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 Benziger Family Winery Pinot Noir de Coelo Quintus Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $69. Demeter Certified Biodynamic. The de Coelo Vineyard is a mere five miles from the harsh Sonoma Coast. Much cooler (due to morning fog) than parts inland, it is ideally suited for Pinot Noir. Quite dark, particularly for a Pinot, with dark berry fruit aromas (blackberry, cassis, black cherry) on the nose. The palate is characterized by bright black cherry fruit with plenty of tartness and body. This is both fairly big (particularly initially with all that fruit) and sophisticated (the finish is nuanced and lengthy). While this would pair particularly well with a protein fresh off the grill, it is also a delight (and worthy of considerable contemplation) on its own. Excellent. 92 Points.
2016 Chalk Hill Estate Red, Chalk Hill, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $70. 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot. B.A.B. Really, really, really heavy bottle. Dark in color in the glass with black cherry and cassis fruit, pencil shavings, black pepper, and wet tobacco leaf. Fairly big fruit on the palate, but balanced with earth, acidity, and spice. While I am not sure that this is my style of wine (it is rather bold), it is well-made and has multiple layers of depth. Excellent. 91 Points.
2016 The Paring Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, CA: Retail $25. 100% Syrah. The fruit for The Paring comes from the same vineyards as Jonata (the highly-acclaimed and rated house from the same owners as Screaming Eagle), but the vines are either a shade too young, or the fruit is a bit outside the style of the vintage. This wine is also shares Jonata’s winemaker, Matt Dees, which is immediately evident: big and bold, this is not a shy younger sibling. Rich dark fruit, plenty of heft, and just about the right amount of oak (all French, 35% new). On day two, this was even bigger and richer so, no doubt, it would benefit from a healthy decant. All this for twenty-five bucks? This falls into the “no-brainer” category. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Reininger CPR V, Walla Walla Valley, WA: Retail $100. 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Syrah, 16% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, 9% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 7% Sangiovese, 6% Carmenère. This is a Solera blend (starting with the first vintage, all the varieties are blended in a tank from which a fraction is taken off and bottled and then each subsequent vintage more is added to the tank, joining the previous blend) of eight varieties. Just the concept deserves a Whoa. Dark, yet still bright in the glass, with a multitude of aromas: dark berries, forest floor, anise–a lot going on here. The palate, however, is far from busy. Yes, there is fruit but harmony is the first feeling that surfaces–fruit, tartness, earth, balance. This is a lovely wine with multiple personalities that all get along famously–so, in other words, the antithesis of my family. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2017 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir Sly One, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $59. There are times in your life that you remember: getting your driver’s license, your first kiss (mine was Monica Farhat in sixth grade), the birth of your first child. While perhaps not quite on the same level as those seminal moments, I do remember my first meeting with James and Kerry MacPhail. James was busy bottling large formats by hand (to describe it as “busy” is a bit of a stretch) and Kerry was showing me around the winery while popping corks, gleefully pouring me the contents, and talking just short of a mile a minute. The MacPhails are a delightful study of personalities and proof that opposites do seem to find each other. This wine is that relationship in a bottle. It is both bold and boisterous with a healthy dose of fruit but also reserved and, at least on the mid-palate, a bit shy and reserved. According to Kerry, this is James’ ode to Burgundy, a bit of a departure from his characteristic intrepid (right up to the point of being) in-your-face style. And I get that, but make no mistake, this is all MacPhail: fruity, plenty of throttle and integrated tannins. Sure, it could use a bit of time, but why wait? James and Kerry will be making more. But be sure to ask her, James is no doubt “busy.” Outstanding. 94 Points.
2019 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Piquette, Applegate Valley, OR: Retail $25. Primitivo, Marsanne, Tannat, Vermentino. Even before pulling the crown cap, this is one of the more interesting wines I have tried this year. A centuries-old technique of re-hydrating pomace (what is left over after wine grapes have been crushed and most of the juice extracted), letting it sit for a period of time (a day or two) and then pressing the pomace once more. This juice is allowed to begin fermentation and is bottled before that process is complete. Thus, the fermentation continues in the bottle, producing a sparkle. This was a process invented by vineyard workers centuries ago to provide the crew with some wine of their own during harvest. After fermentation ends, Troon quickly riddles and disgorges the bottles to remove (most of) the dead yeast cells, adds a little more wine (to top off the bottle), and then sells the resultant sparkling wine. Fruity, fun, and more than a little funky (but I love the funk) on the nose: watermelon, spice, and a floral aspect all there. On the palate, there is more of that funk, but it mixes well with the fruit, acidity, and of course, bubbles. Knowing the story behind this wine makes it that much more delightful. Very Good. 89 Points.