Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-14-2020

This week I’m back with another roundup of wines from California, including some new-to-me producers, and some I’ve known and loved for many years.

In the latter category, Smith Madrone’s new Chardonnay and Cab are true to their roots, delivering complex, intriguing, delicious Spring Mountain wines whose price points still baffle me.

Louis Martini’s iconic Monte Rosso vineyard, and their Lot 1 Cabernet, are the type of wines I’d want to cellar or enjoy some cold evening this winter.

St. Helena’s Battuello comes through with some interesting offerings from their estate vineyards, which dates back five generations, when Matteo Battuello established it in 1909. The two Valdiguiés that are so delicious, and their Petit Verdot is a stunner.

A delicious, screaming value of a Grenache Blanc and some Sauvignon Blancs round out this report. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Whites and Rosés

2019 Rombauer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc USA, California
SRP: $24
Light yellow color. Aromas boast lemon, apricot, green apples, with some green onion, mint and honeysuckle as well. Fleshy texture on the palate, nice creaminess with racy acidity, well-focused. A fruit salad of ruby red grapefruit, lemon slices, white peach, with some chalky, rocky, tones. Notes of honeysuckle, mint and sea salt. Juicy and fun but expressive and fresh as well. 64% Napa fruit, the rest from Sonoma, fermented mostly in stainless steel with some old French oak and concrete. (89 points IJB)

2019 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc Cougar Ridge USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $35
Light yellow color. Aromas of grapefruit, lemon and papaya with mountain stream, whipped honey and white flowers. Crisp but creamy on the palate with a stony, bright feel that balances well with juicy, fleshy texture, but it stays balanced throughout. Yellow plums, papaya, lime, mixed with chalk, mineral undertones and creamy, honeyed elements. A lot going on here, sort of like a bunch of different SB styles rolled into one, and it is done really well. (91 points IJB)

2018 La Pelle Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Pale lemon color. Crunchy, inviting aromas of green and yellow apples, topped in lemongrass, mint, and a good dose of sea salt. Precision guides the palate; this is crisp, crunchy, with slight creamy tones and solid depth. Lemon, green apple and kiwi fruit blends well with saline, chalk, white floral tones. Lovely depth, minerality, focus. No gimmicks here, just bright, clear, complex, beautiful Napa Sauvignon Blanc. (92 points IJB)

2018 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $22
A fascinating pale copper color. So bright on the nose, with this burst of lime, kiwi and green apple, met with sliced cucumber, flower stems, oyster shells and brine, chalk dust. Gorgeous texture on the palate, lush but precise, with focused acidity on a medium/full-bodied frame. Crunchy green apples, limes, kiwi and orange peel – such crisp and delicious fruit. Mouthwatering and vibrant, with notes of saline, crushed shells, floral perfume, white tea. This is rocking, especially if you’ve tired of heavier California white Rhone wines. From a 1,250-foot elevation vineyard all stainless steel, native yeasts and eight months of lees aging. For $22? Absurd. (91 points IJB)

2018 Chalone Vineyard Chardonnay USA, California, Central Coast, Chalone
SRP: $30
Medium yellow color. Delightful nose of lemon curd, orange peel, crunchy apricot, along with notes of peanut shell, white tea, chalk dust, perfume and honey. On the palate, this shows a plump but tangy fruit (nectarine, lemon, apricot) on a frame of precise, focused acidity. Pretty notes of honey, almond skin, hay and ginger complement the stony mineral and sea salt notes. Pure, vibrant, complex – it really doesn’t get much better for a California Chardonnay at this price point. (89 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $46
Medium yellow with a buttery, honeyed nose, along with papaya, lemon curd, yellow apples, with some dandelion and honeysuckle. Plush and juicy on the palate, medium acidity, the fruit shows a mix of yellow apples, pineapple, lemon bars, mixed with components of honey, graham cracker, but also expressive chalky, river rock tones. Fun stuff, punchy, vibrant style that shows solid complexity, too. 25% maloactic fermentation, aged 10 months in 25% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay El Diablo Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $70
Rich yellow color. Inviting nose of yellow apples, baked plums, honeycomb, graham crackers, walnut shell, also notes of hay and chalk. Plush texture on the palate, plump but lovely freshness, with golden apples, apricot and pear fruit. Notes of honey, nougat, candied ginger mix with underlying mineral and seashell notes. Lush but complex and very pretty. 38% maloactic fermentation, aged 11 months in 35% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2017 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $40
Deep yellow color. Inviting, complex aromas of apple butter, lemon curd, grapefruit zesty, topped in notes of honey, graham cracker, sea salt and ginger. Harmonious, complex nose for sure. Rich texture on the palate, the creaminess is matched by this racy, salty aesthetic. Lemon curd, yellow apple and apricot fruit meld well with white tea, graham cracker and ginger, along with these stony, mineral, mountain stream elements. Consistently, such an overperforming Chardonnay that screams value, and the 2017 is a really expressive, vibrant iteration. Aged 10 months in 85% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

2018 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Deep yellow color. Plump aromas of yellow apples and pears, topped in almond, peanut skin, honey, with some chalk dust and floral perfume. Juicy and ripe but the acidity is delightful and precise, framing the wine well and keeping it fresh, while the waves of yellow apple and lemon curd fruit roll in. Has deep, nutty, graham cracker, honeyed tones, but also fresh elements of mountain stream and yellow flowers. Lots of precision and complexity here for the price. Aged eight months in 30% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2019 Notre Vue Chardonnay Musqué USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $36
Light yellow color. The nose starts with a kick of mint and sliced cucumber, with green apples, lemon and kiwi, and lots of floral tones. Creamy texture meets crisp acidity on the palate, with green apples, white peaches and limes. Floral and bright but lovely texture, and notes of chalk, celery seed, sliced cucumber. Bright and inviting, this rides a nice line, a lighter, nuanced style. (89 points IJB)

2019 Notre Vue GSM Rosé USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $29
Vibrant salmon color. Aromas of hay, honeysuckle, wildflowers and mint on top of gushing peach and honeydew fruit – so inviting. Plush texture meets rushing acidity on the palate, really well-balanced with chunks of melon and peach. Complex notes of cut flower stems, sea salt, punchy but also crisp and bright throughout. A spicy, inviting, floral finish – very impressive. (90 points IJB)

2019 Battuello Vineyards Valdiguié Rosé USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $28
Juicy strawberry color. The nose shows raspberries, white cherries, red apple, watermelon rind, along with rhubarb and celery seed. Juicy and ripe on the palate, but it shows crisp and focused acidity, along with a crushable, delicious feel. Mint, flinty, white pepper and magnolia tones add complexity. Fun and delicious but shows solid complexity and depth. (90 points IJB)


2018 Battuello Vineyards Valdiguié USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $45
Vibrant purple color. Fruity, fun but exciting aromas of cherries, plums, violets, some cinnamon and earth tones. Juicy and smooth on the palate, a velvety/light tannic feel mixes with vibrant acidity. Juicy red cherries and wild blackberries mix with elements of violets, pepper, anise, also some graphite, milk chocolate and coffee. This is a fun but complex and exotic Valdiguié worth seeking out. (91 points IJB)

2017 Battuello Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $90
Deep purple color. Saucy, deep aromas with plums, jammy blackberries, with roasted coffee, vanilla, anise, mocha, deep, sweet earth. Full-bodied, rich with chewy tannins and moderate acidity. Plummy, saucy, deep blueberries and sweet blackberries. Notes of mocha, vanilla, charcoal and clove add complexity. A big but charming Cab that has complexities to uncover in the decanter or a few years in the cellar. (89 points IJB)

2018 Battuello Vineyards Petit Verdot Battuello Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $70
Dark purple color. The nose is deep and saucy with blackberries and roasted fig, lots of graphite, smoky charcoal, black pepper, with violets and clove. Full-bodied on the palate with solid, grippy tannins but the acidity is vibrant and keeps the wine balanced. Dark plums, blackberries and roasted figs (rich but vibrant fruit) mixed with complex elements of rocky earth, anise, black pepper, with nuanced mocha and caramel tones. Complex, delicious, this is one to age or crack around a campfire with grilled steaks. (91 points IJB)

2018 Banshee Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County
SRP: $28
Deep ruby color. Aromas of jammy cherries, cool, chilled blackberry, along with cola, roses, fallen leaves and potting soil – quite a bit going on here. Juicy and fresh on the palate, this is a medium-bodied Pinot with smooth tannins and fresh acidity. Red and black cherry fruit, raspberry jam, topped in cola, light roast coffee, roses and clove, even some leathery, minty, earthy accents. Yummy but crisp, accessible and fan-friendly but shows complexity and value as well. (88 points IJB)

2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $125
Light purple color. Gorgeous, expressive, vibrant aromas of anise, tobacco, violets, warm clay and cocoa, over top of saucy plums and black cherries. Full-bodied on the palate with earthy, dusty tannins, showing grip but accessibility, with moderating acidity – it’s big but balanced really well. Suave, complex fruit (currants, black cherries and plums) mix with notes of tobacco, mint, dark chocolate, graphite, minerals, violets. Shows structure, freshness and aging potential, but beautiful already. It’s great to see this wine continue to excel. All Monte Rosso fruit, includes 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, aged 26 months in a mix of French oak (75% new) and American oak (19% new). (94 points IJB)

2016 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Lot No. 1 USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $250
Vibrant purple color. Suave, deep aromas of blackberries, black currants, roasted fig, laced with tobacco, leather, pencil shavings, cocoa – takes time and air to really bring out the aromatic complexities, but there’s a ton in here. Full-bodied, solid tannins for aging but no harsh edges, the acidity is lovely and fresh. A deep, tangy core of black cherries, red and black currants, plum skins, mixed with delicious elements of tobacco, leather, cigar shop, some black pepper and clay. Notes of stony, mineral and graphite blend with cocoa and vanilla. Complex, age-worthy but vibrant, age this for five to 10 years or give it a solid decant. 100% Cabernet aged 21 months in 93% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

2016 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $58
Medium purple color. Aromas show tart but deep currants and black cherries, with lots of earthy, spicy complexity (tobacco, paved road, warm clay, graphite) with dark chocolate and espresso notes. Full but nuanced on the palate, well-built, grippy but refined tannins support juicy, tart red and black currant, and the balance between all these elements is lovely. Notes of leather, black pepper, tobacco leaf, mint, along with charcoal, vanilla and cedar nuances. Delicious, pretty, packs complexity and nuance. Long life ahead for this beautiful Cab. Includes a combined 10% Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is aged 19 months in 45% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

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