Isaac James Baker writes poetry, short stories, novels and non-fiction. He drinks a lot of great wine.
Sometimes he does both activities simultaneously.
Monday, June 25, 2018
Wine Reviews: New Releases from California
We’re back to the Golden State this week with a mix of newly-released wines from various producers.
Old school California powerhouse Wente lays out four Chardonnays that show an interesting diversity of styles. For several years, I’ve loved the bright and brisk Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs coming from Sonoma’s Alma Fria, and their 2015s are singing beautifully right now, and will continue to do so for years. Ehlers Estate’s Sauv Blanc and Chateau Montelena’s Zin deliver yet again, while a few other wines round out the report.
These wines were received as samples and tastes sighted.
Whites 2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Oakville - California, Napa Valley, Oakville SRP: $40 Medium yellow color with aromas of nettle, lemon verbena, sliced jalapeno, on top of white peaches, apricot, honey and white tea. Juicy and full with creamy texture but lively acidity. Apricots, green melon, lemon, with honeyed white tea, cut green herbs, spicy nettle. Notes of cinnamon and almond woven in well, this is a balanced and vibrant wine with a dusty mineral finish. Mostly barrel-fermented with some lees stirring for nine months, 14% Semillon blended in as well. (90 points) 2016 Jack Winery Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $35 Medium yellow color. Richer aromatics of yellow apple, apricot am, white tea, toasted nuts, honey and cinnamon. Plump and rich texture but medium acidity, bold and flavorful but fresh and pretty as well. Yellow apples, bruised pear, lemon curd, with notes of honeyed tea and white pepper. Bold and beautiful style. (90 points) 2017 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley SRP: $32 Steely lemon color. Nose shows salted lemon, apricot, green apple, with notes of lemon verbena, chalk dust and honeysuckle. Super crisp and nervy, with brisk and salty notes but plenty of texture and depth. Apricot, tart lemon, green apple with complex elements of chalk dust, lemon verbena, basil, honey and white flowers. Lovely complexity, so balanced and expressive, another great example from Ehlers. (90 points) 2016 La Crema Chardonnay Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley SRP: $30 Light yellow color. Aromas of yellow pear, peaches and apples, mixed with notes of yellow flowers, honeycomb, white tea, whipped butter. Creamy and bold texture on the palate with medium acidity, and juicy fruits (bruised pear, baked apple) cinnamon notes, toasted almond, with white and yellow flowers and whipped butter. Rich and stylistically forward but well made. Aged eight months in 1/3 new French oak. (87 points) 2017 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Eric's - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley SRP: $30 Light yellow color. Aromas of sea breeze, lemon crème, some green apple, salted almond. Crisp and steely on the palate (no maloactic fermentation, all stainless steel), this is a fresh and appealing style with plump apple and lemon cake flavors. I get notes of sea breeze and almond. Fresh and bright but fun and shows some delicious flavors. (88 points) 2016 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Morning Fog - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley SRP: $18 Light gold color. Nose shows pineapple, lime, rich yellow apples, with honey, almond and biscuits. Bold texture, medium-bodied, with medium acidity that keeps it quite fresh. Yellow plums and bruised apple fruit mix with toasted almond, cinnamon, graham cracker and fresh laundry. Rich but goes down easy and stays lively. Half fermented in American oak, half in stainless steel. Solid stuff for the money. (87 points) 2016 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Single Vineyard Riva Ranch - California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco SRP: $22 Medium gold color. Bold nose of apricot jam, candied orange peel, almond, honey, peanut brittle and some vanilla. Plush texture with medium acidity, this is a warm and jammy style with apricot and orange marmalades, bruised pear, apricot jam, along with notes of vanilla and honey and almond. Tasty and crowd-friendly. All maloactic fermentation, most of the wine sees 60% new French oak. (87 points)
2016 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay 135th Anniversary Limited Release - California, Central Coast SRP: $40 Medium yellow color. Pleasant and inviting aromas of salted almond, vanilla, hay, cinnamon, on top of white peach, apricots and green apples. Rich textural depth meets vibrant acidity, this is a bold but nuanced chardonnay with a nice mix of bruised yellow and tart green apples. Notes of nougat, cinnamon and vanilla woven in nicely. Most of the wine undergoes maloactic fermentation and is 16 months in a combination of new and used American Oak and French Oak, while 20% fermented in stainless steel without maloactic. (90 points) 2016 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Nth Degree - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley SRP $70 Deep yellow color. Bold aromatic punch of honey, toasted almond, toasted bread, fresh biscuits, on top of bruised apple and lemon curd. Rich texture, this is a bold presence on the palate with medium acidity to help it balance out. Bruised yellow apple and apricot meet loads of toasted nuts, spicy cedar, vanilla. Full-throttle style, but it’s quite well done. All maloactic fermentation, this spends 14 months in new and used French oak. (89 points) 2015 Alma Fría Chardonnay Plural - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast SRP: $40 Medium yellow color. Breezy aromas of ocean spray and white flowers, with lemon curd, yellow apples, honeycomb, salted almond and cinnamon notes. Medium-bodied, this is crisp and bright with nervy acidity on a medium-bodied frame (13.4% alcohol). Flavors of tangerine and lemon curd, woven together with honey, white flowers, nougat, saline, dusty/chalky minerals. Another excellent vintage of this elegant Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. (92 points) 2015 Alma Fría Chardonnay Campbell Ranch Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast SRP: $50 Pretty yellow color. Gorgeous aromatics, contrasting between bright (sea breeze, chalk, river rocks, white flowers) and richer notes (orange marmalade, lemon curd, honey, nougat). Crisp and lip-smacking on the palate, so focused and vibrant, but shows lovely depth. Lemon curd, key lime pie, apricot, seasoned with crusty sea salt, limestone, minerals and crushed shells. Hints of white tea, honeycomb and peanut brittle add complexity. So curious to taste this in 3-5 years from now. Wow. (94 points)
Reds 2016 Cline Cellars Zinfandel Ancient Vines - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County SRP: $15 Light purple color. Rich and smoky on the nose, with a cool mix of black cherry and raspberry jam with smoky, barbecue notes, coconut coffee and black pepper sauce. Juicy and plush but some medium-light tannins, lots of ripe red cherries, roasted black cherries. Notes of sweet barbecue sauce, black pepper glaze, some sweet cedar. Fun, delicious Zin for the price. Aged 7 months in 35% new American oak. (87 points) 2016 Sidebar Cellars Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley SRP: $28 Light ruby color. Bright and tart red and black currants, lots of spicy rosebush and violets, earthy, clove notes – a lot to like when sniffing. Very pretty structure on the palate with velvety tannins, fresh acidity, and plenty of juicy fruit (cherries, plums, raspberries, currants). Complex elements of clove, cedar, roses, coffee grounds. Round but also tangy, fruity but earthy and savory spice elements. Impressive depth and freshness as well. (90 points) 2015 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel - California, Napa Valley, Calistoga SRP: $39 Deep ruby, light purple color. Aromas of tart red and black currants, a beautiful mix of black tea and dark floral and clove tones with spicy pepper and sweet pipe tobacco. Tangy acidity frames the palate nicely, but velvety tannins provide structure. Complex tangy black and red currants and cherries, along with clove, violets, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and some deep earthy, rocky elements. Very impressive, and easy to drink now, but can also hold for at least a few years. All Zin aged 16 months in French, Irish and American oak, 15% new. (91 points) 2014 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount - California, Napa Valley SRP: $90 Deep purple color. Dark and saucy aromatics with blackberries and dark plums, loamy earth, charcoal, graphite, dark chocolate shavings. Fresh acidity helps frame this wine nicely, while the tannins give grip, but the balance is evident. Tangy blackberries and blueberries are topped in anise, charcoal smoke and graphite. The rich but tart fruit and the mineral streak on the end make a great combo. Will improve with a few years at least. 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 28% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, aged for 20 months in 46% new French oak barrels. (91 points) 2015 Jack Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain SRP: $125 Deep purple color. Rich, voluptuous aromas of crushed blueberry, black currants, eucalyptus and vanilla. Grippy but velvety on the palate, some acidity helps moderate. Plump black cherry, tart blueberry, currant jam, gobs of fruit but the wine is also loaded with eucalyptus, mint, gravelly earth. Espresso, cedar and vanilla woven in nicely. Big but nuanced and age-worthy. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc. Aged 22 months in new French oak. (91 points) 2016 La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast SRP: $23 Bright ruby color. Aromas of sweet raspberries, cherry cola, sweet strawberry, rhubarb pie and roses. Medium-bodied, medium acidity, juicy and ripe with an easygoing appeal. Strawberry and raspberry jam with cola, roses and rhubarb notes. Fun, fruity, playful style, well done for the price. Aged nine months in 25% new French oak. (86 points) 2016 La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey - California, Central Coast, Monterey SRP: $23 Light ruby color. On the nose, strawberries, sour cherries, red apple peel, cola and rhubarb. Crisp acidity, light tannins, 13.9% alcohol but a medium to light-bodied feel, with flavors of red cherries, raspberries and red apples. Notes of spiced tea, rhubarb, sweet cola. A fresh and bright style with plenty of juicy red fruit. Nine months in 21% new French oak. (86 points) 2015 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Plural Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast SRP: $40 Bright medium ruby color. Very pretty aromatics of tart red cherries, wild raspberries, matched with spicy clove, mint, rhubarb, rose petals. Such a fresh and vibrant wine but not lacking at all in structure and flavor. Solid but velvety, crisp acidity, waves of tart cherry and strawberry fruit. Roses, rhubarb and white pepper linger with richer notes of clove and cola. Beautiful stuff to drink now or cellar for a few years. (92 points) 2015 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Holtermann Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast SRP: $62 Deep ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of chilled raspberries, fresh strawberries, re apple peel, along with a complex host of spicy rhubarb, white pepper, rose petals. Medium-bodied on the palate this is a brisk style but plenty of fleshy fruit and supported by dusty tannins. Crisp, chilled red fruits (raspberries, strawberries, red apple), with complex elements of spicy herbs, mushroom and soy. So harmonious right now but I’d love to hold for three or four years. (93 points)