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Monday, July 27, 2009

Why California Wine Tastes the Way it Does

So, wines from Italy and France and ____(fill in the blank) taste different than California wines. Q: Which one is best?

A: It's a tie. Whatever works for you.

Current CA wine is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Is it better now? I dunno, it's certainly more popular.

What makes CA wine the way it is?

-- Winemaking, to include the education, mostly from UC Davis, to growing, to actually making it with all the stuff that goes into that: trellising, irrigation, abundant sunshine, etc. I'd say the two biggest reasons are UC Davis training of winemakers and the California climate which is nearly perfect for wine grapes.

-- Marketing to the American consumer. Or how do you get Americans who thought CA wine tasted like Thunderbird, who drink lots of Pepsi, and who actually like the taste of Wild Turkey to move to premium wines?

First CA imitated the French-style with lots of tannins, acid, not so much fruit, and a long wait for best drinking. Then came leaving a little sugar in to make it easier to drink now (good if you're sipping, bad if you're having a meal with it). Then fruit-forward wines easy to drink now, but usually lacking complexity.

So why is the fruit-forward style so popular? Because you can drink the wine now. Almost nobody takes wine home and puts it in a properly temp-controlled cellar for a few years.

The worst part of this trend is the high alcohol levels. This isn't necessary to make great wine. In fact, 12-13% alcohol is almost always better than 14-15%. So which is best--lower alcohol and fruit with higher tannins and acid or the fruit-bomb? I'm guessing somewhere in between. More is not always better.

This is what you call your full-bodied cabernet ...

Want to try a range of CA styles? Look for these and compare for yourself. Try these wines by themselves and with a meal. All of these are good wine; just different. I'm listing what I consider the most "new world" style second.

Dry Creek Vineyards and Mazzocco Zinfandel

Williams Selyem and Landmark Pinot Noir
(If you can't find a Williams Selyem or don't want to pay the price for an "old world" style Pinot from Sonoma then look for Carneros or Green Valley on the label or look for alcohol under 14%. This isn't a guarantee, of course).

Audelssa and Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay
(If you can't find Audelssa then look for anything saying "unoaked" or an appellation of Sonoma Coast).

Kenwood Jack London Ranch and Geyser Peak Cabernet

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Winery architecture

Ledson's tasting room in Sonoma Valley was originally meant to be someone's home until one of the many California real estate busts.  Can't say I'd want to live in something this spooky.   Every time I drive by I start singing the theme song from the old Addams Family TV show, "They really are a scre-um. The Addams Family."

Darioush in Napa Valley. OK, the guy is from Syria. I suppose you could also say a French chateau is out-of-place in California, but not as wacky as this thing looks in the vineyards. I won't say it's not beautiful, maybe. You expect this from Napa (aka Disneyland for Adults) because if it'll draw tourists they'll allow it.

Artesa is southern Napa is how a high-end winery should be done. It's gorgeous inside and out, and it doesn't protrude on the environment.

And then there's your real winery building ...

Hall Winery, in Napa Valley, is in the process of building a new, "unique" facility. I've seen pictures of what it's supposed to look like ... and it doesn't look good. Appears they're framing it, not necessarily using 90 degree angles, then throwing a big burlap sack on it. OMG

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Best of Sonoma County

OK, this is my Best of List. My tastes may not be yours, but what do you expect for free? :) Based on recent or semi-recent visits.

Best Wineries for a first (or second) visit

Buena Vista. The wine isn't great (but it isn't bad either) however the building and history are worth the trip. It will be crowded on in-season weekends.
Chateau St Jean. A beautiful spot, a large corp-owned winery, but they usually do things right. Pay the extra for the reserve room tastings.

Korbel. Historical tours, deli, over a dozen bubbly wines to chose from.

Sebastiani. They've been here forever, but have gone through some changes. You can always find a couple great value wines. Avoid the weekend crowds.

In Napa: South end Artesa for the view, architecture and wines. At the north end of the valley Shramsberg for the great tour and bubbly (appt required).

Best Smaller Wineries

These don't require reservations, because why spoil your trip with plans?

Armida. The Party Winery of Dry Creek.

Arrowood. Cabs and Syrah.

Audelssa. Chardonnay and Syrah blends.
David Coffaro. Easy-drinking, well-balanced, robust reds. And easy on the wallet.

Preston. Been making good Zinfandel since ... forever.

Russian Hill. Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Best Winery Views

Paradise Ridge. In Santa Rosa.

Sbragia. At the north end of Dry Creek Valley at Lake Sonoma.

Stryker. In the northern part of Alexander Valley. Great wines and views.

Favorite Restaurants
None of these will break the bank

Bear Republic Brew Pub. Red Rocket and a burger. Mmmm

Hanks Creekside. For breakfast.

La Vera. Pizza!
Ravenous. Kind of high-end comfort food.
Rosso. Pizza and you can get wines that are not from California! Don't miss Gnocchi Night.

Union Hotel. Pizza & pasta.

Other things besides eating and drinking

Armstrong Woods redwood preserve

Bodega Bay and Bodega Head. Bring your jacket!

Charles Schultz Museum. For kids from four to 70 years old.