Like many people, I’ve been so saddened to see the loss of life and the massive destruction from the series of wildfires all over Northern California. So, it’s hard to write about delicious California wines when so many people are suffering. But I recently received a lineup of stellar California wines and, as I tasted them and followed the news of the fires, I was reminded of what makes places like Napa and Sonoma so special. Not just the finished wines, but the people who farm the vineyards, pick the grapes, make the wine, and sell it to eager consumers like myself.
So let’s all raise a glass to those who have passed, and to the future of the resilient California wine industry.
This report includes some exciting Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Dierberg, and some solid Sonoma wines from Gary Farrell. I also tasted through two Merlots (La Jota and Mt. Brave) from mountain vineyards in Napa that I found to be flat-out gorgeous. Oh, and a few wines from Napa’s Shafer, including the new releases of their ever-popular Relentless Syrah and their iconic Hillside Select Cabernet.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2015 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Light gold color. Aromas of plump yellow apple, bruised pear, some lime, mixed with peanut shell, buttercream, daisies. Big and bold with plump, creamy texture, moderate acidity. Apricot, bruised apple, pears, the fruit blurs together with honeyed biscuits buttercream, and also some chalky and floral tones. Yummy and crowd-pleasing but shows some solid complexity. Aged 9 months in 30-40% new French oak. (88 points)
2014 Dierberg Chardonnay Dierberg Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
Medium yellow color. Nose shows raw almond, sea salt, honeycomb and lilies on top of yellow apples, limes and lemon curd. Pithy and bright on the palate with saline-infused acidity but some plump texture. Green apples, salted lime, kumquat, the fruit is laced with chalky minerals, sea salt and limestone, but also some richer elements of nougat, honeyed tea, and biscuits. Long, brisk finish. I’d love to re-taste this in three or four years as it has lots to show. 13.8% alcohol, aged 14 months in 15% new French oak. (93 points)
2015 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Deep ruby color. Aromas of crisp raspberry, juicy strawberry, cranberry jam, along with a pretty combination of smoky, earthy and floral tones. Medium-bodied, silky tannins and juicy acidity, with some raspberry, strawberry and sweet cranberry fruit. I also get some cola, sweet pipe tobacco, rhubarb. Lively and fresh but shows some balance and excitement. Delicious for drinking of the next year or two. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (88 points)
2014 Dierberg Pinot Noir Dierberg Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
Deep ruby colored. Aromas of fresh strawberries, raspberries, juicy red currant, along with rhubarb, tangy herbs and rose petals. Crisp acidity throughout, but structured tannic grip, this wine shows aging potential but vibrancy and balance in its youth. I get bright raspberries and strawberries, mixed with tobacco, sage, rose petals, cinnamon spice and leather. Gorgeous now but this has many years ahead of it. Another stunner from this producer. Aged 14 months in 20% new French oak. (93 points)
2014 Dierberg Pinot Noir Drum Canyon Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
Medium ruby color. Exquisite aromas of black cherries, red and black plums, mixed with roses, rhubarb, incense, earthy/clay notes – wow. Medium-bodied presence on the palate, solid grip on the tannins, medium acidity keeps it refreshing. Black cherry and crunchy plum fruit, ripe but nuanced, laced with cola, roses, rhubarb, clove, cedar, eucalyptus. Juicy and fruity but layered and complex. This will improve for five+ years easily. Aged 14 months in 20% new French oak. (92 points)
2014 Shafer Relentless - California, Napa Valley
Dark, dark purple color. Intense, extracted nose of boysenberry, blueberry, black pepper, sweet coffee, vanilla and nutmeg — a lot of time need to coax out these aromatics, but lots in here. Deep and dense with a huge, chewy mouthfeel but there’s also velvety tannins, medium-low acidity. Rich and plump with suave black and blue fruit, rich but so delicious, and mixed with black pepper glaze, charcoal, coffee, anise, clove and vanilla, all woven in so well. Lots of time, obviously, I’d bury a bottle for five to ten years. 89% Syrah and 11 % Petite Sirah, aged 30 months in all new French oak. (93 points)
2013 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
Deep purple color. Gorgeous aromatics of black currant, plum skin, blackberry compote, laced with graphite, tobacco, smashed rocks, cedar, mint chocolate chip, so much aromatic complexity to unwrap. Full-bodied and brawny with serious tannic structure but surprising acidity that wraps up the bold fruit. Waves of blackberries, blueberries, crunchy plums, the fruit is packed with cocoa, coffee, charcoal, pencil shavings, birch wood, cola. So complex and expressive despite its depth, concentration and youth. A pure and alive Cabernet, but I’d love to bury this and forget about it for a few presidents. All Cabernet aged 32 months in all new French oak. (95 points)
2014 La Jota Merlot - California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
Bold purple color. On the nose, I get waves of black currants, gushing plums, black cherries and pomegranate, along with rich earth, eucalyptus, sage, sweet pipe tobacco, vanilla and violets — just lovely stuff. Gorgeous structure on the palate, velvety but sturdy tannins, moderating acidity. Plums, currants, black cherries, blackberries, exquisite fruit. Tons of charcoal, graphite, iron, mineral, notes of mushroom and soy, along with cocoa, vanilla, cedar and violets. Deep and complex yet effortless and elegant. So much time ahead. From a 1,800 foot vineyard, this contains 10% Petit Verdot and is aged 19 months in French oak. (94 points)
2014 Mt. Brave Merlot - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
Bright purple color. Gorgeous aromatic blend of red and black currants and crunchy plums, mixed with violets, espresso, potting soil, tobacco, some pencil lead. Vibrant acidity, structured tannins, a velvety feel that is both deep and fresh at the same time. Tart black cherries, blackberry and juicy cherries come in waves, and the fruit is backed up by graphite, cocoa powder, espresso, rich earth, charcoal and pencil shavings notes. Complex, rich but also vibrant – although this has years of development in the cellar. Beautiful mountain vineyard Merlot. All Merlot aged 19 months in French oak. (93 points)
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.