California made wine history with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but wine consumers who have kept up to date know that the Golden State offers an astonishing variety of wines, with more turning up with every vintage.
A case in point is Pinot Noir. Sales of Pinot Noir, for both export and the national market, are growing so fast that the grape is in short supply. Pinot Noir is particularly sensitive to weather conditions and new plantings near the coast in both northern and Central California, as well as other cool areas like Carneros and the Russian River Valley have resulted in a new generation of stylish and elegant California Pinot Noir, a completely different expression of the grape that seen in Burgundy and elsewhere.
California Pinot Grigio has also become a favorite. It is a very versatile wine which can be made in a rich and rather complex style, somewhat modelled on Alsatian wines, or in a bright fruit-forward style, reminiscent of Italian Pinot Grigio. The Alsatian style is often labelled as Pinot Gris in California. Pinot Grigio also delivers excellent value for money.
Grape varieties from the Rhône region of France have found a friendly home in California. The Rhone Rangers, led by Bonny Doon’s maverick winemaker Randall Grahm, first started riding in the late 1980s, concentrating on Syrah. Now they’ve expanded their range to include many other Rhône varieties, such as Roussanne, Grenache and Viognier. Viognier is very much a California success story. In 1968 Viognier vines had almost disappeared from world vineyards; there were only 15 hectares planted in France, and very little elsewhere. Now there are over 1000 hectares of Viognier planted in California alone.
But there is more to come. There is a new wave of California wines that promise – and deliver – even more quality and variety. California winegrowers have discovered that because of the great variety of micro-climates, soils and growing regions in the state, they can expand their repertoire.
For example, California is discovering its Spanish roots. The first wine grapes in California were planted by Spanish missionaries coming north from Mexico in the 18th century. The Spanish have returned, or at least grape varieties usually associated with Spain seem to be the coming thing in California. Albariño, usually to be found at home in northwestern Spain, and Tempranillo, the great red wine grape of Rioja, have adapted very well to California. Verdelho, the white wine grape best known in Portugal and Madeira but also planted in Spain can also be found.
And don’t forget the Italians. Many of the pioneer California winemakers were Italians and they often brought vine cuttings with them. Varieties like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Dolceto, Barbera and Vermentino are finding a second home in California.
In sum, the chances are good that whatever your wine fancy might be, California can supply it.
Here are some, but by no means all, of the wines being made from these new wave varietals.
- Pinot Grigio/Gris: Loredona, Mirassou, Robert Sinskey, Fetzer.
- Roussanne: Alban, Bonterra, Zaca Mesa.
- Grenache: Bonny Doon, Cline Cellars Cashmere, Tablas Creek.
- Viognier: Clay Station, Calera, Halter Ranch.
- Albariño: Havens, Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo, Bokish.
- Tempranillo: Christine Andrew, Clos du Bois, Viader.
- Verdelho: Dancing Coyote, Morgan, Stevenot.
- Vermentino: L’Uvaggio d’Giacomo, Mahoney, Tablas Creek.
- Barbera: Eberle, Shenandoah Vineyards, Montevina.
- Sangiovese: Seghesio, Valley of the Moon, Ferrari-Carano.
- Dolceto: Bargetto, Enotria, Pietra Santa.