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.

Let’s start this week with a really excellent Chardonnay from husband-and-wife Erica Landon and Ken Pahlow, who started Walter Scott in 2008 after emptying their retirement accounts to do so. It’s the kind of tiny family operation that Oregon’s Willamette Valley hosts more than a few of. They make small quantities of excellent wines, with great attention to detail.

Speaking of tiny outfits run by husbands and wives from Oregon, I’ve got a few of the current releases from Big Table Farm, including a couple of very delicious Pinot Noirs, and a deep dark Syrah for those who like their Syrah on the inky end of the spectrum.

Continuing the family-run-theme, and dodging back to white wines for a moment, we’re on to the Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc, a lovely white Rhone blend that’s a pleasure to drink. It features Vermentino, an Italian grape that continues to make inroads in Southern France under the synonym Rolle.

And last, but certainly not least, let’s spend a little time with husband and wife Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey, who haven’t quite managed to quit their day jobs, but scraped together enough money to buy a vineyard way up in the Yorkville Highlands AVA of Mendocino County. Planted with Syrah (and a lot of love) on decomposed schist, Halcón Vineyards has become (IMHO) one of the best sources for organically-farmed Syrah in California, which until recently I had only tasted in bottles with other people’s names on them. But Bracey has also been making wines under their own label, which I am happy to say are pretty exceptional. I’ve got a few of them to share this week, including their knockout Syrah called “Alturas” which references the 2500 feet of elevation that distinguishes their site.

Before we leave the world of Rhône grapes, I’d like to recommend the latest vintage of the venerable Tablas Creek‘s “Cotes de Tablas” red blend, which is an excellent and reliable homage to a grenache-dominated Côtes du Rhône.

Last but certainly not least, I’ve got two more Steve-Matthiasson-shepherded Cabernet Francs from Ashes and Diamonds, my favorite of which is the 2015, which soars with expressive aromatics that are beginning to emerge as it ages. The 2016 is no slouch either, offering juicy, tart plum skin and green herbs.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2019 Walter Scott “Freedom Hill Vineyard” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, melted butter, and white flowers. In the mouth, intensely bright and juicy flavors of lemon pith, lemon curd, pink grapefruit, and white flowers are positively bursting with acidity. Notes of dried herbs, kumquat, and white flowers, tinged with a hint of butterscotch linger in the finish. Crackling, crystalline, and utterly delicious. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.  

2016 Two Shepherds “Pastoral Blanc – Saralee’s Vineyard” White Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of apricots and lemon bars. In the mouth, notes of apricot swirl with herbal flavors of chamomile and warm hay. Hints of pear and kumquat linger in the finish. Excellent acidity, with just a faint sour bitterness. A blend of 45% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 25% Marsanne, and 5% Vermentino (or should we say, Rolle?). 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2019 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of forest floor, potting soil, and crushed berries. In the mouth, earthy flavors of cherry and raspberry are shot through with green herbs and notes of dried flowers. Lithe, elegant, and quite delicious. Excellent acidity and faint, velvety tannins. 12.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2019 Big Table Farm “Pelos Sandberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Eola Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of forest floor, dried flowers, and dried herbs. In the mouth, silky-textured flavors of cedar, mulling spices raspberries, and cherries have faint velvety tannins and gorgeous acidity. Quite aromatic, this wine lingers with the scent of redwood duff for a long finish. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2016 Ashes and Diamonds “Number 3” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and green herbs. In the mouth, smooth, suede-like tannins wrap around a core of plum and tart plum skin flavors tinged with green herbs. Lovely acidity and balance, with just a hint of nut-skin bitterness in the finish. The fruit for this wine comes from a select few vineyards in the southern part of Napa Valley. Aged for 20 months in 18% new French oak. Made by Steve Matthiasson. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.  

2015 Ashes and Diamonds “Number 2” Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of beautifully perfumed candied plum and roasted nuts. In the mouth, gorgeous plum and dried herbs mix with dried flowers and citrus peel. Fantastic acidity and wonderful length with a faint salinity in the finish to make it extra gulpable. Opening up beautifully. The fruit for this wine comes from a select few vineyards in the southern part of Napa Valley. Aged for 20 months in 25% new French oak. Made by Steve Matthiasson. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.  

2019 Tablas Creek “Cotes de Tablas” Red Blend, Adelaida District, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, plum, and blueberry fruit. In the mouth, juicy bright flavors of blueberry and blackberry have a zingy bite, thanks to excellent acidity. Hints of dried sage and dusty road linger in the finish with gauzy tannins that add some texture and complexity. Quite tasty. A blend of 44% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 17% Counoise, and 9% Mourvedre. 14% alcohol. 1000 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.  

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Alturas” Syrah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of grilled meat, black cherries, and white pepper. In the mouth, white pepper, blueberries, black cherry, and dried herbs have a fantastically saline quality to them and excellent acidity that keeps the mouth-watering. Faint, powdery tannins hang in a gauzy haze in the back of the mouth, while herbs and dried flowers linger in the finish with a touch of white pepper. Killer stuff. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Elevación” Syrah, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Medium to dark cloudy garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bloody steak, incense, and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, intensely herbal flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and sawdust emerge from a cloudy haze of tannins that seem to fill every nook and cranny of the mouth. Distinctly herbal and slightly bitter notes of licorice root and tarragon linger in the finish. The wine leaves me thinking “maybe just a few fewer stems, please.” A selection from the vineyard of a single “heritage” clone, whole cluster fermented in a neutral puncheon. 13.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Halcón Vineyards “Esquisto” Red Blend, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Medium ruby in color this wine smells of strawberries, herbs, and cedar. In the mouth, juicy strawberry, dried sage, and dried flowers have a citrus-peel brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Powdery, voluminous tannins coat the mouth but remain more of a texture than a force on the palate. Expansive and complex. Quite beautiful. A blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Big Table Farm “Funk Estate Vineyard” Syrah, The Rocks District of Milton Freewater, Oregon
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of iodine and black cherry, cassis, and wet iron. In the mouth, meaty flavors of black cherry and blackcurrant mix with sage and oregano amidst velvety tannins. There’s not as much acidity here as I would like, so the wine ends up being a bit plushy for me. A bit of a change from the lean brightness of Big Table’s Pinots and Chardonnays. The flavors, though, are tasty, with kalamata olive lingering in the finish. 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.