California is the largest wine-producing region in the United States. With fruity red wines, crisp whites and effervescent sparklers, it’s no wonder why 20 of the state’s wines were chosen from our 2021 Top 100 Cellar Selection list.
Here are the top 20 California wines to start aging now.
Ramey 2018 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay (Carneros); $70, 100 points. This is a stunner from blocks planted in 1997 and 1999. Beautiful aromas of toasted hazelnut and stone lead to a palate that shows undeniable minerality paired with lasting acidity. It shows freshness and energy throughout. Drink 2026–2032. Cellar Selection. —Virginie Boone
Brewer-Clifton 2019 3D Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $65, 98 points. This wine is both crowd-pleasing and elegantly complex. Focused aromas of strawberry, ripe cherry, hibiscus and spearmint make a punchy start on nose. The palate is loaded with minty herbs, bright strawberry and sizzling acidity. Drink through 2039. Cellar Selection. —Matt Kettmann
DuMOL 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $119, 98 points. A lovely, 100% varietal wine aged 20 months in French oak, this is juicy, herbal and offers a substantial foundation of power. Cedar, tobacco and tomato leaf accent a core of crushed rock, dark plum and threads of acidity—the weight and structure lifted by underlying freshness. Enjoy from 2028–2038. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
Larkmead 2018 Firebelle Red (Napa Valley); $100, 98 points. Marrying 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is focused, soft and rounded in feel, with an underlying structure that should lend well to aging. It shows integrated notes of cedar, dried herb and slate that mix with a core of blueberry and plum. Lingering accents of nutmeg and cocoa nib mark the close. Enjoy from 2028–2033. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
O’Shaughnessy 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mount Veeder); $140, 98 points. This red is youthful, wound-up and full of tension. Plush, polished tannins add to a weighty mouthfeel filled with deep flavors of cassis and blood orange, with seasonings of sage, herbes de Provence and black and white pepper. A showcase of sophisticated complexity, it will do well in the cellar. Enjoy 2028–2038. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
Terre Rouge 2017 Ascent Syrah (Sierra Foothills); $100, 98 points. This explosively flavorful, ageworthy wine combines complexity, power and finesse in a compelling way. Intricate, spicy aromas of graphite, minerals, black pepper and white pepper lead to a superbly balanced palate of just-ripe blackberry, rhubarb and woodsmoke without overdoing any one element. Great balance and layering are its hallmarks. Best from 2026–2040. Cellar Selection. —Jim Gordon
Schramsberg 2012 J. Schram Rosé Sparkling (North Coast); $160, 97 points. This wonderful wine layers together subtle red fruit, cinnamon, tamarind and savory, meaty accents for an extraordinarily complex outcome. Mouthfilling and rich in texture but also lively and bright in underlying acidity, it is beautifully balanced and will age well. Best from 2023. Cellar Selection. —J.G.
Shafer 2018 One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District); $98, 97 points. This is a muscular wine with a velvety backdrop—classic for the vintage and appellation. Silky tannins glide across a foundation of turned earth, crushed rock, clove and tobacco. The wine is hugely structured and grand. Dark plum, cherry and mocha flavors round out the profile. Enjoy from 2028–2035. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
Booker 2019 Oublie Red (Paso Robles); $75, 96 points. The nose of this blend of 34% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 27% Mourvèdre, 4% Tannat and 4% Petite Sirah is wildly complex, running from boysenberry and black plum to packed lavender, black pepper and dried beef. The floral aspects fly higher on the palate, from elderflower to violet, combining a delicate aspect with black plum intensity. It will only get better for years. Drink now through 2035. Cellar Selection. —M.K.
Drew 2019 The Fog-Eater Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $45, 96 points. Rose petal and mint accents merge with deep, concentrated black-fruit flavors in this medium- to full-bodied wine that is laced with velvety, fine-grained tannins. It combines superb balance with layers of fruit and subtle spices for a very compelling palate. Best from 2024. Cellar Selection. —J.G.
Ridge 2018 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley); $40, 96 points. Drenched with ultrarich fruit flavors, this generous, full-bodied and mouth-filling wine is an unabashed, fully ripened red that exults in Zinfandel’s jammy blackberry and blueberry extravagance. High octane but also supple in texture, this will be a great wine to linger over at the end of a special meal. Best through 2030. Cellar Selection. —J.G.
Rochioli 2019 Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $90, 96 points. This is a blend of several single-vineyard designates, predominantly Little Hill (53%) and Big Hill (15%), with additions from West Block, East Block and Sweetwater as well. Dark plum and raspberry accent a lively and expansive palate framed by rounded tannins and easy oak accents. Enjoy from 2029–2034. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
Theopolis 2018 Estate Grown Petite Sirah (Yorkville Highlands); $40, 96 points. This singular wine from Theodora Lee is one of the top expressions of this variety. Arresting aromas of menthol, lavender, black pepper and rosemary excite interest on the nose before darkly concentrated black-fruit flavors hit the palate. Firm tannins and a lip-smacking, appetizing textural bite beautifully play off the dramatic flavors. Not for the faint of heart, this medium- to full-bodied wine will be best from 2023–2030. Cellar Selection. —J.G.
Gary Farrell 2018 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $65, 95 points. Steely, spicy and youthfully grippy, this is a powerful white that’s buzzy in acidity. Tangerine, wet stone, pear and vanilla play around a supple, seamless midpalate. This will be enjoyable for years to come; enjoy from 2028–2030. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
Brand & Family 2018 Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc (Paicines); $30, 94 points. This is a sprightly, textural, mineral-driven bottling that’s immediately fascinating yet will be a joy to watch evolve. Light in the glass, it begins with aromas of cranberry, nori wrap, herb-dusted strawberry and a hint of dried blood. The palate shows a rusty edge, offering dried strawberry, crumpled oregano and a hint of green peppercorn. Drink through 2034. Cellar Selection. —M.K.
Mayacamas 2018 Merlot (Mount Veeder); $65, 94 points. With 6% Cabernet Franc, both it and the Merlot aged in neutral French oak before spending additional time in foudre and barrel, this elegant wine is grippy in its youth, with undeniable structure and elegance. Chalky tannin and earthy iron, dried herb and violet accent beautiful layers of raspberry and plum. Built to age, enjoy best from 2028–2038. Cellar Selection. —V.B.
Sandlands 2018 Mataro (San Benito County); $35, 94 points. Hailing from the historic Enz Vineyard, this bottling begins with elegant aromas of lavender, plum and dried earth. The tannic tension is immediately apparent on the palate, both leathery and taut, giving a long-living structure to the cranberry, sour cherry, crushed cement and tar flavors. Drink 2022–2038. Cellar Selection. —M.K.
Starfield 2018 Estate Grown Aglianico (El Dorado); $42, 94 points. Both powerful and silky, this extraordinary wine is supple in texture, wrapping deep and complex fruit and spice flavors in fine-grained tannins. Rich black-cherry and blueberry notes coat the palate while nuances of cocoa, cinnamon and black pepper reveal with time. Best from 2025. Cellar Selection. —J.G.
Tooth & Nail 2019 The Fiend Red (Paso Robles); $30, 94 points. Rich aromas of black cherry, cola, milk chocolate and purple flowers show on the nose of this blend of 83% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petite Sirah. The tannic tension is quite firm on the sip, where fresh boysenberry, baking spice and cracked pepper deliver a lengthy experience. Drink 2022–2039. Cellar Selection. —M.K.
Fess Parker 2019 Rodney’s Vineyard Dry Riesling (Santa Barbara County); $25, 92 points. Chiseled granite and crushed gravel aromas make for a very stony entry to the brilliant nose of this bottling, which also offers tight apple-peel scents. The palate sizzles with acidity and grips with mineral-driven tension, allowing struck stone, lemon-pith and lime-peel flavors to compete for deserved attention. Drink through 2039. Cellar Selection. —M.K.
Published: November 1, 2021