It is time for another edition of “Random Samples”–I occasionally get samples from marketing agencies and/or producers, and these can often be grouped together into some sort of over-arching theme: Drink Them and It Will Come, Summer is Here, So That Means (More) Rosé, If It Doesn’t Sparkle, It Doesn’t Matter.
Other times, I get just a bottle or two that do not have any apparent connection or link. Instead of holding on to those bottles until the “right” combination comes along, I decided to link all these “random” bottles together, making their own category (and, being the math geek that I am, “random sample” has a bit of a double entendre.
2016 Donnafugata Etna Fragore Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy: Retail $85. 100% Nerello Mascalese. A traditional Sicilian variety planted on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. What could make that any better? Well, at least for me, I was fortunate enough to visit said vineyards. Whoa. Mount Edna should be on the bucket list of any wine geek. Really dark in the glass with dark fruit and dark spices on the nose. Did I mention “dark”? The palate, however, is much lighter on its feet. Yes, there is the dark fruit, but there is also a vibrant acidity, a slight spicy element, and hints of tannin. Lovely. An intriguing wine, certainly, that should improve in the short term. Excellent to Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2019 Fleurs de Prairie Côtes de Provence Rosé, France: Retail $18. 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Beautiful bottle, I have to say, which normally means nothing to me, but this one is very nice, almost too nice to recycle. Light pink with an orange hue in the glass, aromas of strawberry, melon, red rose. The palate is classic Provence: reserved fruitiness, quite tart, lingering finish. Lovely. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2017 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $38. The Frank Family has been making wine in Calistogasince the 1990s and this Napa Valley Zinfandel is a good representation of the “house style.” Fairly big and plenty bold, this nearly translucent wine exudes plenty of dark berry fruit (blackberry and blueberry) with some Christmas spice and a touch of heat (14.8% abv). The palate is fruity. Really fruity (blackberry, plum). There is plenty of tartness that tries to keep that fruit in check, and a touch of tannin on the finish. Big and fruity (have I mentioned the fruit?), but nice. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2016 McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard, Lodi, CA: Retail $35. 100% Syrah. I have been fortunate enough to taste through many of Mike McCay’s current releases while holed up here in Houston these past few months and sadly, this is the last. But, coincidentally, it might just be the best. Intense red fruit, Christmas spice, anise–there is a host of aromas oozing out of the glass. The palate, however, is even better than the nose suggests: rich, unctuous fruit which is balanced by a zingy tartness and plenty of spice. Yowza. And Whoa. There are many reasons that Lodi should be on every wine lover’s radar. McCay Cellars is near the top. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2018 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. I have never asked him (but I guess I should), but I think James MacPhail likely considers Pinot Noir to be his “wheelhouse.” And for good reason: his reds wines are succulent and rich but also nuanced and balanced. But. I think his Chardonnays are even better. It took me a while to be introduced to James and Kerry MacPhail (which is odd given my affinity for Pinot), but since that first tasting a few years ago, I have become an unabashed fan. Sure, they are witty, engaging, passionate, and fun people to be around, but the wines, oh, the wines. This Pratt Vineyard bottling I would place right up there with the top Chardonnays not just in California, but Oregon, even France (yeah, I went there). Light in color, but rich in aromas of lemon curd, Bosc pear, and vanilla, on the palate this wine is reminiscent of a Grand or Premier Cru Montrachet. This is a study in tension. Sure, it is rich, luscious, and decadent, but it is also subtle, nuanced, and balanced. While this wine is certainly gorgeous now, I feel that I opened it far too soon and it could easily go another 5-8 years, no problem. As white Burgundy prices continue to climb up onto the rafters and on through the roof, this wine, at just north of $40 is not only a more economical decision, it is likely a better wine. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
2019 Vila Nova Alvarinho, Minho, Portugal: Retail $18. Just a hint of golden (or is it yellow?) color in the glass with plenty of citrus (lime) and tree fruit (golden apple). The palate is quite tart and saliva-inducing with said citrus and apple, but also plenty of minerality and depth. Alvarinho (or Albariño across the border in Spain) is a fragrant, juicy variety and this is a great example of the variety. While this might not induce you to leave your spouse (nor is that advised), it will brighten up a viewing of the nightly news (as much as that is possible). Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.