Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-25-2020

I’m back this week with another round of new California releases, and this report has some goodies.

Spring Mountain’s Smith-Madrone has long made incredible, age-worthy, unique wines, and their new Riesling and Cabernet deliver oodles of goodness for not much money. Lake County’s Steele Wines makes more appearances here, which I welcome. Lake County doesn’t get a lot of love, but Jed Steele has been making wine there for many decades, and these wines continue to offer lots of quality and value.

Mi Sueño’s Syrah and Cab, and a few other wines, round out this report. These bottles were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Smith-Madrone RieslingCalifornia, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $34
Medium yellow color. So fresh on the nose, which pops with peaches, limes, pineapple, mixed with white flowers, hay, honey, crushed shells and sea spray. Brisk and focused on the palate with racy acidity, yet plenty of depth in texture. Tastes near dry, but shows lots of richness. Pure lime and papaya fruit mixed with mountain stream, honey and some crushed shells. This is another excellent Riesling from Smith-Madrone, one that should age beautifully. Crazy value. 12.8% alcohol, 0.68% residual sugar. (93 points IJB)

2018 Cline Cellars Pinot GrisCalifornia, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $15
Pale gold color with a slight orange tint. A burst of peach nectar, pineapple and lime on the nose, with orange blossom, honeysuckle, baby’s breath. Plush but crisp on the palate with fresh cantaloupe, white peaches and melon, drizzled in lime. Bright but not light, it’s juicy and quite complex with notes of white flowers, sea salt, honey, spiced white tea. Solid value — this is good Pinot Gris. (88 points IJB)

2017 Oak Farm Vineyards BarberaCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $25
Deep purple color. Nose pops with bold black cherries and saucy plums, and I’m loving the mesquite, barbecue brisket, pepper, anise, some toffee. Full-bodied on the palate with chewy tannins, yet it shows some moderating acidity. Notes of pepper, sweet cocoa, anise cookie, saucy and forward yet it has some freshness that I find really attractive. Beefy, saucy, earthy, floral tones abound. Impressive Lodi Barbera! Most of the fruit comes from their estate vineyard in Mokelumne River, this also includes some Petite Sirah. Aged in French, American and Russian oak (about ¼ new) for 20 months. (89 points IJB)

2016 The Paring Red WineCalifornia
SRP: $25
Dark purple color. Aromas of sweet black cherries, roasted figs, blueberry, topped in root beer, sweet cocoa and anise. Full-bodied on the palate, smooth tannins, medium/low acidity. This is a burly, wintry night kind of wine with extracted blueberry, roasted fig and plum cake. Lots of cedar, cocoa, vanilla, some charcoal and earthy tones. Bold but very tasty. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, aged 22 months in 55% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Barbera Shooting StarCalifornia, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $15
Deep purple color. Smells like plum cake, cola, coffee, anise cookie and dark chocolate. Full-bodied and rich, smooth, light tannins, yet the moderate acidity adds a nice, needed freshness, and the wine is surprisingly balanced. Plums, black cherries, roasted figs, mixed with coffee, earth, anise and chocolate notes. A big wine, but well-made. From the Dorn Vineyard, aged in old American and Hungarian oak for nine months. A lot of quality and value here. (88 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Merlot Shooting StarCalifornia, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $15
Medium ruby color. Smells of tart cherries, raspberry jam, red currants, with smoky earth, tobacco and mint notes. Medium/full-bodied, smooth and velvety tannins, moderating acidity, it’s all held together quite well, sporting cherries, raspberries and saucy plums. Notes of violets, clay, earth and coffee and some complexity. Saucy yet vibrant, with oak and coffee woven in well. Solid bargain here. (87 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Syrah Writer’s Block California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Bright purple color. This wine pops with aromas of spicy pepper, mesquite grill, saddle leather, with black cherries and blueberries. Velvety tannins on the palate, this is smooth and quite refreshing, with lively acidity. Plummy, blueberry fruit, mixed with a good dose of black olives, savory grilling spices, coffee and black tea. This is fresh and fun, but shows a lot of complexity and depth. Solid value Syrah here from Steele. From Cana Springs Vineyard in Lake County, this is aged 12 months in 15% new French, American and Hungarian oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Cabernet Franc Writer’s Block California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Medium ruby color. The nose shows tangy cherries, strawberries, red currants, along with inviting, spicy elements of tobacco, black olive, violets – really nice. Medium/full-bodied but poised with velvety tannins and fresh acidity. Tangy black cherries and red currants, blended with violets, clove, pepper, olive. Rounded, nuanced, accessible, yet a lot of complexity for a wine at this price point. Sourced from Shannon Ridge Vineyards in High Valley, aged 15 months in hybrid French and American oak barrels. (89 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Malbec Writer’s Block California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18
Deep ruby color. Fresh and inviting nose, with red plums, raspberries, black cherries, along with barbecue sauce, black pepper, anise and sweet tea. Smooth and velvety on the palate, fresh acidity, fun black cherry and raspberry jam fruit. Charcoal, cola, coffee, mint and vanilla elements blend together well. Ripe and juicy, but lovely freshness as well. Aged 12 months in 15% new American and Hungarian oak. (88 points)

2016 Steele Wines Merlot Stymie Founder’s Reserve California, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $42
Deep purple color. The aromas of plummy and rich with roasted figs, cherry sauce, dark earth, graphite, pencil shavings. Suave, medium acidity keeps the palate fresh, zippy but plump with moderate/light tannins. Rich cherries and dark plums, laced with smoky earth, mint chocolate chip, leather and violets. Suave, balanced, vibrant, for near-term drinking but there’s a lot going on here. From a gravelly bench vineyard overlooking the Big Valley of Lake County, aged 22 months in 20% new French and American oak. (89 points IJB)

2016 Steele Wines Small Batch Bourbon Barrel RedCalifornia, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $25
Bright purple color. Smells of raspberry jam, plum cake, violets, cocoa, vanilla coffee. Full-bodied with chewy tannins, medium acidity helps keep it fresh. Tangy plums, sweet black cherries, the fruit is mixed with loamy earth, tobacco, black olive, with smoky oak and vanilla. Delicious, built well, shows some good complexity. Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Barbera aged 120 days in bourbon barrels. (87 points IJB)

2015 Smith-Madrone Cabernet SauvignonCalifornia, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $52
Light purple color. Wow, the aromas pop with juicy yet crunchy red and black currants, plum skins, along with earthy, rocky tones, graphite, coffee and violets. Full but balanced so nicely on the palate. Solid tannic structure for aging, vibrant acidity, the mouthfeel sets the stage for smooth black cherries and tart red currants. Fruit is laced with violets, clove, graphite, tobacco, and there are lots of earthy, savory tones that need years to fully show themselves. Gorgeous concentration, yet balanced and lively. Includes 16% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in 65% new French oak. For my palate, this is one of the most insane bargains in Napa Cabernet. I’m so stoked this wine exists. (94 points IJB)

2016 Mi Sueño SyrahCalifornia, Napa Valley, Coombsville
SRP: $55
Deep, extracted purple color. Nose shows a dense combination of blueberry and blackberry, with more open, floral and spice tones (violets, cracked pepper, bay leaf), with some vanilla and coffee. Full-bodied with solid grip, but the tannins show smooth edges, medium acidity. The fruit is deep and bold but shows a crunchy edge, blueberry and blackberry. Notes of vanilla, cigar shop, black pepper and sweet barbecue sauce add complexity, with notes of vanilla and espresso woven in well. Delicious now, but this needs four years or so to show its best. 100% Syrah aged 20 months in 50% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2016 Mi Sueño Cabernet Sauvignon Lynn’s VineyardCalifornia, Napa Valley
SRP: $95
Deep, dark purple color. Gobs of crushed berries on the nose (blackberry, blueberry), topped in smoky earth, coffee, tar, anise and magic marker. Full and saucy on the palate with a nice backbone, but rounded tannins, medium/low acidity. Big, but it holds itself well, with plenty of blackberry, blueberry and roasted fig fruit. Lots of charcoal smoke, graphite, coffee grounds, dark chocolate and violet elements as well. This could use two to three years to integrate. All Cabernet, aged 20 months in 65% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

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