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 past week included a lot of very expensive Cabernet, among other things, but before we get to the big reds, let’s take a look at two whites that have managed to wonderfully balance the richness of barrel fermentation and the bright acidity that you expect from grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. From Aperture Cellars, a winery established by winemaker Jesse Katz and his photographer father, Andy Katz (whose work I have featured here on Vinography) these two wines are both quite delicious. The Chenin Blanc is barrel fermented and then aged half in used barrels, half in stainless steel. The Sauvignon Blanc is barrel fermented and aged in wood, but hasn’t lost its edge. I recommend both highly.

I’ve also got a very nice Cabernet from Aperture as well this week, which has a very unique and distinctive character, from the Del Rio Vineyard in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.

The most expensive wine on offer this week is the annual release from Cardinale, one of the gems in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. This boutique estate makes a single wine each year, and this one is true to typical form: polished and refined, though I have to say that it displays a bit too much oak for my taste.

One of the more impressive new Napa producers to which I have been introduced in the past few years is Acumen, and I’ve got two of their wines here this week: their Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, and then a single vineyard rendition from Atlas Peak’s Edcora Vineyard. Both are excellent, and wonderful models of restraint, achieving gorgeous lush fruit but with lower alcohols and higher acidity than is typical in Napa.

That brightness is why I also love these new releases from Blackbird Vineyards. I think it’s been a year or two since I tasted the wines from Blackbird, and these remind me why they have been so successful as a brand. They deliver juicy pleasure at every price point (though as you can see below, I liked their $40 Arise as much as I did their two $120 blends!). Winemaker Aaron Pott has clearly hit the nail on the head with the 2016 vintage.

The star of this week’s tasting was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Estate Cabernet from Spottswoode in St. Helena. Invariably one of my favorite wines every year, their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon manages to always be at once built for aging but immensely pleasurable in its youth, making for quite a dilemma for wine lovers, who may wonder whether to drink or hold it for a decade. The answer, of course, is “yes,” but honestly, giving this wine 5 years or more undisturbed in the cellar will pay great dividends in pleasure.

All these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2019 Aperture Cellars “Soil Specific” Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candied green apple and a touch of cut grass. In the mouth, cut grass and green apple and star fruit flavors have a nice edge to them thanks to excellent acidity. Bright and lean, with a faintly herbal grassy note that lingers in the finish along with lime juice. Very tasty. 13.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.    

2019 Aperture Cellars “Soil Specific” Chenin Blanc, North Coast, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of Asian pears, quince paste, and citrus pith. In the mouth, apple, pear, and quince flavors have a bouncy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness of Asian pear skin that counterpoints the sweetish fruit quite nicely. Fresh and bright and quite tasty. 13.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2017 Aperture “Del Rio Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Inky purple in the glass, this wine smells of incredibly juicy black cherry and boysenberry. In the mouth, a remarkably pure boysenberry flavor is shot through with cola and cocoa powder with hints of camphor wood that linger with licorice root in the finish. Gauzy tannins, great acidity, this is quite a distinctive wine. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2017 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of lush cherry and cassis fruit and new oak. In the mouth, the wine is supremely juicy with cherry and cassis flavors made bouncy with excellent acidity, but the wood and its muscular tannins overshadow the fruit a bit, leaving the mouth drying out and more taste of sawdust than cherry. Polished but with too much oak for my taste. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $325. click to buy.

2016 Acumen “Peak – Edcora Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cassis with a hint of dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous black cherry, dried violets and cola flavors are draped in a fleecy blanket of tannins that gain strength over time. Notes of licorice root and potting soil linger in the finish with dark cherry. Fantastic acidity and wonderful balance. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $165. click to buy.

2016 Acumen “Peak” Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, black tea, earth, and cassis flavors are shot through with a touch of cola nut. Fine-grained muscular tannins drape the core of dark fruit, but don’t overwhelm, while excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh and mouthwatering. Poised and nicely balanced, with a sophisticated restraint, as evidenced by its mere 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115. click to buy.

2018 Limerick Lane “Katz-Ponzo Vineyard” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry fruit. In the mouth, boisterous blackberry and cassis flavors have some clear alcoholic heat to them, even as fantastic acidity keeps them bright and juicy. Hints of black pepper linger in the finish with a touch of slightly bitter licorice root. Faintest of tannins. This vineyard was planted in 1912. 15.3% alcohol. 125 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $62.

2017 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco leaf. In the mouth, gorgeous black cherry, cocoa powder, cola, herbs and tobacco notes are wrapped in a leathery blanket of tannins. Savory notes of licorice root and dusty earth linger with a touch of oak and cassis in the finish. Gorgeous acidity keeps the wine quite fresh, and there’s a faint minty quality to the herbs. This is a wine built for the long haul. Give it 5-10 years and watch it sing. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2016 Blackbird Vineyards “Paramour” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of plum and plum skin with a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, faint powdery tannins hang gauzily over a core of black plum, cola, and chopped herb flavors that are fresh and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. A faintly bitter note lingers in the finish with a touch of toasted oak. A blend of 82% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2016 Blackbird Vineyards “Contrarian” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and tobacco leaf with a touch of earth underneath it. In the mouth, cherry and earth flavors have a nice chopped herb scent to them and lovely juiciness thanks to excellent acidity. Faint tannins float like chalk dust through the mouth. Wonderfully fresh. A blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Merlot. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2016 Blackbird Vineyards “Arise” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and plum. In the mouth, rich black cherry and plum flavors mix with a hint of cola and cocoa powder as notes of vanilla and toasted oak linger in the finish. Powdery tannins coat the mouth. A blend of 55% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Petite Verdot. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.