It’s spring; it’s time to unwind with refreshing wines. California, that sunny state on the Pacific Ocean, is the largest and most famous wine-producing American state.
California offers quality, approachable wines of all styles, made by competent and innovative winemakers and marketers. In this state like in most North American wine-producing regions, large wineries always take into consideration marketing, statistics, demographics, and distribution to fashion their wines. These are mainstream wines for the public in general and priced accordingly to encourage sales.
California wines are perfect for casual entertaining, BBQ’s, and also for serious gastronomic dinners requiring the best.
In general, North American wineries produce varietal wines displaying on the label the prominent grape variety of the wine. The minimum requirement is 85 percent of the grape variety on the label. There are also brands and tiers of wines all marketed by the same winery.
Chardonnay is the most popular of all white wines, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Vognier, Pinot Gris or – grigio, riesling, and a range of branded products.
For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, pinot noir and few other grape varieties (sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache) are popular.
While up to last year most people preferred oaked chardonnay, now trend is towards much less oaked and un-oaked versions, which are more refreshing. This lighter style focuses on citrus flavours, crisper texture and minerality, leading to new exciting possibilities in food paring.
Among al the chardonnays on L.C.B.O.’s general list Riverstone Chardonnay by J. Lohr, Night Harvest by R.H. Phillips, Private Selection by Robert Mondavi, Vintner’s Chardonnay by Sterling, Wente Chardonnay, and Twin Fin stand out.
California Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and dry with distinctive falvours of citrus, granny Smith apple, tropical fruits, occasionally cut grass, and with a little residual sugar to smoothen the texture. Fume Blanc is the barrel-aged version of sauvignon blanc invented by Robert Mondavi for marketing reasons. Some wineries blend a little Semillon to add body and honeyed notes.
In his category Valley Oaks Fume Blanc by Fetzer, Sauvignon Blanc by Firestone, ands Private Selection by Robert Mondavi stand out.
When it comes to pinot grigio (a.k.a Pinot Gris, grauburgunder, rulander) wine drinkers like this grape’s rounder and lightly flavoured versions, smelling of ripe pear, apple, melon and citrus. Founders Estate Pinot Grigio by Beringer, Twin Fin, Woodbridge Pinot Grigio by Robert Mondavi, and F. Coppola Presents Bianco Pinot Grigio stand out.
White zinfandel was invented by Sutter Home when red wine was much less popular tan it is today. It is a very pale pink, and always sweetish to sweet, but if well chilled, can be refreshing. Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel is the most popular of all.
When it comes to sparkling wines, California offers many excellent brands like Domaine Chandon Brut, Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut Prestige, Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, Roderer Alexander Valley Brut, and Gloria Ferrer Brut. All are reliable, consistently well made, balanced and represent good value.
Cabernet Sauvignon is California’s most widely planted red variety with over approximately 14 000 hectares. They are dark red, possess a rich and long flavours with aromas of blackcurrant and cherries.
Founders Estate Cabernet Sauvignon by Beringer, Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon by Fetzer, Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon, Wente Cabernet Sauvignon are flavourful, reliable and mostly ready to drink, while high-priced versions require cellaring.
Merlot is the second most planted grape variety and very popular because of its plum aromas, smoothness and velvety texture. Dancing Bull Merlot, Forestville Merlot, Leaping Horse Merlot are fine wines worth considering.
Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush years and became widely planted and thrived. Today it is the fourth leading variety, albeit most of the crop goes into white zinfandel production. Zinfandel in California is produced in a variety of styles from white to port-like wines.
Ravenswood specializes in zinfandel.
Pinot Noir is growing steadily in popularity, as is Syrah or Shiraz because of its superb fruity and appealing taste.
Francis Coppola Presents Rosso Shiraz, Night Harvest Shiraz by R.H. Phillips are fine wines on the general list.
If you are interested in more up-scale California wines try any or all of the following: Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon by Beringer, Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon by Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon by Robert Mondavi Oakville, Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon by Treana, Toasted Head Chardonnay by R.H. Phillips, Fume Blanc by Robert Mondavi, Pinot Noir by Rodney Strong, Syrah by Cline, Conundrum by Caymus, Zinfandel by Rosenblum Cellars and Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel by Ravenswood.