California Wine Tasting Trip Recap- 2021

This year’s wine tasting trip came a bit sooner than usual, as we ventured into Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Anderson Valley and Mendocino for a broad and ambitious five days of winery visits, with our 18 month daughter in tow for half of it. As many times as I have visited the wine country of Northern California, I have never done it in April. The spring time scenery was definitely a welcome change of pace, with the vines nearing bud break as opposed to the full-on greenery we are used to in July. Mustard weeds added color to the landscape, while unseasonably warm temperatures kept us right in our comfort zone, even if the sun set a bit earlier.

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously resulted in a lot of change for wineries in terms of how they conduct tastings. I wonder, as may be the case with a lot of businesses across the entire spectrum, if the silver lining might be that wineries have discovered new creativities, efficiencies and previously unknown areas of strength within these limitations, at least in terms of the tasting experiences they offer.

One notable example of this is Limerick Lane (above), a spot that has been a “must visit” for us many years in a row now, even when the tastings were simply done at the bar. Last year, we enjoyed our first outdoor tasting there, but this year they have taken it to another level entirely, with tasting tables set up in the middle of one of Healdsburg’s oldest vineyards. Wineries like Ghost Block in Napa and Bedrock on Sonoma Square, while being forced to serve outside, may realize how much their patrons enjoy the surrounding scenery as opposed to a simple inside tasting room. At Raymond, usually a commercialized “belly up to the bar” type of stop, we tasted single vineyard Cabernets next to a swimming pool.

Old favorites like Seghesio, Pine Ridge and Goldeneye don’t need to be told to serve tastings outside, as they already know that their best experiences are enhanced by scenery in combination with their fantastic wine. But as a traveler that much prefers to taste outside at all tasting stops, I am hopeful that one positive result of this pandemic could be that wineries forced to serve outside will realize what unique and engaging options they have to do so, and that they will continue to offer those tasting options. That, aside from the focused high quality of the wines we tasted at our carefully planned stops, was my main take away from this trip.

As for the wines, here they are, presented as always in order by score, with ties broken by price point. Wine hunting and appreciation should always be a pursuit of value, after all. I added about 60 new wines to my master tasting list, and here are the 20 best.

1. Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate 2017, 96 Points, $75: Massive aromas of perfumey black currant. Thick, velvety body with an intense and focused core of blackberry and dark plum above layers of dusty earth and distinct mocha bean. Rich, focused and deep as cedar creeps in through the long finish. Dusty tannins add grip as a weightless mouthfeel combines with power to carry the bold darkness of the fruit. 

2. Spring Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2016, 95 Points, $85: Clean and minty, as elegant black currants and cedar glide effortlessly over the palate. Texturally perfect, with layers that unfold slowly underneath. Blackberry and boysenberry flavors are defined and focused, while a dry tobacco undertone takes over through the finish with subtly intertwined minerality adding complexity. This lingers long, with herbal tobacco dominating a finish that goes on for minutes.

3. Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2014, 95 Points, $125: Intense earthy aromas of leather, wet cedar, black currant and powdery mocha. Weightless mouthfeel shows understated blackberry and dark plum that evolve quickly into complex earthy undertones, as wet leather, tobacco, cedar and bay leaf take over. Finish lingers long, but this is all about texture, as silky tannins add grip.

4. Bedrock The Heritage Sonoma Valley 2019, 94 Points, $45: Huge aromas of black currant, crackling briar follow through to an explosion of powerful blackberry and black licorice. A masculine field blend that gains complexity from its underbelly of savory, briary herbal spices, cedar and tobacco. Long, intense finish. Appealingly old school but shows a modern ripeness over a perfect texture. Zinfandel, Carignan and Mataro. 

5. Limerick Lane Estate Cuvee Russian River Valley 2018, 94 Points, $85: Elegant as can be, with delicately intertwined leather, smoke and black pepper spice above its violety blackberry, dark raspberry, orange peel spice and understated chocolate. Finish lingers for minutes, with peppery spice and mocha bean coming to the forefront and lingering well beyond the fruit. Blends elegance with power. Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

6. Seghesio Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Cortina 2018, 93 Points, $40: Elegant aromas of black licorice, cedar and oak. Velvety body of juicy blackberry fruit above complex cracked pepper, briary spice and minty, cedary forest floor notes. Finish lingers long with hints of road tar as firm tannins add grip and hints of smoke creep in late. Remains as elegantly structured as any DCV Zin.

7. Oakville Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2017, 93 Points, $60: Classic cabernet aromas of perfumey cassis, black olive, cedar and vanilla bean. Elegant and silky, with a combination of red currant fruit that evolves into darker layers of blackberry and plum, giving way to undertones of brown sugar spice, clove and wet forest floor notes. Round tannins hold everything together through the long finish. Not much to complain about here; the texture is amazing.

8. Limerick Lane Rocky Knoll Russian River Valley 2018, 93 Points, $62: Brawny and brooding, with violety dark plum and blackberry fruit that glides over an elegant texture, lingering with dry forest floor, crushed stone and intense black pepper spice through the long finish. Firm tannins add grip. This needs time to soften, but looms a potential monster.Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

9. Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Gowan Creek Vineyard 2017, 93 Points, $85: Deep, perfumey black fruits and minty cedar on the nose. Elegant and balanced with rich, juicy pomegranate and chewy blackberry that shows notes of subtle white chocolate and smoke. Impressive depth and balance, with cedar spice and clove elements lingering long underneath.

10. Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Ten Degrees 2017, 93 Points, $130: Intense aromas of eucalyptus and minty cedar. Incredible mouthfeel with flavors of blackberry and boysenberry picking up complex undertones of bacon fat, smoke, wet cedar and tobacco spice, lingering long with a hint of earthy mushroom. Easily the most bold of the 2017s from this producer; the tradeoff is a remnant of muscular tannins, but this is rocking.

11. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vine 2018, 92 Points, $40: Aromas of light oak, wild berry and dusty herbaciousness. Juicy, luscious dark raspberry and black cherry combine above understated toffee and clove spice, lingering on a pruney note. Long finish shows a firm tannic grip. 

12. Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley Old Vine, 92 Points, $42: Explosive body of crushed raspberry and rich blackberry over a thick, muscular texture that finishes with a blast of cracked pepper and a subtle hint of mocha bean through the long finish. Jazzy and ripe.

13. Bedrock Syrah Carneros Hudson Vineyard T’n’S  Blocks 2018, 92 Points, $50: Huge aromas of smoked meat, leather and violety black currants. Rich and burly, with wet leather notes above blackberry and black licorice. Tons of bacon fat and smoke lead into a blast of cracked pepper through the long finish. Powerful and intense, while maintaining a sense of elegance.

14. Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley L’Hermitage 2013, 92 Points, $55: Intense aromas of golden apple, pear and lemon curd. Creamy and smooth, with crisp poached citrus flavors of escalloped apple, baked pear and lemon meringue pie above layers of hazelnut spice. Finish lingers long and elegantly. 

15. Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Collection 2016, 92 Points, $95: Complex aromas of cedar, loam and black currant. Velvety body of violety dark plum and blackberry flavors above balanced forest floor, tar and licorice notes that linger long. Distinct Spring Mountain fruit, lingering with chewy tannins and cedar spice keeps kicking. Should benefit from a bit more cellar time.

16. Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Ghost Block Vineyard 2017, 92 Points, $100: Dusty cedar and black currants on the nose. Deep and velvety, with concentrated blackberry and dark plum flavors above somewhat brooding undertones of cedar and dark chocolate. This is deep and intense through the long finish, with polished tannins adding grip.

17. Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap District 2016, 92 Points, $140: Minty eucalyptus dominates on the nose. Silky and balanced, with understated black cherry fruit flavors that show undertones of fresh cedar, mint, sage and bay leaf that add definition and complexity. Finish lingers long with an edge of oak and mocha pumping beyond the fruit.

18. Ghost Block Zinfandel Oakville Pelissa Vineyard 2018, 91 Points, $20: Big and juicy, with intense smoked bacon and pork fat aromas leading into a viscous texture of crushed dark raspberry and wild berry that gains depth and complexity from its undertones of white pepper and baking spices that linger long.

19. Bedrock Evangelho Vineyard Areio e Ventro e Amor Contra Costa 2018, 91 Points, $40: Elegant and ripe, with juicy red berry and plummy fruits that glide above exotic baking spices and white pepper. Feminine in style, with round tannins pulling everything together through the long finish. Zinfandel and Carignan.

20. Seghesio Zinfandel Alexander Valley Home Ranch 2018, 91 Points, $60: A powerful, brooding style, with dusty loam and cocoa powder up front above rich blackberry and dark plum fruit that escalates into a blast of briary cracked black pepper, black olive and savory tobacco. Firm, chalky tannins cut off the finish a bit. This is a step forward from the 2017 misstep, but still missing something in the finish relative to its flagship vintages. 

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