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NEWSLETTER 58 : FALL 2019

UNTI VINEYARDS

2018 VERMENTINO

2018 FIANO

2018 GRENACHE BLANC

2018 CUVÉE BLANC

2017 BARBERA

2017 SEGROMIGNO

2016 AGLIANICO

2016 GRENACHE

2018 ROSÉ

 

Esther Mobley of the SF Chronicle just wrote a challenging article on the effect of global warming on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. She quotes prolific winemakers and growers who feel many microclimates within the Napa Valley are becoming too warm for growing great Cab. Cabernet is attaining sugar ripeness earlier in the season, without the desired flavor and tannins.

So, a few folks are embarking on planting “experimental” vineyards to such crazy varieties as Barbera, Aglianico, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo. As you might expect, I have a few thoughts on this.

In the words of my friend John Lancaster from San Francisco’s beloved Boulevard restaurant, “Folks in Napa will stop growing Cabernet in maybe 100 years.” He’s probably right. The money and fame of this partnership will prevent all but a few brave and crazy souls from converting their vineyards over to Barbera or Aglianico.

Yet I find it quite interesting that there is a discussion about planting grapes, such as Petite Sirah and Zinfandel—grapes that were once planted more heavily than Cabernet prior to the 1960’s in this valley. If you have ever been to Calistoga or St. Helena in the summer, you know that it gets Southern Europe-hot. While global warming might be exacerbating this element, it has always been a Mediterranean climate in the northern sections of Napa Valley.

So, now we can feel smug in our belief that Italian, Spanish, and Southern French varieties are best for most California AVAs. While Unti Vineyards may serve as a petri dish-grower for the future of California wine, we might not be so crazy. Emphasis on the “might.” — MJU

 

2018 VERMENTINO — Colli di Unti???

100% VERMENTINO / 598 CASES PRODUCED

$28 / BTL. / $25.20/ BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

We now have almost 4 acres of Vermentino planted, beginning in 2004. We just returned from THE mecca for world class Vermentino, Collin di Luni in Italy’s Liguria region. I am more amped about this excellent Mediterranean grape than ever before (and that is saying something).

The Vermentino wine producers we visited—Ottaviano Lambcruschi and Terenzuola —make a wine that is more sophisticated than any other Vermentino in Europe. If Liguria had a Yankee Stadium, Lambruschi and Terenzuola would be the Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio monuments. Most notably, their wines have the type of structure from acidity one would expect from Loire Valley—probably due to the  fact that they have hillside vineyards facing the Mediterranean Sea.

Which brings me to why I’m so excited about Vermentino in Dry Creek Valley. Our summer temperatures have the heat of Sardinia and Liguria with night-time lows that are 10 to 15 degrees cooler. The aroma is undeniably Vermentino, with its grapefruit and flowers, while the palate is brisk and mineral driven—think Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. If our Grenache Blanc is the preferred alternative to Chardonnay in Dry Creek, Vermentino should be replacing Sauvignon Blanc vines here.

All of our white wines are fermented and aged in either stainless steel or concrete tanks which do not hide their intense character. The silver lining is that you don’t have to pay a fortune to enjoy our European-styled whites. The only way to make this style of white wine  from Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek is to harvest grapes at unripe sugars or add tartaric acid. We don’t need to do either with Vermentino.

 

2018 FIANO

100% FIANO / 193 CASES PRODUCED

$28 / BTL. X $25.20/ BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

2018 was an easy vintage for our whites thanks to cool August and early September weather. No other white benefitted more than our Fiano, which—all together now— is the best we have made to date…

We harvested our ’18 Fiano on September 18th, but in years past we may have picked it a week earlier. Once Fiano gets in the ripe zone sugars can really accelerate. So we have opted to err on the early side of ripeness in 2016 and 2017. The cool 2018 August and early September gave us some room to get cute, and let the Fiano hang on the vine an extra week without risking excessive sugar levels.

The result is our most complete version of this Campania white. Intense fruit, honey and almonds highlight this textured white. The body of this Fiano makes it one of my favorite food wines. And now that it is the brown bottle it makes me want to go to Avellino.

 

2018 GRENACHE BLANC — Dry Creek Chablis?

100% GRENACHE BLANC / 355 CASES PRODUCED

$28 / BTL. / $25.20/ BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case) 

A gazillion years ago, I interviewed a legendary winemaker for Beringer named Myron Nightengale, live on the University of Washington college station. Prior to the interview he was pretty colorful with his language, and I was worried this would be my last interview as a result.

But when it was show time, he was a delightful man who regaled me with his stories. My worries were unfounded. After the show, while walking him out of the building he reverted back to his spicy language concluding with “I need some English Chablis.” I had never     heard of such a thing so I asked him about it, to which he replied, “Beefeaters Gin.”

For several years now I have said our Grenache Blanc has a fleeting resemblance to French Chablis, which is significantly different form Myron’s beverage of choice. This 2018 GB, from our two acres planted in 2004 is a remarkable wine. It has a hint of color, great texture and complexity with the freshness and minerality of a French Chablis.

If you have had Grenache Blanc from Spain, Southern France, or California, you will notice our wine has classic varietal character (apples, spice) and body,  with a higher acid profile. Combined with the fact that we do not ferment or age in oak, (we prefer concrete vessels)   this wine serves as a dry, crisp alternative to lush, barrel fermented Chardonnays in the area. Not that there’s anything wrong with…

Bottled in April, our ’18 GB is going to age nicely over the next 2 or so years. I really love this wine.

 

2018 CUVÉE BLANC

40% GRENACHE BLANC 40% VERMENTINO 20% PICPOUL / 137 CASES PRODUCED

$35 / BTL. / $31.50 BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

In 2004 we planted out first experimental white vineyard proportionate to the wine we desired to make- 40% Grenache Blanc, 40% Vermentino and 20% Picpoul. However, we have always struggled with getting much crop from our Picpoul, and getting more crop from our Vermentino. Now that we have almost 7 acres planted to these varieties, we can execute on our original goal, which is the blend for our 2018 Cuvée Blanc. Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Picpoul each bring a unique character to the blend.

Grenache Blanc provides body and texture, Vermentino offers expressive floral aromas and bright fruit and Picpoul brings a zingy lemon component. Being native to the Mediterranean all three grapes retain great levels of natural acidity upon ripeness. I have always liked  this blend more than any of the individual components, and this 2018 really confirms my belief. It combines complexity, texture and minerality in the format of fresh and fruity wine. The 2018 vintage shows up big time, meaning it has a bit more concentrated fruit and acidity. I have already enjoyed several bottles of this wine and plan to do so over the next 1 to 2 years.

 

BROWN IS THE NEW BROWN

To say brown is not appreciated is an understatement. Brown is what you end up with when you blend too many colors. The same thing happens when you blend too many varietal wines together, by the way.

But brown has a special place in my heart when it comes to wine bottles. When I first started trying classic Italian red wines from Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti and Brunello, all of the bottles were brown glass. The Piemontese bottle with its embossed “Albeisa” is a particular favorite. In the late 1980’s many of Italy’s  best wine producers stopped bottling their wines in brown glass, opting to use the antique  green used for the best French and California wines. I suppose it was a reflection of Italy’s quest to enter the conversation for world-class wines by marketing like the big boys.

Obviously, California wineries have also embraced using the bottle as a marketing tool. It seems like every expensive Napa Cabernet comes in dark-colored, thick and heavy bottles that easily could be used for self-defense. Kind of a bigger is better thing. As you know, we are always on the cutting edge of marketing here at Unti (Really?). So winemaker Jason Valenti found a retro-Italian made brown bottle that seems perfect for us.

Beginning with the 2017 vintage, all of our Italian varietal wines will be in this new retro bottle. I guess we are going to find out what  brown can do for us.

 

2017 BARBERA

100% BARBERA / 575 CASES PRODUCED

$38 / BTL. / $34.20/ BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

We have been fans of this grape grown in Dry Creek Valley ever since our first vintage in 2003. Since that time we have planted 6 acres grown in four small blocks. This 2017 comes from our original block of clone 171 planted in 1998 and a block planted in 2007. The wine shows the exotic fruit we’ve come to expect from this clone with a bit more color and structure from acid and a little tannin.

Over the years we have learned to facilitate more depth and structure in Barbera by reducing the crop on the vine to levels comparable  to those in Italy’s best regions. The result is a Barbera that can stand up to a wide range of food, including seafood. It is also the kind of wine that will convince anyone who is skeptical of its nobility as a grape.

 

2017 SEGROMIGNO

72% SANGIOVESE 28% MONTEPULCIANO / 525 CASES PRODUCED


$35 / BTL. / $31.50 BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

10 years ago, we thought the ideal blend for Segromigno would be 70% Sangiovese and 30% Montepulciano. After about 18 months in the bottle however, the Montepulciano seemed to dominate the wine more than we desired, so we settled on keeping the amount around 15%.

Since 2015, when winemaker Jason Valenti arrived, we have improved our approach to farming Sangiovese, especially with the amount of crop per vine. As such, all of our Sangiovese lots are deeper with better fruit and tannin structure. So when Jason and I began our blending trials for Segromigno, we determined that the Sangiovese is strong enough to handle 28% Montepulciano, making this the most full-bodied version ever.

These two grapes seem born for each other. Sangiovese’s bright cherry fruit is complimented by Montepuciano’s plum cassis and earthy flavors. Jason adeptly quipped that when Sangiovese sees Montepulciano on line, it swipes right…whatever that means.

For any of you who are as crazy about Italian wine as we are, this Segromigno is your gig. While Cabernet and Merlot have been the preferred choice for blending with Sangiovese by those making Super Tuscan wines, I am wondering why Montepulciano was never considered. This 2017 Segromigno has the depth and richness of a Super Tuscan, but it seems more balanced or Italian-like, probably due to the acidity we get with Montepulciano here.

However you describe it, I love this wine. It immediately brings me back to Tuscany, and I never get tired of that.

 

 

2016 AGLIANICO

100% AGLIANICO // 100 CASES PRODUCED

$45 / BTL. / $40.50 BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

After many years deliberating over if, when and where we would plant Aglianico, George pulled the trigger in 2013, planting 2 acres on the Benchland vineyard. 2016 is our first vintage from a tiny crop, and it will seem like beginner’s luck, because our Aglianico is a classic wine in the mold of Taurasi.

Aglianico is THE grape of Southern Italy’s Campania and Basilicata regions. Taurasi is the most prestigious expression of Aglianico, where it historically been called the “Barolo of the South.” As such, it was one of the first ever to receive DOCG (Denominzione Origine Controlatta Garantita), Italy’s highest wine classification. The wines are full-bodied and complex with the tannin structure to age 10 to 20 years. Ian D’Agata calls Aglianico “one of the wolrd’s great red grapes.” He refers to the 1968 Taurasi by Mastroberardino as one of  Italy’s greatest wines of all time. 

Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata is another DOC producing compelling wine, though perhaps not as tannic as in Taurasi. Irpinia is a larger DOC in Campania, where the wines are softer, more fruit forward and are made for drinking short term. Not being one to discriminate, I like all three versions, having consumed more than my share at San Francisco’s famous A-16 restaurant.

 We have now crushed and made three vintages of Aglianico and it has more than lived up to any hyped expectations we had for it. The berries are small, thick-skinned and not particularly juicy, making it particularly challenging to punch down during fermentation.

 This inaugural vintage Aglianico exceeded our starry-eyed expectations, an indication that our climate hypothesis applies. It  is  extremely dark with intense aromas of dried flowers, prunes and spices- classic Southern Italy. The wine is full bodied, and complex with excellent structure from tannin and acid. I hope you are as impressed with this wine as we are. A little birdy told me folks in Napa are considering planting Aglianico. Good for them.

 

2016 GRENACHE

79% GRENACHE 15% SYRAH 6% MOURVEDRE / 638 CASES PRODUCED

$35 BTL. $31.50 BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case)

As I said earlier, 2016 was an excellent vintage for our Grenache. So much so, that the lots we used for this blend could have easily qualified for Cuvee Foudre. I guess this is a good example of first [winery] world problems.

Since Jason’s arrival in 2015, we have really stepped up our strategy in the vineyard toward Grenache. By crop thinning earlier in the season we are achieving enhanced flavors and structure in our Grenache. When the weather stars align, as was the case in 2016, the result is a full-bodied Grenache blend that will undoubtedly remind you of Gigondas or Rasteau from the Southern Rhone.

The 2016 Grenache has a depth that is beyond our normal rendition. It is as close to Cuvee Foudre we get only it is two-thirds the price. If you are a fan of our Grenache, this is your vintage. It is drinking great now, but will age nicely over the next 4 to 6 years.

 

2018 ROSÉ

90% GRENACHE 10% MOURVEDRE X 1580 CASES PRODUCED. 89 POINTS WINE SPECTATOR

$ 26/ BTL. X $20.80/ BTL. (20% off when part of 2 mixed cases or more / 10% off 1 case) X $65 (1.5L MAG LIMITED PRODUCTION)

So Yeah, this 2018 Rosé is 90% Grenache and only 10% Mourvedre. As you might expect, this year’s model features more high-tone fruit and is higher in acid than in the past (Mourvedre is lower in acid than Grenache, even when harvested earlier). Have no fear. Just because this vintage has more fruit doesn’t mean we are making simple Rosé from Pinot Noir. This is a wine made from Grenache Noir farmed for quality, and as such, has the complexity and texture of Provençal rosé 

Seems like the September/October weather is screaming for this wine.

 

L A S T C A L L ! L A S T C A L L ! L A S T C A L L ! L A S T C A L L ! L A S T C A L L ! L A S T C A L L !

2016 CUVÉE FOUDRE 93 PTs WINE SPECTATOR

2016 SYRAH BENCHLAND 91 PTs WINE SPECTATOR

 
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