Wine Geek best wines of 2014 (Part 1 – California)

I love Christmas; not only is it an all too rare opportunity to spend some quality time with friends and families, it is also a great excuse to open some fine bottles of wine. Christmas also represents an opportunity to slow down (except for preparing Xmas dinner and keeping any kids in the household entertained!) and reflect on the year that has just passed.

Having gone through all of my tasting notes it has become very obvious that 2014 has been a wonderful year for wine tasting and drinking, so I have decided to write a few posts that I will publish over the next week:

Best of California

Best Reds

Best Whites

Best Fizz & Sticky

2014 was all about our trip to California (with a cheeky stop in Vegas on the way!); I can’t remember another period of time where I have laughed and smiled so often. The people of Napa, Sonoma and San Francisco were the most inviting, friendly and downright funky people I have come across on my travels, and it is no wonder that the wines of the USA need a section of their own in my highlights of 2014!

The wines of California had a huge impact on me in 2014. I have enjoyed lots of west coast wines in previous years, but I encountered so many great wines on our trip this summer that I have given them a section of their own.

I loved the Chardonnays and they dominate my white wine selection, starting with a truly majestic slurp from Kistler:


Kistler Stone Flat Vineyard 2011, Sonoma Coast (Hedonism £124.20)

I could have gone for any one of the four Chards I tasted at Kistler’s Trenton Road House, however this one really took my breath away. The nose gives up little of what is to come, with some apples, peaches and just a hint of wet stones coming through. But the palate is extraordinary; ripe peaches, nectarines and a citrus acid blast pave the way for some nutty hints and smoky undertones. The layers of fruit and then the savoury notes are almost ridiculous – my mouth was still watering two minutes later; the finesse and balance is truly outstanding. One of the best Chardonnays I have ever tasted. 96 points

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2012 (Hedonism £44.70)

Really light straw colour in the glass but plenty of punch on the nose. Traditional aromas of apples, peaches and that lovely nutty buttered toast. I love the striking acidity and the touches of vanilla and other sweet spices from the oak and lees ageing. Fresh, crisp and ever so modern – my gums were still tingling from the acidity a couple of minutes later! Very different to the 1973 version I have no doubt! 93 points

Red Car Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2012 (Flint Wines £22.92)

What is it with this place and Chardonnay? It’s enough to convert the biggest denier! All apples, lemons and cool minerality on the nose, which carries onto the palate. Then there is a delightfully creamy mid-palate moment, like a lemon meringue pie, before the crisp finish takes your breath away. Awesome! 93 points

Stag’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Miles Better Wines Ltd £23.85)

Very drinkable SB with plenty of citrus, nice dash of grapefruit and just the right amount of gooseberry on the nose. All of the fruit is present on the palate and there is a nice tropical richness balancing the wonderful acidity. Really reminded me of a quality Sancerre. 93 points


Onto the reds, starting with some wonderful Cab Savs:


Stag’s Leap Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Roberson £145.00)

The Fay is great; the SLV is sumptuous… what happens when you blend the best of the two vineyards together? Basically you get 1+1=3! The brooding deep black fruit of the Fay and sweeter, cherry scented fruit from SLV combine together in a cornucopia of sumptuousness that makes you wonder why anyone would consider drinking a liquid that smells this good. How this wine manages to combine such concentration and poise is beyond me – it messes with my mind but I absolutely love it. Silky smooth with hints of chocolate, a touch of coffee, some sweet baking spice and something savoury and delicious – bay perhaps. This is up there with the very wines I have had the pleasure to try… I just wish I had the deep enough pockets to enjoy it at home! 97 points

Inglenook Rubicon 2010, Rutherford (Hard to Find Wines £169.99)

Such a pure fruit nose with masses of black fruit and classy, yet understated oak – vanilla, cigar and clove. The texture coats every millimetre of the mouth with ripe and concentrated black fruit, followed by layer upon layer of flavour; red fruit, smoke and a multitude of spices and the length is truly phenomenal. I was expecting a super-extracted fruit bomb but what I’m getting is pure elegance and sheer pleasure. Brilliant, brilliant… I would love the chance to try this again in 10 years time. 96+ points

Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Roberson £95.00 for the 2010)

The concentration of fruit on the nose is spectacular; from blackcurrant and blackberry to raspberry and red cherry, you could just keep naming fruit after fruit and it will be in there somewhere. The palate is super smooth and lays the way for dark spices, a touch of liquorice and even a hint of worn leather. The finish goes on forever and the balance is incredible. I always look for a combination of Concentration, balance and elegance; this ticks all of the boxes. 96 points

Ridge Monte Bello 2011 (James Nicholson £84.99)

Wow. Smoky blackberry and blackcurrant fruit along with some sweet spice, something herbal and then more fruit; cassis, yes, concentrated pure cassis. The fruit on the palate is luscious, sweet and concentrated, and oh so graceful. The balance is astounding and at 3 years old the wine is already so rounded; layers of fruit and spice and so much more. So drinkable now but it scares me how good this is going to be in 10 years time. Wow. 95+ points

Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Rutherford (Justerini & Brooks £85.50 for 2007)

As well as blackcurrant and redcurrant fruit there is a whole host of secondary flavours coming through. Beautiful balance and poise with classy cedar and Asian spice gliding across the palate. The texture is silky smooth and the fresh acidity would put the wine closer to 6 than 12 years old. Wonderful. 94 points

Beringer Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Howell Mountain (NA in UK, $140 direct)

So much elegance and poise with a delicious combination of blackcurrants, blackberries and minerality with background flourishes of vanilla and Chinese five-spice. The tannins are silky and the minerality cooling – I actually thought I was drinking a Leoville Barton for a while! 94 points


Now it’s time to take a look at my favourite Pinots of the trip… God, I love good Pinot and there was plenty to go around!


Joseph Swan Trenton View Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 (NA in UK, $38 direct)

Full, deep and rich with layer upon layer of fruit; dark cherry, touch of plum, wild strawberry. The body is bigger without every being claggy or jammy as the bright acidity cuts through. This is an awesome wine and perhaps the best value of the entire trip… I wish I could find it in the UK! 95 points

Clendenen Family Vineyards Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2008 (NA in UK, $35 direct)

All of the fruit is sourced from a vineyard Jim bought in 1998 and has been certified organic since 2003. The red fruits are to the fore in this wonderful wine, wonderfully integrated with layers of earth and spice; leather, clove, smoke and fruit combine beautifully to produce an elegant, delicate and downright gorgeous wine that could be tipped as a top-end 1er Cru Volnay. Brilliant. 95 points

Copain Estate Wetzel Pinot Noir 2011, Anderson Valley (NA in UK, $65 direct)

Lots of red fruit and a great luxurious edge from the new oak – this has real class. The palate has fruit, sweet spice, wonderful earthiness – it’s integrated, balanced and complex – a wine of superb quality. 94 points

Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County (NA in UK, Hitching Post $52 drink in/$42 take-home)

How could we go to the Hitching Post and not try the Highliner?? I don’t quite agree with Miles about the tightness – this has a beautiful combination of black and red cherries with layers of red currant and raspberry coming along on the mod-palate. The tannin is firm but elegant and the finish is spicy and smoky, with hints of Chinese 5-spice. It’s a Pinot with guts but also good manners. I wish we could get wine this good at prices like this in restaurants back home. 93 points


The real find for me on the trip were the marvellous cool-climate Syrahs coming out of Sonoma; they just excited my palate and had a real sense of place:


Copain Estate Brousseau Syrah 2010, Chalon (NA in UK, $45 direct)

The nose may be restrained but the concentration of flavour on the palate is incredible. A ton of black fruit with a great tannic structure and that fresh, clean acidity that is everywhere in California. The finish is spicy and long, with hints of chocolate and just a touch of roasted meat. Awesome stuff! 94+ points

Wind Gap Russian River Syrah 2008 (NA in UK – the Sonoma Coast 2011 is excellent and available at Roberson £34.95)

Ripe plums and a touch of raspberry freshness with delicious hints of leather and spice now really coming through. Fresh and sweet fruit – this is amazingly rounded and complete. The tannins are like feathers and the length is wonderful. Concentration, balance and elegance. Great, great wine. 94 points

Joseph Swan Syrah Great Oak Vineyard 2008 (Christopher Kieller Wine £34.00)

This is magnificent! Cherries, plums and blackberries on the nose and palate with incredible concentration and incredible finesse. The black pepper undertones provide complexity and round the wine out beautifully; the finish is long and lavish, this is an exquisite wine. 94 points


There is no way I was going to Ridge and Zinfandel not making the list!


Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2008 (The Butlers Wine Cellar £31.75)

Of the perfume of red fruit, some dried wild herbs, touches of lavender and hints of leather… taste it, taste it! Juicy cherries and blackberries with amazing freshness, fine tannins and a warm pepper finish. Everything just falls into place; so round, so balanced, so beautiful. 94 points


And last but not least, one of the funkiest wines I tried all year… so good it made my Christmas selection… thank you Roberson!


Copain Estate Trousseau 2010, Russian River Valley (Roberson £36.95)

I was so glad when this one came out after the main tasting – I bloomin love Trousseau and they’re making a great go of it in California now too. Red currants, cranberry and earth – really funky and pops on the tongue and has a party in your mouth. Love it! 93 points












About Confessions of a Wine Geek

Posted on December 26, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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