Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/11/18

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 excellent wines.

Let's start with a very pretty Albariño from the folks at Artesa in Carneros, who have been playing with the grape since the late 1990s and are one of the main (and few) producers in the state. This one is distinctly Californian, but also quite varietally true, and worth seeking out for its refreshing green brightness.

I get occasional bottles of German Riesling here and there, but it's rare to get a nicely aged one. This week I got a very pretty 2004 bottling from Max Ferdinand Richter that was firing on all cylinders, and delivering exactly what a good aged Riesling can -- fruit, brightness, secondary flavors and aromas, and utter deliciousness.

This week I also have a study in two Roussannes, one from the Sierra Foothills, and one from Sonoma's Bennett Valley.

As an exotic treat, I also received a couple of wines that are a collaboration between veteran winemaking legend Paul Hobbs and a wine producer in Armenia. Both feature the indigenous variety Areni Noir, which is something like a cross between Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, if you've never had it. Both of these wines are very pretty and excellent examples of the potential in both the grape and the country of Armenia. In the event you didn't know, Armenia plays host to the oldest archeological evidence of winemaking on the planet, and most DNA analysis points to the region as the likely site of wine grapes being first domesticated. Check out these wines and drink a little bit of the past.

Finally this week, I've got three incarnations of the Rhone Valley for you, courtesy of the reliably excellent E. Guigal, and then a couple of California Rhone blends from one of the original Rhone Rangers, William Easton up at Domaine Terre Rouge in the Sierra Foothills.

All these and more this week. Enjoy!


2017 Artesa Albariño, Carneros, California
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of sappy green apple, unripe nectarine and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, green apple and white peach and lime flavors are bright and juicy with excellent acidity. Notes of lime zest and lime juice linger in the finish. 3% of the wine was fermented in neutral puncheon. 13% alcohol.Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/11/18 Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2016 Oremus "Mandolas" Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary
Light blonde in color, this wine smells of pears and unripe apples with hints of lemon pith. In the mouth, citrus pith and pear flesh mix with a nice underlying minerality that has a wet pavement quality. Excellent acidity and length. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2004 Max Ferdinand Richter "Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese" Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light to medium gold in color this wine smells of mandarine orange zest and honeysuckle. In the mouth, wonderfully mineral flavors of mandarine orange, honey and asian pear have only the faintest trace of sweetness to them, with a deep wet-chalkboard minerality. Notes of lychee linger in the finish. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2013 Domaine Terre Rouge "Monarch Mine Vineyard" Roussanne, Sierra Foothills, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of golden delicious apples, quince and chamomile. In the mouth, silky-textured flavors of bee pollen, chamomile and baked apples mix with a hint of candle wax. Notes of herbs and dried yellow flowers linger in the finish. Soft acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2015 Sosie "Vivio Vineyard" Roussanne, Bennett Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of quince and pears poached in cream. In the mouth, silky flavors of unripe pear and golden apple mix with a hint of yellow flowers. There's a nice underlying wet chalkboard minerality, though the acidity is delicate and softer than I would like. Finishes clean with hints of chamomile. 12.9% alcohol. 100 cases produced. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2013 Yacoubian-Hobbs "Sarpina" Areni, Armenia
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest berries and flowers. In the mouth, forest berries and herbs and flowers have an aromatic sweetness to them that suggests some deft use of oak. Excellent acidity and length, with gorgeous floral and berry scents lingering sweet through the finish. Polished and refined, perhaps a little more than it should be, but undeniably tasty. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2015 Yacoubian-Hobbs "Rind" Areni, Armenia
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of flowers, huckleberries, and fresh herbs. In the mouth, juicy huckleberry and mulberry flavors are shot through with fresh thyme and other herbs. Excellent acidity and fine-grained tannins linger in the long finish. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.

2015 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, Rhone, France
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry and cherry fruit with hints of cedar. In the mouth, strawberry and cedar flavors mix with dried herbs and a touch of river mud. Powdery tannins flex their muscles as the wine lingers long. Excellent acidity and balance. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2015 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone, France
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of brambly herbs and blackberries. In the mouth, spicy notes of blackberry and herbs and flowers have a stark, stony minerality to them, enlivened with excellent acidity and caressed by fleecy tannins. Nice floral notes linger in the finish. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2015 E. Guigal Saint-Joseph, Rhone, France
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and forest floor. In the mouth, earthy notes of blackberry and cassis mix with a touch of leather as beautifully bright acidity and powdery, muscular tannins caress the fruit. There's a nice wet-pavement minerality underlying everything, and a sweetness of fruit that lingers in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2012 Domaine Terre Rouge Mourvedre, Sierra Foothills, California
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of gamey huckleberry and cherry. In the mouth, the wine has fantastically bright acidity and gorgeous cherry and dried cherry fruit mixed with dried herbs and a touch of meatiness. There's a wonderful saline quality to this wine that, balancing the sweetness of of the fruit makes for a mouthwatering experience. Powdery tannins seem to coalesce through the long finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2013 Domaine Terre Rouge "Tete-a-Tete" Red Blend, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium to dark ruby in the glass with a little hint of purple remaining in the core, this wine smells of strawberry and cherry fruit with a hint of cedar. In the mouth, aromatically sweet flavors of strawberry jam and dried sour cherries have a bright, juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Gauzy tannins drape the palate, and the wine lingers long in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.



Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

This week’s report covers wines from all over the globe, including Chile, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The new vintage of Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor (the 2015), is a real stunner, while the Chilean producer Odfjell offers less expensive but exciting wines.

I cover a few wines from the Abruzzo region of Italy, along with the perennially value-driven wines from M. Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut brand. Yarden offers up a delicious Champagne method bubbly from Israel, while the Spanish region of Navarra (keeping with tradition) comes through with some solid buys.

These wines were all received as samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Odfjell Carignan Orzada-Chile, Maule Valley
SRP $23
Medium purple color. The nose is vibrant but bold with black cherries, red and black currants, and a great mix of black pepper, leather, grilled steak, with some nice floral undertones, too. Full-bodied (15%) with a velvety feel, and the solid tannins align well with medium acidity. Rich but tangy fruit (black cherries, dark plums, saucy black currants), backed up with a mix of leather, roasted herbs, rose petals, anise, charcoal and earth. Loving the depth and complexity here, and I’d like to age this 3-5 years. From 20- to 80-year-old, dry-farmed, Carignan vines. (89 points IJB) 

2013 Odfjell Aliara- Chile, Central Valley
SRP: $44
Rich purple color. So spicy on the nose, with a mix of menthol, mint, roasted herbs and pepper on top of black currants and cherries. Full-bodied, nice grip to the tannins but not harsh, this is a smooth and nicely balanced wine with medium acidity. Black cherries and currants are topped in loamy, rocky, earthy notes, as well as black pepper, roasted red pepper and mushroom. This makes me crave steak! Complex, long, this could use a few years of cellar time. A blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Syrah and 15% Malbec from vineyards in Cauquenes, Lontué Valley and Maule Valley. (90 points IJB)

2015 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor- Chile, Maipo Valley, Puente Alto
SRP: $120
Rich purple color. The aromas show rich tobacco, pepper, scorched earth, grilled herbs, on top of tangy black currants, dark plums, cocoa and cedar. Full-bodied on the palate with serious grip on the tannins but vibrant acidity, the balance is impressive for a wine this young. Crunchy plums, black currant, rich but fresh fruit laced with complex earth, pepper, chewing tobacco, mint, charcoal, tar, coffee. Wonderful depth and balance with a long finish full of graphite and minerals. So young, with many years ahead, but classic Don Melchor stuff, an excellent vintage of this wine. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. (94 points IJB)

2017 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc- France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon
SRP: $15
Pale lemon color. Aromas of lemons, pineapple and kiwi, bright yet rich fruit, along with yellow flowers, honey and sea salt. Rich texture, lovely honeyed and waxy notes but fresh acidity and a crisp feel, too. Flavors of lemon, kiwi and pineapple mixed with flower petals, sea salt, honeyed tea. Plush but crisp, this is fun but serious, and would be so good with a diverse array of foods. A blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Macabeo and Vermentino, this is a perennially awesome value. (88 points IJB)

2017 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut- France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages
SRP: $15
Light purple. Nose shows bright raspberries mixed with juicy black cherries, along with rhubarb, black pepper, leather, sweet eucalyptus and rose petals. Fleshy texture on the palate, light and dusty tannins with crisp acidity, lots of red and black cherries, raspberries and plums. Notes of smoke, lavender, charcoal, black pepper and rose petals. Lovely, vibrant, delicious stuff, as usual, seriously delivering for the price. Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. (88 points IJB)

2010 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Blanc de Blancs- Israel, Galilee, Golan Heights
SRP: $33
Light gold color. On the nose, this is breezy and floral, with chalk dust, sea salt and slight biscuit notes on top of lemon, lime and green melon. Crisp and bright on the palate with fine bubbles and a zesty appeal. Lime, lemon, green apple, topped with white flowers, crushed chalk, sea salt. Some light biscuit notes, but this is a bright, light (11.5% alcohol) Chardonnay-based sparkling wine that would be great with salads and sushi. (88 points IJB) 

2017 Citra Trebbiano d’Abruzzo- Italy, Abruzzi, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
SRP: $10
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemons, white peach, along with floral perfume and honeysuckle. Fresh and bright on the palate, this is plump and peachy but shows nice acidity as well. Lemon, apples, simple, pleasant and fun with notes of honeysuckle, cucumber slices and sea salt. Good for the price. (85 points IJB)

2017 Citra Pecorino Ferzo- Italy, Abruzzi, Terre di Chieti IGT
SRP: $26
Light yellow color. Aromas boast white peaches, green melons, along with flowers, perfume, so bright and vibrant, too. Crisp acidity on the palate with fleshy texture, almost waxy, and the balance and depth is impressive. Melon, lemon, apricot, along with deep floral and mineral tones, some stony, chalky complexity. A juicy and fun-loving wine, this would work nicely with so many different types of foods, but it has a lot of complexity as well. (89 points IJB)

2016 Citra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Ferzo- Italy, Abruzzi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
SRP: $26
Light purple color. Aromas of black cherries, plums, dark and fruity with elements of spiced tea, espresso and grilled herbs. Medium+ bodied with tangy, refreshing acidity and moderate tannins. Dark plums and cherries, deep but crunchy fruit, along with some pepper, loamy earth and espresso. Enough grip and depth to age for a few; this could stand up to some hearty grilled meats as well. (88 points IJB)

2012 Dow Porto Late Bottled Vintage- Portugal, Douro, Porto
SRP: $24
Rich purple color. Nose of roasted fig, sweet plums, blackberry and black cherries, saucy and jammy, with coffee and clove and anise. Full and sweet but fresh, with accessible tannins, moderating acidity, and flavors of juicy black cherries, roasted figs and plum cake. Notes of clove, vanilla, sweet fig cookies and violets. Accessible and fun, but not simple, this delivers a lot of complexity for the price – great cold weather, holiday party choice in LBV Port category. (89 points IJB)

2016 Castillo de Monjardín Navarra La Cantera- Spain, Navarra
SRP: $12
Deep ruby color. Smells of strawberry and black cherry jam, smoky tobacco, herbs, clove and vanilla. Fresh and bright on the palate with light tannins and juicy raspberries, strawberries and red plums. Flavors of tobacco, mint, cola and vanilla add some complexity. Fresh and fun, accessible but balanced, too. Nice for the price. 85% Garnacha and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Stainless steel-fermented, aged six months in old French oak. (87 points IJB)

2016 Bodegas Nekeas Garnacha El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa- Spain, Navarra
SRP: $14
Light purple color. Smells of raspberries and jammy plums, saucy and smoky, with tobacco and anise notes. Light tannins, full-bodied, yet medium acidity helps it balance out. Black cherries, plums, this is a juicy, ripe and plush wine with a nice mix of violets, tobacco, espresso. Fun, crowd-pleasing, value-driven stuff. All Garnacha aged five months in French oak barrels. (87 points IJB)

2010 Bodegas Ochoa Navarra Reserva- Spain, Navarra
SRP: $33Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag
Light purple color. Nose boasts dark plums, currants, blackberries, mixed in with a hefty amount of charcoal, leather, coffee grounds and grilled herbs. Dusty tannins but nice grip, velvety feel but bright acidity, and the balance is nice. Tart black currants and tangy plums, I get a lot of deep earth, graphite, leather, violets and soy. Complexity is impressive, this is ready to drink now or hold for a few years. Tempranillo with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, aged 18 months in new American and French oak, aged 36 months in bottle before release. (89 points IJB)

<85 points

2017 Citra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo- Italy, Abruzzi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
SRP: $10
Medium ruby color. Nose shows raspberries, red cherries, rhubarb and white pepper. Medium-bodied on the palate with dusty-light tannins and tart acidity. Cherries and raspberries mix with notes of spiced tea, coffee and earth. Simple, fun, crowd-pleasing, pizza-friendly wine.

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

It’s time for another roundup of California new releases, and this one has some beauties.

I found two exciting wines from Paso Robles, from producers doing things a bit differently. Frank Family comes out with some impressive reds. Napa stalwarts Robert Mondavi and Shafer have some exceptional new releases in this report. And The Merlots from Napa’s Chris Carpenter are also something to behold.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico- California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $29
Light purple color. Bold aromas of raspberries, plums, black cherries, along with herbs, coffee, roses, sweet eucalyptus On the palate, this is velvety, with smooth tannins and moderating acidity. Flavors of juicy black cherries, raspberry jam, along with cola, violets, clove, mint and eucalyptus. Fun, fresh, food-friendly, this is lovely, vibrant stuff. 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Freisa, 5% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in French oak. (88 points)

2017 Barton Family Winery Clairette Blanche Holiday- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Willow Creek District)
SRP: $32
Light yellow color. Interesting aromas of lemon, orange and lime peels, along with honeysuckle, dandelion, hay and clean laundry. Medium-bodied, vibrant and crisp but a pleasantly creamy texture. Nice balance between orange and limes mixed with crunchy, zesty elements of seashells and sea salt. All sorts of floral nuances and minerals linger on the finish. Fascinating and vibrant stuff, it’s almost like a less oceanic Muscadet with punchier Paso fruit. Love it. 13.4% alcohol, this goes through partial maloactic fermentation and spends a few months in old oak. (90 points)

2016 Thacher Winery Working Holiday Cass Vineyard- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Geneseo District
SRP: $28
Pale ruby color. Wow, aromatically this pops with red apple, raspberry, crunchy dark plums, a lot of floral and spice elements (violets, rhubarb, white pepper). Lively acidity frames this wine from start to finish. Dusty tannins provide structure, and the fruit is crisp and refreshing (red apple, strawberry, tangy red currants, and a complex blend of black tea, rose petals, clove, white pepper, lavender. Just a vibrant, refreshing style done so well. 13.4% alcohol, a blend of 47% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 23% Mourvedre aged in old oak. (91 points)

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Light purple color. Rich black cherries on the nose, with raspberries, dark plums, mixed with incense and violets. Full-bodied and velvety on the palate with some grip and structure and moderating acidity, lovely balance. Tart black cherries, red plums and currants, smooth but tangy fruit. Smoky, herbal, black tea, sweet cola, roses and clove notes add complexity. This is rich and smooth but complex and structured, too. I’d love to see what this does over the next three to five years. Includes 11% Petite Sirah, aged for 16 months in 33% new French oak barrels. (89 points)

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $58
Rich purple color. Lovely, deep, enticing aromas of black currants, lush blackberry and dark plums, with eucalyptus, sweet coffee, violets, chewing tobacco. Rich and chewy but the acidity underlying the fruit is vibrant and keeps it fresh. Black currant, blackberry, dark plums, mixed with mint, espresso, dark chocolate and cedar. Structured but smooth, this is delicious young but could do some interesting things in five years, too. Includes 9% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged 20 months in 33% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Franc- California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $45
Light purple color. Juicy, dark aromas of black currants, dark plums, some mint and eucalyptus notes meets dark chocolate and coffee. On the palate, this is full-bodied, mouthfilling, with velvety but structured tannins, and the refreshing acidity frames the wine really nicely. Black cherries and currants galore, mixed with dark chocolate, chai tea, clove, some black pepper and cedar. This is delicious now but could improve with a few years or a good decant. All To Kalon vineyard fruit, with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this spends 20 months in all new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard- California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $175
Rich purple color. Aromas of black currants, plums, black cherries, rich but vibrant fruit, with cocoa, tobacco, earthy-charcoal notes, graphite, even some mushroom and pepper. Full and serious grip on the palate, but not harsh, the acidity is vibrant, too, lovely balance. Blackberries, black cherries, dark plums, crunchy, delicious fruit. Complex elements of cigar box, cedar, leaves, cocoa, anise, some mushroom and pepper subtleties. Big but so pretty, this will be so beautiful in 8-10 years. Includes 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in new French oak, 14.5% alcohol. (95 points)

2015 Mt. Brave Merlot- California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $80
Rich purple color. Gorgeous aromatics of crunchy red and black currants and cherries, along with warm mulling spices and complex elements of cedar, graphite, minerals and loamy soil. Full-bodied with suave but structured tannins and fresh acidity — lovely balance. Black cherries, plums, currants, lovely depth of fruit but it’s crunchy and fresh, too. Complex flavors of earth, tobacco, sage, graphite and clove, some savory mushroom notes underneath. Gorgeous depth and complexity, I would love to cellar this for a decade. All Merlot, aged 22 months in 95% new French oak, from vines planted at 1,7000 feet in elevation. (93 points)

2015 La Jota Merlot- California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
Wine Reviews: California New Releases
SRP: $85
Rich purple color. Lovely depth of fruit on the nose (fresh blueberry, juicy black currants, tangy black cherries), along with complex elements of graphite, mint, eucalyptus, pipe tobacco and vanilla, along with mossy rocks and forest floor. On the palate, this is full but suave with solid tannic backbone, but vibrant acidity keeps it so fresh. Gushing black cherries, tangy red and black currants, blueberries, the fruit is tangy and vibrant and laced with mint, coffee, dark chocolate, along with earth, charcoal and incense sticks. Lots of savory elements to come out with time, this needs a serious decant or, preferably, five to ten years in the cellar. Exquisite stuff. Includes 10% Petit Verdot aged 22 months in French oak, from vines planted at about 1,800 feet in elevation. (94 points)

2016 Shafer TD-9- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Light purple color. Lovely nose of red and black cherries, blackberries, suave and dark, and packed with violets, rich earth, graphite, cocoa powder and clove. Full-bodied, with a velvety almost chewy feel to the tannins, but the acidity underlying the wine balances it really nicely. Waves of red and black cherries, fresh plums, mixed with eucalyptus, clove, earthy, forest floor notes, and coffee. Up-front and pretty but this will improve with five+ years in the cellar. Merlot with 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec, aged 20 months in all new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Shafer Relentless- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $95
Rich purple color. Deep core of blueberries and blackberries on the nose, along with violets, coffee grounds, black pepper glaze, black olive brine, and earthy, paved road notes. Full and rich on the palate, as expected, but some serious grip, and the acidity is really pleasant and refreshing, keeping it balanced despite its heft. Concentrated core of blackberries, blueberries and currants, along with violets, asphalt, black pepper and black olives. Charcoal, vanilla and coffee notes woven in expertly. Long finish, this has serious cellar potential. Five years+ of cellar time will reward the patient, or decant for a good few hours. Includes 10% Petite Sirah, this is aged 30 months in all new French oak. (94 points)

2014 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select- California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Wine Reviews: California New Releases
SRP: $295
Deep purple color. Deep and complex and dark on the nose, with black currants, plums, blackberries, mixed in with a dark, earthy, mineral elements with coffee, anise, vanilla, cedar. A massive wine, this is so young and concentrated, but it’s depth and purity of fruit is wonderful. Blackberries, blueberries, dark plums, crunchy and dark, laced with charcoal, graphite, espresso, mint, anise. The complexity in here is lovely, but the wine is so young, it really needs air, preferably a decade in the cellar. An awesome follow-up to the 2013 vintage, which I loved, and this stands shoulder-to-shoulder. 100% Hillside Estate Vineyards Cabernet, aged 32 months in all new French oak, 15.5% alcohol. (95 points)

2016 MacPhail Pinot Noir The Flyer- California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $50
Medium ruby color. Aromas of soft cherries, red apple, raspberry jam, along with crunchy rhubarb, white pepper, lots of rose petals. Full-bodied (14.5%), with chewy tannins and medium acidity, this has a velvety feel but stays fresh, too. Red apple, sweet raspberry and black cherry fruit play off of rhubarb, cola, sarsaparilla, white pepper, bay leaf.  Friendly and delicious but complex, juicy and fruit but vibrant, floral and spicy, too. This spends 11 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Lucky Rock Wine Co. Pinot Noir- California
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Aromas of sweet and sour cherries, along with spiced tea, cinnamon candies and cola. Full-bodied with light tannins and medium acidity, along with plump black cherries, raspberry jam and juicy plums. Cola, coffee and rhubarb notes, too. Fun stuff, has some depth and balance for a California Pinot at this price point. The fruit is sourced from San Benito, Monterey and Sonoma Counties and aged 10 months in French oak. (86 points)

Wine Reviews: Troon Vineyard

I’ve been tasting the wines of Oregon’s Troon Vineyard for a few years now, and their new releases continue this winery’s tradition of excellence.

All Troon wines come from estate grapes in the cool Applegate Valley appellation of Southern Oregon. The winery sits at 1,400 feet above sea level, on a high bench above the Applegate River. Surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains, the Applegate and Rogue Rivers allow cooling Pacific breezes to flow into the valley in the afternoons, which helps keep the diurnal temperature shifts high.

The Troon team has been transitioning to biodynamics, and the 2018 grapes were farmed organically and biodynamically. They expect their first Demeter certification with the next vintage. The wines are generally picked with brix measurements between 21 and 24, and the acidity really shines through in all of these wines. In the winery, all the wine are crushed by foot, fermentation is done with native yeasts, there’s no correcting for acids or sugars, and the wines don’t see any new oak.

Their range of releases is wide, from Skin-fermented Riesling, to Rhone whites, to Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and Vermentino. In this new batch of Troon wines, I found, yet again, excellent wines at exceptional prices.

2017 Troon Vineyard Roussanne- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP $30
Medium yellow color. Apricot and white peach aromas, with lots of floral perfume, baby’s breath and lilies. Light-bodied, only 11% alcohol, which is kind of crazy for a Roussanne but this totally works. Texture is rich and waxy and dusty but acidity is there and keeps it fresh. Apricot and lime peel mix with yellow flowers, raw almond, and some flinty, stony notes. Complex, texturally fascinating, a very unique Roussanne. Barrel fermented, aged for 6 months in mature oak. (90 points)

2017 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP $30
Rich yellow color. Wow, aromatics pop with apricot, pineapple, orange marmalade, and complex elements of lamp oil, raw almond and herbal extract kind of thing – unique and interesting. 11.8% alcohol but texturally deep, creamy, chalky, with moderating acidity. The flavors are delicious (apricot and orange marmalade, mango, notes of salted almond and sweet white flowers), but the mouthfeel is just so lovely, and the most fascinating aspect of the wine. Really cool stuff. 52% marsanne 48% viognier barrel co-fermented, aged for 6 months in mature oak. (91 points)

2017 Troon Vineyard Vermentino- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP $18
Light yellow color. Pretty aromatics of salted lemon and lime, orange peel, along with floral, spice, herbal complexity. Lovely texture and balance with fresh, crisp acidity and a smooth and vibrant mouthfeel. Apricot, lemon, pineapple and orange, along with sea salt, crushed shells, honeyed white tea. A brighter, leaner version of the Whole Grape Ferment, but still plenty of depth and texture here. Insane value for the price. Barrel fermented, aged six months in mature oak, 12% alcohol. (91 points)

2017 Troon Vineyard Vermentino Whole Grape Ferment- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP $25
Medium yellow color. Fascinating aromas of apricot, orange and lemon pith, sea salt, white tea, hay, freshly cut flowers. On the palate, this is pristine and crisp, but crunchy and full of textural depth as well, with lovely balance. Apricot, lemon pith, along with complex elements of saline, crushed shells, white tea, bamboo and white pepper, seriously cool stuff going on here. Texture and mouthfeel on this wine is glorious. Barrel fermented and aged six months in mature oak, 12.6% alcohol. (92 points)

2016 Troon Vineyard Malbec Cuvée Cot- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP $35
Light purple color. Aromas of warm plum and blackberry compote, tart wild blueberries, and a cool mix of lavender, violets, black tea and warm clay. So vibrant and tangy on the palate, but structured tannins provide some grip. The black cherry, plums and blueberry fruit is tart and tangy, and laced with a complex mix of incense sticks, lavender, violets, loamy soil, black tea and tar. This is delicious now, but has the acidity, structure and fruit to age quite a while. 18 months in mature oak, 13.4% alcohol. (91 points)

2017 Troon Vineyard Zinfandel Kubli Bench- Oregon, Southern Oregon, Applegate Valley
SRP $20
Vibrant purple color. The aromas really pop with aromas of red cherries, strawberries, pomegranate, with notes of roses, pepper, lavender, some cola, I love this fresh, bright appeal. Suave and medium/full-bodied with crisp acidity and fleshy, velvety tannins. Crisp red and black cherries, pomegranate, strawberries, lots of fruit but an airy, more restrained feel. Complex elements of spicy tobacco, pepper, leather and a whole lot of red flowers. So pretty, so delicious. Zinfandel co-fermented with 3% Petite Sirah, aged 12 months in mature oak, 13.6% alcohol. Applegate Valley Zin, who knew? Not me, but this is eye-opening stuff. (91 points)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/28/18

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 lot of really great stuff, including some superstars.

Let's start with a very pretty Riesling from one of the top producers from Germany's Rheingau region, Leitz, and indeed one of the best known wineries in Germany. This lovely wine comes from a small slate-filled vineyard next to a Benedictine abbey near the town of Geisenheim. It's lip smacking good with just a fain't hint of sweetness. Just add Thai food.

Next on the list is a white from a new-to-me producer Reva, which appears to be a winery AND resort in Monfortino, in Italy's Piedmont region. This distinctive blend of two types of Sauvignon was quite tasty, and worth seeking out, though I could not find any for sale in the US. More wines from this producer in a moment.

Finally before we get into the reds, let's talk about German Pinot, which is really undergoing an awakening. Or maybe the rest of the world is just waking up to how good German Pinot can be. In any case, I've got a lovely pink Pinot from Seehof to recommend this week, that can hold its ground with any Pinot Rosé anywhere else in the world. And at $16, what's not to love?

Getting into the red wines, let's return to our new friends in Piedmont, with their Barbera and Dolcetto, both of which are polished and tasty, but thankfully restrained in their use of oak.

Closer to home, I've got a blockbuster list of Cabernets for you this week, starting with a couple of vintage releases from Renaissance Vineyard and Winery, whose granite-inflected wines are remarkable and rare.

Then there's the top wine from Inglenook, their Rubicon, which is in fine form, and will be even better with a few years on it to let the oak perhaps meld better with the wine. But it's wonderfully restrained in a valley that still favors excess extraction, ripeness and alcohol.

Speaking of restrained, I've got a couple of stunning Cabernets from the higher elevations of Napa to recommend. These two wines from Acumen vineyards are wonderful -- clocking in at close to 14% alcohol with great acidity, great balance, and remarkably well integrated oak. Totally delicious and worth finding if you can handle the tariff.

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

2015 Leitz "Rudesheimer Klosterlay" Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau, Germany
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, Asian pears and tangerine oil. In the mouth, very pretty mandarin orange juice, Asian pear and tangerine flavors have a filigreed, if a bit soft, acidity. Gorgeous wet chalkboard minerality emerges in the finish. Just a very faint sweetness lingers on the palate. 9% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/28/18Cost: $19. click to buy.

2017 Reva "Grey" Langhe Bianco DOC, Piedmont, Italy
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of crushed stones, passionfruit and kiwi. In the mouth, very pretty flavors of green apple, kiwi and passionfruit have a gorgeously silky texture. Excellent acidity keeps the wine bright, and a nice wet pavement minerality creeps into the finish. Delicious. An equal blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.

2017 Seehof "Vom Boden Trocken" Rosé of Pinot Noir, Rheinhessen, Germany
Pale salmon colored in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel, watermelon rind, and berries. In the mouth, juicy berry and citrus peel flavors have a wonderful snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. A picture perfect Pinot rosé. Delicious. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2016 Reva Barbera d'Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright berries and citrus. In the mouth, boysenberry and mulberry flavors have a bright orange peel note to them, and a gorgeous juicy sizzle, thanks to excellent acidity. Beautifully silky tannins take a back seat to the fruit. There's very little sensory trace of the wine's substantial 15% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2017 Reva Dolcetto d'Alba DOC, Piedmont, Italy
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of mulberry and leather and a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, there's a trace of barnyard funkiness along with boysenberry, green herbs and a touch of citrus and leather. Excellent acidity and good length. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2004 Renaissance Vineyard & Winery "Claret Prestige" Proprietary Red, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of dried herbs and red apple skin. In the mouth, gorgeously supple flavors of red apple skin, cedar, and dried herbs have a sweet floral aroma and beautiful powdery tannic texture. Light, supple, and stunning in its depth and minerality. Gorgeous. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2005 Renaissance Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin, cedar, and mulling spices. In the mouth, dried cherry, sandalwood, leather and dried herbs are draped in a gauzy blanket of fine grained tannins. Lovely notes of red apple skin and dried herbs linger in the finish. In a beautiful place at the moment. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2014 Inglenook "Rubicon" Red Blend, Rutherford, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dried herbs and cherries and a touch of oak. In the mouth, bright and juicy flavors of cherry and green herbs and new oak are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins but enlivened by excellent, even zippy acidity. I wish I tasted a bit less oak in this wine, but its not so egregious that a few years in the cellar won't make for a harmonious whole. Beautifully balanced, otherwise. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2014 Acumen "Peak" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, gorgeously juicy flavors of cherry and chocolate mix with a touch of dried herbs. Very fine grained tannins wrap the whole package up with remarkably well integrated and subtle oak treatment -- you'd never guess this was 85% new oak. Excellent acidity and a remarkably restrained 14.1% alcohol. Outstanding. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2014 Acumen "Peak - Edcora Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, cassis and a touch of gunpowder green tea. In the mouth, beautiful flavors of cherry and cocoa powder and boysenberry are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of fine grained tannins. Very little trace of wood in this wine, save for the tannins which are sculpted and very supple. Excellent acidity and great length, and almost no trace of the 85% new oak. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $150.



Wine Reviews: Champagne Lombard

I had not tasted the wines of Champagne Lombard before, but after going through some of their wines recently, I am now a fan.

Stylistically, these Champagnes generally have a lower dosage (or none at all), and a dry, zesty, bracing appeal. The house makes about 15 different cuvees, and I only tasted six, and was especially wowed by the single-vineyard wines.

The house sources grapes from more than 100 hectares of vineyards. They get Chardonnay from Grand Crus Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Cramant, along with various Premier Cru villages, while the Pinot Noir is sourced largely from the east of the Montagne de Reims. The Grand Cru wines are aged at least 48-60 months before being disgorged, the Premier Cru a bit less.

The house can trace its roots back to Robert Andrieu (grandfather of the current owner), who founded the Société Anonyme de Magenta-Epernay in 1925. Phillipe Lombard took over in 1960 and expanded the winery and cellars in Epernay in 1987. The company is now run by Thierry Lombard.

The Premier Crus are really solid, and a great introduction to the house’s style, while the Grand Crus offer a whole lot of personality and depth. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

N.V. Lombard & Cie Champagne Rosé Premier Cru Brut- France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Rich salmon color. Aromas show fresh red cherries, strawberries, red apples, and a floral burst of rose and magnolia petals, over some chalky, biscuity notes. Focused, dry and fresh but concentrated but tart red fruits (strawberries, red apples). Musky-floral complexity mixes with a spiced tea and herbal note, and some chalk and bread crumbs. Deep and concentrated yet fresh. An even split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but 10% of the Pinot Noir is Grand Cru Verzenay fruit vinified as still red wine. Disgorged April 2017. (90 points)

N.V. Lombard & Cie Champagne Blanc de Noirs Premier Cru Extra Brut- France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru
SRP: $50
Light gold color. Lovely aromas of lemon, quince, apricot, wild strawberries, along with chalk, saline, musky cologne and fresh biscuits. Dry, bracing, precise, with tart lemon, orange pith, apricot pit, along with loads of briskness, saltiness and mineral qualities. Crushed shells, ocean spray, white tea, musky cologne, fresh bread dough. Complex, intense, lots of depth here. All Pinot Noir from Montagne de Reims, this was disgorged in October 2016. (90 points)

N.V. Lombard & Cie Champagne Grand Cru Verzenay Brut Nature- France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
SRP: $80
Light gold color. Wow, aromatically, this bursts with perfume, flowers, tart green apples, lemons, some strawberries, complex, evolving minerals, salty, shells, chalk dust. Brisk, dry, almost bracing, but lots of depth, too. Lemon, green apples, apricots, with a complex host of chalky, saline-infused, shell-crushed goodness. Almost austere if not for the depth of dough, honey and floral complexities. Pretty, deep, bracing stuff. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, aged 48-60 months before disgorgement (this was disgorged June 2017). (92 points)

N.V. Lombard & Cie Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut Nature- France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
SRP: $80
Deep yellow color. So bright on the nose, with daisies, honeysuckle and orange blossom, with lots of chalks and sea salt, limestone dust, on top of lemon curd and apples. On the palate, pristine acidity, a bracing and dry appeal, with lots of up-front minerals, chalk and limestone dusty, mountain streams. Bright lemons and limes and green apples mix with complex ginger, sea salt, floral perfume and freshly-baked biscuits. Lots of depth but so lively. A blend of Chardonnay from Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize, and Cramant, this was disgorged in June 2017. (92 points)

N.V. Lombard & Cie Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Mesnil-sur-Oger Brut Nature- France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
SRP: $80
Light gold color. Aromas shows rich biscuits and bread crumbs, but lots of dusty minerals, like a fine powder of sea salt, limestone, chalk and crushed shells, along with flowers, raw almond, honey, all on top of lemon curd goodness. Precise and focused on the palate with zesty acidity but a lovely depth and richness of texture. Lemon, yellow pears, lime, apricot, this is racy and complex with intermingled flavors of bread crumbs, sea salt, crushed shells, mountain stream, salted almonds. Really, really, good, this is bracing yet packed with depth and flavor. (93 points)

2008 Lombard & Cie Grand Cru Brut Nature- France, Champagne, Champagne Grand Cru
SRP: $140
Light gold color. Toasty, salty, deep, complex aromatics, with wildflowers, lemon curd, wild strawberry, shaved ginger, crushed sea shells, a ton going on. So precise and dry on the palate but packed with flavor. Lemons, limes, green apples, topped with bread crumbs, cheese rind and candle wax. Complex elements of saline, limestone, honeysuckle and minerals. Young, deep concentrated, a long life ahead but this is already elegant and beautiful. 80% Chardonnay (from Mesnil-sur-Oger and Avize) and 20% Pinot Noir (from Ambonnay), this is aged 84 months in bottle and disgorged in May 2017. Long life ahead. (93 points)

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/21/18

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 high quality "usual suspects."

Let's start with some current releases from Dutton Goldfield in Sonoma County. Dutton Goldfield is one of the wine labels that benefits from the massive vineyard holdings at the Dutton Ranch, Sonoma County's largest single farmer of wine grapes. A collaboration between Steve Dutton and winemaker Dan Goldfield, their wines are always restrained and reliably high quality.

Their Chardonnays are generally excellent, as the two I tasted this week show -- first their standard issue Russian River bottling, and then the single vineyard Walker Hill. Both have little trace of new wood, and lots of redeeming features.

Likewise, the two Pinots from Dutton Goldfield this week are two of my favorites from this producer. The Fox Den Pinot is usually fruit driven with bright berry fruit, while the Emerald Ridge bottling tends to incorporate earthier tones.

Finally, there's a Zinfandel to look at, too, and one that is surprisingly light on its feet, not to mention low alcohol.

Moving on to another reliable producer, I received some samples recently of some of the last few excellent vintages produced at Renaissance Vineyard & Winery up in Yuba county. Both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Premiere Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon are in perfect shape and are wonderfully humble, honest expressions of the unique granite terroir of that site.

Finally, I've got a couple of other random wines in there this week, from a restrained Napa Merlot with lots of charm, to a couple of wines from Santa Barbara that are worth checking out.

All these and more below.

2016 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, lemon curd and lemon juice flavors have a smooth, crispness to them. Decent acidity and length. Thankfully, little trace of oak mars this wine's pretty citrus character. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Vinography Unboxed: Week of 10/21/18Cost: $35. click to buy.

2015 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch - Walker Hill Vineyard" Chardonnay, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of wet stone and lemon pith. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of lemon pith, grapefruit rind, and a touch of kumquat have a brisk zip to them thanks to excellent acidity. Good length. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2015 Dutton Goldfield "Fox Den Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry. In the mouth, raspberry and cranberry flavors have a nice zippy quality thanks to excellent acidity, as well as a muscular bent, thanks to powdery tannins that support the core of fruit. There's also some very nice minerality that lingers through the berry-scented finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $62. click to buy.

2015 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch - Emerald Ridge Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and earth and green herbs. In the mouth, cherry, raspberry and green herb flavors are shot through with a nice forest floor earthiness, which lingers for a while in the finish with a hint of sawdust. Bright acidity keeps the wine fresh. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2017 F2 Wines "Europeo" Rosé of Syrah, Los Olivos District, Santa Barbara, California
Palest copper-ruby in color, this wine smells of berries and wet stone. In the mouth, citrus pith and berries have a tart rosehip twang, with decent acidity. A hint of bitterness lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. 100 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.

2006 Renaissance Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Medium cloudy ruby in the glass, this wine smells of sweet apple skin and cedar. In the mouth, sour cherry and dried herbs are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Gorgeously textured and bright, with delicious fruit still retaining some of its sweetness even as pulverized rock and cedar begin to emerge in secondary aromas. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2005 Renaissance Vineyard & Winery "Premiere Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California
Cloudy medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of dried cherries, graphite and red apple skin. In the mouth, gorgeously bright flavors of sour cherry, leather, cedar, and dried herbs are backed by muscular, fine grained tannins. The acidity here is angular, with perhaps some traces of volatile acidity, but nonetheless, pleasing. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2015 Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth and cherry and a touch of graphite. In the mouth, earthy flavors of cherry and graphite have a nice subdued quality to them. Powdery, muscular tannins provide structure. Excellent acidity. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2014 F2 Wines "Il Falconieri - Great Oaks Vineyard" Cabernet Franc, Los Olivos District, Santa Barbara, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry jam, black olives, and a touch of green herbs. In the mouth, cherry, green herbs and olive flavors have a nice zip thanks to excellent acidity and a bit of grip thanks to tacky tannins. A bitter greenish note lingers in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $45.

2015 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton Ranch - Morelli Lane Vineyard" Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and black pepper. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and boysenberry flavors have a nice zip to them thanks to excellent acidity, and the medium-bodied character of this wine is quite delightful, as notes of bramble and berries linger without the weight or heat of a higher alcohol rendition of Zinfandel. On the other hand, this wine doesn't have the complexity to make it as compelling as it could be. But what's wrong with easy drinking? 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.



Wine Reviews: New Zealand wines from Loveblock & Villa Maria

This week I’m focusing on two producers from New Zealand: Loveblock and Villa Maria.

Loveblock is a Marlborough-based project of Erica and Kim Crawford. This winery was founded after Kim Crawford was sold to Constellation Brands. Erica describes Loveblock as, “the product of my journey to organics, which started about 15 years ago.” The organic farm is home to vineyards, beef cattle, chickens, etc. The wines really surprised me, showing more focus and intrigue than a lot of Kim Crawford wines I’ve tasted recently. And the wines (priced between $23 and $30) show a lot of quality and value.

I have also included reviews of Villa Maria’s new releases. Recently, I attended an on-line video tasting with Villa Maria winemaker Kathrin Jankowiec, who came from a teaching background in Germany before she decided to take a break and travel the world. She found herself in New Zealand about a dozen years ago, and she was low on travel money. Kathrin scored a harvest job at a small winery, and immediately knew she had found her niche. “I decided this is what I want to do with my life… I’m going to make wine. I’m not leaving New Zealand.”

I’ve always found Villa Maria wines to be reliably good, reliably inexpensive, classic takes on the New Zealand staples. But I hadn’t before tasted the single-vineyard Taylors Pass wines, and I was very impressed.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Loveblock Pinot Gris- New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $23
Generous yellow color. Aromas burst with yellow apples, peaches, lemons, limes, with lots of honeysuckle, daisies, notes of sea salt and honeycomb. This wine is vibrant and live-wire on the palate with crisp acidity and lovely depth, texture, richness. Lime, apricot, green and yellow apples. I love this complex combination of salty seashells, dusty minerals with white pepper, flowers, perfume, lamp oil, all sorts of complex spice and floral elements. Vibrant, deep, delicious. 12.5% alcohol. (90 points IJB)

2017 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc- New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $22
Pale yellow color. Bursting with thyme, basil, white pepper and dandelion aromas, on top of green apples, green melon and limes. Brisk and so fresh on the palate yet some nice weight, too. Green apples, green melon and kiwi fruit is loaded with spicy nettle, white pepper, honeysuckle, thyme, sweet basil. Some salty and mineral notes, too. Pretty but delicious and bursting with flavor. 13% alcohol. (89 points IJB)

2015 Loveblock Pinot Noir- New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
SRP: $30
Medium ruby color. So pretty on the nose with fresh strawberries, wild raspberries, red apple peel, along with rhubarb, warm clay, rose petals and some spicy clove and pepper notes. Medium+ bodied with a velvety feel, smooth tannins, and refreshing, tingling acidity, it’s all balanced very nice in a fresh and vibrant whole. Complex notes of white pepper, rose petals, bay leaf, rhubarb, some cola and cedar woven in nicely. Very well-done, delicious, balanced stuff. 14% alcohol, aged eight months in old oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Bubbly- New Zealand, South Island
SRP: $15
Very pale straw color with a slight spritz. Aromas of white peaches, limes, kiwis, along with bell pepper and nettle. Crisp and bright on the palate with very faint bubbles, this wine has a fresh and appealing approach. Green apples, white peaches, some bell pepper, saline and nettle. Fun, pleasant stuff, classic New Zealand Sauv Blanc with light bubbles (C02 injected at bottling). (86 points IJB)

2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc- New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $14
Pale lemon color. Bursting with aromas of gooseberry, white peach, pineapple, kiwi, along with spicy oregano and sliced cucumbers. Medium-bodied with zippy acidity and juicy tropical fruits (peach, pineapple, kiwi). Notes of sliced cucumbers, dandelion and oregano are woven in well (not too dominant). Classic Marlborough Sauv Blanc but I love the more nuanced flavors and balance style. (87 points IJB)

2017 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard Taylors Pass- New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough, Awatere Valley
SRP: $26
Pale lemon color. Spicy aromas of jalapeno, habanero, ruby red grapefruit, lemons, some oregano, a lot going on. Crisp and clean and bright on the palate, the texture is deep and rich at the same time. Lemon, ruby red grapefruit, kiwi, along with lemongrass, habanero, with sea salt and mineral tones. Lots of depth, texture and complexity in here. (90 points IJB)

2017 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé- New Zealand, North Island, East Coast
SRP: $15
Pale copper color. Spicy, herbal and floral on the nose, like a rosebush with honeysuckle and nettle, mixed in with grapefruit and white cherry. Juicy on the palate, plenty of texture and fruit (ruby red grapefruit, strawberry, orange pith), with some white pepper, baby’s breath and those kind of spicy/floral tones. Attractive, balanced, well-made, Merlot-based pink. (87 points IJB)Wine Reviews: New Zealand wines from Loveblock & Villa Maria

2017 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Private Bin- New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $18
Bright, light ruby color. Super spicy on the nose with white pepper, leather, clove an rose petals, over top of red cherries and juicy strawberries. Light/medium-bodied (12.5% alcohol) with dusty tannins and fresh acidity. Raspberries, black cherries, mixed with sweet cola and roses and some tea. Light, refreshing and fun. (87 points IJB)

2015 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Taylors Pass- New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
SRP: $42
Medium ruby color. Suave and savory on the nose with raspberries, strawberries, cherries, mixed with mulling spices, loamy soil and mushroom notes. Silky but structured with fine-grained tannins and crisp, lip-smacking acidity. Black and red cherries and strawberries, doused with rose hips, bay leaf and tobacco. Nice concentration, balance and freshness, in just the right amounts, with some cola and cedar woven in nicely. Very pretty stuff. (90 points IJB)

Wine Reviews: International Round-up

This week, I’m tackling another group of wines from all over the globe.

Starting off with the newest vintage of Trivento’s flagship Malbec, Eolo, the 2014 again delivers a mouthful of delicious, complex, cellar-worthy Mendoza goodness.

A few Spanish wines make an appearance in this week’s report, including two inexpensive but solid Riojas from renowned producer Bodegeas Lan. Carpenè Malvolti brings a pair of Italian bubbles into the mix. And South African stalwart Mulderbosch delivers four wines that bring serious quality at their respective price points.

There’s a new red blend from Virginia winery Early Mountain that I really want to highlight. The inaugural 2015 vintage of their Rise red (a Merlot-based blend), really shines. It should, considering the price point, but this is a serious, delicious, Virginia red blend that will stand the test of time.

I also received three wines from the Firstleaf wine club. Consumers can fill out a quick quiz to generate their first three-pack of wines for $15, plus shipping. The wines each come with story cards that provide technical and more general information about the wine or region. Members can rate their wines on the club’s website, and those ratings are used to generate more personalized wine selections for future shipments. I tasted three wines from an introductory shipment.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Trivento Malbec Eolo- Argentina, Mendoza, Lujan de Cuyo
SRP: $79
Deep purple color. Rich and enticing on the palate with waves of plums, blackberry, currant, kirsch, backed up by complex and evolving notes of anise, scorched earth, coffee grounds, mint chocolate chip, violets. Solid grip but no harsh tannins, this is velvety and smooth with medium acidity and pretty dark plum, blackberry and black currant fruit. Complex elements of leather, scorched earth, eucalyptus, mint, dark chocolate, tobacco. A complex mineral, earth, smashed rock element, too. A long-ager for sure but this is beautiful young, too. (92 points)

N.V. Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut- Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
SRP: $20
Bright watermelon color. Aromas of wild strawberries, white cherries, roses, spicy herbal notes. Juicy and fleshy on the palate but tangy, too, with watermelon and strawberry fruit. Notes of spicy herbs, rose petals, baby’s breath, which combines well with the fruit. Finishes fresh and salty. 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Raboso. (87 points)

N.V. Carpenè Malvolti Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 1868- Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
SRP: $19
Pale straw color. Aromas of sea salt, dandelion, magnolia petals, baby’s breath and green apples. Tart and brisk on the palate with lemon, green apples and limes, backed up with a floral punch of magnolia, rosewater and dandelion. Sea salt and dusty, flinty notes add complexity. Crisp and delicious, quite complex for the price. 100% Glera. (88 points)

2017 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc- South Africa, Western Cape
SRP: $17
Medium yellow color. Super fresh and green and crunchy on the nose (limes, kiwi, green apples) with white pepper, sea salt, lemongrass and fresh, floral breezy notes. Crisp and zesty on the palate but nice depth and texture. Green apples, apricot, lemons and limes, backed up with sea salt, honeysuckle, an interesting herbal/spicy note that accents the wine but doesn’t dominate the other elements. So well put-together, this is a great vintage of this wine which is, per usual, killer for the price. (90 points)

2016 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard Block A- South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, Bottelary
SRP: $33
Deep yellow color. Whoa! On the nose, a burst of tropical insanity (pineapple, white peaches, some lemon curd) doused in lamp oil, sea spray, nougat, honey butter, hay and rich vanilla. Plump and juicy on the palate, zesty but rich, with flavors of key lime pie, bruised yellow pear and fresh white peaches. Rich and suave but bright, too, with really cool minerals, ginger, musky cologne and sea spray, honeyed white tea. From 33-year-old vines, this shows the ripeness of the vintage and was aged 10 months on in French oak barrels. (91 points)

2017 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé- South Africa, Coastal Region
SRP: $12
Pale watermelon color. Fresh and floral nose with white pepper, nettle, rose petals, and some juicy strawberry and white cherry aromas. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely, but there’s a plush, inviting mouthfeel as well. White cherries, strawberries, watermelon, mixed together nicely with white pepper, sliced cucumber, nettle, rose hips, some breezy, salty notes. Lovely balance with fruit, freshness and complex flavors. (88 points)

2015 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound- South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
SRP: $22
Light purple color. The nose shows gobs of black cherries, currants and blueberries, along with lots of black pepper, leather, sage, bay leaf, vanilla and cedar. Tangy acidity keeps this full-bodied, medium tannin red stay fresh, but this is also a big and dark wine loaded with black currants and blueberries. Lots of black pepper, cigar smoke, menthol, with dark chocolate and vanilla woven in nicely. Ready to go or could hold for a few years, this packs a lot of complexity for the price point. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged in 30% new French oak. (89 points)

2017 Delia Tempranillo- Spain
SRP: $9
Medium ruby color. Juicy raspberries, cherries and red currants on the nose with sweet roses, tobacco and cola. Medium-bodied and fresh on the palate with light, easygoing tannins. Raspberries, cherries and strawberries, juicy but tangy fruit, mixed with roses, herbs, menthol, smoke and coffee. Light and fresh but lots of fun, and really solid for the price. (86 points)

2015 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza D-12 Eighth Edition- Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $20
Light purple color. Aromas of tangy black cherries mixed with spice rub, tobacco, leather, vanilla and cedar. Full-bodied, smooth tannins, with tangy acidity, and it mixes well with the crunchy, tart black cherry and currant fruit. Notes of scorched earth, tobacco, leather, some black olive, topped with vanilla and coffee. Delicious, early-drinking Rioja. (87 points)

2010 Bodegas LAN Rioja Gran Reserva- Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Smells of tart black cherries and currants, tangy plums (just smelling it makes my mouth water), with mint, tobacco, coffee, loamy soil and graphite notes. Fresh acidity frames the wine nicely, solidly-gripping tannins mix with tart black cherries and currants, backed up with violets, black pepper, mint, black tea, coffee, lots of complex elements. Underlying earthy, mineral notes, this is a vibrant and fresh wine but also structured and ageworthy. Tempranillo from Rioja Alta and 10% Mazuelo. (89 points)

2015 Early Mountain Vineyards Rise- USA, Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
Wine Reviews: International Round-upSRP: $95
Deep purple color. The nose shows gorgeous depth of fruit (blackberry, cassis, dark plums, roasted fig), along with lavender, violets, sweet cocoa and wet forest/woodsy notes. Solid tannic backbone on the palate but underlying fresh acidity keeps it in lovely balance. Tart black cherries, currants and plums, tangy but bountiful fruit, laced with anise, violets, clove, coffee, all woven together so nicely. Pure, delicious, complex, I’d love to cellar this for a decade. Early Mountain makes a serious statement with the inaugural vintage of this Rise red. 57% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 14% Petit Verdot, and 14% Tannat, sourced from their Quaker Run vineyards on the southern side of Doubletop Mountain. 240 cases produced. (91 points)

Firstleaf wines

2017 PrimaZon Malbec- Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $26
Light purple color. Aromas of dark plums and black cherries, along with violets, warm clay, tobacco, cedar, espresso. Fresh acidity on the palate frames the wine nicely, and it has velvety, accessible tannins. Tangy black cherries, plums, raspberry jam, the fruit is mixed with cola, coffee, sweet pipe tobacco and vanilla. Fun, pleasant, widely-likeable stuff. (86 points)

2017 International Archives Sémillon- Australia
SRP: $22
Deep yellow color. Nose shows apricot, pineapple, lemongrass, honey and a rosewater note. Plush texture, moderate acid keeps it bright as juicy white peach and pineapple fruit carry the wine. Honey, some cotton candy notes, baby’s breath and cut flower stem notes. Fun, crowd-pleasing stuff for the money. (85 points)

2017 Paso del Tiempo Syrah- Spain
SRP: $26
Deep purple color. Nose of juicy raspberries, sweet plums, cola, coffee, roses. Full-bodied with soft tannins and medium acidity. Tart plums meet sweet raspberries and candied cherries, backed up by roses, sweet cola and coffee. Fun, simple, crowd-pleasing stuff. (85 points)

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

There's no doubt that wine is romantic, and that this romance inspires and motivates consumers and producers alike, especially in the new world, where wine as a profession and wine as a beverage are adopted, rather than hereditary. The popular discourse of wine remains so littered with near-mythical stories of people following their passions to create great wines and great wineries, that we all too easily forget that basic principles of economics always apply. No amount of passion can compensate for wine that consumers just don't want to buy, or that a winery owner can't figure out how to sell (as they are different but often related problems).

All of that, by way of introduction to a winery named Vinoptima, in the out-of-the-way wine growing region of Gisborne, on New Zealand's North Island. Started by wine industry veteran Nick Nobilo in 2000, Vinoptima may be one of the world's most unique wineries, given its dedication to a single grape variety. Now, there are wineries around the world who make only Cabernet. Some who make only Riesling. But as far as I know, Vinoptima is the only winery dedicated solely to Gewürztraminer.

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

Nobilo, you see, has something of an obsession with the grape, which began as far back as 1972, when he planted the very first vines of the variety in New Zealand. After working with it for three decades (and falling deeper in love with it in every passing vintage) Nobilo established Vinoptima in 2000 with the planting of a block of Gewürtztraminer in Gisborne, which he harvested in 2003 for the winery's first vintage.

Gewürtztraminer is a grape made famous in the Alsace region in France, which has somewhere around one third of the roughly 20,000 acres that are planted around the world. The grape is of ancient origin, and is actually one of three primary variants of Savagnin, which is a genetic parent to many, many modern grape varieties, not least of which are Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc (and therefore Cabernet Sauvignon), Trousseau, Grüner Veltliner and Verdelho, among others.

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

The other main regions producing Gewürtztraminer (also known in places as Tramin, Traminer, or Savagnin Rose) include the United States, Italy, Germany, Australia, and Hungary. It is one of the most distinctively aromatic grape varieties on the planet, with an unmistakable, often heady perfume of lychees, rose petals, and orange blossom water. The grape also has a natural bitterness, and is therefore often made with a bit of residual sugar to offset this bite. Made well, which in my book usually involves maintaining the often elusive acidity it may possess, Gewürtztraminer can be mind-bendingly aromatic and incredibly complex. The best dessert-style wines made with the grape (n.b. Domaine Weinbach in Alsace) are ambrosia-like and otherworldly.

At Vinoptima, Nobilo farms about 20 acres of the grape in the township of Ormond just north of Gisborne, and produces several styles of Gewürtztraminer, from off-dry to a deeply sweet botrytized version, in his immaculate winery that he says is "custom designed from scratch to be run by just two men." His modest goal? "To make the world's best Gewürztraminer."

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

I'm not sure he would ever be able to reach the heights to which the grape has been elevated in Alsace over the centuries, but the wines have consistently won awards and received scores in the 90-point range from critics (my own tasting notes on a number of vintages follow below.)

But there's just one problem.

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

"No one wants to buy Gewürztraminer," said Nobilo, when I visited him in 2017. "Not even the people who used to drink it all the time," he continued.

When I met with him, the congenial, ruddy-cheeked and white-haired Nobilo struck me as a man who had done reasonably well for himself after five decades in the wine industry. I privately speculated that his was a passion project that could potentially weather the lack of demand for some time.

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

But one unavoidable truth of the wine industry is that unsold wine gradually becomes a serious problem. And so it seems to have become for Vinoptima. I read with some sadness this week that with 100,000 liters of unsold wines in vats (roughly two vintages worth), Vinoptima has gone into receivership, which is what passes for bankruptcy in New Zealand.

It's a sad ending for a project begun and maintained with such singular passion, and a cautionary tale for those who believe that merely making excellent wine is the key to success in the wine industry.

Vinoptima: Too Much of a Good Thing

Here are my notes on several of Nobilo's vintages.

2004 Vinoptima Gewürtztraminer, Gisborne, New Zealand
Light yellow gold in color, this wine smells of orange blossom and lychee and honey. In the mouth, lightly sweet flavors of orange peel, lychee, and honey have a slightly spicy aspect, coating the palate and lingering with butterscotch notes in the finish. Has 20 grams per liter of residual sugar but finishes fairly dry. Moderate acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. click to buy.

2006 Vinoptima Gewürtztraminer, Gisborne, New Zealand
Medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel and rose petals. In the mouth, weighty, silky flavors of orange peel and rose petals and honey with hints of lychee and a touch of lemongrass lingering in the finish. Despite moderate sweetness up front, the sugar doesn't linger on the palate. 13.5% alcohol. 18 grams per liter residual sugar. Score: between 8.5 and 9. click to buy.

2008 Vinoptima Gewürtztraminer, Gisborne, New Zealand
Medium gold in color, this wine smells of orange blossom water and lychee. In the mouth, strong lychee fruit mixes with orange peel and pomelo pith, lingering slightly bitter on the palate, along with a striking wet chalkboard kind of minerality. The wine starts off sweet, but doesn't coat the palate. 14% alcohol. 15 grams per liter of residual sugar. Score: around 9. click to buy.

2010 Vinoptima Gewürtztraminer, Gisborne, New Zealand
Light yellow gold in color, this wine smells of exotic flowers like tuberose and orange blossom. In the mouth, lithe flavors of pomelo and mandarine orange mix with lychee and very pretty minerality. Only faintly sweet, the wine has a wonderful wet chalkboard finish scented with lychee. 13.5% 13 grams per liter of residual sugar. Score: between 9 and 9.5. click to buy.

2007 Vinoptima "Noble" Gewürtztraminer, Gisborne, New Zealand
Light to medium amber in color, this wine smells of a touch of chamomile flower, candied orange peels, honey, and dried apricots. In the mouth, silky, thick, very sweet flavors of apricot and butterscotch and tinned peaches still have a slight grip on the palate and a remarkable wet chalkboard character that emerges on the finish that leaves the mouth feeling rather cool and refreshed, instead of coated with sugar. Quite pretty. Not picked until the middle of June, when the select rows of grapes are fully botrytized with noble rot. 110 grams per liter of residual sugar, 11% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. click to buy.