It is time for another edition of “Random Samples”–I occasionally get samples from marketing agencies and/or producers, and these can often be grouped together into some sort of over-arching theme: Drink Them and It Will Come, Summer is Here, So That Means (More) Rosé, If It Doesn’t Sparkle, It Doesn’t Matter.
Other times, I get just a bottle or two that do not have any apparent connection or link. Instead of holding on to those bottles until the “right” combination comes along, I decided to link all these “random” bottles together, making their own category (and, being the math geek that I am, “random sample” has a bit of a double entendre…
2016 Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay Edna Valley, Central Coast, CA: Retail $25. From the famed Paragon vineyard in the Edna Valley, this wine comes from the Firepeak blocks, named after the area’s extinct volcanoes.. Lovely nose of citrus, lemon curd, and oak. The palate is fruity, with certainly some oak, but neither is overpowering. I have to say that it is rather surprising, but this is particularly scrumptious. Great Flavors, weight, and even considerable verve. Wow. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant 30th Anniversary, Central Coast: Retail $45. 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre, 4% Cinsault. Screw-top. The best known and most highly acclaimed wine in the Bonny Doon line-up, Le Cigare Volant rarely ceases to ensnare me. The aromas of subtle red and black fruit accompanied by a savory, meaty, almost gamey element are seasoned by black pepper and a slight hint of anise. Initially fruity on the palate, it quickly settles down and showcases its wonderful balance, that initial fruit buoyed by tartness and integrated tannins. As I approach the seventh anniversary of this blog, there are just a few wines that will cause me to gasp when I open a box of samples. This is one of them. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2015 Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley: Retail $22. Citrus and pineapple with noticeable oak on the nose lead to a rich, luscious, fruity wine again with oak, but in no way does it overpower the wine. While those that dislike even the slightest hint of oak on their Chardonnay will certainly shy away from this wine, it is a solid effort and certainly a bargain at this price. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2016 Faust Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Retail $110 (1.5 liter). 100% French Oak (40% New) 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Traditionally, I guess, we usually have champagne and Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving, but this imposing bottle landed on my doorstep the day before the big feast and we had to pull the cork (don’t worry, we also had some bubbles). More than a competent step-in. Dark and brooding in the glass with oodles of black fruit (plum, blackberry), with touches of anise, chocolate, and Christmas spice. The palate is bold, but no where close to over-bearing, with plenty of fruit (the plum is impressive), earth, spice, and subtle (but firm) tannins. This is wonderful now, but will likely improve in the short-term. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2015 Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard, Lodi, California: Retail $36. 100% Zinfandel. From the Lizzy James Vineyard, planted in 1904 in sandy soils, just a mile or so from the winery. B.A.B. Lodi will always have a soft spot for me—my first press trip was to Lodi—and if you know anything about the appellation, it is known for its Zinfandel (although as I have stressed repeatedly, Lodi is one of the most diverse wine regions in the country with over 100 varieties planted). This is certainly on the bigger end of Zin—inky dark with rich, dark fruit, plenty of spice, and a bit of heat (15.7% alcohol by volume—wow). The palate confirms what the nose suggests: this is a big boy. A really big boy. Big fruit, a slathering of vanilla, and plenty of spice. The heat is not as evident on the palate, but there is plenty of weight and viscosity. While “big” Zins are not my jawn (Philly term), those who seek out the “Zin-Gers” are really going to dig this one. Well-made for the style. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2016 Left Coast Cellars Pinot Noir Cali’s Cuvée Willamette Valley, Oregon: Retail $24. Under screw. I have been receiving Left Coast samples for some time now and there is little doubt in my mind that there are few better values out there. The Willamette is rife with outstanding wines, but most of them carry a rather high tariff. Justified? Perhaps. But when I pop yet another bottle from this house, I am forced to recenter my assessment. I have long held that stellar Pinot only exists north of the $30 plateau, but Left Coast once again challenges that position. Sure, this is perhaps a bit short of a “bargain” but it is solid from the twist of the cap to the draining of the last drop. A bit darker than I would have anticipated both in color and on the nose with blackberry, black pepper, and black magic, this wine is delightful: good fruit, depth, earth. Yes. it is falls short of my preconceived not of what a “great” Pinot should cost, but wow, it might be time to re-evaluate. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2017 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, OR: Retail $22. Under screw cap. When the fine people of Left Coast Cellars replanted a former hazelnut orchard, they inoculated the root system of the vineyard with truffle spores. While that effort has not necessarily resulted in an insane amount of truffles (or even a “slightly crazy” level of the tasty fungi) the vines have fared well. This Chardonnay has a lively nose of citrus and a touch of vanilla. The palate is a true representation of the variety, with clean fruit, tart acidity and only the slightest hint of oak. A solid effort. Very Good. 87-89 Points.