Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-28-2021

Here’s hoping everyone had a happy and safe Thanksgiving break! I hope you all avoided any pitfalls of overcooking the turkey, getting into arguments with relatives, traffic nightmares, etc.

This week, I have a slew of wines from California that would fit well into any holiday gatherings and meals you may have planned for the rest of this chaotic year.

Head High comes through with a nice, value-driven Chard and Pinot. These surf-themed wines from Bill Price, who grew up in Hawaii, get the seal of approval from this surfer/wine lover.

California Chardonnay and Pinot fans likely know the Savoy Vineyard in Anderson Valley, and FEL puts out some really nice expressions of this site, featured this week.

Gary Farrell is another Chard and Pinot powerhouse, two of which featured here showed very well. Sonoma’s Ram’s Gate contributes some good Pinot and Chard as well, but it was the Cabernet in this report that really stole the show. An upcoming Grenache from Lucky Rock and a few other wines round out this report.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

White and Rosé

2020 Lucky Rock Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc Country Cuvee – USA, California
SRP: $17
Light yellow color. The nose shows lemongrass, white pepper and honeysuckle over top green apple and grapefruit, super fresh and fun. Crisp and bright on the palate with zippy grapefruit and limes against richer peach fruit. There are these chalky, flinty, white pepper and oregano tones that add a lot of complexity. A delightful Sauvignon Blanc that shows a lot of complexity and balance and this price point. Also available in cans. (89 points IJB)

2019 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Estate – USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $76
Deep yellow color. A wonderful aromatic display of yellow apples and pears, with honeycomb, lemon drops, and these chalky, dried white flowers and hay tones, a lot going on. The palate shows nice depth and racy acidity, which keeps this crisp and lip-smacking from start to finish. Creamy pears and apples with honey, deep yet fresh, and the notes of chalk, flinty minerals, honey and walnut add all sorts of complexity. Harmonious and bright on the finish, I’d love to see this in three or four years. Barrel-fermented with no maloactic fermentation, aged 11 months in 24% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2020 Head High Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. The nose shows sea salt and chalk dust overtop of lemons and ruby red grapefruit, along with white pepper, nettle – a nervy, bright appeal. A brisk and salty vibe on the palate, medium/full-bodied but balanced nicely. Green apple and kiwi fruit blend well with white flowers, perfume, white pepper, some oyster shells. Really fresh and approachable style but shows some good textural depth as well. This is a killer oyster and shellfish kind of wine. (89 points IJB)

2019 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Light yellow color. Lush yet vibrant on the nose with lemons, yellow apples, with chalk dust and saline tones – a lot going on. Crisp acidity frames the wine well, and contrasts well against this deep, lush, creamy texture. Lemon curd, green and yellow apples, the fruit is deep but lively, and matched with these almond, honey, gingerbread, chalk dust tones. Deep but nuanced, this has a whole lot of balance and complexity for the price. Aged nine months in 30% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2019 FEL Chardonnay Savoy Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $52
Light yellow color. Gorgeous nose of lemon, yellow apples and apricot with tones of chalk, white tea, sea shells, and walnut. On the palate, this is so precise and focused but shows generous, juicy characteristics as well. Lemon curd and yellow apple fruit blend so well with these chalky, talc, mineral, mountain stream vibes. The richer tones of honey and almond add depth but the wine stays brisk and pristine. A few years should do lovely things for this wine. Aged 18 months sur lie in 45% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2020 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $15
Light yellow color. Bright nose of lemons and peaches, mango slices, along with orange blossoms and hints of celery seed. The palate is zesty and bright but shows some nice creamy, peachy texture, a light/medium-bodied wine with peach and lime fruit. Notes of white flowers and basil round out the finish on this delightful, fresh wine. Really nice for the price, here. (87 points)

2020 Rabble Wine Company Rosé – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $25
Light salmon color. The nose rises with tangy strawberries, cherries and raspberries, nice herbal and floral tones with white pepper, dandelion and sliced cucumber. On the palate, this has a punchy and creamy but crisp feel, nicely balanced, dry but generous. Flavors of white cherry and wild raspberry balance well with creamy, honeyed elements and spicy, floral complexity. Fun, reliable, crowd-pleasing pink. Syrah and Grenache. (88 points IJB)


2019 Head High Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $25
Bright ruby colored. Inviting and lively on the nose with bright strawberries, raspberries, red apple peel, along with cola, rhubarb and hints of white pepper. Crisp and refreshing style on the palate with light tannins and punchy, vibrant raspberry and red cherry fruit. Pepper, rhubarb, rose hips and floral potpourri add some complexity. Bright, refreshing and fun, but shows significant complexity for the price point. Value alert! (90 points IJB)

2019 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Selection – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Medium ruby colored. A warm, inviting compote of cherries and raspberries on the nose, mixed with leather, rose petals, rhubarb and mint – delightful. The palate shows crisp acidity on a dusty, medium-bodied frame. Raspberry and tart cherry fruit, crunchy and vibrant, blending nicely with spicy, floral, tobacco and earth tones. This is refreshing from start to finish, accessible but shows a lot of depth and character. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Cellar Note – USA, California, Sonoma, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $58
Medium ruby color. The nose is fascinating, with ripe cherries, strawberries and raspberries, along with rose petals, rhubarb, subtle pepper and oregano. Medium-bodied with structured yet smooth tannins and vibrant acidity. Strawberry and raspberry fruit, so juicy yet with this zesty knife-edge to the depth. Nuanced cola, root beer, rhubarb, along with white pepper and black tea. There’s a fresh and focused appeal, but this will age wonderfully and show its best in the next two to five, I imagine. 13.8% alcohol, this spends 11 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Bush Crispo Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $58
Vibrant ruby color. The nose shows a bright mix of red apple peels, fresh cherries and wild raspberries, topped with notes of spicy pepper, rose petals, clove and rhubarb. The palate shows a zippy appeal with supportive but smooth tannins, balanced well with raspberries and tangy cherries and cranberry. The spicy pepper, rhubarb and bay leaf tones add a lot to contemplate, and the wine has an airy, lifted finish. Expressive now but really opens with time and should show best after four or five years. Well done! 15% whole cluster fermentation, aged 16 months in 33% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2018 Ram’s Gate Cabernet Sauvignon Cellar Note No. 1 – USA, California, Sonoma County, Moon Mountain District
SRP: $68
Dark purple color. The nose shows a deep core of currants and cherry compote, and a cool mix of black pepper, smoked meats and clove, violets – the complexities go on and on. Full-bodied and solid grippy tannins but vibrant acidity, the balance is just great. Tangy, beautiful currant and blackberry fruit, elegant but concentrated, there’s really a lot to unpack. The unique mix of black tea, mesquite, roasted peppers, tobacco – it’s lovely, and the nuanced cedar and coffee and done well. A real stunner that will reward the patient. Includes 18% Malbec, aged 18 months in 55% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

2019 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
SRP: $24
Light ruby color. The nose shows juicy cherries, plum cake and raspberries, mixed with cool notes of rhubarb and anise cookies. Plush, medium-bodied with soft tannins and medium acidity. Flavors of jammy plums and cherries mixed with some smoky, earthy tones. Fun and accessible, but well-balanced and shows some depth for the price, too. (88 points IJB)

2018 Domaine Anderson Pinot Noir – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $40
Medium ruby colored. The nose really pops with vibrant cherries and raspberries, with warm, inviting tones of rose petals, sage, pepper. Crisp acidity frames this wine beautifully with medium tannins, and the cherry and strawberry fruit is so fresh and juicy. Complex notes of herbs and spices, and the wine maintains a zippy, mineral focus that is really attractive. Should age nicely over the next three to five. A blend of 22 batches, fermented with native yeasts in French oak, 8% new. (91 points IJB)

2019 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $75
Deep ruby color. Smells so delightful, with ripe strawberries, cherries and red currants, tossed with a complex and enticing host of violets, rose hips, clove and white pepper. Ripe, plush tannins and fresh acidity carry the lively cherry and strawberry fruit wonderfully. Underlying tones of potting soil, clay, pepper and black tea add complexity, and I get some nuanced walnut and cocoa tones. A delight now or to cellar, you can’t go wrong. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2020 Lucky Rock Wine Co. Grenache Venturi Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
Bright ruby color. Juicy cherries, raspberries, and cranberry relish on the nose, with notes of pepper, spiced tea, bay leaf and rhubarb. The palate shows a juicy, ripe feel and some moderate acidity over red plums and raspberry, jammy but fresh. Notes of black tea, rhubarb and rose petals add complexity. Plush, fun, but shows complexity as well. A small 75 case production wine to be released next year, this is one to watch for. (90 points IJB)

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