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 get started with a question? Why don’t more wineries use Semillon in their Sauvignon Blanc blends? California is the homeland of the single-variety wine, of course, but like rhythm and blues, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon have been together for a long time, and there’s a good reason for it. This is ably demonstrated (despite the name) by the latest release from Blackbird Vineyards called “Dissonance.” I don’t perceive any dissonance here, though, only harmony as the Semillon adds a wonderful saline passionfruit quality to this peppy, juicy package.

Attentive wine lovers are finally discovering the joys of lighter-bodied red wines thanks to sommelier-led advocacy of regions such as the Jura and Savoie. But there are plenty of other lighter red wines out there in the world, and this week I’ve got a couple bottles to prove the point. Schiava (also known as Trollinger or Vernatsch, depending on which part of central Europe you happen to be standing in) is a wonderfully brisk, fruity grape that makes some easy-drinking wines that can be particularly compelling with a little chill on them. Both of the bottles I’m showcasing this week do this well. The Mediaevum bottling is a bit more fruity, while the Abbazia di Novacella leans a bit more savory, but they’re both excellent examples of the form.

I wrote about Adam Lee’s new Pinot Noir project here on Vinography a while back. This week I’ve got the newest Clarice Wine Company releases this week, all of which are quite nice. My favorite, just by a hair, is the Garys’ Vineyard bottling which has something of a surprising stony kick to it with a saline quality that made me want to just keep slurping.

As anyone who regularly reads these sample reviews each week, it’s fair to say that by and large, most of what I get sent are the newest releases from various producers. Occasionally, however, someone will send me a library vintage, and when that happens it’s always a treat. In this case, it was a seriously great thing. The 2006 vintage of the Kathryn Kennedy Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon is positively singing at this point in its evolution, and will likely continue to thrill for another 5 to 10 years. Ironically, it’s also currently available online for roughly half the price of the current release, so anyone looking for a particularly great addition to the cellar should move quickly. You can also get a bottle as part of a 3-pack that is available for sale at the winery. The 2017 and 2016 vintages aren’t slouches either, by the way, and I’ve got notes for both of those below.

Lastly I’ve got a couple more big reds from Napa, a hulking bruiser of a Merlot from Sullivan Vineyards and a supple, ripe expression of Cabernet from Roy Estate, made by superstar winemaking consultant Philpppe Melka.

Notes on all these below!

Tasting Notes

2020 Blackbird Vineyards “Dissonance” Sauvignon Blanc, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of apples and lemon pith with a hint of passionfruit. In the mouth, passionfruit and fuji apple flavors have a nice bright acidity to them and a faint salinity that is quite tasty. A blend of fruit from Napa and Sonoma, with 81% Sauvignon Blanc, and 19% Semillon. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.         

2019 Markus Prackwieser “Mediaevum” Vernatsch, Sudtirol-Alto Adige, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and sour cherries. In the mouth, bright sour cherry and strawberry fruit have a nice mineral clarity to them, with faint tannins and a chalky, juicy acidity. Hints of herbs and dried flowers linger in the finish. Vernatsch is the local name for the better-known Schiava. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.    

2020 Abbazia di Novacella Schiava, Alto Adige, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of earth and strawberries and dried herbs. In the mouth, juicy acidity makes the savory strawberry and herb flavors bouncy and bright, but they never achieve the sweetness of ripe fruit, staying on the herbal side, with a faint minerality. 12.5% alcohol Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.  

2019 Clarice Wine Co. Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit with a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, lovely raspberry and redcurrant flavors mix with chopped green herbs and faint powdery tannins. Bright citrusy acidity lingers along with dried flowers in the finish. Quite pretty with a nice savory edge. 14.4% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2019 Clarice Wine Co. “Garys’ Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, faint, gauzy tannins wrap around a core of cherry and raspberry fruit that is fantastically juicy thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a stony freshness and slight salinity to this wine too, which I don’t expect from the SLH. Lovely. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2019 Clarice Wine Co. “Rosella’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, silky flavors of cherry and cranberry have a fantastic, mouthwatering acidity with a delicious powdered herb note that lingers in the finish along with a hint of peeled willow bark. Faint, fine-grained tannins add a little texture. 14.4% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2006 Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Dark ruby in color with a hint of tawny coffee in the highlights, this wine smells of cedar, dried flowers, smoked meats. In the mouth, gorgeously plush tannins provide a bed for flavors of smoked meat, dried flowers, dried and fresh cherries, and mulling spices. The acidity is holding up well, and the umami character of this wine makes the mouth water. Outstanding. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2016 Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, plum, and a touch of black pepper. In the mouth, bright and juicy black cherry and plum flavors have a bright plum skin tang to them along with hints of dark chocolate as the wine finishes. Excellent acidity makes for a mouthwatering experience, with floral notes arising over time. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $300. click to buy.

2017 Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackcurrant, black cherry, and a hint of cocoa. In the mouth, bright, mouthwatering flavors of black cherry and blackcurrant mix with a hint of dried flowers. There’s a touch of alcoholic heat on the finish, but otherwise, this is a really lovely wine, with faint tannins adding a little texture to the very pretty package. 14.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $300. click to buy.

2018 Sullivan Vineyards “J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve” Merlot, Rutherford, Napa, California
Inky, opaque purple in color, this wine smells of black cherry and black plum. In the mouth, dark, ripe plum, blackcurrant, and black cherry flavors are wrapped in a fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity keeps this super-ripe fruit from being flabby, but this is a monster of a Merlot, suitable for steaks and anyone who wants brawn in their glass. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $250. click to buy.  

2018 Roy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cocoa powder, and blackcurrant. In the mouth, rich black cherry and black currant flavors are bright with decent acidity and backed by powdery, mouthcoating tannins. Dark and rich, with very well integrated oak that offers only a slight bitterness in the finish. 15% alcohol. 554 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $265. click to buy.