and earthy finish. Spends 10 months aging in a combination of amphora and neutral oak puncheons. 13.0% alcohol. 350 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2021 T. Berkeley Wines “Big Ranch” Cabernet Franc, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
USA Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed hazelnuts, chopped herbs, and plums. In the mouth, plums and cherry fruit flavors are shot through with chopped green herbs that turn minty in the finish, along with crushed nuts and a dusting of cocoa powder. Lightly grippy tannins and very good acidity. Spends 10 months in 30% new French oak, 8 months in concrete. Classic profile. 13.5% alcohol. 150 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.
2019 Acorn Wines “Alegría Vineyards” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, black licorice, and a hint of pepper. In the mouth, blackberry, licorice, dried black cherries, figs and a hint of dried blueberries have a nice bright acidity to back them up, with faint tannins and a hint of dried herbs lingering in the finish along with licorice root. On the ripe and concentrated side. A field blend of 129-year-old vines, which are mostly 89% Zinfandel, 11% Alicante Bouschet, and 9% Petite Sirah, with the rest made up of dozens of other varieties. Aged for 17 months in 40% new French oak. Certified sustainable. 14.5% alcohol. 276 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $42.
2019 Acorn Wines “Alegría Vineyards – Medley” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, black cherry, and mocha. In the mouth, the mocha notes continue to suffuse flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and plum. More pure oak notes emerge in the finish, which also carries a little bit of heat. Decent acidity. A field blend of 25% Zinfandel, 17% Syrah, 11% Cinsaut, 6% Alicante Bouschet, 6% Petite Sirah, and a dozen different muscats and other varieties. Aged for 19 months in a combination of French and American oak, 30% new. Certified sustainable. 14.4% alcohol. 175 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.