Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-16-2019

This week, we have another round of new releases from California. In recent weeks, I’ve received a lot of different wines (whites and reds) from all over the state, from good bargains for early drinking, to splurge-worthy wines that should be cellared for a few Presidential elections.

For me, Steele wine from Lake County has long been a reputable producer of value-driven wines of high quality and distinction. The current crop of releases keeps going on that same track.

There are a few wines from different Gallo brands in this tasting, and some wines from the Hess Collection as well. I also tasted four wines from Hestan Vineyards (a first for me). These “Stephanie” label wines are sourced from a 56-acre estate vineyard, and all four of these wines hail from that vineyard’s 2015 vintage. I found these four wines (treated the same way in the cellar), offered a nice look into their vineyard and style, and I think the wines are really pretty and offer a lot of value compared to many other Napa reds.

Lastly, Napa stalwart Shafer contributes three exciting wines. And the Relentless Syrah and Hillside Select Cabernet strut their stuff.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.


2018 Steele Wines Pinot Blanc Bien Nacido Vineyard– California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $20
Pale lemon color. Bright and juicy nose of kiwi, peaches and pineapple, with lots of floral tones (dandelion, honeysuckle, orange blossom). Nice creaminess on the palate, balanced well with bright acidity. Tangy and fresh but plump with lemon curd, pineapple and peaches. Topped in sea spray, floral perfume, cut flower stems, some hints of love and white pepper, too. Lovely stuff at a great price. Stainless steel-fermented (maloactic fermentation, too) and aged in old French oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Chardonnay Cuvée– California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
cuvee chardSRP: $24
Light gold color. Nose boasts yellow apples, apricot, guava, a tropical but zesty blend with honey, sea salt and wildflowers. Plush texture on the palate, crisp acidity, and there’s a nice mix of papaya, yellow pears, lime juice. Notes of chalk, sea salt, honey and graham cracker add complexity, and there’s this real sense of vibrancy, harmony and balance that is rare to find in a Chardonnay at this price point. Tons of value, highly recommended. Aged eight months in 20% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2018 William Hill Winery Chardonnay Winemaker’s Series– California, Napa Valley, Coombsville
SRP: $50
Medium yellow color. On the nose, yellow apples, juicy pears, oranges, with cinnamon, salted nuts, hay and honeycomb. Medium+ bodied, creamy yet zesty acidity. Juicy green and yellow apples, lemon curd, the fruit is balanced with chalky, crushed shell vibes, and richer notes of nougat and pie crust. Rich and deep but balanced and vibrant as well. Sourced from Haynes Vineyard old vine Wente clone Chardonnay. (90 points IJB)

2017 San Simeon Chardonnay– California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $19
Deep gold color. The nose pops with honeybutter, candied pecans, peanut brittle and ginger, over top bruised apple and orange marmalade. Plump and creamy texture with medium acid, and plenty of juicy pineapple, yellow apple and orange marmalade fruit. Hedonistic elements of toasted pecan, honey and oak round out the finish. Rich, fun and yummy. Barrel-fermented (75% new French and American oak), and this goes through about 70% maloactic fermentation. (86 points IJB)

2016 Maddalena Vineyards Chardonnay– California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $15
Intense gold color. On the nose: hunks of pineapple, baked apple, with toasted nuts, nougat, whipped honey and cinnamon sticks. Plump and texturally rich with medium/low acidity. Honeyed, waxy and nutty with baked apple and pears and lemon bars. Notes of almond brittle and peanut as well. For fans of juicy, nutty, oaky Chardonnay. This sees 30% new American and French oak, and 35% maloactic fermentation, sourced from three vineyards in Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. (85 points IJB)

2017 The Hess Collection Chardonnay Panthera – California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Rich yellow color. Aromas are rich and inviting, with pineapple, lemon curd, sea salt, ginger, cinnamon. Very pretty texture, plump, full, medium/low acidity but the wine stays lively. Lemon curd, yellow apple and pineapple, topped in ginger, cinnamon coffee cake, and honey tones, but also brighter elements of white flowers and crushed chalky. Bold but nuanced. Aged 18 months in 35% new French oak. (89 points IJB)


2016 Talbott Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard– California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $45
Medium ruby color. I like these aromas of spicy cranberries, tangy strawberries, with bright notes of white pepper, sweet roses and rhubarb. Medium+ bodied on the palate with soft tannins, and super fresh, zippy acidity. Juicy cherries, spiced cranberry sauce, sweet red plums, the fruit is mixed with rhubarb, clove, white pepper and roses. I like the vibrancy, and these mushroom, earth tones underneath. A lot of personality and freshness. (89 points IJB)

2016 Maddalena Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $17
Vibrant purple color. Smells of sweet plums, blueberry jam, with violets, vanilla and mocha. Full and smooth, chewy and dark with velvety tannins and medium/low acidity. Blackberries and blueberry jam, bold and fruity but not too over-the-top. Notes of anise, dark chocolate and mocha. Juicy and fruit-forward but it holds itself together well for a wine at this price point. (85 points IJB)

2016 San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve – California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $26
Medium purple color. Nose shows tangy black currants, wild blueberries, with a nice kick of smoky earth, cracked black pepper and green herbs. Fresh acidity frames the wine quite nicely, accessible tannins, the balance is attractive. Tart black currants and black cherries, with notes of incense sticks, spice rub, cocoa and vanilla. Fun, early-drinking style, but it could actually improve for two or three years. Aged 36 months in a mix of new and old French and American. (87 points IJB)

2016 Mount Peak Winery Zinfandel Rattlesnake– California, Sonoma County
SRP: $48
Bright purple color. Smells of sweet black cherries, plum cake, with sweet cocoa, anise, vanilla cookies. Rich and huge on the palate (16%), with chewy tannins and just enough acidity to carry itself. Jammy, juicy, with plums, raspberries, black cherries, roasted figs, with sweet pipe tobacco, coffee, vanilla, hazelnut crème. Lush and bold, but well-done and undeniably delicious. From mostly Monte Rosso Vineyard fruit. (89 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Cabernet Sauvignon– California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $28
Medium purple color. Juicy black cherries and smoky cherries on the nose, with charcoal, anise and black pepper notes. Medium/full-bodied, nice grip but the tannins have rounded edges, and the acidity is lively. Dusty, juicy ad pleasantly spicy, as black cherries blend well with nose of rose petals, charcoal, scorched earth and pepper. Smooth coffee and vanilla woven in well. Lots of depth, freshness, and this could even improve for a few years. Impressive Lake County value, per usual from Steele. Aged 18 months in 30% new French and America oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Cabernet Franc– California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $20
Loving the spicy aromas here (oregano, sage, black pepper, clove) on top of juicy cherries and raspberries. Vibrant acidity frames the wine well, a medium-bodied frame, velvety but structured tannins, nicely balanced. Black cherries and raspberry jam topped in anise, pepper, cocoa. Fresh and delicious with a spicy, earthy, herbal, floral finish. Aged 14 months in 30% new French and American oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Lion Tamer – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Medium purple color. Lush, inviting nose of sweet plums, red and black currants, and lavender, dark chocolate, coffee and vanilla. Full-bodied, velvety and suave with lively acidity, tangy red and black cherries, juicy but fresh fruit. Nicely integrated aspects of coffee, sweet green herbs, black tea, with nuanced vanilla and cedar. Lots going on, but really accessible now. Cabernet, 11% Petite Sirah, 8% Malbec. Aged in 33% new French and American oak for 20 months. (90 points IJB)

2015 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Lot No. 1 – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $175
Dark purple color. Gorgeous, deep nose of currants, black cherries and plum skin, with eucalyptus, sweet pipe tobacco, scorched earth, vanilla – complex! Full and plush on the palate with smooth tannins, and delightful acidity, so the balance works out quite well. Rich, juicy plums, black cherries, black currants. The fruit melds well with complex graphite, charcoal, loamy and rocky earth, sweet pipe tobacco, mint, with notes of vanilla and cedar rounding things out. Long, lush finish. Lovely stuff that will do well with three to five years in the cellar and hold for quite some time. All Cabernet (a blend from various vineyards in Napa) aged 20 months in 97% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2017 Shafer TD-9 – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Deep purple color. Delightful nose, deep, rich and vibrant, with black cherries, blackberries, topped with scorched earth, graphite, and coffee. Full but smooth, suave and velvety tannins, but vibrant acidity, which keeps it lively. Pretty plum, currant and cherry fruit, with violets, earth and coffee. Complex, structured, deep, but also lively and downright fun to drink. This is delicious now but also could improve over the next handful of years. 62% Merlot, 22% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 20 months in all new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2016 Shafer Relentless – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $95
Deep purple color. So much to unpack on the nose, it’s kind of crazy. Gorgeous boysenberry, blueberry and blackberry fruit, tossed with waves of pepper, anise, clove, leather, charcoal and espresso elements. Obviously full-bodied and burly, this is big stuff but the acidity actually keeps it lip-smacking in spite of its richness. The freshest, sweetness blueberries and blackberries, and the fruit is laced with leather, pepper, spicy herbs, charcoal and rocky earth tones. Complex and rich, yet effortless and pure — a beautiful young Relentless that is built the long haul (a decade at least would do it good). Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah, aged 30 months in all new French oak. (96 points IJB)

2015 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select – California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
shaferSRP: $310
Deep, concentrated purple color. The aromas are dark and rich, and the wine needs time to show the full aromatic display: dark currants, plum cake, fig paste, along with violets, espresso, graphite, smashed rocks, scorched earth and vanilla. Full-bodied, grippy and young, but it shows moderating acidity, and it amounts to a bold, concentrated but smooth and integrate feel. Boysenberry, black currants and black cherries abound (exquisite fruit), and it’s matched with complex notes of charcoal, graphite, rocky soil, also vanilla, sarsaparilla and cedar. Concentrated for the long-term, but also already elegant and expressive. All Cabernet aged 32 months in 100% new French oak barrels. (95 points IJB)

2015 Hestan Vineyards Malbec Stephanie Selection – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Dark, saucy purple. Lush aromas of raspberries and blackberries, topped in sweet cocoa, mint, eucalyptus and violets. Full-bodied, smooth tannins, this is velvety and sports crisp acidity, framing the wine nicely. Blackberries and raspberries, accented with coffee, violets, cedar and vanilla. Plush and juicy but it has a bright, floral aesthetic with subtle earth, iron and minerals. Delicious. Includes a 7% mix of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Petit Verdot, aged 28 months in 40% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2015 Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Stephanie– California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Dark purple color. A nice tart, dark core of black cherries, roasted figs and sweet pipe tobacco. Powerful but suave, with a chewy texture and medium/low acidity. Lots of dark currants, tart blackberries, laced with graphite, smoky charcoal, and cool mint and eucalyptus notes. Lots of depth, but the balance is impressive. Five years should do this well. Includes a combined 16% Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, aged 28 months in 40% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2015 Hestan Vineyards Red Wine Stephanie – California, Napa Valley
SRP: $85
Inky purple color. Bold aromas of black cherries and cassis, concentrated but suave, with lots of black pepper, smoky charcoal, cedar and pencil shavings. Serious concentration and grip on the palate with tart black currants and juicy black cherries. Complex notes of spicy pepper, wild herbs, eucalyptus, charcoal, violets and anise. There’s a lot going on here, deep and concentrated, but also fresh, this could easily improve for 5-8 years. 32% Petit Verdot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 21% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Malbec, aged 28 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2015 Hestan Vineyards Merlot Stephanie– California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Medium purple color. Smells of juicy red and black cherries, dark plums, lots of violets, rose petals, sweet coffee, pleasantly earthy elements. Medium/full-bodied with lively acidity, moderate tannins. Smooth plum and currant fruit blend well with potting soil, cigar box, with cedar, smoke and violet elements as well. Nice concentration, but balanced and quite fresh, too. This could do well with a few years in the cellar. Includes 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 28 months in 40% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

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