California Dreaming: Top Bottles from the Sunshine State. | Wine Enthusiast
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California Dreaming: Top Bottles from the Sunshine State.

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When it comes to American wines, there’s no place like California. The Golden State produces nearly 90% of wine made in the United States, and it is responsible for putting the country—and the New World—on the map as a serious contender for quality bottlings. Remember the 1976 Judgement of Paris, when two upstart California producers triumphed over renowned Bordeaux and Burgundy at a blind tasting judged by France’s top experts? More than 40 years have passed since that landmark tasting that changed the entire wine industry and California is still just as progressive as ever.

Since the start of the year, Wine Enthusiasts expert tasters have sampled nearly 2,400 bottles from Napa and Sonoma to Lodi, Santa Barbara and beyond. As usual, they’ve been blown away by the quality and diversity of options on the market.

“The state of wine in California is in a rebirth period,” says Writer-at-Large Tonya Pitts, Wine Enthusiast’s Northern California and California AVA reviewer. “There are so many options for the wine drinker to drink and discover. Frankly, it reminds me of 30-plus years ago, when experimentation was happening with small wineries. We see this same cycle happening again—the curiosity of what else can be grown and nurtured in the landscape we call California.”

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As Pitts puts it, the state is still like a metaphor for the broader U.S., “a melting pot of grape varietals, both classic and nouveau,” she says. This includes everything from Napa’s world-famous Cabs, new-to-the-New-World varietals that are well-suited to a changing climate and a revival of vines and grapes that arrived in the state with settlers, in some cases dating back to the Conquistadors.

While these wide-ranging options are wonderful and exciting, it also makes it harder to decide on the bottle at the shop. But that’s where we come in. From traditional Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to vibrant Pinot Noir and old-vine Zinfandel, these are the best California wines to drink right now.

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Pennyroyal Farm 2022 Hammer Olsen Vineyard Chardonnay (Anderson Valley)

This wine delivers vivacious stone fruit, lemon, white flowers and fresh rosemary along with super-balanced acid, mineral and earth. This is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship. You are going to want climb on board for this one? Hold or drink until 2033. Cellar Selection. 94 Points — Tonya Pitts

$35 Pennyroyal Farm

Grayson 2022 Lot 10 Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Produced from small lots from around California, this wine offers notes of dried rose petals, potpourri and plums. These flavors give way to watermelon and round out to hot-tamale candy and a dry finish. The wine would pair nicely with braised meats. Best Buy. 92 Points— T.P.

$12 Yianni’s

Obsidian Wine Co. 2021 Volcanic Estate Obsidian Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Hills)

This wine is deep purple with aromas of unripe blackberry, blueberry, olallieberry, fresh bay leaf, vanilla scented potpourri. The midpalate is black olive, green olive, rosemary, orange zest, transmitting into ripe black fruit, dried tobacco leaves and salted truffle chocolate. 94 Points — T.P.

$40 Obsidian Wine Co.

Domenica Amato 2021 Estate Grenache (Dry Creek Valley)

Bright cherry and berry aromas erupt from the glass of this wine. Generous citrusy acidity brings the cherry compote, cinnamon and brown-sugar flavors into focus on the palate. This feels like a distinctly California version of Grenache, with generous texture from some whole-cluster inclusion. 93 Points —Tom Capo

$49 Emmitt-Scorsone Winegrowers

EnRoute 2022 Les Pommiers Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)

Vibrant ruby in color, this wine erupts from the glass with aromas of sweet cinnamon, cola and cherry. There is a charming delicacy here, with flavors of dried rose petal, cherry and berry pie filling on a midweight palate. A captivating dance between the snappy tannin structure and the lively acidity of this wine lead to a very pleasurable finish. 93 PointsT.C.

$60 EnRoute

Angels & Cowboys 2023 Rosé (Sonoma County)

The color of this rosé is pale peach, verging on rose gold. Striking aromas of fresh cherry and limeade dominate the nose. The palate shows varied flavors including watermelon, strawberry and lemon-lime in a lively, acidic framework. Best Buy. 90 PointsT.C. 


RZN 2022 The Love Letters Issue Nolan Ranch Vineyard Clairette Blanche (Santa Barbara County)

This is one of the more exciting white wines of late, and possibly the best stab at Clairette Blanche yet from the Central Coast. Clean aromas of nectarine, blanched almond and lemon glaze lead into a grippy palate that simmers with acidity, adding pear peel and brisk apple to the mix. Editor’s Choice. 94 Points — Matt Kettmann

$30 RZN Wines

Rhônedonnée 2021 Night Ride Syrah (Edna Valley)

This wine sports an action-packed nose, hefty, savory, dense and ripe at once. Aromas of blackened beef, turned earth, blackberry and purple flower lead from the nose into a palate that sizzles with zippy acidity, carrying blueberry, elderberry, roasted meat and desert herb flavors. 95 Points — M.K.

$60 Rhônedonnée Wines

Tread 2021 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County)

Winemaker Kristin Bryden is proving to be a savant in the Burgundian grape game. This county cuvée is delicious from start to finish. Vibrant, fresh and juicy aromas of strawberry, Bing cherry and earthy chaparral lead from the nose into a grippy, energetic palate of red fruit and brown spices. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points — M.K.

$40 Zaca Mesa

Frog’s Leap 2021 Shale and Stone Chardonnay (Carneros-Napa Valley)

Bright acidity washes flavors of crisp apple, creamy lemon, grapefruit zest and wet stone through the mouth into an impressively long finish. This Chardonnay is as much about freshness and energy as it is purity and restraint. The use of French oak offers a touch of spice and texture for another layer of interest through the finish. 93 Points — Elaine Chukan Brown

$42 Frog’s Leap

Robert Biale 2022 Dickerson Vineyard Zinfandel (St. Helena)

Aromas of Bing cherry are greeted by flavors of mixed citrus, mint and wafts of cedar. It’s a sophisticated, detailed and intriguing wine with fine-grained tannins and a mouthwatering, long finish. Beautifully crafted and nuanced. Drink now or hold for continued aging. Cellar Selection. 96 Points — E.C.


Truchard 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon (Carneros-Napa Valley)

Juicy, flavorful and approachable, this wine is delicious and good value. Dripping with ripe plum, freshly picked berries and just enough cocoa for additional depth, this wine is a smart choice to please everyone at a meal, including the wine aficionado. 92 Points — E.C.