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 a number of interesting wines. For starters I’ve got a slightly aged white Rhone blend from Alder Springs Vineyard up in the mountains above Mendocino. It was probably delicious to start, but with 5 years of age on it now it’s fantastically delicious, as its primary fruit flavors are starting to become mixed with herbal notes.

I’ve also got a very nice Chardonnay from the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand, whose gravelly soils and maritime influence make for some excellent cool-climate viticulture. This Chardonnay is named Heartwood as it represents a very small batch of wine made in special barrels, whose staves are made of the heartwood of the oak. Ordinarily you’d expect such a wine to be slaked with oak flavors, but this one is nicely restrained in the flavors imparted by the wood.

Moving on to reds, I’ve got a few Oregon Pinot Noirs, the first of which is a real lip-smacker of a wine from J. Christopher, a brand that is a collaboration between Erni Loosen and guitarist-turned-winemaker Jay Somers. This wine is a special cuvee of the best barrels from several of the vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley.

I was introduced to the Holocene project this week by two incarnations of Pinot Noir, as interpreted by winemaker Todd Alexander, who made a name for himself in Napa before moving to Washington State. He currently makes wines for his Force Majeure label in Washington, but Holocene represents his Oregon Pinot Noir efforts, and these two inagural bottles suggest good things to come. As a winemaker, Alexander is best known for big, rich, ripe wines, so it’s particularly exciting to see these wines using 20% new oak and clocking in at the low end of 13% alcohol.

Finally, closer to home we’ve got another inaugural vintage from the new winery La Pelle (French for “The Shovel”). It’s a collaboration between Philippe Melka’s business partner and director of winemaking Maayan Koschitzky, and the duo of Peter Richmond and Miguel Luna, who help run the vineyard management outfit named Silverado Farming Company. The wines show a lot of promise while hewing to a fairly traditional expression of Napa Cabernet, though with admirably restrained oak and ripeness.

Lastly, let’s look at the latest release from Far Niente in Napa, whose 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon is very true to its classic form, meaning it will satisfy those looking for a ripe expression of Napa fruit, although it must be said this vintage offers a measure of freshness that is not always present in Napa Cabernet.

Tasting Notes

2015 Alder Springs Vineyard “Apex 39” White Blend, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of chamomile and poached pears. In the mouth, wonderfully creamy pear and faint lemongrass flavors mix with lemon curd and a hint of chamomile. Silky and rich but with excellent acidity, this wine lingers for a while with a lovely spicy citrus kick in the finish. A blend of 27% Marsanne, 25% Picpoul Blanc, 24% Roussanne, and 24% Viognier all grown at 2700 feet of elevation. 13.4% alcohol. 240 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $39.

2017 Tony Bish “Heartwood” Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and melted butter. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon curd and vanilla mix with melted butter and a touch of toasted popcorn. Decent acidity and length. Missing a bit of zip. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “Lumiére – Special Selection” Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green herbs and forest floor. In the mouth beautifully bright raspberry pastille flavors are aromatically sweet and incredibly floral while notes of cedar and earth swirl underneath. Gorgeous acidity and faint powdery tannins round out an exceptional wine. 13.5% alcohol Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Holocene “Memorialis” Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of recurrants and raspberries with a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, raspberry and redcurrant flavors have a zingy citrusy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Notes of sour cherry linger in the finish. Barely perceptible tannins. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $53. click to buy.

2018 Holocene “Apocrypha” Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, cedar and cherry and cranberry mix with orange peel as excellent acidity makes for a juicy mouthwatering package. Faint powdery tannins hang at the edges of perception as the wine finishes with cranberry notes. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.

2018 La Pelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Inky opaque garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, cassis and black cherry fruit have excellent juiciness thanks to zingy acidity. Notes of black pepper and blackberry linger with a faint bitterness in the finish as powdery tannins gradually increase their grip on the palate. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2017 La Pelle “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with hints of dried herbs. In the mouth, dried herbs suffuse flavors of black cherry and cassis that are enlivened with decent acidity. Muscular tannins mostly hang back and let the fruit do the talking, only flexing a bit in the finish as hints of bitter greens linger on the palate. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $175. click to buy.

2018 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis flavors mix with cocoa powder and toasty oak. Good acidity keeps the wine juicy and drives notes of herbs and cassis in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $115. click to buy.