65 California Reds to Drink Now

2007 (Rutherford, Napa Valley) ($145)
Plush, powerful cab, with formidable oak and cocoa.
La Clarine Farm Mourvedre
2008 ($23)
An exuberant wine with a dollop of licorice from the Sierras.
Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel
2007 ($34)
Brambles, plums, blackberries, and loads and loads of spice.
Everett Ridge Estate Zinfandel
2007 ($32)
Briar, spice, and cocoa from a winery dating to 1887.
Clos Saron Cuvee Mysterieuse
2005 ($35)
A pungent, salty, and plummy syrah-mourvedre blend.
Donkey & Goat The Prospector
2008 ($25)
An energetic mourvedre with a leathery, cedaresque depth.
AHA Wines Bebame Red
2009 ($20)
Alice in Wonderland graces the label of this cabernet franc--gamay blend, whose name is Spanish for "Drink Me." Indeed, one sip and you're down the rabbit hole on a lively trip through blackberry and sweet pepper, landing in a tangle of huckleberry and leather. A collaboration of two maverick vintners (Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John and Don Heistuman of AHA), this is an approachable yet elegant tribute to the Loire Valley's red table wines.
Failla Phoenix Ranch Syrah
2009 ($44)
A Rhone lover's wine; pepper aromas and big tannins.
Renaissance Syrah
2005 ($35)
A textured winner melding earth with sun-baked fruit and leather.
Demetria Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
2007 ($40)
Racy elegance with cherry-rhubarb likeability.
2007 ($129)
A lovely Napa cabernet with Bordeaux echoes, moderately tannic but not harsh.
Favia Napa Valley
2007 ($120)
Round, rich, easy-to-drink cab, with wonderful floral, melony, herbal notes.
Foxen Bien Nacido Block 8 Pinot Noir
2008 ($54)
Earthy with cardamom, cumin, and nice acidity.
Ridge Monte Bello
2007 ($145)
Back in 1959, in the Santa Cruz mountains, winemaker Paul Draper developed a vision for his cabernet: Bordeaux's finesse married to California's lushness. Today, he still produces magnificent wines, using low-technology methods. Relatively low in alcohol (13 percent) and made from 79 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, this purple-garnet beauty delivers blackberry, anise, espresso, and oak, refreshed by good acidity. Profound and energetic all at once, this is a wine made art.
Donkey & Goat Four Thirteen
2008 ($32)
Chateauneuf-style blend with berry, wild herbs, and minerals.
LIOCO Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2008 ($30)
Mineral-edged with a savory orange-fenugreek kick.
Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Red
2008 ($25)
A spicy, balanced Rhone-style blend with lots of dark fruit.
Edmunds St. John Bone Jolly Gamay Noir Red
2009 ($17)
A cheery stand-in for beaujolais-villages.
Littorai Hirsch Pinot Noir
2007 ($65)
Powerful and musky, delivering a mineral fierceness.
Meteor Special Family Reserve Cabernet
2006 ($300)
Mulberry, leather, smoke.
Morlet Passionement
2007 ($225)
Graceful and berry-scented, a most elegant Napa Valley cabernet.
Cedarville Grenache
2008 ($25)
Tar and herbs, black cherry and dust, with just a touch of vanilla.
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant
2006 ($30)
A dark, sexy Rhone blend with exotic spiciness and minerals.
Peay Estate Les Titans Syrah
2007 ($45)
Black pepper and meaty notes, with some bright berries.
Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet
2005 ($65)
Cushy fruit amid tar, chocolate, and fresh herbs.
Quill Howell Mountain
2006 ($95)
Big but elegant cabernet, shining with balanced fruit and tannins.
Revana Cabernet
2007 ($165)
Silky with a berry-plum nose, some wood, good acid, and real polish.
Copain Tous Ensemble Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
2008 ($20)
The dominant style in California pinots for the past couple of decades has been big, dark, and syrupy, the kind Copain Tous winemaker Wells Guthrie used to make. Now Guthrie picks his grapes earlier and makes wine with little technological fuss. The result, as seen in this bottle from a tricky Anderson Valley vintage, is light, bright, and edgy, with lots of berry, earth, and bark.
Ambyth Estate Maiestas
2008 ($35)
A Rhone blend lush with cherry and marshmallow.
Palmina Santa Barbara Nebbiolo
2006 ($30)
A big Italian with a light touch of spice and raspberries.
Coturri Carignane
2008 ($20)
Smoky and sun-drenched biodynamic red tinged with fresh-bitten currants.
Chappellet, Pritchard Hill
Chappellet has a history of tough mountain wines that can evolve well--though, in recent years, many of the Chappellet Cabernet bottlings have, admirably, gotten a bit softer. Not so for their top-of-the-line Pritchard Hill bottling, first made in the cult-y year of 1997. I have high hopes for this 2007 version--but right now it is closed, brooding, packed with extract, all in an old-fashioned Chappellet way.
Clos du Val Reserve
A library wine, not easy to find... but well worth the trouble for the glimpse it affords of pre-alcohol-overload Napa Valley Cabernet. Medium garnet-brick, with touch of onion-skin at edge. Chocolate-toffee nose. Full of life on the palate: Napa fruit concentration, with unusual elegance. Just a touch of tannin. Ultimately doesn't fan out like a thirty-year Bordeaux might, but you can see why the '70s were full of excitement in Napa Valley.
Shafer Hillside Select
1994 ($412)
Well, the price tag reflects the crazy-cult values of our own time... but the wine is delicious, healthy, and a good indicator of Shafer at an in-between stage. They ramped it up further later on... but this early-90s guy is Bordeaux-like, restrained, elegant, with no sweetness up front, and a tinge of subtle, earthy flavors.
Foxen Sea Smoke Vineyard Pinot Noir
2008 ($80)
Firm and spicy, with pinpoint precision. Decanting helps open it up.
Sloan, Napa Valley
2006 ($275)
Time to watch those prices rise! This cult-y wine, from an old winery that found a new purpose in the '00s, is very dark garnet in the glass, with eucalyptus in the nose alongside the ripe fruit. Very extracted, with some bitter tannins stepping up even before the finish.
Ovid, Napa Valley
Ovid's vineyards were planted in 2000; its first commercial vintage was 2005. Dark purple, with a fairly closed nose suggesting liqueur, like kirsch. Lots of crushed, velvety red fruit on the palate, chewy, with considerable tannin and bitterness. 14.8% alcohol.
Jordan, Alexander Valley
Jordan, like Silver Oak, is hanging in there with the crowd-pleasing 1970s style. Medium purple-garnet. Lovely ripe fruit with a floral hint, and a touch of herbal Cabernet-ness. Medium-rich, juicy, soft, easy, "only" 13.5% alcohol.
Pride Mounatin Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 ($125)
In the words of owner Steven Pride: "uber intense." And that might be an understatement. Massively structured, with a concentration of flavor that mountain vineyards give. Lots of berries, cedar and violets.
Materium, Maybach Family Vineyards
2007 ($190)
Another 14.8% alcohol baby--which can, by law, actually have as much as 15.3% alcohol. Maybach kicked off in 2004, as did their cult-y Materium bottling. Very dark purple, almost to the edge. Big and bright young fruit nose: plums, cookies, a little spice. Very sweet entry, with a ton of tannin as payback. Weighty wine.
Silver Oak, Napa Valley
Silver Oak shows here how they're staying out of the cult race, continuing to produce easy-to-love Cabernet. Slightly soupy garnet. Hints of Cabernet herbs on nose, with plum, berries, a touch of burning leaves. Good flavor follow-through to a fairly soft finish.
Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette
2005 ($100)
Old-timer Spring Mountain released its first Elivette in 2000--a stylish, modern wine that has ample fruit for culty fruitheads. But it also has a quiet and sure elegance. The 2005 sports a violet-blackberry nose, with hints of jam. Suave and silky, the wine just glides over your palate, until hitting a moderate tannic speed bump in the finish. Much more harmonious than we might have expected from this tannin-warrior of old hell-bent on making modern adjustments. Just over the Thompson line at 14.2% alcohol.
Littorai Les Larmes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
2008 ($38)
Ted Lemon blended together several lots in 2008 for this approachable, huckleberry-inflected effort that's full of bright-mineral finesse.
Littorai The Haven Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2007 ($75)
Ted Lemon finds a plush and floral expression in this site just a few miles from the coastline. Perfectly pitched sandalwood and tart cherry round out its subtle profile.
Heitz Cellar, Martha's Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
Vivid purple with touch of garnet. Very ripe style, with a port-y character. Nicely concentrated without being clunky.
Lagos Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
Very pretty dark purple. Jammy berries on nose; lean, sweet and tannic on palate.
Caldwell, Estate Grown, Block 15
Very dark garnet-purple, almost to rim. Pinot-like geranium note in nose, with vanilla on palate. Interesting flavors, but chunky-hot.
Clos du Val, Reserve red wine
Admirably lean in the classic Clos du Val style, but past its peak. Brown-ish, hazy, with nail-polish-remover notes.
Morlet Family Vineyards, Coeur de Vallee, Cabernet Sauvignon
Medium purple-garnet. Lots of alcohol on nose. The most jammy-sweet and candied of the Morlet wines.
J. Daniel Cuvee, Lail Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon
Similar profile to Lail's Blueprint -- with the addition of some chocolate-y toffee notes in this one.
Blueprint, Lail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Pretty purple-garnet with hints of red. Touch of varietal green on nose. Penetrating palate with good concentration -- but kind of sweet and hot and tannic.
Mayacamas, Cabernet Sauvignon
Still purple-garnet with just a hint of browning. Tight and lean, but nicely developed leathery flavors.
Diamond Creek, Volcanic Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon
Undoubtedly a strong "mountain" wine, with lots of tannin. But a kind of glossy polish brings balance to it all.
SIMI, Alexander Valley Landslide Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
Fairly ripe nose. Nice combo of basic components, leading to a medium-bodied wine that's a bit stiff.
Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon
Another "new-style" Clos du Val, with lively, peachy fruit and decent balance.
Quite dark purple. Very pretty stewed fruit and jam. Refreshed by good acidity.
Clos du Val, Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon
Richer than Clos du Val of old. Quiet right now, with alcohol scents dominating.
Heitz Cellar, Martha's Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage 2001
Vivid garnet with touch of browning. None of the classic Martha's Vineyard eucalyptus, but a comforting earthy development. Rich, but very nicely balanced.
Verdad Tempranillo, Santa Ynez Valley
Vintage 2007 ($19)
Peppery plum and cedar-box are the dominant impressions of this big red; pair it with grilled lamb.
Honig Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 ($40)
Smoky with deep berry and plum flavors, this plush Napa cab feels lovely and round in the mouth. Classic with a steak, but keep it in mind for grilled pork, too.
Failla, Syrah
Leather, cedar, tobacco in spades, with swarthy fruit and pronounced but balanced tannins. Elegant, handsome.
Failla, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Tart, red fruit -- raspberries, cherries, cranberries, strawberries. Juicy and delicious.
Hourglass Blueline Vineyard Cabernet Franc
Blackberry scent, lingering cherry flavors with a citrus edge, and a wood smoke finish; intriguing on its own and a splendid companion to lamb stew.
Sea Smoke Ten
A dark pinot noir with swarthy flavors of leather, tobacco, craisins, black cherry, dates and walnuts. Spicy with a touch of vanilla on the finish. Pair it with roasted or braised pork.
Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet
Taut and elegant with a ripe berry nose and savory palate; a fine-tuned balance between fruit and tannins makes for great drinkability--with steak or on its own.

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