Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/26/23

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.

This past week included a couple of special sparkling wines, beginning with the Sunflower Sutra made by Josh Hammerling of Hammerling Wines. Formerly known as Blue Ox, Hammerling is an urban winery in Berkeley that has been making traditional-method sparkling wines since 2018. They have kept back some of their wines to develop longer in the bottle, as demonstrated by the Sunflower Sutra I tried this week, which has many of the qualities I look for in a sparkling wine, including that nice salinity that develops with long lees aging.

Speaking of a long time on the lees, Iron Horse Vineyards has perfected the art, and has stocks of wine slumbering in the bottle that allow them to do really cool projects such as their latest release, Stargazing Cuvee, which celebrates the successful deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope with a magnum-only late-disgorged wine that delivers wonderful richness and refinement on the palate.

I was also sent a number of new releases from one of my favorite California producers, Kutch Wines, and this week I’ve got three of Jamie’s Chardonnays to recommend, all of which are excellent. The Bohan Salt Point Block Chardonay is a particularly special wine, coming from a block of the vineyard grafted to Chardonnay specifically for Kutch. It’s a knockout. I also review his Sonoma Coast appellation Pinot Noir below as well.

Just when I think I’ve tasted everything that Two Shepherds Winery makes, a new bottle appears on my doorstep. This time it was their Soleil Albariño, which doesn’t taste like any Albariño I’ve ever had, but that wouldn’t stop me from finishing the bottle. I also tasted their Wiley Carbonic Carignan, which delivers the usual crunchy fun in a bottle.

Lastly, I was particularly pleased to get the chance to taste wines from a winemaker whose work I have not checked in on in several years, the immensely talented Helen Keplinger. I got the chance to try an absolute knockout of a Syrah that she made in the 2020 fire season with some fruit from her friend Chad Melville in Santa Barbara County. It’s easily one of the better renditions of that grape to be found in California. I also got a chance to taste two of Helen’s Cabernet’s as well, both of which are excellent, though I favor the bottle RBK named in tribute to her father. If you are in the market for three-digit Cabernet from Napa, you’ll want to find your way to some of these bottles.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Hammerling Wines “Sunflower Sutra” Champagne Blend, California
Light yellow-gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of apples, kelp, and sea air. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse delivers flavors of apples, toasted sourdough, citrus pith, and a hint of berries. Nice citrus peel and golden apple skin notes linger in the finish, along with a faint salinity. A blend of 41% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, and 26% Pinot Meunier aged on the lees for 38 months. 12.1% alcohol. 25 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2014 Iron Horse Vineyards “Stargazing Cuvee Brut” Champagne Blend, Green Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of apple and toasted sourdough. In the mouth, apple, seawater, and citrus peel flavors are quite delicious. Hints of kumquat and almond skin emerge on the finish. Nice soft mousse. Excellent acidity. A blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, bottled in magnum only. Spends 7 years aging on the lees in bottle. 2 g/l dosage. 12.5% alcohol. Disgorged and labeled to commemorate the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Score: around 9. Cost: $195. click to buy.

2021 Kutch Wines…

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 3/26/23  
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