Wine Reviews: California Reds

The air in the mid-Atlantic is finally baring its cold winter teeth – which I love. It’s time to set the slow-cooker, uncork some rich California reds and raise a glass to darkness at 5:00 PM.

I review a lot of California Pinot Noirs, Cabernets and Syrahs, but we also receive a lot of samples that don’t easily fall into one category or another. Hence, this tasting, which is full of Merlot, Bordeaux-style blends and inky Petite Sirahs.

These wines were received as trade samples an tasted single-blind.

Review: 2012 Matchbook The Arsonist - California
SRP: $22
Deep ruby color. Sweet blueberry and raspberry jam aromas, along with roses, caramel. Medium-full-bodied with smooth tannins and medium acid, a jammy but slick feel on the palate, and I get lots of blueberry and black cherry fruit, cooked down a bit with coffee, brown sugar, vanilla bean and hints of black pepper glaze. A bit boisterous but it pulls off some fun stuff and provides a moderate amount of complexity. Chewy, rich, warm, with a dusty but sweet finish. Fun stuff now but it could benefit from some near-term aging. 52% Petite Verdot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot, aged 28 months in French, American and European oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Clayhouse Vineyard Petite Sirah Show Pony Red Cedar Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $40
Deep blackberry-purple color. Aromas of tangy blackberries mixed with blueberry compote and jam, notes of charcoal, dark chocolate, violets and clove. Dense at first, with low acid and grippy tannins. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is rich and extracted, yet maintains a tart aspect. Violets, graphite, clove, toasted coconuts, dark chocolate. Full and forward (14.5% alcohol), but shows an impressive depth and non-fruit complexity like graphite, pepper and rich earth. Drink now if you want a big boy, but I’d like to cellar this for two years or so. All Petite Sirah aged 20 months in French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Chronic Cellars Petite Sirah Suite Petite - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP $15
Vibrant purple color. Dense on the nose with deep blackberries and plums, mocha, cedar, smoke and black olive. Rich texture on the palate, full-bodied with gritty tannins. Compact, needs time to open up but has some dense black cherries and roasted figs. Notes of earth, charcoal, black olive and black pepper glaze as well. Rich, chewy, perhaps needs two years or so, but this is an impressive effort for $15. Includes 13% Syrah. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Juicy ruby color. Nose of sweet red and black cherries and plums, coffee, clove and vanilla. Full-bodied but soft tannins, moderate-low acid. Juicy raspberries, blueberries, gushing fruit loaded with coffee, dark chocolate, sweet oak and vanilla bean. Rich, chewy, a wine to pop now and drink with a crowd. 70% Zinfandel, 14% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah, 5% Grenache. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $17
Mediun ruby colored. Nose of wild raspberries and juicy red cherries, some cola, mint and sweet baking spices as well. Medium-bodied, moderate acid helps freshen things up despite the chewy black cherry and raspberry jam elements. The wine is packed with notes of cola, dark chocolate, cedar and clove, but some interesting pepper and spice notes as well. Warm, smooth finish. Delicious stuff, not the most complicated wine, but it’s a fun ride. 50% Tempranillo, 17% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Graciano and 4% Tannat. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2010 Cenyth Proprietary Red Wine - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $60
Dark ruby colored. A rich but bright aromatic blend of black and red currants and tart plums, sweet cedar, red roses, dusty soil, tobacco and a dash of eucalyptus. Medium bodied but not overpowering, the tannins provide plenty of solid structure but some fresh acid keeps the wine bright. The juicy plums and currant fruit show depth and nuance, and the fruit is matched with tobacco leaf, eucalyptus, toasted oak and sweet clove. Long finish with all sorts of nuanced flavors and, despite the bold presence, it maintains a lingering sense of elegance and freshness. I’d love to revisit this in three or four years, but enjoyable now, although a good decant would do it good. 54% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 14 months in 30% new French oak, 13.5% alcohol. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Biltmore Estate Merlot Vanderbilt Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $27
Medium purple color. Sweet aromas of black cherries, raspberries, red licorice and vanilla. A vibrant and juicy approach on the palate with fleshy tannins and moderate-low acid. Chewy black cherries and, the fruit is topped with notes of dark chocolate and campfire smoke. Significant wood chips and vanilla, especially on the finish, some tobacco and bell pepper notes. Perhaps some near-term aging could do good things, but it seems playful right out of the bottle. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Shafer Merlot - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $55
Light purple color. Deep, rich aromatics, needing air and swirling to coax them out, but lots of complexity in here: black cherries, blackberries, tart plums, along with a medley of earthy-savory aspects (mushroom, leather, coffee, eucalyptus), sweet vanilla and toast. Full-bodied with study tannins and medium-low acid, but the wine maintains a velvety richness. The blackberry, plum skin and blueberry fruit is full, ripe but sexy, and tossed together with plenty of tobacco, mocha, cedar, loamy soil and graphite notes. Complex, long, deserving of cellar time to unravel the complexities and let the wine smooth out, but this is a beauty. A burly wine at 15.3% alcohol, but so delicious. Includes 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 20 months in 75% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Bootleg Red - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $39
Vibrant purple color. Dark and saucy on the nose (blackberry jam, roasted figs, blueberry syrup), some sweet vanilla and roasted coffee mix with an underlying sense of fallen leaves and savory (perhaps mushroom?) notes. Full-bodied with some sandy tannins and moderate acid. Juicy blackberry, blueberry and black cherry fruit, a crunchy aspect to the fruit helps it stay fresh and vibrant. Rich earth, chestnut, violet and coffee woven in well, some birch beer and cedar on the end. Seems accessible but it could definitely improve with some time in the cellar. 37% Merlot, 28% Petite Sirah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 4% Zinfandel. Aged 23 months in French and Amercan oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Murrieta’s Well The Spur - California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
SRP: $25
Vibrant ruby color. Pretty but bold aromatic display, wild raspberries, black cherries mix with deeper currant fruit, dried violets, eucalyptus and cedar shavings. Medium-bodied, fine tannins of medium strength, medium-low acid. The blackberry and black currant fruit is intertwined with juicy and tangy wild raspberries. I like the mix of coffee, eucalyptus, cedar and wet earth. Fun, not too complicated, but definitely delicious. Could use a bit more tang for my palate, but a solid wine for early consumption. 33% Petite Sirah, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Petite Verdot, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Quivira Zinfandel Black Boar - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $45
Deep ruby colored. Smoky and baked on the nose with baked cherry pie, blackberry jam and roasted figs, some vanilla, cedar and sweet pipe tobacco. Full-bodied, velvety tannins, low acid. Blackberry jam, roasted fig paste, cherry pie flavors, lots of cedar, vanilla, mocha and scorched earth but some more tobacco and black pepper. Big and bold, can’t deny the deliciousness but not much subtlety. Aged 17 months in 30% new French oak, this includes 12% Petite Sirah and 5% Carignan. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Immersion Wines Red Blend - California, Napa Valley
SRP $17
Vibrant purple. Aromas of tart red berries, blackberries, notes of clove, tobacco, spearmint, dark chocolate shavings. Full bodied, some tartness and bite to the wine, along with blackberry, dark currant, blueberry. Smoky, charcoal and Maintains a tart edge with a finish of smoke and anise. Not too complex, but fun. (85 points IJB)

<85 points
Review: 2012 Clayhouse Vineyard Adobe Red - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $14
Juicy purple colored. Nose of sweet currant jam, raspberry pie, some cinnamon, clove and creamy oak. Light tannins, medium acid. Sweet black cherries, raspberry jam and pomegranate juice flavors, along with black cherry fountain soda, roasted chestnut and coffee. Juicy and a bit candied but tasty. Drink now. Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Malbec, 12 months in French and American oak.

Review: 2013 Nevada County Wine Guild Our Daily Red - California
SRP: $10
Medium ruby color. Sweet red apple peel, strawberry jam, a weird mix of coffee grounds, bitter green herbal notes and red licorice candy. Medium bodied, soft tannins, some moderate acid. The red berry fruit is a bit bitter and sour, mixed in with notes of coffee, oak, green pepper and earth. Unbalanced, some red berry juice flavors but, overall, just not good. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Carignan.

Review: 2013 Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Red Rocks! - California, North Coast
SRP: $15
Light ruby color. Smells like baked plums, raspberry cheesecake topping, toffee, but some roses and pepper come in and keep it from being totally sweet fruit compote. Tangy acid (surprising, in a good way), light, the wine has a fresh feel despite the candied elements, of which there are many (cherry chews, purple taffy, raisin cookie), mixed in with some slight notes of roses and chestnut. It’s fun, and I could see this getting a lot of critter label converts (and it is a step above for sure), but still tastes too concocted to me. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir.