Eight Outstanding California Wines with 90+ Points

The 100 point wine scoring system developed in the late 20th century and has its origins in a 20 point system developed at the University of California, Davis. Robert Parker, who found the Wine Advocate, made the 100 point system popular, and most major wine rating organizations followed suit, including Wine Spectator, Jeb Dunnock, Vinous, James Suckling, and Wine Enthusiast. 

Critics of point-based wine rating abound, the idea being that honest tasting notes provide better advice, but points give consumers an easy guide. Wineries love the system for their wines that score well. As a restaurant wine director, I found scores useful as well, though this did not eliminate the need to taste the wines before they went on the wine list! Scores truly help when new selections appear on the shelf or the website. 

Though purportedly a 100 point range exists, you will actually almost never see wines rated below 80. The points are usually one person’s subjective assessment, though critics are usually trained and experienced. Most rating are based on “blind” comparative evaluations. Points are generally awarded thusly: 50 point for meeting the definition of a basic wine. Color and appearance, up to 5 points; Aroma and bouquet, up to 15 points; Flavor and finish (duration), up to 20 points. Overall quality, up to 10 points. 

Wines scoring 90 points and above, then, should have really impressed the taster for overall quality. Price is not considered. 

Bottle Barn has an amazing, broad selection of California wines for when you feel the inkling to order wine online. I’ve gone through the hundreds of 90+ scoring red wine California and white wine California categories and narrowed down eight superb recommendations. 

So, here’s the list for when you next order wine delivery! 

  • 2019 Girasole Vineyards Charlie's Blend scored 92 points from Wine & Spirits magazine and costs just $10.99 at Bottle Barn. It also won Double Gold at the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It’s a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel grown on three of the Barra family’s certified organic vineyards in Mendocino County. It’s spicy with a dark hue luminous, with aromas of berries and mocha. The spice enters with aromas of clove, olives, and cedar. A true value.
  • From a hallowed winery, the 2018 Inglenook Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc fetched 90 points from two major wine magazines and 92 points from James Suckling. Fruit with balanced acidity mark the terrain in a wonderful balance. You will capture guava, lemon zest, and pear flavors alongside notable minerality with an extended finish.
  • From the smallest appellation in the US and a Riesling at that, the 2019 Cobb Cole Ranch Vineyard had very limited production: 300 cases. This wine will mature for another ten years, tantalizing your taste buds all the while. Starfruit, strawberry and kiwi aromas clue you in to what’s to come on the palate. Rich, taught flavors of green apple, mango, and crushed chalk evolve in the mouth. This wine scored 93 points from the UK’s Decanter magazine.
  • A blend of 30% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Sirah, 15% Syrah, 15% Tannat and 15% Cinsault, the 2016 Ledge MCA Cuvee comes from Paso Robles and scored 93 points from three major reviewers. Jeb Dunnuck calls it “smoking good,” while adoring its “loads of black and blue fruits, plenty of spice and flower incense aromas, medium to full body, terrific purity, and a great finish.”
  • It’s time to get serious about Cabernet Franc, and there’s no better example than the 2018 Morlet Force De La Nature Cabernet Franc. 100 points from Wine Advocate; 99 from Jeb Dunnock; and 95 from Vinous. Wow. This is 100% from the To Kalon Vineyard in the Oakville AVA in Napa Valley. Its fruit flavors, tannins, and acidity are flawlessly integrated in this amazing wine. Do you like over-the-top wine tasting notes? Wine Advocate says: “slowly releasing scents of rose hips, oolong tea, dried roses, red loam and pencil shavings over notions of kirsch, redcurrant jelly, crushed black berries and black raspberries plus a waft of chocolate box.”
  • 2019 Carlisle Rossi Ranch Zinfandel features what the winemaker terms “zinberry” flavors: cherry, blood orange, raspberry flavors alongside notable allspice, cinnamon, citrus zest, some sweet tobacco, dried thyme, and fresh mint effortlessly intermingle in the glass. This wine has great ageing potential, which will soften its already fine-grained tannins.
  • The 2021 Tyler Santa Barbara County Chardonnay received 94 points from Wine Advocate. Swirl it in the glass to detect aromas of lemon peel, crème fraîche, hazelnuts, and notes of white flowers. The dynamic palate and satin texture lead to energy on the long finish, allowing you to continue to savor its citrus and ripe fruit flavors.
  • Have you tried Gruner Veltliner? You should, and this one is also from Santa Barbara County: 2020 Tatomer Meeresboden Gruner Veltliner. Layers of flavor come forth: tangerine peel, crushed rocks, and graphite, all aromas of cut grass, lime zest, and green peppercorns. Wine Enthusiast: 90 Points 

These are all fantastic California wines taste-tested by experts, and I’ve tried to represent the astounding diversity of wine production in the state. Enjoy! 

By Charlie Leary

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.