California continues to dominate the U.S. market with stellar Cabernet Sauvignon, but its diverse terroir and ideal climate are perfect for outstanding wines made from other grapes like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, and even lesser-known varieties like Valdiguié. These delicious options will give a taste of all California’s topography has to offer.
Lail 2017 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $80, 97 points. Made by Philippe Melka and his team, this is a grippy, earthy wine, vibrant in blue fruit, plum and sage. Round, lush and opulent on the palate, it glides seamlessly across supple, integrated tannin and oak, effortlessly incorporating 11% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot. The vineyard sources range from the producer’s Mole Hill Estate on Howell Mountain to the cooler reaches of Coombsville. —Virginie Boone
Williams Selyem 2018 Terra De Promissio Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $65, 97 points. The Petaluma Gap site shows its innate earthiness in droves here, opening in a rose petal aroma before evolving slowly to reveal dense, delicate layers of black tea, orange peel and allspice. The savory tones lead to a midpalate that bursts of rich berries, with soft, supple tannins framing it all. —V.B.
Brady Vineyard 2018 Zinfandel (Paso Robles); $24, 96 points. Dense aromas of black currant, red flowers and charred meat are wrapped in a rocky edge on the nose of this bottling. There is great cohesion to the palate, where rich red fruits are cut by crushed stone flavors, lifted by savory spice and framed by ample acidity and tannins. —Matt Kettmann
Austin Hope 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles); $56, 95 points. Quite dark in the glass, this reliable crowd-pleaser begins with hearty aromas of black currant, black plum, lush oak and caramel, accented by a hint of olive and loads of clove and nutmeg. The mouthfeel is hearty and rich, with just enough tannic weight to balance the creamy black-cherry, caramel and chocolate-ice-cream flavors, which lead to an oaky finish. —M.K.
Lohr 2016 Cuvée Pau (Paso Robles); $60, 95 points. This is a dense and detailed wine, starting with rich, inviting aromas of dark berries, cherries, cocoa, vanilla and mocha on the nose. Those lavish tones carry to the palate, which is framed by chiseled tannins. But the most intriguing aspects are the wild array of oregano and dried herbs that decorate the blackberry-jam and cherry-juice core. —M.K.
Birichino 2018 Besson Vineyard Old Vines Grenache (Central Coast); $25, 94 points. From vines planted in 1910, this wine impresses on multiple levels. Aromas of dark berry, strawberry, dried thyme and turned soil are both rustic and refined. The palate is framed by fresh acidity and a delightful rocky minerality, which give depth to the cranberry, raspberry and herbal flavors. —M.K.
San Simeon 2019 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir (Monterey); $25, 94 points. Fresh out of the gates, this bottling is singing in opulent aromas of Bing cherry pie, clove, mace and rosewater. There is a wealth of baking spice on the palate, from nutmeg to star anise, while the silky, smooth mouthfeel presents flavors of cherry and mulberry. —M.K.
Vina Robles 2018 The Arborist Estate (Paso Robles); $18, 94 points. This is a screamingly good deal, offering both hedonistic pleasure and complexity through a blend of 41% Syrah, 35% Petite Sirah, 12% Grenache and 12% Tannat. Aromas of roasted cherry, smoked meat and cola spice lead into a hearty palate of black currant, roasted game and licorice. It’s balanced by bright acidity, making for a sip that will satisfy many. —M.K.
Wilson Foreigner 2018 Rancho Chimiles Valdiguié (Napa Valley); $34, 93 points. This is a beautifully complex, beguiling and lifted red wine, tasting of plum and dark cherry dappled in white pepper and dried herb. Fermented in concrete tank and aged in neutral oak, the grapes are grown on the ranch owned and farmed by the Wilson family in the far reaches of the eastern Napa Valley. —V.B.
Matchbook 2017 The Arsonist (California); $22, 92 points. This wine is superconcentrated and complex in its array of red and black fruit flavors, with subtle oak spices and a rich texture. A blend of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, it has a mouthcoating effect and a lingering gorgeous finish. —Jim Gordon
Michael David 2017 Inkblot Petit Verdot (Lodi); $35, 92 points. This big but seductive wine is immensely flavorful and tannic but also polished in feel. It’s brimming with ripe, lush blackberry and blueberry flavors that are deftly accented by vanilla, chocolate and nutmeg. Best through 2026. —J.G.
Bonterra 2018 Made with Organic Grapes Merlot (California); $16, 91 points. The black-fruit flavors in this full-bodied and moderately tannic wine go deep and broad, filling the palate with rich blackberries and cherries. Hints of cocoa and dark chocolate add interest and complexity, too. —J.G.
Published: December 21, 2020