No matter how much we try to embrace variety and be open-minded, we wine critics tend to judge the wine we are smelling and tasting against an ideal in our minds, the way ancient Greeks and Romans tried to objectify beauty in art. “This is the way my ideal Napa Cabernet or my perfect Côte de Beaune white Burgundy should taste, and, if I’m giving points, the final grade will be based on how close what’s in my mouth compares to what’s in my head.”
(Food critics, on the other hand, don’t give grades for individual dishes and tend to make their evaluations based on preparation, what the chef did or didn’t do in fixing what shows up on the plate.)
I’ve tried to resolve this in my mind (and palate) by recognizing what I prefer to drink while also giving credit to wines I know someone with different preferences might like better. And not just someone who has little taste for, or experience, with fine wines, but also people who may have dissected as many wines as I.
This came to mind in tasting 12 California wines for this issue of The Dozen, including four wines from Titus Vineyards, a well-respected St. Helena producer. For my palate, the wines are delightful – until I get to the finish, which is, in all four cases, more granular and fruity/sweet than I prefer. But I have colleagues who would disagree.
If you get a chance, give Titus a try and see what you think.
2021 Head High Sonoma County Chardonnay ($20). Rounded, fruity, both fresh and baked apple flavors with a savory touch of bitters in the finish.
2021 Titus Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28). Light and refreshing – a good sipping wine – with apples and honeycomb flavors.
2020 FEL Anderson Valley Chardonnay ($32). Nice balancing of tart and juicy apples with medium weight, good acidity, and herbal, savory edges.
2020 Post & Beam Napa Valley Chardonnay ($36). Well-balanced, mellow apple flavors, creamy without being buttery.
2020 Hess Select California Rosé ($12). Pleasant strawberry flavors, nice body, good acidity.
2021 Fossil Point San Luis Obispo Grenache Rosé ($18). Light but flavorful with strawberry and citrus flavors and good finishing acidity.
2019 Post & Beam Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($48). A bargain at the price – lovely, generous Cab, full-bodied, ripe, and almost creamy blackberry flavors with a hint of mint and smooth walnut tannins.
2019 Titus Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc ($53). Quite rich and dark fruit. Mellow and very granular with a lightly sweet finish.
2019 Titus Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($58). Very fruit-forward, granular, slightly sweet, dark cherry fruit, with moderate tannins.
2020 Bonterra “The McNab” Mendocino County Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). A big yet lean red with much of its flavors – creamy raspberry with some savoriness – in the finish.
2019 Titus Vineyards “Family Estate Reserve” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($115). Very perfumed dark raspberry flavors, a little fruit-forward with fresh oak and a hint of bitters. A charming wine at the fruitier edge of the fine wine spectrum.
2019 Sullivan “J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve” Rutherford Merlot ($300). Rich and creamy dark cherries and blackberries with light barrel notes peeping through and a few savory, bacon-tinged edges. More toward purple than red fruits. Good structure, but not lean.
Prices listed are generally SRP or from wine-searcher.com. As more wineries are now shipping direct-to-consumer, check the winery website if you can’t find a bottle in your retail store.
The feature photo is courtesy of Titus Vineyards.