Tasting The “New California”

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Regular readers will be familiar with my two spotlights focusing on the white wines of the so-called “New California” movement. These wines remain difficult to find in British Columbia, and with the falling Canadian dollar I fear most importers will refrain from taking ‘risks’ importing them. It would be a shame for this market to miss out on what’s going on. A recent tasting with industry colleagues confirmed that these wines generally have much more to offer drinkers than the big brands and cult wines, and even with the exchange rate drop, they offer far greater interest for value than other California wines. For now, collectors like me who want to gather more than just a smattering of these wines have to shop in the U.S. and join winery mailing lists. If you want to read more about the producers below I highly recommend ;Jon Bonné‘s book “The New California Wine”.

Chardonnay

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An older Littorai from 2006 was consistent with my view that California Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast is amongst the best outside of Burgundy and can age very well. It was rich and caramelly from ageing oxidation but remained fresh and minerally on the palate. Excellent.

A 2012 Failla estate was beautifully fleshy and fresh. Very Good+.

For much more detail on the “new California” Chardonnay, check out my extended spotlight.

Pinot Noir

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Probably the ‘it’ grape of the New California and certainly the focus of the “in pursuit of balance” group of producers, we sampled three of the top Sonoma Coast wines.

Anthill’s 2012 Campbell Ranch was quite rich, and I thought pleasurable and well suited for fatty salmon or duck. In a group of acid freaks, it’s easy to dismiss richer wines (which 2012 produced many of) in the context of lean ones, but in the context of the right food, it all makes sense. Anthill remains one of my favourite California producers. Excellent.

Hirsch is a favourite of mine, and this 2010 estate Pinot was maybe the wine of the tasting for me. It had tremendous aromatics and offered a complete Pinot Noir profile with both sinew and sap. It was the freshest and most balanced of the trio. Excellent to Excellent+.

The 2008 Peay Scallop Shelf was sadly disjointed, tasting like hickory smoke. The consensus was that the char level on the barrels wasn’t right for this wine, causing it to devolve into an uninteresting wine with a marred fruit profile. Fair.

Cabernet Sauvignon / Bordeaux Blends

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This was an interesting group of wines. Corison is a classic producer having never deviated from her trademark restrained style, embracing herbs and savories rather than silk and fruit. The 2006 is a lovely wine. Excellent.

Star Lane is also an exciting winery and even this old 2007 Bordeaux blend showed very well. Recently their winemaking has really been dialed in with the addition of Tyler Thomas (formerly of Donnelan) as winemaker – this is a winery to watch. Very Good+.

The cult M. Etain from Scarecrow is the perfect example of cult wine. Silky, sweet fruit. Very plush, soft, likely micro-oxiginated but nothing beyond its one dimensional fruit. The aromatics bore, there are no savory notes. Of course the cult crowd will likely enjoy its manufactured profile – it is the antithesis of what the “New California” is trying to achieve and costs over $200. Very Good.

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The 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia, another $200 culty Bordeaux Blend, is a great example of 1990’s Napa. It offers black fruits, some leafyness, and some residual sugar. It was better than I expected but not exciting and not worth the money. Very Good+.

Other Grapes

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We had two wines from Arnot Roberts (one of my favourite California producers), including a beautiful 2013 North Coast Trousseau I reviewed in a previous vintage. The wine has evolved considerable since the 2010 vintage, which was riper and perhaps more traditionally made (certainly with far less stem inclusion). It showed very well again at the tasting and those lucky enough to taste it very much appreciated its stemmy aromatics, wonderful texture and drinkability. Very Good+.

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The 2012 North Coast Syrah from Arnot Roberts was in an awkward place right now, but my tasting experience is that this will become profoundly good in a number of years as the Brett mellows. It’s made in an old school, Northern Rhone style. Very Good.

A Ridge Merlot from the Monte Bello vineyard stood out as one of the best wines of the tasting. Merlot virtually never offers this profile in California – eucalyptus, black and red berries, earth. Very well balanced with a dialed in, long finish. Excellent.

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