Riverain: Discussing the wines, winemaker, owners, and anything else of interest

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This came up during Berserkerday 12 when Scott Morris asked for impression of the various vintages of Syrah. Great idea, bad day. [berserker.gif] But we decided to start a thread once the dust had settled and Steve Nordhoff has agreed to jump in here. I know there are quite a few that have tasted through the lineup over the nearly 10 years of vintages.

So here goes…


Let’s start with the syrah, here’s a list of my tasting notes from the various vintages. I still have a strong fondness for the 2011 vintage for personal and wine reason.

Steve will be along shortly with his take and I pinged FMIII because he has tasted more than most.

  • 2014 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (2/20/2017)
    Falltacular 2016; 2/18/2017-2/20/2017 (FMIII in the OC): Hang on kids, this is a full throttled Syrah like northern Rhone. Very concentrated and extremely aggressive tannins, it’s a beautifully structured wine with black fruit and herbs but it needs a few more years before even thinking about opening it.
  • 2013 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (10/4/2015)
    Riverain Winemakers Dinner with Steve Nordoff (FMIII in the OC): Blackberry and very noticeable red berry at the backend. Shows more chalk than the other vintages yet still has the charcoal that I enjoy. Chewy tannins and slightly riper style than the 2011 which is expected.
  • 2013 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (1/26/2017)
    Wow, this came out swing right from the bell. Like a punch in the face. I’ve had this wine before but with plenty of decanter time. This was a pop n pour, oops. This is REALLY young and wrapped around the axle serviced like we did. Everything about this wine is abundant, the fruit, the acid, and the tannins. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great and will definitely age forever but it probably needs 4-6 hours of air at this point.
  • 2012 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (10/30/2014)
    Kutch '12 vs '13 Pinot Blind Tasting - Something for Everybody (Maro Grill, Laguna Beach): Pop n pour. Crazy dark colored core with a rim of magenta where the wine meets the glass. I swirled this around in the glass to aerate and noticed the legs were very prominent, not that they were unusually large but they stuck around for a long time as we were working our way through a huge Kutch lineup. I wrote this note over an hour with the same pour and the wine really moves around or evolves over time which I guess is expected with such a young wine. The aromas are blue fruit and an unmistakable black olive which everyone at the table identified. Palate is driven by some red and blue fruit initially but after time the blue really runs the show. The oak shows as charcoal or graphite, very linear across the palate. FMIII and I debated an iron note, his take, but I was leaning towards a rusty nail or iodine and all are fair takes. Might be even more acidity at this stage than the '11 which was also superb. Lots of complexity here. The finish lengthen over the hour, quite impressive, but the youth is exposed with prickly tannins and a dry note. This is approachable at this point but I’d open the night before or in the morning for the next year.

I bought some…

  • 2012 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (10/4/2015)
    Riverain Winemakers Dinner with Steve Nordoff (FMIII in the OC): Dark black color. Nose shows a mushroom note. This seems less ripe than when I tasted last year. Fruit has integrated. The black olive is enthralling. The blood and iron flavors really show now, clearly. Sophisticated Syrah.
  • 2012 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (4/27/2017)
    Book Club - Magnumfest; 4/25/2017-4/27/2017 (The Winery, Newport Beach, CA): Blind from a mag. I was 100% confident this was syrah and scribbled down “cornas?” but ultimately went California. There was more than a little debate at the table as to whether or not this was a petite sirah because it looked like it in the glass, it was thick and black yet when swirled coated the glass with a magenta film. For me, the black olive note was a dead ringer yet I agreed that there was some blue fruit mixed in with the big, rough, and tumble tannins and dark blackberry flavors. Man, this settled down a bit with some air but it’s really young. This is definitely magic in the bottle for the next 20 years.
  • 2011 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (2/17/2013)
    I was fortunate enough to be offered a pour from an unlabeled bottle when a guy in the corner whispered something and I turned to see Steve holding his first vintage of Syrah. This was recently bottled/shipped and he was nervous and excited at the same time. Hey, now I’m excited.

Color is very dark, nearly black with blue highlights flashing around in the glass in full sunlight. Nose composed of light floral, dark toast, cassis and blackberry. These are positive signs leading to my first taste. Lots of talk regarding balance these days and I’d use that descriptor here because of the equal weight of the various components. Dark fruit, mild stem notes, just a bit of garden herbs, and white pepper adding the spicy edge. Medium weight to the wine and tannins were lively. Finish is medium. Very enjoyable wine and Steve should be proud, no doubt.

Posted from CellarTracker

These folks are on my list for next year, thanks for posting

I opened the 2017 Cabernet last night.

Here are an assortment of my notes through the years:

2014 Riverain Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (1/8/2020)
Rich and fruity with a nice bit of spice, mostly dark fruit but with enough red fruit to keep it interesting, the oak seems to express itself mostly in the spice rather than in sweet vanilla, which allows the fruit to express itself nicely. The tannins are soft and largely in the background and acidity brings a little freshness to the finish. Big Napa cabs aren’t normally my style, but Riverain consistently works for me. (92 pts.)

2013 Riverain Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (1/10/2018)
Ripe currant fruit with a touch of vanilla and brown sugar, intense and ripe, but with enough savoriness to stay drinkable. Loaded with ripe tannin that is obscured by the fruit. Not my usual style at all, it is a guilty pleasure. Holds up well on day 2. (93 pts.)

2012 Riverain Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (2/8/2017)
I’m not normally a fan of big California cabs, but I really liked this. Rich but pure cabernet fruit that isn’t obscured by too much oak and spice, it has a nice acidity and a strong but ripe tannic foundation. Not much change the next day, it was still drinking very well. (93 pts.)

2012 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (11/8/2017)
Ripe but with savory black olive and smoked meat to keep it from being cloying. (92 pts.)

Wow, this is awesome—thanks for following up on this. Here’s my tasting note on the 2012 Syrah (which was my favorite WOTY for 2020):

2012 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill (Tasted 10/25/20):
Wow, great wine. PnP, and obviously should have decanted, as it was super tight when I took the first sip—it was very funky with a bit of a metallic taste. But that blew off during the first glass, and what was underneath was delicious and complex. Would have thought this was northern Rhone over CA all day—olives, red meat, and maybe lavender? Very savory, but there was blue fruit in there, too. Pretty concentrated, but just enough acid to keep it from being too heavy. I loved it, and am sad I didn’t buy more—on top of everything, this is a great value…I would have thought it was 2x the price.

2011: For some reason I apparently forgot to write a tasting note for the 2011, which is a bummer. I remember the olive notes but thought it was slightly “lighter” than the 2012 and didn’t have some of the blood and iron that really made the 2012 stand out.

I’ve purchased various vintages of the Syrah and Cab over multiple BDs but I’ve only opened 1 bottle…and it was just one year ago. I’m a fan.

  • 2012 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (2/16/2020)
    Pop and pour but consumed over three days leaving it corked and on the countertop each night; beautiful dark purple color, vibrant; wonderful nose right off the bat of lavender, iron, bacon, some blue fruit and some olive brine; palate was some light fruit up front but it seemed that secondary characteristics were just starting to take over as this was more earth, blood and iron and on the back end, a very deep, dark, heavy/weighty lavender…gosh that lavender, so good; still many years ahead of this.

Lemme know if Steve wants to do an on-camera (Zoom) chat with his current and future followers - easy to set it up :slight_smile:

Thanks gents. I agree with Scott, the 2012 Syrah is really drinking well. More dense than the 2011, with black olive, blackberry and iron. Seems to be entering its prime drinking window.


How are you seeing development on the Cabernet? Since my earliest is the 2014 I anticipate there’s plenty of upside runway, but curious as to your thoughts on where vintages might fall on the curve. I don’t have much history with the Tench vineyard other than your wine (and 1 bottle so far of a 2013 Bevan).

So before Bevan got involved all Tench fruit was bottled under Nickel & Nickel’s label.

That Nickel & Nickel wine was not a good wine, I had it long before Steve was granted his rows, and it certainly underperformed its peer group.

Put that vineyard in the hands of Bevan and in the case of Riverain, TRB, and it’s a great wine. It just needed someone that cared.

Maybe Steve will share the story of walking the rows with TRB the first time with fruit on the vines with the N&N rows next to his rows. Funny stuff.

I think FMIII sorted fruit that first vintage. All hands on deck when you’re a startup. LOL

Interesting. I never had anything from Nickel & Nickel.

And yet yet he STILL refuses to drink Cabernet!

I poured him two the other night that he loved. 2006 Schrader and 1987 Beringer PR

I think this is mostly correct, but when we first got access to Tench in 2011, it was mostly split up between mostly Russell Bevan, a bit to us and a block to Nickel and Nickel. Nickel and Nickel’s contract expired with the 2014 vintage and we were able to pick up some more acreage in 2015 (which, due to terrible flowering, actually gave us less wine than 2014).

The Tench family, Russell and Thomas are all fanatical about quality, so that, and a great site, has led to a run of really nice wines.

We are mostly looking for fine tuning (and of course good weather). Our blocks are mid vineyard and slope back up the hill towards the Tench winery. Clone 7 and See Clone, we have tweaked the cooperage over the years some. We had to wait a few years to get the coveted Darnajou, but I like the Taransaud very much (it always is the bulk of the Reserve) and small quantities of Orion and others have been used as well. It is always fascinating to me to taste the differences.

Interesting. Taransaud is familiar to me, but not Darnajou.

How about in bottle development (which is more what I was asking about)?

I’ve only had the '16 Syrah and it was a good one!
2016 Riverain Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley more
2/19/2020 - I LIKE THIS WINE: 95 points
Wow. This is a big, juicy, succulent Syrah. Coravined a glass to see what this is about and let it sit for about an hour before diving in. Black cherry and woodsy underbrush aromas. Medium to full bodied with Juicy cherry, cassis, olive tapenade and a long finish with medium acidity. A lot going on in the mouth. One of the biggest, most interesting Syrahs I’ve had for a long time. I’d put it right up there or above some of the best Relentless I’ve had.

The '16 Tench was even better:
2016 Riverain Cabernet Sauvignon Tench Vineyard Oakville
9/25/2020 - I LIKE THIS WINE: 98 points (Edit)
Friday Night 2016 Oakville Cab Tasting: Jeb Dunnuck’s notes and score are spot on for this wine. Tremendous structure, power and richness, this continued to grow over the night, never letting up all the way to the bottom of the bottle. Coravin glass poured through the aerator and aired for about 30 minutes. Started out with a bit more red fruit and acidity than the other wines and a little more tightly coiled. After about 30 minute the aromas picked up with notes of violets and blueberries then seaside salinity started emerging, always a sign to me that there will be some good minerality in the wine. The wine gained more minerality and structure, developing a full mouth explosion on the finish lasting a good 30 seconds. Opened the bottle and drank a little later with steak dinner of filet mignon, pureed broccoli and arugula. This balanced the food perfectly, taking on a slightly softer, fruitier feel with the food. WOTN and one of the top WOTYs for me. Great job TRB.

Schrader uses Darnajou so I guess you can see where that’s heading.

Geeks . . . [snort.gif]