27 Nov As a celebration of Thanksgiving Day (and as part of our Throwback Thursday series) we are republishing and making freely available this collection of tasting notes on 101 American wines tasted recently by our team. As I pointed out recently in Re-introducing Brits to California glory, at long last UK wine importers are taking a bit more interest in the wealth of fine wine being made in the US. For a guide to all of the regional and stylistic collections of tasting notes we are currently publishing, see Sorting through the assortments.
29 Oct Between now and the end of the year we are planning to publish a series of tasting articles on more than a dozen themes, mostly geographical but occasionally stylistic (as in fizz or fortified and sweet wines). This is the first of those, devoted to the American wines that happen to have come the way of my palate and those of the rest of the JR.com team.
As it happens, tomorrow we will be publishing a collection of tasting notes on almost 90 of America’s finest Cabernets but this is a coincidence. There are two main reasons for publishing this ragbag of reviews of US wines that have, relatively unusually, made it over the Atlantic. Firstly because a series of new imports by one of Britain’s few champions of American wine, Roberson, constituted one of my first tastings once I was back in the swing of tasting here in London after the summer break. Secondly because, with the exception of the ocean of inexpensive likes of Blossom Hill and the more basic Gallo brands, we see all too few wines from the US in the UK, which meant that this assortment was relatively easy to assemble.
While we continue to work on other assortments, many of them very much more extensive than this one, we hope that you enjoy an unusually British perspective on some interesting American wines.
Tasting notes are presented whites first, then reds. We've grouped them by state (California and Oregon) and then within each state, we present them in declining score order.
Pithy, leesy, slightly nutty. Multi-layered, complex, textural and interesting. Top class – really deserves time. (RH)
Really fragrant, floral nose – the Mendoza clone, perhaps? Then a creamy palate with ramrod acidity for structure. Very much new wave Chardonnay, but still very much from a CA zip code. Great stuff – superb length! (RH)
Fine, balanced but fleshy. Smooth, flinty and quite hard, actually. Austere, mineral power. Has star quality. (RH)
Lovely fruit character – star fruit, grapefruit. Crisp, well defined, well-handled oak. So appetising – really foody. Leaps and bounds ahead of their Carneros Chardonnay. (RH)14.4%
Lots of peach yoghurt and orange peel notes. A little bit of oak scent. Lovely texture and sleekness. (RH)14.5%
Maybe a tiny bit volatile? Not as satisfying as their Hyde bottling. Slightly bitter. Still very good, but not quite as memorable. (RH)14.5%
Stone fruit and real substance. More than a hint of burgundy in this! Long. Great intensity for the alcohol level and not a hint of sweetness. Long. It gets better and better towards the finish.12.8%
Leesy and yeasty with lots of tropical fruit. Slightly bitter acid – sharp-tongued. Discordant structure, but the flavours are spot on for premium Californian Chardonnay. (RH)
Restrained oak, though still a rich and ripe incarnation of Chardonnay, with a lovely sour apple finish. Pleasantly tart structure. (RH)14.1%
Gorgeous, succulent fruit, with a toasty, smoky edge. Still beautifully balanced, though it isn't showing the range of flavour you might get from equivalent burgundy. Instead there is a ripe, fleshy mellowness. (RH)
Toffee apple, lemon – lovely zest and bite. Good density and stuffing. Serious. (RH)13.4%
Real interest on the nose, with great presence and – could it be? – a little saltiness. Ocean mist and all that... Layers of flavour.14%
Sophisticated oak, which is pretty dominant really. Zippy citrus and green apple fruit. Not quite the full nine yards. (RH)13.5%
Gentle and by no means obviously California! But with some attractively burgundian mealiness and American friendliness. Good chew. Alcohol well hidden.14%
Spring Mountain District. A herbal, full bodied style of Riesling on the nose. A tad more phenolics than I think you'd find in a similar wine from Germany or Austria. But there is admirable acidity and it finishes dry – much drier than most American Rieslings. In fact it's a bit young. A sterling effort and I feel they should be rewarded for persisting with Riesling in the Napa Valley! Though it does seem a bit expensive.12.6%
Screwcap! (Most unusual for a California wine.) Their third vintage. 50% of the fruit went through malolactic. Very clear. Yes, it does smell of Albarino – a good start. Good fruit on the mid palate. Very agreeable with notable acidity but more breadth on the palate than the average Galician example. Some of the brininess.14%
Grainy, mature, with some greenness on the nose. Relatively fine for a California Chardonnay. Just a little sweet on the finish but overall this has admirable tension. Juts a hint of coffee but pretty burgundian. Evolved with mealy (burgundian) notes but real lightness of touch. By no means ridiculously priced for a fine Californian.13.6%
Dense and yet lively = green butterscotch character. Just a bit of a fast fade.
Quite lean, restrained style. Not a huge amount of substance here. Seems a bit straightforward for the price. (RH)13.5%
Light butterscotch nose. A bit expensive for what it is. But very refined and cool for Napa Chardonnay.14%
Creamy nose, light palate. Citrus fruit on the palate. Sharp acid but smoothly textured. Rather simple finish. (RH)14%
Not nearly so fat and fleshy as most Napa Chardonnay. No butteriness, and not much oak either. Quite fresh and linear, in fact. Rather straightforward flavour development. (RH)
Made by ex Greek philosophy professor Abe Schoener who cut his teeth at Kongsgaard.
Pale tawny. Very astringent. Mind and palate adjustment needed, a bit hard but tannin takes over from acid.
Creamy, sweet fruit. Fresh, light and easygoing. Emphasises the zesty side of Chardonnay on the finish. (RH)13.9%
A bit watery but not too sweet. Though caramel overlays actually...
Deep gold. Tense and with lots of acidity though much more phenolic than most German Rieslings. A curiosity. Tart.
Organically grown, close planted vines, mainly the See clone. Unoaked. This seems a little fresher and slimmer than some previous vintages – or is it just the unoaked nature of it that is appealing to me? Juicy and a little bit sweet on the palate. It doesn't seem that intense and the finish is a bit dull. A simple wine.14.5%
Sweet start and then round and floral. Easy and not overdone though not too rich. Refreshing. But just a little simple.
A butterball style – unreconstructed Californian Chardonnay. A little dilute in terms of balance, but the tropical fruit is ripe enough. (RH)13.5%
Regular, sweet and dull.
TA 5.5 g/l, RS 3.5 g/l, pH 3.65. Fruit from Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Whole-cluster pressed. 30% fermented in used barrels and partial malo. Weekly lees stirring.
Not particularly aromatic. Slightly oily citrus and doesn't taste bone dry. It does have freshness but overall I find it a little heavy. There's a butteriness on the finish that conspires with the sweetness to put me off. (JH)
Rich, creamy, leesy nose. Loads of pith and bite. Slightly sour finish, but really appetising all the same. (RH)13.3%
Screwcap. An old favourite. 'Baby sister to Sigrid Chardonnay.' Quite a bit of evolution on the nose. Very succulent and precise. Interesting contrast with the Coldstream Hills Chardonnays I tasted the day before – it's actually a bit more crystalline – delightfully pure and indeed quite reminiscent of wet stones (not sure of their age). Also the very merest hint of passion fruit but nothing too obvious. Neat finish. This seems a very fair price for the quality. It would be difficult to find this value from Burgundy.13.8%
Lovely crisp profile. Luminscent. Light leesy character. Pure citrus. (RH)12.7%
Developed, creamy and fleshy. Some mushroom character. Great length and density, and not at all decrepit. (RH)
Rich citrus fruit, a good dash of mineral character (the old stones, no doubt). Round and full, and no perceptible oak influence. (RH)13.4%
A little bit of furry phenolic bite. Fresh, clean, direct. No oak influence and the fruit really carries it. Just a bit short. (RH)13.5%
Leesy, bright, clean and spritzy. Good purity. (RH)14%
Rather restrained and very compact. Conforms to a certain neutral Chardonnay type. (RH)
A little sweet on the nose – just a bit simple. And a tad astringent. Don't serve this too cool.12%
Juicy, sweet fruit. Savoury, milk chocolate, herbs, long and powerful. Really moreish and effortless, this – has that magical Pinot scent. Transcendant. (RH)14.5%
Mid crimson. Mildly earthy nose with lift. Real precision. Racy. But not excessive acidity. Very juicy and complete. Serious stuff. The work of a master?13.6%
Prominent oak on the nose, although the fruit is really pure and intense too. A big Pinot, but with real quality, density and potential. (RH)14.1%
Made by Pax Mahle of the Pax label with which he is no longer associated. Very much part of the New California crew, as you can see from the alcoholic strength. Concrete eggs a feature. Mmm. I thought it might be a bit too extreme for me but instead, it's probably the most flavourful red under 12% alcohol I have ever come across. All black pepper and smoked bacon on the nose, it recalls the purity of Côte Rôtie but with even more purity. How has this remained unsold, I wonder? Really sinewy finish. Like a great male ballet dancer (and if that description puts off the potential buyer – tant mieux. All the more for us). Such delicacy! Maybe not for the very long run but why wait?11.4%
Bottled in April 2014. Sangiovese, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre. Usually two or three years old.
Pale ruby. Really interesting blend of chocolatey sweetness and dried herbs. So much more interesting than yet another international varietal. Lovely and not that expensive. Very full.
Interesting! Fruity but lots of iodine, marmite, umami mushroom character as well. Dry, chewy finish. Compelling. (RH)13.2%
Slightly stinky. Cherry and cranberry – lots of crunch and savoury bite. Dry, soft, moderate length. (RH)14.2%
A very precise front label tells us that this, presumably field, blend is 82% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah and 9% Carignane. Exceptional freshness on this nose. Real energy! So unlike the typical Zin. Mid to pale crimson. Juicy but serious. There's slightly baked tarry element but no heaviness whatsoever. Excellent length and completeness. Some sweetness but only in the way that fully ripe fruit is sweet; no berry jammy character. It is definitely Zin but not a we know it. I really can't think of another Zin like this. Ridge Lytton Springs, made nearby, runs it close but this is more high toned. And bone dry. My only concern would be whether it is worth ageing this charming wine.13.5%
New outfit with the Wind Gap winemakers Pax Mahle and Scott Schultz. Vines were planted in this relatively cool location (home to Roederer Estate and Navarro) in 1991. Quite deep crimson. But really very burgundian in build and energy. Light and lively. Silky tannins. Very savoury and fine. Exciting! Lovely succulence and refinement on this wine. Spreads with some cranberry fruit all across the palate with real polish. Not cheap but not overpriced. Real persistence but not alcoholic power. Bravo!12.7%
Super ripe fruit, soft tannins, smooth mouthfeel. Liquid chocolate. Very modern and fruity, and therefore perhaps lacking a certain savoury interest for traditionalists. (RH)14.5%
From a steep reclaimed hillside on Spring Mountain with volcanic underpinning. Estate bottled. Healthy and herbal. Very delicate and lively. Lots of freshness. Still quite youthful. Tense and light as a feather. Very unlike the Napa norm. It was even better after 24 hours – a good sign!14.1%
Vines at 900 m close to Annapolis – surrounded by trees. Punchdowns. Spontaneous malo in French barrels (50% new). 10 months in oak. pH 3.57, TA 5.8 g/l.
Mid cherry red. Subtle, fragrant red fruit with a lovely fresh herbal note. A firm grip on the palate but the fruit is clearly cool climate and has an attractive brightness. The oak is present but not too dominant. (JH)
Crisp and seemingly lighter than their regular RRV Pinot Noir. Bitter cherry. Light, crisp finish. (RH)14.1%
Red fruit, soft palate, bright acid. Very satisfying fruit, with good persistence, but not a huge amount of complexity. (RH)14%
50% new, 50% second year French barriques. Mid crimson. 60% Swan clone, the rest mainly Pommard.
There is real grunt to this wine – more so that to the Sonoma Coast 2010 bottling. It's not refined but it is chock fully of mushroomy character and I can see the relation to the Joseph Swan Pinots. Something earthy and sensual. Bravo! Opulent and quintessentially Sonoma.
Dense and correct. Lots of appeal and a bit richer than some. Savoury edge. Long.13.5%
This is part of their experiment to compare Syrah and Mondeuse. Much lighter and fresher than the Syrah 2010. Terrible rainy year but the results are rather pleasing.
Unnecessarily heavy bottle. Includes some Cabernet Franc. 700 feet in poor soil of reddish-brown clay over white volcanic tufa (volcanic ash). Cold soak, fermented in steel, malo in barrel, new French oak, 19 months in barrel.
Dark crimson. Smells wonderfully fresh with cassis and herbal notes plus a slight note of mint, and an attractive earthiness. Avoids any excess sweetness on the nose though the oak certainly imparts sweet spice and vanilla/chocolate character on the palate. Tannins are remarkably rounded and gentle yet still with something to get your teeth into and this seems just ready for drinking now, but with no rush. Sweet and broad on the finish. (JH)
Lots of perfume – lots of oak too. Very spiced. Light and lean on the palate, and perhaps just a bit tame in the end. (RH)13.4%
Two concrete eggs and 420 cases, says the label. (No oak then.) From 85 year-old vines. Great sweetness but a little austere on the finish. Very unusual! Some spice and jujube quality but none of the sensual richness and concentration of most Grenache. I'm a little puzzled by this – it doesn't conform to any Grenache known to me. It's quite refreshing but arguably a bit too muscular and austere on the end.
RS 1.8 g/l, pH 3.71, TA 5 g/l.Fruit from Olson Ranch in Santa Lucia Highlands and Paragon in Edna Valley. De-stemmed but not crushed.
Mid cherry red. Cherry and raspberry fruit and a hint of iron. Really juicy and fruity on the palate but not excessively sweet in terms of fruit flavour.holehearted rather than complex. Tannins are discreet but present and there's a touch of liquorice on the finish. Moreish and fresh. Fruit to the fore. (JH)
Dusty with a hint of green pepper. Tough, ambitious.
Fresh crunchy red fruit. Light but not thin. Tender, just slightly bitter (over extraction?) on the finish. (RH)13.9%
Organic. Very pale ruby. Medicinal note. Lively and bright without too much sweetness. Very respectable in the new mould.13.5%
Very pure and charming. There does seem to be just a suggestion of German spiciness on this. Assertive! And a tad sweet. Not quite as good as the Chardonnay but not over the top.14%
It may not be the smartest package in the world (it's a little dull looking) but what great value! Some evolution and wonderful cleanliness and purity. I'm amazed by the price. VGV13%
Just six miles from the Pacific and planted with a mix of Pommard and 115 clones. 25% new French oak barriques. Bottled in August 2011. (Quite a time ago.)
Pale ruby. Sweet and herbal nose. Sweet spicy palate. Some fresh acidity on the end but the oak seems a little heavy handed. Could do with a little more energy. Just a tad rough edged.
Unnecessarily heavy bottle. From vineyards in Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain and Rutherford. 81% Merlot, plus Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. pH 3.55. Aged 14 months in French and US oak, 15% new.
Deep cherry red. Rich dark fruit with savoury black olive note, dark chocolate as well as plenty of spice and a slight dustiness. Rich and nicely chewy on the palate and just a bit hard on the finish but the Cabernet Franc gives freshness to lift the whole. (JH)
Very fine and tarry and salty and pure. Uncompromising. None of the sweetness found in many bottlings. A bit austere. Not enough rain?
Incredibly smart-looking for the $$$. Sweet and with some structure. Much better than I expected. Really pretty GV.
16 months in small French oak, 18% new. Sandy loam soils, mix of old and younger vines. pH 3.46. Screwcap.
Mid ruby. Slightly earthy red fruit, and not too sweet smelling. Initially a slight beetroot note though that seems to disappear. Oak is evident in a sweetness that coats the mouth initially but is a little hard/bitter on the finish. There's plenty of fruit in the middle and just a touch of heat on the finish. Persists well so it is a shame about that bitterness at the very end. (JH)
Light, pale and fresh. So much better than the regular bottling.
This is the second varietal Tribidrag (the original Croatian name for the grape also known as Zinfandel and Primitivo in our tasting notes database). Carole Meredith, co-owner of this estimable small wine estate, played an important part in initiating the 'Zinquest', the search for the variety's roots. In its youth it tastes a bit sweet with dried fruit character. It's varietally correct but not fluid. In fact for the moment it's distinctly tarry and hard work.
Light and fresh and definitely a tad tart.
78% San Luis Obispo, the rest Monterey. Not much nose. Very medicinal notes and then sweet. A bit jagged.
Mid pale ruby. Some rather attractive earthiness on the nose. Then very sweet on the palate – just too sweet for a wine lover’s palate, I fear. Shame! Because everything else is in place.
A bit green and underripe and demanding.12.5%
An experimental bottling from 60-70 year-old vines of this variety for long called Napa Gamay in northern California. A little 'natural' on the nose. Pretty tart and unyielding. Not enough fruit and mid palate interest for me. I think this is one of those wines that trend-conscious somms might like on their lists for variety but I couldn't imagine falling on it myself. Hard finish hints at mousiness. Awfully tart!12%
Too sweet and syrupy. Sickly.
A bit muddy on the nose. Ordinary.
Has all the flesh and red fruit that's missing from their 3 vineyard cuvée! Indulgent stem character. So luscious! Peppery, leafy, ripe, complete – gorgeous. (RH)13.1%
Single vineyard on volcanic soil. Gorgeous cherry, clove, allspice and cinnamon. Lovely bite. Dry but supple. Loads of pure fruit, but not hugely dense – lovely delicacy, in fact. (RH)
Really bright fruit, so delicate yet so broad in flavour. Tight but satisfying. (RH)12%
Cranberry, black cherry, really light tannins. Good floral perfume. Crunchy, bright finish with a lovely clove note. (RH)
A Rollin Soles production with Dijon clones.
Rather ordinary label mit screwcap. Very frank and well judged. Super-palatable and with great balance and nerve. Not cheap though...
Forest floor note on the nose, light tannins, wood spice. Crisp finish, smooth and lengthy. Still very youthful – could go another ten years easily. (RH)
Way more engaging than their Chardonnay – aniseed, chocolate, red fruit and loads of floral violet character. Super! (RH)
Mushy blackcurrant flavour, rich oak scent, but the fruit is a tad bitter and the whole seems less immediately luscious than their cheaper cuvée. (RH)
Mid cherry red. Inviting spicy fragrance. Cedary freshness. Very peppery on the palate and nicely dry on the finish. Good length. (JH)12.6%
A blend from their five vineyards as opposed to their single vineyard bottlings. Bright ruby. Relatively rich and concentrated nose with red fruit flavours in abundance and a good balance of freshness on the palate. Not scrawny but very lively. Pretty impressive even if the lack of density suggests it may not have a particularly long life. Lovely harmony. Savoury finish. Very juicy and appetising with the merest hint of something medicinal. Dry finish. Lots of energy.13.5%
Firm crimson. Proper well-balanced correctly fruited Pinot. Lots of charm.14%
Crisp, zippy, good cherry fruit. very little oak on display. Really pure and ethereal. (RH)13%
Quite striking stemmy nose. Stylised but lovely – fresh and leafy. Might be a bit pinched for some, and the finish is shortish, but the flavours are great. (RH)13.5%
Juicy friendly blend without any excesses. I would fall on this in Seattle but maybe it seems less good value in the UK.13.5%
Cusp of ripeness – and a little bit spritzy on the tongue. Herbal, sour notes. Just a little bit hard overall? (RH)12.7%
Much better cherry scent than their basic Pinot, although there is a baked scent creeping in, which compromises the purity a bit. (RH)14%
Ruby – looks as though it has aged a bit. Mild, mellow nose and just a little dry on the finish as though the grapes had shrivelled a bit. Not the purest expression.14%
Oregon appellation bought-in fruit from Rogue inter alia. Crimson and fresh. Very bright fruit – more a sweetish fragrant red wine than Pinot necessarily but not exorbitant.14%
Blackcurrant, loads of sappy oak. Bitter finish. A pastiche of Pinot. (RH)14%
Very pale ruby. A little stewed on the nose. And then rather tart. Not much fun here, I’m afraid. Blended to a price?