US wine is not something that we get a huge amount of exposure to in Australia, probably at least partially due to the prices for the wines ending up sky high by the time shipping and taxes (in the region of 40%) are applied, so whenever I get a chance to try some I am always up for it.

This particular dinner was put on by Stewart Plant with a Melbourne based retailer, Fine Wine Merchant. Stewart has a keen interest in US wines and brings a small amount into the country when possible. The original theme was going to include a wider geographical selection of wines but in the end was restricted to a few sections of California and some highly rated wines that he thought would be impressive.

This was my first time trying all of the specific vintages of these wines, and for most of the producers the first time I’ve encountered them as well, so it was fun to not really have a preconceived idea about the reputation of specific wines or years.

As is hopefully evident by my notes I was really blown away by the Bond Estates wines. I was impressed that even though they had some family resemblance they were all distinct wines that stood out as individuals rather than blurring together with overly strong winemaker signatures. Unfortunately for me the retail prices once they get here are probably too much for me to justify, but hopefully I’ll be able to save my pennies and look to acquire a bottle of a different vintage to try at some stage.

Varner Chardonnay

  • 2010 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Quite restrained on the nose, with lemon, apple, spice and some graphite. The palate is a little bit more forward, showing oak and more richness to the fruit profile. Perhaps finishes a touch short but it is very good. 90/100

  • 2010 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Smoky oak, lemon, chalk and some estery banana style character on the nose. The palate is well proportioned, though the oak influence is still prominent at this stage of its life. Has the structure to give it good potential to improve. 90/100

  • 2010 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Bee Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Flint, matchstick and pear aromas with some ginger and vanilla. Great structure to the palate, with some layers of complexity and it shows fine length. More interesting texturally than the Home Block and Amphitheatre Block that it was served next to, this improved with air and I really enjoyed it. 92/100

Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

  • 2009 Neely Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Hidden Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Stems, black cherry, smoke and cola aromas. Palate is forward with red berries leading. It isn’t overripe but I wouldn’t call it restrained either. Medium length and drinking well now. 88/100

  • 2009 Neely Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Picnic Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Black currant, smoked meats, appealing floral notes, spice and cherries. The spice comes through on the palate too, there is medium fruit density and good driven acidity. I really liked this and think it will improve over the medium term. 90/100

  • 2009 Neely Pinot Noir Spring Ridge Vineyard Upper Picnic Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Cola, pepper and some light red berries. The palate is lean and there is a bit of bitterness that kicks in on the mid-palate. Lacks generosity and depth. Was the weak wine in this flight. 85/100

  • 2009 Rhys Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Heady aromas of pepper, ginger and raspberry. Powerful (but bright) fruit on the palate with good acidity to keep things balanced. Very good length. There is heaps of character here and it took me a while to come around to it, but in the end I thought it was interesting and well worth trying. 91/100

Bond Estates

  • 2008 Bond Pluribus – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Graphite, liquorice, blackcurrant and a layered spice element in the background that lends intrigue. Outstanding persistence and depth on the palate, the structure is there as well with serious but ultra fine tannic presence. Incredible wine that should get even better with time. 95/100

  • 2008 Bond Quella – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Tobacco, tar, charry oak and some light cherry character on the nose. The fruit and tannins are well balanced, but even though the wine is high quality it lacks a little bit of depth to be really top class. No problems with drinking this young but also I think another 10 years would serve it well. 91/100

  • 2008 Bond Melbury – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Lovely floral, cherry and mixed spice aromas with a minerality to it as well. The palate has a restrained fruit profile with lovely purity and savoury elements coming through strongly. I found this restraint appealing and it even had an element of refreshment in this context of a flight of wines that have such density and intensity. Even though it may not have the same fruit power as some of the other wines, it still had great structure and length and was eminently classy in my opinion. 93/100

  • 2008 Bond St. Eden – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Rich and bold nose of blackberry, cassis, violets, tar and liquorice. Immensely structured, both the tannins and acidity are commanding, but they need to be in order to be in proportion with the dense and forceful fruit profile. A wine that is very impressive, but it also probably needs the most time in bottle out of the 2008 Bond range to really show its best. 93/100

  • 2008 Bond Vecina – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Aromas that really drew me into the wine – cassis, black cherry, truffle, earth and a lovely smoky edge. The palate is breathtaking, there is immense fruit power that somehow retains its brightness and purity, making for compelling drinking. The structure here is brilliant and it finishes with sensational length. I was left awestruck by this wine and given time to age I think it will become even more magnificent. 96/100


  • 2008 Sine Qua Non Syrah B 20 – USA, California, Central Coast
    Appealing nose of violets, charcoal, peppery spice and raspberry. The palate is certainly intense and powerful but it doesn’t get to the point where it was over the top. There is structure there, but it is overlaid with such delicious fruit that it plays its part without attracting much attention. One of those wines that is so very pleasurable over the course of a glass or two, but I don’t think I’d want to tackle an entire bottle on my own! 93/100

  • 2009 Saxum Syrah Booker Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Blackberry, liquorice, cola, oak and a lifted somewhat spirity character from the alcohol. A huge palate in the ultra ripe style, there is some spice that thankfully provided some dimension and interest aside from the fruit density. It has good length, though I could feel the alcohol following through a bit as well. 89/100

  • 2007 Alban Vineyards Syrah Reva Alban Estate Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Maybe this was in an awkward spot, but I found it quite hard to really get into. The nose shows sultana, earth, blackberry, sawdust and resiny oak. The palate carries across the sensation of substantial oak and I didn’t really feel like the fruit was up to the challenge even though there is quite a bit lurking. For me, not even close to greatness on this occasion. 87/100

Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 2009 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Red Rock Terrace – USA, California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain
    Blackberry, kirsch, some floral notes and menthol aromas. The palate shows depth and power with a wave of fruit sweetness tempered by deft oak use and fine structure. There is good potential to improve significantly with age. 91/100

  • 2009 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Gravelly Meadow – USA, California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain
    Chocolate and earth are both assertive on the nose, there is also pepper and ground coffee elements. The palate is ripe and forward, with lots of jam styled red fruit and as a result it is approachable now. For my taste this lacks some finesse compared to the other two Diamond Creek wines tasted but it is still very good.89/100

  • 2009 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill – USA, California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain
    Deep and dark aromas of blackberry, blueberry, tobacco, black cherry and cinnamon. Full bodied on the palate with decisive intensity and power. This has serious tannin structure and is probably the least approachable of the three Diamond Creek wines tried at this dinner, but it also has the most potential over the long term. 92/100

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