Category Archives: USA – California

Steele, Santa Barbara County (Central Coast, California) Pinot Blanc 2016

($19):  Consumers often avoid Pinot Blanc because they are disappointed by the light weight, often innocuous wine made from that grape.  Well, if you’ve been one of those, you’ll want to grab this one to know what real Pinot Blanc tastes like.  It has remarkable depth and length, with a touch of stone fruit, and superb acidity to keep it fresh.  A hint of creaminess just enhances its appeal.  There’s not a trace of heaviness or heat.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Murrieta’s Well, Livermore Valley (California) “The Whip” 2015

($24):  The unusual blend here, roughly 30 percent each of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay, with Viognier and Muscat Canelli contributing the rest, works well.  Subtle aromatics are intriguing and lead you into a wine with hints of stone fruits and a glossy texture.  Roundness in the finish completes the picture and makes it an excellent choice as a before dinner beverage or on the table with spiced Asian fare or sushi.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Steele, Lake County (North Coast, California) Viognier 2016

($19):  Viognier is a tough grape to turn into wine.  It needs adequate ripeness to express its floral character, which often is accompanied by high alcohol from higher sugar levels.  Its traditional home is in Condrieu in the Rhône Valley.  Jed Steele has mastered it in Lake County.  Delicately floral, it expands on the palate without being heavy or hot.  Enlivening acidity amplifies the finish and keeps it refreshing throughout the meal.  It’s a great choice as a stand-alone aperitif or to accompany sushi or spicy Asian fare.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Cuvaison, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay “Adda” 2015

($50):  Cuvaison was one of the early wineries to discover the virtues of Carneros, one of the coolest areas of Napa Valley.  They planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir there 40 years ago and have enormous experience with how those varieties fare there.  This Adda Chardonnay shows the fruits — no pun intended — of their labors.  Winemaker Steve Rogstad indicates that it is a barrel selection of their lowest yielding vines.  If I had to guess, I would say the impeccable balance and complexity comes from old vines.  It delivers a wonderful mixture of subtle creaminess buttressed by citrus verve.  It reveals itself slowly.  Nothing is in your face.  It’s a masterful expression of Chardonnay.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Lyndenhurst” 2014

($85):  I suppose you could call Spottswoode’s Lyndenhurst their second wine.  The grapes used to make it come from their vineyards, presumably those that don’t make the cut for their flagship Spottswoode Cabernet, along with purchased fruit.  The incredible quality of this wine shows just how fabulous a producer Spottswoode is.  It also reminds us that, in the right hands, Napa Valley is THE place for Cabernet Sauvignon.  This Cabernet (the blend, for those interested, is Cabernet Sauvignon 90%, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, 3% each, Malbec and Merlot 2% each) is simply stunning.  Layered, long and with a luxurious texture, it delivers a magical combination of herbal and dark fruit flavors that are in perfect harmony.  This is not an overblown or flamboyant wine.  It’s graceful and polished.  Delightful now, I predict it will evolve and develop beautifully with bottle age because of its impeccable balance.  I also predict that if you buy more than a single bottle and taste it, you’ll likely drink your entire stash before you ever discover how it ages.
96 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

($28):  This Cabernet shows the diversity of wines coming from Dry Creek Vineyard.  Compared to their 2013 Meritage (also reviewed this week), this Cabernet Sauvignon has more of everything — more alcohol (14.5% stated), more power, more concentration and more fruit dominant flavors.  In short, it’s a more muscular wine with less finesse, at least at this stage. If that’s your style — and it is for many people — then this is your kind of wine.  It’s right at home in a noisy steakhouse.
91 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) Meritage 2013

($30):  This is classic example of how less is often more.  Weighing in at a modest 13.5% stated alcohol, this blend of Bordeaux grapes displays a panoply of black fruit and savory flavors.  There’s a hint of cassis-like notes and an olive-like nuance among others.  But what’s captivating is its glossy, but not soft, texture and enlivening acidity that keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  A subtle bitterness in the finish reminds us that it’s perfect for offsetting the richness of beef.  Not a “powerhouse” or overdone kind of wine, it still packs plenty of punch.  It’s perfect for current consumption and a bargain to boot.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2018

Folded Hills, Santa Ynez Valley (Central Coast, California) Grenache “Grant” 2015

($34):  This mid-weight wine is a delight, delivering charming red berry fruit-like flavors intermingled with earthy herbal notes.  A blend of Grenache (95%) and Syrah, it positively dances on the palate.  Tannins are mild, but provide plenty of structure and the bright acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  The label indicates the alcohol precisely — 13.03 percent — so I suspect they’re not taking advantage of the 1 to 1.5 percent wiggle room the law allows.  Plus, it tastes it.  This is, thankfully, not a powerhouse filled with over ripe and sweet flavors so common among current California Rhone type wines.  Other winemakers should take note — you can get plenty of flavor at reasonable levels of alcohol.
95 Michael Apstein Jan 23, 2018

Paraduxx, Napa Valley (California) Proprietary White Wine 2016

($32):  Long known for their non-traditional blends of red grapes, Paraduxx has released a white wine made from a non-traditional blend of white grapes:  Rhône varieties, Viognier (65%), Roussanne and Marsanne (7%), with Chardonnay (28%).  Floral and fruity, this mid-weight wine would be a pleasing stand-alone aperitif.  Nicely balanced, a hint of sweetness in the finish would make it a good choice for spiced Asian fare. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Yountville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch 2015

($100):  Nickel & Nickel’s State Ranch Cabernet, from a vineyard just down the road from Oakville in Yountville, is similarly ripe and intense as their Sullenger.  But it’s rounder and more supple than the its brother from Oakville.   A combination of dark black fruit and mineral-like nuances makes for an appealing ying and yang of sweet and savory flavors.  At just under 15 percent stated alcohol, this full-bodied Cabernet would be a good choice for a hearty beef or lamb dish. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) “Upshot” Red Wine Blend 2015

($28):  The winery’s press release describes this wine as “a non-traditional blend.”  That’s an understatement.  With Zinfandel (44%), Merlot (29%), Malbec (15%), Petit Verdot (7%), rounded out with Riesling, it is like no blend I’ve encountered.  But that’s one of the things that great about New World wine — people are not afraid to experiment.  And this blend works.  Floral and fruity, with mild tannins, this mid-weight is not overdone or over-worked. Bright and lively (is that the Riesling speaking?), it would be ideal with BBQ. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon John C. Sullenger Vineyard 2015

($100):  What I love about the Nickel & Nickel Cabernets is how they are all different.  Despite the same winemaking team using the same grape variety, the wines offer different flavor profiles, which supports the concept of terroir — that somehow the soil, climate, and exposure in the vineyard determines the character of the wine.  Weighing in at a stated 14.5 percent alcohol, the Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet tastes even riper than the alcohol suggests, perhaps reflecting the vintage. Still, savory notes and elusive “not just fruit” elements keep it is balance.  This sturdy wine opens and is far more expressive as it sits in the glass for an hour or so.  Fine tannins allow you to enjoy this powerful Cabernet now, especially with a robust well-charred steak. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Paraduxx, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley, California) Proprietary Red Wine 2014

($80):  Paraduxx is Duckhorn’s winery and label best known for non-traditional blends of California grapes, such as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  With the 2014 vintage, they have introduced some “foreign” grapes into the mix.  For this one, they borrow a South Australian concept of blending Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Syrah.  (There may be a small amount of Zinfandel in the mix, according to information sent to me by the winery.)  Regardless of the specifics of the blend, it’s a powerful wine that combines tarry elements with deep ripe black fruit and spice.  The blend works, keeping the 14.9 percent stated alcohol, in check.  Robust, but not hot or particularly sweet, it would be a good choice for a hearty slow cooked lamb dish when the temperatures drop into single digits. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2018

Spottswoode, California (United States) Sauvignon Blanc 2016

($36):  It’s no secret that Spottswoode makes sensational Cabernet Sauvignon.  This excellent and stylish Sauvignon Blanc shows they are not a one-horse show.  The wine also reminds us to trust the producer rather than relying solely on the AVA (appellation).  Since 85 percent of the grapes did not come from one area (Sonoma County 60 percent with the remainder from Napa County), they were obligated to use the broader — and less prestigious — appellation, California.  Using estate (their own) and purchased fruit, they have fashioned a racy and full-bodied Bordeaux-like sophisticated white wine. Beautifully balanced, it has good density and a pleasing pungency.  You could savor its complexity by drinking it as an aperitif, but frankly its stature shows best with chicken breasts in a light cream sauce. Don’t miss this sensational wine.  It redefines California Sauvignon Blanc. 96 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

($158):  Consumers can count on Far Niente, a leader in Napa Valley Cabernet, to produce a bold, yet refined, Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2015, fruitier than usual while still combining savory and dark earthy flavors, fits that mold.  Fine tannins impart a supple texture that allows for immediate enjoyment.  Long and complex, it’s a wonderful combination of sweet fruit and savory notes.  It’s ideal now with a steak. 91 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Miljenko’s Selection” 2013

($90):  This generous Cabernet Sauvignon is more evidence — not that it was needed — that Grgich Hills is a fabulously talented producer and that Napa Valley is a great place for Cabernet.  The 2013 Grgich Hills’ Cabernet is muscular, but more impressively, it has finesse.  Like a well-honed gymnast, it dazzles with power and grace.  Fine, youthful tannins support dark fruit and tar-like minerality.  Despite all of that, it’s the elegance and its length that you remember.  Enjoyable now, especially with a hearty steak, it should develop beautifully with a decade of bottle age, judging from its balance and my experience with Grgich Hills’ previous vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon. 95 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Spottswoode, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

($185):  Spottswoode, one of the oldest producers of the “modern” Napa Valley era, was founded in 1972.  They started bottling and selling under their own label a decade later.  Far ahead of their time, they have been farming organically since 1985 and was certified organic in 1992, according to their website.  Best known for their consistently sensational Cabernet Sauvignon, they also make outstanding Sauvignon Blanc (also reviewed this week).  The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, a typical left-bank Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (86%), Cabernet Franc (10%) and Petit Verdot, is an outstanding wine.  The first impression, after the impressively floral nose, is a velvety texture.  It’s glossy, yet still structured.  Flavors — black fruits, olives, herbs — are restrained, almost needing to be coaxed out of the glass.  Then, with time and seemingly out of nowhere, they caress the palate.  This is not a flamboyant or bombastic wine, yet it is packed with flavor.  The finish is long and graceful, without a trace of heaviness.  This is a great, youthful Cabernet that will blossom even more over the next few years.
97 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Jordan, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

($55):  I have always admired the wines from Jordan — and still do.  They never succumbed to fad of boisterous “big” California Cabernets.  They have held to their original philosophy of making restrained and elegant wines that deliver incredible flavor and finesse.  Weighing in at just 13.8 percent stated alcohol, Jordan’s 2013 Cabernet fits that mold perfectly.  Perfectly balanced between fruity and savory notes, it has plush tannins and a suave texture, which makes it easy to enjoy now.  Fresh and vibrant, it invigorates the palate throughout the meal.  You don’t want just a sip, you want to drink it over an hour or two and enjoy how it expands in the glass.  Having had many older Cabernets from Jordan, I can attest to their wonderful evolution with a decade or two of bottle age.  Though $55 is a lot for most people to spend on a bottle of wine, Jordan’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a bargain compared to many other upper-end California Cabs.
94 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2018

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Olivet Lane Vineyard 2014

($60):  Although Merry Edwards is known best for her sensational Pinot Noir, she also produces exceptional Chardonnay.  That should come as no surprise given her history.  In the mid 1980s one of her ventures, Merry Vintners, was dedicated solely to Chardonnay production, according to her website. Similar to her Pinot Noir, she is not trying to recreate Burgundy with her Chardonnay.  The opulence of her 2014 is testimony to the warmth of the Russian River Valley.  Though rich, this Chardonnay is paradoxically restrained and vibrant. Not overdone, the lemony elements are refreshing and prevent the wine from tiring throughout the meal.  It’s the ying and yang — rich, yet racy — that is captivating and memorable.
94 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Tongue Dancer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard 2015

($50):  Here is a full-bodied, “roasty-toasty” California Chardonnay that will appeal to those who love that style.  Plenty ripe, weighing in at a stated 14.5 percent alcohol, this big bold wine has bracing, palate-awakening acidity.  Oak influences and a seductive creaminess amplify its richness.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc “Fumé Blanc” 2016

($15):  The vision of David Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyard in the early 1970s, was to make world-class Sauvignon Blanc just as the French did in the Loire Valley.  Well, he and now his family, have continued that effort even after making headline with their other excellent varietal and blended wines.  Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, labeled Fumé Blanc to remind consumers of its kinship to the Loire’s Pouilly Fumé, is herbaceous and racy.  A perky wine with bright palate-cleansing acidity and an edgy character makes it perfect for sushi, highly flavored Asian food, or frankly, just steamed clams.  It’s a bargain. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016

($36):  Merry Edwards is a genius of a winemaker.  She makes fabulous Pinot Noir as well as this under-the-radar Sauvignon Blanc.  Well, it won’t be under the radar for long because she’s been excelling at this variety for years — and the 2016 continues her streak, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a fabulous combination:  A hint of pungency, some herbal minty notes and lively freshness in the finish.  Then you notice a creamy element — where did that come from?  Her Sauvignon Blanc is more in the complex layered tradition of fine white Bordeaux than the straightforward Sancerre rendition.  I don’t often think $36 for Sauvignon Blanc is a bargain, but this one is. 93 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay Estate Grown 2014

($43):  Grgich Hills Estate is a master at Chardonnay, continuing “Mike” Grgich’s tradition.  He made a truly world-stunning Chardonnay for another Napa producer, Château Montelena, which shocked the world when, in 1976, it came in first in a blind tasting that included top French white Burgundies.  Grgich Hills’ 2014 Chardonnay has more ripeness and is more forward than usual, but has the signature palate-cleansing acidity and verve that keeps it together. 92 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Lyndenhurst, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

($80):  Grapes for Lyndenhurst, an alternate label from Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery, come from Spottswoode’s vineyards supplemental by fruit from a handful of other growers.  Weighing in at a stated 13.9 percent alcohol, it’s a gorgeous Napa Valley Cabernet, displaying concentration and elegance.  Paradoxically powerful and restrained, it combines herbal notes — black olives, maybe —  with dark fruit flavors.  Tannins are very suave, while abundant acidity keeps it fresh and lively — and keep you coming back for another sip.  Nothing is out of place here.  This is just one more example of why Napa Valley is the place for Cabernet.  I don’t mean to beat the same drum — Okay, I do — winemakers take note:  Plenty of enjoyment, flavor and complexity at less than 14 percent stated alcohol. 94 Michael Apstein Nov 21, 2017

Grgich Hills Estate, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay “Miljenko’s Selection” 2015

($60):  It should come as no surprise that Grgich Hills makes a spectacular Chardonnay since it was “Mike” Grgich who made the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that stunned the world at the tasting, dubbed, “The Judgement of Paris” in 1976.  Their 2015 Miljenko’s Selection is a gorgeous wine: rich, yet not overdone, with bright lemony acidity. Despite its dazzling depth, the overwhelming impression is vibrancy and energy.  The flavors practically dance on the palate, leaving it clean and fresh, without a trace of heaviness.  Other winemakers should note the 13.5 percent stated alcohol, showing that it is possible to achieve richness and depth without excessive alcohol. 96 Michael Apstein Nov 14, 2017

Duckhorn, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016

($30):  Though Duckhorn Vineyards may be known, rightly so, for their Merlot-based wines, they also make a strikingly good Sauvignon Blanc.  Their 2016 marries fruitiness and pungency without the former being tropical or overblown and without the latter being shrill.  A suave creaminess likely comes from a touch of Semillon in the blend and the judicious use of oak.  Balanced is the word that springs to mind. 90 Michael Apstein Oct 24, 2017

Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma County (California) “Anniversary Cuvée” 2010

($40): This is a gorgeous sparkling wine from one of California leading sparkling wine producers.  A blend of roughly 2/3rds Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay, it delivers a delicately fruity and creamy mixture that enlivens the palate.  An attractive hint of yeastiness, from 5 and 1/2 years on the lees adds complexity without weightiness.  It’s a marvelous choice as a celebratory drink, but has enough oomph to accompany a roast chicken.  Yes, sparkling wine is great with food.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 29, 2017

Migration, Santa Maria Valley (Central Coast, California) Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2014

($68): The orientation of the Santa Maria Valley is unusual in California because in runs East-West rather than the usual North-South.  As such, the vineyards there are exposed directly to the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean.  That climatic difference explains the difference in character between Santa Maria-grown Pinot Noir and those from the Russian River Valley.  This one, from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, is packed with savory, even smokey notes, as opposed to a more fruit forward profile.  Its glistening texture — no harsh tannins here — allows you to savor its joys now and over the next several years.  Its under 14 percent stated alcohol is noteworthy and reminds us that you don’t need super ripe grapes to make super good wine. 94 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2017

Sonoma-Loeb, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch 2015

($40): The most striking aspect of this Pinot Noir is its difference from Sonoma Loeb’s Bateman Ranch bottling.  Why extol the differences?  Because Pinot Noir is the best red grape for expressing the vineyard and these two wines — Dutton Ranch and Bateman Ranch — do just that.  Although both vineyards are within Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, the Pinot Noir from Dutton Ranch is riper, more opulent and fruit focused than the one from Bateman.  Savory notes emerge and balance the darker black fruit flavors. Tannins are suave, making it a good choice for current drinking or over the next couple of years.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2017

Sonoma-Loeb, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Bateman Ranch 2015

($60): Sonoma-Loeb’s Bateman Ranch Pinot Noir emphasizes the mineral-like flavors as opposed to the fruit flavors of their Dutton Ranch bottling.  It’s firmer than the Dutton Ranch bottling, but like its brother, it has impeccable balance and suave tannins.  Is one “better” than the other?  I think not.  They are different, which is why the two of them are so enjoyable.  Those who prefer more fruit and opulence in their wines will lean toward the Dutton Ranch.  Those consumers who prefer leaner more angular Pinot Noir with less fruit and more mineral-like components will prefer the Bateman.  My suggestion is to buy them both, have people over for dinner and extol the differences.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2017

Kendall Jackson, Santa Maria Valley (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Jackson Estate, Camelot Highlands 2015

($35): This is an easy wine to recommend for its creamy seductive texture.  Some will complain it’s heavy or overdone, but those who like a rich Chardonnay with a hint of butter will embrace it.  It does double duty as a stand-alone aperitif or to accompany a roast chicken with a creamy mushroom sauce.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 15, 2017

Clos du Val, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay Estate 2015

($32): Balance.  That’s why this wine is so enjoyable.  And enjoyable, not just for a sip, but also throughout the meal.  There’s the lush ripeness and power you’d expect from Napa Valley Chardonnay, but the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay on the Carneros region brings out a lovely lemony counterpoint and vivacity. For all of its intensity — and an almost chewy texture — it has remarkable elegance, which you really appreciate in the finish.  Wines like this one explain why California Chardonnay remains so popular.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2017

Matanzas Creek Winery, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2015

($26): Matanzas Creek has always been a star producer of Chardonnay.  They continue their reputation with this one.  They manage to deliver satisfying concentration without wandering into the “in your face” character.   Restrained, but not silent, this Chardonnay speaks to you without shouting.  And the words are memorable.  Its energy makes you glad it continues to speak throughout the meal.  The price is not boisterous either, which helps.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 1, 2017

Cambria Estate, Santa Maria Valley (California) Chardonnay “Clone 4” 2015

($30): Santa Maria Valley, though located in Southern California, actually has some very cool areas because the valley runs East-West instead of the more usual North-South orientation.  As such, it draws cool air from the Pacific Ocean.  Indeed, growers determine what to plant where by assessing how much heat is needed to ripen a particular variety — Chardonnay and Pinot Noir favor western sites while Cabernet Sauvignon needs the heat of more inland — eastern — plots.  Cambria’s Clone 4 Chardonnay shows the restraint and vibrancy of grapes grown in cooler climes.  A touch of creaminess, without a trace of weight, adds to its allure.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 1, 2017

Nickel & Nickel, Yountville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon State Ranch 2014

($110): Distinctly different from Nickel & Nickel’s other single vineyard Cabernet bottlings, the one from State Ranch appears far more youthful at this stage with its tannic structure showing immediately.  It has similar black fruit mixed with nuances of black olives and other savory notes, finishing with a beautiful bit of bitterness in the finish.  The complexity is similarly enthralling, as with their other single vineyard Cabernets.  It’s the texture — more apparent tannins at this stage — that sets it apart.  Still, it’s easy to recommend for the cellar because the balance suggests it will evolve nicely.  If you can’t wait and you want it with a meaty grilled steak this summer, which would not be a bad idea at all, open and decant it for a few hours before serving.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

($25): After extolling the virtues of a bevy of $100+ Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s time to return to earth.  Ironically, under Duckhorn’s Decoy label, this wine is the real thing.  It clearly demonstrates that you needn’t spend triple digits to find satisfying wine with real character.  Delivering more than the price suggests, there’s a well-integrated combination of prominent cassis-like fruitiness and subtle savory components. Mild, smooth tannins allow immediate consumption and juicy acidity in the finish prevents palate fatigue. Perfect for flank steak on the grill this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

MacRostie Winery and Vineyards, Sonoma Coast (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir “Wildcat Mountain” 2014

($56): The Sonoma Coast is the latest “hot” — more accurate to say, cool — place for Pinot Noir because of the dramatically cooler climate that its proximity to the Pacific Ocean offers.  Less bold than many, MacRostie’s Wildcat Mountain Pinot Noir still delivers ripe red fruit-like flavors accented with spice.  Melding sweet and savory notes, this nicely balanced wine has a delicacy that belies its persistence.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Martin Stelling Vineyard 2014

($160): Nickel & Nickel’s Cabernet from the Martin Stelling vineyard is fascinatingly different from the one from the John C. Sullenger Vineyard. It conveys dark fruit with more minerals, bordering on a tarry element, rather than the floweriness of the Sullenger.  What they have in common are elegant, fine tannins, a haunting complexity with layers of flavors appearing with each sip, and beautiful balance.  What makes them both stand outs is how different they are despite both coming from grapes grown in the Oakville section of the Napa Valley.  They show dramatically that the French have no monopoly on terroir — it exists in California (no surprise there) — you just need a winemaking team that focuses on it.  If you had to make an analogy to Bordeaux, I would say the Martin Stelling is more Pauillac-like while the Sullenger is more akin to a top-notch St. Emilion.
97 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon John C. Sullenger Vineyard 2014

($110): Nickel & Nickel and Far Niente overlap in ownership and philosophy, so it’s not surprising that they overlap in making spectacular wines.  Nickel & Nickel focuses on making distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from different vineyards in Napa Valley.  Although their entire line-up is excellent, what is really impressive is how different the wines are despite similar wine making.  That wines from different vineyards should taste different shouldn’t be all that amazing.  After all, the French have focused on — and name their best wines by — where the grapes are grown, not the name of the grape, for centuries.  They believe that terroir — where the grapes are planted — is key.  But California, with a far younger winemaking tradition, and a greater focus on who makes the wine (as opposed to the origin of the grapes) has been slower to embrace the concept.  Nickel & Nickel shows the importance of site with their range of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Take this one from the John C. Sullenger Vineyard.  It’s floral with nuances of violets or red flowers and lighter than many Napa Cabernets, including theirs.  Lightness in Cabernet could be perceived as a fault.  Not this one.  Amazingly for its “lightness,” it’s packed with flavor.  Of course, the tannins are silky.  But it’s stunning because of the paradox of lightness on the palate and intensity on your brain.  That’s what makes this a great wine.
97 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

Far Niente, Oakville (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

($160): In a word, gorgeous.  Ok, two words: Gorgeous and stunning.  Sure it’s powerful.  But for all its power, it has amazing elegance and gracefulness, which is why it’s so stunning and gorgeous.  It has everything you’d want in Napa Valley Cabernet — dark fruit flavors, a hint of savory notes, plush tannins and a seemingly never ending finish.  In fairness, since I frequently criticize wines that are marred by heat from high levels of alcohol, you’d never know this one weighs in at a stated 14.5 percent.  Explosive, without being heavy, its dances and expands on the palate without a trace of heat.  Each sip is better than the last as new flavors emerge.  For those who want the details:  a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), Petit Verdot (5%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Malbec.  Most of the grapes came from their Martin Stelling wine, which is right behind the winery.  Wine like this one is a reason to play the lottery.
98 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

Sequoia Grove, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

($40): This wonderfully refined mineraly Cabernet Sauvignon is a pleasure to drink now.  I’m certain it will gain complexity — though it has plenty now — and nuance with age, but the winemaking team at Sequoia Grove has polished the tannins so they provide necessary structure without a trace of astringency or roughness.  A lovely subtle bitter note in the finish reminds you that this is a top-notch Cabernet to be savored.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 11, 2017

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2016

($26): Presqu’ile takes advantage of their location in the Santa Maria Valley, which is cooled by the influences of the Pacific Ocean, to focus on grapes that show their best in that kind of climate: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  This snappy wine has the pleasing pungency characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc, accented by citrus rather than tropical melon-like notes. It has more weight than many Sauvignon Blanc, making it a good choice for grilled swordfish this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2017

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County, California) Chardonnay 2015

($35): As I said in my review of Presqu’ile’s Pinot Noir, you can’t go wrong with their wines.  It’s worth repeating.  The first sip of this Chardonnay awakens your palate with restrained richness balanced by an enlivening citrus character.  With air, more flavors emerge, but it still retains its vibrating soul.  Not an opulent California Chardonnay of old, its lovely purity and freshness keeps you coming back sip after sip throughout the meal.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2017

Patz & Hall, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2014

($44): Dutton Ranch, which consists of 1,100 acres of vineyards spread over the Russian River Valley that are owned or leased by the Dutton family, is a famous name in California wine.  Lots of top name California producers buy grapes from Dutton, including Patz & Hall who has hit the mark with this 2014 Chardonnay. Weighing in at 14.2 percent stated alcohol, it is beautifully integrated with a seamless marriage of fruit, oak and vibrancy.  It has a glossy texture without a trace of heaviness and with flavors that expand in the glass.  Despite its boldness, it’s an energetic wine.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2017

Patz & Hall, Carneros (Napa Valley, California) Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard 2014

($55): Patz & Hall have long been known for making single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by contracting with top growers for grapes from those vineyards. This one, from the Hudson Vineyard, which is wholly within the Napa Valley portion of Carneros, has lush generosity without being over the top or heavy.  Hints of toasty flavors seduce and complement the fruitiness, without overwhelming it.  Its real charm is its balance of power and cutting edginess that keeps it lively throughout a meal.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2017

Laurel Glen Vineyards, Sonoma Mountain (Sonoma County, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2013

($75): Laurel Glen, a true pioneering producer in Sonoma County, currently flies under most everyone’s radar.  Under Bettina Sichel’s leadership, that’s slowly changing. Planted in 1968 by Carmen Taylor, Chateau St. Jean purchased grapes for their famed Lauren Glen Cabernet in the 1970s.  Patrick Campbell purchased the property in 1977 and made some astounding Cabernets over the next several decades, but for some reason — perhaps they were not bold enough — consumers lost interest.  Enter Bettina Sichel, who purchased the property in 2011 and has long history in the California wine industry, including launching Quintessa in 1998.  You are drawn to the 2013 Estate Cabernet first by its alluring minty and floral aromas.  There’s a near magical combination of herbal savory notes intertwined with black fruit and mineral-y flavors.  Plush tannins complete the picture.  Not a massive wine, it keeps your attention with an herbal complexity and a silky texture.  My radar screen is flashing.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2017