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Aug 16, 2012 11:40 AM

California wines that are good values for Europhillic palates?

As a native son I'd like to drink more local wine, but hardly any are to my taste, and those that are usually cost way more than similar imported wines. So I thought I'd start this topic for people with Euro-centric palates to share exceptions.

By "good value," for everyday drinking I rarely buy wines that list for more than $16 (though thanks to closeouts etc. my average everyday cost is more like $10). For special occasions, I'll spend much more, e.g. >$80 for good, mature Bordeaux.

Roederer Estate is my most recent exception. I always loved their wines but found them overpriced, but Champagne has gotten so expensive that RE is currently very competitive.

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  1. We have very different palates I believe, based on previous discussions, but I think these wines are under $20 and very old world in profile (to me at least). Though this may change with the vintages - these were all (I believe) 2009 and 2010 which were cool years:

    Bedrock Wine Ode to Lulu Rose is a very excellent Rose for about $16-18. It is very very dry - perhaps has a hint more fruit than a French rose, but there is zero sweetness and tons of acidity.

    Abrente Albarino is under $20 also tons of acidity with about the same amount of fruit as a Sancerre.

    Copain Viogner is under $20 is very european style viogner. Which still means there's fruit, but it's not overripe.

    Not California (Washington), but, Revelry Vintners' "The Reveler" is a peppery, herbal, earthy bordeaux blend.

    6 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      I can get good Albariño for $9. I had one from Drew the other day that was good and varietally correct, but it was $25.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I'm not sure what varietally correct means, but are you asking for California wines under $20, that are in a European style that are better deals than their European counterparts in the same price bracket?

        Because if so, I believe it doesn't exist. Growing wine in California just has higher barriers of entry (for whatever reason gov't subsidies, real estate costs, lack of vine availability I have no idea - not in the industry) than in most parts of Europe.

        I think where the innovation really shows in the $20 to $50 range. In that range, I've really enjoyed the restrained/cool vintage wines being put out in California more than their equivalently priced European counterparts. Mainly, probably, because I research, explore and taste California wines on a much regular basis and so don't have to rely so much on the recommendations of others.

        1. re: goldangl95

          I'm not stating any price point, it's all relative. Just looking for California wines that taste good to me that are priced competitively vs. the imports I tend to buy. Navarro's Gewürtztraminer and Muscat, for example, hold their own with their German, Alsatian, and French counterparts. Voss Sauvignon Blanc beats Collio / Friuli. Schug Pinot is competitive with Alsace / Germany.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            >>>I'm not stating any price point, it's all relative. Just looking for California wines that taste good to me that are priced competitively vs. the imports I tend to buy. <<<

            Hi Robert,

            I would suggest Edmunds St. John at the lower end of the price spectrum and perhaps Dominus at the higher end. Both have fooled me more than once when tasted blind and a number of fellow tasters also thought they were from Europe.

            1. re: Fowler

              I've had a lot of Steve Edmunds's wines, most I've liked a lot, but they've gotten pricey. The Bone-Jolly is good but I can get good Beaujolais for a few bucks less.

      2. re: goldangl95

        Morgan Peterson's rose was created with a Provence wine for inspiration, and exemplifies your point about the cost of quality. if a calif wine is comparable in quality to a decent $15-30. bottle from Fra, Ita, Esp it will cost as much or often more. Peterson's wines don't have the usual calif combination of ripe fruit, elevated alcohol, liberal doses of new oak, in part from his decisions when to pick the grapes, the sorting, and use of French barrels exclusively with limited use of new wood.

      3. I feel the same way you do. I drink mostly old-world and even more so French and German wines because I feel like in the lesser known regions of those countries (and, to a degree, in some of the satellite appellations) you can get great value wine that is distinct for a reasonable price. I have had wonderful wines from the entire west-coast at higher price points, but for my palate, I find if I'm spending less than $20 I'd rather gamble in Europe than in America.

        Because of the price of winemaking in America (not to mention the youth of our wine-industry and the fact that Americans, although this is changing, tend to fetishcise wine as opposed to view it as a right like in France/Italy) I find many $10-$15 American wines over-manipulated and lacking in character. I don't think it helps that the style of many high end American wines require expensive techniques (new barrels, expensive land) and these cheaper wines often try to emulate that.

        I remember there was a thread on here a while back from a lover of American wine who was lamenting the French Appellation labeling system saying labeling by varietal makes more sense. I think one of the challenges the American consumer faces is we've gotten very comfortable with the same set of 6-7 grapes and at the lower end we don't have the grape diversity to make interesting unique wines for the masses, assuming, of course, that when offered a glass of Cab Sauvignon or Piquepoul Noir, most people will order what is familiar and comfortable.

        This time of year we drink a lot of chilled cru-Beaujolais and Dolcetto. Could anyone recommend some Domestic wines that would be comparable at the sub $20 level?

        Coincidentally, Eric Asimov's most recent column is about this topic:

        57 Replies
        1. re: Klunco

          There's no tradition of making light reds here. The Heitz Grignolino Asimov mentions is a longtime exception.

          In the San Francisco area, where I live, lots of people are open to new wines. I hear the same is true in New York.

          I've found a couple of very obscure old-school Lodi Zinfandels for around $10 that are broadly similar to the rustic French and Italian reds I favor. One was on the list at a Persian restaurant and I had to go to the winery to get a case. The other was at a wine shop Monte Rio, which is the only CA retailer finds for it, apparently most of it goes to Arizona.

          1. re: Klunco

            Pretty telling that only seven of the dozen wines on Asimov's "American values" list are from California. I've had six of the seven and don't think they're great values.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Domaine de la Terre Rouge's wines in Amador are in a French style, particularly
              their Syrahs, and they seem to have regularly closeout sales where really fine wines
              (like the 2001 Sentinel Oak Syrah last weekend) are sold well below your $20

              1. re: bclevy

                Terre Rouge / Easton wines are very California in style. The 2002 Sentinel Oak, for example, was picked at 25 Brix, fermented to 14.5% alcohol, and aged for 23 months in 33% new oak.

                I don't have a $20 threshold. $28 for Roederer rosé is a good value.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Easton, I find, is Californian; Terre Rouge is not -- at least to *MY* palate. I can think of many European wines that are 14.5% abv., and aged in *more* than 33 percent new oak.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    There are lots of California-influenced "international"-styled wines made in Europe these days, but those specs pretty much define what I don't want to drink. And I haven't liked any of the many Terre Rouge wines I've tasted.

            2. re: Klunco

              To follow up, we've done some fun blind tastings of cheap American wines and I ended up being really impressed by the Carlo Rossi "Burgundy." Considering the price, it is a great value for a light inoffensive table wine. It was definitely drinkable, on the light side, fruity but not over-exactracted or heavy or too sweet, and less watery than many of the cheap French boxed wines that are sold by the glass/carafe at cafes. I think the most impressive thing about it was there was nothing overtly offensive about it.

              It's not comparable to Beaujolais-Villages level or any of the Crus, but against cheap nouveau (i.e. Duboeuf) you could make a case that the Carlo Rossi is better. More importantly I think it fits what a "table wine" should be: light, easy to drink, won't compete with food, inoffensive, inexpensive.

              Obviously it's most likely not made with pinot and I know gamay isn't terribly popular in CA, does anyone know which grapes are most often blended for it?

              1. re: Klunco

                >>> I know gamay isn't terribly popular in CA <<<

                For decades, the "gamay" that was planted in California was not Gamay Noir à jus blanc. It was, and is, Valdiguié -- misidentified as a grape long called "Napa Gamay" in California. Another grape variety used to be called "Gamay Beaujolias," but it turned out that it was actually a clone of Pinot Noir. There is precious little Gamay Noir planted in California.

                In 2011, for example, there were 1,500 tons of Valdiguié/Napa Gamay crushed in California, but only SEVENTEEN tons of true Gamay Noir.


                Gallo has always been notoriously secretive about its wines, and Carlo Rossi is no exception. I would GUESS it's a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Ruby Cabernet, Rubired, perhaps some Barbera . . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  Very interesting, I didn't know that. On a recent trip to Napa I tried the gamay at V. Sattui, which was definitely not was I was expecting. I figured it must be the style that I disliked (unbalanced; overly sweet and flabby), but it sounds like it was probably also the grapes.

                  For the Gallo, would certainly make an interesting blend idea-wise, even if flavor wise it's rather one-dimensional. Either-way though, it did impress me at the lower end that decent, inoffensive, domestic juice does exist.

                  1. re: Klunco

                    V. Sattui's a tourist trap. Don't make any judgments about grape varieties based on anything they sell.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Well, I certainly got that impression! Sadly, I didn't plan that part of the itinerary and had no say.

                      I later made it to Joseph Phelps and did find the wines more restrained in general, but the bottle prices are awfully steep.

                      Any winery suggestions for next time I'm out there?

                      1. re: Klunco

                        Lots, but doesn't that depend upon a) where you are headed, and b) what kind of wines you like?

                        1. re: zin1953

                          We have family in the Lodi area and I get out to the bay area a handful of times a year. Therefore, most likely I'd be looking for wineries in Napa (where people friends always seem to want to go) or between SF and Lodi. But if there is a place within a couple hours of the bay area, I would definitely drive.

                          I came to wine through food, so I tend to prefer lighter more food friendly styles, often with some good acid. If I see Kermit Lynch or Neil Rosenthal as the importer, nine times out of ten I'll probably like the wine. Style-wise, in warmer weather we drink a lot of Provencal Rosés, Sauv Blancs from the Loire or Reislings from the Mosel, and tons of Beaujolais and Dolcettos. I've recently been enjoying the Loire reds, particularly the gamays.

                          In the winter months we tend to drink more reds particularly from Bordeaux (St. Emilion, St. Julien), the Rhone (St. Joseph, Gigondas), and Italian wines like Rosso di Montipuliciano and Barbaresco.

                          At the same time, I do enjoy trying wines that a little less mainstream but reward with unique flavors (Vin Jaune de Jura, White Vin de Savoies, Aged white Rioja, newer Vermouths).

                          1. re: Klunco

                            There are some interesting wines made in the Livermore and Clarksburg AVAs.

                            1. re: Klunco

                              We all have our personal palate preferences . . . for me, *my* favorite region in California is the Santa Cruz Mountains, which run (roughly) from the Monterey Bay up the backbone of the SF Peninsula to Alcatraz . . . .

                              There are over 80 wineries in the region. Some of my favorites (in random order) would include Ridge, Ahlgren, Storrs, Equinox, Clos Tita, Rhys, Kathryn Kennedy, Zayante, among many others. ***Generally speaking*** these wines will be closer to your preferred style than your average Napa wine . . .

                              Livermore has some interesting wines, and -- like the Santa Cruz Mountains -- a long history.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                Thanks for the recommendations! In the meantime, I'll look for wines from these areas/wineries. I know I've enjoyed some of the Ridge wines in the past and have found them to be a good all around value even at the lower end, referring back to the thread topic.

                                1. re: Klunco

                                  Most Santa Cruz Mountains wines are made in the trendy ripe, alcoholic, and oaky style, though the percentage of exceptions is probably considerably larger than in Napa.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Well . . . NOT the wineries I know of and drink on a regular basis, but YMMV . . . .

                                  2. re: Klunco


                                    Just to provide some clarification in response to what someone else said, Ridge should not be considered a SC winery. While they do indeed produce some spectacular wines from SC (Montebello Cab for example), the majority of their wine comes from Sonoma. Or at least that is what they have told me as an ATP member when visiting their Sonoma winery.

                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      I don't know what "should" means? They have two locations Santa Cruz and Sonoma. Their original location is Santa Cruz and the wine they are most famous for historically (and for collectors) is their Ridge Montebello Cab - from Santa Cruz.

                                      In terms of number of different wines produced yes there's more from outside Santa Cruz than Santa Cruz (as they produce a multitude of zin blends from different vineyards), but they still produce a fair amount from Santa Cruz (including a cab, a chardonnay, and some other more obscure ones I can't remember at the moment but definitely their Jinsomare zinfandel and a merlot at certain times)

                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                        Hi goldang195,

                                        Unless I am mistaken, Ridge has never produced a "Jinsomare" wine of any kind let alone the ones you have mentioned. Please correct me if I am wrong.


                                        1. re: Fowler

                                          Several times in the 50 year history of the winery, Ridge has produced a JIMSOMARE -- with an "m", standing for Jim-Sophie-Mary, the owner's three children, IIRC. The all-time greatest California Zinfandel I have ever tasted -- indeed, Zin from anywhere -- remains to this day the 1970 Ridge Jimsomare Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains.

                                          1. re: Fowler

                                            Ridge has produced Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Chardonnay from Jimsomare. I think the only current release is the 2011 Chardonnay.

                                            1. re: Fowler

                                              I am a really awful speller. I meant Jimsomare as noted by others.

                                          2. re: Fowler

                                            Yes, because you were at Lytton!

                                            Ridge produces multiple bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The winery opened in 1962 (IIRC), although a) some cite 1959 as the year of founding, and b) Ridge has a plaque citing a founding date of 1066. Ridge was a founding member of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association, has maintained that membership since Day One, and continues to be an active member and plays a significant role in all SCMWA activities.

                                            Although Ridge owns vineyards in Sonoma -- they purchased the Lytton Sptings vineyard and winery from a former employer of mine - all of their "Estate" labeled wines come from the Santa Cruz Mountains with one exception that I can think of -- the ATP bottling that is designated Lytton Estate (this as opposed to simply saying "Estate" by itself, said distinction being reserved for the Monte Bello properties at the "Home" winery, which is what they have called Monte Bello ever since the purchase of Lytton Springs in the 1980s).

                                            Their business office, corporate headquarters, and main facility *is* at 17100 Monte Bello Rd., Cupertino . . . high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where they have two winemaking facilities -- both on Monte Bello Rd., one at 1,700' elevation, and the other at 2,300' elevation. These are know as the "lower" and "upper" winery, respectively, and combined are "Home."

                                            Since Day One, Ridge has produced a number of wines from grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, the Sierra Foothills, and Mendocino -- and perhaps a few other places I'm forgetting at the moment. They *still* produce wines from all but the last two, and even those may or may not appear in their lineup depending upon vintage and grape availability.

                                            Since wineries have always been defined in the U.S. *not* by where the grapes are grown, but where their main facility is located, there is no doubt that Ridge is a Santa Cruz Mountains winery. (Indeed, your statement is the first time in 50 years I've read anything to the contrary.)

                                            The same, by the way, can be said for Robert Mondavi or Beaulieu or Beringer. All three are Napa Valley wineries despite the fact they purchase and/or grow grapes in other locations for some of their wines.


                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              Day one for Ridge was in 1962, and the only wine was the Monte Bello Cabernet. Their first Sonoma wine was Geyserville Zinfandel in 1966.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                . . . and their first Paso Zin was in 1967.

                                                FWIW, Robert, the partners made Monte Bello Cabernet in 1959, 1960, and 1961. 1962 was the first year Ridge was (re-)bonded as a commercial winery. This accounts for my "1959" reference above; Dave Bennion always told me he started in 1959. That's true. But the winery was bonded in 1962. ;^)


                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  Well, if you want to go back before 1962, you could go back to the 1880s, but the key fact is that prior to 1966 the only wines made there were grown on site.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    No offense, Robert, but that's rather silly. All I was doing was to explain to you why I made my previous comment re: 1959.

                                                    QUOTE -- The winery opened in 1962 (IIRC), although a) some cite 1959 as the year of founding, and b) Ridge has a plaque citing a founding date of 1066. -- UNQUOTE

                                                    Yes, Robert, Osea Perrone bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in 1885, and first made wine under the "Monte Bello Winery" name in 1892. Today, this is known as the "upper" winery. But that not only pre-dates Ridge Vineyards, it pre-dates anyone's involvement with the winery today known as Ridge Vineyards.

                                                    As far as relevance is concerned, at least the 1959 Cabernet was made by the owners of Ridge (pre-Otsuka), and by the winemaker responsible for all Ridge wines preceding the arrival of Paul Draper.

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      I was responding to "Since Day One, Ridge has produced a number of wines from grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, the Sierra Foothills, and Mendocino."

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        (Whooop-de-doo . . . it was Day Two . . . . )

                                              2. re: zin1953

                                                So did they lie to me when they stated the majority of their wines came from Sonoma and were more of a Sonoma winery than a SC winery? That was my contention based upon what they told me, zin1953.

                                                1. re: Fowler

                                                  (My name is Jason, BTW.)

                                                  "Lie" is a rather strong word. But as I said before, someone told you that because you were THERE -- at Lytton -- and an employee there was (justifiably) proud of what they make there. But there is no way that Ridge, as a company, considers themselves a Sonoma winery any more than they consider themselves a Napa winery, or a Paso Robles winery, or an Amador County winery -- despite the numerous truly excellent wines produced from those regions.


                                          3. re: zin1953

                                            Jason, my daughter has been working for Wente for the past year and has been very impressed with a number of Karl Wente's recent efforts, especially some of the smaller lots.

                                            Which Livermore wineries have impressed you?

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              Very cool (for your daughter) -- they are a great family to work for! (OK, I never worked for them, but I worked *with* them a good deal while I was the PR Director at Louis M. Martini.)

                                              OK, keep in mind that a) I don't get out there very much, and b) I certainly haven't tasted the wines out there extensively. That said, I've always loved Wente's Semillon, and was sad to it disappear. Some of their Chardonnays can be quite delicious, and the Livermore Valley Cab has often been good in the past. In truth, I *need* to get out there again . . . sooner, rather than later.

                                              I had a nice Cab Franc from Wood Family, and several Cabernet Sauvignons from Retzlaff, and especially McGrail; I used to like both the red and white "Bordeaux-like" blends from Murrietta's Well, but it's been a while and I think they've changed the blend somewhat. I'm still a sucker for the Concannon Petite Sirahs (they make a number of them), but my favorite "Rhône-ish" producer out there is Thomas Coyne.

                                              Keep in mind there are now some 40 wineries out there, and I am far from an expert on this region. Indeed, although I used to get there rather frequently, I probably have less *recent* experience with Livermore than with any other premium region -- well, certainly less than I should, at any rate.

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                I find Coyne's wines undrinkable. Way too California for my taste.

                                                Ahlgren and Kalin were reportedly buying Semillon from Wente at one point.


                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Well, I'll confess the last time I purchased wines from Coyne was circe 2006, maybe 2005, and I didn't find them that way at all. Haven't had any since, so perhaps the style has changed. (Like I said, I haven't been there in a while.)

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    I was at Thomas Coyne in the last year, and the wines were still delicate and earthy to my palate. Granted, they were pouring older vintages when I went.

                                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                                      I've been tasting Coyne wines for years and I'm not sure I've ever wanted a second glass of any of his reds. He uses too much new oak for my taste. Well-made and interesting wines if you can get past that.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        And THIS -- ladies and gentleman -- is why there is more than one winery in the State of California . . . we *each* have our own tastes.

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Yeah, well, 99% of California wineries could give a damn about my taste, or that of most of the people I talk with at wine bars.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            The difference, I think, is that -- while you and I have broadly similar tastes (in that we both seem to prefer European wines, in general, to those produced in California) -- I don't expect, nor do I want, my California wines to taste like European wines.

                                                            I don't want jammy, overripe, over-the-top and in-your-face wines of ANY kind, and I do not purchase (nor drink) those types of California wines. OTOH, for example, I do buy some wines from Ridge, sticking to the topic above. Ridge makes California wines that I enjoy. But I'd never mistake their Monte Bello Cabernet for a Bordeaux . . . I don't buy it because it's "Bordeaux-like." I buy it because I like it just the way it is. Same with ESJ, Ahlgren, etc., etc.

                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                              I want my California wines to taste like the European wines I buy in the general sense of having terroir, a good balance of fruit, acid, tannin, minerals, and alcohol, and no more oak than the wine can handle (which is usually none).

                                                              In the rare cases where I find that, there's not much danger of mistaking a California wine for one from France or Italy, or vice-versa, at least once I get to know the wine.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I am curious now, as we drift to an area I am not very familiar with....but aren't many European wines very oaky? (they are very oaky to my palate anyway) including Burgundies (esp. the white is noticeable to me but the reds can be as well e.g. Nuits Saint Georges), Riojas etc.?

                                                                Is there a type of European style wine that embodies the spirit of the type of wine you look for?

                                                                1. re: goldangl95

                                                                  Some are; some are not. Just like California.

                                                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                                                    responding to goldang's remarks about oak.......good point, I'm glad you pointed out that both can be too oaky. Sometimes it's even the same oak. You'll see lots of Francois Freres oak in RRV and Sonoma Coast wineries, and Burgundian wineries are full of the same oak. But, to state the obvious, it's how those barrels are used that matters to the final product. Still, I don't think oak is really what is upsetting Robert. This entire thread is fascinating, just great. Reminds me of one a while back about how and why restaurants price wine. Very informative. Back on the subject, I wish Robert had responded to the request to "just spell it out for those of us who are attempting to help you."

                                                                    1. re: pinotho

                                                                      Some of the worst and best Burgundies -- for their respective appellations -- were produced by the same individual. It all boiled down to oak treatment.

                                                                    2. re: goldangl95

                                                                      Many traditional European wines get no oak at all. AOC / DOC / DO rules sometimes forbid it. Some are aged in oak but not much new oak; some wineries replace barrels only when they're worn out. Some modern European wines are over-oaked in the way California wines often are in order to appeal to the same markets.

                                                                      220-230 liter French-style barrels were virtually unknown in Italy until the 80s, when Italians used wood the barrels were typically 25 times that size, plus they were made from a different kind of oak, so they didn't / don't have as much effect on the wine even when new.

                                                                      Some traditional high-end Bordeaux and Rhône wines are undrinkable on release due to massive tannins and can take a fair amount of oak.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        Hmmmmm . . . .

                                                                        I would say that SOME "traditional European wines get no oak at all," but that may be nit-picky; it's pretty much the same thing.

                                                                        It is true that SOMETIMES the "AOC / DOC / DO rules forbid (aging in oak)." Then again, it's quite common for AOC / DOC / DO rules not to mention wood, or to specify the minimum number of months a wine MUST age in wood.

                                                                        "SOME (wines) are aged in oak but not much new oak." True, Robert, but some get a lot of new oak (see below).

                                                                        "SOME wineries replace barrels only when they're worn out." OK, that's true, but it also *strongly* depends upon the grape(s) involved. Many châteaux in Bordeaux, for example, use the same sort of 4-year barrel rotation program most California wineries use. Some châteaux have LONG used new oak every year -- way before Parker ever tasted his first wine -- and cycle out their used barrels to other estates.

                                                                        "Some modern European wines are over-oaked in the way California wines often are in order to appeal to the same markets." Sad, but true. Then again, there are many "non-international" styled European wines which use new oak, and have done so traditionally.


                                                                        "220-230 liter French-style barrels were virtually unknown in Italy until the 80s, when Italians used wood the barrels were typically 25 times that size, plus they were made from a different kind of oak, so they didn't / don't have as much effect on the wine even when new."

                                                                        Well, yes, but it was also in the 1980s that people stopped saying, "This is pretty good . . . for an Italian," and started saying, "This is pretty good," PERIOD. The 1980s saw a whole range of technological winemaking improvements, as well as viticultural improvements, and while there were certainly some producers (notably in Tuscany) that switched to French barriques -- for better or worse -- the 1980s saw a rebirth of Italian wines and quantum leap forward in quality.


                                                                        "Some traditional high-end Bordeaux and Rhône wines are undrinkable on release due to massive tannins and can take a fair amount of oak."

                                                                        True, but there are also several traditional high-end Bordeaux and Rhônes that see a mix of new-and-used oak, or only older wood, or (in some examples from the Northern Rhône) little or no wood whatsoever!


                                                                        It isn't that anything you said here is incorrect, Robert, but there are many wines that go "the other way," in terms of cellar treatment from what you're saying, and I wouldn't want anyone reading this to take what *any* of us say as absolutes. There are far too many exceptions -- on both sides of any equation.


                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          I'm not making theoretical generalizations, I'm trying to explain why there are so many wines I like made in Europe and so few made in California.

                                                                          The leap forward in Italy in the 80s was a mixed bag. For me, the main effect of the rise of overpriced, Californicated super-Tuscans was that it became hard to find good Chianti.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Whereas, for me,despite the "Californiaicated super-Tuscans," there were still some great Chiantis -- even better, in many cases, than in the '60s or '50s because of the reduction in VA.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        I am not being a smart ass Robert, but I think you have a very narrow and unusual palate if only certain European wines suit your preferences. I think it is more common for "wine lovers" to be able to appreciate various types of wines from all over the globe and in many different styles.

                                                                        I can relate in as much as I have a large cellar and I enjoy aged wines, and my palate is "geared" toward preferring them. They are an entire -different -animal in the wine world. However, I can appreciate and enjoy many different wines from all over the world. Both young and aged. Much like I can enjoy a fine chocolate from Chantilly JUST as much as a snickers bar- providing the mood is right. In fact..... there are times when *only* a frozen Snickers bar will do!

                                                                        However, my "go to" (top) preference would still be a 30 year old Bordeaux, I am very happy drinking a 20 dollar Washington state Pinot or the right 15 dollar Napa Cab with my burger. Not just as a "default", but I really like them. They each have their own charm. I don't expect them to taste alike or to have the same characteristics. In fact, that would be boring.

                                                                        Perhaps attempting to develop a wider palate for wine would be easier than attempting to narrow all wine to your palate would be easier and more interesting for you.

                                                                        If not, if you have tried and only "like what you like"...then it is unfortunate for you that you don't have the entire world of wine to enjoy and I don't think there will be advice on this board that will be of much help to you in your quest. If that is the case, then I think you have found what you are looking for in certain European wines =so why bother with the rest of the world?

                                                                        1. re: sedimental

                                                                          I'm not Robert, nor am I intending to even attempt to speak on his behalf. My only comment is that I have been exposed to Robert's -- at least I *presume* it was his -- taste in wines at his short-lived restaurant, Locanda da Eva.

                                                                          Now, I have to say, I found some nice things on it, but nonetheless I recall it as a surprisingly esoteric. Many "wine geeks" loved it, but the average person (at least those that I spoke to) were left a bit perplexed. It didn't help that I had to explain to the person waiting on us about the wines we ordered (the information she was providing was incorrect).

                                                                          To be fair, at least one review on Yelp praised the wine knowledge of the server, so perhaps . . . .


                                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                                            I am truly speaking from some personal experience. There was a time where I considered all young wine to be horribly alcoholic tasting, too fruity, too ..too...MUCH. Your palate can get stuck. I don't see this as refinement as much as a limitation. But I am a firm believer in whatever floats ones boat :)

                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          Robert -

                                                                          I share your preference for that flavor profile, but your desire to get that out of CA wine is only setting you up for disappointment. Sure, some of what constitutes that "California style" comes from winemaking decisions, when to harvest, new wood, old wood, or none, etc. , but much of it is in fact the very "terroir" you say you want. There are few if any AVA's in CA that get the sort of acidity you're accustomed to in European wine, or get grapes physiologically ripe without the dense fruit character prevalent here.

                                                                          The really sad part is that fewer and fewer Eurpoean producers are making that sort of wine anymore. Have you tasted much Burgundy lately?, Bordeaux, Rhone? Brunello?, god, don't even mention Priorat. The simple truth of the matter is those of us that prefer higher acidity, lower alcohol, earth, nervosity, and elegance, are in the consuming minority.

                                                        2. re: Midlife

                                                          Some of my friends really like Boaventura in Livermore. They are not open every weekend so I would call them before heading over there. I seem to miss them when they are open, which is why I haven't tried them yet.

                                      2. Had a great one in a restaurant: Hibou de Nuit Sonoma County Gewürtztraminer. If I'd tasted it blind I'd have guesed Alto Adige or Alsace. $18 if you can find it.


                                        1. Robert, I don't think you'll find very many wines that fit your criteria -- California-made, European-styled, and selling at full retail for under, say, $20.

                                          You have already *rejected* (my words) the wines made by Steve Edmunds, for -- as you said -- you have "liked a lot, but they've gotten pricey. The Bone-Jolly is good but I can get good Beaujolais for a few bucks less." I think that's probably true of almost any example you can think of.

                                          I'm not sure the rationale behind wanting to drink more California wine comes from -- our priorities are different; I'm quite content to seek out wines I enjoy, regardless of origin -- but my cellar is overwhelmingly composed of French, Portuguese, and Spanish wines -- at least 85 percent, perhaps as much as 90. The California wines I have are primarily from wineries like Ridge, Ahlgren, Edmunds St. John, and Storrs -- with some Dashe, Donkey & Goat, and a few others thrown in.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            Rationale, I'm a native with locavore prejudices, and I could drink local wine most of the time if the wineries would recognize the market.

                                            Ahlgren: are they still making Semillion?

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Just finished a bottle of the 2009 this past week. Fantastic, trying to locate some more.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                FWIW, I don't think it's a matter of "recognizing the market." The wineries that *are* making affordable (in this case, let's call it under $20) wine are generally NOT in the better known areas of Napa and Sonoma -- I'm not telling you anything you don't already know -- but rather from other areas less well-known and less cared for -- indeed, regions that many people, other than locals, couldn't care less about.

                                                Temecula? Wineries here principally sell within a 50-75 mile radius -- in Riverside, San Diego and San Bernadino counties (but not that well in LA or Orange). But the wines are generally affordable.

                                                Sierra Foothills? The wineries that are based here (think, for example, Latcham or Mount Aukum, rather than wineries located elsewhere that obtain grapes here, like ESJ) sell most of their wines in the Foothills and Sacramento, but significantly less the closer one gets to the SF Bay Area, and generally not in San Francisco or Southern California.

                                                Livermore? Well, Wente exports more wines than they sell in the US overall, and as for the rest of the area . . . but -- again -- they can be affordable.

                                                Paso? SLO? Monterey? They all suffer from this, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent (certainly appellations like the Santa Lucia Highlands or the Santa Rita Hills -- as do the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries, which sell much better on the Santa Cruz side of "the hill" as opposed to the San Jose side. (Though one difference is that wines from the SCMtns aren't generally <$20.)

                                                So many of the wines that *might* fit your desired goal are difficult to find here, although -- IMHO -- far more wines simply don't fit: they are decidedly California in character and style, and (as many of us have long maintained on these pages) better values are coming out of France, and the other nations of Europe.

                                                So, do they recognize the market? It's probably a chicken-and-egg thing -- the successful wineries have very little reason to change their style, or their pricing. The wineries from more marginal locations, if successful, also have little reason to change. If not, they're still (probably) more successful locally than statewide, and probably sell well out-of-state, where many consumers may not know "Wine X" comes from a "lesser" region (otherwise they'd be out-of-business).

                                                Being in the "heart" of the San Francisco Bay region, it's far more "cosmopolitan" here, and places like Kermit Lynch, North Berkeley, Paul Marcus, The Wine House, Wine Club, etc., etc., etc. ALL thrive on selling imports . . .

                                                As for Ahlgren, to the best of my knowledge they're still making Sémillon -- they had some the last time I visited Dex & Val, but that was about a year ago.


                                            2. Robert, I'd really like to know what you mean by "........... if the wineries would recognize the market."

                                              I read zin1953's reply to you and I'm not sure if you are referring to style or price..... or a combination of both. Price is certainly a way to sell more wine, but style is a much bigger issue IMHO.

                                              In much of Southern California, for example, I find that there is much more interest in California wines than in imports, possibly because the wineries are reasonably accessible and there's a personal connection that develops ...... at least at the premium level (that's $12 and above in the trade, I think). In this part of the country it's much easier for the average consumer to become familiar with CA wine than with imports.

                                              29 Replies
                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                The market I'm talking about is people who buy and drink almost exclusively European wines because California wines aren't as food-friendly, diverse, or affordable. There's such a market in the SF Bay Area.

                                                Meanwhile there's a glut of bulk wine. If those producers would plant different grapes and vinify in different styles they could compete with Europeans instead of selling to Bronco at a loss.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Sorry, Robert, but -- in my experience -- that's not a reasonable . . . what? "solution"? "outcome"? "answer"? to what you perceive as a problem.

                                                  While there is something to be said for Southern California -- and in particular the areas OUTSIDE of "the westside" (Santa Monica, Malibu, West LA, Beverly Hills) -- being more focused on California wines, that doesn't translate to *all* California wines. Keeping price points out of it just for one moment, I've never felt the "Hand of Parker" more strongly than I have in Southern California. Then again, as I said previously, SoCal was a lot more open to wines from Temecula, Ventura, and even Santa Barbara -- pre-Sideways -- than most areas in Northern California, be it SF Bay specific or Northern California as a whole. (Note: that's said from personal experience; I have sold a lot more French wines in LA than I have wines from California, but California sales increased the further away from the westside I got.)

                                                  You are asking for wineries to throw away decades and decades of history and "wisdom," and -- while there may be a future for Albariño or Hondarribia, or even Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro -- since most Americans don't care much for the originals, I'm not sure California vineyard owners will be all that willing to rip up Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay in order to plant them . . .

                                                  Just my 2¢, and no doubt worth far less.


                                                  P.S. Though perhaps I should point out that your recent purchase of two cases of Lodi AVA Zin for $10 sort of proves my point. It's 14% abv., a 2005 vintage (most everyone else is selling 2009s or even 2010s). As near as I can tell, it's WSRP was $15 (so $10 is wholesale/closeout), and while some great Zin is grown in Lodi, there's a lot out there that isn't -- well, let's just say some is not so great. And while we can debate the merits (or lack thereof, in some cases) of various medals, competitions, and fairs -- winning a Gold Medal at the 2011 Houston Livestock & Rodeo Uncorked Wine Competition doesn't exactly make ME want to run out and buy some . . . even for only $10. (No offense intended.)

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    I feel like there are many different reasons to want to seek out local producers of food or wine, it could be for any of the following reasons:
                                                    1. You care about carbon footprint and the environment
                                                    2. Support of the local economy/local pride/local promotion
                                                    3. It consistently tastes better
                                                    4. It is cheaper for the consumer
                                                    5. It is more convenient

                                                    I think for wine, the problem #4 is just not true. It's not cheaper. Then you also get constrained by #3 and #5 if one thinks non-local wines taste better than local wines 'cause they are hard to find.

                                                    But I don't think it should just end there if one cares about #1 or #2 (or both). It's kind of like the local food movement generally. For awhile, a local heirloom tomato had #1 and #2 and #3 going for it, but they were hard to find and very expensive. But there was a push, and it slowly caught on and so the demand created a better economy of scale. It may never be as cheap as a generic tomato at Target or WalMart but they are now much cheaper and more wildly available.

                                                    In that vein, I think that there is hope for a more local, diverse wine industry (in terms of taste/palate) in the future, by what I see happening in the $20-50 range. Lots of wine bars are popping up, a lot of my friends are excited and interested about wine, better variety is available at grocery stores. So I think with some help and support by restaurants, grocery stores, and people who enjoy these wines - enough of a market could be found and developed to help the economies of scale and create more affordable products.

                                                    The sheer amount of food ingredients now acceptable, popular and widely available in the SF Bay Area has changed so much in the last 20 years, and I think it is possible that it could change for wine too.

                                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                                      " For awhile, a local heirloom tomato had #1 and #2 and #3 going for it,..."

                                                      I'm sure you're probably aware gd, but there are certain products that either have a very short harvest season (Elberta peaches, i.e.) or just do not transport well (tomatoes that are really vine ripened), and are therefore limited in scope of availability. Kind of deflates the locavore concept for many portions of the country.



                                                      1. re: PolarBear

                                                        Yes. I am aware that it is much more difficult in other parts of the country. But the original post was about California where it is possible. It is for example, I believe, near to impossible (if not impossible) to find local wine in Alaska.

                                                        1. re: goldangl95

                                                          IIRC, there are four or five wineries in Alaska. (FWIW)

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            Yea, I imagine most of them are berry wines, but I wouldn't be surprised if they blend with grapes up there or produce wine up there though I doubt they'd grow the grapes in Alaska (But who knows, maybe there is a pocket that is warm enough or they grow 'em in greenhouses).

                                                      2. re: goldangl95

                                                        The problem for me with the whole locovore analogy as applied to wine is that wine is a "processed food," rather than merely picked and sent to market as an heirloom tomato, or a bunch of grapes. That is to say, the winery transforms that cluster of (presumed) local grapes into something else -- wine. There IS that "extra step," if you will.

                                                        And of course the grapes themselves do not have to be locally grown -- are we looking at the vineyard's location, or that of the winery? Is a Santa Lucia Highlands-grown Pinot Noir (Monterey County) local to Monterey, or to the Santa Cruz-, Napa Valley-, or Sonoma-based winery that made it?

                                                        But that said, there is NOTHING that goes to your Point #3 above. While one can indeed make the argument that locally grown (NOT processed) heirloom tomatoes taste better when freshly picked and brought immediately to market, a) wine is not consumed when "freshly picked," or even "freshly bottled"; and b) the taste of wine is far more dependent upon the individual's personal palate preferences, and even if one lived in the Napa Valley, locally grown and produced wines may not be to his or her PPP.


                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          I liked Robert Lauriston's point below about terroir - and I do think it does apply to point 3. There is terroir in California, and there are ways to grow wine here that are different from elsewhere (and vice versa). So, I think it is very possible that one could find a sublime way to grow some obscure Hungarian grape varietal in California that would make it taste very different and distinct and perhaps taste better than say in Italy.

                                                          A good example, I think, is old vine California Zinfandel. Certainly, not to everyone's taste - but there's something very special about having those old vines and the wine that is created from them can be distinct and different from any other wine in the world *shrug*.

                                                          I think it would be exciting, interesting and good for the wine industry as a whole to find other areas where California can shine, yes it won't be for everyone but hen of the woods mushrooms, or obscure varieties of kale may not be for everyone either.

                                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                                            Terroir is crucial, and if one is making wine in -- for lack of better terminology -- a "terroiriste" style, versus an international style, then CLEARLY the wines from California will (and should be) DIFFERENT than the wines from, say, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Greece, the UK, Austria, Switzerland . . . .


                                                      3. re: zin1953

                                                        The Regio I just bought two cases of is the current 2009 release. It's not closeout pricing, most of the Arizona retailers wine-searcher Pro finds are charging $10.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Ah. The link you provided was to the 2005 vintage. Still, it's rare to see a winery suggested retail price go DOWN for a wine . . . .

                                                      4. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        >>>"Meanwhile there's a glut of bulk wine."<<<<

                                                        Really? From where? I just finished a consulting project for a prospective Chinese customer and found pretty much the opposite to be true. They wanted California wine at $2/bottle wholesale and it's just not to be found......... and I'm talking about 40' container loads. Best prices I found were in the low to mid $3 range. From any of the 'better' areas custom facilities wouldn't even quote a price without a firm order because the price of juice was rising so rapidly. The Chinese claimed they could get all the wine they wanted from France for $2 and less.

                                                        As to your second point.............. what's your take on all the blends being produced between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Seems to me that region is doing just what you suggest................ just not at the kinds of prices you're suggesting.

                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                          Bulk wine is not bottled. Look at the ads in the back of Wines & Vines or other trade publications. $10 a gallon ($2 per 750ml) is at the low end of the price range, but clearly Bronco's paying less than that for the Charles Shaw Trader Joe's sells for $2. As of last February, they'd sold 600 million bottles of that.

                                                          Most of the wines from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles are super-ripe, high alcohol, very oaky. Probably more so than Napa. Sonoma seems like the best place in California to look for exceptions to the rule.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Yes, strictly speaking, bulk wine is sitting in tank, but I believe -- but could certainly be mistaken -- that he was referring to bulk wine that then costs the equivalent of $2/bottled. That is how such wine was often quoted to me, at either $X per gallon or $Y per bottle. Often costs are quoted in the per bottle equivalent, as it's easier to then calculate the ultimate retail price.

                                                            FWIW, I could either buy the wine in bulk at $X/gallon (or the $Y/bottle equivalent), and have it trucked by tanker to "my" bottling facility, or I could have ___________ bottle it and it would cost me $Z/btl. -- a price that would include bottles, capsules, corks, labels, and cardboard cases. Depending upon the specific situation, I would go with one over the other. Either way, I was buying bulk wine.


                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                              Thanks Jason. That's what I meant. When you contract for private label wine or 'shiners' aren't you usually dealing with a supplier who is buying or using bulk wine which will be 'bottled' somewhere? I know it can also be shipped 'in bulk', but it winds up in some sort of smaller container at some point.

                                                              Robert, I think you might be pleasantly surprised at some of the Central Coast profiles, though I don't disagree with you in general.

                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Glut of of bulk CA wine, really? Have you read any trade articles on the subject? Quite the contrary, the fear over the last 6 mos or so has been of a shortage. In response to feared shortage, bulk prices have risen dramtically for anything of decent quality. 2011 was a short harvest, and sent large producers scrambling for juice. 2012 looks to be a normal to large crop, and fears seem to have subsided. Check in with a broker, like Turrentine (you can access lots of newsletters on their website)

                                                              1. re: Sam B

                                                                I was out of date on that. I wonder if Bronco / TJ's will have to raise the price on Charles Shaw?

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Hi Robert,

                                                                  In many parts of the country Charles Shaw is already $3 per bottle.

                                                                  1. re: Fowler

                                                                    Yeah, in other states it's $2.50 to almost $4, but that has nothing to do with grape / bulk wine prices, it's transportation and taxes.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Robert, I simply answered your question with a fact. I never said the price of that specific wine had something to do with bulk wine prices or transportation or taxes.

                                                                      1. re: Fowler

                                                                        I was wondering if Bronco / TJ's would have to raise the price of Charles Shaw due to the increase in bulk wine / grape prices. That has nothing to do with the longstanding existing variations in price around the country.

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          I'm still hung up on your assertion that there's a "glut" of bulk wine. If there is, then why are prices rising? Just asking.

                                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                                            Glut or no glut, the answer to that question is the same as always: because they can. ;^)

                                                                            1. re: Midlife

                                                                              I was out of date. There had been a glut for some years, low harvests in 2011 changed that.

                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      <I was out of date on that. I wonder if Bronco / TJ's will have to raise the price on Charles <Shaw?

                                                                      In CA, not yet so far as I know. Lighter bottles, shorter corks and better deals on shipping are the current strategy to keep the price down.

                                                                      Personally I'd like to see $2.99 or $3.99 to make folks stop and think perhaps I can get something better at the same price point . Selling Shaw is the worst part of my job because its sweetish soda pop wine with no back bone. Yuck!

                                                                      1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

                                                                        Whole Foods now has $1.99 wine as well. ;o[]

                                                                        One of the "flavors" says it's "American" in origin. Gives the maker a whole lot of latitude.

                                                                        Kindof sad in a way.

                                                            3. re: Midlife

                                                              Just curious, where are we drawing the line, to me SoCal starts south of roughly Ventura.

                                                              1. re: PolarBear

                                                                Are we dividing California into thirds or into half? ;^)

                                                                I think of Santa Barbara as being in Southern California, but Santa Maria (at the opposite end of SB County) as being in Central California -- the dividing line may be near Buellton and Solvang.

                                                                Theoretically, one could make the argument that San Francisco is still in Central California, given the distance between the Oregon and Mexican borders, but I think most would consider the SF Bay area as Northern California. (Note: the telephone company, for the purpose of toll charges, considers Santa Cruz and Eureka in the same toll zone, but not Santa Cruz and Monterey.)