Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-10-2018

It’s time for another roundup of California new releases, and this one has some beauties.

I found two exciting wines from Paso Robles, from producers doing things a bit differently. Frank Family comes out with some impressive reds. Napa stalwarts Robert Mondavi and Shafer have some exceptional new releases in this report. And The Merlots from Napa’s Chris Carpenter are also something to behold.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico- California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $29
Light purple color. Bold aromas of raspberries, plums, black cherries, along with herbs, coffee, roses, sweet eucalyptus On the palate, this is velvety, with smooth tannins and moderating acidity. Flavors of juicy black cherries, raspberry jam, along with cola, violets, clove, mint and eucalyptus. Fun, fresh, food-friendly, this is lovely, vibrant stuff. 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Freisa, 5% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in French oak. (88 points)

2017 Barton Family Winery Clairette Blanche Holiday- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Willow Creek District)
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SRP: $32
Light yellow color. Interesting aromas of lemon, orange and lime peels, along with honeysuckle, dandelion, hay and clean laundry. Medium-bodied, vibrant and crisp but a pleasantly creamy texture. Nice balance between orange and limes mixed with crunchy, zesty elements of seashells and sea salt. All sorts of floral nuances and minerals linger on the finish. Fascinating and vibrant stuff, it’s almost like a less oceanic Muscadet with punchier Paso fruit. Love it. 13.4% alcohol, this goes through partial maloactic fermentation and spends a few months in old oak. (90 points)

2016 Thacher Winery Working Holiday Cass Vineyard- California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Geneseo District
SRP: $28
Pale ruby color. Wow, aromatically this pops with red apple, raspberry, crunchy dark plums, a lot of floral and spice elements (violets, rhubarb, white pepper). Lively acidity frames this wine from start to finish. Dusty tannins provide structure, and the fruit is crisp and refreshing (red apple, strawberry, tangy red currants, and a complex blend of black tea, rose petals, clove, white pepper, lavender. Just a vibrant, refreshing style done so well. 13.4% alcohol, a blend of 47% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 23% Mourvedre aged in old oak. (91 points)

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Light purple color. Rich black cherries on the nose, with raspberries, dark plums, mixed with incense and violets. Full-bodied and velvety on the palate with some grip and structure and moderating acidity, lovely balance. Tart black cherries, red plums and currants, smooth but tangy fruit. Smoky, herbal, black tea, sweet cola, roses and clove notes add complexity. This is rich and smooth but complex and structured, too. I’d love to see what this does over the next three to five years. Includes 11% Petite Sirah, aged for 16 months in 33% new French oak barrels. (89 points)

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $58
Rich purple color. Lovely, deep, enticing aromas of black currants, lush blackberry and dark plums, with eucalyptus, sweet coffee, violets, chewing tobacco. Rich and chewy but the acidity underlying the fruit is vibrant and keeps it fresh. Black currant, blackberry, dark plums, mixed with mint, espresso, dark chocolate and cedar. Structured but smooth, this is delicious young but could do some interesting things in five years, too. Includes 9% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged 20 months in 33% new French oak. (90 points)

2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Franc- California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $45
Light purple color. Juicy, dark aromas of black currants, dark plums, some mint and eucalyptus notes meets dark chocolate and coffee. On the palate, this is full-bodied, mouthfilling, with velvety but structured tannins, and the refreshing acidity frames the wine really nicely. Black cherries and currants galore, mixed with dark chocolate, chai tea, clove, some black pepper and cedar. This is delicious now but could improve with a few years or a good decant. All To Kalon vineyard fruit, with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this spends 20 months in all new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard- California, Napa Valley, Oakville
SRP: $175
Rich purple color. Aromas of black currants, plums, black cherries, rich but vibrant fruit, with cocoa, tobacco, earthy-charcoal notes, graphite, even some mushroom and pepper. Full and serious grip on the palate, but not harsh, the acidity is vibrant, too, lovely balance. Blackberries, black cherries, dark plums, crunchy, delicious fruit. Complex elements of cigar box, cedar, leaves, cocoa, anise, some mushroom and pepper subtleties. Big but so pretty, this will be so beautiful in 8-10 years. Includes 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in new French oak, 14.5% alcohol. (95 points)

2015 Mt. Brave Merlot- California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $80
Rich purple color. Gorgeous aromatics of crunchy red and black currants and cherries, along with warm mulling spices and complex elements of cedar, graphite, minerals and loamy soil. Full-bodied with suave but structured tannins and fresh acidity — lovely balance. Black cherries, plums, currants, lovely depth of fruit but it’s crunchy and fresh, too. Complex flavors of earth, tobacco, sage, graphite and clove, some savory mushroom notes underneath. Gorgeous depth and complexity, I would love to cellar this for a decade. All Merlot, aged 22 months in 95% new French oak, from vines planted at 1,7000 feet in elevation. (93 points)

2015 La Jota Merlot- California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
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SRP: $85
Rich purple color. Lovely depth of fruit on the nose (fresh blueberry, juicy black currants, tangy black cherries), along with complex elements of graphite, mint, eucalyptus, pipe tobacco and vanilla, along with mossy rocks and forest floor. On the palate, this is full but suave with solid tannic backbone, but vibrant acidity keeps it so fresh. Gushing black cherries, tangy red and black currants, blueberries, the fruit is tangy and vibrant and laced with mint, coffee, dark chocolate, along with earth, charcoal and incense sticks. Lots of savory elements to come out with time, this needs a serious decant or, preferably, five to ten years in the cellar. Exquisite stuff. Includes 10% Petit Verdot aged 22 months in French oak, from vines planted at about 1,800 feet in elevation. (94 points)

2016 Shafer TD-9- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Light purple color. Lovely nose of red and black cherries, blackberries, suave and dark, and packed with violets, rich earth, graphite, cocoa powder and clove. Full-bodied, with a velvety almost chewy feel to the tannins, but the acidity underlying the wine balances it really nicely. Waves of red and black cherries, fresh plums, mixed with eucalyptus, clove, earthy, forest floor notes, and coffee. Up-front and pretty but this will improve with five+ years in the cellar. Merlot with 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec, aged 20 months in all new French oak. (91 points)

2015 Shafer Relentless- California, Napa Valley
SRP: $95
Rich purple color. Deep core of blueberries and blackberries on the nose, along with violets, coffee grounds, black pepper glaze, black olive brine, and earthy, paved road notes. Full and rich on the palate, as expected, but some serious grip, and the acidity is really pleasant and refreshing, keeping it balanced despite its heft. Concentrated core of blackberries, blueberries and currants, along with violets, asphalt, black pepper and black olives. Charcoal, vanilla and coffee notes woven in expertly. Long finish, this has serious cellar potential. Five years+ of cellar time will reward the patient, or decant for a good few hours. Includes 10% Petite Sirah, this is aged 30 months in all new French oak. (94 points)

2014 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select- California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
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SRP: $295
Deep purple color. Deep and complex and dark on the nose, with black currants, plums, blackberries, mixed in with a dark, earthy, mineral elements with coffee, anise, vanilla, cedar. A massive wine, this is so young and concentrated, but it’s depth and purity of fruit is wonderful. Blackberries, blueberries, dark plums, crunchy and dark, laced with charcoal, graphite, espresso, mint, anise. The complexity in here is lovely, but the wine is so young, it really needs air, preferably a decade in the cellar. An awesome follow-up to the 2013 vintage, which I loved, and this stands shoulder-to-shoulder. 100% Hillside Estate Vineyards Cabernet, aged 32 months in all new French oak, 15.5% alcohol. (95 points)

2016 MacPhail Pinot Noir The Flyer- California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $50
Medium ruby color. Aromas of soft cherries, red apple, raspberry jam, along with crunchy rhubarb, white pepper, lots of rose petals. Full-bodied (14.5%), with chewy tannins and medium acidity, this has a velvety feel but stays fresh, too. Red apple, sweet raspberry and black cherry fruit play off of rhubarb, cola, sarsaparilla, white pepper, bay leaf.  Friendly and delicious but complex, juicy and fruit but vibrant, floral and spicy, too. This spends 11 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Lucky Rock Wine Co. Pinot Noir- California
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Aromas of sweet and sour cherries, along with spiced tea, cinnamon candies and cola. Full-bodied with light tannins and medium acidity, along with plump black cherries, raspberry jam and juicy plums. Cola, coffee and rhubarb notes, too. Fun stuff, has some depth and balance for a California Pinot at this price point. The fruit is sourced from San Benito, Monterey and Sonoma Counties and aged 10 months in French oak. (86 points)

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