The Best California Wines to Drink Right Now | Wine Enthusiast
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The Best California Wines to Drink Right Now

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Back in July, we took a look at the best wines to have recently come out of the Golden State. At the time, Senior Tasting Editor Jim Gordon noted that, in addition to a good showing of classic Napa Cabs, the list featured a “good representation of the Central Coast—Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Cienega Valley—which surprised a lot of us.” Did the trend continue?

At that point, we’d blind tasted about 3,000 California wines—admittedly no small feat. But now, at the end of the year, that number has swelled to more than 5,100. (We’ve been busy.) The best of the bunch—not simply the highest scoring or most expensive, but those that opened our reviewers’ eyes and stimulated their imaginations—made the cut for the Enthusiast 100: The Best Wines of 2023.

Of those top wines, 11 were from California. There’s plenty of Napa and Sonoma representation here, as well as Central Coast bottlings from Sta. Rita Hills and and Mendocino. And yes, there’s Napa Cab. The big takeaway? The distribution of quality winemaking across Calfornia, which we witnessed in the first half of the year, was no fluke.

Here are the top California wines of 2023.

Duckhorn 2019 Monitor Ledge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

With a crème de cassis flavor and a velvety texture that soothes the palate, this rich and indulgent wine is easy to love. The charming black fruits, baking spices and cassis notes are well matched by rounded tannins. Best through 2033. Editor’s Choice. 96 Points   — Jim Gordon

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Brewer-Clifton 2021 Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)

Even Greg Brewer’s appellation cuvée carries his hallmark, addictive combination of sensory sensations. Light in the glass, it begins with aromas of fresh strawberry, red plum, wild thyme and chaparral spice on the nose. The palate snaps with refreshing acidity, powering through vibrant red fruit, earthy herb and peppery spice flavors. Delicious, fun, memorable. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points  — Matt Kettmann

$37 Total Wine & More

Three Sticks 2021 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)

This full-blown, toast- and butter-scented wine boasts rich fruits, a mouthfilling texture and a lingering finish. Spicy toasted-oak aromas lead to vanilla, poached pears, toasted almonds and cream flavors that swell on the palate and linger on the finish. Editor’s Choice. 97 Points   — J.G.

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Louis M. Martini 2019 Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

Deep and concentrated blueberries, dark chocolate and espresso flavors fill out this powerful but polished wine whose firm but gentle tannins will carry it to a long life. It’s the top-of-the-line Cabernet from the now Cabernet-centric 90-year-old winery. Best from 2027–2040. Editor’s Choice. 96 Points   — J.G.

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Convene By Dan Kosta 2021 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)

This wine from one of Kosta Browne’s founders shows just-ripe black cherry and blackberry flavors that are compelling and delicious. Moderate tannins and good acidity lift the fruit across the palate and through the finish. Beautiful aromas of black fruits, rose petals and violets continue to echo. Editor’s Choice. 97 Points   — J.G.

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Stolen Owl 2019 Malbec (Knights Valley)

So powerful and so gentle at the same time, this opulent wine from a standout new producer was a small, two-barrel lot. It frames indulgent black figs, blueberries, dark chocolate and tobacco flavors in posh but firm, ultra-fine tannins. Best through 2030. 96 Points   — J.G.

$55 Stolen Owl

Carol Shelton 2020 Albini Zinfandel (Russian River Valley)

With the grip of a Nebbiolo and the herbal spice of a Sangiovese, this captivating wine brings an Italian flair to California Zinfandel. Moderate tannins brace vivid raspberry, black cherry and cranberry flavors while fresh thyme and dried-grass notes add complexity. Best from 2025–2032. Editor’s Choice. 96 Points   — J.G.

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Ernest 2020 Edaphos Alder Springs Vineyard Petite Arvine (Mendocino County)

Petite Arvine, a white grape originating from the Swiss region of Valais, is a rarity in the US. What a discovery it is—richly hued with a deep golden yellow and an intensity of aromas and flavors to match: lemon, lime, ripe yellow apple and peach, dewy grass, chamomile, nasturtium leaf and nectar, and a subtle blanched almond nuttiness in the back-palate. Lovely now on its own, versatile enough to pair with a variety of dishes, but this is an example of a white wine that can also age with elegance and grace. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points  — Stacy Briscoe

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Pride Mountain 2021 Chardonnay (Napa Valley)

Subtle baking spice and oak-toast aromas lead to a silky smooth palate alive with nuances of white peaches, vanilla bean, cream and poached pears. The wine is luscious but balanced, quiet on the first sip and then growing in flavor impact with each repeated taste. Best from 2026–2036. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points   — J.G.


Melville 2021 Estate Syrah (Sta. Rita Hills)

This is cool-climate Syrah at its finest, full of energy, umami and spice. Concentrated aromas of boysenberry and white and black pepper make a juicy nose. The palate wraps generous, complex flavors of berry, rosemary and clove into a grippy package. Editor’s Choice. 94 Points  — Matt Kettmann

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Gundlach Bundschu 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec (Sonoma Valley)

Deep, concentrated and tannic, this wine is also elegant, showing finesse in the velvety tannins, plush black currants and black cherries, and layered-in oak spices of vanilla, cocoa, toast and mint. The wine is quietly powerful and should improve with some age. Best from 2025–2032. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points   — J.G.