Month: December 2018

Best California Wines of 2018

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Best California Wines in 2018

In 2018 I was fortunate enough to taste and appreciate over 1600+ wines. I am only recommending about 3% of those wines. This is my yearly summation/recommendations with a link to each winery by clicking on the winery name. I believe whole heartily and stand by these picks, as I not only tasted each, but now all of those wines, from each of the categories are in my cellar.

No matter which category, each wine listed will enhance your tasting experience.

Only 29 wines are listed in the $51 and Above Group. And 21 wines made the $50 and Less Group. These wines represent some of best quality for California wines. Again most can be purchased at the winery only and are based upon availability.

New this year based upon feedback are the Best Imported Wines. These wines are markedly above average, unique in specific characteristics and should be tried. Additionally most of these would  only be sold at your local high end retail store. I have also listed The Wine Steward and they would be happy to procure these for you.

During the year I have kept meticulous notes on each wine tasted and hope you enjoy these selections in the coming year. Wishing you a wonderful New Year and that 2019 be prosperous, meaningful and find you in good health.


Michael Kelly

Please provide any feedback on tasting of these wines to


Best California Wines of 2018 ($51 and more)
Vintage – Winery – Varietal – Description – Price
2014 Alyris Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon The Audition $85
2014 Carnal Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon Mt George, Napa Valley $100
2015 Crocker & Starr Malbec & Cab Franc Casili 8 $90
2015 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Place $110
2016 Hanna Winery Chardonnay Elias $55
2015 Hanna Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Bismark $69
2016 Lail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Blueprint $80
2015 Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solari $200
2015 LaRue Wines Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard $60
2014 Ledson Winery Chardonnay Russian River Reserve $52
2014 Ledson Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve $52
2013 Ledson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach, Napa Valley $120
2014 Ledson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mtn Reserve $100
2017 Maritana Vineyards Chardonnay La Riviere $55
2017 Maritana Vineyards Pinot Noir Le Russe $55
2013 Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon Lex $100
2015 O’Shaughnessy Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mtn $100
2015 O’Shaughnessy Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder $135
2015 Outpost Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Estate $95
2015 Outpost Wines Cabernet Sauvignon True Vineyard $135
2015 Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate $165
2014 Secret Door Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 1X $170
2014 ShadyBrook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville $125
2015 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Premier $100
2014 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyards $95
2016 Tate Wine Cabernet Sauvignon Jack’s Vineyard, Howell Mt $110
2015 Trespass Vineyards Cabernet Franc St Helena $110
2014 Viader Winery Cab Franc and Cabernet Blend “V” $215
2016 Wood Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon “Especial” $55
2015 YoungInglewood Cabernet Franc St Helena $95

Best California Wines of 2018 ($50 and less)
Vintage – Winery – Varietal – Description – Price
2017 Acquiesce Winery Picpoul Blanc Club members only n/a
2016 Allegorie Tempranillo Calaveras County $30
2015 Alyris Chardonnay Audition $45
2015 Anaba Wine Chardonnay Dutton Ranch $42
2017 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc St Helena $34
2015 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc Napa Valley Blend $50
2014 deLorimier Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Preston Ranch $42
2016 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc Paso Robles $34
2012 Jazz Cellars Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyards $44
2015 Jessie’s Grove Winery Carignane 118 Year Vines $32
2013 Lange Twins Family Winery Teroldego Wine Club Only $50
2014 Lange Twins Family Winery Bordeaux blend Midnight Reserve $30
2015 Lange Twins Family Winery Nero d’ Avola Exclusive $35
2016 Lavender Ridge Roussanne Calaveras County $28
2013 Ledson Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $28
2016 Mer Soleil Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve $32
2017 O’Shaughnessy Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $38
2016 Tate Wine Merlot Spring Street $50
2017 Tate Wine Chardonnary Spring Street $34
2017 Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay Para Mas Amigas $30
2015 Zuidema Wines Grenache McGah Vineyard $42

Best Imported Wines of 2018
Vintage – Winery – Varietal – Description – Price
2014 Alaya Tierra Granacha Tintorera $40
2015 Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape $67
2015 Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vielles Vignes $130
2016 Finaca Sobreno Tinta de Toro $40
2014 Garcia + Schwaderer Pais + Carignane Blend $70
2016 Governors Bay Sauvignon Blanc $13
2013 Marina Cvetic Montepulicano d’ Abruzzo $33
2017 Matua Sauvignon Blanc $8
2014 Mendel Finca Remota Malbec blend $52
2014 SAIA Nero d’ Avola $24
2013 Tres Picos Borsao Granacha $18
2014 Vatan Tinto de Toro $43
*Available at: The Wine Steward


Maritana Vineyards – Four Ace’s On the First Vintage!!

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If you have not read the article on Secret Door Winery, take a quick peak and peruse which gives some background on Donald Patz and his history. Now after understanding his commitment to the wine business (35 years+) of making exceptional wines, his first release which only two are available today have already made a mark in the wine industry. Very few (in fact none that I can remember, coming out the gate) with 4 Ace’s all scoring in the middle 90’s!!! This is a testament to the selection of vineyards, clones and Donald’s sparing no expense with barrel selection and procurement.
Recently I had the opportunity to try these four spectacular wines. Let’s start with the two that are available today and the other two will be released in early 2019. The first wine that I tasted (actually drank!) was the 2017 Maritana Chardonnay Sonoma County Russian River La Riviere. While Donald had many years ago produced Chardonnay’s but has been an industry leader for his Pinot Noir’s. I was expecting a good solid wine, but what my palate tasted was “total astonishment”. This wine was of another spectrum of quality found only in wines twice this price. First on the eyes, the clarity and brightness was ethereal straw yellow. It was a refined and delicate Chardonnay with soft lemon custard and a Red Delicious apple, mildly sweet. As the wine settle in the back of mouth, a minerality of a babbling brook or creek came to mind. This wine reminded me of the higher end Kistler Chardonnay and Peter Michael Chardonnay, specifically La Carriere. I was so impressed I immediate sent Donald off a note of appreciation of this quality wine. About two weeks later, lo and behold, James Suckling, immediately gives this wine a score of 95 points. For an “inaugural release”, this wine is immediately in the Big Leagues of Chardonnay’s!
Donald’s second wine, the 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “Le Russe”. This wine come from Jayda Hill Vineyard, Goff Vineyard and Monte Cristo Vineyard’s all using similar and different clones to create an extraordinary wine. It was absolutely delicious and shows Donald’s long and close familiarity with this varietal. The bouquet was immediately floral with strawberries and cherry cola. The color was pure Pinot Noir with a distinguished dark hue. In the glass this was medium body and in the mouth, a full express of redwood fern forest abounded with the fruit. James Suckling gave it a 92 score and it will surely change over the course of five plus years. Donald believes it will continue to evolve up to ten years. The Pinot Noir pedigree is etching in Donald’s heart!

More on the other two later, suffice it to say, they are vineyard designated Chardonnay’s. One is the “Dutton Ranch Hansen Hill Vineyard” and the other “Dutton Ranch Shop Block 1967”. Again, both will be released in early 2019 and have already received scores of 93 and 94 respectively. They are both fine and amazing Chardonnay’s—–keep a watch out for them!

So for a “new adventure” with a “seasoned professional” winemaker, getting 4 Ace’s on the first score is amazing and yet, the quality is nothing less than expected from Donald. Enjoy the first two now.


International Cabernet Franc Day Blind Tasting Event

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For this prestigious day, thanks to Michael & Lori Budd who originated this day for Cabernet Franc, we held a private tasting event last evening. Each participant brought an appetizer and a bottle of Cabernet Franc of their choice. Each wine arrived covered and no hint of what wine was being served. In the advance paperwork, a listing of cheeses, meats and other items were offered as complimentary to this varietal and brought by those attending. I also provided a few bottles from the cellar. This was a pseudo-serious event with tasting lasting approximately two hours. Each person (or couple) would provide input based upon an outlined scoresheet, information, etc., sent in advance. The summary at the bottom of the page was set up to arrive at an “Objective Rating” which represented the profile of this noble grape. Additionally each participant would provide a “Subjective Rating” based on their preferred taste.

Wines range from far and wide when revealed. They hailed from Argentina, California —-Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, San Benito County, Livermore Valley, Calaveras County, Amador County, Napa Valley and Washington. In the end no two bottles were from the same winery. The years ranged from 2012 to 2017. Not necessarily a far comparison by vintage, but no requirements were given.


The top four wines that were deemed “objectively” to be in line with the varietal profile were:
#1 – 2016 Monteagrelo, from Mendoza, Argentina. This wine retails for $28.99 and available at The Wine Steward, Pleasanton, Calif.
#2 tied – 2014 Titus Vineyards, from Napa Valley, California. This wine retails for $54.00 for their current release.
#2 tied – 2015 Crocker & Starr, from St Helena, Napa Valley, California. This wine retails for $90.00 for their current release.
#3 – 2012 Leal Vineyards, Dos Almas Vineyard, from Hollister, San Benito County, California. The wine retails for $52.00.
Note: by .05 points, the 2016 Wood Family Vineyard’s at $32 placed behind Leal Vineyards.


The top four wines that were deemed “subjectively” to be in line with each raters taste profiles were:
#1 – 2015 Crocker & Starr, from St Helena, Napa Valley, California. This wine retails for $90.00 for their current release.
#2 – 2016 Dracaena Wines, from Paso Robles, California. This wine retails for $34.00.
#3 –2013 Val du Vino, from Murphys, Calaveras County, California. This varietal is currently not offered.
#4 — 2016 Monteagrelo, from Mendoza, Argentina. This wine retails for $28.99 and available at The Wine Steward, Pleasanton, Calif.


In total eleven wines were tasted and rated this last evening. The tasting portion was paired with various appetizers, deserts and chocolates. The pre-event reading and paperwork was fairly extensive, requiring diligence and a key discernment of each wine tasted. I thank those who participated and believe all who did enjoy their time and conversations.

Note: If you would like your wine to be included in next years’ event, please contact me at