Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-03-2021

Spring has sprung here on the East Coast, with blossoms a’ bloomin’ and new California releases arriving. This week I have a large and diverse group of wines from across the Golden State.

Napa and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc offers a lot of spring and summer enjoyment, and there are some exciting options from Grieve and Chalk Hill. Chardonnays from Newton, Sonoma-Cutrer, Fort Ross and Frank Family deliver diversity.

On the red side of things, there are some rocking Napa Cabernets in this report from Shafer and Sullivan. And a lot of Pinot Noirs appear, with a bit of something for everyone.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

White wines

N.V. J Vineyards & Winery Cuvée 20 USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $38
Light gold color. Aromas of peaches, lemons, yellow apples, with some chalk and honey. Juicy on the palate with apricot and yellow apples, lemon drops, moderating acidity and some sugar cane notes woven in well. Bright, fun, fresh, balanced, with slight toast and honeybutter elements to accent the white flowers, sea salt and perfume tones. (88 points IJB)

2018 Grieve Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $90
Rich yellow color. Gorgeous aromas of pineapple, mango, peach and lime mixing with honey, new tennis balls, chalky-minty tones. Plush and creamy texture on the palate with lively acidity, creamy and balanced but constantly alive. Pineapple, guava, drizzled with lime, the fruit matches with tones of honeycomb, white flowers, minerals, talc, lemon verbena. Beautifully expressive and pretty, no obtrusive elements here, every is fresh, balanced, complex and delicious. Aged 17 months in a mix of French oak (60% new) and concrete eggs. (92 points IJB)

2019 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $33
Light yellow color. Bright and zesty on the nose with grapefruit, lime and kiwi, topped in sliced cucumbers, jalapeno and chalk dust. Brisk and fresh on the palate, this offers generous textural depth as well, though. Lemons, limes and some guava fruit, topped in a pleasant mix of lemon verbena and celery seed. The notes of minerals and mountain stream add a delightful note to the finish. Fresh but complex, a balanced and vibrant Sauv Blanc. Aged in a mix of stainless steel and about 60% French oak (13% new). (89 points IJB)

2019 Fort Ross Winery Chardonnay “Sea Slopes” USA, California, Sonoma County, Fort Ross – Seaview
SRP: $30
Rich yellow color. The nose boasts yellow apples, lemon curd and peach, along with yellow flowers, whipped butter, salted nuts and sea spray. Bright acidity frames the wine well, with a creamy body, supporting lemon, yellow apple and apricot fruit. The bright tones of chalk and minerals balance well against nuanced tones of honey and salted almond. Balanced, pretty, lip-smacking Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Aged 14 months in stainless steel and 5% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2019 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $23
Medium yellow color. Nice mix of lemon curd and pineapple on the nose, honey, some shaved ginger and salt. Plump texture on the palate, moderate acid, with a fruit salad of guava, pineapple and lemon, along with notes of saltine cracker, pistachio, and whipped honey. Balanced and shows quite a bit of depth at this price point. Aged eight months in oak. (88 points IJB)

2019 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Medium yellow color. Lovely nose of honey, nougat, ginger and chalk dust, over top of yellow apples, orange marmalade. Ripe and plump on the palate with medium+ acidity and a juicy but refined feel. Yellow apples and lemon cake flavors blend well with gingerbread, honey, white tea, and there are this intriguing notes of mineral and hay underneath. Really pretty, vibrant and balanced Chardonnay here. Aged eight months in one-third new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Newton Chardonnay Unfiltered USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Light yellow color. The nose shows lovely salty, honey and lemongrass tones, along with lemon peel, kiwi and green apple, a nice bright mix. Plump texture on the palate, beautiful roundness, vibrant acidity, woven together well. Lemons, orange peel, yellow apple fruit, mixed together well with tones of white flowers, saline and almond skin. Balanced but lots of depth, yet stays seafood friendly. A lot to love about this Chardonnay. (91 points IJB)

Red wines

2019 Lucky Rock Wine Co. Pinot Noir “County Cuvee” USA, California
SRP: $22
Bright ruby color. Vibrant yet ripe nose of red cherries, pomegranate, candied red apple peel, lots of spice and herbal tones mixed in as well. This is ripe but nuanced on the palate, with a fresh appeal, and tangy pomegranate, cherry and red apple peel. Notes of spicy pepper, oregano, roses and chestnut add complexity, with cola and root beer tones. Fun, fresh, this wine continues to deliver a lot of Pinot personality for the price. The grapes are sourced from Monterey, San Benito and Sonoma counties. (88 points IJB)

2018 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Selection USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Inviting nose of cherries, raspberries, McIntosh apples, along with rose petals, rhubarb, white pepper, tobacco and green herbs – there is really a lot going on here! On the palate, this is fresh with gorgeous acidity, dusty tannins, on point balance. Sour and black cherries, wild raspberry, crunchy red apple peel tones. Notes of rose petal, rhubarb, with mineral and earth undertones. The freshness, spiciness and complexity is delightful. (91 points IJB)

2018 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard ­ USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $55
Vibrant ruby color. The nose exudes bright cherries and juicy plums, topped in rose petals, sage, rhubarb and clay. Zippy and fresh on the palate, medium-bodied, dusty tannins, this is vibrant and alive with flavors of raspberry, cherry and orange peel. Notes of rhubarb, menthol and white pepper. Perfumed, nuanced, vibrant and fresh, this is pretty young but will open nicely over the next few years. Aged 15 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $48
Bright ruby color. The nose pops with black cherries and rich plums, along with sweet perfume, incense sticks, roasted chestnut, cocoa and leather. On the palate, this shows velvety tannins, bright acidity, and a nice mix of juicy and tangy fruits (strawberries, pomegranate, cherries). Notes of clay, leather, earth and perfume add complexity. Concentrated yet vibrant, this needs some time to unpack and open up. Intricate spices and floral tones on the finish. Aged 10 months in 28% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $80
Dark ruby. Inviting and warm aromas of complex strawberry and cherry topped in white pepper, clove, leather, rose potpourri, clay soil. The palate is framed with smooth tannins and fresh acidity on a medium-bodied frame. Crisp but juicy with black cherries and strawberries, and the fruit is backed up with complex notes of rose petals, white pepper, rhubarb, dusty earth and clay. There’s an intriguing spice and savory mix on the finish, like cured meats and paprika, which I just love. Vibrant, earthy, minerals, a lot going on here. Aged for 16 months in 34% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2018 Fort Ross Winery Pinot Noir “Sea Slopes” USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $35
Medium ruby color. Ripe and juicy but fresh, too, on the nose, with cherries and raspberries mixed with rose petals, rhubarb and white pepper. Smooth and velvety feel on the palate, slightly chewy tannins, really vibrant acidity, so it’s well-balanced. Cherries, raspberries and red plum fruit, mixed with earth, rose petal and rhubarb notes. Nuanced cola and coffee. Ripe but stays really fresh, with a crisp, herbal-tinged finish. Aged 18 months in 10% new French oak. So much personality and value for a Pinot at this price. (91 points IJB)

2019 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Light ruby color. Fresh and inviting on the nose, with roses and sweet vanilla topping the raspberry, red apple fruit, with tones of black tea and cinnamon. Chewy texture on the palate with smooth tannins and vibrant acidity. Sweet but lively fruit (raspberry and cherries) mixes well with violets, spiced black tea, cinnamon, clove and cocoa. Rich but suave and fresh and full of character. Aged 10 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Sosie Cavedale Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Moon Mountain District
SRP: $45
Bright purple color. The nose boasts saucy plums and juicy blackberries, along with some roasted red peppers, sage, mocha and earth tones. Full but suave and fresh on the palate. Nice grip, moderating acidity, all balanced well with the plummy, blueberry and blackberry fruit. Needs air but it opens nicely to show complex mocha, earth, graphite and iron tones. Long, smoky, earthy finish. Age this for a bit or give it a decant, but this is lovely. 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, aged 21 months in 50% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon ­- USA, California, North Coast
SRP: $23
Bright purple color. Aromas of jammy plums, roasted figs, saucy currants, with scorched earth, cocoa and coconut. Chewy texture on the palate, medium/low acidity, light tannins, an accessible, fun approach with saucy black cherries and plums. Notes of violets, tobacco, sweet coco and roasted chestnut. Sourced from Alexander Valley, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale, Mendocino Ridge and Napa AVAs, aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $58
Deep purple color. Aromas of deep currants, juicy black cherries, laced with smoky earth, mint chocolate chip, tobacco and sage elements. Full and suave on the palate, velvety tannins, medium acidity, and the wine boasts ripe, juicy black cherries and cassis fruit. Complexities of mint, pepper, leather and anise come out with time. Delicious, ripe but nuanced, per usual from Frank Cabernet, this should open up nicely over the next few years. (90 points IJB)

2017 Sullivan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Estate USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $110
Vibrant purple color. Deep but inviting nose of black currants, sweet black cherries, and a complex host of earth, rocky soil, graphite, black tea, anise and charcoal notes. Gorgeous mouthfeel on the palate, precise acidity, structured tannins, very well balanced. Fleshy, tangy, deep and pure black currant fruit, loaded with complexities of pencil lead, eucalyptus, tobacco, oregano, iron, mint chocolate chips. Deep but vibrant with a long, earthy, mineral-laden finish. This will age wonderfully for many years but is already so expressive in its youth, too. Includes 13% Petit Verdot. (94 points IJB)

2018 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $98
Dark purple color. Classic aromas of dark plums, blackberry, black currant, along with waves of violets, tilled soil, smashed rocks, with cocoa, coffee and inky tones. Full and suave on the palate, well-structured but so smooth, with bright acidity, the balance and mouthfeel are pristine. Dark plums and blackberries, deep but tangy fruit, laced with pencil lead, tar, anise, violets. The cedar, clove and coffee tones are expertly woven together. Delicious, Shafer kills it again. Give this a few years or a really solid decant, or sip it over a few days to get a broader expression. Cabernet Sauvignon with 2% Malbec, aged 20 months in all new French oak. (94 points IJB)

2018 Grieve Family Vineyard Double Eagle USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $89
Deep purple color. Lush and inviting aromas, with deep plums, blackberry and cassis, along with all manner of paved road, pencil lead, coffee, anise and pipe tobacco notes. Fresh acidity is really nice on the palate, structured tannins, serious concentration and grip. Blackberry and deep plum fruit, rich but tart, with complex earthy tones underneath. Elements of violets, black tea, dark chocolate, anise cookie and coffee tones. Wow, this is delightful already but will really start opening up in the next few years and age for quite some time. Aged 18 months in 2/3 new French oak. (93 points IJB)

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