Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-29-2018

As the year wraps up and 2019 begins, I have one last round-up of new releases from California.

This week includes another batch from Lake County stalwart producer Jed Steele. I’ve said it before (a bunch of times), and I’ll say it again: some of these wines are so damned good for the money.

I also tasted two vintages of Calla Lily’s Audax Napa Cabernet. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard, first planted in 1995, on the eastern side of Howell Mountain. The vineyard is planted to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Petite Sirah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They’re big and bold, but I found them vibrant and quite balanced as well.

In this report, I cover the newest vintages of Chalk Hill’s Chardonnay, Louis Martini’s Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet, and some new (to me) red wines from Joseph Stephens, a winery in the Santa Clara Valley owned by the Silicon Valley Wine Company.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Eberle Chardonnay Estate – California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $24
Medium yellow color. Nose shows bruised apples, glazed pear, topped in cinnamon, honey, almond and sea salt. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely, while plump texture holds up the rich apple and apricot fruit. Notes of salted almond, graham cracker, sea salt and honeycomb. Rich but still lively. Half stainless steel, half of the wine spends time in 25% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2016 Chalk Hill Chardonnay – California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $42
Light gold color. On the nose, I get a combination of rich honey, cinnamon, pecans, along with lemon, white flowers and sea salt. Full texture but medium acidity, creamy but crisp, with all sorts of apples, apricots, lemons. Complex notes of sea shells, salted almond, white flowers, and the deeper notes of honeycomb and toasted marshmallow are woven in well. Rich mouthfeel, lots of textural depth, but also maintains an inviting freshness. Full maloactic fermentation and 11 months in 40% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Pinot Blanc California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $20
Pale straw color. On the nose: peachy! Lots of juicy green melons, lemon curd as well, some orange blossom and clover. On the palate, precise acidity, this is juicy and fun with some nice textural depth, and flavors of green melon, key lime and lemon curd. Notes of orange blossom, perfume, new tennis ball, honeysuckle. This is sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard, spends six months in old French oak, and is a fascinating and delicious wine, especially for the price. (89 points IJB)

2016 Steele Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Shooting Star – California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $16
Bright purple color. Nose shows tart red and black currants and cherries with a smoky, minty, earthy element. Full but velvety on the palate, medium acidity, a bright and crunchy core of currants and plums. Notes of herbs, spiced coffee mix in nicely. Tangy and earthy finish. It’s hard to find California Cabernet of this quality at this price point. (87 points IJB)

2016 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard SelectionCalifornia, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $25
Rich purple color. Dark and juicy on the nose with sweet plums, currant jam, smoky charcoal and root beer notes. Medium/full-bodied with soft tannins, moderate acidity, and a chewy texture. Plums and currants and black cherries, ripe and jammy fruit, this is a forward, fun, fan-friendly wine with notes of cola, chocolate and vanilla. 100% Cabernet. (85 points IJB)

2014 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon – California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $35
Light purple color. Nose show juicy black cherries, plums, kirsch, along with sweet coffee, roasted herbs, vanilla and anise. Full-bodied with a plummy, ripe, juicy feel and velvety tannins, medium-low acidity. Plums and candied black cherries mix with coconut, anise, sweet vanilla coffee and some roasted earth notes. Forward, ripe, fun, crowd-pleasing stuff. Includes 16% Merlot and 4% Malbec aged 24 months in French and American oak. (88 points IJB)

2014 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard – California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $85monte rosso
Lively purple color. Beautiful nose of tangy red and black currants, sweet plums, lots of roses, violets, dusty earth, sweet cocoa, cedar – really gorgeous and complex on the nose. This wine is full and juicy but the acidity is lively and crisp, my mouth waters but the tannins provide serious grip. Tangy red and black currants and plums, really pretty, deep fruit, laced with complex elements of eucalyptus, dusty earth, clay, violets, with cocoa and espresso. Lovely now but shows lots of complexity and aging potential. All Cabernet Sauvignon aged 26 months in French and American oak. (91 points IJB)

2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon – California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $70
Deep purple color. Rich purple color, with dark, concentrated blueberry, black cherry, along with anise, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, cocoa and earth. Full-bodied, significant tannins but it maintains a velvety feel, medium-low acidity. A dark, saucy style with blueberries, cassis, blackberries, along with notes of mint, eucalyptus, sweet cocoa, cedar. Rich and delicious but the balance lines up nicely here. Hedonistic now, but this could do some fun things over the next five years. Includes Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, aged 28 months in 67% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2013 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon AudaxCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $120
Deep purple color. Nose shows tart black currant, juicy blackberries (gorgeous depth of fruit), with complex notes of mint, scorched earth, cocoa nibs, violets, deep but vibrant scents in here. Full but not heavy (14.5% alcohol), held together with sturdy tannins and surprisingly fresh acidity. Deep, concentrated but tangy black currants and dark plums, the fruit is juicy but really vibrant, and laced with a nice mix of earth, mint, dark chocolate and cedar. Fresh enough to be enjoyed now, but strength for the cellar, surely. (93 points IJB)

2014 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon AudaxCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $120audaux
Deep purple color. Concentrated fruit on the nose (black currant, blackberries and blueberries), with deep violets, spiced black tea, earth, cocoa and mint. Full-bodied, a bit more powerful in its presence than the 2013, but still vibrant acidity, and the tannins are sturdy but show rounded edges. Pretty depth of fruit (currants, blackberries, plums), but it’s still nice and fresh. Notes of anise, cocoa, earth, mint and cedar. Plush and forward but lively. This could use five to eight years in the cellar, but it’s a lovely wine. 14.7% alcohol. (93 points IJB)

2014 Bootleg Wine Works RedCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $38
Medium purple color. Heck of a lot of plums and blackberries on the nose, with roasted fig, smoky charcoal, vanilla and mint. Full-bodied on the palate, this wine is all about the velvety mouthfeel, medium-low acidity, along with juicy plums, black cherries, blueberries, juicy and plump. Notes of mocha, scorched earth, vanilla, roasted chestnut. Big and hedonistic but well-made and undeniably yummy. A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in French and American oak. (89 points IJB)

2014 Jason Stephens Winery Cabernet SauvignonCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
SRP: $34
Light purple color. Aromas of spice tea, anise and cocoa underneath currant jam, cherry compote, with tobacco and magic marker notes. Full but plush, chewy yet moderating acidity. Plums and currant compote laced with chai, clove, sweet coffee, anise and cedar. Bold but vibrant, cool stuff from Santa Clara! Includes 10% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 30 months in 25% new American oak. (88 points IJB)

2014 Jason Stephens Winery MeritageCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
SRP: $34
Rich purple color. Aromas of saucy black cherries, dark plums, with a mix of floral potpourri, sweet cocoa, roasted and candied nuts. Full but suave on the palate with rich, plush tannins and medium/low acidity. Plummy, saucy black fruit mixed with cocoa, coffee, sweet pipe tobacco and herbs. Lovely, juicy, rich but accessible. 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 10% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Franc, aged 36 months in oak. (88 points IJB)

2014 Jason Stephens Winery Merlot – California, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
SRP: $24
Light purple color. Gushing nose of plums, black and red cherries, along with cinnamon, sweet herbs and vanilla. Full but smooth on the palate, velvety tannins, moderate acidity, and plenty of currants, plums, raspberry jam, backed up with anise, violets, vanilla. Juicy and suave fruit but a liveliness pervades the wine, too. Includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, aged 36 month in 25% new oak. (88 points IJB)

2016 French Bar Petite Sirah – California
SRP: $16
Bright purple color. Nose shows sweet cherries, boysenberry, with cola and black pepper glaze. Full and juicy on the palate with fleshy tannins and medium acidity. Flavors of baked figs, plum cake, tart currants, mixed with coffee and cola. Fun, approachable style. Includes 5% Teroldego and 2% Petite Verdot, aged eight months in French oak. (85 points IJB)

2016 Steele Wines Zinfandel Shooting Star – California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $14
Dark ruby color. Aromas of plump plums, raspberries, juicy cherries, with roses, rhubarb and tobacco notes. Full-bodied but really vibrant, the acidity sings, and the tannins and smooth and velvety tannins. Lots of juicy, ripe but vibrant red berry fruit mixed in with tobacco, cocoa, mint and rose petals. Loving this ripe but crisp feel. Aged eight months in 20% new American and Hungarian oak. (87 points IJB)

2016 Steele Wines Zinfandel Writer’s Block California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Bright purple color. Juicy and plummy on the nose with raspberries and black cherries, topped in spicy tobacco, black pepper, roses, rhubarb. Juicy and approachable on the palate with light tannins and fresh acidity, and a nice mix of tangy raspberries, plums and black cherries. Smoky, tar, tobacco and floral tones mixed in nicely. Vibrant and fresh but fruity and fun. Aged 12 months in 15% new oak. (87 points IJB)

2015 Markus Wine Co. Domo – California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $39
Bright ruby color. Lovely aromas of spiced black tea, anise, violets and earth over tart red currants and raspberries. On the palate, this is crisp and vibrant, medium-bodied, with velvety tannins, but packed with flavor. Plummy with raspberries and black cherries, topped in complex notes of anise, cocoa, violets, pepper, earth. Deep mineral notes. complex yet deep and bright. This is gorgeous. Carignan with some Petite Sirah and Syrah. (92 points IJB)

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for including us, Isaac! Happy New Year!
    – Jon Bjork of Markus Wine Co.

  2. Cheers Jon!