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 single white wine, the Sauvignon Blanc from Blackbird Vineyards, whose three flagship wines I reviewed last week. With a decent dollop of Semillon added to it, this is a surprisingly savory and herbal rendition of Sauvignon Blanc and an excellent value at just $20.
I received a few wines from the Piemontese producer Marchesi di Gresy (or if we’re being formal about it Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Gresy) including their Barbera d’Asti and their Langhe Nebbiolo, both of which are lovely, pleasurable wines that balance fruit expressiveness with more serious complexity, and for under thirty bucks, both of them are steals.
Closer to home, I’m happy to recommend (as I have many times before) the wines of Kendric Vineyards, a little Marin-based outfit shepherded by winemaker and proprietor Stewart Johnson. He has a lightly deft touch in the cellar, and a general preference, it seems, for higher acid and lower alcohol that result in wonderfully fresh wines as both his Pinot Noir and Syrah demonstrated this week. The Syrah in particular is a tight, stony ball of fruit and pepper and salinity that really made me very happy.
Before we get to the superstars this week, let’s make note of the Far Niente Oakville Estate Cabernet, which should not be confused with their standard Napa Valley bottling. This much more expensive rendition of Cabernet comes from the vineyards surrounding the winery, and is their flagship wine, and rightfully so. It’s a quintessential Napa Cabernet, with the richness of fruit and tastiness of Oak that most people look for. Perhaps a touch to much for my taste, but there’s no denying this is a fine wine.
As good as the Far Niente was, it proved hard to hold a candle to the remainder of the Aperture Cellars portfolio of wines I tasted this week, starting with a couple of their more widely available wines, the “soil specific” Bordeaux Blend and Cabernet Sauvignon. Made from select sites in the Alexander Valley, these non-vineyard-designated wines are both excellent and don’t require you to be on a mailing list in order to purchase them.
You do, however, have to be on the mailing list to get access to Devil Proof, a wine which like some trick the devil might play himself with funhouse mirrors, has become two wines. Originally a single bottling of Malbec that Aperture Cellars winemaker Jesse Katz made and adorned with one of his father’s most endearing photographs, Devil Proof is now apparently a brand of single-vineyard Malbecs. As both still bear the same photograph of a Cuban lady smoking a cigar, you have to look closely to distinguish between the Farrow Ranch bottling and the new Rockpile Ridge bottling. If you somehow fail to spot the difference, however, I’m here to tell you that you’ll be OK, because both are utterly phenomenal.
Katz has gotten kudos from a lot of critics more important than me about these Malbecs. They’ve always been excellent, but I feel like the extraction and the oak influence are getting dialed back ever-so-slightly in more recent vintages, and much to the wines’ benefit. Of course, I could just be imagining things, and 2017 might just be a knockout vintage for these two sites. From them, Katz has produced two exceptional wines that combine power and grace effortlessly, and deliver a remarkable amount of pleasure in the process. These are certainly the two best wines I think he’s ever made (though I can only imagine what he managed in 2018). If you’re a buyer of top-tier California wines, you must absolutely now consider these alongside all the biggest (and it might be said, considerably more expensive) names of Napa.
2019 Blackbird Vineyards “Dissonance” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon cucumber, unripe apples, and cut grass. In the mouth, grassy flavors continue with notes of crabapple, lemon pith, and star fruit. Good acidity and a nice silky texture. Contains 13% Semillon. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2018 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chopped herbs, peeled willow bark, and forest berries. In the mouth, black raspberry and chopped herbs mix with a touch of cola nut and sawdust, as faintly bitter green herbs linger in the finish with the faintest wisp of tannin. Excellent acidity.13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2019 Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Light to medium ruby in the glass this wine smells of sweet strawberry fruit. In the mouth, bright strawberry notes are backed by surprisingly muscular tannins as dried flowers and dusty earth add a savory note to what is undeniably quite juicy fruit. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.
2018 Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and orange peel. In the mouth, boysenberry and plum fruit flavors mix with an orange-peel brightness and faint powdery tannins. Excellent acidity and balance. Delicious but likely to improve for the next few years as well. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2018 Kendric Vineyards Syrah, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of crushed blueberries and blackberries and a dash of white pepper. In the mouth, wonderfully saline cassis and blackberry flavors are shot through with a touch of dried sage and a wonderfully stony, crystalline aspect. Excellent acidity and gauzy tannins make for a beautiful, cool-climate rendition of Syrah. Quite delicious. 12.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28.
2017 Aperture Cellars “Devil Proof – Rockpile Ridge” Malbec, Rockpile, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, dark blueberry and black cherry fruit have an intense richness that is kept fresh and lively thanks to excellent acidity. Fantastically supple tannins provide muscular strength without bulk, as this wine slides across the palate like an Olympic gymnast. Poised, powerful, and exquisite. Truly fantastic. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $175. click to buy.
2017 Aperture Cellars “Devil Proof – Farrow Ranch” Malbec, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky, opaque purple in color, this wine smells of blueberry and cola. In the mouth, intense blueberry and cherry-cola flavors are fantastically juicy with excellent acidity. Powdery tannins coat the mouth as notes of cola nut and blueberry pie linger in the finish. Wonderfully fresh, impeccably balanced and incredibly tasty. A masterpiece of Malbec. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $175. click to buy.
2017 Aperture Cellars “Soil Specific” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich cassis, black cherry, and wet earth. In the mouth, beautifully dark and rich flavors of black cherry and cassis are shot through with cola nut and dried herbs. Gorgeous, supple tannins drape like velvet over the palate. Fantastic acidity keeps the wine quite fresh and bright, though there is a touch of alcoholic heat in the finish. 14.6% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2017 Aperture Cellars “Soil Specific” Red Blend, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously bright and juicy flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and cola mix with a touch of dried herbs and tobacco. Fantastic acidity and gauzy tannins add bounce and texture. Fantastic. A blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 22% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2018 Far Niente “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and dark espresso. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cassis flavors are shot through with pencil lead and espresso. Muscular, fine-grained tannins flex and squeeze as notes of toasty oak linger in the finish. The tannins are slightly drying in the mouth, but remain supple as excellent acidity keeps the fruit flavors fresh. Drinking quite well now, but will blossom in 5 years. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $225. click to buy.