Wine Reviews: California Wines for Summer

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-06-2021

It’s not officially summer in the Northern Hemisphere yet, but it sure does feel like it. Personally, I don’t handle any sort of heat and humidity well, unless I’m a stone’s throw from a beach or pool. So now that it’s regularly hitting 90+ degrees in DC, I won’t be popping too many red wines.

This Spring, I’ve received a lot of California wines that would do well to beat the heat, and I’ve compiled some white and pink wines that deliver. Smith-Madrone’s Spring Mountain Riesling does it again; it is consistently one of the most exciting California Rieslings I’ve come across. FEL represents Anderson Valley well with their three offerings, while Sonoma’s Notre Vue is a that’s putting out some exciting stuff.

Some eye-opening Sauvignon Blancs, a delicious Grenache Blanc and a few others round out this solid mix. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Smith-Madrone Riesling USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $34
Light yellow color. Aromas of gorgeous limes, orange peels, exquisite fruit mixed with white flowers, new tennis balls, wild mint, with chalky and saline tones. Pristine acidity, zesty, a chalky and salty appeal with white flowers, white pepper and wild green onion tones. Lime, orange and kiwi fruit provide generous support for this intense but refined wine. Perfume, focused, dry yet ripe, this is complex and age-worthy, and a consistently spectacular California Riesling. (94 points IJB)

2019 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $22
Pale straw color. Wow, so bright on the nose, with lemon, lime and kiwi fruit, topped with seashells, oyster brine, chalk and notes of green olive. Racy on the palate but lovely depth of texture, with bright acidity and an essence that reminds me of mountain streams meeting crashing ocean waves. Limes, kiwi and pineapple fruit mix with tones of sea salt, orange peel, white tea and oyster shell. Really exciting stuff, expressive, vibrant, complex, and absurdly good for the price. Stainless steel fermentation, native yeasts, aged on the lees for eight months. (91 points IJB)

2019 Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $48
Pale lemon color. Aromas of limes, papaya, topped in honeysuckle, daisies, wild mint and fresh basil – really vibrant and bright. Crisp and delightful texture, with limes, peach and papaya fruit on the palate. Complex notes of salt, chalk dust, ocean spray, with bright floral and white tea tones. Deep but lively, focused but lots of complexity, and a racy, mineral-laden finish. All Sauvignon Blanc Aged sur lie in a mix of concrete eggs and French oak. (91 points)

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante Brut USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $39
Deep yellow color. Perfume and bright on the nose with chalk dusty, white flowers, celery seed, over top of limes, kiwi and red apple peel. Bright and zesty on the palate, this is a clear and focused sparkler with limes, lemons and green and red apple fruit. Flinty and steely with floral perfume, chalk dust, saline and some spicy herbal tones. A brunch and seafood-friendly wine. A mix of 73% Chardonnay and 27% Pinot Noir. (88 points IJB)

2019 Cormorant Cellars Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $24
Deep yellow color. A natural but focused aromatic display of preserved lemon, melon rind, with honey, clover, white pepper, and interesting notes of tobacco barn and dried green herbs. Crisp acidity on a deeply-textured frame, with a mouthfeel that combines a bit of waxiness with some brininess, lots of mineral and saline tones. Orange peel and dried pineapple fruit mix with nots of green olive, oregano and mint. Equally fascinating and delicious. This grapes are sourced from the Gio Martorana Vineyard, fermented in stainless steel and French oak, no fining, filtering, minimal SO2, this is as clear, focused and exciting a Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc at this price point I’ve come across in a long time. (91 points IJB)

2020 Ram’s Gate Sauvignon Blanc USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Light yellow color. The aromas pop with zesty lime and generous white peach, topped in notes of honeysuckle, celery seed and sea salt. Crisp and nervy on the palate, this has a pretty, pure and mountain stream kind of feel, with limes, lemons and white peach. Focused and clear with notes of hay, lilies, floral perfume, with notes of minerals, crushed shells and limestone. A lean but lively Sauvignon Blanc that brings a lot to the table. Aged five months in a mix of oak (10% new, 80% neutral) and stainless steel. (89 points IJB)

2020 Ram’s Gate Pinot Blanc USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $38
Light yellow color. Aromas of lemons and kiwi, so fresh and also so floral, with daisies, honeysuckle, clover and clean laundry. Racy acidity frames the wine well, lovely texture. Flavors of lemons, green apple and orange peel on the palate, this is spritely and vibrant, with notes of minerals, sea spray, chalk, along with freshly-cut rose stems, sliced cucumber and oregano. Great hot weather wine, but complex as well, and so versatile. Aged five months in all neutral barrels. (90 points IJB)

2018 Bouchaine Chardonnay Estate Vineyard USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $32
Rich yellow color. The nose shows nutty and honeyed elements, with yellow apples and lemon curd, along with some almond and white tea. Plump texture on the palate, moderating acidity, this wine sports apricot and orange marmalade fruit mixed with elements of honey, graham cracker, cinnamon sticks, with some hay and salted almond tones. Ripe and delicious, but stays focused, too. Aged 10 months in 85% oak, 15% new, 50% maloactic fermentation. (89 points IJB)

2019 Notre Vue Chardonnay USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $49
Medium yellow color. The nose shows yellow apples and apricot and orange peel, mixed with honey, crushed shells, pistachio and honey. Precise acidity keeps this lip-smacking, while the deep texture offers creaminess and juiciness. Yellow apple, apricot and lemon curd fruit is lively and ripe, and tossed together well with notes of candied ginger, honeycomb, peanut shell, along with mountain stream, minerals and chalk. Nuanced and balanced, highly delicious. (91 points IJB)

2018 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane Vineyard USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Medium yellow color. Aromas of oranges, yellow apples, lemon curd, with notes of honey, almond, with vanilla, also white tea and dandelion notes. Medium-plus-bodied with gorgeous texture, balanced with vibrant acidity. The fruit is like a mix of orange peel, kiwi and lemon curd, blended with richer notes of graham cracker, vanilla and nougat, but also this brisk, mineral-infused feel. Bold but vibrant, with this nuanced and fresh approach. For the price especially, yeah, this rocks. (92 points IJB)

2020 FEL Pinot Gris USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $28
Light yellow color. So peachy and fresh, like an open field of spring wildflowers and an herb garden of goodness over top lemon and orange peel. Zippy acidity, nice texture, this is focused and balanced on the palate with oranges, peaches and limes. Accents of white tea, clover, fresh laundry and honey add complexity. Lively, bright, spritely but complex stuff. Fermented in a 900-gallan French oak tank and aged five months on the lees. (90 points IJB)

2019 FEL Chardonnay Anderson Valley ­- USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $32
Ripe yellow color. Fresh and floral on the nose, a nice mix of airy tones with deeper, honeyed, almond tones, over ripe yellow pears. Crisp acidity is a pleasure on the palate, with a moderately rich texture, and a chalky but honeyed balance. Lemon curd and apricot mix with honeycomb and light graham cracker mixed with crushed chalk and mineral tones. Harmonious, complex, a blend of some Anderson Valley vineyards, fermented in neutral oak and aged on the lees for ten months. (90 points IJB)

Rosé wines

2019 Notre Vue Sparkling Rosé of GSM USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $45
Medium copper color. Aromas of white cherries and wild raspberries, along with chalk dust, sea salt and some spicy green herbs. Crisp and zesty but nice depth, too. Tangy white cherries and wild raspberries, tangy red apple peel. Aromas of sea shells, talc and minerals with some saltine crackers. Brisk and bright but solid complexity. 52% Syrah, 32% Grenache and 16% Mourvedre. (89 points IJB)

2020 Ram’s Gate Rosé USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $38
Medium pink color. A lovely brightness on the nose, with a nice mix of raspberries, white cherries, McIntosh apple skins, along with saline, hay, sliced cucumber and lemon verbena. Fresh and crisp on the palate, but this shows solid textural depth as well on a plump but racy frame. Wild raspberry, strawberry and red apple fruit mix well with complexities of dandelion, nettle, floral perfume. Solid complex, really vibrant, with a complex mineral-laden finish. 61% Grenache, 30% Pinot Noir and 9% Syrah, fermented five months sur lie in neutral oak barrels. (90 points IJB)

2019 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir Rosato Cresta d’Oro USA, California, Sonoma County, Green Valley of Russian River Valley
SRP: $39
Pale salmon color. Aromas of lemons and white cherries, and a field of daisies edged in honeysuckle mixed in, with some celery seed and mint, too. Fresh and vibrant acidity with a plush texture and flavors of white cherries, wild raspberries and McIntosh apple, juicy but crunchy fruit. White flowers, rose petals, a brisk, quinine and mineral essence, too. Very pretty, floral and focused. All Pinot Noir, dry, fermented and aged in concrete eggs. (91 points IJB)

2020 Bouchaine Pinot Noir Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $29
Pale copper color. The aromas show salty, floral goodness, with yellow and white flowers overtop of peaches, green melon and cantaloupe. Zesty on the palate with a nice, round, creamy texture. Punchy but racy feel with plump raspberry and strawberry meeting tart white cherry. Notes of lemongrass, honeysuckle, chalk, and minerals add complexity. Nice cut, quite complex, delicious summer pink. All estate Pinot Noir from Napa’s southern portion of Carneros, 95% whole cluster pressed, all stainless steel. (89 points IJB)

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