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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wine Varietals: Out With the Old, In With the New

Napa and Sonoma don't seem to have a lot of variety in what they grow. Napa means Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay; Sonoma means Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the cooler areas and Cabernet and some Zinfandel in the warmer regions. There are sizable plantings of Merlot, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, too.

In "the olden days" of 50 or more years ago in California most wine was blended into what was labeled Burgundy or Chablis. Today it's all about the most popular varietal wines. So what are we missing in the vineyards today? Well, in whites there were grape varieties like Chenin (shen-in) Blanc, French Columbard, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and Riesling. In reds Carignane (care-in-yahn), Charbono (shar-bone-oh),  and Gamay have about disappeared with Petite Sirah dropping a lot, but still hanging on.

Gewurztraminer and Riesling are familiar wines from other parts of the world. Chenin Blanc is interesting in that when made off-dry (slightly sweet) is can produce a wine of melons and honey making it an easy summer sipper and it's a lot more interesting than Pinot Gris.

Charbono is a dark, leathery, tannic wine that needs a few years age to turn into a nice pasta or beef wine. Carignane can be bright and spicy, maybe falling between Grenache and Syrah in its characteristics. It will pair with foods like pork, lighter beef dishes, and any meal with a hearty tomato sauce.

Of course, nowadays we have at least small planting of some grapes that weren't around in those olden times. Rhone grapes such as Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Bordeaux wines like Cabernet Franc. Cab Franc may have been around then, but since nobody knew what it was the grapes were often misidentified as Merlot. Paso Robles is known for the Rhone grapes. The Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Franc and Malbec are lightly planted and found mostly in Napa and Sonoma.