Wines Of The Week: Embracing The Unexpected In California and Pennsylvania


It often takes the shock of the unexpected to make you reconsider something you thought you already knew. It had been years since I’d tasted the wines of Gundlach Bundschu, one of the oldest producers in California and helmed today by the sixth generation of the Bundschu family. I hadn’t stopped drinking the wines for any reason other than simple mathematics: With so much in the world of wine to taste, it’s far too easy to forget about old favorites.

Interestingly, however, it wasn’t Gundlach Bundschu per se that led me back to an appreciation for what they’ve always done so well. Rather, it was the new brand, Abbot’s Passage, begun by Katie Bundschu, that focuses on blends from throughout Sonoma. In particular, the “Sightline” 2017 made me perk up and start paying attention again.

It’s a unique blend of Chenin Blanc and Verdejo, both from the Heringer Estate Vineyard in Clarksburg. Sightline is a small-production gem, and the 125 cases were crafted from just three rows of Chenin and two rows of Verdejo. They were co-fermented, and then two-thirds of the resulting wine was aged for four months in used French oak, and the remaining third in a concrete egg. The result is a wine of character, energy, and a real sense of—pun absolutely intended, given the name of the bottling—vision. After tasting this absolutely charming wine, I went back and checked out some of the other new releases from Gundlach Bundschu itself. Turns out they’ve maintained the same level of quality that first spurred my deep sense of respect all those years ago. All it took to remind me was my white Wine of the Week, the exuberant and deeply self-confident Abbot’s Passage Sightline 2017.

My red Wine of the Week also brought me back to the past, but in a very different way. Because this one, the Karamoor Estate Reserve Merlot 2013, is from my hometown. Not where I live now, but the one in which I spent my entire childhood: Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

Not exactly the wine-growing capital of the world, but stay with me.

Pennsylvania’s wine industry has been on the ascent for a long time now, with brave, visionary producers around the commonwealth working diligently to convince potential customers that the Keystone State’s wine industry is about much more than the indiscriminately planted Cab and Pinot Grigio of my youth. No, the best producers are keying in, as they should, on the varieties that will work best in their particular terroir. And an exhilarating number of them are succeeding.

Karamoor Estate is helping to lead the way in this regard. They have 27 acres under vine—I’m pretty sure I’ve driven by it a thousand times, but never once did I notice—and are working diligently to find the right clones, rootstocks, vinification methods and more to best express their land. If the Reserve Merlot 2013 is any indication, they have a very bright future, indeed. And a really delicious present, too.

This is a fully mature wine, the cigar humidor, drying flowers, and sweet leather aromas paving the way for an open-knit and generous palate whose tannins have melted beautifully, allowing hints of dried fig and rhubarb to shine through. It all finishes with a touch of hazelnut: A perfect unexpected ending for this wonderfully unexpected wine.

The old cliché has it that you can’t go home again. This wine, for me at least, is a notable refutation. I can go back to where I’m from. All it takes is popping the cork from this bottle.

Abbot’s Passage “Sightline” 2017 Heringer Estate Vineyard, Clarksburg

Complex aromas of lanolin, yellow plum, and apple fritters turn to a palate with a deeply supple texture that carries evocative flavors of yellow apple, honeydew, mineral, and white tea, all ending with a lingering hint of springtime flowers and tarragon. Unique and very well-executed. SRP: $35

The Abbot’s Passage 2017 is a delicious example of how unexpected blends–it’s 80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Verdejo–can leave a deep impression (Credit: Abbot’s Passage).Abbot’s Passage

Karamoor Estate Merlot Reserve 2013 Fort Washington, Pennsylvania

Fully mature yet still lively, with sweet notes of leather, drying flowers, and cigar humidor followed by an open-knit and generous palate that boasts rhubarb, black cherry, and dried fig, finishing with a hint of hazelnut. The tannins have melted beautifully, yet there’s still enough structure here to allow it to pair with richer meats and mushroom dishes. SRP: $45

Karamoor Estate, above, has proven, with its 2013 Reserve Merlot, that the wines of Pennsylvania are not just on the ascent, but also, when grown and crafted with care, capable of aging (Credit: Larry Korman).Larry Korman

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