California does Rhône: 20 top wines tasted

The Californian climate (and I realize this is a generalization) seems well suited to grape varieties from the Rhône, and the south of France more generally. Here I tasted through 20 examples, and came away mostly impressed. There were an interesting range of styles represented here, too. Prices in brackets are UK retail.

Qupe Central Coast Syrah 2018 Central Coast, California
(£22.99) 13.5% alcohol. The Syrah for this wine is sourced from various vineyards on the Central Coast starting as far south as the Santa Ynez Valley up to the Adelaida District in northern Paso Robles. 10% whole clusters in open-top fermenters before destemming the rest. The wine was aged for 16 months in François Frères Burgundy barrels, 15% new. Fresh, pure and vivid with some peppery notes under really nice intense, well balanced black cherry fruit. Real purity here as well as some grippy structure. 94/100

Hope Family Wines Troublemaker Blend 14 NV Central Coast, California
(£23.00) 14.5% alcohol. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Syrah and Zinfandel. Very sweet and rich with ripe tar, some cloves and lush berry fruit. It’s quite sweet and tastes a bit confected. 83/100

Kunin Wines Syrah 2018 Santa Barbara County, California
(£29.00) Fresh and supple. Quite lush with sweet cherry and berry fruits. Generous and open with nice ripe fruit. 91/100

Dunites Syrah Sans Soufre 2019 San Luis Obispo, California
(£31.00) This is the second vintage Dunites have made a Syrah sans soufre, a wine inspired by some of their favourite producers in Cornas. Partial whole cluster fermentation by native yeasts, neutral French oak elevage, bottling without fining or filtration, and no added sulfites. Vivid, peppery black fruits nose leads to a juicy palate with high acidity and some crunch. Lovely black fruits with a savoury finish. 92/100

The Joy Fantastic Syrah 2017 Sta. Rita Hills, California
(£35.50) 13% alcohol. Own-rooted planting consisting of a clonal field blend (5 different clones mixed throughout the 1 acre). Aged for 11 months in 2-3-year-old French oak. Lovely expressive peppery and herb-laced cherry fruit. Very fine and well balanced. This is ripe but has a nice savoury edge, in a classical style. 94/100

Jolie Laide Wines North Coast Syrah 2019 California
(£40.00) Focused, bright and floral with good acidity. Peppery and vivid with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit. Fine and focused, showing good concentration and balance. 95/100

Dutton-Goldfield Winery Cherry Ridge Syrah 2014 California
(£43.25) 13.5% alcohol. Concentrated and ripe, showing power and concentration. Open black cherry and blackberry fruit. This has generosity, good balance and shows a touch of oak. 93/100

Piedrasassi Bien Nacido Syrah 2018 Santa Maria Valley, California
(£47.00) Fresh, vivid and intense with lovely black cherry fruit, some pepper notes, and real focus and blance. Very fine and open with some meaty hints and a touch of lift. 95/100

Donelan Family Wines Syrah 2012 Sonoma, California
(£196) 14.2% alcohol. Generous, with a lovely rich midpalate. Sweet black cherries and blackberries with some ripeness, but also good balance. There’s some lushness here. 94/100

Hahn Family Wines GSM 2019 Central Coast, California
(£22.00) Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, 14.5% alcohol. Ripe and sweetly fruited with lush cherry fruit. Has a touch of spice, showing lovely black cherries and herbs. Sweet fruit here. 90/100

Birichino Scylla 2019 Central Coast, California
(£26.50) Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, 13% alcohol. Wild ferment, aged in old oak, no fining or filtration. Supple, fresh and balanced, this is a lighter-style red with good acid and supple red cherry and plum fruit. Has real finesse. 93/100

Newfound Wines Gravels Red 2019 Menocino, California
(£34.95) Grenache, Carignan, 14% alcohol. Juicy, bright and balanced with ripe, fresh red cherry and plum fruit backed by good acidity. Such lovely finesse and poise here. Lovely wine. 94/100

E & J Gallo Winery Orin Swift Abstract 2019 California
(£40.00) 16% alcohol. Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah. Ripe, lush and sweetly fruited. This is textured, broad and very smooth, with nice depth and concentration, showing broad, luxurious fruit. Big but well done. 93/100

Big Basin Vineyards Gabilan Mountains GSM 2016 Monterey County, California
(£52.71) 14.5% alcohol. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre. The fruit is sourced from three vineyards in between 1600-2300 feet elevation, on mostly decomposed granite, limestone, calcareous soils. Fermented wild as whole clusters in small 1.5 tonne fermenters and transferred to used oak. Ripe, sweet but balanced with fresh, liqueur-like black fruits. Shows nice freshness. 94/100

Gallica Rossi Ranch Grenache 2017 Sonoma, California
(£58.99) Fine clay loam soils, open top fermenters with some whole bunch. Fresh, supple and expressive with fine red cherry and redcurrant fruit. Silky and refined with lovely pure fruit. So expressive and balanced, and quite ethereal. 95/100

Cline Family Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvèdre 2019 Contra Costa County, California
(£19.49) 14.5% alcohol. From 100 year old Mourvèdre vines. Intense and spicy with notes of vanilla, clove and cinnamon as well as vivid juicy berry fruits. Lots of intensity to this boldly flavoured wine. 89/100

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Tablas 2017 Paso Robles, California
(£56.99) 14.5% alcohol. Mourvèdre. Ripe but refined with sweet cherry and plum fruit, as well as some spiciness. Lovely balance here: finishes sweetly. 93/100

Newfound Wines Carignane Colombini Vineyard 2018 Redwood Valley, California
(£34.95) 14% alcohol. Planted by Charlie Barra in 1942. 32 days on the skins and matured in a mix of Austrian and French demimuids and one clay amphora. Sweet, ripe and appealing with a good concentration of cherry and plum fruit, with some spicy depth. Has some liquorice notes. 92/100

Broc Cellars Old Vine Carignan 2018 Alexander Valley, California
(£35.00) Lively and spicy with high acidity. Juicy fruit. Alas shows some mousiness, so not rated.

Clos Saron Kind of Blue 2016 California
(£37.00) Carignan, Syrah, Grenache. 13.2% alcohol. Foot stomped and whole cluster fermented with 30 ppm of sulfites added. Vivid and lively, this is a spicy wine with some savoury animal notes. Intense and vivid with a wildness to it. It tastes quite bretty. 90/100

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