The Californian Style -  Tasting Report 2019 

California is still classified as 'New World', even though they have been producing wines on and off for over 240 years. The history of wine in California is pretty remarkable. This region saw everything from the Gold Rush of the 1800s, to prohibition in the 1920s. Prior to the prohibition early settlers arriving from Italy in the 1800s were planting Italian varieties, and if it was not for prohibition, we might be all drinking Californian Sangiovese today! Fast forward 50 years from prohibition and the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris took place, the result of which would change Californian wine forever. The 1976 Judgment of Paris was a blind tasting of the best Californian wine along with the best French wine. California won, in both the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon categories. Interestingly enough, the same wines were poured 30 years later (2006) and the same result stood true. California now had the worlds attention. Over the following years, different winemakers started experimenting with different techniques and styles. California is now producing a variety of different styles across the state, from burgundy style Chardonnays to full-bodied elegant Zinfandels. I travelled to California to showcase these styles and to discover what makes California tick. I visited Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Littorai, Ramey Wine Cellars and Ridge, these wineries showcased all of these different styles. 

The Californian Style -  Tasting Report 2019 

Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Joseph Phelps vineyards is an Icon, especially since it has won multiple 100 point scores from Robert Parker for its flagship wine: Insignia. The 1991,1997 and 2002 all received this accolade. Joe Phelps started all of this in 1973, when after success in the construction business, he bought a 600-acre cattle ranch and that was where the winery was founded. Today all of Joseph Phelps wines are 100% estate-grown, no grapes are purchased. This ensures quality is kept to the Joseph Phelps standard from grape to glass. Bordeaux blends are what Joseph Phelps is famous for, however, I was also interested in tasting their lesser-known Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Freestone, along the Sonoma Coast. I was interested to see if the success of their Bordeaux blends would translate over to their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. 

The highlights included the Pastrola Chardonnay 2016 (94 points), the palate was rich but not overly so with round stone fruit, brioche and a soft texture on the mid-palate, the finish was elegant. The Other highlight was the Quater Moon Pinot Noir 2016 (95 points), This vineyard is located on steep slopes(up to 50 degrees!) as well as high elevation. Aromas of darker fruit and floral components lead to a rich palate of bright acidity with dark cherries, along with muscular tannins and a strong striking finish. If you are not up to speed with Joseph Phelps Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs you are missing out! They are just pure class with lifted fruit, excellent complexity and superb elegance. 

Bordeaux blends are at the forefront of Joseph Phelps Winery, and if you speak to any wine amateur, they have either tasted or want to taste Insignia. I was lucky enough to try three excellent recent vintages along with their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. I started with their 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (95 points), probably the best Estate grown Cab by Phelps to date, medium-bodied with waves of dark to black fruit, velvety chocolate and sweet spices. This followed by the 2012 Insignia (94 points), which tasted a little more rustic and savoury compared to 2015 and 2016 with a fabulous concentration of wild herbs and dark berries with a long enticing finish, The 2015 Insignia ( 97 points) Ripe plump fruit along with velvety chocolate, spice and a multidimensional finish. Finally the 2016 Insignia (99 points), A full-bodied palate was gushing with those big bold and fresh fruits. The tannins are velvety in texture, best since 2002? Tasting Insignia is always a treat and I feel the 2016 is really special, it will be released on the 1st September this year. 

Littorai

The next style I wanted to showcase was that of Burgundy-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown in California. There are many different producers of these varieties, however, I had heard a lot about Littorai and their alternative approach. I had to investigate this further. Upon arrival, I was met by Sam, the assistant winemaker. He explained that what made Littorai different was not just sustainable farming, or that they owned or managed the majority of their vineyards, not even that they started the organic trend before it was 'cool'. It was the whole cycle, the ways their compost is made, the way they have grown their dandelions and nettles and other plant substances to mix in with their manure which they take from their farm. The whole cycle needs very little outside assistance, they are more or less self-sufficient, and that is what made them unique. This is both a farm and a vineyard and the two talk to each other. I have never been to a vineyard with this much attention to detail, it is about using the land and produce of the land to grow these amazing vines. Sam explained that these vines are able to produce quality fruit, with no use of chemicals or fertilizers. Of course, I asked what was the secret or special ingredient. "There is none, the quality of the fruit is a result of the whole cycle from the homemade compost to trailing the vines in a way to allow them to reach their full potential."

Once I better understood how Littorai produced wine differently, I tasted along with the owner Ted Lemon. As a wine journalist, there are certain moments you will remember, and tasting through the 2017s with Ted will be one of them. 2017 was a tough vintage, a lot of heat spikes occurred during late August and early September, so I was interested to see how these wines came out. What I was told earlier by Sam, is that whilst a lot of California was concerned about picking dates, Ted kept extremely calm, picking when he thought was the right moment and not rushing the process. 

All of Littorais Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs tasted were single-vineyard designation. This really allows you to take away the nuances from each site. The highlight from the Chardonnays was the Littorai Mays Canyon 2017 (94 points) which had great acidity with wet stone characteristics along with a slight roundness towards mid-palate of ripe stone fruits, yet had a clean, straight and precise finish. All Pinot Noirs showed a wonderful expression of their terroir. As I found out, 2017 was a tough vintage and even though fully enjoyable at this stage, these Pinots will show their best in around 5-8 years time. The highlights included the Littorai Pinot Noir Mays Canyon 2017 (95 points), full of lush and plush darker fruits pushing through along with muscular and grippy tannins. Littorai Pinot Noir The Haven 2017 (95 points), rich yet with brisk acidity, this was quite gamy in terms of texture with lots of fruit compote and fresh spice. Littorai Pinot Noir One Acre 2017 (97 points), My favourite of the Littorai range, this was very very lush with plush blackberries, cherries and figs, perfectly balanced acidity with a long and elegant finish, so drinkable now, but wait please wait. This was one of the most eyeopening experiences I had in California if not the world. To see how much energy and effort Ted and his team put into the whole viticulture cycle. I hope other vineyards takes inspiration from Ted's approach to sustainable winemaking

Ramey Wine Cellars

David Ramey really is a California Chardonnay Pioneer. David spent over 15 years making wine for both Matanzas Creek and Chalk Hill, from there he spent 6 years as a winemaker at Dominus. Whilst at Dominus he started making 'a little Chardonnay' on the side. Ramey Wine Cellars was officially born in 1996. However what makes David and his wines so special? David pioneered many Burgundy techniques into his wines including working with indigenous yeasts, sur-lies ageing as well as malolactic and barrel fermentation. The resultant wines were richer, lusher and silkier compared to its counterparts. Many of these techniques are now practised by many wineries across California. What impressed me when talking to David was his knowledge and passion for his wines and the industry. David's wines showed excellent quality, unlike other wineries which are significantly increasing their prices, David's wines are very well priced for their quality. I also tasted some older vintages, and I was expecting to find a slightly oxidized and fading wine, but no, California can produce age-worthy wines. My experiences with older California Chardonnays have not always been like this. David also mentioned that as of 2013, all of his wines now have the Diam cork, a cork which is TCA-free and is guaranteed at 100%. This allows David to ensure that all of his wines age consistently and as he says allows him to produce wines with a lifespan 20+ years. 

I was impressed by both the regional appellation wines of David, along with the single-vineyard sites. Highlights of the Chardonnays include Ramey Woolsey Road Vineyard 2016 (94 points), a richer and creamier style of chardonnay with soft tropical fruits, butter tart and sweet spices which filled the palate with a round, elegant and long finish. The Ramey Ritchie Vineyard 2016 (95 points) is a rich yet elegant palate full of ripe and succulent stone fruit, gripping acidity, salty textures and a long precise finish. Finally, the Ramey Hyde Vineyard 2009 (96 points), shows that California Chardonnays can age! The 2009 was rich with baked fruits, burnt sugar and an undertone of acidity along with a smooth smooth finish. On the reds, the highlight was the Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard 2014 (95 points), which was rocking on all cylinders, so feminine and elegant with lush black and red fruit, velvety chocolate and silky tannins along with a super elegant finish. For those who struggle to find California wines which age consistently, Ramey Wines are able to produce these wines at price points which will not break the bank. 

Ridge Vineyards

The history of Ridge Vineyards and Monte Bello wines dates back all the way to the late 1800s with the first Monte Bello being produced in 1892, however, this was under a separate label. The Ridge Vineyards officially was started in 1962, with the Monte Bello winery producing its first vintage that year. Since that date, other wines including the Geyserville Zinfandel in 1964, and as of 1991 Lytton Springs also officially joined the Ridge Estate. Ridge produces a number of estate wines including some Chardonnay,Petite Sirah and Syrah, most are Organic and sustainable farming is practised. Their Monte Bello is one of the most celebrated wines from California, the vineyard is located on top of the Santa Cruz mountains, with a cool microclimate, which produces both elegant and concentrated Bordeaux blends. However, I travelled to the Lytton Springs vineyard which is famous for its Zinfandel field blends. Zinfandel was always thought to originate from California, however, in recent years it was discovered it actually originates from Croatia. In my mind though, I believe that Ridge produces some of the most classic and elegant Zinfandels in the world and that was the focus of my visit.        

The history of Ridge Vineyards and Monte Bello wines dates back all the way to the late 1800s with the first Monte Bello being produced in 1892, however, this was under a separate label. The Ridge Vineyards officially was started in 1962, with the Monte Bello winery producing its first vintage that year. Since that date, other wines including the Geyserville Zinfandel in 1964, and as of 1991 Lytton Springs also officially joined the Ridge Estate. Ridge produces a number of estate wines including some Chardonnay,Petite Sirah and Syrah, most are Organic and sustainable farming is practised. Their Monte Bello is one of the most celebrated wines from California, the vineyard is located on top of the Santa Cruz mountains, with a cool microclimate, which produces both elegant and concentrated Bordeaux blends. However, I travelled to the Lytton Springs vineyard which is famous for its Zinfandel field blends. Zinfandel was always thought to originate from California, however, in recent years it was discovered it actually originates from Croatia. In my mind though, I believe that Ridge produces some of the most classic and elegant Zinfandels in the world and that was the focus of my visit.        

Ridge wines have always shown the best of the terroir grown without being overdone in the winery. I really appreciate the Zinfandel blends and what impressed me was their ability to age. I tried some older vintages and the quality was just consistently good. This carried across to the Monte Bello range as well, which ages spectacularly. What I most appreciate about Ridge is that they have not adjusted their style of winemaking compared to other Napa wineries which have gone to a jammy, ripe and high alcohol style. Ridge have kept their classic style, year in, year out. Highlights included the Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2016 (95 points), with loads of black and dark red spicy fruit, with silky tannins and a velvety finish. The Geyserville Zinfandel 2017 (93 points), which felt a lot more earthy compared to the Lytton Springs, more herbs, rocky and showed a more rustic style of Zinfandel. The Lytton Springs 2010 (96 points), was still so fresh with blackberry, darker red-cooked fruit, along with fig, liquorice, and a peppery finish. These Zins age so well! The Monte Bello 2015 (97 points) has to be one of the best early Monte Bellos I have tried, there is so much going on at this stage. This is a full-bodied powerhouse which despite its power had a seductive elegance to it with dark fruit, liquorice, black pepper, mocha and velvety tannins. This is one for the long haul yet is drinking so well now. 

Bottom Line

California is a region of diversity, whether you enjoy, oaky to Burgundy-style Chardonnays, spicy Zinfandels, bold Cabernets or elegant Pinot Noirs, there is a wine for everyone. When California produce good wine, they produce very good wine, and often they will produce unbeatable wine. This trip was about showcasing the best California has to offer, I hope that the above shows the phenomenal diversity that California has to offer. For the next trip, I will hopefully dive into a region in more details. I am hoping to be back next spring, until then, I hope you can all pick up some of my favourites from the below list! 

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2016

99 points

Not to be released to the public until the 1st Sept 2019. This is a blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc. The nose was explosive with lush and fresh black and blue fruits of blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry, along with aromas of black pepper, and wild herbs. The medium to full-bodied palate was gushing with those big bold and fresh fruits. Even at this stage, you know this is something special. The tannins are velvety in texture, with chocolate, cedar wood and allspice. This is so drinkable now, but wait just wait 15 years and you will be very happy you did. Best since 2002?

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2015

97 points

So much fruit on the nose with dark cherries, blackberry and blackcurrant along with tobacco and a little smoke. The palate was rich and medium to full-bodied with wonderfully integrated tannins, the palate was more savoury than what I remembered 8 months ago with more fresh herbs, black pepper and spices. The finish was multiple layered and I am excited to see where this wine develops in 10+ years. Trying next to the 2016 was pretty special and I just feel the 2015 is one step behind the 2016 which seems to be one of the best Insignia they have ever made.

Ridge Monte Bello 2015

97 points

 

Dark ruby to purple colour, this has to be one of my favourite vintages of Monte Bello I have had in recent years. There is so much going on, yet from this age, it is already drinking so well. For those who have drunk Monte Bello both young and old you know just like Burgundy that if it is drinking well now then it will improve significantly over the coming years. Aromas of concentrated black fruits, cassis and dark plum along with a little graphite and black olive open up to full-bodied powerhouse which despite its power had a seductive elegance to it with dark fruit, liquorice, black pepper, mocha and velvety tannins. The finish was fresh, rich and long. One for the cellar. A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc aged in majority new American Oak for 16 months.

Littorai Pinot Noir One Acre 2017

97 points

My favourite of the Littorai range, this was very very lush with plush blackberries, cherries and figs, on the palate I found plenty of fresh fruit along with spice and a full yet velvety texture along with softer polished tannins and refined acidity. The finish was long and elegant. This is the highest in altitude of all of the Littorai sites.

Ridge Monte Bello 2009

96 points

The aromas are bustling with ripe dark and red fruit, black tea and Asian spice aromatics. The palate is serious: powerful, rich and full of energy, this takes a little getting use to and you need to give it your full attention. There are chalky tannins which are beautifully woven into the fresh ripe fruit, cassis and crushed stone textures. The finish is very long and serious. Start enjoying this in 10+ years. Wow! A blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot. Majority new American oak, aged for 19 months in barrel.

Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2009

96 points

I am blown away by how well these wines age, I tasted twice from two separate bottles with both showing the same high score. On the nose there were aromas of baked fruit, burnt sugar, a little butter tart, caramel and campfire marshmallows, the palate was rich with baked fruits, sweet spices and an undertone of acidity along with a smooth smooth finish. This still has another 5 years of life. Sourced from the Hyde Vineyard in Napa-Carneros, aged in 50% new French oak for 19 months.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2010

96 points

These Zinfandels get so much better as they age. This was a blend of 67% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane and 3% Mataro, this is aged in American Oak for 14 months. This was still so fresh with blackberry, darker red-cooked fruit, along with fig, liquorice, and a peppery finish.

Domaine de la Côte Pinot Noir La Côte 2013

96 points

At close to 6 years this is starting to get into its stride, slightly darker in colour with aromas of ripe raspberries, cranberries, orange peel and a little mushroom, the palate was beautifully soft with creamy lush red fruit along with fig and some earthy characteristics. The finish was delicate, soft and alluring. The acidity is starting to fade a little, I believe that this will not last more than 10 more years and is really started to drink perfectly now. This has to be one of the best Pinots I have ever had from California, very Burgundy style.

Ramey Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard 2016

95 points

Aromas of bright orchard fruit, spring flowers along with almonds, vanilla and wet stone leads to a rich yet elegant palate full of ripe and succulent stone fruit, gripping acidity, salty textures and a long precise finish. Sourced from the Ritchie Vineyard less rich than Woosley and aged in 22% new French oak barrels for 20 months.

Littorai Pinot Noir Mays Canyon 2017

95 points

This has more black fruits and a floral component on the nose, the palate was quite reserved at this stage though with lush and plush darker fruits pushing through along with muscular and grippy tannins. This needs another 5-10 years. Surrounded by Russian River, this shows the best of both worlds the lushness of Russian River yet with the strong tannins of Sonoma.

Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard 2008

95 points

Compared to 2014, this wine became significantly smoother with a core a super lush dark black and blue, velvety tannins, black pepper and spice. The finish elongated for several minutes, this still has another 5-10 years of enjoyment left. A blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot. Aged in new French oak for 26 months.

Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard 2014

95 points

This Cab was rocking on all cylinders, so feminine and elegant with lush black and red fruit, velvety chocolate, herbs, violets and black pepper. The palate was medium to full-bodied with silky tannins and a very long long finish. The temptation of this wine is to drink it early, whilst you can I recommend another 5 years of cellaring. A blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot, sourced from Oakville, Napa. Aged for 25 months in new French Oak.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2016

95 points

Wonderful nose of dark cherry, black plum and blackberry, on the palate an array of black and red fruits along with cranberry, blackberry and bramble jam, yet this is not jammy. No this is elegant and refined. There is a little cardamon and liquorice as the fruit fades. This is rich and layered along with wonderfully integrated tannins and a smooth finish. It is not often that I get excited about Zinfandel, but this one is pretty special. I am intrigued by how it ages. A blend of 69% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane and 2% Mataro. Aged in new and used American oak for 14 months. Drink now over the next 10 years.

Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Quarter Moon Vineyard 2016

95 points

100% estate grown with 24% whole cluster fermentation and aged in new/used French oak for 13 months. This vineyard is located on steep slopes(up to 50 degrees!) as well as high elevation. Aromas of darker fruit, floral components lead to a rich palate of bright acidity with dark cherries, blackberries and violets, along with muscular tannins and a strong striking finish. I would off on this for the next couple of years.

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown Napa Valley 2016

95 points

Let's just set the record straight, best Estate grown Cab by Phelps to date. An estate blend of 86% Cabernet, 7% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. aged for 18 months in new/used French and American Oak. The Nose has wonderful aromas of Black Cherry, liquorice, cedar and chocolate, the palate was medium-bodied with waves of dark to black fruit, velvety chocolate and sweet spices. This is one for the cellar and for drinking today. The best they have produced so far.

Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 2016

95 points

One of my favourites in the lineup. Aromas full of pineapples, peaches, nectarine and baked fruit tart along with vanilla and nutmeg, the palate had striking acidity, a round palate and felt more serious than the other single vineyards with buckets of ripe fruits, lemon peel and some wild herbs which added a certain savoury texture to this gorgeous Chardonnay. Sourced from the Hyde vineyard and aged in 22% new French oak barrels for 20 months

Ramey Chardonnay Woolsey Road Vineyard 2016

94 points

A richer and creamer style of Chardonnay from the Ramey lineup, but don't think this is a butter bomb, far from it. This wine shows fantastic elegance with dense aromas of pineapple, star fruit, peach, vanilla, nutmeg and honeysuckle. The palate felt both rich and creamy yet with bright acidity, characteristics of soft tropical fruits, butter tart and sweet spices filled the palate with a round, elegant and long finish. I would keep this 5 years. Aged in 22% new French oak for 20 months.

Littorai Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard 2017

94 points

Wonderful aromas of cherry, raspberry and cranberry, the palate was fully fruit-driven with lush, full and slightly creamy red fruits, great acidity and smooth tannins finish this home ranch estate with a direct and long finish.

Littorai Chardonnay Mays Canyon 2017

94 points

The nose felt shy, like a lot of the 2017s tasted, I got aromas of stone fruit, crushed stones and white spring flowers. The palate had great acidity and wet stone characteristic with a slight roundness towards mid-palate of ripe stone fruits, yet had a clean, straight and precise finished. This will open up in the next 5 years even more. This vineyard is surrounded by Russian River on Loamy soil at an elevation of 200-400 ft.

Littorai Chardonnay Thieriot Vineyard 2017

94 points

On the nose, I found stone and tropical fruit of peach and pineapple, along with wild spring flowers. The palate was rounder compared to the Mays Canyon with soft peaches, quince, wet stone and crisp acidity, the finish had a wonderful precision to it.

Littorai Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard 2017

94 points

This vineyard is located on rocky soil at a higher elevation. I found aromas of candied red cherries, crushed stones, black tea and vanilla essence, the tannins were grippy with a ripe yet elegant finish.

Joseph Phelps Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard 2016

94 points

From 100% Estate grown grapes, this is located on the higher part of the Pastorale Vineyard in Freestone. Aged for 13 months in new and used French Oaks. Aromas felt a lot more concentrated compared to the Freestone Vineyard, with riper stone fruit of peaches and nectarine along with a floral component, such as white or alpine flowers and a little honey. The palate was rich but not overly so with round stone fruit, brioche and a soft texture on the mid-palate, the finish was elegant yet reserved. This needs a couple more years to fully develop.

Ridge Monte Bello 2006

94 points

Aromas of cassis, blackberry and current along with a little mocha, the palate was rich and full with ripe black fruit, liquorice and allspice, the finish was smooth and long. Plenty of life still in this win, I believe the best is yet to come. A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc aged in majority new American Oak (97%) for 18 months.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012

94 points

A blend of 75% Cabernet, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and the rest Malbec and Cab Franc. I found this quite rustic compared to the 2015 and 2016. a fabulous concentration of wild herbs and dark bramble berries, a little smoke and tightly grained tannins, the finish was long and enticing. This needs another 10+ years to show its best. 94+

Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Klein 2016

94 points

This wine was more purple than dark ruby, with floral aromas of violet along with concentrated blackberry and currant notes, the palate was medium to full-bodied with velvety tannins and was more feminine compared to the Estate wine with delicate soft fruit, fresh herbs, wild spice and rich but elegant finish. Really impressive stuff! But wait 5-8 years and this will sing from the rooftops. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 18 months in new french oak. 94+

Ramey Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard 2016

94 points

The nose showed characteristics of pineapple, lemon curd, almonds, and light toasty notes, the palate was rich, concentrated and fruit-driven with crushed stones, lemon tart along with a seductive and long finish. The fruit was sourced exclusively from the Rochioli Vineyard, the wine was aged for 20 months in 21% new oak.

Ridge Geyserville 2017

93 points

A blend of 68% Zinfandel, 18% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet aged in American Oak for 14 months. This felt a lot more earthy compared to the Lytton Springs, more herbs, rocky and rustic. There were fresh plums and blackberries, yet with graphite and pencil lead to complete the aromas.

Littorai Pinot Noir Roman Vineyard 2017

93 points

Showing quite shy at this point, with more earthy and forest floor characteristics along with the same plush fruit yet with slightly higher tannins compared to the One Acre. This is not showing it's full potential for now and needs time in the cellar.

Ridge Geyserville 2010

93 points

A blend of 64% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Mataro aged in American Oak for 13 months. This had a lot less fresh fruit compared to the 2017, also a lot more herbal, mint and eucalyptus notes, this was less lush, more straight, direct and serious compared to the Lytton Springs 2010.

Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Annum 2014

93 points

A step-up compared to the standard Napa Cab. A nose of ripe blackberries, blackcurrants and blueberries along with wild herbs de Provence, black pepper and cigar box. The palate is full-bodied with a soft and voluptuous core along with very finely grained tannins, lush black fruits flooded the palate along with milk chocolate, fresh herbs and sweet spices. This can be enjoyed over the next 10-15 years. Sourced from vineyards mainly comprised in Oakville, the Annum is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak.

Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Pastorale Vineyard 2016

93 points

The Pastorale vineyard is located further from the coast compared to the Quarter Moon. It is reasonably close to the Russian River AVA, and hence shows lusher fruit, along with more savoury notes of green pepper, spice and wild herbs. Time is needed for this bottling, and will only show its best after 4-5 years of bottle ageing.

Littorai Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard 2017

93 points

More of a muscular Pinot, with aromas of Rhubarb, dried cranberries, wild herbs and plenty of aromatics. The Palate was powerful full of red/black fruits and quite rustic in style, this feels quite reserved at this stage and needs significant ageing to show its full potential. Vineyard is along the San Andreas Fault Line, and is at 1200-1400ft, there is plenty of rain during the winter months as well. A tough site which produces a hardy Pinot.

Littorai Pinot Noir Thieriot Vineyard 2017

93 points

This showed less fresh fruit and more on the aromatics with strong characteristics of candied cherries, orange peel, Christmas cake, allspice along with medium tannins and bright acidity. Try from 2023. Close to the town of Occidental.

Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2016

93 points

Preferred this more than now a few months ago. On the nose I found aromas of black and dark red fruit, sweet spices and black pepper, this full-bodied wine was rich along with ripe blackberries, vanilla, nutmeg, the finish was rich. 5-10 years of ageing will significantly benefit this. A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc in 100% American oak (new/used) for 17 months.

Ridge Chardonnay Estate 2017

92 points

100% estate-grown grapes from Santa Cruz mountains. The wine is aged in a majority American and a little French oak. This full-bodied Chardonnay is not for the light-hearted, a lot less in your face compared to the 2014. This had tropical fruits, vanilla bean and nutmeg on the nose. The palate was rich yet elegant with pineapple, peach and well-balanced acidity which kept the palate interested in another sip. No longer a butter explosion this has gone back to its roots.

Littorai Pinot Noir Block E Wendling Vineyard 2017

92 points

Lots of bright and fresh fruit reminded me of a Cru Beaujolais with plenty of ripe raspberries, strawberries and cherries, bubblegum and the bright acidity along with the lower tannins. This is approachable early and even though can be aged, can also be enjoyed earlier.

Joseph Phelps Chardonnay Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast 2016

92 points

Named after the town of Freestone, this is located on the lower part of the Pastorale vineyard. 100% estate-grown aged in 13 months in new and used French oak. This wine shows aromas of citrus, ripe stone fruit, hazelnut and a little toasted brioche, the palate was joyful yet delicate with good acidity and soft fruits, lightly round lemon bake crust and a delicate finish. Drink this now over the next 3 years.

Ramey Syrah Sonoma Coast 2016

92 points

A very fruit-driven yet muscular Syrah from Sonoma Coast, aromas of dark cherry, liquorice and black pepper, this full-bodied wine shows strong yet elegant tannic structure, dark red fruit, velvety chocolate and allspice leads to a fine finish. Drink now and over the next couple of years. A blend of 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier co-fermented, 25% whole Syrah clusters and aged for 12 months, 41% new French oak.

Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014

92 points

I found aromas of dark cherry, blackcurrants, black pepper and tobacco, the palate was a medium to full-bodied with fine-grained tannins and showed strong characteristics of dark fruit compote, liquorice, vanilla and velvety chocolate, this is a fantastic entry-level Napa Cab from David Ramey. Sourced from across Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 6% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot aged for 18 months in new/used oak.

Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate 2014

92 points

94% Syrah and 6% Viognier was co-fermented and aged in both new and used American oak barrels for 21 months. This has just been released and shows wonderful blackberries, black pepper and herb aromas, on the palate I found a bouquet of dark fruit interwound with velvety chocolate and spice with a grippy finish.

Ridge Syrah/Grenache/Mataro Lytton Estate 2016

91 points

A blend of Syrah(35%), Grenache (23%) and Mataro(42%), Blackberries, current, and black olives on the nose lead to a medium-bodied wine with medium tannins, dark red fruit, spicy meat, black pepper and a clean finish.

Ramey Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2016

91 points

This feels a lot tenser compared to the Russian River Valley Chardonnay with nectarine, crisp apple, Meyer lemon, along with wet stone. The palate was intense and muscular with crisp orchard fruit, bright acidity and an underlying minerality which followed through to a linear finish. Sourced from the Fort Ross region within Sonoma coast. This is aged for 12 months in 12% new French Oak.

Ridge Zinfandel Boatman 2016

91 points

Rich and full bodied this wine is oozing with black and dark red fruits, tannins grow slowly along with a soft and elegant finish. 100% Zinfandel aged for 14 months in new and used American Oak

Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards 2017

92 points

A blend of both Quater Moon and Pastorale vineyards. This shows a true expression of the Sonoma Coast region. Aromas of cranberries, cherries and spice, the palate had a good backbone of acidity and muscular tannins along with soft red fruits and a medium finish.

Ramey Pinot Noir 2016

91 points

Aromas of plump strawberries, cherries and crushed cranberries along with a little fresh herbs, the palate was medium-bodied and comprised of lush red fruits, bright acidity, smooth tannins and a soft finish. Sourced from different sites across Russian River Valley, aged in 49% new French oak for 14 months.

Ridge Petite Sirah Lytton Estate 2016

91 points

Fun to try a 100% Petite Sirah, this is full of bright red plums, blackberries, black pepper and violets on the nose, this full-bodied wine had all the fruit you are looking for along with serious length and chalky tannins.

Ramey Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2016

91 points

Always a classic sourced from multiple sites within the Russian River Valley AVA, aged for 12 months in 20% new french oak. Aromas of nectarine, pears, peaches, wild spring flowers along with light brioche notes, The palate shows a rich and full palate of lush golden fruit, stone fruit and good acidity which leads to a smooth finish.

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