Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/20/23

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 week featured a number of spectacular wines that I’m very excited to share with you.

Saying the latest vintage of Champagne Louis Roederer’s “Cristal” is excellent seems a bit like saying the latest model of Ferrari is fast. I’ve certainly never had a bad vintage of Cristal. But I can say that the wines vary by vintage, and those variations can mean the wines are more or less accessible in their youth. I found the 2014 vintage quite lean and austere when it was first released, for instance, leading me to believe it was best drunk not now, but in a couple of years. (And, of course, these wines can age beautifully for decades).

The 2015 Cristal, on the other hand, is broad and generous, seemingly quite ready to drink now, and offers everything you could want in a prestige vintage Champagne bottling. Impeccable precision, gorgeous aromatics, and mouthwatering salinity. Now if I could only afford to buy some… But if your budget swings to the mid-three digits for wine, this is one you’ll want to enjoy.

Let’s come back to earth a bit with a couple of wines from Armenia, a country that may have been the place where mankind first figured out how to deliberately make wine at scale. With 6000 years of winemaking history under its belt, along with some very interesting native grapes, it’s going through a renaissance of winemaking these days. The Voskevaz bottling of the white grape Voskehat and the NOA Wine bottling of Areni demonstrate this new wave of quality wine perfectly. Both are unique and delicious.

A bit closer to home, I’ve got a pleasant Chardonnay from Trois Noix to recommend as well as a Grenache rosé from Mathis Wines. Each fresh and ready for your late summer table.

Santa Barbara winemaker Drake Whitcraft sent along a very special bottling of Pinot Noir from Jason Drew’s vineyard up on Mendocino Ridge in Mendocino County, and boy is it a knockout of a wine. Silky, complex, vibrant, and delicious. Only one barrel of this stuff got made, but if you’re looking for something special in Pinot Land, this is something to seek out.

One of the things I like about Whitcraft’s wines (and a few others that I consider to be the apogee of Pinot Noir in California) is their expression of beautiful fruit flavors at very modest alcohol levels. So many winemakers in California continue to state unequivocally that in order to get great flavor you must get optimal ripeness, which to the majority of people making Pinot Noir in California usually means making wines that clock in between 14% and 15% alcohol. When asked about picking earlier, these winemakers usually pull a face and talk about greenness and the lack of flavor development, etc., etc.

Well, as an alternative to that point of view, I present Michael Cruse’s 2021 Heintz Vineyard Pinot Noir, which, truth be told, was made originally to add some color to his Ultramarine rosé sparkling wine. But it tasted so good, he decided to bottle some of it on its own as a still Pinot Noir. It’s bursting with bright fruit flavor (yes, a bit on the nervy, sour-cherry side rather than black cherry, but hardly green and nasty). Alcohol level? A mere 10%. Try it, and see if you don’t agree that flavor is not directly correlated with sugar.

If you’re in the mood for a reasonably priced, well-aged Italian wine, I tasted the 2018 Badia a Corte Riserva from Chianti producer Torre a Cona this week and found it quite tasty as it evolves into its secondary aromas and flavors.

I generally try to review wines here that are already on the market (and typically ask producers to send me stuff that has been released or is just about to be released). I’ve got four wines to recommend to…

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/20/23 Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/20/23 *Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/20/23