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.
2018 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Porer, Alto Adige – Südtirol, Italy: Retail $28. 100% Pinot Grigio. Demeter Certified Biodynamic. If you are looking for a “traditional Italian Pinot Grigio” move along as there is nothing for you here. In fact, this is about as far from the rather mundane, bland, even tasteless “traditional” Pinot Grigio as you can get (in case you missed it, I am not a fan of most Pinot Grigio). The reason? Alois Lageder experimented with what Pinot Grigio is, could be, and even should be. One-third of the wine is vinified traditionally, in stainless steel. The second third was kept on the skins for 15 hours, and the final third was left in contact with the skins and stems for nearly a year. Whoa. The result is unlike any PG you have likely tasted. Golden color with a slight pink hue (Pinot Grigio grapes are actually a beautiful pinkish-red at harvest). Lovely aromas of canteloupe and peach with a noticeable salinity lead to a rich and full-bodied wine (although only 12.5% ABV) with good fruit, plenty of acidity, and a striking savory aspect. Fantastic. Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 Cattleya Chardonnay Alma de Cattleya, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $25. This is the second vintage of Bibiana González Rave’s Chardonnay and both have been stellar. This iteration is a lovely straw color with a slight golden hue in the glass with fantastic aromas of lemon curd, ripe pear, and green apple. The palate is all about the fruit, and there is plenty of it: apple dominates, but there is also that pear and citrus. The acidity eventually pushes through the fruit on the mid-palate and works hard to balance out all that fruit. This is a much more muscular approach than the previous vintage, but it still works well. Excellent. 90 Points.
2017 DaMa Wines Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, WA: Retail $28. Under screwcap. On my first trip to Walla Walla a couple of years ago, the first winemaker I met was Mary Derby. We had dinner in a restaurant in the center of town and my most lasting memory (other than her delicious wines) was her nonchalant, irreverent, but also enthralling approach to life and winemaking. There is no doubt that Mary’s life experiences could fill many tomes, but there she was, in a somewhat sleepy town, east of the Cascades, seemingly as at home with her surroundings as she had ever been. This wine is typical of the wines I tasted with her that evening: clean, precise but also with verve and flair. A bit of color here in the glass, a medium golden–certainly past “straw.” The nose is defined by tropical and tree fruit but also a healthy dose of oak. That oakiness is far from overbearing on the palate as it mingles politely with the fruit and the acidity. Much like my first impression of Mary, this wine is perfectly delightful, but there is so much more there than that first impression. Excellent. 92 Points.
2018 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Carneros, CA: Retail $38. Carneros has quickly become a flashpoint. Once the epicenter of cool-climate Pinot Noir, it has increasingly become hotter and less hospitable for my favorite variety. While a few Pinot producers have pulled out of the appellation, the Frank Family remains, fighting the necessary fight. Nearly translucent, but still decidedly dark in color, the aromas follow this model. Dark, on the verge of brooding, with notes of plum, cassis, and spice. The palate is initially chockful of dark berry fruit, then an intense tartness, and finally a finish defined by a raspberry-mocha intensity. Certainly a lovely quaff, but also a departure from the “traditional” Carneros formula. Have no doubt, this is delightful, but for how long will it be sustainable? Excellent. 90 Points.
2019 River Road Family Vineyards and Winery Chardonnay Unoaked, CA: Retail $15. Under screwcap. On the first day, this was a bit over-the-top. No, it was not overly oaky, but it was certainly a ripe, fruity, on the verge of sweet, ripe (did I mention that?) Chard. On day two? Certainly ripe and on the verge of unctuous, but it had mellowed considerably. Sure, there was still a ton of rich (overripe?) fruit (mostly tropical) that came off as sweet on the palate, but there is certainly an audience for this wine. I’m just not sure it is the “No Oak!” crowd. Very Good. 87 Points.
2017 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Pyrénées, Applegate Valley, OR: Retail $65. 53% Tannat, 47% Malbec. Both varieties involved in this wine are somewhat notorious for producing big, tannic monsters (at least in France). The folks at Troon in Southern Oregon, however, seemed to have found the magic mojo to subdue these hefty beasts and combine them into a wine that drinks great upon release. Don’t get me wrong, this wine will be better with time, both in the cellar and open in a carafe. But. I don’t get paid the minuscule bucks to allow these wines to sit around in my cellar gathering dust (although I did receive this in March, so…). Quite dark in the glass with plenty of fruit, which is more “brooding” than “bright.” The fruit is initially subdued on the palate with the tartness and spice more evident. Then, on the mid-palate, that dark (and yes) brooding fruit comes rushing in to accompany the spice and acidity. The finish is marked by healthy but soft (ish) tannins. Yes, this wine would benefit from some time in the cellar, but it is also singing rather loudly right now. Excellent. 92 Points.