Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-06-2019

To all my fellow Americans, I hope you had a great Fourth of July. I celebrated Independence Day by going to a baseball game with my daughter, grilling out, and cracking open a few interesting American wines. Speaking of American wines, I have a lot of California wines that have piled up in recent weeks, so here goes!

Long-time readers may recognize Santa Ynez Valley producer Kita, whose wines I’ve found exciting, balanced and full of intrigue. Made by Tara Gomez and sourced largely from the Camp 4 Vineyard, which her Chumash Tribe owns, I’ve been blown away by these wines for about five years now, and they continue to excel. Tara and her wife, Catalan-born winemaker Mireia Taribo, also have a new project called Camins 2 Dreams. I tried their Santa Rita Hills Gruner and Syrah for this report, and these wines have so much personality.

I also got to taste the first two vintages of Mount Peak Winery’s Sentinel Cabernet Sauvignon. From winemaker Mark Williams, these are blended from different Sonoma fruit sources, including Monte Rosso Vineyard, and some Napa fruit as well. These are massively hedonistic wines, but they’re undeniably delish.

Paso Robles is known to many for juicy, high-octane reds from Rhone and Bordeaux grapes, but during a trip there two years ago, I really enjoyed tasting so many good wines from Italian grapes. To prove my point, I have two Barberas from Paso Robles in this report. Frankly, I’d rather drink this Giornata Barbera than most any Paso Cabernet at a similar price point.

I also tasted a few wines from Pellet Estate (which was a first for me). Made by Duckhorn-founding winemaker Tom Rinaldi, the project pays homage to Henry Pellet, who first planted grapes in this St. Helena site way back in the 1860s. The two Petaluma Gap Chardonnays really wowed me, and same goes for the Napa Cabernet.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.


2018 KITÁ T’aya Camp 4 Vineyard – California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. So bright and floral and attractive on the nose with white peach, orange, lots of magnolia, cherry blossom, wildflowers, and a distinct sea spray and stony note. Medium-bodied on the palate with rich texture, waxy yet zippy, with vibrant, surprising acidity. Flavors of white peach, nectarine, all kinds of melon, backed up by notes of salted almond, chamomile tea, sea salt and mineral tones. Bold flavors yet really nuanced and pristine, a white Rhone blend that should age nicely. 56% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 4% Grenache Blanc, aged seven months in French oak, 15% new. (91 points)

2018 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Gamble VineyardCalifornia, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $28
Light yellow color. The nose boasts lots of peaches, guava, lemon crème, with nettle, cucumber slices and chalk dust. Zippy acidity and creamy texture fit nicely, and there is plenty of delicious fruit, like a summer salad of five different types of peaches drizzled with a  little lime. Nuances notes of spices and herbs (nettle, white pepper, floral tea), and a chalky/mineral undertone that adds complexity. Lovely, fresh, balanced Napa Sauvignon Blanc. This wine sees stainless steel and some French oak, 20% new. (89 points)

2018 KITÁ Sauvignon Blanc Camp 4 VineyardCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $24
Medium straw color. Aromas of peach, lime and guava pop from the glass, with notes of white tea, mint, lemongrass, and steely, salty notes. Rich texture on the palate but zippy acidity and fresh but nuanced fruit (guava, papaya, lime). A pure and lively feel with notes of saline, lemongrass, mint and some honeyed tea notes. A lot going on here. (89 points)

2018 Rombauer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Aromas pop with peaches, green apples, honeysuckle, magnolia and mint. Creamy texture on the palate meets zippy acidity, fresh and balanced. Green apples, kiwi and papaya fruit blend well with verbena, mint, honeysuckle, and some creamy, honeyed notes. Vibrant, salty finish, a well-rounded Napa Sauvignon Blanc at a very reasonable price. Fermented and aged in a mix of stainless steel and used French oak. (88 points)

2017 William Hill Winery Chardonnay – California, North Coast
SRP: $17
Light gold color. Aromas of buttercream, yellow apples, honey, buttered popcorn, some white flowers. A juicy, creamy texture but moderating acidity makes for a forward but balanced wine. Bruised apples, lemon crème, apricot jam, along with toasted biscuits, buttercream, and some saline elements. A lot going on for the price, this has those classic California Chardonnay notes but stays fresh and quite lively. (87 points)

2017 Talbott Chardonnay Kali Hart VineyardCalifornia, Central Coast, Monterey
Rich gold color. Smells rich and juicy with yellow apples, apricot jam, cinnamon spice and honeysuckle. Plump texture on the palate with a juicy, round feel, but the medium acidity balances it nicely. Green and yellow apples and pears, juicy and fresh fruit, and the notes of salted almond, coconut and vanilla are nuanced and mixed well with some salty, floral perfume tones. This shows an impressive amount of personality and vibrancy for this price point. (88 points)

2017 Chalk Hill Chardonnay – California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $20
Bold gold color. Juicy nose of apricot marmalade, lemon curd, with salted nuts and honey butter. Full-bodied with a plump but fresh feel, moderating acidity setting the base for the apricot, yellow apple and lemon curd. I get notes of peanut shells, candied ginger and crushed shells, with notes of vanilla and butter woven in well. Solid, balanced, nuanced stuff, especially for the price. All maloactic fermentation, aged eight months in 30% new oak. (90 points)

2016 Chalk Hill Chardonnay EstateCalifornia, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $42
Medium yellow color. Bright and fresh on the nose with all sorts of citrus and apples, with some airy, salty and, yes, chalky notes, along with whipped honey. Plush texture on the palate, lovely creaminess/acidity balance here. Lemon meringue, orange creamsicle and yellow apples pair nicely with notes of sea salt, chalk and flowers. Whipped honey, buttered biscuits and toasted nut elements are woven in well. Lovely balance here, super delicious. All maloactic fermentation, aged 11 months in 42% new French oak. (90 points)

2017 Pellet Estate Chardonnay Un-Oaked Sunchase VineyardCalifornia, Sonoma County, Petaluma Gap
SRP: $42
Medium yellow color. Yellow apples, apricot, lemon crème on the nose, with sea salt, crushed nuts, ocean spray and honeysuckle. Crisp and lively on the palate with lots of depth of texture and flavors (lemon crème, apricot, crunchy apples). I get notes of minerals, sea salt, mountain stream, along with honeysuckle and ginger. Crisp, bright, but complex and flavorful. No maloactic fermentation, aged 10 months in stainless steel. (90 points)

2016 Pellet Estate Chardonnay Sunchase VineyardCalifornia, Sonoma County, Petaluma Gap
SRP: $68
Rich yellow color. Gorgeous depth of aromas with baked apple, lemon curd, mixed with sea spray, crushed shells, honeycomb, peanut brittle and pie crust. Big and plump on the palate, rich in flavor but shows nuance and depth. Hedonistic elements of baked apple, buttered biscuits, toffee and candied ginger mix well with crushed chalk, white flowers and underlying mineral tones. Bold and lush, but also pretty and complex, I’d love to hold this for three to five years. 18 months in 30% new French oak with maloactic fermentation. (92 points)

2018 Camins 2 Dreams Grüner Veltliner Spear Vineyard California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Light yellow color. So bright on the nose with lemons, apricot, green apple and papaya, with lots of airy, floral, salty tones, and hints of white pepper and mint. Crisp acidity frames the wine so well, on a medium-bodied frame, this shows plush texture but stays light and airy. Apricot, lemon, papaya, really pretty fruit topped with distinct salty, crushed rock notes. Finishes with cool elements of white pepper and mint. Foot-crushed, fermented in old French oak and stainless steel with natural yeasts. Very impressive Gruner that pays homage to Austria really well. (92 points)

Bubbles and Rosé

N.V. J Vineyards & Winery California Cuvée – California
SRP: $27
Light gold color. Nose shows green and yellow apples with some ginger, baby’s breath and nettle, some salted biscuit notes. Medium-bodied, crisp and vibrant with some chalky, crushed sweet tart notes and cane sugar. Tangy green apples, crunchy pears, green melon, mixed with ginger, sea salt, cut flower stems. Fun, accessible, inexpensive sparkling wine. The inaugural release of this wine, which is a blend of different vineyards and varieties, bottled in March 2016, aged 24 months on the lees. (85 points)

2018 KITÁ Grenache Rosé Camp 4 Vineyard California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $18
Light watermelon color. So pretty on the nose with peaches, apricot, lots of honey, white and yellow flowers, bright with a lot of spicy, herbal tones. Lovely freshness on the palate, texturally intriguing, with flavors of white cherry, peach, apricot — crunchy, pretty fruit. Complex, nuanced, lots of basil, mint and spice, but plenty of fun fruit that makes it so drinkable and fun. (90 points)


PASO BARBERA2016 Bella Luna Barbera Glenrose Vineyard – California, Central Coast, Paso Robles Adelaida District
SRP: $45
Light purple color. Bold aromas of dark plums and sweet currants, with a smoky, mesquite, roasted coffee and nuts quality, and some violets. Full and chewy on the palate with velvety tannins and moderate acidity, plenty of plums and black cherry fruit. I like this combination of incense sticks, clove, floral potpourri here – there’s a lot of spicy, floral complexity. And while the wine is super juicy, it stays lively. Showing so well now but this could age for at least a few years. All Barnera from a 1,700 foot elevation vineyard. (90 points)

2017 Giornata Barbera – California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Beautiful aromatic display of raspberry and cherry compote, rose petals, anise, pepper, red cinnamon candies. On the palate, this is so fresh and vibrant, with dusty tannins on a medium-bodied frame – it really turns the tables on some stereotypes about jammy Paso reds, and I love it. Raspberries and cherry fruit, tangy and fresh with compels notes of black pepper, rose petals, leather, light roast coffee, some anise and cola notes. Complex and vibrant, but also really fruity and fun, this wine rides that line so well. What a screaming value. (92 points)

2017 Camins 2 Dreams Syrah Zotovich Vineyard – California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $46
Vibrant purple color. Lovely nose of plums and black cherries, laced with mesquite barbecue put, black pepper, and this really interesting earthy/graphite quality. Full-bodied but the balance is lovely, serious structure from the tannins but vibrant acidity, with black cherries and currant fruit. What I really love about this wine are these complex smoky, earthy, peppery, barbecue-y elements — there are tons of different tones, and no one particular one dominates. Long, fresh finish, this will age wonderfully for many years. My kind of California Syrah, I was amazed to hear this was the first crop of this block. 20% whole cluster fermentation, aged 10 months in oak, 30% new. (93 points)

PELLET2014 Pellet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Pellet Vineyard – California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $95
Deep purple color. Gorgeous depth of aromas with tangy black cherries, currants, dark plums, waves of pretty fruit backed up by eucalyptus, mint, cocoa, anise cookie and clove. Full-bodied with great tannic structure, but the wine has a velvety edge and moderating acidity, and the balance is in point. Plums, blueberries, black currant, juicy but tangy fruit, laced with cocoa, graphite, minerals, anise and earth. Complex but young, this deserves time, but it’s a beauty. Includes 8% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 21 months in 80% new French oak. (92 points)

2014 Mount Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sentinel California, Sonoma County
SRP: $60
Medium purple. Nose shows chilled black cherries and gobs of black currants, with coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, clove and sweet violets. Big, full-bodied (15.5%) with structured tannins yet rounded around the edges, and medium acidity helps tone down the burly nature. Black cherries, black currants, rich but tangy fruit, laced with cedar, coffee, vanilla, mint, with earthy, charcoal notes. Herbal tones come out with air. Lovely stuff that could use some cellar love. Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% Petite Sirah, aged 18 months in 53% new French and American oak. 86% Sonoma County, 14% Napa County. (90 points)

2015 Mount Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sentinel – California, Sonoma County
SRP: $60
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of dark and saucy black cherries, blackberries and boysenberry with anise, mint, cocoa, coffee and scorched earth. Full and suave on the palate with a nice backbone but rounded tannins and medium/low acidity. Waves of gorgeous black cherries and cassis, the juicy, dark fruit is laced with cocoa, coffee, scorched earth. I also get these anise, mint chocolate chip notes, and some earthy, rocky undertones. Lovely young, but this should do nice thigns in three to five years. All Cabernet, 51% Sonoma, 49% Napa, aged 18 months in 62% new French and American oak. (91 points)

Comments (1)

  1. Wow, that Camins 2 Dreams seems really intriguing. Maybe it’s time for me to explore the central coast a bit more . . .