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  • Team JR
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  • Team JR
27 Nov 2014

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.

WHITES 

CALIFORNIA

OREGON

REDS

CALIFORNIA

  • Joseph Swan, Cuvée de Trois Pinot Noir 2011 Russian River Valley

    Juicy, sweet fruit. Savoury, milk chocolate, herbs, long and powerful. Really moreish and effortless, this - has that magical Pinot scent. Transcendant. (RH)

    14.5%
    Drink 2014-2021
    18
  • Littorai, The Pivot Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma Coast

    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%
    Drink 2014-2020
    £68 RRP Liberty Wines
    18
  • Benovia Pinot Noir 2011 Russian River Valley

    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%
    Drink 2015-2022
    17.5
  • Wind Gap Syrah 2011 Sonoma Coast

    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%
    Drink 2013-2016
    £34.95 Roberson
    17.5
  • Sean Thackrey, Pleiades XXIII Old Vines NV California

    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.

    13.5%
    Drink 2014-2019
    Wine Treasury
    17.5
  • Flowers Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast

    Interesting! Fruity but lots of iodine, marmite, umami mushroom character as well. Dry, chewy finish. Compelling. (RH)

    13.2%
    Drink 2014-2022
    17.5
  • Benovia, Bella Una Pinot Noir 2010 Russian River Valley

    Slightly stinky. Cherry and cranberry - lots of crunch and savoury bite. Dry, soft, moderate length. (RH)

    14.2%
    Drink 2014-2022
    17+
  • Nalle 2012 Dry Creek Valley

    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%
    Drink 2014-2018
    £29.95-£31 Corks of Cotham
    17
  • Wilde Farm, Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Anderson Valley

    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%
    Drink 2014-2020
    £38.95 Roberson
    17
  • DuMOL Pinot Noir 2009 Russian River Valley

    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%
    Drink 2014-2019
    17
  • Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Spring Mountain District

    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%
    Drink 2016-2026
    £39.95 Roberson
    16.5+
  • Wild Ridge Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast

    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)

    14%
    Drink 2014-2018
    16.5
  • Benovia, La Pommeraie Pinot Noir 2010 Russian River Valley

    Crisp and seemingly lighter than their regular RRV Pinot Noir. Bitter cherry. Light, crisp finish. (RH)

    14.1%
    Drink 2015-2020
    16.5
  • DuMOL Pinot Noir 2008 Russian River Valley

    Red fruit, soft palate, bright acid. Very satisfying fruit, with good persistence, but not a huge amount of complexity. (RH)

    14%
    Drink 2012-2017
    16.5
  • Marimar, Cristina Pinot Noir 2009 Russian River Valley

    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.

    14.5%
    Drink 2013-2019
    $49 RRP
    16.5
  • Copain, Tous Ensemble Syrah 2012 Mendocino

    Dense and correct. Lots of appeal and a bit richer than some. Savoury edge. Long.

    13.5%
    Drink 2014-2018
    Roberson
    16.5
  • Lagier Meredith Mondeuse 2011 Mount Veeder

    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.

    Drink 2014-2018
    £33.30 The Sampler
    16.5
  • La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Howell Mountain

    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)

    14.5%
    Drink 2014-2020
    16.5
  • Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Freestone Hills Pinot Noir 2011 Sonoma Coast

    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%
    Drink 2014-2016
    16+
  • Wind Gap, Old Vine Grenache 2012 Sonoma County

    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.

    Drink 2015-2019
    £33.95 Roberson
    16+
  • Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Central Coast

    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)

    14.1%
    Drink 2014-2016
    £12.99 Majestic
    16
  • Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Coombsville

    Dusty with a hint of green pepper. Tough, ambitious.

    Drink 2015-2020
    £49.50 The Sampler
    16
  • Carneros Creek Pinot Noir 2012 Carneros

    Fresh crunchy red fruit. Light but not thin. Tender, just slightly bitter (over extraction?) on the finish. (RH)

    13.9%
    Drink 2014-2018
    16
  • DeLoach Pinot Noir 2012 Russian River Valley

    Organic. Very pale ruby. Medicinal note. Lively and bright without too much sweetness. Very respectable in the new mould.

    13.5%
    Drink 2014-2016
    £19 RRP Liberty Wines
    16
  • Schug Pinot Noir 2011 Carneros

    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%
    Drink 2014-2016
    Wine Treasury
    16
  • Pedroncelli, Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Dry Creek Valley

    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. VGV

    13%
    Drink 2014-2016
    £9.95 The Wine Society
    16
  • Marimar, Dona Margarita Vineyard, Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2010 Sonoma Coast

    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.

    14.5%
    Drink 2014-2018
    $44 RRP
    16
  • Freemark Abbey Merlot 2011 Napa Valley

    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)

    13.5%
    Drink 2014-2018
    16
  • Lagier Meredith Syrah 2010 Mount Veeder

    Very fine and tarry and salty and pure. Uncompromising. None of the sweetness found in many bottlings. A bit austere. Not enough rain?

    Drink 2014-2019
    £40.50 The Sampler
    16
  • Lyeth, L de Lyeth Merlot 2012 North Coast

    Incredibly smart-looking for the $$$. Sweet and with some structure. Much better than I expected. Really pretty GV.

    Drink 2014-2015
    £13 RRP Liberty Wines
    15.5
  • Byron Pinot Noir 2012 Santa Barbara County

    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)

    14.5%
    Drink 2014-2016
    15.5
  • Handley, RSM Pinot Noir 2010 Anderson Valley

    Light, pale and fresh. So much better than the regular bottling.

    Drink 2014-2016
    £30.50 The Sampler
    15.5
  • Lagier Meredith Tribidrag 2012 Mount Veeder

    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.

    Drink 2016-2020
    £36 The Sampler
    15.5+
  • Kathryn Kennedy, Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Santa Cruz Mountains

    Light and fresh and definitely a tad tart.

    Drink 2014-2019
    £33.30 The Sampler
    15.5
  • Pine Ridge, Forefront Pinot Noir 2011 Central Coast

    78% San Luis Obispo, the rest Monterey. Not much nose. Very medicinal notes and then sweet. A bit jagged.

    Drink 2013-2016
    £23 RRP Liberty Wines
    15
  • The Hess Collection, Select Pinot Noir 2012 Central Coast

    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.

    Drink 2014-2015
    £19 RRP Liberty Wines
    15
  • Lompoc Wine Co Pinot Noir 2012 Sta Rita Hills

    A bit green and underripe and demanding.

    12.5%
    Drink 2015-2018
    Roberson
    15
  • Broc Valdiguié 2013 Green Valley, Solano County

    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%
    Drink 2014-2017
    £21.95 Roberson
    15
  • Handley Pinot Noir 2010 Anderson Valley

    Too sweet and syrupy. Sickly.

    Drink 2012-2014
    £20.70 The Sampler
    14.5
  • The Hess Collection, Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 North Coast

    A bit muddy on the nose. Ordinary.

    Drink 2013-2015
    £18 RRP Liberty Wines
    14

OREGON