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.

Let’s get started with Gewürztraminer. It’s a polarizing grape variety. Some people love it, some people don’t care for it. I’m in both camps, depending on how it’s made. You see, Gewürztraminer can be many things. It can be made into wonderfully bright and juicy dry wines that have wonderful aromatics, as is often the case in Italy’s Alto Adige region. It can also be made into rich, late-harvest, off-dry, nectar-of-the-gods kinds of wines, the best examples of which come from the Alsace region of France. Unfortunately here in California, it is most often made into wines that are dry and aromatic, but also thick and weighty on the palate, often with residual bitterness in the finish. The truth of the matter is that most domestic Gewürztraminer sucks. All of which is why I got particularly excited by the bottle from David Hill winery in Oregon this week, which offers all the best qualities of the light-and-fresh rendition of the grape. I highly recommend it. The winery’s Pinot Noir, which they also sent along this week, ain’t that shabby either.

Staying with white wines for a moment longer, I’ve got an interesting rendition of Albariño from Monterey County courtesy of Ian Brand, who makes wines throughout Monterey county, sourcing interesting vineyards and crafting everything but the ever-present Pinot Noir. In a move he calls “bat-shit crazy” (at least from a commercial perspective) he makes an awful lot of Albariño, including this little experimental lot, which involves 3 days of skin contact and 6-8 months on the lees with no malolactic conversion. The result is a tasty, if a bit unexpected, interpretation of the grape variety.

Sticking with the Salinas Valley for a moment, I’ve also got Steve McIntyre’s Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. Steve planted a huge portion (more than 20%) of the Santa Lucia Highlands and farms close to a third of it. This wine comes from a vineyard planted in 1972 that he took over in 1987.

Before we get to some darker wines, let’s jump across the pond to Beaujolais and enjoy the fabulous value that Cru Beaujolais can offer, by way of this example from Château Moulin-à-Vent. It’s got all the juicy, herbal goodness you might be looking for, and is a steal at $25 a pop.

Next, we can head south and see a couple of dueling pairs of reds from Spain and Portugal. The two Spanish reds are Grenache (or Garnacha as they would say) dominant, with a nice blend from Priorat, and a pure Grenache from Monsant made by cult producer Clos Mogador. Both are very good but are a little pricier than their Portuguese cousins from Alentejo, which offer swirling bright flavors of dark fruit at half the tariff.

Lastly, I’ve got a couple of single-block, clonal selection Cabernet Sauvignons from Sonoma’s little Knights Valley AVA. These luxury-level wines are quite competently made, with a nice balance of acidity and fruit, and mercifully well-integrated wood. They’re pricey, but if you’re into higher-end Cabernet, they might be right up your alley.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2019 David Hill Winery “Estate” Gewürztraminer, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is bursting with acidity and crisp Meyer lemon and orange-peel freshness mixed with the aromatic sweetness of tropical flowers. Gorgeously lithe and shimmering, this wine has a remarkable finesse for this variety. I mean, it’s so light, there’s a chance it might not pass for the normally rich, sumptuous aromatic variety that is Gewürztraminer, but sitting with it for a while, I do think it is varietally correct, just a wonderfully balanced and effortless interpretation. Perhaps the best example I’ve tasted from Oregon. 13.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost : $25. click to buy.

2019 I. Brand & Family “La Marea – Alternate Cut” Albariño, Monterey County, Central Coast, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of Meyer lemon curd and Fuji apples. In the mouth, juicy citrus and apple and pear flavors have a nice bite to them thanks to excellent acidity, along with a faint yellow-herbal quality that is charming. I’m not sure I would guess this was Albariño if I tasted it blind, but it is a refreshing mouthful. This particular bottling sees a bit of skin contact during fermentation. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost : $28. click to buy.

2019 David Hill Winery “Estate” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and chopped herbs. In the mouth, lean cherry and herbal flavors mix with cranberry and darker fruit tones even as excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh and bright, with a citrus and sawdust edge. Barely perceptible tannins ghost the edges of the palate as a citrus peel note lingers with herbs in the finish. 12.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost : $28. click to buy.

2017 McIntyre Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry jam and cranberry compote. In the mouth, raspberry, dried herbs and citrus peel flavors have a nice brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of cedar and dusty road linger in the finish. Faint, dusty tannins. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost : $39. click to buy.

2018 Château Moulin-à-Vent “Couvent Des Thorins” Gamay, Moulin-à-Vent, Beaujolais, Burgundy, France
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, marijuana smoke, and fresh berries. In the mouth, juicy fresh raspberry and boysenberry flavors mix with a hint of dried flowers and citrus peel. Faint, powdery tannins caress the edges of the mouth, and a touch of that marijuana tang lingers in the finish. Quite tasty. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost : $25. click to buy.

2018 Mas Martinet “Martinet Bru” Red Blend, Priorat, Spain
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and blackberries and the sharp tang of crabapples. In the mouth, the wine is quite fresh, thanks to bright acidity that keeps flavors of strawberry, cherry, and well-oiled leather bright and peppy. Faint, putty-like tannins gain strength through the finish. Very drinkable. A blend of 28% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Carignan, 16% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost : $42. click to buy.

2017 Clos Mogador “Com Tu” Grenache, Montsant, Spain
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam. In the mouth, bright strawberry flavors mix with a touch of cola. Good acidity and faint tannins, not to mention all the pleasurable fruit, make this an easy wine to drink though it doesn’t offer a lot of complexity. 15% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost : $52. click to buy.    

2016 Cartuxa “Evora” Red Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of incense, dark fruit, and darker earth. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy acidity buoys flavors of black tea, blackberry, black cherry and plum, which are all shot through with a nutty herbal quality that is a wonderfully savory balance to the ripe fruit. Beautifully balanced, with wispy tannins. A very pretty blend of 40% Alicante Bouschet, 40% Aragonez (Tempranillo), and 20% Trincadeira. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost : $24. click to buy.

2016 Heredad de Esporão “Riserva” Red Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of incense, cherries, black tea, and dried flowers. In the mouth, intense and vibrant flavors of black cherry, bergamot, dried herbs, and blackberries are juicy with excellent acidity. A faint, woody, forest floor quality pervades the wine along with lightly grippy tannins. A very nice blend of 40% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Spends 12 months in French and American oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost : $20. click to buy.

2017 Knights Bridge “Collinwood” Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich black cherry fruit and dried herbs. In the mouth, dark cherry, tobacco, and plum fruit flavors are wrapped in a soft leathery blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps things fresh, with notes of cedar and roasted hazelnuts lingering in the finish. This wine represents a distinct vineyard block (Block 10C) which is planted to Clone 6 of Cabernet. Ages in 80% new French oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2017 Knights Bridge “Linville” Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of dark cherry and mocha with a hint of chopped green herbs. In the mouth, black cherry, plum, and cola flavors are wrapped in a thick fleecy blanket of tannins. There’s a sweet plummy note in the finish along with some licorice root. Excellent acidity. This wine represents a distinct vineyard block (Block 15) planted with the Clone 169 of Cabernet. Aged in 90% new French oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.