Hello and welcome to my weekly dig into the pile of wine samples begging to be tasted. I’m happy to bring you the latest episode of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the best bottles that have come through my door recently.
Last week an interesting set of wines from Spain and Italy were brought to my kitchen table, along with an absolutely outstanding Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Let’s start with three wines that I have been particularly looking forward to receiving recently. The Parés Baltà estate, in the Spanish region of Penedes (Cava), produces extremely moving wines from biodynamic and organic farming. The wines are made by two young sisters-in-law, while the estate is run by their husbands and other members of the Cusiné family, who trace their winemaking heritage to the region since 1790. I love the deeply mineral expressions of the Xarel-lo and their “Cosmic” blend of Xarel-lo and Sauvignon Blanc, and “Indigena” Grenache basically explode out of the glass with incredible aromas. If you haven’t had any wines from these folks, I recommend you seek them out. They are not that expensive, but can be hard to find.
I’ve written before about the wines of Abel Mendoza, who makes very clean natural wines (no sulfur added) deliberately outside the Rioja classification. Mendoza ages its wines in French oak barrels and for shorter periods of time than necessary for them to be labeled as Rioja Blanca, and it chooses to make single-varietal wines labeled as such. I tasted three more of his whites this week and found each to be delicious and compelling.
The folks at Château Moulin-à-Vent have been making a big push to sell in the US lately. Originally named Château des Thorins, with a history of making fine Gamays dating back to 1732, the estate was renamed Château Moulin-à-Vent (after the nearby windmill) in 1924. The Moulin-à-Vent region du Beaujolais obtained AOC status in 1936 with the same namesake. This week I tasted a pair of wines that the estate sent for side-by-side tasting, the 2019 vintage and the 2009 vintage from their main Gamay bottling. They were clearly the same wine from the same place, but at very different times in their lives. The older wine had a slightly stinky nose, but resolved beautifully on the palate, remaining quite appealing in its old age. The younger wine was pretty and refined, and likely to appeal to more people.
The Bolgheri region of Tuscany rose to fame in the 1990s (and the rest) thanks to Sassicaia and a number of other high-level Bordeaux-style blends that are made in the gravelly soils sloping down to the Ligurian Sea to the south. from the city of Livorno. After Sassicaia was “discovered”, the prices of vineyards and the wines they produce skyrocketed in a region that had previously been charming and rustic. But there was a good reason for that. The warm weather and stony, well-drained soils provide the opportunity to make wines of great power and finesse, as many have proven. The Tenuta Argentiera was created in 1999 and replanted in 2000, incorporating the Tenuta di Donoratico estate which existed before and had existed for a long time. The estate sent me three wines to try recently – their two flagship reds and a less expensive red, all of which are worth seeking out.
While the quality of the wines was quite high this week, with a significant deliciousness quotient, the highlight of the week by far was Spottswoode’s latest Cabernet Sauvignon release. One of my favorite estates in Napa Valley, Spottswoode makes $230 Cabernets that easily rival the valley’s $800 Cabernets. Even though they are significantly cheaper than their peers, I still can’t afford to buy the wines myself, but that doesn’t stop me from loving them. The 2018 that hit the market recently is perhaps one of the finest bottles this estate has ever produced. Balanced, energetic, balanced and powerful (without being sweet, overly rich or overripe) is what happens when Napa Cabernet becomes chic. If you are part of that small segment of wine drinkers or collectors who buy wines in this price range, I recommend that you delve into this vintage of Spottswoode. It will improve for a few decades and last a little longer than that. Youza.
2020 Parés Baltà “Calcari” Xarel-lo, Penedes, Spain
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon peel, yellow plums and damp blackboard. On the palate, electrically bright candied lemon flavors are welded to an incredibly stony and deep minerality that is breathtaking. Slight saline notes linger on the finish. Fantastic acidity, and just a wonderful, electrically brilliant quality to the wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screw cap. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2020 Parés Baltà “Cosmic” White Blend, Penedes, Spain
Pale golden yellow in color, this wine smells of crushed stone, lemon peel and green apple. On the palate, green apple, lemon and wet pavement have a fantastic stony core. Excellent acidity and a nice light tannic texture complete the wine. Hugely refreshing and crunchy. A blend of 85% Xarel-lo and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.1% alcohol. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.
2020 Abel Mendoza Malvasia, Rioja, Spain
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of lemongrass, citrus pith and damp blackboard. On the palate, beautifully saline flavors of lemon pith, grapefruit and wet blackboard have fantastic acidity and a deeply wet blackboard minerality that lingers with chalk in the mouth as the wine ends clean, crisp and with just a hint of oak vanilla. . 14% alcohol. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $50.
2020 Abel Mendoza Grenache Blanc, Rioja, Spain
Clear greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear, apricot and starfruit with a hint of bruised apple. On the palate, slightly saline flavors of peach, pear and yellow plum have a lovely silky texture and excellent crisp acidity. Complex and rich, but not overpowering, it’s delicious on the palate. 13.5% alcohol. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $50.
2020 Abel Mendoza Viura, Rioja, Spain
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and a hint of new oak. On the palate, silky flavors of yellow plum, lemon curd and oak vanilla have a nice rich weight as well as a bright saltiness. Excellent acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Note: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50.
2019 Grenache “Indigena” Parés Baltà, Penedes, Spain
Light to medium ruby in the glass with just a hint of purple, this wine smells of aromatic herbs and berries. On the palate, the bright flavors of strawberry jam and huckleberry are cut through by very disarming floral and herbaceous flavors, and a wonderful scent of thyme lingers on the finish, with a piney tang. Fantastic acidity and barely perceptible tannins. A wine that is sure to turn heads. Extremely delicious. I recommend serving slightly chilled. 14.3% alcohol. Note: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2019 Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent Moulin-a-Vent, Beajolais, Burgundy, France
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of saddle leather, dried herbs and berries. On the palate, the bright blackberry and herbal flavors have a slightly fleshy quality with hints of flowers. Excellent acidity and slightly muscular tannins. 13% alcohol. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.
2009 Moulin-à-Vent Castle Moulin-à-Vent, Beajolais, Burgundy, France
A cloudy dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of horse sweat and saddle leather and dried herbs. On the palate, lovely flavors of dried berries, undergrowth and dried herbs mingle with a very nice umami quality somewhere between dashi and bone broth. Not as funky on the palate as one would expect given its initial aromas. Nice acidity, very light tannins. 13.5% alcohol. Note: approx. 9.
2019 Tenuta Argentiera “Villa Donoratico” Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, black cherry dances on the verge of being overripe, with hints of raisins in the mix, as well as cola, cocoa powder and vanilla. Unctuous, with fine, relatively restrained tannins and excellent acidity. A blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot aged in a mixture of large and small barrels. 14.5% alcohol. Note: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2018 Tenuta Argentiera “Argentiera” Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark cherries and cocoa powder. On the palate, black cherry, cocoa powder, cola, and dried herbs have a lively, crisp acidity that brings more sour flavors of plum skin into the mix. Light, flaky tannins stiffen on the palate, giving the wine an athletic, muscular quality. Notes of licorice root and bitter chocolate linger on the finish. A blend of 40% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc that ages in 50% new French oak barrels for 14.5% alcohol. Note: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2019 Tenuta Argentiera “Poggio ai Ginepri” Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chopped green herbs, cherries and blackberries. On the palate, lively blackberry and dark cherry flavors have a lovely herbaceous, juicy luminosity with excellent acidity. Notes of dried and fresh herbs, as well as licorice and black cherry linger on the finish with just a hint of salinity. Light tannins, mastic. Delicious. Blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Half of the wine is aged in oak barrels, the other half in steel. 14.5% alcohol. Note: approx. 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, CA
Inky, opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherries, earth and flowers. On the palate, gorgeous black cherries, plums, violets and dried herbs have an incredibly lively freshness thanks to exceptional acidity. Gorgeous earthy, carob and licorice root notes linger with cola nuts on the finish. Supple, muscular tannins, but of impeccable finesse, flow through the wine like a sheet of satin stretched over a curved material. Striking and fabulous. 13.8% alcohol. Note: between 9.5 and ten. Cost: $235. click to buy.