• Alexander Smith

Initial thoughts on Californian wines

Points on Wine - thoughts on Californian wines

California has always been an interesting wine region, with so many styles and varietals grown I took the opportunity to head to California to showcase these different styles. The 4 vineyards I visited were: Joseph Phelps, Littorai, Ramey Wine Cellars and Ridge Vineyards.

Joseph Phelps Winery started in 1973 and is well known for its famous Bordeaux blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a true Napa classic. Located just 40 minutes by car is the coastal region of Sonoma, with its diverse soil structure and climate which produces some unique and elegant Pinot Noir. The journey led me to Littorai, who produce very Burgundy style Pinots with the focus on sustainable farming and minimal winery intervention. Next on the list was Ramey Wines Cellars, who produces a variety of Chardonnays with focus on old-world techniques, these wines age spectacularly and are not just for early drinking. Finally, Ridge has a couple of sites, both in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Lytton Springs. I was interested in their Zinfandels of Lytton Springs, and with 100-year-old vines, the depth and complexity of these wines were off the charts. A full report will be published in the coming weeks, however, I wanted to share my initial impressions of these tastings.

Points on Wine - Joseph Phelps Wines
Phelps Pinot Noirs should not be missed!

Joseph Phelps Winery is a true Napa classic. World class Bordeaux blends are produced here along with a range of cool Climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Insignia is their flagship wine and never disappoints, I tried the 2012 (96 Points), 2015 (96 points) and 2016 (98-100 points). 2016 is not yet released (1st September), yet initial impressions show that this will be one of their best Insignias produced to date. With a flavour profile of black cherry, liquorice, pencil lead cedar and chocolate, the length was long and elegant this was just pure gorgeous. Their Pinot Noirs were lush, with dark fruit yet with muscular tannins, The Quarter Moon 2016 (95 points) was a home run.

Points on Wine - Superb line up at Littorai
Superb line up at Littorai

Littorai was started by Ted Lemon back in 1993, his sustainable techniques and care for them the whole vine process from A-Z was a real eye-opener. From producing his own compost to minimal vineyard intervention, Ted lets the vineyard talk and not the winery. Pinot Noir is grown in both Anderson Valley and Sonoma, on multiple different sites with each site telling its own story. Chardonnays are also produced in small quantities. The stand out Pinot Noirs were The Haven 2017 (95 points), which showed a full and rich palate of fruit with certain gamey characteristics. The Mays Canyon (95 points) showed plusher fruit yet with muscular tannins. The One Acre (97 points) was the standout, and at the highest in altitude, showed fresh darker fruit, earthy characteristics and great acidity, this has impressive ageing potential.

Points on Wine - Ramey Wines
Californian wines can age!

Ramey Wine Cellars, started by David Ramey in 1996 mainly focuses on Chardonnay from Russian River, Carneros and Sonoma Coast, both blends and single vineyards are produced. Neo-Burgundian styles are practised, including native yeast barrel fermentation, 100% natural malolactic fermentation, lees ageing and bâtonnage. Along with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are also produced. I was highly impressed by how David’s wines aged, a 2009 Hyde Vineyard Napa-Carneros Chardonnay (97 points) still showed significant freshness, acidity along with a round and rich yet elegant profile. Highlights included the Ritchie Vineyard 2016 (95 points), which possessed stone and tropical fruit along with a rich round mouthfeel, fresh acidity yet with a lean and elegant finish. Finally, the Pedegral Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (94 points) had aromas of dark fruit with fresh blackberry, soft velvety chocolate and fine-grained tannins which continued to a long, elegant finish.

Monte Bello 2006 - A wine for the long haul

Ridge produces a variety of different varietals, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnays to Rhone blends, yet I was here to discover their Zinfandel blends. With vines ageing over 100 years, Ridge produces some of the most concentrated, complete and elegant Zinfandels on the market today, these are not jammy these are just class. I tried multiple vintages of their flagship Monte Bello, a Cabernet blend from Santa Cruz mountains. Ridge highlights included the Lytton Springs 2016 (95 points) with its dark red spicy fruit, structured tannins along with a spicy yet elegant finish, this has to be one of the best Zinfandel blends on the market today. The Lytton Springs 2010 (96 points) showed darker red fruits, figs, liquorice with a peppery finish. The final highlight was the 2015 Monte Bello (97 points), showing concentrated black fruits and dark plums this was a powerhouse yet had a certain seductive elegance to it.

I travel to California every year and I am always impressed by the quality and the constant improvement in the wine being produced. I have only just left, yet am already planning my next trip back. The full report to come out in the following weeks.

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