• Alexander Smith

California Wine Fair 2019 - There is no one 'Style' in California!

The story goes, that around 10 years ago, you would walk into a restaurant in New York City, requesting a California Cabernet, and get one big jammy, ripe, high alcohol and oaky Cab. That was a California Cabernet. Now there will be those who will idisagree, however for the most part this was the standard. Fast forward to 2019. That style is more or less disappeared, and different 'styles' are emerging from California. From a fruit driven (but not jammy) to a more old world and rustic style, along with many in between. This is the same for other California grape varieties, such as Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So the idea that California produces one style of wine is long gone, and consumers have to be ready for this.

Last week, I spent an afternoon tasting over 100 different California wines, and I could not find a common 'style' for any grape variety. I feel California are currently in an experimenting mode, and this is the way it should be. California is still a young wine country, and so the time for experimenting is now! The soil, climate and location allow for California to produce so many different styles of wine. They could produce more new world, or try for a more fruit forward or even jammy style. The good news is that all of these styles of wine have great potential, yet will we ever see a common style in the future? I don't think so. I think producers will pursue different avenues, until they find a style which allows them to show the best from their terroir.

The wine consumer should be aware of this, and prepared when tasting different wines from California. I will not cover all of the wines tried in this post, however I will cover a few of my favourites.

Grgich Hills is estate grown, sustainable and focuses on the grape telling the story, not the oak. Their wines have wonderfully elegant fruit profiles, and a little subtle oak to elevate these wines to the next level. The Fume Blanc 2016 (92 points), showed soft stone fruits, citrus peel and a round, elegant and long finish. I also appreciated their Zinfandel 2014 (90 points), which had restrained red fruit, sweet spices and no over the top jammy notes.

Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs has to be one of my favourite California producers. I am always impressed by how well his wines show for the price. The Crossbarn Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016 (93 points) had a bouquet of freshly picked raspberries and cherries, along with excellent balance and a long persistent finish, this is just so elegant and I love it for the price. I described the Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2017 (93 points) as a 'Fruit Forward Chablis', and that pretty much sums it up, crisp minerality with a fruit driven profile of elegant fruit.

Pine Ridge Winery, a Napa legend of over 40 years are producing some of Napa's most classic Napa wines, these are fruit and oak driven Cabernet's. When I think of Napa, Pine Ridge produces that 'style' which I most relate to. Now these are not jammy, but big bold and serious Cabernets. The Pine Ridge Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (94 points) had a fantastic profile of cassis, blackberry, floral undertone along with chocolate and espresso on the mid palate. A benchmark wine for the Stags Leap region.

Stag's Leap Winery, this winery has history: 1976 Judgement of Paris. The 1973 Stag's Leap SLV beat the best wines in France: Mouton, Haut-Brion and Montrose. Yes it did! So these guys know how to produce wine. Their wine making has significantly improved in recent years and I feel they are making some of their best wines they have ever made! For me, this was the winery of the tasting, I fell in love with every wine I tried. The top wines included their Karia Chardonnay 2016 (92 points) with heaps of Meyer lemons, soft yellow apples, nutmeg, vanilla with a round, rich yet elegant finish. I was also impressed with their world famous Stag's Leap Cask 23 2015. A wonderful purity of black and dark red fruit ,along with espresso, chocolate, cedar and a little tobacco. The tannins perfectly integrated, along with a smooth and elegant finish that never ended.

Duckhorn Vineyards is most famous for their 'Three Palms Vineyard', especially having recently won 'Wine of the Year' from Wine Spectator. The Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard 2016 (95 points) is a Merlot dominated blend, and really showed what Merlot can do in California. Dare I say my favourite Merlot produced in California? Plush Strawberries and plums being complimented with cacao, black pepper along with sweet spices. Sublime!

The styles coming out of California have never been so varied. Whatever style you like, you will not be disappointed! Drink California wine!

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