Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/10/19

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. 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 bunch of fun wines from near and far.

Starting on the white side of the spectrum, the Anaba Viognier is a very crisp and tasty rendition of a grape variety that is much abused in California, often made as an unctuous, bitter, peach-flavored syrup rather than the crisp and fruity wine it could be. This one has all the acidity it needs to escape that trap.

Speaking of escaping from a trap, the Airfield Estate's "Donald" Chardonnay successfully avoided over-oaking its Chardonnay, much to my delight, and the delight of those who prefer their Chardonnays taste like fruit instead of wood.

Moving on to the reds, I've got a few of those from Anaba, from their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir to their GSM red blend, to their dark Syrah from Sonoma's Moon Mountain District. I think my favorites are their Turbine Red, which is always a good value, and their Pinot Noir, though it leans slightly candied in this rendition. All are well made and worth seeking out.

I've also got a trio from Nina Buty in Washington state this week, all different red blends at which Buty excels. My favorite I think was the Rockgarden Estate, which was a lithe and surprisingly delicate version of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah that begged for a slight chill before downing half a bottle over the course of a warm afternoon.

From farther afield, I've got two Marchesi di Frescobaldi wines this week, their old vines Chianti Rufino and their Castelgiocondo Brunello, both nicely composed interpretations of Sangiovese that are aging beautifully.

Finally, I've got a couple more wines from Atlas Peak superstar Acumen wines -- their flagship "Peak" bottling, and their less expensive "Mountainside" bottling. Both utterly delicious, slightly lower alcohol Cabernets made with finesse and restraint. Go get 'em!

Notes on all these wines below.

2017 Anaba Wines "Landa Vineyard" Viognier, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of peaches, apricots and a hint of white flowers. In the mouth, bright flavors of apricot mix with a hint of orange peel and lemon pith. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh, and well away from the unctuousness that can mark poorly made versions of this grape. Tasty and bright. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2017 Airfield Estates "Donald" Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Washington
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of buttered popcorn and lemon curd. In the mouth, juicy lemon curd and grapefruit zest flavors have a shiny Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/10/19brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. There's a faint buttered popcorn note on the finish, but other than that and the silky texture, the use of wood is subdued here. Delicious. 13.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40.

2016 Anaba Wines Pinot Nor, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and cranberries. In the mouth sweet oak and candied raspberry flavors have a nice brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of cedar and a touch of candied citrus linger in the finish with cotton-ball textured tannins. Tasty, if a bit flashy for my taste. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2016 Anaba Wines "Turbine Red" Red Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and a touch of cedar. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors are draped in a fleecy blanket of tannins as darker earth flavors emerge through the fruit. Excellent acidity and nice balance. 45% Syrah, 41% Grenache, 9% Mourvedre and 5% Petite Sirah. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2015 Buty Winery "Columbia Rediviva - Phinny Hill Vineyard" Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco and earth. In the mouth, black cherry and cola have a spicy kick to them, as well as a deep rumbling earthy bass note. Excellent acidity, with tight tannins and a hint of green herbs in the finish. A blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Syrah. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2015 Buty Winery "Redeviva of the Stones" Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and forest floor. In the mouth, cherry and a deep spicy earth character mix together under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Good acidity, but the wine has a narrowness of flavor that may need some time to relax. A blend of 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Mourvedre and 78% Syrah. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2016 Buty Winery "Rockgarden Estate" Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cocoa powder and blackberries. In the mouth, a nice mix of cherry and blackberry flavors has a wonderful brightness to it thanks to excellent acidity. Bouncy and buoyant, the fruit careens about the tongue under a gauzy skein of tannins. Delicious and gulpable. 75% Mourvedre, 17% Grenache and 10% Syrah. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2013 Marchese di Frescobaldi "CastelGiocondo" Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of leather and cherry and mulling spices. In the mouth, cherry, sandalwood, incense and dried flowers have a juicy brightness thanks to fantastic acidity. Tight, muscular tannins are fine grained and give the wine great structure and poise. A hint of bitter orange and herbs lingers in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2013 Marchese di Frescobaldi "Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva" Chianti Rufina, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with just a hint of purple, this wine smells of raisins and black cherries and a touch of flowers. In the mouth, juicy cherry and black cherry flavors have a nice herbal undertone to them and are bursting with acidity and freshness. There's a nice cool mineral quality that lingers in the finish with the faintest hint of tannin and orange peel. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2015 Acumen "Peak" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and dark-chocolate-covered almonds. In the mouth, cherry and tobacco and cola flavors are draped in a heavy blanket of suede tannins. Excellent acidity and a nice deep fruit depth. Will reward a few years in the cellar. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2015 Acumen "Mountainside" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and vanilla. In the mouth, bright and juicy cherry flavors have fantastic energy thanks to excellent acidity. Muscular, powdery tannins coat the mouth, as the pure fruit soars across the palate. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2016 Anaba Wines "Bismark" Syrah, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of crushed peppercorns and cassis with a hint of violets. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis have a peppercorn spiciness to them that turns slightly bitter towards the finish. Good acidity and taut, slightly muscular tannins. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48.



Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Welcome back for another roundup of new releases from California!

I’ve been getting a lot of new wines from California, and this report has a good amount of the staples: Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet, Zinfandel. There are a couple value-driven wines that deliver, and some exciting new releases from Sonoma’s Anaba and Lake County’s Hawk & Horse.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

White wines

2017 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay - California, Central Coast
SRP: $16
Nose gushes with pineapple, lemon curd, baked apple, with vanilla and honey butter. Plump and creamy texture, medium acidity, lots of yellow apple, pineapple and lemon crème. Flavors of rich toasted marshmallow, vanilla crème cookies, honey, also some fresh floral tones. Fun, accessible stuff. (85 points IJB)

2017 Carmel Road Chardonnay UnoakedCalifornia, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $22
Bright nose of peaches, green melon, lemon, white flowers and honeysuckle. Fresh and bright on the palate, this is pleasantly vibrant on a medium-bodied frame. Lemon, white peach and apricot fruit, accented with flowers, honey and chalk notes. A lively and bright style of Chardonnay at a good price. All stainless steel, 13.5% alcohol. (87 points IJB)

2016 Carmel Road Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $25
Warm strawberry and cherry compote on the nose with rose petals, cola, rhubarb and white pepper. Medium-bodied palate, light tannins, medium acidity, this is a juicy and fresh style, full of pleasant red cherry, raspberry, strawberry jam. Secondary notes of clove, cola and rhubarb add some complexity. A juicy and fun style but the freshness keeps it food-friendly and so easy to drink. Aged 9 months in French oak, 13% new. (87 points IJB)

2016 The Hess Collection Chardonnay PantheraCalifornia, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Aromas of apricot, lemon curd, orange marmalade, with ginger, honeycomb and vanilla. Texturally, this is plump and full yet shows medium acidity, and the balance is on point. Yellow apples, apricot and orange marmalade, with honey, ginger, vanilla and cinnamon crumb cake. Yet there’s this aspect of saline and minerals that makes it pop. Aged 15 months in 35% new French oak, 14.3% alcohol. (88 points IJB)

2016 Anaba Chardonnay Dutton Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $42
Deep yet pretty scents of apricot and yellow apple, cinnamon and nutmeg, sea salt and flowers, the aromas are bold yet they make me salivate. Pristine and fresh on the palate with crisp acidity and smooth texture. Apricot, yellow apples, orange marmalade, and I get complex notes of chalk, sea salt, yellow flowers, ginger, white tea. Wow, this is really pretty stuff. Aged 17 months in 27% new French oak, 90% maloactic fermentation. (92 points IJB)

Red wines

2016 Anaba Pinot Noir- California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $42
Nose boasts bright cherries, raspberries and strawberries, along with vibrant red flowers, dandelion, white pepper, rhubarb and spiced tea. Medium+ body, velvety tannins, bright acidity, the balance is quite nice. Raspberries and red cherries are topped in roses, herbal tea, white pepper, sage and raspberry leaf. Not light (lots of juicy fruit) but it has a vibrant feel and freshness to it. Drink now or hold for a few years. Aged 20 months in 35% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2016 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP $40
Bright but deep aromas of black and red cherries, raspberries and strawberries, along with roses, rhubarb, clove and spiced tea. The palate is ripe but vibrant, full but suave, with light tannins and fresh acidity. Flavors of red plums, cherries, raspberries and strawberries, plenty of ripe fruit but it is complemented by notes of cola, clove, rhubarb, potpourri, black tea, earth. Rich but nuanced, delicious but complex. (90 points IJB)

2016 Gehricke Zinfandel - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Aromas of blackberries, plums and raspberries, all tossed together in a simmer pot with violets, rhubarb, cedar and vanilla. On the palate, it’s full-bodied (15.1%) with soft tannins and enough acidity to keep it lively. Raspberries, plums, black cherries, the fruit works well with cola, cedar, birch and sweet vanilla notes. Aged 17 months in French oak. Fun, chewy, barbecue-friendly stuff. (88 points IJB)

2016 The Hess Collection Lion Tamer - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Smells of sweet plums, black cherry jam, juicy and plump with violets, cocoa, vanilla and coffee. Full-bodied but smooth with soft tannins and medium-low acidity. Sweet clumps of plum, black cherry and blackberry. Laced with vanilla, toasted marshmallow, dark chocolate and cedar, with some earthy hints. Full, hedonistic and fun. 40% Malbec with Zinfandel, Ptite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedr and Merlot. Aged 22 months in 40% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2016 Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Nose shows lots of plums and sweet black cherries, topped in roasted coffee, grilled herbs, pepper and cocoa. Rich and velvety style with smooth tannins and medium acidity, which adds freshness. Generous helpings of plums, black cherries and currants, and add in some clove, rosemary, pepper, and vanilla and coffee, which harmonizes well with the warm fruit. A highly drinkable Cab now, but it shows depth, and has a lot to offer for a California Cabernet at this price point. Includes a combined 25% Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, aged 21 months in 40% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2016 Three Finger Jack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon East Side RidgeCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $22Wine Reviews: California New Releases
Rich, deep aromas of plums, blackberry, mixed with coffee, violets, clove, a warm and inviting nose. Full-bodied (15%), this is a full-on style with a rich, chewy feel, medium tannins, some moderating acidity, but it’s actually all balanced together quite well. There’s a nice combo of rich black cherries, plums and blackberries, and complex notes of scorched earth, clove, smoky cedar, violets, a littler earthy-mineral notes, too. Highly delicious but also quite complex, and far more interesting than a lot of California Cabernets in this price range. (88 points IJB)

2014 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $75
Gorgeous aromatics, like waves of blackberries, red and black currants, along with violets, black pepper, red pepper flakes, complex earthy and coffee notes. Full-bodied, this Cab sports velvety tannins and bright acidity, and it’s balanced very nicely. Tart black cherries, juicy dark plums and blackberries, this wine is laced with complex notes of pencil shavings, pepper, leather, scorched earth. Accented well with dark chocolate and espresso notes. I’d love to see what this does in five years. Impressive Lake County Cabernet. Aged 23 months in 90% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2013 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo - California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $50/375ml
Aromas of warm berry compote, along with pepper, earth, charcoal, lavender and clove. The palate is balanced nicely with velvety tannins, bright acidity, balanced sweetness. Juicy black cherries, roasted figs and dates, mixed well with elements of clove, anise, violets, sweet caramel. There’s also this lingering minerality, too. What a beautiful fortified dessert wine, this really surprised me. All Cabernet (from estate vineyards planted at about 2,200 feet), aged 29 months in new French oak, fortified with oak-aged brandy. 17.9% alcohol, 13% residual sugar. (91 points IJB)

<85 points

N.V. Dark Horse Limited Brut RoséCalifornia
SRP $13
Nose shows strawberry candies, raspberries, red apple peel, with sliced cucumber and white pepper. Medium/light-bodied with crisp acidity and faint bubbles. Reed apple peels, white cherries, with spicy, herbal tones. Light, fun, simple.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/3/19

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. 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 supremely good Napa Cabernets.

Let's start with the Spottswoode Lyndenhurst, which is that small estate's "second label" wine -- less expensive and generally a little more open and accessible upon release than the estate's flagship Cabernet. But don't let that lull you into thinking it's a frivolous bottling. This is serious and seriously good Cabernet. While we're talking Spottswoode, they also sent through their Sauvignon Blanc, which is a blend of fruit from Napa and Sonoma Counties, and pretty much everything you want a California Sauvignon Blanc to be, but without the surfeit of oak that often accompanies such wines. It's fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic, I continue to be extremely impressed with the wines from Acumen, in particular their single vineyard bottlings of which this Attelas Vineyard is my favorite. Made up on Atlas Peak, these wines are beginning to set a standard for that Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/3/19AVA in a big way.

Moving on to some other reds, I've got two from the Symington Family in Portugal, who own the Quinta do Ataíde, where they make dry red wines from the steep hillsides of the Douro. One is almost entirely Touriga Nacional, while the other is a blend of the traditional grapes grown in that region. Both are worth seeking out, especially given their prices.

Lastly, I've got two wines from Washington state. One from Nina Buty and her eponymous winery -- a single-vineyard red blend of Cabernet and Syrah, and the other a Merlot from 14 Hands in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Both are tasty examples of what Washington has to offer.

Notes on all these wines below.

2013 Marchese di Frescobaldi "Montesodi" Sangiovese, Tuscany, Italy
Medium to dark ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and leather and dried flowers. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy cherry and leather and sandalwood flavors have a nice stony bass note beneath them. Excellent acidity, and lightly leathery tannins. A touch of citrus in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of candied green apple and honeysuckle. In the mouth, electrically bright green apple and kiwi flavors are shot through with lime juice and honeysuckle. Fantastic acidity and a nice floral note linger through the finish. Delicious. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2015 Quinta do Ataíde "Vinho do Arco" Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberry and blackberry fruit with a hint of bergamot. In the mouth, juicy, bouncy flavors of mulberry and cherry and plum have a nice earthy dryness to them. Powdery tannins coat the mouth and linger with a striking hint of mineral dust in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2015 Quinta do Ataíde "Vinho do Arco" Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, blackberry flavors mix with chopped herbs and a darker, stony earthiness. The fruit leans a bit towards the raisined end of the spectrum, and indeed, flavors of chocolate covered raisins linger in the finish. Powdery, but muscular tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2015 Spottswoode "Lyndenhurst" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich, ripe cherry fruit and exotic flowers. In the mouth, juicy cherry and cola flavors have a mouthwatering complexion, with excellent acidity, fine grained tannins, and wonderful earthy notes that linger with a touch of licorice in the finish. 14.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2015 Acumen "Peak - Attelas Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously bright cherry and tobacco and cola flavors are nestled into a suede-glove of tannins, which slowly closes its fist as the sweet fruit lingers on the palate. Fantastic acidity and balance. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2016 Buty Winery "Connor Lee Vineyard" Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth and dark fruit. In the mouth, plum and green herbs mix with a touch of crushed nuts and earth. Excellent acidity and a remarkable green olive note in the finish round out a surprisingly savory wine. A blend of 59% Merlot and 41% Cabernet Franc. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2015 14 Hands "The Reserve" Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of a bit of barnyard and struck match. In the mouth, plummy, cherry flavors mix with espresso notes and a touch of herbal bitterness that creeps into the finish. Good acidity. 14.9% alcohol. 794 cases produced. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.



Alicante Bouschet’s Adopted Home of Alentejo

In the summer of 2018, I spent a week exploring Portugal’s Alentejo region, and I came back with a much deeper respect for its wines, history and culture. Stretching inland, east of Lisbon, this hot, dry region is home to vast swaths of cork forests and vineyards spread across a countryside of rolling hills and farms.

One of things that surprised me most about Alentejo was how many good to excellent wines I tasted made from the Alicante Bouschet grape. With more than 100 years of experience with this grape, Alentejo and Alicante have a long, symbiotic relationship, and winemakers there have learned how to harness the full potential of this grape.

Winemaker Iain Richardson in the vineyards of Herdade do Mouchão

In the 1880s, a Frenchman named Henri Bouschet created the grape by crossing Petit Bouschet (itself a cross of two even more obscure grapes) with Grenache. The result was a thick-skinned, dark-colored grape variety that showed good defense against rot. It can produce such dark wines that Portuguese winemakers took to calling it Tinta de Excrever, which means “writing ink.” Fun fact: Alicante is a rare teinturier variety, which means the pulp inside is red (like the Georgian grape Saperavi). The grape flourished in California during prohibition, as its resistance to rot meant grapes could handle transportation to home winemakers and bootleggers. Because of its dark color and intensity, it was also widely used as a blending grape in order to add some meat and potatoes to thinner wines.

But it was a man looking to make some money in the cork business who helped this grape reach its pinnacle. In the mid-1800s, Thomas Reynolds (an Oporto-based exporter of Port, cork, and other goods) moved his family to the rural, largely untouched region of Alentejo. He established a massive estate, Herdade do Mouchão, dominated by cork tree forests, but also olive trees and vineyards. Sometime before the turn of the 20th Century, two professors from Montpellier brought cuttings of Alicante Bouschet to Mouchão, where it adapted well. In 1901, the Reynolds family built a winery, adding a distillery in 1929. The original winery is still functioning, and it operated without electricity until 1991! It is one of the most fascinating wineries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. And the wines, especially the flagship red, are stunning.

With more than 200 indigenous grape varieties to choose from, it’s amazing an imported science experiment found such a foothold in Alentejo. But wine history is weird like that. Today, growers all over Alentejo use Alicante, frequently blending it with other indigenous and international grape varieties. Many respected winemakers use traditional methods of hand-picking and food-treading the grapes in large concrete or marble containers. Alicante Bouschet benefits from barrel aging, and it can withstand a good amount of new, toasty oak, though I’m more inclined toward wines that have been aged for long periods in large, old wood. No matter how it is made or where the vineyard is, these are almost always dark, concentrated, tannic, long-aging wines. But the best Alicantes maintain fresh acidity that helps balance out the density. The dark fruit is also accented by these notes of leather, pepper, charcoal, and herbs and spices, which I find really attractive. Pairing options with grilled meats and vegetables are endless.

I recently had the chance to revisit some Alicante Bouschet wines form Alentejo, most of which I had tasted during my trip. For fun, I tasted the wines single-blind, just to see if the Mouchão would stand out and wow me as much as it has in the past. (Spoiler alert: for my palate, this wine is so special that it stands out like a sore thumb.) Like many wines I enjoy from Alentejo, some of these are highly impressive for the money, and most of them could (or should) benefit from years in the cellar.

My notes on these wines (which were received as trade samples), are below.

Alicante Bouschet’s Adopted Home of Alentejo2016 Herdade Do Rocim Alicante Bouschet - Portugal, Alentejo, Vinho Regional Alentejano
SRP: $20
Vibrant, dark purple color. Deep nose of black cherries and concentrated plums, loaded with smoky incense, sweet clove and espresso, leather, dried violets, and an earthy-smashed rock note, too. Full-bodied with velvety tannins and the acidity is really surprising here, giving the wine some lift and freshness. Complex earthy, savory, floral notes – leather, anise, charcoal, and all sorts of incense sticks and perfumed, musky notes. This could do well with five years in the cellar, yet it’s accessible at this young age, too. I tasted this last year at the winery, but I found this bottle to be even better and more expressive. (90 points IJB)

2012 Doña Maria Grande Reserva - Portugal, Alentejo, Vinho Regional Alentejano
SRP: $45
Bright purple color. Rich, dark, saucy aromas (black cherries, blueberries, blackberry), and a deep blend of eucalyptus, incense, cedar. Bold presence on the palate, structured but velvety, with medium acidity, which helps on a 14.5% frame. Scorched earth, mocha, coffee, charcoal. Rich and suave yet fresh, too, this would do well with three to eight years in the cellar or a long decant, but this is impressive stuff. 50% Alicante Bouschet with Petit Verdot, Syrah and Touriga Nacional from clay and limestone soils in the Estremoz subregion. Aged 12 months in French oak. (91 points IJB)

2016 Herdade dos Grous Moon Harvested - Portugal, Alentejo, Vinho Regional Alentejano
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Dark and rich on the nose, saucy plums and blackberry sauce, with violets, coffee, anise and vanilla notes. Full-bodied with grippy tannins and some medium-low acidity to help balance it out. A dark and saucy appeal with rich black cherry, blackberries, dark plums. There’s a lot of cocoa, anise, coffee and scorched earth notes here, too, along with cedar and espresso. Hedonistic style that is accessible now, but built well enough to cellar, too. All Alicante Bouschet from schist soils. (89 points IJB)

2013 Herdade do Mouchão Alentejo - Portugal, Alentejo
Alicante Bouschet’s Adopted Home of Alentejo
SRP: $60
Inky dark purple color. It takes time but out come aromas of pretty, complex black fruits, waves of roasted chestnut, leather, incense, mint, black pepper and earth. Lots of strength and power on the palate with grippy tannins yet it’s not too overt, and the acidity keeps it fresh. Tangy, deep black fruit mixes so well with waves of complex non-fruit notes (leather, sage, incense, smoky earth, anise). There are also these deep notes of rocks, minerals, charcoal. Rich fruit, but it’s so nuanced and vibrant as well. This will be gorgeous in 30 years (no kidding), it’s that kind of a wine. The balance, depth and elegance is in a class of its own. Alicante Bouschet with some Trincadeira blended in as well, the wine spends two years in old, 500-liter mahogany casks. (95 points IJB)

2015 Herdade São Miguel Alicante Bouschet - Portugal, Alentejo, Vinho Regional Alentejano
SRP: $23
Bright purple color. Nose pops with saucy blueberries and blackberries, mixed with incense, lavender, violets, anise and charcoal. Full and big on the palate with grippy tannins and some medium, moderating acidity. Dense but crunchy dark fruit (blackberry, blueberry, black cherry) topped in a complex mix of anise, charcoal, black pepper, graphite. This is well-built to improve in the cellar, or it would benefit from a serious decant. Alicante from clay and schist soils, aged 12 months in French oak. (89 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – they grow together, and they go together. And, this week, I’ve got a fresh batch of Chards and Pinots from California.

In this report, I tasted two vintages of Chardonnay from Oceano, which is owned and operated by Rachel Martin of Virginia’s Boxwood Estate. The fruit is sourced from the slops of Price Canyon in San Luis Obispo County, and the vineyard is located less than two miles from the coast. The wines were fermented and aged at Caldwell Vineyards in Napa. These wines really impressed me with their lively, salty, oceanic vibes, and I’m excited to see they have a Pinot Noir coming soon, too.

I also tasted some new Anderson Valley releases from FEL, which is owned by Cliff Lede and used to be branded as Breggo years ago. I’ve followed these wines for a long time, and these new ones keep up a long tradition of rocking yet nuanced Pinot and Chard.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard - California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
SRP: $38
Deep yellow color. Popping nose of pineapple, green melon, lemon meringue, with a burst of sea salt and ocean spray, along with spicy floral tea, honey and ginger. Full but not heavy, with vibrant, crisp acidity throughout, which works well with a deep, velvety texture. Flavors of tangerine, green melon, key lime pie, with ginger, honey and bread crumbs. A deep, crusty sea salt element, which I adore, lingers long on the finish. A beautiful balancing act of a Chardonnay. Aged 11 months in French oak, 15% maloactic fermentation. (92 points IJB)

2017 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard - California, Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County
SRP: $38
Deep yellow color. Nose bursts with green melon, lemon curd, guava, and a ton of sea salt and ocean breeze, crushed shells, some white tea and honeysuckle. Crisp yet vibrant, lovely texture on a medium/full-bodied frame, but it’s so zesty and the balance is lovely. Lemon, green apple, melon, tangerine, topped in sea salt, crushed shells, hints of toasted bread, vanilla and ginger. Very similar to the 2016 in style, this is kicking now but I’d love to give it a few years. (92 points IJB)

2017 FEL Wines Chardonnay - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $32
Light gold color. Nose shows yellow pears, yellow apples, along with honey, salted almond, hay, sea spray, crushed shells. On the palate, this is medium-bodied with a rich yet precise texture, refreshing acidity. Yellow pears, apples, apricot, lemon curd, laced with honeysuckle, crushed shells and limestone, ginger, buttercream. There’s also this nice mineral depth, too. Pretty, complex, yet so delicious as well. Aged in neutral French oak for 10 months. (91 points IJB)

2016 Mi Sueño Chardonnay - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $42
Light yellow color. Open and bold aromas of yellow pears and apples, lemon curd, with ginger, graham cracker, honey, some ocean spray and chalk. Deliciously full, rich and plump texture, but the acidity moderates it quite nicely. Big, oaky, yes (plenty of honey, almond, buttered biscuits) but there’s also significantly complex notes of sea salt, honeysuckle, chalk, all on top of glazed apples and pears. Deep, delicious, but also intriguing stuff. Aged 18 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2015 Gehricke Pinot Noir Los Carneros - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $32
Bright ruby color. Nose shows a mix of roses and violets, clove and rhubarb, on top of jammy raspberries and sweet black cherries. Juicy and ripe on the palate, medium/full-bodied with soft, smooth tannins and moderating acidity. Black cherries, raspberry jam, juicy plums, rich and generous in texture and flavor but it’s quite complex, especially for a wine at this price point, with notes of cola, herbal tea, coffee and toffee. Aged 20 months in French oak, this wine really delivers for the price. (88 points IJB)

2016 FEL Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $65Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
Dark ruby color. Bright aromas of black cherries, raspberries, with cola, rose petals and a cool, spicy/herbal mix: pepper, dandelion, eucalyptus, mint. Full frame on the palate, structured well but the tannins have some smoothness to them, too, and the acidity is bright. Jammy raspberries, chilled plums, mixed with roasted earth, chestnut, cracked pepper, rose potpourri, with cedar and clove notes. Very pretty, with a lot of depth, this could blossom well over a few years. Aged 16 months in 20% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2016 FEL Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $65
Deep ruby color. The aromas pop with red currant, raspberries and strawberries, cherry pie (lots of fruit!) but also some interesting notes of rose petal, clove, pine forest, black tea. Medium/full-bodied with a velvety feel and lip-smacking acidity. Juicy cherries, raspberries, candied red apple, the fruit is mixed with a nice mélange of black tea, roses, anise, bay leaf, dusty earth. Deep yet crisp, there’s a lot to uncover here in the next three-to-six years. Aged 15 months in 37% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Abacela Vineyards, Umpqua Valley, Oregon

While everyone and their wine-loving aunt Jeannie are busy going gaga for Oregon Pinot Noir and, increasingly Chardonnay (both deserving to be sure), another grape has slowly been building a track record that is now too good to ignore. Oregon Tempranillo deserves your attention, but give it quietly please -- it's generally still an amazing bargain, thanks to being largely off the radar for most wine lovers, even those who live in Oregon.

Oregon Tempranillo languishes in obscurity primarily due to the fact that with a couple of notable exceptions, it's largely been planted in the wine growing areas of Oregon that are not the superstar successful Willamette Valley. But in places like the Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley, this Spanish grape variety has convinced many a winemaker of its virtues. Now it simply has to convince consumers -- no mean feat when most of the airtime for Oregon Wine is sucked up by its Burgundian cousins.

I first tasted Oregon Tempranillo when a bottle arrived on my doorstep perhaps 7 years ago. Unlooked for and unannounced, bearing the name of a winery I had never heard of, this bottled did what I hope for whenever I pull out an unsolicited wine sample and pop the cork: it amazed me. The wine was true to its varietal character, balanced, and tasty. Epic? No. But good enough for me to ask under my breath, "who the heck is Abacela Vineyards and what on earth are they doing growing Tempranillo in Oregon."

Back then, a lot of people were probably asking Earl Jones that question. Maybe even Earl himself. In 1993, he moved his family to Southern Oregon and planted 12 acres of Tempranillo, having convinced himself that the climate was perfect for growing the grape that, in his opinion, no one had ever gotten right in America.

"At the time, California had 535 acres of Tempranillo, and all but one were in the Central Valley,' says Jones. "There was one acre in Napa. I tasted that wine in barrel, and said, 'Hmm, thats pretty good,' but then I said to myself 'I believe I can do better.'


Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Tempranillo ready for harvest, Weisinger Vineyards


Tempranillo, from the Spanish temprano which means early, is one of the world's most planted grape varieties, hovering somewhere in the 4th to 6th range in terms of global acreage. It lives up to its name by ripening a full 2 weeks or more earlier than many of its red cousins -- most notably Grenache -- with which it is often paired in several famous wine regions of Spain, including Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro. It has been cultivated in these areas, as well as in Portugal for several hundred years, but recent DNA evidence also shows that it has had a somewhat long foothold in southern Italy (Toscana and Baslicata) under the name Malvasia Nera. It was formally introduced to California in 1905 by Frederic Bioletti, but it may have arrived earlier, mixed with various Spanish and Italian varieties planted by early Italian immigrants in the Sierra Foothills. It has since spread to Washington State and Idaho, though quite possibly this is due entirely to Jones' success with the grape.

In the late 80s, after a long academic and research career in cellular biology and immunology, Jones saw the proverbial writing on the wall when it came to the future of the healthcare system and the academic world that fed it. At 52, and not yet ready to retire, he decided to set himself to solving what he felt was the mysterious lack of decent American Tempranillo, by then his favorite grape.

"I thought I had some decent insights from the time I spent in Spain,' says Jones who managed several visits for business and pleasure while still teaching and doing research. "All the books say soil is most important in determining terroir, but I believe that's largely bullshit. Climate is the obvious dominant feature. Soil plays a role, no doubt, but it is not the most important thing. When I saw Alejandro Fernandez making arguably a better Tempranillo in alluvial deposits on a river 150 miles from Rioja, and then saw the weather station data from there and from La Granja showing the same growing degree days and six month season, I said to myself it's environmental, and that's that.'

Armed with this insight, Jones researched regions from South Africa to South America to the West Coast, where he felt there was strong potential. After dismissing Walla Walla, Washington and Idaho for their winter freezes -- 'More than 10 days below ten degrees and you'll kill Tempranillo vines" says Jones -- he settled on Oregon's Umpqua River Valley.


Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley (Courtesy of Umpqua Valley Winegrowers)

"There were six wineries in the Umpqua at that time, and before I made the trip out, I bought all their wines and had them shipped to me and I was really disappointed,' recalls Jones. "I didn't know much about winemaking but I knew good wine, and they weren't very good. But on one of my exploratory trips to the Northwest, I bought every local wine I found in a grocery store and one of them, a Merlot was good, and that told me it was possible."

Two years after that Merlot, and having found a farmer willing to unload 500 acres at the price Jones was willing to pay for 50, he moved to the region and planted vines armed with the best ideas his own research and theories would permit. At the time, the roughly 20 vineyards and six wineries operating in the region were focused on the big five international varieties -- Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet and Merlot. Jones likes to tell the story of attending a local wine group meeting and telling one inquisitive woman what he was planting.

"At the end of the evening, some guy came up to me and said, 'Mr. Jones, you do realize that wine grapes are permanent plantings -- you can't temporarily plant them.' it was like a kids game of telephone among people who hadn't really ever heard of Tempranillo."

Jones is proud to have pioneered a grape that has become something of a signature for the region, albeit a quiet one. Roughly fifty wineries now produce Tempranillo across several different growing regions across the state: Applegate Valley, Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, Walla Walla, and even the Willamette Valley. Most producers farm less than 5 acres, and only ten or so of those make more than 1000 cases of the grape per year.

Over the years, Abacela has continued to send me samples now and again, and I've watched the wines mature into self-assured deliciousness, thanks to the efforts of winemaker Andrew Wenzl and his partner in farming, Greg Jones, Earl's son.

So when the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance asked me to come up and taste through their wines to both educate myself and give feedback to the winemakers, I was very pleased to accept. I spent an afternoon tasting through many flights of wines along with my fellow visiting critics, wine writer Mike Dunne and Bree Boskov, MW.

What does Oregon Tempranillo taste like, you ask? I have a couple of ways of answering that question. I made tasting notes on the forty-some-odd wines that I tasted while I was there and have posted those below. For fun, I also dumped my tasting notes into a word cloud generator to see what kinds of themes emerged. After deleting a lot of common words and tweaking some variables, it was interesting to see how things sorted out.
Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

My tasting notes

I showed my cloud to the organizers and they got kind of excited about it, so with the permission of my fellow critics, I also made word clouds from their notes, as well as a combined cloud that integrated all three of our notes.
Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo

Mike Dunne's notes

Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo
Bree Boskov's notes

Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillo
A combined cloud of all three of our notes

I don't find these clouds particularly profound, nor surprising in their similarities and differences across three professional tasters, but they're a fun little exercise that can reveal some interesting traits.

More deliberately, let me say that Oregon Tempranillo seems to have quickly moved through or altogether avoided the trap that snares many burgeoning wine regions in their early days. The state of Idaho provides an unusually interesting comparison by way of illustrating this point. Idaho's Snake River AVA has also found that Tempranillo may be a very suitable, even successful grape in that region.

My own tastings have led me to share that opinion. However I have also found that Idaho Tempranillos (and indeed most of the wines I've tasted from Idaho) suffer from too heavy a hand in their making. The wines are often slaked in oak, over-extracted, sometimes picked too ripe, and show generally disjointed characteristics.

The causes of these shortcomings are likely myriad, ranging from inexperienced winemaking, a lack of understanding of the site or grape, or simply people just trying too hard to match their notions of what makes for "fine" wine. I've seen such issues in many up-and-coming regions such as Colorado, Texas, Arizona and more, to the point that I consider them pretty typical growing pains for a new region.

The Tempranillos of Southern Oregon occasionally show some of these mistakes, to be sure, but on the whole, I was very impressed with the balance, ripeness, use of oak, acidity levels, and overall character of these wines. Many of the best wines had a lovely black tea or smoky character that I enjoyed greatly (and which appears somewhat prominently in the word clouds above), along with their cherry fruit. In a brief survey conducted at the event, more than 72% of the winemakers present reported using 25% or less new oak for their wines, 84% of them age their wines for more than 12 months in barrel, and 38% age their wines for more than 18 months in barrel. Most use commercial yeasts and almost every winemaker adds acid to their wines.

In our discussions, my colleague Bree Boskov noted that many of the Tempranillos we tasted were 100% varietal bottlings. She rightly suggested that more winemakers could consider bolstering acidity with some of the grapes used for just such a purpose in Spain. I would also love to see more winemakers using native yeast fermentations instead of commercial yeasts.

But these are often the luxuries of self-assured winemakers resting upon a foundation of solid market demand, something that Oregon Tempranillo may not yet fully have. Which means you have a chance to get in on the secret early.


TASTING NOTES

Below are the tasting notes for every Oregon Tempranillo I had the pleasure of tasting a few weeks ago at the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance tasting. They were tasted blind in flights of five or so wines over the course of several hours. Alcohol levels, along with other identifying information, were provided after the fact. Other than editing my notes for grammar, and grouping the wines by ratings, I have made no changes to the thoughts I recorded while tasting.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2015 Abacela - Reserve Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and black cherry. In the mouth, muscular tannins surround a core of cherry and black cherry fruit that is bright with excellent acidity. Nice black tea notes swirl in the background as a faint citrus hint touches the finish. Excellent. 14.9% alcohol. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2015 2Hawk Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of slightly grapey cherry and black fruits. In the mouth, very faint tannins surround a core of bright cherry fruit that is tinged Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillowith sweet black tea. Very pretty, with excellent acidity and nice length. A touch of mocha on the finish. Delicious. 13.8% alcohol.

2014 Castillo de Feliciana Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cedar and black tea. In the mouth, flavors of black tea and cherry and mocha are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps the wine bright and fresh as mocha and oak flavors linger in the finish. The wood is present here but pretty well integrated. Is this Abacela? 14.0% alcohol.

2014 Red Lily "Life of Riley" Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and black tea. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and black tea notes are draped in a thick fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity makes for a bouncy mouthful and faint notes of mocha in the finish speak to particularly well integrated wood. Very nice. Includes 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.3% alcohol. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2014 Schmidt Family Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cedar and a touch of leather. In the mouth, aromatically sweet flavors of cherry and cedar and herbs have a wonderful texture that adds a rustic honesty to this wine. Perhaps unfined and unfiltered? Fine grained, powdery tannins, excellent acidity and the merciful absence of overt oak influence make me like this wine a great deal. 14.4% alcohol. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2014 Red Lily "Red Blanket" Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and tea and a touch of herbs. In the mouth, black cherry and black tea flavors mix with a hint of cedar and leather. Muscular tannins buff the edges of the palate and linger with a hint of citrus peel in the finish. Very nice. Includes 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.0% alcohol. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2013 Foon Estate Vineyard Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Dark ruby in the glass, with a hint of purple still lingering, this wine smells of forest floor and dried flowers and cherry. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and leather and herbs and forest floor have a nice powdery tannic backbone and excellent acidity. This wine tastes like it has some bottle age to it, and is quite pretty for it. 13.5% alcohol.

2015 Stone Griffon Tempranillo, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium ruby in the glass with some purple still remaining at the core, this wine smells of sandalwood and red fruits and dried flowers. In the mouth, the wine is quite lithe and light on its feet, with more ethereal flavors of cherry and sandalwood and dried herbs. But the tannins grow in strength as the wine passes over the palate and linger with suede texture and notes of bergamot in the finish. Pretty. Excellent acidity. 14.0% alcohol.

NV EdenVale Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in the glass, but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of cherry and tea and cedar. In the mouth, cherry and cedar flavors are quite smooth and velvety, with powdery, ethereal tannins that buff the edges of the mouth. Good acidity and very nice balance. I wonder if this wine has a bit of age on it. 15.5% alcohol.

2016 Belle Fiore Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and black tea with hints of flowers. In the mouth, dark and powerful flavors of black cherry and black tea are wrapped in a skein of muscular tannins with a fine, powdery texture. Broad shouldered and powerful, this wine nonetheless has the acidity to be very drinkable. Notes of tea and citrus peel linger in the finish. Unknown alcohol. Cost: $49.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2015 Coventina Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of oak and cherry. In the mouth, juicy cherry and berry flavors mix with a coffee and mocha note. Good acidity and a sense of slightly elevated alcohol, but quite tasty. Get in Early on Oregon TempranilloWell integrated wood. 13.7% alcohol. .

2015 Weisinger - Reserve Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and mocha. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and mocha and a touch of coconut have very faint powdery tannins and a medium-bodied, lithe character. Light on its feet. Very pretty, but with a distinct American oak signature that somewhat upstages the fruit. Nonetheless, tasty. 14.0% alcohol. .

2015 Coventina - Reserve Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cola and cedar. In the mouth, bright cherry and cedar flavors have a dusting of powdery tannins, and a nice bounce thanks to excellent acidity. Good length and very nice balance, with a mocha finish that even leans a little minty. 13.5% alcohol. .

2009 EdenVale Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and plum and grapey cedar. In the mouth, particularly juicy flavors of cherry and plum and boysenberry have a sweet oak note that lingers through the finish as the tannins gain stiffness. Excellent acidity. The fruit is slightly candied, but overall this is an excellent and tasty mouthful. 16.0% alcohol. . Cost: $65. click to buy.

2016 Triple Oak Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and plum and a bit of cedar. In the mouth, bright cherry and cedar flavors have a light cola and mocha note to them and are bouncy with excellent acidity. A nice cola note lingers in the finish. Faint tannins gain strength as the wine lingers on the palate. This is very easy to drink. Well-integrated oak stays very unobtrusive in the wine. 13.9% alcohol. .

2017 Triple Oak Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and dried herbs and tea. In the mouth, bright cherry and black tea flavors have a nice floral note to them, wrapped as they are in suede-like tannins that gain muscle as the wine finishes with cherry and cola notes. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. .

2016 Plaisance Ranch Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and violets. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors mix with a touch of tea and herbs. Thick fleecy tannins flex their muscles as the wine finishes with a bit of a citrus note. Powerful, and needs a little time. Includes 8% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. .

2016 Weisinger Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of oak and dark fruit. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and black tea flavors have a wonderful silky texture to them, and are backed by fine-grained muscular tannins. Nice floral notes linger in the finish. There's a distinct oak signature to this wine, but it does not overpower the fruit, despite being more prominent than I would like. Less wood, more of that beautiful fruit please. Still, a very tasty mouthful. 14.2% alcohol. .

2015 Belle Fiore Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and blueberry pie. In the mouth, rich blueberry and black cherry fruit has a nice brightness to it thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery tannins flex their muscles in the background with the scent of graphite lingering a bit in the finish, but definitely letting the dark, powerful fruit take the stage. Unknown alcohol. . Cost: $49.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2015 Pebbleston Cellars Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a shy nose. In the mouth, bright red fruits have a faint tangy funkiness. In the mouth, bright cherry and sandalwood fruit has an increasing grip on the palate. Faint cedar notes linger in the finish with a hint of mocha. Excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol.

2015 Stone Griffon - Reserve Tempranillo, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and a touch of wet leaves. In Get in Early on Oregon Tempranillothe mouth, bright cherry and cedar notes are draped in a sneaky blanket of tannins that gain strength as the wine finishes. Lively and light on its feet, but the tannins add some seriousness. 14.0% alcohol.

2015 Plaisance Ranch Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of grapey boysenberry and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry fruit has a faint vegetal quality that hangs in the background. Faint tannins wrap around the core of fruit. There's a brightness to the finish that is nice. Good acidity. Includes 10% Syrah. 14.0% alcohol.

2014 Red Lily Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and earth and wood. In the mouth, fine grained tannins wrap around a core of cherry fruit that is tinged with oak. Though a bit strong, the wood is well integrated and smooth, and leaves a slight bourbon quality in the finish. American oak? 14.6% alcohol. Cost: $35. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5

2016 Holloran - Stafford Hill Tempranillo, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet felt and red fruit. In the mouth, mellow flavors of cherry and other red fruits have a subdued and earthy touch. Good acidity and a medium-bodied feel, but missing some intensity and complexity. 13.8% alcohol. . Cost: $ . click to buy.

2016 Naked Winery "Oh! Orgasmic" Tempranillo, Columbia Gorge, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass this wine smells of wet wood and red fruit. In the mouth, wet wood and cherry fruit is somewhat subdued but has a nice earthy aspect. Good acidity and length but missing some dynamism. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.4% alcohol. . Cost: $80. click to buy.

2016 Holloran Tempranillo, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet oak and red fruits. In the mouth, sweetish flavors of mocha and cherry have a bright acidity and surprising lack of tannic backbone. Rare for me to want tannins but this needs more. Excellent acidity. Lacking in complexity and a bit too much wood. 14.3% alcohol. .


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8

2016 Nicole Reese Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of red fruit and a touch of mocha. In the mouth, bright cherry and cocoa powder flavors are nicely non-oak-inflected character, with hints of peanut butter. Missing some complexity and depth. 12.3% alcohol.

2014 Foon Estate Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and wet wood and a hint of earth and raisins. In the mouth, flavors of dried fruit and cherries and raisins have a bright and bouncy acidity to them, wrapped as they are in a gauzy blanket of tannins. Somewhat dried out. 13.7% alcohol.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7 AND 7.5

2015 Kriselle Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of struck match and red fruits. In the mouth, red fruit flavors are somewhat pinched between tight tannins. Decent acidity but slightly narrow in character. 14.9 alcohol. .


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7

2012 South Stage Cellars Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and grapey boysenberry. In the mouth, grapey boysenberry flavors have too much jamminess for my taste. Low typicity. 14.4% alcohol.

2016 Schultz Tempranillo, Applegate Valley, Oregon
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of grapey black cherry and boysenberry. In the mouth, lush black and red fruits have a light tannic grip to them and a more simplistic grapey character that is pleasant but not compelling. Good acidity. 13.5% alcohol.

2015 Abacela - Fiesta Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine has somewhat muted aromas of cherry and sawdust. In the mouth, cherry fruit flavors are bright and even a little lean, but wrapped tightly in a skein of muscular tannins. Good acidity but somewhat compressed and narrow. 14.2% alcohol.

2015 Weisinger Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of mocha and sweet oak. In the mouth, what would likely be very pretty cherry fruit is mostly overshadowed by the sweet mocha and vanilla notes of oak, which also lends its drying tannins to the overall impression of just too much wood on this wine. Decent acidity and length. 14.0% alcohol.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 6.5 AND 7

2015 Schmidt Family Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and blueberries. In the mouth, the wine is very grape-soda in flavor with hints of cherry. Good acidity, and faint tannins but not much typicity or complexity. 14.8% alcohol. .

2016 Ryan Rose Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a slightly shy nose of wood and red fruits. In the mouth, the wine is light on its feet, with faint tannins and good acidity but unfortunately the dominant flavor in the wine seems to be wood. Faint red fruits poke through sweet oak flavors a little, but this is all sweet vanilla oak. 14.0% alcohol.

2017 Silvan Ridge #3 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of lots of new oak. In the mouth, the wine is basically in an oak straightjacket. What would clearly be pretty cherry fruit is obliterated by new French oak. Good acidity, but c'mon! Stop abusing your fruit!!! Alcohol unknown.

2013 South Stage Cellars Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of grapes and prunes and raisins. In the mouth, flavors of dried red and black fruit have a vegetal and herbal edge that turns slightly menthol in the finish. Odd. Decent acidity. 14.5% alcohol.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 6

2017 Silvan Ridge #1 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly vegetal aromas. In the mouth, vegetal flavors and red fruits take on a slightly bitter edge. Faint tannins grab the edges of the mouth.

2017 Silvan Ridge #2 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark, cloudy garnet in color, this wine smells of oak and red and black fruits. In the mouth, the dominant flavor is oak, which all but obliterates the fruit with sweet mocha flavors. Overdone. Not great acidity either.

2016 Naumes Family Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of new oak and basically nothing but. In the mouth, it's a New French Oak cocktail with the pretensions of fruit. Decent acidity. Mouth-drying tannins that clearly come from the barrel. Ugh. 13.8% alcohol.

2016 2Hawk Tempranillo, Rogue Valley, Oregon
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oak and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry flavors have a hard time surfacing in the sea of new oak, whose tannins dry out the mouth and leave it parched. Too much wood. Can't taste the fruit, really. Decent acidity 13.2% alcohol.

2009 Abacela Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Very dark, almost inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of stewed prunes and raisins. In the mouth, dried black cherry fruit is matched with slightly drying tannins for a flat, dried out feeling with a hole in the middle palate. Overdone and not recommended. Picked too late, I suspect. 14.3% alcohol.



Wine Reviews: Colorado Wines

Back for the fourth time, I’m digging into some wines from the state of Colorado. Yep, it’s more than just good beer in the Centennial State.

I recently tasted through the winners of the 2018 Colorado Governor’s Cup. Like Virginia’s renowned Governor’s Cup, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board kicked off a similar program in 2011. In 2018, 46 Colorado wineries submitted 344 wines to the competition. These wines were judged by a panel of somms, chefs, writers, and wine experts, including Warren Winiarski. They chose a baker’s dozen worth of winning wines.

Colorado is a huge state, but it doesn’t crack the top 10 states in terms of wine production. The state’s winegrowing regions boast plenty of sunshine, low humidity, diverse soils, offering up plenty of opportunity to grow quality wine grapes. And, fun fact: the state’s two American Viticultural Areas (Grand Valley and West Elks, located in the western part of the state) are the highest elevation appellations in the country.

More and more, it seems to me, Colorado winemakers are not afraid to experiment and strike their own path, like Infinite Monkey Theorem’s quirky blends and branding aesthetic, and Red Fox’s Teroldego in this report. This is the most impressive batch of Colorado wines I’ve tasted yet. Now, to get out there for some tourism.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Colterris Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé “Coral” - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $22
Pale salmon color. Nose shows white peaches, white cherries, white lemon verbena, sea salt, white pepper and cut flower stems. Crisp acidity on the palate but a nice, plump texture, the balance is quite nice. White cherries, watermelon, peach, lemon, a nice fruit salad topped in white pepper, sea salt, honeysuckle, a slight tobacco note. Really balanced and fresh and fun. (87 points IJB)

2017 Whitewater Hill Riesling - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $14
Light yellow color. Lots of peach nectar, apricot, candied orange peel, along with honeycomb, lychee and floral perfume. Medium-bodied, moderate acidity, there’s significant sweetness in here, but it’s not too heavy. Pineapple, peach and mango nectar, with sweet floral perfume, orange blossoms, sugar cane and candied ginger. It finishes clean and with notes of minerals and mountain stream, and the sweetness is balanced quite nicely. (86 points IJB)

2016 Bookcliff Vineyards Tempranillo - Colorado
SRP: $19
Light purple color. Super spicy on the nose with tart, dark currants, spiced cranberry sauce, along with leather, clove, black pepper and musk. Medium-bodied with bright acidity, the tannins are structured and provide serious grip, but the acidity helps balance them out. Black cherries and tart currants mix with a host of pepper, tar, coffee, clove, and there’s this sandy, rocky, earthy undertone that is lovely. Could use at least a few years to unwind, but the concentration and quality is there. (87 points IJB)

2015 Bookcliff Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Concentrated aromas of black cherries and currants, with coffee and cedar, notes of tar, tobacco, sage and creosote. Fresh acidity frames the wine nicely, but the tannins provide serious structure. Black cherries and blackberry fruit, dark, deep and tart, mixed with earth, graphite. Oak, cedar, coffee notes are strong but the fruit is concentrated enough that it all works, and I love the black pepper and sage notes on the finish. Could do well with three-to-five years of age. (88 points IJB)

2016 Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $24
Light purple color. Really interesting nose, like tart black cherries and wild raspberries with lots of rosebush, clove, tobacco, mesquite and scorched earth. Medium-bodied on the palate, the tannins give structure but show smooth edges, and the acidity rally pops, from start to finish. Vibrant red and black cherry fruit, wild raspberry, spicy cranberry sauce, with notes of clove, cinnamon, and lots of rose hips and leathery stuff. Complex and interesting, this is a really zippy, different kind of Cab Franc, worth checking out! I’d love to see how it ages over the next few years. (90 points IJB)

2016 Red Fox Cellars Teroldego - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $40
Bright purple color. Whoa, what a burst of sweet plums, cherries, with roasted coffee and candied pecan notes. Fresh acidity, really zippy here, on a medium-bodied frame with velvety mouthfeel and a nice line between silky and tangy. Tart cranberry meets sweet plums and back cherries, the fruit is juicy but really vibrant. Notes of pepper, herbal tea, oak, coffee, it’s woven together very nicely. Ready to drink now, really versatile stuff. (88 points IJB)

2016 Colterris Petit Verdot - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $24
Bold purple color. Nose shows dark and concentrated elements of black cherries and currants, topped in pepper, leather, magic marker and charcoal. Grippy, concentrated and dark on the palate but the acidity is surprisingly vibrant. A core of tart dark currant and plum fruit blends well with smoky charcoal, mesquite-grilled beef, pen ink, dark chocolate. This could use some years in the cellar to unwind, but a well-done and interesting take on this variety. (87 points IJB)

2016 Colterris Merlot Riverside Vineyard - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $45
Deep ruby color. Aromas of tangy black cherries, juicy plums, raspberry jam, with roasted chestnut and violets. Big and full on the palate (15.2% alcohol) with velvety tannins and vibrant acidity, so it all fits together quite nicely. Juicy raspberries, black cherry jam, yummy and Zinfandel-esque fruit but it’s fresh, too. Nots of violets, roasted herbs, chestnut, coffee and cedar. Drinking really well right now. Highly delicious. (88 points IJB)

2016 Monkshood Cellars Syrah White Water Vineyard - Colorado, Grand Valley
Wine Reviews: Colorado WinesSRP: $44
Bright, almost neon purple color. Nice aromatic combination of tart blueberries, black currants, sweet plums, along with smoky menthol, tar, graphite, mint. On the palate, bright acidity rips in, supported by strong tannins, this is a young wine but has a lot of tanginess and depth. Tart currants, black cherries, some pomegranate, loaded with elements of smashed rocks, minerals, charcoal, charred herbs, cocoa, a lot going on here. A bit austere in its youth perhaps, but I think this will be singing in about five years. Impressive stuff. (89 points IJB)

2016 Snowy Peaks Winery Eleve - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $24
Light purple color. Whoa, what a spicy aromatic display: black pepper, beef bouillon cubes, leather, tobacco and mint along with tangy black cherries and plums. Grippy tannins meet bright acidity on a medium-bodied frame. Juicy and tangy red and black cherries, the acidity really rips through. Lots of spicy, beefy, pepper, earthy, leathery notes that I’m really enjoying, with violets and coffee, too. I’d love to revisit this in 4-5 years. A spicy and exciting blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre from vineyards some 7,500 feet above sea level. (89 points IJB)

1999 Colorado Cellars Colorado Port - Colorado
SRP: $40/500ml
Medium ruby color. Lovely aromas of spiced cranberry jelly, candied cherries, berry compote, with roses, clove and black tea. Full and sweet, smooth tannins, but it sports some moderating acidity. The tawny-style elements of gingerbread, candied ginger and apricot marmalade mix well with darker elements of dates, candied cherries. There’s an earthy, clove, spiced coffee note that is woven in really well. I am quite impressed with this Colorado dessert wine! (88 points IJB)

2017 Carlson Vineyards Gewürztraminer Laughing Cat - Colorado, Grand Valley
SRP: $15
Medium yellow color. Aromas of sweet peaches, guava nectar, honey, spiced white tea, some herbal tea notes. Plump texture, the sweetness isn’t too heavy, there’s moderating acidity that keeps it refreshing. Flavors of sweet apricot jam, guava, peaches, mixed with honey, spiced white tea and nettle. I’m really impressed with how well this shows at the price point. (85 points IJB)

<85 points

2016 Carlson Vineyards Plum Wine - Colorado
SRP: $15
Bright strawberry colored. Nose shows fresh pears, peaches, glazed with honey, topped in some rose hips and herbal tea. The palate is where things go off course (for me). Plump, medium acidity, sweet and sugary with flavors of apricot skin and peach pits. Strawberries and Southern sweet tea elements are quite strong. The sweetness and flavors aren’t lining up for me but I could see this being popular with some.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 2/3/19

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. 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 all sorts of goodies, all of them red.

Let's start with what might be one of the best wines made by cult Pinot producer Williams Selyem, their Rochioli Riverblock bottling. Just down the road from Rochioli, Williams Selyem has been buying fruit from this legendary Pinot vineyard for decades, and makes a select few bottles of it each year. This site tends to get pretty ripe so this bottling ends up being on the richer side, but it's always beautiful, and in my experience, very age-worthy.

Moving on, I've got a couple of wines from Chappellet vineyards, a stalwart producer up on Pritchard Hill above Napa. This week I've got their flagship Cabernet bottling, which comes in an obnoxiously heavy bottle, but which, as usual is rich and delicious. It's bound to satisfy anyone who pursues the upper end of Napa Cabernet. For those who want tasty Napa Cab but without the tariff, you'd do well to consider Chappellet's Mountain Cuvee, which can be found for as little as $25 online, and offers a pretty tasty package for the price.

I've also got a few wines this week from Domaine Terre Rouge in the Sierra foothills. A very meaty Syrah, a tasty zinfandel, and then my favorite of the three, a Grenache-dominated blend called "l'Autre" that is aging beautifully into its second phase of life.

A couple other wines of note this week. First, the irrepressible Randall Grahm sent his 2013 Cigare Volant, which predictably satisfies with its dark fruit and floral notes.

And lastly, an unusual interpretation of Merlot Vinography Unboxed: Week of 2/3/19from Grace Vineyards, which is the star producer of Japan's Yamanashi prefecture, a grape growing region on the skirts of Mount Fuji. Known for its stone fruit as well as grapes, Yamanashi has been producing wine continuously since the late 1800s, making it one of the more storied wine producing regions in the world. It is better known for Koshu, an ancient variety of grape that is grown on huge pergola vines there, but this Merlot is quite interesting.

Notes on all these wines below.

2016 Williams Selyem "Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A medium, hazy garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and cherries and flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously silky raspberry and cherry flavors are tinged with flowers and dried herbs. Citrus notes linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and balance. Fantastic. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $140. click to buy.

2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard "Le Cigare Volant" Red Blend, Central Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and mulberry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and mulberry and a touch of blueberry swirl juicily, thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of blackberry and dried flowers emerge on the finish. Tasty. A blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 4% Cinsault. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2011 Domaine Terre Rouge "DTR Ranch" Syrah, Fiddletown, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of blackberry jam and bloody meat. In the mouth, black cherry and strawberry notes mix with cedar and a lovely wet stone minerality. Hints of leather and cocoa powder emerge on the finish. Aging nicely. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2014 Grace Vineyard Merlot, Yamanashi, Japan
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of roasted chestnuts, oak, and burnt meat. In the mouth, smoky notes of red fruit and roasted nuts swirl across the palate with faintly muscular tannins. Decent acidity and quite an unusual character. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $46.

2014 Chappellet Vineyard "Pritchard Hill" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Inky, opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, cherry, cassis, and the espresso notes of oak meld in a smooth seamless whole as suede-like tannins flex their muscles around the edges of the mouth. Powerful and rich, but with decent acidity. Just a bit much for me. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $235. click to buy.

2014 Easton Wines Zinfandel, Amador County, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of licorice and blackberry pie. In the mouth, licorice and blackberries mix with notes of dried flowers. Muscular tannins swoop in behind the fruit and put the squeeze on the palate. Time to drink this one up. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2016 Chappellet Vineyard "Mountain Cuvee" Red Blend, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, cassis and black cherry flavors are shot through with the vanilla of oak, even as they are grasped in a suede glove of tannins. Dark and rich, but with enough acidity to make the wine quite drinkable. A blend of fruit from both Sonoma and Napa Counties, made up of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 13% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2011 Domaine Terre Rouge "L'Autre" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and herbs. In the mouth, exotic woods, strawberry, and herbal notes still possess a juicy aspect thanks to excellent acidity, even as they begin to cloak themselves in the smoky, herbal notes of age. Faint tannins provide some texture, and linger with savory chicory and meaty notes in the finish. A blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 15% Syrah. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.



An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux

The World Atlas of Wine describes it as the "largest fine-wine district on earth," and while we make a big deal in the wine world about the link between geography and flavor, in Bordeaux the Atlas notes that "no where else in the wine world is the link between geography and finance so evident."

Bordeaux is certainly the most famous wine region on earth, having captivated everyone from poets to politicians for centuries. But for many wine lovers, especially Americans, it remains one of the most difficult wine regions to understand and enjoy.

The Cabernet and Merlot dominated wines of the region have long been benchmarks for the grape variety, but if your first taste of these varieties came from California, chances are that the more savory and tannic renditions from Bordeaux might seem fierce and unforgiving. While the region's wines have become more approachable over the past few decades, thanks to the influence of Robert Parker and global warming, among other factors, they are still often built around an acid and tannic profile that seems austere compared to the plush ripeness of California wines. The wines of Bordeaux are still made to age, which means they can be very tight and narrow-seeming in their youth.

Bordeaux's accessibility also suffers from its sheer size and the dizzying number of producers, appellations and hierarchical classifications of which wine drinkers must make some sense as they begin to explore. The lack of varietal labeling adds to the difficulties in remembering what is what for anyone weaned on bottles that clearly display the name of a grape.

Nonetheless, once upon a time, it was relatively easy for an intrepid wine drinker to attempt an understanding of the regions wines simply by purchasing bottles at their local fine wine merchant. As recently as 25 years ago, buying top-quality Bordeaux was still within the reach of a middle-class lifestyle. This is sadly no longer true. Even the second growths have become so prohibitively expensive that they practically make more sense as investment vehicles than beverages to drink with dinner.

The financial realities of the Bordeaux market mean that the opportunities to taste top wines are all but non-existent for most wine lovers. Even the chance to taste well-aged versions of lesser wines now comes at such a premium that most young American wine enthusiasts mature into savvy wine drinkers these days without really having experienced or understood Bordeaux.

And of course, that's saying nothing about Bordeaux's brand image, which remains, well... stuffy. Bordeaux is the land of immense Chateaux owned by the wealthy elite, to whom one must apply in order to visit their meticulously groomed estates.

While I personally can still remember in my very early days of exploring wine paying roughly $50 for Pontet-Canet, a Grand Cru from the Pauillac appellation, my own experiences with Bordeaux as a burgeoning wine geek 20 years ago were largely marked by the difficulties I describe above.

Having now tasted many of Bordeaux's top wines in their youth and across many decades of age, I feel like I have a general sense of the wines and the region, though I'm far from being truly competent.

My problem is that I just don't want to be competent. Bordeaux doesn't excite me nearly as much as other wine regions. I think this lack of enthusiasm stems from both the wines themselves and their pricey inaccessibility. I like a well-aged Bordeaux just fine, but even the finest of the wines, those that I would rate at 9.5 or higher on my rating scale, don't send a thrill through my bones in the same way that say, older Burgundy does. I've stood side-by-side with knowledgeable Bordeaux lovers, tasting Cos d'Estournel (one of my favorite estates) back into the 1960s and, despite thoroughly enjoying the wines, have not swooned to near the extent as have my companions.

Perhaps it simply may be that the flavors of Bordeaux just aren't among my favorites, and thus I don't seek them out. In search of a robust red wine, I'm much more likely to pick up a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bandol than a Bordeaux.

Despite this fact, I do enjoy reminding myself what good Bordeaux tastes like, and so when a group of estates came to San Francisco recently under the banner of Tour des Deux Rives (Tour of the Two Riverbanks), I dropped in to walk around the tasting with a number of other members of the press and trade. My notes on the wines I tasted are grouped together below.


THE LEFT BANK


Bordeaux as a region surrounds the confluence of two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, which flow together into the estuary of Gironde (as seen in the satellite photo above) before exiting to the Atlantic ocean on the west coast of France. The region has traditionally been divided into the Left Bank, or all the wine regions to the left (west and south) of the Garonne river, and the Right Bank, or all the wine regions to the right (north and east) of the Dordogne river.

Of the two areas, the Left Bank holds more, and more storied, appellations. It begins near the sea with the large appellation known as the Medoc that tracks south along the Garonne River encompassing the well known sub-appellations of Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux (collectively known as the Haut-Medoc), followed by the appellations of Pessac-Leognan, Graves, and finally Sauternes as you move south of the City of Bordeaux.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux

A view of the city of Bordeaux on the banks of the Garonne river.

The land on the Left Bank varies considerably from North to south, but generally features well drained, gravelly soils with some clay. The Gironde estuary helps regulate temperatures and the Atlantic influence is tempered by coastal forests, leading to relatively mild winters and warm summers.


ST-ESTEPHE
The northernmost (and most downstream) appellation of the Haut-Medoc, St-Estephe has heavier, more clay-influenced soils than the other appellations further south, leading to more water retention, a handy trait in hot, dry summers. While it is difficult to generalize, especially in an age of ambitious winemaking, the wines of St-Estephe have a reputation for being more robust and brawny than their southern cousins. The best wines of the region are often found to be made on those parcels that have a higher proportion of the gravelly soils that mark the best plots of the more famous appellations such as Margaux and Pauillac.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau de Pez Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass with a hint of brick beginning to show, this wine smells of cassis, truffles and pencil shavings. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is still vibrant, with notes of cedar, pencil shavings and tight, muscular tannins wrapped around the core of fruit. Citrus notes linger in the finish with dried herbs. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Aged in 40% new oak, with the balance being split between 1st and second use barrels. Unfiltered. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2015 Chateau Haut-Beauséjour Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, dried herbs and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit is tart and tightly wedged in a fist of fine-grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. Aged in 40% new oak. The blend is higher in Merlot than most other estates in the region. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.



PAUILLAC
The superstar sub-appellation of the Medoc, Pauillac plays host to three of the five so-called "First Growths," that were classed as Premiere Grand Cru during the 1855 classification of the region that largely cemented the hierarchy (and pricing) of wineries ever since. Marked by pockets of deep river gravel, washed down from millennia of flooding, the soils are about as perfect as can be for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, which finds its apotheosis in many of the vaunted and ridiculously expensive wines that call this appellation home.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2010 Chateau Mouton Rothschild "Le Petite Mouton" Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and oak. In the mouth, tight, drying tannins instantly coat the mouth and seem to squeeze flavors of cherry, cedar and pencil lead. Good acidity and length. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This is the estate's second label. Score: around 9. Cost: $229. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Premiere Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with some garnet highlights, this wine smells of dried flowers, cedar and pencil lead. In the mouth, juicy cherry still predominates, backed by cedar and graphite wrapped tightly in a suede blanket of tannins that are smooth and very well integrated into the wine. Extremely long finish and excellent balance and poise. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 44 years. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $999. click to buy.

2014 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Premiere Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells gamey, with cherry and floral notes backing up the meaty notes. In the mouth, cedar, iodine, cherry and some bright citrus notes are juicy and linger even as a muscular fist of tannins closes onto the wine, powdery and fine. Still too young. Give it 5 to 10 years. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 44 years. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $529. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2012 Chateau d'Armailhac Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells berry bright with black cherry and boysenberry aromas. In the mouth, cassis and black cherry fruit is boisterous with juicy acidity and wrapped in cloud of powdery tannins. Missing some depth but still tasty. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 46 years with some plantings exceeding 100 years old. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2010 Chateau d'Armailhac Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France Medium
garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and forest floor. In the mouth, citrusy notes of cedar, dried cherry and herbs mix prettily with decent acidity. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Average vine age of 46 years with some plantings exceeding 100 years old. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau Clerc Milon "Pastourelle" Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, cedar and graphite. In the mouth, cherry, cedar and forest floor aromas swirl and bounce with excellent acidity. Light, tacky tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2012 Chateau Clerc Milon Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has an extremely strong graphite aroma backed by cherry fruit. In the mouth, the wine is juicy and smooth, with cherry, cedar and spice box flavors. Very pretty citrus notes linger in the finish. The tannins are powdery and fine grained, coating the mouth and lingering with the cedar and citrus in the finish. Tasty. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. Average vine age is 53 years old. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Clerc Milon Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Cinquième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, but headed towards ruby, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, dried flowers and turned earth. In the mouth, cherry and citrus flavors have a beautiful brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a surprising purity given the earthiness of the nose. Muscular tannins still have a lot of strength but don't overpower the fruit. Delicious. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. Average vine age is 53 years old. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2011 Chateau Pichon Longeueville Comtesse de Lalande "Reserve de la Comtesse" Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil lead and darker cherry and plum fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and cedar flavors are wrapped in sandpaper-like tannins that compete with a very silky texture to the wine and wrap the fruit tightly. Cola nut lingers on the finish. Great acidity. Quite complex and delicious. Mostly a blend of Cabernet and Merlot. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2011 Chateau Pichon Longeueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and earth, pencil shavings, cigar box and cocoa powder. In the mouth, juicy cherry and cedar flavors take on citrus notes and aromas of Pu-erh tea through the finish. Powdery, fine grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. Mostly a blend of Cabernet and Merlot with an average vine age of 35 years. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $165. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Pichon Longeueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux Blend, Pauillac Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry fruit and cedar. In the mouth, the wine is exceedingly silky, almost creamy in texture with cherry, cedar, graphite and a hint of herbs. Wonderfully seamless with fine-grained tannins and excellent acidity, the wine has a citrus aroma that lingers through a very long finish. Outstanding. Mostly a blend of Cabernet and Merlot with an average vine age of 35 years. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $230. click to buy.




ST-JULIEN
While it may not be home to as many First Growths as Pauillac, St-Julien can boast the highest proportion of classed growths of any commune in the region. Its mix of clay and gravel is similar to Pauillac allowing the estates in this smallest of the famous four Medoc to produce wines of finesse and power.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2010 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou "Croix du Beaucaillou" Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of pencil lead, cassis, dried herbs and cedar. In the mouth, tight powdery tannins offer a cloud through which flavors of cedar and hints of citrus emerge. Juicy with excellent acidity and a long finish. A blend of roughly 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Croix du Beaucaillou is a single-vineyard site, rather than a "second wine" from the Chateau. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2015 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells earthy, with notes of cigar box and miso paste. In the mouth, it is tight and citrusy, with cherry and cedar and dried herb flavors. Somewhat stiff, with a bitter finish. Good acidity. A blend of roughly 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Score: around 9. Cost: $185. click to buy.

1989 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien Deuxième Cru, Bordeaux, France
Medium ruby in the glass headed towards brick, this wine smells of cedar and pencil shavings, leather and barnyard. In the mouth, cedar, leather and barnyard flavors mix with a touch of mushroom and citrus. Powdery tannins linger with the citrus and dried mushroom in the finish. A blend of roughly 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot. Score: around 9. Cost: $280. click to buy.



An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2014 Chateau Lalande-Borie Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar, graphite and berries. In the mouth, the fruit is bright and juicy with notes of cherry, cedar and with citrus lingering in the finish. Tight but not overpowering tannins. A blend of roughly 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.



PESSAC-LEOGNAN
Overlapping with the southern part of the city of Bordeaux, Pessac-Leognan (really a combination of the two appellations Pessac and Leognan) was made, and remains, famous thanks to Chateau Haut-Brion, perhaps the most historical estate in Bordeaux, and one whose owner is thought to be responsible for the concept of red Bordeaux wine in its modern form. Known for pine trees before wine, the region's sandy, gravelly clay soils host at least as many trees as vines, but equally as many houses, as suburban sprawl continues to encroach on the region.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2015 La Parde de Haut-Bailly Bordeaux Blend, Graves, Bordeaux, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a somewhat shy nose of red fruits and earth. In the mouth cherry fruit is wrapped in tight tannins and has a rather short character on the palate. Decent acidity. A rough blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2011 Chateau Haut-Bailly Bordeaux Blend, Graves Grand Cru, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass this wine smells of dark cassis and pencil shavings. In the mouth, dark cherry fruit has a tremendous citrus kick and is wrapped in putty like tannins that lay thick on the tongue. Cedar notes emerge over tine. A serious mouthful. A rough blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Score: around 9. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Haut-Bailly Bordeaux Blend, Graves Grand Cru, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a citrusy floral aroma that is very charming. In the mouth, earthy notes mix with bright cherry and cedar amidst a gauzy haze of very fine-grained tannins. Great acidity makes the fruit quite juicy still. A rough blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Score: around 9. Cost: $180. click to buy.



SAUTERNES
The journey of many wine lovers is marked by two eras: the time before they've ever had a Sauternes, and the time after. Unlike the rest of Bordeaux, Sauternes and its neighbor Barsac focus on making primarily white, and generally sweet wines. These wines, made with grapes affected by the so-called Noble Rot, botrytis cinerea, are among the most exceptional and long lived dessert wines in the world. When the 1855 classification was made of the top wines in Bordeaux, Sauternes was the only appellation outside of the Medoc to be be classified, and its superstar estate, Chateau d'Yquem was given its own special rank of Premiere Cru Superieur, placing it effectively on the same playing field as the First Growths of the Medoc.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2016 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes Blend, Sauternes Premier Cru Supérieur, Bordeaux, France
Pale gold in the glass this wine smells of honeysuckle and apricot. In the mouth, the wine is voluminous and cloud-like, its characteristic mouth-filling cloud of silky texture delivering flavors of orange blossom, honeysuckle, and white peaches with incredible acidity and finesse. Moderately to very sweet, and stunning. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $400. click to buy.

2005 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes Blend, Sauternes Premier Cru Supérieur, Bordeaux, France
Medium gold in the glass, with aromas of apricot and orange peel, this wine tastes of orange marmalade, honey, and white flowers. Silky and bright and very sweet, with hints of dried citrus in the finish. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $330. click to buy.

2017 Chateau d'Yquem "Y" Sauternes Blend, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Near colorless in the glass with a faint greenish gold tinge, this wine smells of passionfruit and white flowers. In the mouth, explosively bright passionfruit and green apple flavors have a crystalline purity and electric resonance thanks to outstanding acidity, with little trace of botrytis influenced flavors. A light sweetness pervades the wine which combined with the mouthwatering acidity makes for an utterly gulpable, delicious elixir of floral freshness. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $175. click to buy.




THE RIGHT BANK


The French refer to this region as the Libornais, after the town of Libourne which has long governed the region surrounding the Eastern bank of the Dordogne river. It has many sub-regions ranging from the famous Pomerol and St-Emilion, to the much less well known appellations of Canon-Fronsac or Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux. The soils of the Right Bank will often contain a lower proportion of gravels in their clay than the Left Bank, but unlike the Left Bank, the soils can also include primary rock, especially in the limestone inflected region of St-Emilion. Unlike the mostly flat Medoc region, the right bank also gives way to more hills, resulting in vineyards with different slopes and sun orientations.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux

A view of St-Emilion, the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Right Bank.


POMEROL
A wide, flat gravel bed mixed with clay, not unlike many of the best growing regions in Bordeaux, Pomerol lacks one thing that clearly marks the other top appellations of Bordeaux: big Chateaux. Instead of massive gated estates, Pomerol is mostly just a bunch of vineyards interspersed with houses and a small church or two. Left out of the famous 1855 classification, Pomerol is the place where the superstar vineyards of Petrus and Le Pin sit alongside names few have ever heard of. Merlot finds one of its greatest expressions on the soils of Pomerol, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2008 Chateau Hosanna Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France Medium
ruby in the glass with a very mature orange at the rim, this wine smells of licorice and dried flowers. In the mouth, juicy cherry and plum flavors mix with cedar notes. Incredibly silky and gorgeously textured, with fine-grained tannins and a minutes-long finish. Delicate and outstanding. A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2014 Chateau Hosanna Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells slightly gamey, with slightly sappy floral and cherry aromas. In the mouth, that sappiness continues with sour cherry and plum and dried herb flavors transitioning to a meaty, olive-like savoriness. Fine tannins float in a haze through the wine and coat the mouth. Good acidity and length. A blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $180. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2011 Chateau Certain de May Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of barnyard, cherry and earth. In the mouth, rich, powdery and mouth-coating tannins are the first impression, followed by leather and barnyard flavors that suggest a modicum of brett? Herbs and earth and dark fruit give the wine a powerful aspect. Despite the funkiness, this is an appealing wine. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 9. Cost: $130. click to buy.

2010 Chateau Certain de May Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar, earth and meat. In the mouth, rich mouth-coating tannins surround cherry and cedar flavors that modulate towards citrus in the finish. The tannins become dusty and fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. Good acidity. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $210. click to buy.




An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau Bourgneuf Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
A cloudy, very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells gamey, with earth and mushroom leading the cherry fruit aromas. In the mouth, the wine is rich and dark with cherry, black cherry and earth flavors tinged by a hint of sweetness. Juicy with excellent acidity. 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $80. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2008 Chateau Lafleur-Gazin Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cedar. In the mouth, cherry, cedar, licorice, and cola flavors are dusted with faint tannins. Excellent acidity. Notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Mostly Merlot, with about 20% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau de Sales Bordeaux Blend, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of...my notes read quite clearly: funky leather. In the mouth, flavors of cherry and old socks definitely have a funky aspect to them, but don't let that keep you from trying this wine, which has appealing characteristics, if only because the bright fruit wins in any contest with the funk. A blend of roughly 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.



ST-EMILION
Situated on something of an plateau above the Dordogne, St-Emilion is somewhat unique in the world of Bordeaux, both for its limestone slopes and the fact that it has a (much contested and litigated) classification of its own, in which hundreds of Grand Crus exist alongside 18 First Growths and 64 Second Growths. This large growing region has little urban structure outside of the picturesque village of St-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site. St-Emilion is where the garagistes movement truly began -- small producers making super expensive, modern-style wines that captured the attention and pocketbook of collectors worldwide, at least for a time.

An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2006 Chateau Magdelaine Bordeaux Blend, Saint-Émilion Premiere Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France
Medium ruby with brick highlights at the rim, this wine smells of dried flowers and mushrooms. In the mouth, red apple skin, and dried cherries are ethereal and silky across the palate as extremely bright acidity elevates citrus notes and dried herbs in the finish. Very pretty and vibrant. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.


An Infrequent Encounter with Bordeaux2009 Chateau Puy-Blanquet Bordeaux Blend, Bordeaux, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells grapey and cherry-like. In the mouth, that grapey character continues with cherry notes and tight tannins. Smooth but somewhat undeveloped. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

* * *

Well, there you have it. A brief tasting tour through Bordeaux, which was a nice refresher for me personally on the charms of the region, and the jaw-dropping pricing of some of the wines. Of course, there's a lot more to Bordeaux than just its most famous appellations, but I'm afraid I'm not qualified to be a guide in those regions yet. I hope to have the opportunity to update my knowledge of the so-called Cru Bourgeois in time.



Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/27/19

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. 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 number of wines from the folks at Williams Selyem, who have been making highly-sought-after Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County for a long time. Williams Selyem, in fact, might be called the first "cult" producer of Pinot Noir in California, having begun to allocate its wines to an oversold mailing list of customers before anyone else, despite not having a winery of their own to call home.

These days, Williams Selyem has a gorgeous winery on Westside Road outside of Healdsburg that members of the winery's mailing list can visit with an appointment, and they continue to make a dizzying array of wines from vineyards they own, as well as vineyards throughout Sonoma County and even farther afield.

This week they sent me a couple of their Chardonnays which were tasty, but didn't truly excite me. The Williams Selyem Chardonnay style is pretty lean, and these two both seemed almost extreme examples of that form -- both honestly needing some time in the bottle before being consumed, I think.

The Pinots they sent me were much more approachable in their youth. All three were excellent but I especially liked their Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard bottling, with which I was not so familiar, but which was really vibrant and juicy. Their Estate Vineyard Pinot was also excellent, as was their Eastside Road Neighbors Pinot, which they make from fruit purchased from various nearby growers.

In addition to the Williams Selyem wines this week I opened two very worthy white wines that I'd like to recommend. The first is an excellent Pinot Blanc from Weingut Dr. Heger in the Baden region of Germany, where they refer to the grape as Weissburgunder. This one is a beautifully delicate, Grand Cru rendition that is worth Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/27/19seeking out.

Last, but certainly not least, comes the Chenin Blanc from Chappellet Vineyards in Napa Valley. Chappellet has been growing Chenin Blanc for decades, starting back when there were a lot more people doing so in the valley, but now they are nearly the last ones standing. Their Chenin Blanc has always been satisfying, and this latest vintage is no different.

Notes on all these below.

2016 Williams Selyem "Estate Vineyard" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of freshly cut green and golden apples. In the mouth, green apple and pineapple flavors have an oddly yeasty character to them, as notes of chamomile emerge in the finish with a light bitterness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2016 Williams Selyem "MacGregor Estate Vineyard" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of wet stones and lemon pith. In the mouth, lemon pith and grapefruit juice have a sharp, almost searing acidity and finish with a faintly bitter, pithy note. Tightly wound and vibrantly crisp, there's a sourness in this wine I'd imaging enjoying more with some time for it to mellow in the bottle. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2016 Dr. Heger "Ihringer Winklerberg" Pinot Blanc, Baden, Germany
Nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of chamomile tea and white flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously mineral tones of wet chalkboard underlie chamomile, Asian pear, and lemon pith flavors that are delicate and delicious. Excellent acidity. Something of an ethereal wine. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2017 Chappellet Vineyard "Signature" Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith. In the mouth, flavors of citrus pith and unripe pear have a nice zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. There's a sourish lime note in the finish. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38 click to buy.

2017 Domaine Terre Rouge "Vin Gris d'Amador" Rosé, Amador County, Sierra Foothills, California
Pale ruby in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and watermelon. In the mouth, strawberry and apricot flavors have a nice crisp brightness and a silky texture. Berry notes linger in the finish. Tasty. An unusual blend of 41% Grenache, 41% Mourvedre, 6% Roussanne, 6% Grenache Blanc and 6% Viognier. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20 click to buy.

2016 FEL "Savoy Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and red berries. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry flavors are juicy, bright and rich, with excellent acidity and a faint muscular tannic backbone. Juicy and ripe, but not over the top. Well-integrated oak. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2016 Williams Selyem "Estate Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass with a faint haze, this wine smells of raspberry pastilles. In the mouth, floral raspberry and dried herb flavors are bright and boisterous thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of green herbs emerge in the finish, even as the faint texture of tannins emerge on the palate. Tasty.13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $130. click to buy.

2016 Williams Selyem "Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color with a faint cloudy haze, this wine smells of cherry and cranberries. In the mouth, intense cherry flavors are zippy and bright thanks to excellent acidity, and notes of herbs and flowers waft above the vibrant core of cherry fruit. Intense and exciting. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115. click to buy.

2016 Williams Selyem "Eastside Road Neighbors" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Cloudy medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry pastilles and flowers. In the mouth, raspberries, mountain strawberries, and green herbs have a wonderful zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. The slightly bitter note of green herbs lingers nicely in the finish as candied raspberry notes waft through the mouth and faint tannins begin their grip. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.