Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-23-2022

I’ve recently returned from a wonderful trip to Portugal and am back to focusing on some goodies from California.

Napa Cabernet is classic for a reason, and I’ve got some solid ones this week.

Since opening in 2014, Hamel has been putting out some really exciting wines from Sonoma Valley and Moon Mountain District. This was my first time trying their Nuns Canyon Cab and, just, wow. Calla Lily comes out swinging with two delightful Cabs worthy of consideration and cellar space, followed up by Cliff Lede’s latest Stag’s Leap Cab offering.

This was my first time tasting wines from Napa’s Lobo Wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offered a lot more brightness and finesse than I was expecting, and the reds offer a lot of earthy, spicy vibes to enjoy. They planted their first Chardonnay vines in Oak Knoll about 20 years ago, and then found their 42-acre Atlas Peak property in 2007.While not inexpensive, these wines really deliver for the price.

Ram’s Gate makes another appearance here with two exciting wines. Their Chards and Pinots are delicious across the board, but this new Hyde Chardonnay is really something. And Paso’s Tooth and Nail keep on trucking with some burly but well-made red blends.

These wines were received as trade samples. For this report, I tasted the Cabernets below single-blind, and the rest of the wines sighted.


2018 Hamel Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Nuns Canyon USA, California, Sonoma County, Moon Mountain District
SRP: $160
Deep purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose with a core of tart blueberries and deep black cherries, mixed with lots of eucalyptus, mint, chewing tobacco, some coffee and tilled soil, just a gorgeous aromatic display. Solid grip, vibrant acidity, built so well with tangy, crunchy blueberries and dark currants. The stony, graphite, charcoal, pepper and cocoa accents are really attractive, and there’s this focused, fascinating minerality underneath that is awesome. Fermented in a mix of concrete, steel and oak and aged 20 months in French oak, this has a mighty long life of growth ahead of it. (94 points IJB)

2017 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Ultimate Red USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $65
Dark purple. The nose shows a warm, inviting mix of currants and blackberries, tossed with classic Napa Cab goodness like eucalyptus, cedar, coffee – a lot to unpack. Full but fresh on the palate with structured but suave tannins and lively acidity to balance it out – the mouthfeel is just gorgeous. Juicy black cherry fruit blends well with a mix of coconut shavings, cola and clove, along with tilled soil, rocky earth and graphite. There is a lot going on here, and it really needs some time, but the core of quality is so solid. Cabernet with Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged 22 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2016 Calla Lily Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Audax USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $120

Vibrant purple color. Deep, concentrated yet lively aromas of tart plums, currants and cherries, tossed with roasted herbs, anise, cedar and cocoa – a lot going on and its all warm and inviting. Full-bodied, smooth but structured tannins, balanced with vibrant acidity. A tangy, juicy core of black cherries and blueberries, gorgeous fruit, mixed with cool notes of roasted red pepper, charcoal, coffee, and an underlying sense of gravelly earth and graphite. Really well done, this could use five years and will improve for many more. Aged 27 months in 50% new French oak. Cabernet with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. (93 points IJB)

2019 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $82

Bright purple color. The tangy blueberry and black cherry fruit aromas are backed up by incense sticks, cedar, cocoa, mint, pencil shavings and stony earth. Bold but smooth, structured tannins, moderating acidity, the balance is really nice. Dark but lively blackberry fruit, tossed with tar, gravel, loam, charcoal, along with nuances of coffee and cedar. Nice and deep, well-made, balanced, this could use at least a few years but already showing refinement and finesse. Includes a combined 18% Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, aged 21 months in 38% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Lobo Wines

2020 Lobo Wines Chardonnay Wulff Vineyards USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
SRP: $70

Light yellow color. Really interesting nose of lemons and yellow apples, with nice shots of sea salt and brine, topped with crushed walnut and whipped honey – really nice. Beautiful texture on the palate, shows a honeyed feel with medium acidity, paired with lemon slices, ripe white peaches and yellow apples. Chalky, flinty, salty, mineral undertones make this really exciting, while richer notes of nougat, whipped butter and honey add depth and enjoyment on the finish. Full maloactic fermentation, aged in 75% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2015 Lobo Wines Pinot Noir Wulff Vineyards USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District

Bright cherry color. Smells dusty and earthy in a very pleasant way, with rhubarb, white pepper, some beef jerky and rose hip tones, all over tangy cranberry and red cherries. Fresh and zippy on the palate with sweet raspberry and tangy strawberries, dusty tannins. Notes of roses, clove, pepper, earth, along with cedar and light roast coffee, woven in nicely. Juicy, tangy, spicy, elegant Pinot Noir here. (91 points IJB)

2018 Lobo Wines Pinot Noir Wulff Vineyards USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
SRP: $50

Deep ruby color. The nose is vibrant but sweet with red plums and pomegranate fruit, along with rose petals, clove, pepper, dried flowers. Smooth tannins, the acidity is zesty, it is balanced well with raspberry and black cherry, some cranberry relish, tangy but warm and silky. Clove, leather, dried rose petals, notes of savory spices and clay earth come out with time. Delicious now but could show some cool elements with a few years. Aged 11 months in 35% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2018 Lobo Wines Howl Wulff Vineyards USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll District
SRP: $70

Lively purple color. Aromas of cherries and dark currants, laced with a fun host of black pepper, beef drippings, charcoal, with violets and dark, scorched earth. Tangy currants and blueberry fruit over a bed of chewy tannins and zesty acidity. The pepper, paprika, roasted red pepper, soy and balsamic glaze notes add spicy, savory goodness, which lingers long on the finish with the dark fruit. Already showing a lot of complexity, but two or three years (or sipping over a few days) will do this Syrah good. Syrah with 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. (90 points IJB)

2019 Lobo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Wulff Vineyards USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $80

Deep purple. A warm nose of black cherries and saucy currants, with mesquite, pepper, coffee, dark chocolate shavings, forest floor. Full and suave on the palate, smooth tannins and the acidity is medium. Ripe black currants, cherry preserves, tangy black cherries, the fruit is mixed well with notes of violets, tobacco, toffee and coffee grounds. A sweet, chewy finish but stays lively and nuanced. Stainless steel fermentation, aged 18 months in 70% new French oak. Great to go now or hold for a few. (90 points IJB)

2018 Lobo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Napa Valley, Atlas Peak
SRP: $95

Bright purple color. Wow, the nose is deep but lively with a cool blend of blueberries and tangy black cherry fruit, laced with warm black tea, tar, anise and cracked black pepper. Velvety but well-built tannins on the palate, vibrant acidity, with suave plums and blackberry fruit. Notes of magic marker, cocoa, mint and clove add a lot to ponder, and there are dusty, earthy, oregano, pencil lead and leather notes that really pop as well. A lot to unwrap, I’d give this five or six years, but it shows a lot of depth, personality and concentration. Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak. (92 points IJB)


2019 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $70

Medium yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd and yellow apples laced with notes of meringue, ginger, honey and nougat – a rich but inviting display. Creamy, deep texture with zesty acidity and gorgeous balance. Lemon and papaya fruit, rich but zesty, with complex notes of meringue, white flowers, sea salt, shaved almond. Pure, focused, crystalline, this will age wonderfully. One of the best Chardonnays I’ve tasted from this producer. (93 points IJB)

2019 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $85

Deep ruby color. Aromas of bright cherries and raspberries, mixed with complex notes of cola, rhubarb, white pepper, notes of pepperoni and paprika. The palate shows a zippy and a dusty tannic frame over top of tangy raspberry and cherry fruit. Notes of rose petals, tobacco, pepper and spiced black tea add quite a bit of complexity. Balanced, vibrant, earth and minerals on the finish. Refined, pretty Carneros Pinot. (92 points IJB)

2019 Tooth & Nail Wines The Stand USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $36

Dark purple color. Nose shows roasted figs, saucy plums, with coconut shavings, coffee, toffee, rich but nuanced and vibrant. The palate shows sweet tannins and moderate acid, a chewy and full texture wih notes of cocoa, coconut, black pepper, caramelized sugar. Fun and chewy but refreshing and complex as well, this begs for steak and grilled vegetable kabobs. Petite Syrah, Syrah and Viognier, aged 15 months in 1/3 new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2019 Tooth & Nail Wines The Possessor USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $36

Deep purple color. The nose is full of fig paste, rich and saucy blueberries, smoky, beefy rontes, with cocoa, cedar, graphite and anise – a lot to unpack. Jammy and plush on the palate, chewy tannins, smooth acidity. Plums and blackberry jam mixes with notes of cocoa, toffee, anise and cocoa. A deep, but inviting wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Malbec. (90 points IJB)


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