Press Reviews

★ 91 Points - Wine & Spirits

Joseph Phelps made a significant bet on coastal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 1999, stepping outside of Napa to develop 100 acres of vineyards in the fog-cooled hills near Freestone. Those vines now grow a polished and silky Pinot, with sunny fruit sweetness that suggests candied cherries. Savory scents of vineyard dust and tea leaves contrast that juicy fruit, while citrusy acidity gives it a toned edge.

★ 93 Points & Editors' Choice - The Wine Enthusiast

Stemmy earth and dark, savory pine give in to sautéed mushroom and cinnamon in this lean, soft and delicious estate-grown wine. A tension of acidity buoys a backdrop of wild strawberry and cranberry on the palate, ending with just the right amount of weight and length, succulent to the end. Editors’ Choice.

★ 93 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

A wine of pure energy, the 2013 Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard is all about intensity. There is an attractive oiliness to the fruit, yet the flavors remain bright and nuanced throughout. Lemon oil, almonds and white pepper are laced into the highly expressive finish.

★ 93 Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

Also going through malolactic and a similar 13 months of barrel age like the Freestone, but with slightly higher new oak, is the 2013 Chardonnay Pastorale Vineyard. This wine has more viscosity, and possesses tangerine and nectarine notes intermixed with orange blossom, a touch of subtle oak in the background, medium to full body and, again, terrific acidity. It’s a beauty and very Burgundian, with a hint of hazelnut that emerges as the wine sits in the glass. Drink it over the next 5-6 years.

★ 91+ Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

The 2013 Chardonnay Freestone Vineyard is quite pretty, but it is very tight today, most likely the result of its recent bottling. Lemon curd, chamomile and white pepper blossom in this expressive Chardonnay.

★ 92 Points & "Year's Best Chardonnay" Report - Wine & Spirits

There's a taut and penetrating depth of flavor at the core of this chardonnay, from a wind-cooled vineyard among the redwoods near Freestone. It's resolutely dry, with a tangy blood-orange verve, the grip of oak and creaminess of lees providing a context from the clean intensity of the fruit. 

★ 92 Points - The Tasting Panel

Tangy acidity and elegant fruit; crisp and juicy with lively new oak and considerable finesse; rounded and polished with a long, fresh finish.

★ 90 Points, 1 Star - Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine

The push for lower alcohol in California wine is going to produce bottlings like this in which the price for restraint is a slight bit of “greenness” in the fruit. But with that moderate narrowing comes a tighter, brighter balance that will appeal to those who prefer the added minerality and tartness of the style.

★ 95 Points & Editor's Choice - The Wine Enthusiast

This 100% varietal wine from the cooler outpost of Freestone is so deliciously crisp, bright in minerally lemon and fresh pear. It lingers on the palate in complex ways, elusive one moment, then exuberant the next—a celebration of ideal vintage and place.

★ 91 Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

The wine shows beautiful floral notes intermixed with citrus and honeysuckle, has great natural acidity and a hint of wet rocks giving it minerality and crisp, medium-bodied, nicely concentrated flavors. It reminded me of a premier cru Chablis. Drink it over the next 4-5 years.

★ 91 Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a strong effort from Joseph Phelps and possibly could turn out to be one of the best Napa bottlings they have made in many a year. The wine saw about 45% new oak (55% French, 45% American) and is opaque purple in color, with a classic Cabernet expression of tobacco leaf, blackcurrants, licorice and Christmas fruitcake. It is full-bodied, dense, opulent and concentrated, especially for the introductory Cabernet Sauvignon in the Joseph Phelps stable. No doubt, the fruit coming from 100% estate vineyards has certainly added quality to this offering. This should drink well for up to 20 or more years.

★ 91 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is bold, dark and juicy. A great example of the vintage, the 2013 captures the essence of this important Napa Valley vintage. Plums, crème de cassis, cloves menthol and licorice meld together effortlessly. Drink this plump, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon over the next decade or so. The 2013 is flat-out delicious and also a reasonably priced Cabernet Sauvignon, with enough production to be widely available, a winning combination in my book.

★ 92 Points - JamesSuckling.com

Gorgeous aromas of sage, blackberry and blueberry follow through to a full body, polished and silky tannins and a long flavorful finish. A pretty combination of subtle fruit and wood. Should come together beautifully.

★ 91+ Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

Earthy and ruby-colored as well as crisp and fresh is the 2012 Pinot Noir Quarter Moon Vineyard. With abundant notes of blackberries and raspberries intermixed with a notion of wet pebbles that gives the wine a striking minerality as well as medium to full-bodied flavors, this tight, backward, promising 2012 Pinot will benefit from another year or so of bottle age, and should drink well for 10-15 years.

★ 94 points, Cellar Selection - The Wine Enthusiast

This sophisticated, pretty Pinot Noir is brilliant in exotic cherry, raspberry and earth. Bright and lush on the palate, the tannins are firmly structured and nicely rendered with a twinge of sweet tobacco and a subtle power that builds on the finish.

★ 93 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

Another rich, intense Pinot, the 2012 Pinot Noir Quarter Moon Vineyard offers plenty of power, but the profile is a bit more savory and mineral-driven than in the Pastorale, with less mid-palate exuberance and plenty of persistence. Hints of rose petal, lavender and cinnamon add the final layers of nuance.

★ 94 Points - PinotFile

From three specific blocks of the estate 41-acre vineyard located at 500 feet elevation only a few miles from the Pacific Coast as the crow flies. A mixture of Calera and clones 90 and 96 with some 459 and 777. 26% whole cluster. 21% fermented in oak open top fermenters. Aged 14 months in 55% new and 45% 2-year-old and 3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Terrific aromatic presence featuring scents of blackberry reduction sauce, cassis and exotic spices. Suave, polished and packed with a flavorful assortment of dark fruits, this gorgeous wine offers many nuances including cardamom, Asian 5-spice and game accents combined with a perfect complement of oak. Admirable balance with welcome acidity on the lip smacking finish. This wine has loads of charisma.

★ 93 Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

Even deeper than the Freestone Vineyards Pinot is the 2012 Pinot Noir Pastorale Vineyard (under 14% alcohol). Its dense ruby hue is followed by a beautiful floral element. Readers will adore the black cherry, plum, clove-infused fruit and relatively full-bodied texture. This promising, high-quality, complex Pinot Noir can be consumed over the next decade or more.

★ 93 Points, Editor's Choice - The Wine Enthusiast

An estate-grown Pinot Noir from the wilds of Freestone, this wine delivers in high acidity and perfumed aromatics that are highlighted by violet and sandalwood. The taste leans toward tart cherry and strawberry. Medium in weight, it's a structured wine, with just the right amount of heft and oak on the finish. 

★ 92 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

The 2012 Pinot Noir Pastorale Vineyard is dark, juicy and explosive. Black cherries, plums, cedar, French oak, new leather and smoke open up in the glass. The style is decidedly virile and dark, with imposing fruit, big tannins and tons of body. This is one of the more powerful, explosive wines readers will taste from the Sonoma Coast. The 30% whole clusters are pretty much buried by the sheer intensity of the fruit. This is an especially big, Sonoma Coast Pinot, which winemaker attributes to Calera and 777 clones.

★ 95 Points - PinotFile

This 34.5-acre estate vineyard surrounds the Freestone winery and is but 8 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Calera and 777 clones. 30% whole cluster. 33% fermented in oak open top fermenters. Aged 14 months in 55% new and 45% 2-year-old and 3-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Haunting aromas of black cherry, sous-bois, rose petal and spice box. A truly harmonious drinking experience with every component singing in tune. Delicious flavors of black cherry and black raspberry with an accent of exotic spices and black tea. The fruit holds on to the peacock finish for what seems like a minute. Perfectly integrated acidity holds the rich fruit in balance. This wine is true to its mission.

★ 96 Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

The flagship wine of the estate in reds is their Insignia, which has been one of the great Bordeaux blends made in California since the debut vintage in 1974. It usually has 30+ years aging potential, even in lighter vintages, of which the 2012, 2013 and 2014 are decidedly not. The 2012 Proprietary Red Insignia, a final blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and the rest Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc all from estate vineyards, was aged 24 months in 100% new French oak... and it’s a fabulous, classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky purple to the rim, with notes of lead pencil shavings, incense, camphor, blackberry and creme de cassis, the wine is full-bodied, offering a multi-layered, textural, skyscraper-like mouthfeel, terrific purity, density and richness. All of this is achieved without a sense of heaviness or anything aggressive. This is a beauty to drink now and over the next 30 years.

★ 97 Points & Top 100 Wines In 2015 - JamesSuckling.com

Top 100 Wines In 2015 List: Amazing aromas of blueberry, blackberry, mineral and bark. Complex nose. Full body plus super integrated tannins with superb balance and depth. Coffee and chocolate too. Very long and mind-bending. A tribute to the vintage. Drink or hold. A long life ahead of it.

★ 93 Points - The Wine Spectator

Packs a wallop... with extracted dark berry flavors and tannic muscle. Aromas of cassis, currant and blackberry... this is built to cellar. 

★ 96 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

Just bottled, the 2012 Insignia is rich, voluptuous and racy to the core. Raspberry jam, mocha, wild flowers, spices and espresso are laced together in a sensual, enveloping Insignia that should drink well with minimal cellaring. I imagine the 2012 will reward readers with a long drinking window of pure pleasure. Today, it is a total knock-out.

★ 92 Points - Wine & Spirits

This vintage of Insignia is 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent each Merlot and Petit Verdot, with the balance in Malbec and Franc. It's Phelps's most ambitious red, wearing its oak aging like a thick velvet curtain, but one that pulls aside to reveal deeply saturated flavors of plum, black cherry, cedar and tobacco. There's some delicacy to the wine, apparent in a hint of lavender and rose, carried along on a gracious finish. A great vintage of Insignia, worthy of long aging in a cool cellar. 

★ 95 Points & Cellar Selection - The Wine Enthusiast

In this vintage, the producer’s beloved blend is a commingling of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. Two years in new French oak give it a youthful, tannic nature around smoky black cherry, burly leather and full bodied richness and concentration. Further time in the bottle should coax out the blackberry and cherry; cellar through 2027.

★ 96 Points - International Wine Report

The 2012 Insignia is an absolutely remarkable showing. This formidable wine delivers complex aromas of ripe black currants and blackberry liqueur, layered with sweet spices, violets and mocha all coming together in the glass. On the palate this impressive red is full and voluptuous, backed by round tannins which are beautifully polished. It continues to show remarkable depth with excellent concentration of dark fruits through the long, supple finish. The 2012 is already completly compelling, but this is also shows tremendous potential for long term cellaring. 

★ 95 Points & 3 Stars - Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine

As rich and as deep as can be in the nose and immediately impressing as a very serious Cabernet with elements of black olives, hardwood spice and loamy soils overlying its very sure, highly concentrated, black currant fruit, the latest Insignia is a layered, multi-faceted offering of striking richness and range. It is both weighty and fairly supple with a proper spine of youthful tannin, yet as Insignia is so often wont to do, it already shows a somewhat polished side that predicts a fairly refined future. Still, it is not a wine to be drunk down in haste, and its high recommendation comes with the urging that it be given time to reach its best. 

★ 95 Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

The Cabernet Sauvignon Backus is their single-vineyard wine made on the lower hillsides of the Vaca Mountains at the Oakville crossroads. The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Backus, a blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Malbec and Petit Verdot, spent 24 months in 100% new French oak. It is inky bluish purple to the rim, showing notes of underbrush, dusty soil notes and plenty of blackberry and blueberry fruit. An elegant and relatively large production for this vineyard, the 2012 is a beauty and the tannins are surprisingly civilized for such a young Backus. It can be drunk in 3-4 years, but will keep 30 or more.

★ 97 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard has really blossomed over the last year. A glorious, towering Cabernet Sauvignon offers super depth an intensity, with the voluptuous personality of the vintage on full display. Sweet red cherry, pomegranate, mocha and espresso all flesh out in the glass. The Backus is not as open nor expressive as the Insignia is today, but it is tremendous in its beauty and overall pedigree. This is a terrific example of contemporary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the last vintage made from the vineyards that were planted in 1975.

★ 95 Points - JamesSuckling.com

Lots of blackberry, smoked meat and mahogany aromas. Full body, chewy tannins, mineral and mint. Long and intense finish. Better in 2017.

★ 93 Points - International Wine Report

The 2012 Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon instantly grabs your attention with its opaque, deep inky color. After just a bit of air contact it begins to reveal wonderful aromas of ripe cassis, blackberries, dark chocolate and spices along with a touch of dried herbs and an earthy character. This is well structured around a full body that is richly textured and impressive for its depth and concentration. The long, supple finish is laced with a thick coating of delicious dark fruits and spices. This can be approached today, however for those looking to wait, it shows nice aging potential and will certainly benefit from a few additional years in bottle. 

★ 91 Points & Cellar Selection - The Wine Enthusiast

Rich and concentrated in red cherry, cigar and plum, this demurely approachable and enjoyable wine has the legs to age. 

★ 92 Points - JamesSuckling.com

A solid red with currants, berries and hints of licorice and spice. Full body, firm tannins and a long, long finish. Shows length and beauty. 

★ 91 Points - Gismondionwine.com

2012 was the 40th vintage at Joseph Phelps and its clear there is a growing sense of style at Phelps. The nose is immediately appealing mixing dark fruits, cedar/cigar box and hints of garam masala. The lovely blance and a fresh attack with measured levels of ripe black fruit flecked with spice and licorice notes. Don’t be fooled by its smooth textures there is plenty of tannin to warrant further bottle ageing but if you have to drink it now think grilled beef or lamb.

★ (90-93) Points - Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

Its deep ruby/purple color is followed by sweet aromas of bouquet garni, mint, red and black currants, tobacco leaf and licorice, and a surprisingly intense, full-bodied mouthfeel with more richness and intensity than I would have expected from this vintage. It is also precocious and can be drunk upon release or cellared for 15 or more years.

★ 93 Points - Antonio Galloni's Vinous

The 2011 Insignia is impressive, no doubt about it. In this vintage, it is the wine's length and persistence that stand out most. This is a decidedly Old World style of Insignia with less raciness than is customary. Grilled herbs, smoke, dried rose petal, tobacco and cedar are some of the notes that add complexity. Readers should give the 2011 another few years in bottle for the tannins to soften. This is the first vintage of Insignia that incorporates both Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

★ 92 Points - JamesSuckling.com

A balanced, delicious Insignia for early drinking. Aromas of currants, blueberries and licorice follow through to a full to medium body, fine tannins and a clean finish. Yummy. Drink or hold. 

★ Collector's Corner Recommendation - Decanter

Napa is rising up the wish lists of collectors and, although 2011 is a difficult vintage, Phelps is a fine estate. It's a Bordeaux blend, led by 82% Cabernet Sauvignon.

★ 95 Points & 50 Star Buys of 2015 - Decanter

Deep and rich nose of cloves, pepper, smoke, coffee and black olives. Great complexity and structure with lovely ripeness and a long, fresh finish. -R.B.

Soft, polished and stylish with superb structure and dark chocolatey fruit. Oak dominates and strong tannins are fine grained, but there is a great texture and a an impressive style, which will evolve as it ages. -A.M.

Sumptuous wine with bold supporting tannins and good acidity. Concentrated, with spice and complexity and a long chocolatey finish. Strives to impress and pulls out all the stops. -S.B.

50 Star Buys of 2015: Controlled and restrained yet boasting intense dark fruit, well-managed tannins and a beautiful structure. Boldly oaked with a long finish. Delicious and well made. 

★ 96 Points & #72 Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2015 - The Wine Enthusiast

Impeccable elegance characterizes this vintage of the producer’s marquee Bordeaux-style blend, an expert finessing of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Juicy in exotic black fruit, it stands tall, with silky, towering shoulders of herb, cardamom and clove that will coalesce beautifully over time. Hold through 2026.