Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
This past week included a couple of fun wines from a little family-run estate in the Penedés region of Spain, named Parés Baltà. Run by two brothers and their wives, with the women handling the winemaking, they’ve dedicated the estate to being as organic and low-intervention as possible. Their wines are lean, pure, and wonderful expressions of place. Their Electio Xarel-lo is a stony expression of this grape usually used for Cava, and their Grosella is a crunchy, quaffable interpretation of the rare local red grape Sumoll.
I also opened a Vermentino from Two Shepherds Winery, which comes from the little Dunnigan Hills AVA in Yolo County, west of Sacramento. It’s crisp and creamy all at once, and a fun and refreshing interpretation of the grape that the French call Rollé.
Pinot Blanc is one of the world’s most under-appreciated white grapes, but it has increasingly become a focus in Germany, which is churning out some excellent examples of what they call Weissburgunder. This one, by Familie Friedrich Becker, gets the French version of the name, but offers the wonderfully crisp and cool qualities that can only come from a region like the Pfalz in Germany.
Sticking with cool river valleys in Germany for a moment, the folks at Winebow (one of America’s largest and most successful import companies) have teamed up with Moselland of Bernkastel-Kues (the largest landowner in the Mosel valley) to create a cleverly-named higher-volume brand called Clean Slate. It offers value-priced, decent-quality Mosel Riesling for anyone who enjoys that classic flavor profile. For $10 what’s not to love?
Last week, I authored a look at what’s going on in the Santa Lucia Highlands for Jancis Robinson’s online subscriber base, and offered tasting notes on 30 or so of the best wines being made in the region. But there were some tasting notes that ended up on the cutting room floor, including some older vintages of the Pisoni Estate wines that Jeff Pisoni was kind enough to offer up for tasting.
Finally, continuing in the Pinot Noir vein, I’ve got another recent release from La Folette winery in Sonoma.
Notes on all these below.
2021 Parés Baltà “Electio” Xarel-lo, Penedés, Spain
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith and lemon peel with a hint of white flowers and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, bright lemon peel, green apple, and crushed stones have a brilliant zingy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Organically produced. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60.
2021 Two Shepherds Vermentino, Dunnigan Hills, Yolo County, California
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of citrus pith and fior di latte gelato. In the mouth, citrus pith, white flowers, and a hint of vanilla all gush with juicy acidity that lingers in the finish with notes of grapefruit and a faint creaminess. Made with certified organic grapes. Fermented with native yeasts. Aged half in a neutral barrel, half in stainless steel. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2020 Familie Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon juice, pastry cream, and grapefruit flavors have a wonderful mouthwatering brightness to them thanks to excellent acidity. A faint saline note lingers with the grapefruit in the finish. Very tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2021 Clean Slate Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of mandarin orange oil and honeysuckle. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of mandarin oranges, honey, and wet chalkboard have a nice bright acidity to them, and a clean crisp quality. Uncomplicated. 10.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $10. click to buy.
2021 Parés Baltà “Grosella” Sumoll, Penedés, Spain
Is this wine a rosé? Is it a red? We’ll never know but drink it anyway. Light to medium ruby in the glass with a hint of garnet, this wine smells of strawberries and earth. In the mouth, bright and crunchy flavors of strawberry, boysenberry, wet chalkboard, and earth have a juicy freshness to them thanks to fantastic acidity. Perfect as a lightly chilled red on a hot afternoon. Organically produced. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2015 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, with hints of ruby, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry and a touch of brown sugar. In the mouth, cherry and raspberry jam mix with blood orange and a hint of dried cherries and just a whiff of roasted fig. Very good acidity, and faint, gauzy tannins. Tough spring, wet weather in March. Yields were down 50-60% because of the difficult flowering. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $90.
2011 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of mocha and cherry and a hint of raspberry jam. In the mouth, wonderfully fresh and still-bright flavors of cherry and raspberry are silky on the tongue with flavors of dried flowers and just a whiff of molasses on the finish. Faint gauzy tannins. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $130. click to buy.
2007 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich cherry and boysenberry fruit. Thicker tannins, powdery and fine coat the mouth, as the wine has a more muscular quality on the palate. Lush and powerful, and missing some of the balance of more recent vintages. There’s a faint bitter note in the finish — like a licorice root quality. Drought year. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2002 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of incense and dried flowers, roasted figs and raisins. In the mouth, flavors of roasted figs have tremendous acidity and tighter tannins that are beginning to relax. Notes of dried fennel seed, and a nice umami note of black sesame enter the finish. Putty-like tannins. Drought year, natural yield of 1.5 tons per acre. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 La Folette “Heintz Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass with ruby highlights, this wine smells of raspberries and cherries. In the mouth, bright raspberry and cherry fruit have a cool freshness thanks to excellent acidity. Light, cotton-ball tannins caress the edges of the mouth, as notes of dried herbs linger in the finish. Tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.