California time again! I’m really excited about a lot of the wines in this report.
I cover four wines from the Writer’s Block brand, from long-time Lake County winemaker Jed Steele. He still produces delicious, interesting varietal wines from vineyards in Lake County, and releases them for a very reasonable $17.
Sutro contributes a Cab and Merlot from the Warnecke Ranch Vineyard in Alexander Valley, which both show incredible quality and terroir-focused nuances, and they’re priced far less than some wines of similar quality from Napa.
Smith-Madrone, per usual, contributes two stellar new releases, while J McClelland wows with a Napa Malbec and Petit Verdot. Oh, and the 2014 Cardinale is pricey but gorgeous.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
Rich golden color. Smells of yellow apples and pears, drizzled with lime, nougat, honeycomb, chalk dust, chamomile, mint — Wow! On the palate, this has such refreshing acidity but the texture is creamy and there’s this tingly mineral depth that is fascinating, superbly balanced. Lemon curd, apricot, yellow apple, rich but nuanced fruit along with honeysuckle, salted almond, chalk dust, saline, candle wax. Lively and precise but packed with flavor and finishes with stony minerals. Always a classic Napa Chard for me, but this vintage is exceptional. Barrel-fermented and aged 10 months in French oak, 80% new, and yes its 14.9% alcohol but the balance is phenomenal. (94 points)
2016 FEL Chardonnay - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
Rich gold color. Bold aromas of glazed pears, yellow apples, lemon curd, along with sea salt, almond, coconut. Creamy texture on the palate, medium acidity, plump but lively appeal. Apples, baked pear, apricot, lemon crème, with notes of almond, honey butter, sea salt, cinnamon and yellow flowers. Full and forward but shows complexity and dimension. (90 points)
2017 Scotto Cellars Sangiovese Rosé - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Light watermelon color. Aromas of strawberries, raspberries, white cherries, spicy herbs, white pepper, rose hips. Plump texture but fresh with zesty acidity, and lots of red apple peel, strawberries, watermelon and white cherries. Notes of spicy white pepper, nettle, rose tea, some honey and chalky notes. Delicious, quite complex for the price. (88 points)
2015 Writer's Block Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Lake County
Light ruby color. Aromas of raspberry jam, tart strawberries and red apple peel along with rose hips, rhubarb, cola and white pepper. Zesty acidity and light tannins on a medium-bodied frame makes for a vibrant but balanced Pinot, with flavors of tart and juicy red berries and apples (no candied fruit notes here). White pepper, rhubarb, spicy tobacco, cola, hint of mushroom. A lot going on for the price. In the minefield of sub-$20 California Pinots this Lake County one stands out for a recommendation. Aged 12 months in a French, American and Hungarian oak (15% new). (88 points)
2015 Writer's Block Cabernet Franc - California, North Coast, Lake County
Medium ruby color. Aromas of spicy cherries and tart red and black plums, along with cola, smoky charcoal and black pepper. Tart and refreshing on the palate with soft tannins, moderate acidity, and tangy cherries and plum skins. Notes of mushroom, coffee and vanilla. Fresh, tasty, approachable, crowd-pleasing. (87 points)
2015 Writer's Block Malbec - California, North Coast, Lake County
Medium ruby color. Aromas of raspberry jam, blackberry, cola, coffee, grilled herbs and tobacco. Medium+ acidity and medium/light tannins make for a fresh wine but lots of juicy black cherry and raspberry fruit. Tobacco, menthol, coffee, some violets and earth. Fresh and tangy but shows a good range of flavors and some nice complexity. Aged 12 months in French, American and Hungarian oak (15% new). (87 points)
2015 Writer's Block Zinfandel - California, North Coast, Lake County
Deep ruby color. Aromas are deep and lush with black cherries, raspberries, plum cake, along with cedar, espresso and cola. Chewy texture on the palate with significant tannins and medium-low acidity, and flavors of black cherries and currant jam. Notes of cocoa powder, coffee, asphalt, pencil lead, violets, black pepper glaze. So delish, impressive depth and structure for a wine at this price point. From old vines in the Duncan-Shine Vineyard, this wine is aged 12 months in 15% new French, American and Hungarian oak. (88 points)
2013 McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Lodi
Pale ruby color. I love the aromas of smoky charcoal, savory herbs and broth, grilled steak, on top of cherries, raspberry jam — wow! Full but smooth with fresh acidity and easygoing tannins, such balance. Crisp red cherries with raspberries and strawberry jam, laced with complex elements of rose hips, rhubarb, grilled herbs, pepperoni, bay leaf, cracked pepper. Complex, flavorful, balanced, delicious. Native yeasts, old oak, this is impressive Lodi Grenache. (92 points)
2014 Sutro Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon Warnecke Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Alexander ValleySRP: $50
Rich purple color. Dark and plummy with black currants, dark and saucy with peppercorns, tobacco, graphite, cedar, sarsaparilla. Full-bodied, grippy but suave tannins, nice tension with the acidity. Tart black currants and black cherries, rich but the fruit has a lot of freshness to it. Pencil shavings, rocky soil, fallen leaves, cocoa, tobacco bard, coffee – this is a complex and intriguing wine. Lovely, structured, delicious but worthy of cellaring for at least 4-6 years. (93 points)
2014 Sutro Wine Company Merlot Warnecke Ranch - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
Light purple color. Gushing aromas of plums, tangy black cherries, blueberry, with a strong shot of eucalyptus, along with violets, tobacco mint, granite and pencil shavings. Full but smooth, structured but fresh, balanced very nicely. Tart black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, waves of rich but crisp fruit. Notes of eucalyptus, anise, violets, paved road, smashed rocks. Deep, exquisite stuff, delicious but age-worthy. Wow. (93 points)
2013 J. McClelland Petit Verdot - California, Napa Valley
Inky purple color. On the nose, waves of juicy dark plums, blackberry, black currants, along with violets, pepper, cardamom, chestnuts. Full-bodied, bold grip to the tannins, medium acidity keeps it lively. Black cherry, cassis and blueberry, dark and punchy fruit, laced with pepper, violets, cedar, coffee and iron. Lots of depth, cellar-worthy for 5-8 easily, but gorgeous now, especially with air or time in the decanter. Includes 10% Malbec, aged 26 months in French oak. (91 points)
2013 J. McClelland Malbec - California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
Bold purple color. Bold purple color. Rich, intoxicating aromas of blueberry, blackberry, summer plums, violets, chestnut, cocoa, graphite, vanilla – complex, evolving aromas that will pop with cellar time. Structured well but velvety, yet vibrant acidity. Tart black cherries, currants, the fruit is rich but tangy. Complex elements of tobacco, pencil lead, sage, paved road, with some earthy/rocky soil elements. Long time ahead, but this is a stunner of a Napa Malbec already. 100% Malbec. (91 points)
2015 Grounded Wine Co. Steady State - California, Napa Valley
Rich purple color. Smells like roasted plums, currant jam, blackberries, cocoa, loam, cedar and dark chocolate. Full and suave, chewy but it shows structured tannins and medium acidity. Flavors of black currants, plum skin, crushed blackberries, along with roasted chestnuts, dark roast coffee, scorched earth, anise and cocoa. Complex, forward, seriously delicious yet can age well. Opens up a lot with age. 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot. 18 months in 50% new French oak. (92 points)
2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
Deep ruby color. Gorgeous aromatics of black currants, tart plums, eucalyptus, charcoal, smashed rocks, violets, coffee. Bold tannic grip on the palate, and while the acidity keeps it so fresh, this is a very young and compact wine. But plenty of cherry and blackberry and currant fruit, so fresh but rich. Laced with cocoa powder, cedar, anise, mineral and gravel. Complex, fruity, silky, age-worthy. This is another excellent effort that is impressive now but will show its best in 4-8 years, I reckon. Includes 8% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot, aged in French oak for 18 months, 70% new. (93 points)
2014 Cardinale - California, Napa Valley
Vibrant purple color. Gorgeous, complex aromas of black currants, blueberry, black cherries, along with eucalyptus, tobacco pipe, espresso, chai tea, bay leaf, a ton of complex aromas to unpack. Full and powerful on the palate, velvety but shows powerful grip, moderating acidity. Plum, blackberry, black cherry, cassis, smooth but deep fruit. The fruit is surrounded by violets, sweet pipe tobacco, eucalyptus, cigar box, ginger snap, vanilla. This is gorgeous stuff, beautiful now, but let this unwind for a decade and see what happens. Includes 12% Merlot, this is sourced from 11 different Napa vineyards, and the wine is aged 19 months in 94% new French oak. (96 points)
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.