Vinography Unboxed: Week of 5/7/23

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 week included mostly sparkling and white wines entirely by coincidence, as I just grabbed a bunch of samples waiting to be tasted. Starting with the fun and friendly and moving to more serious, I can recommend the La Farra Extra Dry Prosecco Superior, which comes from one of the world’s steepest and most impressive single vineyard sites, the Rive di Far di Soligo. For anyone looking for a supremely easy-to-drink Prosecco, this would do the trick (remember that Extra Dry means faintly sweet). On the other end of the spectrum, a 10-year-old aged Cava from the family-run, biodynamically-farmed Parés Baltà offers all the secondary and tertiary characteristics of a long-aged sparkling wine: a patina of flavors that will appeal to some but not to all.

On the pinker side of California sparkling wine, check out the faintly funky (and wonderfully named) Sunset Debris from Josh Hammerling, or the regal and composed pink version of Domaine Carneros‘ epic Le Rêve.

Before we head off into Chardonnay-land, let’s tarry for a moment in the quirky-white zone, with a maturing bottle of Grenache Blanc from Two Shepherds winery, a dry botrytized Chenin Blanc from Limited Addition Wines in Oregon, a Viognier from Aridus in Arizona, and a surprisingly crisp Rhône white blend from Château Pesquié in Mont Ventoux. Each of these wines offers something well outside the mainstream of white wine that will reward curiosity, and a couple of the wines, especially the Pesquié, are fantastic values.

Now let’s tell a tale of three Chardonnays. The first, from Open Claim Vineyards in Oregon aspires to luxury and scarcity, and is made with all the expense, talent, and dedication that you would expect, including the heavier-than-it-needs-to-be bottle that some people think is required to convey gravitas and impress the consumer. Their Chardonnay is good, but didn’t dramatically outshine the two $18 Chardonnays I tasted alongside it this week—one from Qupé in Santa Barbara and the other from Pellegrini Vineyards in New York’s North Fork of Long Island.

Lastly, I’ve got an excellent value Malbec from Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Grown above 3000 feet of elevation, this Reserva bottling offers excellent acidity and brightness along with its intense berry fruit that will satisfy a lot of people’s palates. And at under $20, it will be easy on most people’s pocketbooks.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2021 La Farra “Extra Dry” Prosecco, Rive di Farra di Soligo, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of freshly cut apples and white flowers. In the mouth, lightly sweet flavors of apples and fior di latte gelato have a nice crisp cleanliness to them. Pretty and bright. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18.

2013 Parés Baltà “Blanca Cusiné Gran Reserva Brut Nature” Cava, Penedes, Spain
A dark gold or light amber in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of marzipan and butterscotch. In the mouth, marzipan, dried orange peel, dried herbs and a touch of toasted bread flavors are borne on a faint, fading mousse. There’s a lovely wet chalkboard minerality that lingers in the finish along with citrus pith and peel. This is a wine that has a patina. A blend of Xarel-lo, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2016 Domaine Carneros “Le Rêve” Rosé Sparkling Wine, Carneros, Sonoma, California
Pale peach with very fine bubbles. This wine smells of strawberries and toasted brioche and citrus peel. In the mouth a silky mousse delivers citrus peel, toasted bread, and seawater flavors through a long finish. Delicious. A blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $145. click to buy.

2021 Hamerling Wines “Sunset Debris” Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir, California
A pale coppery pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of citrus peel and redcurrant. In the mouth, there’s a faint funk to the wine like a hint of sweaty gym socks, before the bright berry and citrus peel flavors take over with a hint of peach and salty pastry cream. On balance, quite tasty. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $58.

2019 Two Shepherds “A tribute to Saralee – Catie’s Corner Vineyard” Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of beeswax, apples and pears. In the mouth, pear and honeysuckle flavors mix with a hint of buttery shortbread. Excellent acidity and brightness. Native yeast fermented and aged in 60% neutral barrels and 40% stainless steel. 175 cases made. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $32.

2022 Chateau Pesquié “Terrasses” White Blend, Ventoux, Rhône Valley, France
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of green apples and pears, with a hint of white flowers. In the mouth, brisk flavors of green apple, Asian pear and white flowers mix with a hint of lemon cucumber and just the tiniest whiff of jalapeño and green melon. Excellent acidity for a Rhône white. A blend of 40% Viognier, 20% Grenache Blanc, 20% Roussanne, and 20% Clairette, each fermented separately in either concrete or stainless. Malo is blocked to retain that briskness. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2021 Limited Addition Wines “Eola Springs Vineyard – Noble Dry” Chenin Blanc, Eola-Amity Hills, Williamette Valley, Oregon
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of apricots, honey and chamomile tea. In the mouth, silky and rich flavors of lemon curd, butterscotch, apricots and membrillo have a shimmering golden quality, and true to promise, a lovely dry expansiveness. Made from botrytized fruit, but fermented to dryness. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2020 Aridus Wine Company Viognier, Arizona
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of orange peel and hints of peach. In the mouth, silky flavors of apricot, lemon curd, and a touch of citrus zest are juicy with decent acidity. There’s a faint citrus bitterness in the finish. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40.

2019 Open Claim Vineyards Chardonnay, Williamette Valley, Oregon
Pale gold in the glass with a slight greenish tinge, this wine smells of lemon, crushed hazelnuts, and vanilla. In the mouth, lemon pith, vanilla, and pastry cream flavors have an ethereal quality to them that is somewhat arresting, with good acidity and a pithy quality to the finish. Tasty, if a bit polished. 13.5% alcohol. Comes in an unnecessarily heavy bottle, weighing 1.574 kg when full, meaning that the bottle weights more than the wine it contains. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $75.

2021 Qupé “Y Block” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd and cold cream. In the mouth, lemon curd and lemon juice flavors mix with a nice linalool, floral quality. Decent acidity but I wish there were more snap. Nice flavors, though. 13.0% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2019 Pelligrini Vineyards Chardonnay, North Fork of Long Island, New York
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of apple and warm hay. In the mouth, zippy flavors of lemon and grapefruit peel mix with a touch of honeysuckle. Good acidity, decent length. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2020 Terrazas de los Andes “Reserva – High Altitude Vineyards” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of black cherry and blackberry are backed by faint, fleecy tannins. Nicely floral and quite delicious thanks in part to excellent acidity which keeps the saliva flowing. A hint of mocha lingers in the finish. Grown at 3510 feet of elevation. 14.0% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.