Wine Reviews: California Specialties

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-10-2022

California has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been following harvest reports and wineries as they prepare the 2022 vintage. And with the long-term drought, the recent heat wave, and now there’s a threat of flooding from hurricane leftovers? Sheesh! I hope you any California readers have been staying cool and well over this stretch.

So, this week, I have some really special wines from California to share – some chosen selections from producers I’ve grown to respect and appreciate.

Singer Wines at Baker Lane Estate really comes out swinging with two exceptional Rhone wines. Made by legend Stephen Singer, the wines from this west-facing site in the Sebastopol Hills speak with a crystal-clear voice to their place and grapes. If you’re looking for highly delicious yet nuanced Syrah and Viognier, these small-production wines are definitely worth your time and money.

Eden Rift makes some focused and singular Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and it was a privilege to taste their 2019s. From the limestone-rich soils of the Cienega Valley, these are wines you taste and can just tell they come from a very special place. Especially considering the prices, the wines consistently overperform, and the 2019s are singing.

Sonoma is well represented here, including by Sonoma-Cutrer’s new Grand Brut Rosé, which certainly overdelivers for the price. LaPelle performs with a striking Bien Nacido Pinot Noir, and DuMOL’s Pinot offering is also delightful. Lastly, I also have a Paso Robles Cab that’s a whole lot of fun — Tooth and Nail’s wines are reliably delicious and this Cab is like a chunky slab of rock-and-roll in the glass, for a solid price.

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Sonoma-Cutrer Grand Brut Rosé Winemaker’s Release USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $55
Deep copper color. A gorgeous aromatic display that combines raspberries, white cherries and tart yellow apples with richer tones of honey and biscuits and bracing elements of chalk and talc. On the palate, this is crisp and nervy, pure and racy, with a core of red apple, raspberry and white cherry fruit. The balance is delightful, and it has this deep but crunchy feel, with tones of biscuits, honey and hay tossed with seashells, minerals, flowers, combining for this ocean meets spring meadow appeal. Complex and nervy, this should age wonderfully and is one of the best California sparkling wines I’ve tasted in a while. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. (93 points IJB)

2021 Singer Wine Viognier Baker Lane Estate USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $75
Medium yellow color. Classic deep Viognier aromas, but it has a lot of unique twists and turns that are a delight to follow: banana, kiwi, white peach, with honeycomb and raw almond, notes of chalk dust and sea salt. On the palate – wow! – the acidity is racy and fresh (thankfully) which balances well with the deep, waxy texture and juicy papaya and pineapple fruit (a drizzle of lime in there, too). The floral tones are perfumed but nuanced, and tones of chalk dust and saline are welcomed. Creamy but fresh, a delightful Sonoma Viognier worth seeking out. From a cool, west-facing site that really shines through, this is 13.8% alcohol and aged five months in neutral oak. (93 points IJB)

2019 Singer Wine Syrah Baker Lane Estate USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $95
Deep purple color. The nose is delightfully spicy, with these paprika, red pepper flakes and black pepper dusted over a host of fresh blueberries and tart red plums – and it works so, so well. The tangy acidity sets the stage, dusty but structured tannins offer structure and grip, while the balance and freshness are on point. Tangy blackberries and red/black currant fruit mixes with lots of violets, clove, black pepper, with loamy earth and a hint of barbecue sauce and grilled meat. Spicy, fresh, floral, delicious, this will do wonders in the cellar, too. 15% whole cluster fermentation, includes 2% Viognier, aged 26 months in 450-liter puncheons, 13.8% alcohol. (94 points IJB)

2020 DuMOL Pinot Noir Wester Reach Russian River Valley USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $80
Medium ruby color. So alive on the nose including red cherries, plums and raspberries, with a complex web of spice and floral elements (rose hips, rhubarb, cola, white pepper, tobacco, sage). The palate shows crisp acidity and smooth, structured tannins with a juicy, fresh appeal. The raspberry, red apple and cherry fruit is crunchy and zesty, and it mixes well with complexities of earth, rhubarb, tomato leaf, with nuanced cola, roasted chestnut and birch elements. Vibrant, forward but earthy and dusty. This should do nicely with three or four years in the cellar but it’s expressive already. A blend from vineyards including Flax Estate, DuMol Estate, Occidental Road and others, aged 12 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2019 Eden Rift Chardonnay Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Cienega Valley
SRP: $42
Rich gold color. The aromas are so bright and spritely, with chalk dust, yellow flowers, meadow breeze, with lemons, limes and pineapple. Pure and crisp on the palate, a zippy yet creamy mouthfeel, delightful balance. The yellow apple, lime and papaya fruit blends well with flinty minerals, clover, honey, accents of almond and candle wax. Deep texture but stays racy and feels effortless throughout. So much Chardonnay goodness for the price. (93 points IJB)

2019 Eden Rift Pinot Noir Estate USA, California, Central Coast, Cienega Valley
SRP: $48
Bright ruby color. On the nose, this is airy and floral, and I get tart cranberry relish, pomegranate fruit and red cherries. Full of seasonings and spices (white pepper, clove, rhubarb, celery seed), and the combination is invigorating. On the palate, this is smooth and silky but structured, with lip-smacking acidity and a bright, balanced feel. Tangy raspberries and red apple peel, such pretty texture and mouthfeel, with elements of clay, rhubarb, dusty earth, rose petals and white pepper. This will age marvelously. (93 points IJB)

2019 Eden Rift Pinot Noir Palmtag Block USA, California, Central Coast, Cienega Valley
SRP: $78
Gorgeous ruby color. So breezy and floral on the nose, yet such depth, too: rose hips, rhubarb, white pepper, oregano and basil over top of crunchy cranberry and wild raspberry fruit. Crisp acidity and fine-grained tannins make for a pure and balanced wine, and the red fruit is vibrant and alive (cranberry, red apple, raspberry). Complex notes of rhubarb, rose petals, paprika and white pepper add a lot to ponder, and the mouthfeel is fantastic. Their first single-block Pinot, from between the flatter vineyards and the terraces. A real beauty that has a lot more to show in the cellar. (95 points IJB)

2020 Tooth & Nail Wines Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $26
Vibrant purple color. Juicy but pretty on the nose with cherries and plum sauce, along with savory and spicy elements of clove, anise, creosote and pepper – has a real grill-out vibe that is a ton of fun. Suave on the palate with enough acidity to keep it lively and a chewy but nuanced feel. Blackberry, raspberry and fig fruit meld well with tones of tar, roasted red pepper and graphite. Ripe and fun but quite complex and balanced as well. Aged 10 months in 25% new French oak, this bottle has an augmented reality character-driven label as well. (90 points IJB)

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