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 some fun wines from Oregon. Let’s start with the two from Abacela. Their Albariño, which has some lovely citrus character if not the steely quality that the grape achieves in its homeland, nonetheless makes for juicy sipping. Their rosé of Grenache also delivers lovely fruit and some nice stoniness as well.
Not far away in the Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyards has been quietly making distinctive wines that have continued to climb in quality in recent years. The two pale bottles they sent along this week were both quite delicious, and if you’ll forgive the comparison, offered more verve than their two Oregon neighbors above. The unusual blend of skin-fermented Riesling, Vermentino and Viognier was a gorgeous mouthful of autumn-like fruit and savoriness, while the rosé of Spanish and Portuguese varieties was mouthwatering and distinctive. I highly recommend both.
And now for something completely different.
You’ve heard of wineries dedicated to single grapes — not uncommon in the Old World, but somewhat less common here in California. If you do come across such projects, they’re often focused on the most well-known and so called “noble” grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir or Cabernet.
It came as a surprise, therefore, to learn a bit about the winery Mountain Tides, which (for now) has dedicated itself to the grape Petite Sirah. While the grape counts a small but loyal following (See PS I Love You) it is quite unusual to see a new winery project begun with this under-appreciated grape as its focus. Started by the husband-and-wife team Allison Watkins and Scott Kirkpatrick, Mountain Tides has been conceived to show what this grape can do if farmed organically and made into wine with minimal intervention.
And the wines are compelling. They’re not knocking my socks off yet, but they definitely have my attention, as nuanced and personality-driven expressions of a grape that too often is made into thick, blocky wines by people who get it over-ripe and give it too much oak. I’ve got three incarnations of their wines to share with you this week, most notably their “Partially Carbonic” Petite Sirah, which will show an entirely different side of this grape to anyone who thinks they know what it tastes like.
I’ll share some more tasting notes for Mountain Tides next week.
On to richer things, both in terms of taste and price tag.
I’ve got three Cabernets to share with you this week. The first is from Hawk and Horse, a well known brand in the Lake County AVA. Their Block Three Cabernet was rich and dark and likely to satisfy anyone looking for traditional California Cabernet.
Likewise the Ad Vivum single vineyard Cabernet from 2017 was very much true to Napa form, and an improvement over its 2016 vintage sibling which I didn’t rate nearly as high.
Finally, Brandlin (owned by Cuvaison) offered their new Proprietary Red Wine known as “ThS” a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Petit Verdot named after the winery’s owner Thomas Schmidheiny. The wine is refined and plush, and definitely occupies its target zone of luxury Napa cuvée. I included it here this week on the merits of its quality in the glass. However, speaking of glass, it gets horrible marks for being bottled in ridiculously heavy glass that is just awful for the environment. These things are monstrosities that need to end.
Notes on all these below.
2019 Abacela Albariño, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of freshly cut apples and a touch of grapefruit pith. In the mouth, green apple and grapefruit flavors are bouncy with nice acidity and silky with a nice smooth texture. Notes of grapefruit linger in the finish. Not quite as lean and angular as I expect from Albariño, but tasty nonetheless. 13.2% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.
2019 Troon Vineyard “Kubli Bench Orange” White Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Light amber in color, this wine smells of candied kumquat and wet leaves. In the mouth flavors of yellow plum, orange peel, vanilla and herbs have a wonderfully nice balance of fruity zing and earthier savory notes. Delightfully autumnal in quality thanks to the skin contact fermentation. A blend of 74% Riesling, 16% Vermentino and 10% Viognier. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Abacela Rosé of Grenache, Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Light baby-pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and orange peel. In the mouth, bright berry flavors have a crisp cleanness to them with hints of wet pavement lingering in the finish. Decent acidity, but could be more zippy. Closed with a screwcap. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.
2019 Troon Vineyard “Kubli Bench Rosé” Red Blend, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Pale salmon pink in color, this wine smells of orange peel and bright berries. In the mouth, crisp flavors of redcurrant, orange peel, and green strawberries are crisp and bright thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of citrus and unusual herbs linger in the finish. Excellent. A blend of 60% Tinta Roriz, 35% Primitivo, and 5% Grenache. 11.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2019 Mountain Tides “Partial Carbonic” Petite Sirah, Contra Costa County, California
Light to medium purple in color, this wine smells of black cherry and boysenberry. In the mouth, powdery tannins wrap around a core of juicy black cherry and kirsch flavors that also have an earthy bent to them, like a streak of river mud running across the palate. Interesting and, thanks to the low 11.5% alcohol, very quaffable. 125 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.
2018 Mountain Tides Petite Sirah, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and blackberries. In the mouth, blackberry and blueberry flavors are dark and rich but with enough acidity that the wine doesn’t ever stray towards thick or syrupy. Fine, velvety tannins gain in strength as the wine finishes with hints of blackberry and licorice. 13.4% alcohol. 400 cases made. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2018 Mountain Tides Petite Sirah, Contra Costa County, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberry and licorice. In the mouth, juicy boysenberry flavors mix with mulberry and black cherry as excellent acidity keeps the wine bright. Leathery tannins show remarkable restraint. Picked early enough to clock in at a mere 12.5% alcohol, this is a refined and more delicate interpretation of Petite Sirah. 75 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2016 Hawk and Horse Vineyards “Block Three” Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Hills, Lake County, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, rich black cherry flavors have a decent lift thanks to good acidity, and hints of cola and tobacco as the wine finishes under a gauzy blanket of tannins. Dark and rich, but thankfully not marred with excessive oak treatment. 14.1% alcohol and a much heavier bottle than needed. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.
2017 Ad Vivum “Sleeping Lady Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and tobacco. In the mouth, black cherry and tobacco notes mix with cola and licorice and are mouthwatering with excellent acidity. Compared to the 2016, the oak here is much better integrated (to the point of being just barely perceptible) and the acidity much better. Quite tasty. 14.3% alcohol. Comes in a shamefully heavy bottle. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $175. click to buy.
2015 Brandlin “ThS” Proprietary Red, Mount Veeder, Napa, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco, and black plum. In the mouth, black cherry, plum and espresso notes swirl under a fleecy blanket of tannins. Notes of mocha and blackberry linger in the finish. There’s enough acidity to keep the wine fresh on the palate, but the flavors are pretty dark and rich and lean towards the sweeter side of the spectrum. Overall a pretty textbook big Napa red, which means not super exciting. A blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alcohol and an offensively heavy bottle replete with a pretentious metal cap that pins into the cork in lieu of foil (and weighs 3x what a piece of foil would). I don’t subtract points for carbon footprint but if I did this wine would get a failing grade. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $135.