Wine Reviews: California Highlights

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-10-2021

It is finally starting to feel like fall here in the Mid-Atlantic region, with cooler weather and leaves just starting to change color – my favorite time of year. And with October baseball featuring the Dodgers and Giants keeping me entertained, I thought it was a good time to highlight some recent California favorites.

So, I chose a mix of California red wines that wowed me – a bunch of delicious, serious red wines that I think would fit well with the season. Biodynamic producer Hawk and Horse delivers a handful of impressive wines from Bordeaux reds. Based in Lake County, I find these are some of the most consistently delicious wines from the region, and they can age really well.

Speaking of aging well, Eden Rift’s estate Pinot Noirs from the Cienega Valley have a ton going for them. I recently tasted three vintages (2016, 2017 and 2018), and enjoyed parsing through the nuances in the vintage variation, seeing how they are aging. All three of these wines are crisp, lighter, red-fruited, spicy wines that are worth checking out if you, like me, enjoy that style.

Cliff Lede knocks it out of the park with their Magic Nights Cab-based blend from Stags Leap, and two nice Sangiovese wines from Castello di Amorosa round out this report.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Eden Rift Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Cienega Valley
SRP: $48
Bright ruby. A bright display or raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, with rose petals, rhubarb and white pepper – keeps this airy, floral appeal. On the palate, this shows silky tannins and zesty acidity, with a rushing, racy feel (14.2%). Crunchy cranberries and wild raspberries, tart strawberries and red apple peels – so crisp, with complex tones of rhubarb, oregano, paprika, pepper. This is so nuanced and integrated, with a dusty, airy, mineral feel. This should get even better over the next few years. (94 points IJB)

2017 Eden Rift Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Cienega Valley
SRP: $48
Ruby color with an inviting aromatic mix of wild raspberries, red apple peel, strawberries, with spicy, floral tones of dried rose petals, clove and mint. The silky tannins and crisp acidity plays well with raspberry, red apple peel and cherry fruit. Elements of spicy pepper, tobacco, clay and earth add all sorts of complexity. Maintains an airy, pretty feel, but needs time for the more earthy-savory tones to come out, but this is an elegant, beautiful Pinot. (93 points IJB)

2018 Eden Rift Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Cienega Valley
SRP: $48
Vibrant ruby color. The nose shows cherries, pomegranate and strawberry fruit, a spicy yet airy feel with rose potpourri, black tea, sage and pepper. Moderate tannins, nicely structured with rounded edges, and crisp acidity. Black cherries and strawberry fruit blends well with tones of clay, tobacco, sage and white pepper. Shows a lot of concentration, and needs a few years to unwind, but a delicious and impressive young Pinot. (92 points IJB)

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petit Verdot USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $65
Inky purple color. The nose shows saucy plums and roasted figs, chocolate-covered raisins, cocoa, sweet pipe tobacco – a deep, inviting aromatic display. Full-bodied (14.1%) with thankfully moderate acidity and flavors of roasted figs, plum cake and sweet currant jam. Nots of tobacco, scorched earth, coffee, vanilla and dark chocolate shavings add all sorts of complexity. This will age wonderfully. All Petit Verdot, aged in 40% new French oak – a very impressive display of California Petit Verdot. (91 points IJB)

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Franc USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $65
Vibrant purple color. The nose pops with lively raspberries and black cherries, backed up with floral perfume, cocoa, campfire and sage. On the palate this shows a deep, chewy texture but the acidity moderates things nicely. Sweet cherries, raspberries, with a nice mix of hedonistic elements (cocoa, coconut shavings, mint chewing tobacco) with deeper mineral and smashed rock notes. Really nice stuff that will improve well over the next four to six years. All Cabernet Franc aged in 40% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $75
Medium purple color. Interestingly tart nose of currants and blueberries, with lots of dried rose petal tones, pepper, anise, clove, but also vibrant and crisp. On the palate, this shows nice concentration with tangy acidity and solid tannins. Tart blueberries, blackberries, the fruit is laced with anise, charcoal, lavender, violet tones – a ton going here. Leathery, mineral-laded finish. This will show wonders in the next five to ten years. Includes 2% Petit Verdot, aged in 80% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petite Sirah USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $65
Deep purple color. Dark yet inviting aromas of plum sauce, boysenberry, with vanilla tones, paved road, mocha and leather. Grippy and full on the palate, lots of concentration and density, but medium-low acidity holds it together. Complex tones of graphite, leather, cedar, this smores over the campfire thing, too, which is just great. Lots of concentration, and this needs time, but really serious stuff. (91 points IJB)

2017 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $36
Ripe purple color. Nose shows juicy cherries and raspberry jam with some smoky, earthy, tobacco and leather tones. On the palate, this is full and suave with smooth tannins and moderate acidity. A nice mix of black cherry and raspberry fruit, backed up with elements of mocha, toffee, pepper, smoky earth. Juicy but complex, lovely stuff. Includes 15% Merlot, aged 18 months in 35% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2018 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese Voyager Vineyard USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $45
Ripe purple color. Aromas of suave plums and sweet black cherries, with mocha, tobacco, sweet roses and violets, with some potting soil and coffee tones. On the palate, this is ripe and chewy but fresh, too, with juicy plum and cherry fruit, underlined by smooth tannins. Nuances of cola, coffee, toffee and violets add complexity, and I get elements of roasted chestnut, anise and chocolate cookies. Ripe, plus, fan-friendly, but this is also significantly complex and shows solid balance. (90 points IJB)

2018 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Magic Nights USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $110
Vibrant purple color. Deep yet inviting on the nose, a glorious blend of plums, currants and black cherries, woven together with notes of violets, spiced tea, cocoa, mint, cedar shavings, it just goes on and on. On the palate, vibrant acidity sets the stage for a full-bodied wine showing deep yet tart currant and plum fruit, on a frame of structured but refined tannins. The mouthfeel is beautiful, allowing the flavors to dance: cedar, mint, graphite, charcoal, sage, some cola and chocolate. Generous but also spicy and herbal, with an incredibly long finish — this is classic Stag’s Leap done expertly well. It’s surprisingly integrated now, but would benefit from at least a few years and age for who-knows-how-long. 92% Cab with 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Merlot, aged 12 months in 80% new French oak. (95 points IJB)

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