Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-09-2020

Happy weekend, wine-lovers. I hope you’re all as safe and well as can be expected during these chaotic times. I’m back this week with two of my first wine loves: California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

My palate will always favor the more “Burgundian” styles, but I also enjoy and respect the juicier, darker styles as well. This report has a nice mix of producers, regions and styles. There are some serious values in here as well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.


2019 River Road Chardonnay Unoaked USA, California
SRP: $14
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemon and orange peel, with mint, honeysuckle and clover. Crisp and punchy on the palate with a fresh, fun appeal. Lemon, apricot, orange peel, the fruit and herbal/floral tones stand out and make this is a seafood-friendly, value-driven style. (86 points IJB)

2018 Qupé Chardonnay Y Block Bien Nacido Vineyard USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $22
Medium yellow. Bright aromatics of see breeze and wild flowers on top of deeper notes of yellow apples and apricot, nougat, shaved ginger and graham cracker. Precise and fresh on the palate, lovely depth of texture and balanced. Yellow apples, lemon crème and apricot, mixed with meringue, salted almond, oyster shell, crushed rocks. Nuanced honeycomb and vanilla accents. A California Chard that makes me go, “Ahh…” in refreshment. What a bargain. Fermented and aged seven months in 15% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Mi Sueño Chardonnay USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $42
Deep yellow color. Aromas of plump peach, apricot, lemon curd, with hay, peanut shell, honey and chalk scents as well. Rich texture, creamy and honeyed on the palate, but fresh acidity, the depth and balance are quite impressive. Peach, apricot, yellow apple, plush fruit but brighter tones of chalk, river stones, crushed shells, with nuanced notes of honey, graham cracker. Vibrant, deep, a lot of class here, especially for the price. Aged 18 months in 30% new French oak, all maloactic fermentation. (91 points IJB)

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay CarnerosUSA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Medium yellow color. Brighter aromas of green apple and lime mix with richer notes of apricot and orange marmalade, rounded out with yellow flowers, honey and chalk. Full-bodied, plump texture but vibrant acidity, with yellow apples and lemon curd fruit. Nuanced graham cracker, honey and ginger snap blend well with sea salt, chalk and wildflowers. Delightful, balanced. Fermented in 1/3 new French oak barrels and aged nine months on the lees. (90 points IJB)

2018 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $52
Vibrant gold color. Deep, inviting aromas of apricot marmalade, orange peel, lemon curd, with brighter tones of sea salt, honeyed tea, chalk dust. Plush and smooth texture, this is full-bodied and round with creamy texture, but zesty acidity, which frames the wine well. Creamy pears, lemon curd and baked apple fruit, with nutty, almond, pistachio notes, cinnamon. There’s this crisp, flinty, mineral vibe underneath that is really exciting. Rich but lively, bold but nuanced, Red Shoulder Ranch does it again. This is the 25th anniversary vintage of this wine. (91 points IJB)

2017 The Federalist Wines Chardonnay USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $23
Deep yellow color. Aromas of creamy pear, glazed apple, lemon crème, with honeycomb, crumb cake and whipped butter. Rich texture on the palate, full-bodied, medium/low acidity. Shows creamy pear and peach fruit mixed with ginger, honey and yellow flowers. Not too heavy, shows nuance and value. Aged in a mix of 35% new American, Hungarian and French oak. (87 points IJB)

2018 FEL Chardonnay Anderson ValleyUSA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $32
Vibrant yellow color. Inviting nose of sea salt, hay and chalk on top of deeper, honeyed, baked pear and nougat notes. Zesty acidity frames this wine really well, it has a lot of vibrancy, but also plenty of creamy, textured pear, apple and lemon curd fruit. Notes of saline, sea spray and oyster shell mix with hazelnut, honeyed white tea and almond skin. I’m liking this vintage of a perennially-killer Anderson Valley Chardonnay. Sourced from Savoy and Ferrington Vineyards, this is fermented in old oak. (90 points IJB)

2018 River Road Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $18
Medium yellow color. Nose shows lemons, peaches, with bright white flowers, dandelions, honey and crème. Medium-bodied, fresh acidity, not too creamy or rich, shows some nice verve and brightness. Limes, lemons and peaches tossed with peanut shell, honey butter, nougat, some cool mint and white pepper notes. Vibrant style, accessible but shows complexity and depth for the price. Fermented in a mix of stainless steel and oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 Fort Ross Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $44
Light yellow color. Brisk and bright aromas of seashells, chalk, talc, with orange blossom, honeysuckle, over lemon curd and yellow apple. Bright acidity, beautiful texture, bold presence on the palate but zesty acidity keeps the wine in line. Gorgeous lemon, key lime pie, baked apple and apricot. Complex notes of sea salt, crushed shells, saline, honeysuckle. Beautiful, mouthwatering stuff that should age really well. Aged 11 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Pinot Noir

2017 Talbott Pinot Noir Kali Hart USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey
SRP: $26
Pale ruby. Spicy herbs and pepper kick off the nose, with floral potpourri and cola on top of cranberry relish and wild strawberry. Medium/full-bodied with soft tannins and medium/low acidity. Ripe red cherries and spicy cranberry relish blends well with white pepper, grilled herbs, tobacco – really lovely spicy tones. Easy-drinking, fun buy spicy style. Aged nine months in 15% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2018 Laetitia Winery Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley
SRP: $27
Medium ruby color. Bright cherries on the nose, wild raspberries, with menthol, white pepper, cola. Zesty acidity frames this wine nicely, dusty tannins, a crunchy, bright feel with cranberries, wild raspberries. Notes of rhubarb, white pepper, dusty earth and pickling spices add this spicy, earthy complexity. Fun and fresh but shows complex elements and a lot of personality for this price. For those looking for a brighter, leaner, spicier style without spending a lot. Aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir ­ USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Light ruby color. Nose shows jammy raspberries, juicy black cherries, with cola, roses, and sage notes. Full-bodied on the palate with chewy tannins and moderate acidity, a ripe but lively feel. Dark cherries, super ripe plums, raspberry jam fruit, which is laced well with notes of tobacco, mint, earth and leaves. Touches of vanilla and cola. Fun and accessible style but it shows some solid depth and complexity for the price. (88 points IJB)

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir USA, California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Medium ruby color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, raspberries, candied apple, with cola, sweet roses and coffee. Full-bodied, smooth but chewy tannins with fresh acidity and a fun, juicy feel with raspberries and black cherry fruit. Notes of cola, coffee, sweet roses and root beer add some complexity. Fun, accessible, early-drinking style. Aged 10 months in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ­- USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
Deep ruby color. Inviting scents of raspberries, strawberries, fresh and fun, also floral and spicy with rose petals, white pepper, clove and rhubarb. Medium/full-bodied with vibrant acidity and silky, smooth tannins – a bold but balanced wine. Tangy cherries, strawberries and pomegranate fruit mix well with rose petals, rhubarb, portobello mushroom and black tea. Nuanced cola and cranberry relish elements on the finish. A lovely Anderson Valley Pinot (per usual from FEL), at less than $40, this has a lot of personality and depth. Aged 16 months in 38% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Siduri Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Vibrant ruby color. Aromas of crushed cherries, raspberries and wild strawberries with dried rose petals, potpourri, ripe but also airy and enticing aromas. Full but fresh on the palate with suave tannins and fresh acidity, a ripe but balanced mouthfeel. Raspberries, cherry preserves and dark plum fruit blend well with coconut, roasted chestnut and cola, but also these earthy, oregano and bay leaf vibes. Quite a lot going on here for the price. (89 points IJB)

2018 Root & Rubble Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. Bright and fresh aromas of wild raspberries and strawberries, some spice pepper, rose hips and tobacco. Medium-bodied, silky tannins, this has a fresh, crunchy, pretty feel. Vibrant red fruits (raspberries and strawberries) mix well with floral and herb tones (rose petals, clove, bay leaf) with some clay and earth undertones. Vibrant, accessible, yet complex, too. Fermented and aged in concrete, a process I’m a big fan of. It gives this wine airy, lifted aromas and keeps away the coffee and vanilla that would make this wine taste just like 100 other California Pinot Noirs. From winemaker and Siduri founder Adam Lee, this is well-done, exciting stuff for a great price. (90 points IJB)

2016 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Fort Ross – Seaview
SRP: $52
Medium ruby color. So vibrant on the nose with chilled black cherries, cranberries, wild raspberries, with some musky, peppery, leathery tones, accents of red flowers. Medium-bodied, crisp acidity, fleshy but zesty with dusty, fine tannins. Crunchy cherries, wild raspberries and cranberry fruit, topped in beautiful dusty earth, clay, dried leaves, tobacco and mint. Pure, vibrant, refined, this is lovely and zippy deliciousness. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2017 River Road Pinot Noir Stephanie’s Cuvée USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. Aromas show juicy raspberries and tangy strawberries with rose petals, sweet coffee, clove and black tea. Medium/full-bodied with a chewy texture, medium acidity, and plump black cherry fruit, some raspberry jam, too. Notes of cola, toasted nuts and herbal tea add some complexity. Ripe and round but shows brightness, too. Aged in 20% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2017 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Dijon Clones Hallberg Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Really bright aromas of raspberry, strawberries, red currants, with spicy, floral complexities like rose hips, rhubarb, white pepper. On the palate, this is crisp and bright on a medium-bodied frame with medium, dusty tannins. The fruit (strawberries and red cherries) is tangy and vibrant, with rose hips, rhubarb, bay leaf, hops, all sorts of complex, spicy elements that keeps this wine intriguing. Pretty and complex, this exquisite Pinot will get even better in the next five or six years. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

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