Wine Advocate’s latest “California: Exploring Obsession at Rhys Vineyards”

Two decades into its existence, Rhys is proof-positive that any perceived chasm between Burgundy, California or elsewhere is as much about meticulous planning and obsessive attention to detail as raw materials and potential. In this regard, they are leading the way in closing the gap and should be a benchmark for winemakers on both sides of the Atlantic to constantly examine and push their methods and perspectives.

by Matthew Luczy, April 18th 2024

2021 Rhys Vineyards Anderson Valley Chardonnay

The 2021 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, formerly bottled as Alesia, is a more weighty, exotic offering than its Santa Cruz Mountains counterpart. Aromas of ripe orchard and stone fruits with citrus zest dominate the nose, leading to a tender, pleasant and robust palate. Clean, vibrant and balanced on the finish, this is ready to be enjoyed now but will surely do well in the cellar. 92

2021 Rhys Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

The 2021 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains is a peek at the stellar produce of Rhys’s 2021 single-vineyard white wines. The nose opens with fresh, racy aromas of sea spray, lemon curd and Granny Smith apple. The mid-palate displays a level of creamy richness that takes substantial cellaring to unlock in the rest of the lineup. The signature tension and angularity of the Rhys style are present, albeit with a welcomed softness and generosity of texture. Readers holding this admirable array of wines should start here and hold off on the single-site wines for at least a few more years. 93

2021 Rhys Vineyards Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Previously bottled under the Alesia label, the 2021 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley is laden with aromas of evergreen, black cherries and crushed chalk. The palate balances soft approachability and dark-fruited, lacy concentration. The finish shows impressive length and meaty intensity, concluding with a soft, graceful landing. This will certainly gain dimension with time in the cellar but is primed for enjoyment now. 92

2021 Rhys Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains

Formerly known as Alesia, the 2021 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains is a blend of six estate vineyards from Rhys. The nose is energetic and high-toned, with aromas of red fruits, wet clay, petrichor and pine needles. The palate is medium-bodied and grippy, with an upright, sturdy finish, perfectly summarizing the mountainous structure of great Pinot Noirs from this region. 92

2021 Rhys Vineyards Bearwallow Vineyard Chardonnay

Showcasing another dimension of robustness than the Anderson Valley bottling, the 2021 Chardonnay Bearwallow Vineyard is opulent on the nose with orchard blossom, saffron, anise, white peach and star fruit aromas. The palate springs into treble-driven overtones of citrus zest and bright salinity, finishing with impressive length and delineation. While this is on the colorful, crunchy side of accessible now, it has clear potential for the cellar. 94

2021 Rhys Vineyards Mt. Pajaro Vineyard Chardonnay
A lower elevation site by Rhys standards, Mt. Pajaro is the newest vineyard site in the winery’s stable, planted in 2010. Citrus oil and candlewax aromas peer through the otherwise oceanic and vibrant nose of the 2021 Chardonnay Mt. Pajaro Vineyard, foreshadowing the riper, more powerful flavors hidden in its core. The palate is textural and glossy, flanked by a bright, nervy acidity that stops shy of harshness. While it is clearly still a young wine, it is surely a more open and accessible example of Rhys’s fantastic 2021 single-vineyard Chardonnays. 94

2021 Rhys Vineyards Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay

At the apex of Rhys’s outstanding array of Chardonnays, the 2021 Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard is a modern classic. The nose unfolds slowly, but steadily ascends from the glass with scents of crushed stones, mandarin rind, pomelo and a subtle crème brûlée richness that hangs in the background. The palate begins coiled and springlike, continuously expanding and adding dimension throughout the three days I spent with it. Simultaneously glossy, broad, angular and tense, it is the most texturally complex of the single-vineyard Chardonnays at this stage. This needs at least another five years in the cellar and should be on the ascent for a decade beyond that. A benchmark wine for the Santa Cruz Mountains. 97

2021 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyards Chardonnay

Another spectacular white wine from Rhys, the 2021 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard is a fascinating counterpoint to the Horseshoe bottling. Of the two, the Alpine is the more aromatically dazzling out of the gate, with all manner of herbal, floral, chalky, citrus and orchard fruit aromas immediately jumping from the glass. Texturally, the palate shows a graceful, floating quality that juxtaposes the mid-palate assertiveness of the Horseshoe. The finish is long and spherical, concluding on a distinctive note of spearmint and menthol, with spice notes appearing and building with extended oxygen exposure. This is a fantastic effort all around and one that, as with its somewhat nearby neighbor, should be aged for another five years and eagerly consumed over the next 10. 96+

2021 Rhys Vineyards Bearwallow Vineyard Pinot Noir

The 2021 Pinot Noir Bearwallow Vineyard is deep and brooding on the nose, with aromas of baked red fruits, compacted soil nose, coffee beans and leather. The palate is supple and generous, underpinned by gripping acidity and elegant tannins. As usual, this offering is a relatively accessible one from Rhys, although it should age and develop beautifully next to its peers. 93

2021 Rhys Vineyards Porcupine Hill Pinot Noir

As impressive and elusive as ever, the 2021 Pinot Noir Porcupine Hill slowly emerges from the glass with a deep, broad nose of star anise, black cherry compote, roasted espresso and pine needle aromas. The palate is supple and concentrated while avoiding excess weight, highlighting this site’s signature sponge-like nuanced richness. The finish is seemingly endless in its expansion, with all components of this wine gaining ever more power with air. This site’s consistent, intangible intrigue puts it toward the apex of a stellar lineup of timeless California Pinot Noir. 97

2021 Rhys Vineyards Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir

The 2021 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard comes from a northeast-facing site in Portola Valley, 400 yards from the Home Vineyard. It has a lavish, impactful nose of dark chocolate, roasted espresso, moss and blackberry compote aromas. The palate is generous and chewy, with a finish of compacted loamy soil and a swelling, fine-grained tannic structure. Dense and compressed on the finish, this is in its infancy and will continue to be for five years. 94

2021 Rhys Vineyards Home Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Home Vineyard was the first estate site Rhys owner Kevin Harvey planted in 1998. It is located in Portola Valley, has southwest exposure and is a mere 400 yards from the Family Farm Vineyard. Now always vinified using 100% whole-cluster fermentation, the nose of the 2021 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard is brighter and more lifted with aromas of ripe red fruits, evergreen and dried roses. The palate exchanges the fleshy density of the Family Farm for a more graceful, granular texture. The finish is taut and wiry, concluding with pleasant but persistent tannins. As with all Rhys Pinot Noirs, cellaring is necessary upon release but will pay dividends. 94

2021 Rhys Vineyards Skyline Vineyard Pinot Noir

The 2021 Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard is a stellar example of the heights Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains can attain. The immersive nose combines soft, dark aromas of mulberry and blackberry compote with fragrant baking spices and forest floor. The palate squeezes out layer after layer of intense fruit, quenching, invigorating acidity and powdery, gripping tannins. The finish is marvelous, confidently combining all its elements into a multidimensional array of ripe, weightless intensity. Within the incredible trifecta of Horseshoe, Alpine and Skyline, choosing a favorite is no easy task, but the latter bests the other two by a hair. This absolutely must be cellared for 5-8 years and will age for the better part of three decades. 97+

2021 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir

Aromatically explosive on the first pour, the 2021 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard opens with aromas of green pepper, watercress, dried leather and petrichor. The palate springs into action with a weightless, floating and enveloping texture. Bolstered tannins and firm acidity coat the palate, producing a cascading, assertive, spherical finish. Along with the horseshoe bottling, this is a benchmark for not only Rhys but for California as a whole. As always, this requires cellaring to get past its outer walls, but patience should provide immense pleasure and complexity. 96

2021 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard Hillside Pinot Noir

The 2021 Pinot Noir Alpine Hillside Vineyard is incredibly aromatic, lavishly rich and stunningly long. It combines gorgeous, blooming floral aromas of lavender, violets and cherry blossoms with an undercurrent of dark fruits and coniferous leaves. The palate is luxurious and opulent, with a taffeta-like sheen and extravagance laced with mouthwatering, vibrant acidity. The finish is absolutely stunning, weaving layer cake-like concentration into tensile power with a dazzlingly long and ever-morphing finish. This is a pinnacle of California Pinot Noir and will age and improve for decades. 98+

2021 Rhys Vineyards Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir

Among the impressive array of Rhys estate vineyards, Horseshoe is a centerpiece. The 2021 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard is reticent to unveil its gorgeous, ever-expanding aromas, beginning with pomegranates, cherry blossoms, violets, tarragon and a signature note of cured meat. The palate is equal parts supple, sturdy and giving, exploding into a massive finish of concentrated red fruits, crushed stones, dried flowers and fine but tenacious tannins. This is perennially one of the most impressive Pinot Noirs in California, and it demands five years of cellaring and should improve for two decades beyond that. 96

2021 Rhys Vineyards Horseshoe Vineyard Hillside Pinot Noir

Sourced from a patchwork of blocks on a single ridgeline, the Horseshoe Hillside bottling takes an already fabulous site to another level. Unusually open from the start, the 2021 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Hillside Vineyard is floral and seductive on the nose, with aromas of peony, rose petals, redwood bark and cherry pits. The palate is spectacular and shapeshifting, combining silky precision with a rich, chewy, tannic grip while avoiding an ounce of excess weight. A stunning wine that never ceases to develop across multiple days. As usual, this should be cellared for some time and should impress over the next two decades at least. 97+

2020 Rhys Vineyards Bearwallow Vineyard Syrah

The 2016 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard exhibits aromas of crunchy wild berries, juniper, cracked black pepper, rich soil and subtle smoke. On the palate, it’s medium to full-bodied, firm and chewy, with super depth and concentration, a multidimensional core and a long, taut finish. Harvested in mid-October, this is going to demand plenty of patience, but it’s full of promise. 95

See all Reviews