Saturday, May 28, 2011

California Dreamin'

A Pride Vineyard
Two years ago, a trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys changed the way I looked at Californian wine. Being a wine drinker who started and fell in love with Italy, I went to California with an open mind but a lingering thought that I would be disappointed. However, I was far from disappointed, as I came to realize that the wine most people thought of as Californian was far from what the passionate and pioneering producers were making. Wineries such as Pride, Trespass, EMH, Larkmead, Alpha Omega and a host of others successfully showed me that there are juicy, structured and elegant wines of depth and nuance to be found in California.

That trip also resulted in me signing up for a number of lists and making a number of purchases of the bottles I enjoyed. I figured it was about time to check in on some of the wines that thrilled me two years ago, as well as some recent releases from those wineries. To put it mildly, I was happily impressed. If you’re looking to delve into California, this list is certainly a great place to start. None of these are cheap; however, they are all worth their tariff.

If there's one significant impression that I walk away from with this tasting with, its that I need to plan another tasting trip to California in the near future.

On to the wines:

2009 Larkmead Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Lillie B4 Block – On the nose, this wine wowed me with pear and peach, wet stone, a spritz of lime, field grasses and sour clotted cream. On the palate, it was incredibly elegant and soft but with an underlying structure and a core of vibrant acidity that made the mouth water in preparation for the flavors of peach, honeydew and minerals that followed. As this wine finished, a lovely note of pineapple lingered for what seemed to be a full minute. (93 points) Larkmead Website

2009 Massican Gemina – The Gemina had filled out even more since I last tasted it. The nose showed almond, citrus fruit and honeysuckle with white flowers tempting you to taste, and as time passed, I also found a layer of mineral and stone which added a good amount of depth to the wine. On the palate, it was a rich yet refined, medium bodied wine showing honeydew melon, buttery lemon and grapefruit, which lasted into its long finish. (92 points) Massican Website (Also look out for a full review of Massican's 2010 lineup coming soon!)

2008 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard – The nose showed wild herbs, raspberry and strawberry with allspice and hints of wood shop. On the palate, I found cherry with orange rind and sweet spice. The finish was shorter than expected and showed a bit more alcohol than I’d like, but with time in decanter the edges rounded out and left me with an overall good impression of this wine. (90 points) A.P. Vin Website

2008 Larkmead Vineyards Firebelle – The nose showed black currant, cherry liquor, spice, brown sugar and a hint of fresh-turned soil. On the palate, it was velvety smooth and luxuriant with blackberry jam, cherry wood and spice. The finish was exceptionally long with blackberry and currant fruit, yet it was fresh and begging for another sip. (94 points) Larkmead Website

2006 Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot – The nose showed blueberry and blackberry with molasses, a hint of vanilla and, with air in the glass, sweet confectionary spices. On the palate, it was warm and seductive with a full-balanced body, showing black cherry, cinnamon and spice with dark chocolate and cola leading into the long finish. Pride successfully balanced elegance and structure in this excellent bottle of Merlot. (92 points) Pride Mountain Vineyards Website

2005 Trespass Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown – When this bottle was first opened the nose showed strawberry, sour berries, candied sugar and a hint of bell pepper. However, over the course of three hours, it came to life, as the pepper faded back to reveal notes of earth, leather and hints of barnyard. On the palate, it was beautifully structured and surprisingly feminine, as an initial burst of acidity turned soft as velvet on the tongue with flavors of black currant, herbs and a hint of salinity. The finish was long with notes of blackberry jam. (93 points) Trespass Vineyards Website

2006 Trespass Rendezvous – The nose showed ripe raspberry jam, molasses, pepper, spice cookie and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, I found blueberry and dark chocolate with violet candies and a plush velvety mouthfeel. The finish was long with wild berries and cider mulling spices. (92 points) Trespass Vineyards Website

2006 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat – The 2006 EMH vineyards, Black Cat, was on a whole new level from my previous tasting. Almost a year has passed, and this dark beauty has really come out of its shell. Upon pouring, the aromatics leapt from the glass and filled the room with a bouquet of sweet floral notes and dark fruits. With a swirl in the glass, I found blackberry, cherry and anise with notes of pepper and sage. The palate showed rich spicy black currant, cinnamon gram cracker and dark chocolate, yet also showed wonderful vibrancy and finesse. The finish went on and on for over a minute with a seductive mix of clove, cinnamon, star anise and cherry. (93 points) EMH Vineyards Website

2005 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District – The nose showed black currant, confectioners sugar, spice and a hint of green pepper. On the full-bodied palate, I found sweet raspberry jam and cola, which turned to sour cherry with an herbal quality. The finish showed dark red fruits which turned slightly sour as it faded away. (92 points) Cliff Lede Vineyards Website

2004 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – The nose showed black currant, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, rosemary, dark brown sugar and whiffs of vanilla. On the palate, I found black cherry, dark chocolate and cola with zesty acidity and beautiful structure. The finish went on and on for over a minute. This wine was massive yet fresh and will easily improve for many years to come. (94 points) Robert Mondavi Website

2007 Sbragia Family Zinfandel Italo's Vineyard – The color of the 2007 Sbragia Family Zinfandel Italo's Vineyard, showed a brilliant ruby red. The nose opened fresh, showing a mix of wild berries, primarily blue but ever-changing with each sniff. A floral component came forward with time, along with a hint of undergrowth, sweet caramel and coffee bean, which added masses of depth. On the full, rich palate, I found candied blackberry and cola, playing a sweet & sour act and carrying this wine’s 14.5% alcohol flawlessly. The finish was fresh and long, showing dried cherries. (90 points) Sbragia Family Vineyards Website

2007 Ridge Geyserville – A beautiful display of rich blackberry fruit, dark chocolate and earthy slate dust. The palate was like velvet yet structured with dark chocolate-covered cherries and cedar. The wine showed remarkable balance and a gorgeous core of well-defined fruit. The finish was long with cherries and dark chocolate. Yum! (91 points) Ridge VIneyards Website

2006 Neyers Syrah Old Lakeville Road – The nose showed wild berries and cherry with undergrowth, dried herbs, and air-dried meats. On the palate, this wine showed smooth and velvety with dark fruits, spicy cinnamon and earth. The medium finish was rich, yet fresh. (91 points) Neyers Vineyards Website

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