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.
2018 Domaine Carneros Brut, Carneros, CA: Retail $35. 53% Pinot Noir, 44% Chardonnay and 3% Pinot Gris. With one notable exception, all of the sparkling wines from Domaine Carneros are vintage dated. This 2018 Brut is fantastic: close to clear in the glass with citrus and tree fruit on the nose with incredible minerality and more than a modicum of verve. The palate, loaded with fine bubbles, is driven by the fruit, particularly initially. The tartness, along with some yeastiness, roars in on the mid-palate and resets the entire dialogue. Wonderful. An above-average finish underscores why this is one of the top American sparklers, well worthy of its Champagne-esque tariff. Excellent. 92 Points.
NV Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rosé, Carneros, CA: Retail $42. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. True Rosé (not a saignée or a blended wine). This is always one of my favorite American rosé sparkling wines and the fact that it is still owned (at least in part) by the Taittinger family in Champagne only adds to its allure. Red fruit and rose petals on the nose with hints of yeastiness and minerality. The palate, while fruity, is not overly so. In fact, I would say that the tartness is the star of the show even given all of that fruit. Bright, balanced, beautiful. My only nit-pick? A bit lower dosage would make me even happier. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2015 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, Carneros, CA: Retail $125. 100% Chardonnay. Domaine Carneros’ top cuvée and perhaps the best domestic sparkling wine, Le Rêve is always a wine I can’t wait to taste. Aged for six years on the lees, this slightly straw wine is bursting with yeasty goodness on the nose along with some golden delicious apple and some wet rock. Whoa. I doubt that any other domestic sparkler can top this nose. The palate is quite tart, suggesting the need for a bit more time in the cellar. But the fruit, the balance, the complexity, are all off the charts. I suggest another 3-5 years in the cellar. At least. Whoa. Outstanding. 94 Points.
2020 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Don Melchor, Puente Alto, Chile: Retail $140, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot. One of the icons in Chilean winemaking, I was honored to open this bottle with several other journalists and winemaker Enrique Tirado on a Zoom call one afternoon. Enrique took us on a brief history of the wine, a virtual tour of the vineyard, and an informative look into how he blends the wines from 151 different plots to come up with what goes into the bottle. This wine, perhaps needless to say for a cuvée that collectors hold onto for decades, is exquisite. Shortly after opening, this wine was singing with rich, dark fruit, a touch of mocha, a slight but lovely herbal aspect (sage), and an earthy even spicy aspect on the nose. The palate is rich without being overpowering or unctuous with intense fruit, a balancing and zingy tartness, loads of earth, that mocha aspect from the nose, and soft, silky tannins that, while not fully integrated, suggest a lengthy and healthy future ahead of this wine. Remarkable. And whoa. Outstanding. 96 Points.
2020 Loveblock Vintners Ltd Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand: Retail $35. Under screw cap. Quite light in the glass with a dirty black cherry nose. The palate is far fruitier than the nose did portend (but by no means a “fruit bomb”) along with considerable earth and minerality. Upon first sip, I was not a fan but it grew on me. A lot. I have been jaded by the opulence of Cali PN: this is austere when compared to those, but still quite lovely in its own way. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Mettler Family Vineyards Copacetic, Lodi, CA: Retail $20. Zin blend. Gig 5. Big Ass Bottle. I do not know a whole lot about this wine other than it is a non-vintage blend of mostly Zinfandel and it is a solera wine (each vintage, new wine is added to the tank that contains wine from several previous vintages, making a “new” blend every year, thus the exact composition is impossible to determine). I was about to throw this bottle into the “Doubles Pile” which is when I receive two bottles of the same wine. But. Given the above (that this is a solera wine), this is actually an iteration after my last tasting note. I know, confusing, but trust me, it makes sense. This wine is a bit fruitier and more complex than the previous iteration (Gig 4) and while this leans toward a crowd-pleaser kind of wine, I am certainly with the crowd on this one. Excellent. 91 Points.
2020 Alvaro Palacios Priorat Camins del Priorat, Spain: Retail $55. Heavy bottle. 55% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 8% Cariñena. I have limited experience with Priorat and most of the wines I have tried have been stellar, which is certainly the case here. Quite floral (rose petals a go-go) with sweet red berry fruit on the nose while the palate is all about the fruit, the fruit, the fruit. Good tartness as well, but it struggles in the face of all of that fruit. The finish is a tad spicy but also hot. This really needs time to settle the heck down. Now? 91 Points. Potential? A bit higher, 93 pts. Maybe more. Excellent. 91 Points.
NV Tonoike Bo: Saké, Tochigi, Japan: Retail ~$100. I have limited, very limited experience with saké so this will be brief. Sweet anise on the nose with a subtle sweetness on the palate. The anise is also there, but far from prominent. All I can say is that this is better, even quite a bit so, than the last sake I tried. That has to be enough, I guess. Outstanding. 94 Points.