Wine column no. 42: California: Go west, young man

Writing our wine column every other week, it's hard to avoid talking about California. Looking for a Cabernet Sauvignon? Chances are that most bottles sold in the Tri-state will be from this third-largest
state in the nation. Chardonnay? That happens to be the state's most widely planted grape, according to www.discovercaliforniawines.com.
Overall, almost 90 percent of the wine produced in the United States comes from this home of Hollywood, technology start-ups, surfers and Disneyland. More than 100 varieties of grapes are grown there overall.
Not that we're complaining, mind you. What's great about California is that it also produces worthwhile wines for affordable prices. Here are three that we had recently:
The 2009 Tamas Estates Double Decker Red is from the Central Coast of California. Livermore is in the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. For less than $10, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera is an easygoing, likeable wine that has minor tannins and definite red fruit but a muddled flavor overall. That's not a criticism, since all it means is that it's hard to distinguish
which specific red fruit it exudes. But what's great about this Weinbach Avenue Winetree Liquors purchase is that it's flexible. We could see it pairing well with chicken or pork, assuming that your
recipe isn't too sweet or acidic. 13.5 percent alcohol. Schnucks is selling a tasty 2010 Fess Parker Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County these days for only about $15. Santa Barbara is on the coast, north of Los Angeles, and the winery is in Los Olivos. The winery was founded by the actor of the same name who portrayed frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the late 1950s and 1960s. His children now run the business.
What's great about this Chardonnay is that it's not too buttery. Sure, some malolactic fermentation -- put simply, it's a process that makes a wine silky and changes its flavor -- is there, but the Fess Parker
group didn't let it go too far. If you like Chardonnays that aren't very oaked (meaning they don't have strong flavors of vanilla) and that give off more of a green apple flavor, this one's for you. That said, this Californian isn't tart. It was a decent pairing with baked salmon with oregano, salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice, but it was even better with an herb rotisserie chicken we picked up at Schnucks.
Wine Spectator rated this an 87 out of 100. 14.2 percent alcohol.
Finally, on the pricier side of the spectrum is the 2011 Orin Swift Cellars Abstract. The website says this Californian is a blend of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Grenache, Petite Sirah and Syrah primarily from hillside vineyards. At 15.7 percent alcohol, it packs a punch for about $30 at Winetree. Greg said it had a fruity nose and was too strong when paired with our relatively lean grilled steak. I thought it had a concentrated blackberry flavor and a soft texture. That soft texture seems to be a bit of a trademark for Orin Swift, which is also well known for The Prisoner (we've had the 2002 and the 2008, and the 2011 is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah,
Charbano and Grenache.) Orin Swift Cellars is located in Napa Valley. It was founded by David Swift Phinney, who was first introduced to wine, and how it was made, in Italy. After college, he got a job as a temporary harvest worker at Robert Mondavi Winery. He started Orin Swift Cellars in 1998 and now has 300 acres of vineyards in the southwest of France, according to www.orinswift.com. Phinney also has projects in Spain, Italy, Corsica and Argentina.

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