New Wine Reviews
Stags’ Leap 2013 The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District); $90. It’s fascinating to taste this alongside the winery’s regular ’13 Cabernet, which I scored at 90 points. It’s considerably richer and denser. Made from 100% Cabernet grown in the estate vineyards, it displays that famous Stags Leap “iron fist in a velvet glove.” Velvet is indeed the texture: so smooth, so plush, so sexy. The color—midnight black, flecked with glints of ruby—hints at the concentration as well as the youth. Aromatically and flavor-wise, it’s massive. Intense tiers of blackcurrants and cassis liqueur, blueberry jam, candied violets, mocha and umami plum sauce, with an earthy hint of green olives. It’s all accented by the smoky sweetness of 50% new French oak barrel aging for 20 months. As sweetly fruited as it is, the finish is entirely, and satisfyingly, dry. The mouthfeel is full-bodied and elegant, with great weight and depth, and an alcohol level of only 14.1%. Delicious! A great accomplishment! Super-impressive! But oh, so young. I can’t stop anyone from drinking and enjoying it now, but if you do, decant! Otherwise, stash it in a good cellar. It will reward another twenty years, at least. Score: 97 points.
Stags’ Leap 2012 Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah (Stags Leap District): $115. I’ve been reviewing this wine (the name means “Don’t give in to misfortune”) since the mid-1990s and since ’99 never gave it less than 90 points. The wine was grown on the estate vineyard, west of the Silverado Trail, in the lee of the Stags Leap palisades, within the famous natural amphitheater that captures afternoon sunlight yet benefits from the appellation’s southerly location to capture cooling breezes up from San Pablo Bay. The winery says the vineyard’s oldest blocks were planted in 1929. The blend includes at least eight other varieties, including some white ones. And the wine? It reminds me of the 2010, which I described as “dry and tannic, with wild berry, currant, licorice, tobacco and oak flavors.” This ’12 is all that, and more: there’s a charcuterie umami-ness that, to me, suggests salami and crisped prosciutto, and a spiciness I don’t recall from previous vintages. With the lush mouthfeel, it absolutely caresses the mouth, growing more complex and fascinating with each moment it breathes. It’s so robust and powerful, I almost can’t believe the alcohol is only 14.1%, but that’s what they say. I do find the price concerning. But in an era when the merest Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can top $100, perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider whether Petite Sirah of this quality may not be worth a triple-digit price. I would drink this right out of the bottle on release, or stash it away for, who knows how long? Thirty years is not out of the question. Score: 97 points.
Aberrant Cellars 2014 Chehalem Mountain Vineyard Block B3 Old Vines Pinot Noir (Chehalem Mountains): $50. There’s much to like about this new Pinot Noir, but it really is young at this point, and wants some time to come around. It’s starting life off as tight and rather closed, with intense aromatics of raspberry compote, orange pekoe tea, chocolate brownie, espresso and cheese rind. In the mouth, the acid-tannin balance is just fine, and the wine has a nice delicacy, courtesy of 13.8% alcohol. The winery is owned by Eric Eide, who seems to have been an American in the wine biz who frequently visited Burgundy and fell in love with the wines. The vineyard was planted back in 1968 by Richard Erath, of Knudsen-Erath; the wine comes from an ungrafted 2.34-acre patch, hence the “Old Vines” designation. The intensity is explained by the low vine yield, only 1.4 tons per acre, while the sweet oak hails from aging for 15 months in 36% new French oak. The winemaker used 5% whole clusters in the fermentation, a wise choice that seems to add body, wood spice and texture to the delicacy. Only 210 cases were produced. Most people will probably consume this wine too early, but it will certainly be more satisfying after 2020. Score: 93 points.
Stags’ Leap 2013 Petite Sirah (Napa Valley): $39. I looked up all my scores over the years for this wine, and every one of them was at least 90 points, except for the 2009. This ’13 is consistent with that history. It’s a good Petite Sirah, darkly hued, dry and tannic, with deep, rich blackberry jam, espresso, black currant, licorice, beef teriaki and black pepper flavors. The grapes come from all over the valley, north and south. The wine was aged for a year in partially new American oak, which brings notes of smoke and dill. It will probably live for decades without gaining in complexity, so drink it whenever you want. The alcohol is 14.1%, and interestingly, the blend includes Syrah, Grenache, Carignane and Mourvedre, which makes it a California Rhône. Score: 90 points.
Stags’ Leap 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): $58. The wine is a blend of all five classic Bordeaux varieties, grown partly on the Stags Leap estate but also sourced from other vineyards in the valley. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, with its dark color, hard tannins, and intensely concentrated black currant and cassis flavors, but Malbec—currently out of fashion in Napa—as the second grape adds darkness and tannins and plummy violets. Approximately one-third new French oak brings the usual toasty, smoky notes. At the age of three-plus years, it’s aloof. Everything is muted, seen through a glass darkly. But there are tantalizing hints of its future. I don’t mean to suggest you cellar this wine for a long time. But it will reward patience over the next six years. Score: 90 points.
Hindsight 2014 20/20 Red Wine (Napa Valley): $35. Convincing enough, a hearty, slightly rustic blend with enough sophistication to satisfy. Bone dry, with thick, scoury tannins and flavors of black tea, cassis, leather, coffee, cocoa nib, white pepper and smoky cedar wood. The blend is all five classic Bordeaux varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon dominating both in percentage and taste. Drink now. Score: 89 points.
Michael David 2014 Earthquake Petite Sirah (Lodi); $26. One of these days I’m going to have to come up with a more creative way of describing a wine like this than “Will be good with short ribs.” Having said, that, this wine will be good with—short ribs! Or barbecue and such. To call it rustic and brawny is an understatement. The official alcohol is 15%, and there’s a chocolate-covered raisin superripeness, with a grapy, sappy blackberry liqueur sweetness and plenty of smoke from 1-1/2 years in French oak. It’s a solid Petite Sirah from this warm, inland Delta region. Score: 88 points.
Moniker 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino County): $25. The Thornhill family established their vineyard, on the east side of the Russian River in the Ukiah Valley, in 2002, and started the winery two years later. This Cab, which contains 1% Petit Verdot, has plenty of varietal character. It’s dark, dry, full-bodied and tannic, with a wealth of black currant, cassis and tea flavors, and a smoky edge from 22 months of aging in 36% new American oak. This muscular wine is fine for drinking now. The alcohol is 14.5%. Score: 88 points.
Merisi 2014 Diener Vineyard Petite Sirah (Lake County): $35. If you can get the cork out through the hard plastic capsule without slicing off a finger, you’ll find a pretty good wine. It’s big and bold, in the Petite Sirah fashion, with sturdy tannins and dense blackberry and mulberry, beef jerky, sugared expresso, clove, anise, pepper and toast flavors. The alcohol is high, at 15.3%, which gives it prickly heat, as well as a glyceriney sweetness. Score: 87 points.
Pamela’s 2013 Un-Oaked Chardonnay (Sonoma County); $16. Unoaked Chardonnay depends for richness on the grapes. They need concentration of flavor to succeed without oak, because Chardonnay itself is a fairly featureless variety. This wine succeeds in that respect. It’s easy to drink, offering plenty of Chardonnay personality, with tropical fruit, peach, honeydew melon, lime, vanilla and honeysuckle flavors. From Ron Rubin Vineyards and Winery. Score: 87 points.
Aberrant Cellars 2015 “Philtrum” Pinot Noir Blanc (Willamette Valley): $29. I never thought Pinot Noir was a good variety to make a dry white table wine from (despite its efficacy in sparkling wine), and this wine doesn’t change my view. This is a strong wine, with intense orange, strawberry, tropical fruit, hazelnut, roasted coconut and vanilla flavors that remind me of a dessert macaroon, although it is dry. It was fermented and aged, in roughly equal proportions, in stainless steel and oak. I admire the low alcohol, only 13%, and the brisk acidity, but for me the wine lacks delicacy and subtlety. You can call it a white wine for red wine drinkers. Score: 86 points.
Locations Non-Vintage I4 Red Wine (Italy); $??. A blend of three Italian varieties, Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola and Barbera. It is very “Italian-y,” in the sense of dryness, high acidity, tannins and a truffly earthiness. Otherwise, there are notes of cherries, blackberries, black tea, cola and spices. It’s a solid wine, a bit austere on its own, but will be a good companion to rich beef, cheese and pasta dishes. Score: 85 points.
Locations Non-Vintage F5 Rosé (France); $??. This is a dry rosé made entirely from Grenache. The winery says the vines are 50 years old and dry farmed. The wine is unoaked. There’s no vintage date on the label or the paperwork. It has some nice raspberry and watermelon flavors, and a spicy pepperiness. Acidity is quite high, bordering on sour, and there’s a disturbing smell and taste of unripe greenness, which for me really lowers the score. 82 points.
Locations Non-Vintage F4 Red Wine (Portugal); $??. Smells disagreeable, with green, mushroom and cough drop flavors, and the taste is similar, although there’s a little raspberry-cherry fruit. The alcohol, at 15%, gives the thin flavor heat. The blend is Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and Turiga Franca. Score: 82 points.
Michael David 2014 Petite Petit (Lodi); $18. This is, I suppose, a junior version of the winery’s Earthquake Petite Sirah. It’s two-thirds the price, anyway. The name comes from the 15% of Petit Verdot in the blend, which seems more like a marketing decision than a winemaking one, so they could call it Petite Petit. The wine is overpriced. It’s rustic and brawny, with blackberry and oak flavors and sturdy tannins. Some mustiness seriously mars it. Score: 82 points.
Oak Grove 2014 Family Reserve Petite Sirah (California); $9. Petite Sirah in name only. Smells like old cola that was left out on the counter overnight, stale and harsh. Feels brutish in the mouth, with no structure and some sugary sweetness. Barely drinkable. Score: 80 points.