Spottswoode Estate Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley
©2006 Thomas Heinser
Notes on a few new releases from California, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and of course, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon “Estate – Napa Valley” 2016 – Since its founding by the Novak family in 1982, Spottswoode Winery has been one of the most critically acclaimed of all Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Today, Spottswoode is undeniably one of the “Grand Cru” Cabernet Sauvignons in California, as sisters Lindy Novak and Beth Novak Milliken carry on the dream of their mother Mary Weber Novak, while current winemaker Aron Weinkauf crafts beautifully structured wines from their 40-acre estate vineyard in western St. Helena.
Last year, I rated their 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon as one of their finest ever (which is saying something); the newly released 2016 is on a parallel level. Deep ruby red; aromas of cacao, black currant, mocha and blackberry. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this has a rich mid-palate, ideal ripeness, good acidity, rich, well-rounded tannins and excellent persistence. There is lovely harmony and varietal character, with dusty, gravelly notes in the finish. As usual, a beautifully made, expressive offering from this great producer. Structured for the long haul, this should peak in 15-20 years, but I wouldn’t be surprised the wine is still in fine form in 25 or 30 years. The suggested retail price of $225 is a fair price, given the brilliant track record and breeding of this wine. Superb
Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon “Solari” 2016 (Napa Valley) – Established in 1895, Larkmeand Vineyards in Calistoga is one of Napa Valley’s oldest wineries. Their 100% Solari Cabernet Sauvignon is from a vineyard with gravel and clay soils not found elsewhere on their estate. Deep ruby red/light purple; aromas of menthol, black pepercorn and blackcurrant. Medium-full with excellent ripeness, rich, youthful tannins that are nicely balanced, ample oak and a finish with impressive persistence that offers notes of black spice. Give time to round out and settle down. Peak in 7-10 years. Outstanding
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon To-Kalon “The Reserve” 2016 – Throughout the 1970s, ‘80’s and much of the ‘90s, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi was considered an essential Napa Cabernet, one that wine buyers and collectors looked forward to every vintage. There have been numerous changes at this winery, but it’s nice to know that this wine is still quite special, as evidenced by the 2016 release from the To-Kalon vineyard located directly behind the winery.
Textbook aromas of black currant and black plum with notes of molasses. Medium-full, with excellent ripeness, distinct wood notes and youthful, well balanced tannins. Very good persistence and overall harmony, this is approchable now, but in reality, just a baby; best to wait two to three years, with peak drinking in 12-15 years. Outstanding
Michael Beaulac, winemaker and general manager, Pine Ridge Vineyards
Photo courtesy Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge – Located in the Stags Leap District in southeastern Napa Valley, Pine Ridge has been an ultra consistent producer of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon since the 1978 vintage. They also produce Chardonnay, sourced from a vineyard in Carneros to the south, as well as a delightful aromatic white made from Chenin Blanc and Viognier.
2018 Chenin Blanc +Viognier – This is a tasty, fun white with beautiful aromatics of yellow peach, lime and golden poppies. Medium-bodied, this has delicious ripe fruit, good acidity and length and an off-dry finish. Enjoy now or over the next 2-3 years on its own, with seafood salads or roast chicken with vegetables. We need more wines like this! At a suggested retail price under $15, this is a notable value. (Note: the amiable Colleen Fitzgerald is the winemaker for this charming wine.) Very Good
2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – The late Gary Andrus, founder of Pine Ridge, was wise enough over the years to purchase vineyards in several appellations of Napa Valley. The result is that Pine Ridge has been offering several Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa, including examples from Howell Mountain (one of the most elegant Howell Mountain Cabernets in production today in my opinion), Rutherford and of course, the Stags Leap District, home for the winery.
This Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is blended from several of the winery’s vineyards throughout the valley, with Rutherford and Oakville fruit making up the preponderance of the wine. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18 months in 35% new American oak. Deep, bright ruby red; classic aromas of blackcurrant, black plum and purple iris. Medium-full, this displays excellent ripeness, good acidity and medium-weight, soft tannins. Lovely balance, this is enjoyable now and will drink well for another 5-7 years. At $65, this is a value for a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that is this approachable and this good! Excellent
Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (Yountville, Napa Valley) – In my April 2019 article on Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (click here to read), I named Gamble Family Vineyards as one of the premier producers of Sauvignon Blanc in Napa Valley. The newly released 2018 is a brilliant wine, displaying zesty aromas of grapefruit, orange blossom, golden poppies and a hint of green tea. Medium-full, this has very good acidity, excellent complexity and lovely texture. There is a subtle note of yellow pepper in the lengthy, expressive finish. I love the brightness of this wine; this is a classic Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc that focuses on ripe varietal fruit flavors rather than grassy or herbal characteristics. Delicious! Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years. Superb
The Hilt – Here is a winery I knew nothing about when I tasted these wines; suffice it to say I’m very glad I did! The Hilt is a small artisan estate located in Buellton in Santa Barbara County, producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from estate vineyards are in the prestigious Sta. Rita Hills appellation. There are three levels of wine: Estate, The Old Guard and The Vanguard. I was only able to taste the Estate level wines, which display beautiful varietal purity as well as notable complexity and structure. Based on these two wines, I can’t wait to taste the Old Guard and Vanguard wines. This is a producer to keep an eye on!
The Hilt Chardonnay “Estate” 2017 (Sta. Rita Hills) – Exquisite aromas of lemon essence, vanilla yogurt and golden poppies. Medium-full with a graceful mid-palate, excellent persistence and very good acidity. The oak notes are pushed to the background, and this is a seamless, lovely wine with beautiful Chardonnay purity. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Outstanding
The Hilt Pinot Noir Pinot Noir “Estate” 2017 (Sta. Rita Hills) – Lovely aromas of fresh bing cherry, marmalade and a hint of orange peel. Medium-full, this has excellent ripeness, very good acidity, medium-weight, elegant tannins and excellent persistence. The wood notes are evident, but not overpowering. A lovely, supple wine. Peak in 5-7 years, but so good now. Outstanding
2017 Gary Farrell Winery Russian River Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Photo courtesy Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery
Gary Farrell Winery and Vineyards – For more than thirty years, the Gary Farrell winery in Healdsburg in the Sonoma’s Russian River Valley has been one of my favorite producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir anywhere in California. While there have been changes along the way, as Farrell himself is not at the winery anymore, winemaker Theresa Heredia has continued crafting beautiful offerings of these Burgundian varietals, thanks in part to the superb fruit the winery sources each harvest. (Make sure to check out the beautifully redesigned website.)
2017 Chardonnay Russian River – Aromas of golden apple, pear and a hint of fig. Medium-full, this has lovely Chardonnay purity, excellent overall balance, good acidity and impressive complexity. I love that the wood notes are kept in the background in this wine, allowing the Chardonnay flavors to shine though. A great introduction to Russian River Chardonnay, one that is worth every penny of its $35 price tag. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Excellent
2017 Pinot Noir Russian River – Aromas of raspberry, cola (a signature of Russian River Pinot Noir) and marjoram. Medium-full, this offers textbook Pinot Noir flavors, and has good acidity, medium-weight, elegant tannins, very good length in the finish and is nicely balanced. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years. Excellent
Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery – At the Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery, the vineyards are within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean in the heart of the Sonoma Coast appellation; owners Lester and Linda Schwartz planted vineyards near the coastal town of Jenner in 1994. There are three levels of wine produced: Classic, Connoisseur and Sea Slopes; I tasted two examples of the latter for this article.
Sea Slopes Chardonnay 2018 – Aromas of lemon custard, yellow peach and apricot pit. Medium-full, this is a ripe, slightly lush style of Chardonnay with excellent ripeness. Good acidity and delicate yellow spice notes. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. Very Good
Sea Slopes Pinot Noir 2017 (Sonoma Coast) – Aromas of bing cherry, strawberry and marjoram. Medium-full, this has lovely varietal purity, medium-weight tannins, good acidity and subtle wood notes. Very charming wine with tasty Pinot Noir fruit. Enjoy now and over the next 5-7 years. Excellent