Ratings: The Best Coastal California Wines to Drink Right Now | Wine Enthusiast
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The Best Coastal California Wines to Drink Right Now

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If you are driving from Los Angeles to Mendocino County, you have a couple of choices: You can hit Interstate 5 and spend about six hours traveling through the interior of the state at 90 miles an hour, looking mostly at drab beige hillsides and cracked four-lane blacktop. Or you can opt to take your time, meandering through seaside towns and spending about 10 hours driving on the nearly 700 miles of Pacific Coast Highway—California’s Highway 1.

We suggest you opt for the latter. Cruise through the Central Coast, Sonoma and Mendocino with these top-rated bottles to sip along the way.

Central Coast

Highway 1’s route through Santa Barbara cuts right through the Funk Zone, a waterfront warehouse neighborhood that’s become a wine lover’s paradise with nearly two dozen tasting rooms. It heads northwest through the suburban stretches of Goleta before veering up, skirting the western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation and landing directly in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, another urban collection of wineries and tasting rooms. Follow it farther to reach the Santa Maria Valley and then the maritime magic of the San Luis Obispo Coast, one of California’s newest appellations. Along the way, pit stop and bottle shop. —Matt Kettmann, Writer-at-Large, California Wine Reviewer

Domaine de la Cote 2021 DDLC Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

Crumpled bay leaf and dewy peppercorns spice up the dark-plum aromas on the herbal nose of this bottling. The palate is firm and intense, delivering dark fruit and roasted cherry tomato flavors alongside peppery spices and an array of fog-soaked chaparral shrubs. —Matt Kettmann

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Jaffurs 2021 State Street Syrah (Central Coast)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

This new, value-priced label from longtime Syrah master Jaffurs is a stunner, with loads of energy alongside ample complexity. Smashed plum, lilac, roasted meat and pepper aromas make for an elegant nose. Young tannins grip the sip, framing penetrating flavors of purple fruit and peppery spice, with zippy acidity from front to finish. Editor’s Choice —M.K.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Samsara 2021 Watch Hill Vineyard Clairette (Santa Barbara County)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

A sharp, stony streak zips through the nose of this bottling like chiseled granite, and then the wine opens toward melon rind and citrus-peel aromas. The palate is firm in texture and awash in persistent acidity, as flavors of white melon, Asian pear and honeysuckle align. —M.K.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Fess Parker 2021 Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Always a solid representation of the Sta. Rita Hills for a fair price, this bottling begins with fresh pomegranate, dark sage and wet slate on the refreshing nose. There’s a taut structure to the palate, framing red plum, rose potpourri and cranberry flavors. Editor’s Choice —M.K.

$28.99 Wine.com


The adrenaline-pumping drive north from Bodega Bay to Fort Ross on Highway 1 is a roller coaster of hills and hairpin turns overlooking the rocky coast. Turn off to the left and you will find dozens of windy, isolated beaches to explore. Turn east on any county road and you climb quickly into the mountains where some of Sonoma County’s most climatically extreme Pinot Noirs are grown, including these three elegant beauties. —Jim Gordon, Senior Tasting Editor

Hartford Court 2019 Land’s Edge Vineyards Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

Thick, tannic and herbal, this is an earthy and ethereal wine from the coast, aromatic in rose petal and forest floor. A notable backbone of acidity keeps it fresh and energetic in the glass amid a savory landscape of salty, silky structure. —Virginie Boone

$39.99 Total Wine & More

Boheme 2019 English Hill Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

A 25% whole-cluster-fermented wine from a cool, coastal site at moderate elevation, this is gorgeously floral and aromatic in rose, violet and forest. With crisp acidity at its core, the flavors delve into pomegranate, cranberry and cassis, with lingers of dried herb and tea. —V.B.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Three Sticks 2020 Walala Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

This silky-textured, layered wine offers bright red cherries, plump raspberries and subtle oak spices on a supple frame of light tannins and medium-full body. —Jim Gordon

$49.99 Basser's Fine Wine


If you’re like me, taking a road trip always involves a tangent—in this case, into Anderson Valley. Driving through the AVA—a twisty, turny, hilly operation— there are loads of stops for Pinot Noir. The grape thrives well here, given its proximity to the Pacific and the chilly oceanic winds that swish through the region.

Two must-stops are the tiny towns of Boonville and Philo, which are knitted together by scenic rows of vines and are where a cluster of wineries are located—as well as one of the best hotel accommodations (and restos) in the area—The Boonville Hotel and Restaurant.

If you’re here for your fix of Pinots, a popular place is Goldeneye. But don’t miss out on the smaller independent producers: A visit to husbandwife winemaking duo Kristy Charles and Joseph Webb of Foursight Wines is always on my to-do list. Reservations highly recommended to sample the great work of Thomas T Thomas, Phillips Hill and Pennyroyal Farm. But the climate and terroir are suited to much more than just Pinot: Cool climate, peppery Syrah; Gewürztraminer that can maintain its acidity while developing those elegant fruit and floral notes; and Pinot Gris that pays respectable homage to Alsatian nobility. All of these—in addition to Pinot Noir—can be found at Handley Cellars. And if you find yourself in need of provisions—or, as I did, a bulky sweatshirt to ward against the brisk morning temps—stop by Lemons Philo Market. —Stacy Briscoe, Senior Editor, Print

Goldeneye 2019 Split Rail Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

A light and lively Pinot Noir with notes of crushed roses and violets, red cherry, red plum, fennel fronds and forest floor. The gently chalky tannins make the wine texturally approachable, while the elevated acidity brings the fruit components to life and allows them to linger on the finish. —Stacy Briscoe

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Foursight 2020 Paraboll Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Wow does this Pinot Noir offer a plethora of aromas and flavors: cranberry, wild strawberry, pomegranate, rhubarb, forest floor and trees, river rock minerality, a potpourri of rose petals, hints of black and white pepper spice, cumin, basil and gently toasted wood. Tannins are super smooth, the mouthfeel generous—almost voluptuous. The finish is a fine balance of all that earth, spice, floral and fruit. —S.B.

$63.00 Foursight Wines

Pennyroyal Farm 2019 Monty In Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Decadent aromas immediately waft out of the glass: red cherry, red plum, pomegranate, chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg, toasted wood. The palate follows through with an excellent elevated acidity bringing vivacity to these same flavors; a silky texture is brought on by the fine-grained tannins. The finish is long, lingering and invites another sip. Editor’s Choice —S.B.

$59.00 Penny Royal Farm

Thomas T Thomas 2020 Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

A bit shy on the nose, this deeper expression of Pinot Noir opens up beautifully to red and black plum, red and black cherry, chocolate, forest floor and toasted wood. Firm tannins coat the palate and are well met by the concentration of fruit, as well as the balanced, elevated acidity. This is a wine of excellent quality that with age will only gain in its depth and complexity. —S.B.

$70.00 Wine.com

Handley 2021 Estate Vineyard Gewürztraminer (Anderson Valley)

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All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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