Wine Reviews: California Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-25-2015

Since my last report on California Cabernets, I’ve received a bunch of impressive offerings from around the state, hailing from the 2012, 2011 and 2010 vintages.

I don’t usually pop a California Cabernet during these hot, humid summer days, but most of these wines will benefit from being buried in the cellar for at least a few years anyway.

Many of my favorite wines are not cheap, and many of the cheap wines were not my favorite. That said, there are some moderately priced and delicious wines in this lot. And some of these wines are worth the splurge, especially the single-vineyard Knights Valley Cabs from Anakota, which are just gorgeous.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted single blind. 

Review: 2011 Star Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $46
Rich, bright purple color. Nose shows tart red and black currants, black cherries, also some tobacco, bay leaf, charcoal and bitter coffee notes. Full bodied, the tannic structure is solid but they’re not too harsh around the edges, medium acid. The black currant fruit is plenty ripe but showing tart aspects as well, lots of spicy tobacco, charcoal, chicory coffee, root beer notes. A bold and structured wine, but still showing an approachable personality. I like the spice aspects. Toasty oak on the finish, but it doesn’t overwhelm the other aspects. A bit harsh upon first opening, but opens up and gets smooth. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Star Lane Vineyard Astral - California, Central Coast, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
SRP: $90
Light purple color. Deep, lush and inviting aromatics: I get red and black currants, juicy black cherries and plums, a complex web of tobacco, cedar, graphite, bell pepper and charcoal dust. Gritty tannic structure, needs time to unwind, medium-low acid. The black cherry, dark plums and cassis fruit is tart and compact, laced with notes of iron, graphite, tobacco leaf, charcoal pit and roasted nuts. Lots of cedar, roasted coffee and vanilla in here, which lingers with a hint of root beer or sarsaparilla onto the finish. Opens up a lot to show more nuanced earth elements and silkier fruit. Complexity lies within, perhaps elegance, but this is quite young and deserves four or five years in the cellar or a long decant, probably both. From hillside plantings at the top of their Star Lane Vineyard, this sees 100% new oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Niner Wine Estates Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $40
Vibrant purple color. Rich, smooth, gushing dark plum and currant fruit on the nose, backed up by sweet violets, cola, hints of pipe tobacco and loamy soil. Full-bodied but plush tannins and a silky mouthfeel, balanced well by the moderate acid. Tart yet rich currant and dark plum fruit, along with dusty soil, tobacco, cedar, cola and root beer notes. Bold yet stays refreshing and vibrant. Notes of mocha, cedar and graphite on the finish. Delicious stuff, could develop a bit of complexity over the next few years in the cellar. Aged 18 months in 30% new French oak, includes 4% apiece of Merlot and Petite Verdot. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Smashberry - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Vibrant red ruby colored. Vibrant, full of dark cherries, summer plums, some raspberry and blackberry jam as well, sweeter floral tones and baking spices Full but juicy, the dry tannins balance out the ripe black and red berry fruit, some jammy and rhubarb pie elements. A real sense of dark coffee, chickory and clove, the wine also shows a floral and nutty streak as well. Quite concentrated, hints of freshness underneath.  It will open up over the next year or two. Impressive stuff for a $15 Central Coast red blend. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 KITÁ Cabernet Sauvignon Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $40
Medium ruby colored. Smells of roasted figs, raspberry jam, some charcoal, sweet oak, coffee and baking spices, tobacco hints. Full-bodied and fruit-forward, but the tannins are easy to chew, medium-low acid, a smooth and rich presence on the palate. Full of juicy, gushing blue and black berries, laced with notes of cola, sweet coffee, earthy-dusty elements. I get cedar, pine, hints of sweet menthol as well. Full of richness and hedonism, but I can’t deny the deliciousness, and I’m loving the velvety feel and complexity of flavors. All Cabernet, aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Franciscan Estate Magnificat - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Dark ruby-purple. Darker fruit, sultry in its appeal, with violets and earthy tones but some tart red fruit notets as well. Rich and bold on the palate, some fleshier tannins. Juicy blackberry and oozing black cherry fruit, I get a lot of dark coffee grounds, dark chocolate, creamy oak, notes of graphite and rocky soil. Enough tannin structure for some early cellaring but it’s pretty and smooth enough for drinking now. 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot, 3% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc, the wine is aged 20 months in 70% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery BDX - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $65
A deep ruby, light purple color. Concentrated and deep on the nose, opens up to show rich black and red currants and berries, but a tart and crunchy element as well. Some tobacco, rocky soil, vanilla and coffee aromas as well. Juicy and fleshy approach, but sturdy tannic structure, medium-low acid. Crushed berries and currants, black and red in equal doses, pure and vibrant fruit. Packed with complex notes of loam, graphite, asphalt, espresso, spearmint, also some toasted oak and cherry wood. Quite complex, relatively approachable but could benefit from some time in the cellar. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Verdot, 80% of the fruit comes from To Kalon Vineyard, the juice is aged 28 months in 55% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville - California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $45
Vibrant purple color. Nose shows tart yet rich red and black currants, summer plums, crunchy blackberries, notes of roasted coffee, cedar, tobacco, a rich earth and iron element. Full-bodied, good tannic grip but not too harsh, moderate acid, combines for a full but silky feel. Flavors of black cherries, black and red currants, juicy plums. Lots of mocha, cherry wood but also earth, pencil shavings, chewing tobacco and mint. Showing surprisingly well but the structure for some cellar time for sure, I’d love to retaste in two to three years. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Petite Verdot and 3% Merlot. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Michael’s Cuvée - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Deep ruby/light purple color. Nose of crunchy red and black currants, summer plums, an intriguing blend of spicy green herbs, tobacco, cedar shavings and some light roast coffee. Full-bodied and chewy Moderate tannic strength, the edges are quite smooth and I get a surprising amount of fresh acid. Palate of tart red and black cherries and currants, the fruit is tangy yet showing a velvety, lush quality. Notes of tobacco, cedar, eucalyptus, pencil shavings, vanilla, espresso. Full and rich but complex and showing some early refinement. 91% cabernet sauvignon with 9% merlot. A blend from Oakville, Oak Knoll and Howell Mountain. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $53
Dark ruby color. Smooth, complex and inviting aromas: dark currants, plums, some interesting smoke, earth, campfire and pipe tobacco notes as well, shifting and evolving with air. Moderate tannic grip, some freshness from the acid. Mix of red and black currants and plums, some tartness to the fruit is nice. Smoke, tar and loam mix with higher-toned rose petal and red apple peel notes. Finishes with some spicy chewing tobacco. Structure for near-term aging, but showing surprisingly well out of the bottle. Includes 17% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot and 1% Malbec, this spends 12 months in French and American oak and 22 months in bottle before release. 14% of the juice comes from Mendocino. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Jackson Estate - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $36
Vibrant purple color. A bit dense on the nose, but opens up to show rich black currants, juicy blueberries, also spiced coffee, dark chocolate. Solid texture, drying tannins, moderate-low acid. Rich currant fruit and blueberries, dark and crunchy but not too dense. Notes of cigar shop, cherry wood shavings, dark chocolate and coffee. Quite toasty on the oak, but I think it’s a solid wine, perhaps needs some time to open up. Includes a combined 8% of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot, this wine is aged 16 months in 20% new French and American oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $35
Vibrant ruby purple color. Aromas of bright currants and red cherries, some darker berry elements as well, but all the fruit is tangy and alive, backed up by notes of roses, vanilla, charcoal and tobacco. Tangy acid and medium strength tannins provide a good frame for the red and black cherries and tart plum fruit. A clean and bright wine with notes of charcoal, espresso, violets and vanilla add complexity. Really silky and pretty on the finish. Drinking well right now but could develop with some near-term cellaring. Aged 25 months in French and American oak, includes 4% Merlot and 1% Petite Verdot. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Liberated Wine Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
Medium purple color. Smells like candied berries, juicy plums, raspberry gummies, some sweet black licorice and vanilla. Chewy, juicy appeal on the palate, the raspberry, black cherry and plum fruit is tart but also a bit candied. Medium-light tannins, low acid. A dusty, smoky element mixes with sweet red flowers. A bit too candied and low on the acid, but a fun flavor profile. Includes 9% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Vetdot. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Montana Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
Deep but vibrant purple. A bit dense aromatically, opens up with air to show deep black currants, blueberries, dark plums, matched with cedar, mint, eucalyptus, mocha, granite and coffee. Firm tannins but they stay accessible and smooth, the acid provides moderate levels of freshness. The fruit has this great combination of tartness and pure ripeness (black cherries, black currants, blueberry and black cherries), blended together with lovely notes of cinnamon, menthol, eucalyptus, coffee and cherry wood shavings. Notes of crushed rocks, pencil shavings, I get some tobacco and sweet vanilla on the finish. Lots of structure and power, yet stays sexy. One to decant for a very long time or bury for five to eight years easily, this will keep for a long while, but what a beauty. 100% Cabernet.(93 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $75
Deep purple color. Rich and dens on the nose, black currants, black cherries, some blueberry and plum skin, along with a complex web of loamy soil, coffee, violets, some pencil shavings and vanilla. Firm tannins, not quite gritty but still very strong, actually showing some refreshing acid. Black currant, blueberry and black cherry fruit, woven together with vanilla, coffee, roasted chestnut, some loamy, clay soil and graphite elements. Quite young, deserving a few years for sure, but plenty in the tank for the cellar. Can’t help but appreciate its richness and complexity even at a young age though. 100% Cabernet. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $45
Dark purple color. Rich and seductive on the nose, dark plums (pits, skins, the whole deal) black cherries, I also get some dark roast coffee, potting soil and vanilla cola aromas. Bright acid kicks off the wine but firm tannins for structure. The black cherry and plum fruit is tangy, like crunching through the skin, but oozes ripeness as well. Lots of mocha, dark chocolate and cola notes, some cedar, tobacco and coffee as well. Long and clean on the finish, this could age but already showing hints of elegance. Aged 18 months in French oak, 45% new, includes 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 1% dash of Cabernet Franc. (88 points IJB)

Wines Scoring <85 points
Review: 2012 Tom Gore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California
SRP: $13
Bright ruby color. Juicy red berry-driven aromatics, hints of sweet jam, cola, vanilla and some baking spices. Medium-bodied, medium acid, easily chewable tannins. Tangy black cherries, strawberry jam, blueberry pancake topping. Some sweet mocha, cola. Simple, fruity, tastes a bit manufactured.

Review: 2012 La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast
SRP: $15
Bright purple color. The red fruit smells candied, like candied red apple and raspberry gummies, some sweet cola, sugared coffee and vanilla as well. Soft tannins on the palate, some moderate acid provides a refreshing tangy element against the sweet red fruit (raspberries, cherries). Flavors of mocha, caramel and roasted chestnut as well. A bit too candied and lacking a sense of individuality, but pleasant enough.

Review: 2013 Magnolia Court Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Bright cherry colored. A sweet and candied nose of cherry and raspberry jam, some roses, red hot candies, caramel and toast. Light tannins, medium acid, the fruit is juicy and ripe, not as candied as it smells, but lots of jammy red berries, laced with notes of cola, vanilla and sweet oak. Fun if you’re looking for something fruit-forward and candied, but it doesn’t seem complex or evocative of a particular place.

Review: 2013 Concept Wine Group Omen - California, North Coast
$20
Vibrant purple color. Jammy black and red berries on the nose, a bit candied, along with some smoky oak, magic marker and black licorice candies. A fierce approach on the palate with high octane, jammy fruit, a bit roasted, like some blackberries and plums were tossed into a charcoal pit. Light tannins and low acid, a bit out of whack in terms of balance. Quite smoky and a bit hot from the alcohol. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir — 60% from Sonoma County, 40% from Napa.

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