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: Sauvignon Two Ways, Chardonnay Any Day, If It Doesn’t Sparkle, It Doesn’t Matter.
2020 Bellenda Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore SEI UNO Brut, Italy: Retail $28. 100% Glera. Metodo Classico. Rive di Carpesica. A bit of a rarity (although on the upswing in Prosecco), this wine is made using the same method as is used in Champagne with the second fermentation occurring in the bottle. Brilliant straw color, with a lovely nose of mostly tree fruit (green apple and pear) but also a side of citrus (lemon zest). The palate is quite tart, even on the verge of sour as the fruit struggles to keep up with all that acidity. There is also a rather significant mineral aspect, but, surprisingly, only a slight hint of the autolytic (i.e., yeasty) aspect common to classic method wines. Perhaps this wine needs more time on the lees? Very Good. 89 Points.
2021 Spumanti Gemin (Bortolomiol Guglielmo) Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Dry Millesimato Rive di Guia, Italy: Retail $20. 100% Glera. I last tasted this wine nearly two years ago, and while I really liked it, this iteration seems to be more balanced with several more layers of flavors and complexity. Pale straw with a vibrant sparkle with white peach, acacia blossom, minerality, and a distinct freshness. The palate is tart but also quite fruity, with just a subtle hint of sweetness. Another fantastic example of the quality and value associated with the Prosecco DOCG wines. On a side note, Kermit Lynch (the importer) is on my short list of people I would love to interview over dinner. Outstanding. 93 Points.
NV Villa Sandi Prosecco La Rivetta 120, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Italy: Retail $22. 100% Glera. Extra Brut. This is a Classic Prosecco Superiore DOCG that goes through a slower than normal fermentation (120 represents the number of days for fermentation, where 90 days is “normal”). Near colorless with just a slight straw hue. Lemon is dominant on the otherwise shy nose, buoyed by a casual sparkle. The palate is bright and fresh with the lemon at the forefront along with a subtle nuttiness and considerable minerality. So much more flavorful and complex than its DOC counterparts. Excellent. 91 Points.
2019 Chasing Rain Blend, Red Mountain, WA: Retail $25. Heavy bottle. 44% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc. This is my third(?) go around with the Chasing Rain brand from Aquilini. Despite the familiarity, I am still amazed that they can produce a Red Mountain wine for a mere twenty-five bucks (and I am sure there are many others on Red Mountain thinking the same). Rich fruit, mostly dark, on the nose with healthy doses of spice and earth. The palate is fruity, on the verge of ripe, with the added element of vanilla and oak. More than adequate acidity balances the wine and defines the story all the way through to the above-average finish. Once again, another fine effort from the Aquilini Family. Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 Lion’s Mane Cabernet Sauvignon, California: Retail $19. From the website: “80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 6% Syrah.” C’mon man. I understand a mistake here and there but that is easy math and not even close. Even my dog could look at those percentages and know they did not add up to 100%. As for the wine? This falls in line with the other wines from this producer that I have sampled: fruity, fun, and not necessarily complex. In other words, likely a crowd-pleaser but nowhere near my wheelhouse. Still? Good to Very Good, I guess, but a solid “D” in math. Very Good. 88 Points.
2019 Pedroncelli Zinfandel Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley, CA: Retail $24. I am not entirely sure, but I think this is the fourth or fifth vintage of this wine that I have tried, I think. Nonetheless, each time I try it I am amazed at how consistently fantastic this wine is while remaining how incredibly inexpensive (the SRP is $24, but it is usually available $15-16). Dark fruit (plum, blackberry) on the nose, paired with a host of spices and herbs (clove and sage for starters). The palate is initially quite fruity, but in a controlled, lovely way, followed by a healthy dose of acidity, then soft, but impressive tannins. Sure, it’s great now, but I feel this wine will certainly improve, particularly in the short-term (3-5 years). Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $45. I have long been a fan of the wines from Smith-Madrone, a tiny (as least as far as Napa goes) outpost on Spring Mountain. Their Riesling might be one of the best wines produced in Napa, the Cabernet Sauvignon is easily one of the best values in the Valley, and the Chardonnay, perhaps the red-headed stepchild in the Smith-Madrone lineup, is a wine that I would assert belongs on the list of best Napa Valley Chardonnays. Gorgeous fruit on the nose with tropical fruit, white flower, and almond paste predominate. The palate is quite tart, with fruit at the forefront, hints of oak, and a subtle creaminess that defines Smith-Madrone. This is not the biggest, most bombastic Chard from Napa, but I doubt there is another that I would rather have on my dining room table. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2020 Tongue Dancer Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $50. OK, I admit it, I am a bit confused. Before I continue, many of you know that I am an unabashed fan of Tongue Dancer and its dynamic duo of James and Kerry MacPhail. I also have been sampling their wines for several years now and, while far from an “expert”, I like to think that I am at least “familiar” with the ebbs and flows of the winery. But. This wine, which has been produced for several years now, seems to have switched from the “Sonoma Coast” appellation to the broader “Sonoma County” designation. Is that a big deal? I doubt it (but I might have made a mistake in the classification for the Fifth Annual World’s Largest Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir), but I digress. This wine, whatever the designation, is fabulous. [Editor’s note: after writing all of that, I learn that the bottle has both the Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast designations, so I am either a dope, incapable of reading, or both.] Shy fruit, spice, and earth on the nose, but it is far from shy on the palate. Rich red and dark berry fruit, touches of spice (vanilla, clove), a smattering of earth, and a finish that lasts for days. All that is fine and good (OK, great), but the balance here is noteworthy. James MacPhail never shies away from the fruit, but balance is clearly his muse as all that largess is countered by a zingy tartness that goes beyond compelling. It is so harmonic that it begs the question: why can’t others achieve this? Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.