Wine Reviews: Napa Valley Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-03-2020

My heart is breaking as I follow from afar the news of more fires in California. The impacts of the Glass Fire that continues to devastate Napa are tragic and overwhelming. The scale of the destruction of life, property, livelihoods seems impossible to imagine. My sincerest thoughts and wishes for safety are with all of the people affected by this and other fires.

While there are so many more immediate concerns and ways to support those affected, it seems to be as good a time as any to buy some Napa wine and raise a glass to their safety. This week, in a spirit of support for the people who make Napa Valley wine possible, I have a round-up of some recent Napa red wine releases.

Sullivan, under new ownership since 2018, was founded by Jim O’Neill Sullivan in 1972. This Rutherford estate offers up two exciting reds in this report.

Calla Lilly Estate also brings a pair of delicious wines. This Pope Valley estate was founded by two Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs, who sought out winemaker Cary Gott. The 20 acres of vineyards reside on the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain. The 2015 vintage of their Audax is really something.

La Pelle is a Napa project that brings together Israeli-born winemaker Maayan Koschitzky, Mexican-born farmer and winemaker Miguel Luna, and American-born farmer and founder of Silverado Farming Company, Peter Richmond. I’ll let their wines speak for themselves.

Shafer is a Napa stalwart that needs to introduction. Their TD-9 continues to deliver deep, Napa goodness for a reasonable price, while the Relentless Syrah lives up to its name.

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

2017 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Deep purple color. Rich aromatic display of plums, tart blackberries, black currants, imbued with violets, coffee, potting soil. Ripe, juicy and full-bodied on the palate (15%) with a chewy texture, smooth tannins and medium-low acidity. Deep plum and blackberry fruit blend with coffee, dark chocolate shavings, vanilla and scorched earth tones. For fans of ripe, juicy Cabs, this offers a lot of Napa goodness for a reasonable price. Includes 11% Petite Sirah, aged 16 months in about 29% new French and American oak. (88 points IJB)

2018 La Pelle Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $80
Vibrant purple color. A vibrant but deep mix of currant and blackberry fruit with enticing tobacco, earth, cocoa and grilled herb tones. On the palate, shows a deep, vibrant core of dark but fresh fruit, complemented by elements of tobacco leaf, bay leaf, mint, spiced black tea. Integrated vanilla and cocoa, this shows an exciting amount of freshness, which matches the juicy fruit. Offers a lot of depth and vibrancy. A blend of fruit from four appellations, includes 2% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2017 La Pelle Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $125
Deep purple color. Suave black cherries, currants and plums on the nose, with complex notes of earthy, tilled soil, graphite, mint and dark chocolate. A deep core of tart black currants and blackberries on the palate; grippy tannins but no harsh edges, fresh acidity. Big but refined and balanced with notes of smoky peat, potting soil, graphite, rocky earth, and carefully-woven notes of coffee and cedar. Beautiful stuff that will get even more so over the next five to eight years. Give this a lot of time in the decanter if opening anytime soon. Includes a combined 6% Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, aged 20 months in 80% new French oak.  (93 points IJB)

2015 Rutherford Hill Merlot USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $36
Light purple color. Aromas of mulled raspberries and cherries with earthy, sooty, tobacco and some mushroom tones. Silky tannins on the palate with fresh acidity and a smooth, velvety feel. Cherry and raspberry jam fruit mix well with nuanced coffee, dark chocolate, and earthy-tilled soil notes. Subtle tobacco and mushroom tones coming out. Quite nice, this has aged well and has more to go. (88 points IJB)

2016 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Ultimate Red USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $65
Deep purple color. On the nose, a core of rich, deep, saucy black currants, wild blueberries, with deep earth, pencil lead, anise cookie and magic marker. Full-bodied, rich texture, chewy tannins, moderate acid, with ripe and bold but nuanced and fresh as well. Gushing, deep blueberries, blackberry and currant jam, with mint, cocoa, vanilla, dark chocolate. Ripe and deep, this is delicious, hedonistic but balanced goodness. Includes 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, aged 22 months in 40% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2015 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Audax USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $120
Deep purple color. Deep but inviting, with currants and dark plums, lots of coffee, dark chocolate, clove and cinnamon. Velvety tannins, structured but the acidity is quite precise and the moderate feel (14.1% alcohol) make for a really vibrant and dynamic wine. Great concentration of fruit (blueberry, black currant) with complex notes of grilled herbs, bay leaf, spicy steak rub, with nuanced cocoa and coffee. I love the vibrancy here, this isn’t a dense, heavy Napa Cab by any means – there is a ton going on here. Decant or age for some years but this is lovely. Includes a combined 8% Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, aged 27 months in 50% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2016 Sullivan Vineyards Coeur de Vigne USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $90
Deep purple color. Bold but vibrant aromas of plums and currants, mixed with menthol, cocoa, anise, roasted chestnut. On the palate, this is vibrant and pretty but well-built with dusty tannins, moderate acidity and a deep but lively fruit blend of currants, plums and blackberries. Notes of cocoa, anise, graphite, charcoal, along with this invigorating mineral and rocky aesthetic. Earthy, violets, potting soil tones come out with time. This has an old-school feel that is really attractive, and it needs five to six years in the cellar to start showing its best, but this is beautiful stuff. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc with Malbec and Petit Verdot. (93 points IJB)

2016 Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $110
Medium purple color. Smooth, deep, inviting nose of sweet black cherries and currants, blackberries, along with scorched earth, cocoa, coffee, and rocky-dusty tones. Full-bodied, suave tannins, smooth and velvety feel with moderating acidity. A rich mix of roasted fig and plums, deep currants and blackberry jam, topped in mocha, coffee, anise. Bold flavors are accented with complexities of graphite, rocky earth and dried leaves. Delicious now but should do interesting things over the next three to five years. (91 points IJB)

2018 Shafer TD-9 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $60
Light purple color. Beautiful nose of blackberries, black cherries and roasted figs, laced with enticing notes of scorched earth, anise, graphite, with cocoa, sweet vanilla. On the palate, this is full and suave with well-built but velvety tannins, medium/low acidity, this is big but shows lots of nuance, too. Roasted fig, blackberry and dark plum fruit is tossed with mesquite, mint, eucalyptus and clove notes, along with pretty violets and earth that come out more and more with air. This really does need time and air to unwind, but it is delightful, delicious, complex stuff. Tons of Napa goodness for a reasonable price. Merlot with 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Merlot, aged 20 months in all new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2017 Shafer Relentless USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $95
Deep purple color. Aromas of saucy plums, black currants, roasted figs, with these deep, dark, earthy tones, charcoal and graphite. Big and bold on the palate, juicy tannins, moderate acidity, it is boastful but nuanced with suave, tangy currant and plum fruit. Complex notes of mesquite, beef jerky, mint, leather, rocky elements that are delicious and fascinating to pull out. I feel like these need quite a bit of time to show their best – I think this will be beautiful in eight to 10 years. Includes 14% Petite Sirah, aged 30 months in new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2016 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $300
Deep purple color. Dark, deep and inviting on the nose, with suave blackberries, tart plums, black currants, laced with graphite, cocoa, anise, tobacco, and rocky, earthy tones. On the palate, this is full but fresh, with gorgeous balance between structured tannins and tangy acidity, which frames the wine so well. Juicy dark currants, plums and blackberries, with complex notes of graphite, stony earth, cocoa powder, espresso. These underlying notes of tobacco, violet petals need time to come out. This is a beautiful Hillside Select, such elegance and balance, but also staying power. I would love to see this in 10 years. Aged 32 months in new French oak. (96 points IJB)

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