Unti - Going Their own Way

A Mediterranean vineyard blossoms in the Dry Creek Valley


Sometimes your plans don't exactly work out as one anticipates. Say a trip planned around a grape, Zinfandel for example. Everything can go along swimmingly and then you come to a place where you have no problem with their Zinfandel, but Zinfandel as it turns out is not their story. Such was my visit to Unti, designed as part of an itinerary exploring Zinfandel. Now don't get me wrong, Unti's Zin is a fine example but as is usually the case I tasted through the entire lineup on offer at Unti during my visit.
In most cases I store away these notes for Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, the odd Grenache and Riesling as well. It's easy to anticipate publishing the notes at a future date in a compendium of tasting notes. One is always writing about those more familiar varieties but at Until things are, shall we say, a little different. When will I be writing about Fiano I ask myself, or domestic Montepulciano and Sangiovese blends? Not in the foreseeable future I am sure. So I'm  left with these notes, bound to get lost to time unless of course I just decided to publish just these notes,  and focus simply on Unti. I'm usually not a huge fan of articles that focus on a single producer, since the subject matter can tend to have a terribly narrow appeal, and it's difficult to maintain the appearance of impartiality if one is constantly being forced to pick favorites, but sometimes there is a story to tell. And that is the case here.

Unlike virtually every winery you are likely to encounter in the famous northern counties of California's wine producing region, Unti actively experiments with grapes that are well suited to the climate as opposed to well suited to the marketplace. It's an odd choice, foregoing Cabernet and Chardonnay in favor of Fiano and Sangiovese, with plenty of Grenache as well. Unti's style of wine is built around moderate alcohols and bright acids. We'd call them food wine though that term is forever scarred in my mind by the food wine movement of the early to mid 1980s when California's winemakers went down that mistaken path. The big difference between then and Unti is the choice of grapes.
In the 1980s producers made food wines with Cabernet and Chardonnay, and some Merlot if memory serves well. What we ended up with were unripe examples of Cabernet, Chardonnay and a little Merlot. The folks at Unti have spent years experimenting with grapes that come from and are successfully used to warm climates, Mediterranean climates similar to those in the Dry Creek Valley. The results are wines with moderate alcohol, this is California so looking for mainstream wines much under 13.5% is a bit of a fools errand. That moderate alcohol is paired with fresh, crisp fruit and zesty acids to produce wines that are more akin to the classic table wines of Europe than the wines coming from Unti's neighbors in the Dry Creek Valley.
These are not easy wines to get, though they are not terrible expensive. They are in limited distribution available primarily from the winery directly and at a broad range of restaurants throughout California where I'm sure they shine when seved next to the farm fresh food that seems to be what California Cuisine is being built upon. It's easy enough to taste these wines and offer a critical opinion but when you come across wines like this there is always the temptation to add a few points to their scores, knowing full well that with food they will offer a performance that is fundamentally detached from the academic exercise that is wine tasting. There are after all wines that are meant to be tasted and then there are wines that are meant to be drunk. In Unti's case they are mostly meant to be drunk with food, and removing the food from the equation leaves them at somewhat of a disadvantage.  

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  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,006

    So if you look right behind Greg in the picture from the Pinot Throwdown thread and article, you’ll see a painting of cheese, wheels and big hunks, which was painted by Linda Unti, proprietress of the winery. The story of its purchase illustrates a point Greg makes: We bought it during a Sonoma Wine Road tasting during which we drank Talty and Mauritson and Nalle Zins. Which isn’t really fair to Unti’s wines: Although those Zins can go quite well with food, the Unti wines demand them. We weren’t overwhelmed by the wines at Unti at the time, but we liked the painting a lot.
    Fast forward a couple years, and I am in a restaurant and craving a Rhone blend. Unti’s Petit Frere is on the menu, so I order a glass, and pretty soon we’re polishing off a whole bottle. Chicken, lamb, cheeses, even fish, it pairs well with almost anything. Good acids, fresh mouthfeel, it’s perfect with food. Now I buy it often, and, if you live in Northern California, you’ll probably see it on tap somewhere—try Southie or Wood Tavern if you live in the East Bay. Perfect delivery for this style of wine.
    The Untis grow plenty of Syrah and Zin, and they sell it to other winemakers and support their efforts—just ask Steve Law at Maclaren. They pioneered Syrah in DCV, too, but it’s more suited for their GSM blends, IMO. All around great folks, and their wines deserve this kind of write-up.

    Nov 11, 2013 at 5:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    That is very cool. I should have turned around while at dinner! A reminder that it's a small wine world out there, and even smaller when one thinks only of the wines one really enjoys!

    Nov 12, 2013 at 2:27 AM

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