Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included a few top-tier Prosecco Superiores that show the most refined qualities of that wine when made with less sweetness, some extended lees contact, and from some of the steepest, most renowned vineyard sites, known in the region as “Rive.”

La Tordera’s Rive di Guia bottling has a nice balance between savory characters and fruity notes, while Bortolotti’s Rive di Col San Martino has the more floral tropical notes you typically expect from Prosecco. My favorite this week was the Sorelle Bronca Rive di Farro which had a precision and minerality that quite charmed me.

J. Cage Cellars is another wine-blogger-turned-winemaker project (of which there are maybe more than half a dozen in California). Roger Beery ran the Bacchus & Beery wine blog for a while back when there were only a few dozen of us wine bloggers online. He moved on to other things, but his son became a winemaker, and his daughter worked in hospitality for the wine business, so it was only a matter of time before they ended up with a family wine label. I’ve got two of his Pinot Noirs to share this week, one that is slightly leaner from Sonoma Mountain, the other slightly riper from the Petaluma Gap. Both are tasty.

I can still remember when I had my first bottle of Frog’s Leap wine, and how delighted I was at the playful “ribbit” imprinted on the cork, and the dependable deliciousness of the wines. Not much has changed in either department. Frog’s Leap, a pioneer of organic wine growing and dry farming, still makes excellent wines that hew closer to the historical style of Napa wines, with lower alcohols and higher acidity. The Zinfandel and Merlot are both worth looking at but the Rutherford Cabernet was the real star of the three, with a finesse and freshness that were quite admirable.

I’ve got two more excellent wines from Limerick Lane this week: their Rocks & Fog red blend, which has a fantastic balance between savory, more earthy flavors and bright fruits, and then the stupendous Marquis Zinfandel, which is a blend of fruit from some of their prized single-vineyard sites. It’s something of a cliché to describe wines as bursting with flavor, but honestly, some wines simply do burst on the palate. This one is an explosion of incredibly juicy berries and floral notes that should bring a smile to almost anyone’s lips.

Last but not least, you might want to take a look at the lean, taut flavors of Two Shepherds‘ “Glen Ellen” Syrah, which clocks in at 13.2% alcohol and has a wonderful vibrant brightness to it.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2020 La Tordera “Otreval – Rive di Guia” Extra Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Palest straw with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, straw/alfalfa, and a touch of Asian pear. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of bright apple, citrus pith, and a touch of stone fruit. Clean, bright, and more savory in character with a hint of salinity in the finish. Excellent acidity. Sees some extended lees contact, perhaps 3-4 months longer than is typical. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2019 Umberto Bortolotti “Vigna Castel de Don – Rive di Col San Martino” Extra Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Palest straw in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of linalool and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is very round and floral with a voluminous mousse and hints of tropical fruits, like jackfruit along with apples. Slightly lower acidity. A hint of bitter fruit skin and a chalky banana-like note on the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2020 Sorelle Bronca “Particella 232 – Rive di Farro” Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Nearly colorless in the glass, with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and bright citrus pith. In the mouth, wonderfully bright citrus pith and white floral notes match with a hint of salinity. Lovely soft, voluminous mousse. Chalky minerality. Clean and bright and delicious. Zero g/l residual sugar. Handpicked and then spends a couple of months at low temperature in an autoclave then given a single fermentation, rather than two. Long lees contact. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 J. Cage Cellars “Van Der Kamp Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Mountain, California
Medium ruby in color with garnet highlights, this wine smells of raspberries and cedar. In the mouth, juicy raspberry and cherry flavors are shot through with cedar and forest floor and backed by a nicely-bright citrus peel acidity. Hints of herbs and a touch of dashi linger in the finish giving a nice umami quality. Quite tasty. Barely perceptible tannins. 14.4% alcohol. 225 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2018 J. Cage Cellars “El Coro Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, California
Medium ruby in color with garnet highlights, this wine smells of dried cherries and candied raspberries. In the mouth, cherry, dried cherry, and raspberry jam flavors are faintly sweetish, with notes of dried cherry and dried herbs lingering in the finish. Comes across as slightly riper than I would like. Barely perceptible tannins. 14.4% alcohol. 225 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2019 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of toasty oak and boysenberries. In the mouth, bright boysenberry and cherry flavors mix with toasted oak and a touch of brown sugar. 40% of this wine sees new oak, the rest is aged in concrete. Contains around 18% Petite Sirah and a just a touch of Carignan added. Made with organic, dry-farmed grapes. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2019 Frog’s Leap Merlot, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of toasted oak and crushed nuts. In the mouth, the wine has a wonderfully bright, even lean, plum and cherry quality that is crisp and refreshing with just a hint of toasted oak lingering in the finish. Barely perceptible tannins. Admirably restrained. Made with organic, dry-farmed grapes. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2018 Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa, California
Medium garnet in the glass. This wine smells of black cherry and Bing cherry. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy cherry and dried green herbs mix with the faintest hint of green bell pepper and dried flowers. Faint, fine-grained tannins gain some muscle as the wine finishes with a lovely dried flower note. Excellent, bright acidity makes this wine quite fresh, and almost crunchy. Impressively old school. Made with organic, dry-farmed grapes. 13.9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Limerick Lane Cellars “Marquis” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberries, dried flowers, and black raspberries. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of black raspberries, candied blackcurrants, dried flowers, and blueberries have fantastic acidity and faint grippy tannins. This is a wine that joyously soars on wings of pure, boisterous fruit. Delicious. A blend of Zinfandel from several vineyards: Banfield, Limerick Lane, Bedrock, Carlisle, and Sodini. 15.1% alcohol. 350 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $72. click to buy.

2019 Limerick Lane Cellars “Rocks & Fog” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark purple in color, this wine smells of blackberries and wet iron. In the mouth, blackberry, iodine, blueberries and a touch of forest floor have a faint saline quality and excellent acidity. Fine-grained tannins flex their muscles as the wine finishes with hints of forest floor and a nice saline kick. A blend of 79% Syrah, 13% Grenache, 5% Viognier, and 3% Petite Sirah. 14.7% alcohol. 175 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Two Shepherds “Glen Ellen” Syrah, Sonoma Valley, California
Medium garnet in color with purple highlights, this wine smells of struck match and blackberries. In the mouth, ripe and underripe blackberry flavors have a nice sourish complexion while faint tannins are wispy in the mouth. A light saline quality accompanies a peeled willow bark bitterness in the finish. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in neutral barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 13.2% alcohol. 50 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34.