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.
We must begin this month with an unusual set of wines that represent both history and modernity. Grown on a farm in the Baix Penedes region of Spain that has been continuously worked since 1645 and recently purchased by the Raventós family, the Can Sumoi wines are the latest project by Pepe Raventós in collaboration with his childhood friend Francesc Escala.
Pepe Raventós is the youngest generation of a family whose name is synonymous with Spain’s Cava tradition. He continues to help his father Manuel Raventós shepherd his family’s Raventós i Blanc wine estate, but has established this side project to explore both the unique terroir of an ancient farm as well as the realm of natural winemaking without the addition of sulfur (or anything else for that matter).
The wines are pretty impressive, and quite beautifully packaged in squat, apothecary-like bottles. Clean, bright, distinctive, and delicious, they almost entirely lack some of the “funky” hallmarks that many associate with natural wines, much to my enjoyment, I must say. What the Xarel-lo might have lacked in racy acidity, it makes up for in beautiful minerality, and the white blend they have named “Perfum” indeed has a floral perfume and very pretty fruit.
My favorites of their wines, however, are the rosé, which blends both red and white grapes, including the indigenous Sumoll grape, for a really juicy, ethereally delicate rosé that is a pleasure to drink, and the red blend of Sumoll and Garnatxa (Grenache to us non-Catalonians). The red in particular has this wonderful stony quality that, along with the juicy and herbal fruit, makes for a seriously delicious wine. This is a wine project I look forward to following in its evolution.
Now, let’s not skip over the perennially lovely Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, which has become something of a classic California expression of the grape in my mind. While it’s not cheap, it’s easily one of the most dependable of its kind from Napa.
I’ve got two rosés from Italian producer Masseria Li Veli to share with you this week, from Puglia, down in the boot heel of Italy. This is one of the best places to go looking for pink wines in Italy, in my opinion, and these two wines clearly prove my point. The “Primerose” is a rose of their local Negroamaro grape which is fresh with citrus and berry juiciness and delicious. But the “Askos” rosé, made with the somewhat underappreciated Susumaniello grape is a complete knockout, and pretty much represents everything that I look for in a rosé.
I’ve got three more wines from Marietta Cellars this week, all robust reds, including the dark and mysterious “Gibson Block” Syrah from a tiny sub-appellation of Mendocino that most have never heard of: McDowell Valley. The “Roman” Zinfandel named after the longstanding cellarmaster of Marietta is also a great rendition of Zinfandel.
Last, but certainly not least, I’ve got the latest Reserva wine from Quinta do Crasto, the storied Portuguese wine estate that has risen to become one of the best producers of old-vine reds from the Douro Valley. This wine represents a selection of fruit from the estate’s oldest vineyards, averaging about 70 years of age, and it shows why the field blends from the Douro are so compelling to drink, and such excellent values for the money.
All these and more below.
2020 Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of green apple, gooseberries, and lemon cucumber. In the mouth, wonderfully bright green apple and kiwi flavors have a nice faint saline kick to them that adds to the mouthwatering effects of this wine. Crisp and lean and bright and beautifully textured. A blend of 40% Napa County fruit and 60% Sonoma County Fruit. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $43. click to buy.
2020 Can Sumoi Xarel-lo, Penedès, Spain
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, lemon pith, and lemon oil. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon and apple have a deeply stony quality and an alluring creamy texture. I find myself wanting just slightly more acidity in this wine, but more sensation of acidity creeps into the very long finish. Unusual. Fermented in tank with native yeast and then stirred with its lees twice a week for 3 months before bottling. No oak is used, and the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered. 12% alcohol. 6,666 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2020 Can Sumoi “Pefum” White Blend, Penedès, Spain
Palest straw-colored in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green apple. In the mouth, bright flavors of white flowers, green apple, and unripe pear have a wonderful wet pavement minerality to them and a silky, creamy texture. Clean and bright with just the faintest hint of cream sherry aroma in the finish that hints at the nature of this wine. A blend of 50% Moscatel, 30% Macabeo, and 20% Parellada fermented with native yeasts and zero additions, including no sulfur. 11% alcohol on the label, but really 10.2% says the winemaker. 10,000 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.
2020 Can Sumoi “La Rosa” Rosé, Penedès, Spain
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, citrus peel, and a hint of berries. In the mouth, rosehips and hibiscus flavors are faint, but bright long with a citrus pith snap. Decent acidity and a real effortlessness mark this wine. A blend of 50% Sumoll (an indigenous red grape in the region) 30% Parellada, and 20% Xarel-lo co-fermented with native yeasts after 4 hours of skin maceration. 11% alcohol (but really 10.7%). 5000 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2020 Masseria Li Veli “Askos” Susumaniello Rosé, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Pale coppery pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon and watermelon rind. In the mouth, silky flavors of watermelon and rind mix with hibiscus and rosehip. A nice citrusy snap lingers with the finish. A pitch-perfect rosé in my book. Long considered a grape useful only for blending, the indigenous Susumaniello grape of Puglia now has many proponents as a standalone variety, including yours truly. Taste this wine and you’ll soon be a Susumaniello fan, too. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2020 Masseria Li Veli “Primerose” Negroamaro Rosé, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Pale salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit and berries. In the mouth, silky-textured flavors of citrus peel, blood orange, grapefruit, and dried herbs have a nice lift to them thanks to very good acidity. Nice long finish. Quite complex and tasty, with citrus pith lingering in the mouth. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9 . Cost: $12. click to buy.
2018 Can Sumoi Red Blend, Penedès, Spain
Medium ruby in the glass with garnet highlights, this wine smells of strawberries and crushed herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully bright strawberry and dried herb flavors mix with a deep stony minerality. Excellent acidity keeps the wine fresh, as hints of dried flowers linger in the finish. Gorgeous. A 50/50 blend of the quite-uncommon indigenous Sumoll variety, found only in Penedès, and Grenache, which gets a spelling upgrade in the local language to Garnatxa, which just looks a lot cooler. The certified Organic grapes are destemmed and fermented with native yeasts and no additions, including no sulfur added before bottling. The wine spends 12 months in tank and sees no wood. 13% alcohol. 2500 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2018 Marietta Cellars “Game Trail” Cabernet Sauvignon, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry, cassis, and notes of tobacco and espresso are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Excellent acidity keeps the wine bright and juicy, as the tannins add muscle through a herb-and-flowers finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2018 Marietta Cellars “Gibson Block” Syrah, McDowell Valley, Mendocino, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of ink and blackberries. In the mouth, intense blackberry, black peppercorn, and iodine flavors have a deep rusty earthiness to them. Faint, powdery tannins flex their muscles in the finish. Decent acidity. Definitely a dark and mysterious wine. The McDowell Valley is a tiny, lesser-known AVA in Mendocino County near Hopland, covering a mere 540 acres. 15.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2019 Marietta Cellars “Román” Zinfandel, North Coast, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and black cherries. In the mouth, ripe flavors of blackberries and black cherries have a faint muscular tannic structure and faint notes of citrus peel and black tea. Nice acidity keeps things fresh as notes of Earl Grey linger in the finish. Contains 4% Barbera and 2% Petit Sirah. Named after the cellarmaster Román Cisneros. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2016 Quinta do Crasto “Reserva Vinhas Velhas” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, bergamot, black tea, and blackberry. In the mouth, juicy blackberry, bergamot, and black cherry fruit have a wonderful juiciness thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a lovely deep stony minerality beneath the fruit, and the florals of bergamot and other dried flowers linger in the finish for a long time, along with just a hint of oak, which is quite well integrated into this wine. Barely perceptible tannins add a little texture in the end. A field blend of a whole bunch of different grape varieties, all with an average vine age of 70 years. Ages for 18 months in a mix of French and American oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.