HOME > Chowhound > Wine >


What type of red wine do I like?

Hi all,

So I'm relatively new to the wine scene, and being from the Bay Area, I have mainly tried only Napa/Sonoma wines.

I know the qualities that I like in a red wine, but I am betting that there's some type outside of California that generally covers most of the attributes I look for that I only rarely find in a Napa Cabernet. Can y'all help me figure out what I should try?

Things I look for, in order of importance:
Old oak rather than new oak
Light to medium tannins
Medium to long finish

What types of varietals or blends out there might match this profile? I think Bordeaux blends could be promising (only tried a couple to date, but enjoyed them), but I would appreciate any advice from you lovely folks. :)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Jammy means very ripe fruit, and with current wine fashions that generally goes hand in hand with new oak. Both are about winemaking style rather than grape variety.

    France and Italy make more wines that meet your criteria than California does. Morgon and Frapatto / Frapatto-Nero d'Avola blends would be good bets.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Good point. I'm always happy to be educated on wine. Thanks for the tips. :)

    2. Not sure if it would match the oak criteria but south American Malbecs might be worth a shot.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chinaplate

        It's hard to find an Argentine Malbec that isn't overwhelmingly oaky.

        Old-school Cahors (another Malbec-based wine) such as Clos la Coutale is more balanced but rarely jammy and often pretty tannic.

      2. - Oak is a note that tends to integrate and drop out overtime. With a lot of CA wines, that means waiting 6 months to a year after release.
        - Jammy makes me think Zinfandel or a Grenache/Syrah blend...maybe Merlot
        - Full bodied drops out Pinot Noir, Tempernillo
        - Tannins, like oak, really integrate if you wait 6 months to a year after release
        - Any well made red wine should have a good finish if its in the first few years of release

        Try CA Zinfandel. Ridge for more food-friendly, built to last wines. Turley or Opolo for thicker more jammy versions.

        Also try Orin Swift's portfolio if you haven't already.

        Outside CA. Try French Rhone blends, esp. with Grenache as the dominant grape (Chataneuf-du-Pape is one such region).

        Bordeaux is a good idea as well - though very expensive. You may want to try the regions of Pomerol or St-Estèphe - In my opinion, they're more accessible at a younger age.

        15 Replies
        1. re: goldangl95

          <Bordeaux is a good idea as well - though very expensive.>

          Actually, that's only true for the classified growths. There are many Bordeaux reds that cost in the $15 - $30 range that are more than just drinkable. In fact they can be short-term ageworthy. I find them a great value.

          1. re: goldangl95

            In recent years, I have not found that California wines that I find too oaky get more palatable over time. With high alcohol and low acid resulting from overripe fruit, they're not structured to age well.

            I love Zinfandel but with the overripe / overoaking trend of recent years I rarely taste one that I like. Exceptions include Oak Ridge OZV Zinfandel and Zlatan (from Croatia).

            Turley, gak. One of the worst of the oak offenders.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                We often disagree on this. I've found even the more jammy less structured wines can certainly hold up for a year - and by then there is a marked difference in the oak notes. A year (in good storage conditions) is not particularly aging unless the wine is really poorly made.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Another Zinfandel that's out of the usual mold is Dashe's "Les Enfants Terribles."


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    My experiences are similar to yours.

                    If a wine is heavily oaked, that attribute/fault seems to follow it, throughout history, and seldom dissipate, to any degree, that I can ascertain.

                    Some "faults" can be moderated, over time, but not enough, that I would purchase a wine, and hope that it happens, but that is just me.


                  2. re: goldangl95

                    Hmmm . . . comments from the peanut gallery . . . . .

                    >>> Oak is a note that tends to integrate and drop out overtime. With a lot of CA wines, that means waiting 6 months to a year after release. <<<

                    Unless the fruit fades first, in which case you have an over-oaked wine with little to no fruit. I've experienced this too many times to count.

                    >>> Jammy makes me think Zinfandel or a Grenache/Syrah blend...maybe Merlot <<<

                    High alcohol, overripe Zin, yes; High alcohol, overripe CA Syrah as "Shiraz," yes. Grenache, not so much. A truly good, not overcropped Merlot -- yes, but hard to find in CA. Best to go north to Washington State.

                    >>> Full bodied drops out Pinot Noir, Tempernillo <<<

                    I've had some surprisingly full-bodied Tempranillo from the Rioja, and far too many "new style" CA Pinots are produced in what I often call the "Pinot-as-Shiraz" style. Very full bodied wines.

                    >>> Tannins, like oak, really integrate if you wait 6 months to a year after release. <<<

                    Uh, yeah. See my comments on oak above. Or, for that matter, see my cellar of overly tannic, aged California reds with no fruit and lots of sediment.

                    >>> Any well made red wine should have a good finish if its in the first few years of release. <<<

                    Any well made red wine should have a good finish, period.

                    >>> Bordeaux is a good idea as well - though very expensive. You may want to try the regions of Pomerol or St-Estèphe - In my opinion, they're more accessible at a younger age. <<<

                    a) As Chef June has already pointed out, only the classified growths are very expensive; there are any number of delicious reds from Bordeaux in the $15-30 range.

                    b) Did you really mean to say "Pomerol or St.-Estèphe"? Pomerol, on the right bank, is always very high in Merlot and thus can be accessible younger (though many of the top estates need years in the cellar). St.-Estèphe, on the other hand, is a left bank wine that is very high in Cabernet Sauvignon and typically very tannic in its youth. (That said, St.-Estèphe is home to a number of terrific "petits châteaux".) St.-Émilion, however, is -- like Pomerol -- on the right bank, high in Merlot, and can often be approached while young, especially lesser châteaux and those from St.-Émilion's satellites. These are the appellations of Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Montagne-Saint-Émilion, Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion, and Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion.

                    Just my 2¢, and worth much less I'm sure . . .


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Have you experienced a lot of CA red wines where the fruit has dropped completely out in 6 months to a year after release? While I've certainly experienced the issue where the fruit drops out before the tannins/oak resolve. I don't think I've ever had that issue occur that early.

                      On the full bodied pinot note - Rusack does a nice full bodied Pinot (at least they did). With the cool vintage, I'm not sure how their latest release fairs.

                      On Bordeaux I'll cede to your opinion. We are in agreement with Pomerol. You are probably right about St.-Estèphe - my experience with Bordeauxs is not extensive and it just may be a coincidence that the ones I remember were more accessible and had a greater percentage of Merlot.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        >>> Have you experienced a lot of CA red wines where the fruit has dropped completely out in 6 months to a year after release? While I've certainly experienced the issue where the fruit drops out before the tannins/oak resolve. I don't think I've ever had that issue occur that early. <<<

                        1. re: goldangl95

                          <<Have you experienced a lot of CA red wines where the fruit has dropped completely out in 6 months to a year after release?>>

                          No more, than examples where the overuse of oak has dissipated in time - actually, fewer, as a heavy "oak hand" seems to follow the wine, for its life. That is one fault, that I do not see "fading away," but it might be relative to the examples, that I have been exposed to.


                        2. re: zin1953

                          >>I've had some surprisingly full-bodied Tempranillo from the Rioja>>

                          I think exploring Rioja wines and wines made from the Tempranillo grape in general might be a very good area of exploration for you, Shokora. There's an inherent smoothness in this grape, and it usually makes wines with vibrant fruit.

                          Another great area of red wine exploration may be the Ribera del Duero wines, also made from the Tempranillo grape. I remember when I first discovered them -- I fell in love with this district. Among them, the Pesquera, mentioned below, is perhaps the most intense -- it's a beautiful wine, but it's more intense, with more structure and oak, than the other Ribera wines. No need to purchase the expensive Riberas like Pesquera or Vega Sicilia -- the regular releases are a better place to start.

                          I sense you may be after fruity wines with good flavor development rather than "jammy" wines. "Jammy" often connotes very ripe or over-ripe fruit, and with that comes high-alcohol.

                          I'd also explore the Southern Rhone wines (or that style of wine made in the US), wines with Grenache/Garnarcha, and the Beaujolais-Villages wines.

                          Try to find some good tasting rooms or restaurant bars
                          with good selections and taste a few things with friends. Good luck -- enjoy the ride.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Just wanted to say thank you for your post, it's very informative to this wine dummy. Especially that part about Bordeaux, as I do know that I prefer French wines to Californian wines.

                            1. re: cosmogrrl

                              Thank you for that.

                              Sometimes this forum goes off on tangents, but I hope you will always feel free to ask questions. The only stupid or silly question is the one never asked, and the only way we learn is by asking, so . . . ;^)


                              1. re: zin1953

                                Tangent? I mean "tangents?"

                                Of course there are tangents, but that is part of the fun... right?


                                1. re: zin1953

                                  I liked the post, especially about the French wines, because it put a ton of information into one paragraph that other, professional writers take pages, even chapters to say. It was succinct!

                          2. Funny - seems to me the qualities you seek are commonly found in CalCabs except for maybe old oak. I think the opposite is true of Bordeaux. Do those who suggest Bordeaux really think of ithem as jammy and full-bodied with light tannins?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: FrankJBN

                              In the warm vintages, I do find some Bordeauxs (depending on the varietal makeup) jammy. Not compared to say a Southern California Zinfandel - but jammy for an old world wine. I am not a Bordeaux expert though - too expensive to explore with impunity.

                              If you want something unbelievably thick and ripe (but in a good way) try Amarone.

                              1. re: FrankJBN

                                I do agree that there are a number of CA Cabs that have many of these qualities, but usually for quite a price tag. I was just wondering if I have expensive taste, or if there was some other type of red out there that would generally fit my preferences. :)

                                1. re: Shokora

                                  I find these qualities in the most of the CalCabs I have enjoyed and I've never spent more than $30 on a CA wine.

                                  1. re: FrankJBN

                                    Neutral / no oak and jammy are a rare combination anywhere in the world these days.

                                  2. Try wines from the Coteaux du Languedoc region of France, wines made from Aglianico from Italy's Campania or Basilicata regions, Lagrein from Italy's Alto Adige, and Barbera d'Alba or Barbera d'Asti from Italy's Piedmont.

                                    You might also find some non-Duboeuf Beaujolais from the 2009 or 2010 vintage will work for you. Particularly Thivin's Cote du Brouilly.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. "I only rarely find in a Napa cabernet..."

                                      So, bottom line, I presume you're looking for red wines that are fairly dis-similar from cabernet...

                                      There's alot of thoughtful recommendations on this thread... here's another: try a Valpolicella Ripasso... nice full and velvety body, not very tannic, and won't remind you of cabernet in flavor...

                                      1. I think we prefer similar styles, though I love quite a few Napa cabs. Recently went to a blind cab tasting at K&L Wines in RWC and bought this lovely bottle...


                                        I've since discovered that outside CA, dh & I love Italian reds. As goldang mentioned, French Rhone blends are good too.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ceekskat

                                          I <3 K&L. Thanks for the tip -- I'll definitely check this one out. Great that it's sub $40. I find that I do like a number of CA Cabs as well, but they're usually part of the reserve collection that are upwards of $70 a bottle.

                                        2. From what you listed, I'd really suggest an Italian Amarone. Seems to fit all your desires in a wine.

                                          1. I absolutely love Ribera del Duero from Spain, esp the offerings from Tinto Pesquera. The grape is Tempranillo, known locally as Tinto del Pais.

                                            However, the oak is new American, but it does not bother me as it often does In Riojas, probably because Ribera del Dueros are deeper in fruit.

                                            I might add that one of the most impressive tastings I ever attended was in the early 90s when 12 producers from Ribero del Duero toured the USA together. A number of different styles of Ribero del Duero, and the producers themselves all spoke (broken English, for sure, but every producer did speak). The wines spoke too. They were all excellent, and the coup de grace was a final glass of Tinto Pesquera Gran Reserva.

                                            Tinto Pesquera was soon on my wine list.

                                            1. You'll be at home with most mid-range merlot-dominant Bordeaux, as has been noted, from the St. Emilion satellites or a good Bergerac or Cotes de Castillon. An old line Rioja reserva would also seem to fit the bill, though you'd have to discern whether the oak was old or new. From Piedmont, a Carema presents nebbiolo in a somewhat more fragrant, "lighter" style tehan is found farther south in the Langhe.

                                              1. One great option from California is Bonny Doon wines -they really don't use much oak and I love their wines. A good, reasonably priced wine from the is Contra -it's fruity dense and untainted by sweetness and the gratuitous oakiness that has ruined most California red wines.

                                                Outside California a good, fruity and rich red wine is lower-end Bordeaux. Chateau de Brandey 2010 is such a wine, 100% merlon, 100% stainless steel fermentation, Both cost ≈$15.

                                                84 Replies
                                                1. re: aaron_l

                                                  I tasted all the wines on offer at Bonny Doon's tasting room last year and found them all too oaky except for one white.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Wow, that's new to me, I guess the only ones I've had recently were the Contra and the Cigare Volant (in Demi-Muids, which I guess will limit it from being too oaky due to the large size). Their philosophy seems to be limited manipulation, so it's too bad they are over-oaking.

                                                    Robert, do you have any recommendation for California wines that aren't oaky? I REALLY don't like the taste of new oak and it keeps me from drinking California wine (even though I live here in CA I drink mostly wine from Europe). I'd love to have an alternate that's reasonably local, if you have any suggestions.

                                                    1. re: aaron_l

                                                      "California wines that aren't oaky"

                                                      In the past few years I've had California reds I liked from Donkey and Goat, Paul Matthew, Clos Saron, and Bink. Also from Ahlgren, but they've retired.

                                                      When I was buying wine for my restaurant a couple of years ago I bought cases from Yorkville Cellars, Pey-Lucia, Textbook, Broadside, and Lioco only to find that they were unpalatably oaky. Probably I tasted them after some serious oak bombs and by contrast they seemed balanced.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Looking at some old tasting notes, I take it back aobut Lioco, the 2008 Indica was a little alcoholic for my taste but it's one of the rare California reds with no oak at all.

                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Difficult to believe Bonny Doon's wines are overoaked, especially in regards to Le Cigare Volant. I've had this wine many, many times.

                                                      Are you confusing unresolved oak with too much oak?

                                                      A wine with a judicious amount of oak aging is not too oaky if the oak is unresolved -- the wine simply needs time. With a bit of aging, the tannins soften and become silky.

                                                      Granted, the oak in an over-oaked wine will never resolve
                                                      and fade into the background -- the tannins will never become silky. But that's not the case with Bonny Doon wines.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        By "too oaky" I mean I tasted the oak as an unpleasant, unintegrated flavor that made me not want to drink the wine. The wines did not taste to me as if they were made to age and were too young, they tasted as if they were supposed to be ready to drink by people who have different taste than I do.

                                                        Most people would probably not agree with me but I'm particularly intolerant. Even the California reds that people usually hold up as exceptions, such as Broc and Broadside, I usually don't like because of the oak.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Glad to find a kindred spirit, I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. Back then it really was the case that oak was NOT a spice, and if the oak characteristics were prominent in a wine (other than very young wines that were meant to be aged several years before they were opened) it was a real flaw, a screw-up on the winemaker's part. For whatever reason American winemakers and brewers like to take things to the extreme. For brewers, this happened with hops and with wine it happened with oak and ripeness.

                                                          As a winemaker, I can understand why oak has become such a part of red wine, for the same reasons that it became so prominent in Chardonnay -it has characteristics that cover up so many flaws in wine. It adds a strong vanilla aroma that masks any off-smells of herbaceous/vegetal aromas, it adds sweetness and body to a thin wine, it softens tannins in a young wine and adds soft tannins to wines laking structure. The sweetness and vanilla aromas of oak are super-appealing to people who don't drink much wine or who are just starting out. It's also a traditional thing to age wine in, so all this was much more socially-acceptable than if winemakers just added sugar, vanilla and other "spices" to the wine directly.

                                                          I think all this is fine, it's a tool to help wine and people are going to use it. What I really don't like is that while "oak-as-a-spice" can prop up a poor wine, when used as a "spice" in a good or great wine it comes with a heavy cost. All that added aroma and flavor covers up the delicate, ephemeral nuances that separate great wines from ordinary wine, good years from bad years, and even blurs the differences between regions and grape varieties. Furthermore, any jerk with money can buy Allier oak barrels. This is great for winery economics, but I think it's a real devil's bargain for prestigious wineries with great wines to use oak in this way. Unfortunately in the past few years it's tough to find even expensive California wines that don't taste and smell like oak, to the extent that young wine drinkers equate California red wine with oak.

                                                          As with everything else there will probably be a backlash, and a few years later people will "discover" unoaked red wine, just like unoaked chardonnay. :)

                                                          1. re: aaron_l

                                                            Wholeheartedly agree on the many points you made. And don't get me started on over-hopped beers and over-oaked Chardonnay! I will be happy to see the day that unoaked red wine makes its "comeback." ;)

                                                            1. re: aaron_l

                                                              >>> I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. <<<

                                                              As the late Louis P. Martini used to say, You want oak? Chew a toothpick."

                                                              1. re: aaron_l

                                                                The backlash has been going on for some time, but mostly on the consumer end.

                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                Might "too oaky" for you be an appropriate amount of oak but the wine is simply too young and the oak hasn't become integrated?

                                                                Or, are you particularly sensitive to all oak, and thus even the smallest amount bothers you?

                                                                Granted, some California wines are over-oaked. Other wines are oaked judiciously, and when one tastes these wines one has to factor out the oak.

                                                                But I'm finding more and more reds that are oaked but ready to drink from the get-go -- no aging required.

                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                  My experience is consistently that wines that taste like that on first encounter get less palatable over time. Obviously other people's taste is different or they'd stop making them.

                                                                  I've drunk lots of wine that made for laying down that's hard and closed on release. That's a totally different set of flavors.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    Obviously, this is a matter of degree, and just by reading your words, it's difficult to ascertain if you are put off by proper oak treatment or over-oaking.

                                                                    Again, I've found a huge backing-off of overt oak treatment in wines. Part of this is a marketing decision because most wine drinkers buy wine to be drunk immediately.

                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                      Oak doesn't bother me when the winemaker is trying to appeal to someone with my sort of palate. Gruaud-Larose is one of my all-time favorites, and it reportedly spends 18 months in 50% new oak. The 2004 Binks Hawks Butte Syrah I had the other night was lovely and I think it spent 22 months in 35% new oak.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        That 2004 Syrah had plenty of time for the oak tannins to soften and become silky.

                                                                        Can you clarify what puts you off about oak?

                                                                        Is it a new wine that has unresolved oak -- that will soften, like what the 2004 Syrah must have tasted like when it was first released?

                                                                        Or is it a wine that has too much oak for its other properties?

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          One factor to consider is that new oak barrels are currently also paired with other treatments that flavor the wine with oak. There is a whole industry devoted to new products that impact oakiness, originally through powder and chips, and more recently through cubes, pellets and staves. In the past, oakiness that was derived from anything other than barrel aging was solely the domain of inexpensive wines. In the past ten years major, expensive wineries have started regularly using these products and I believe they are commonplace in most wineries, even boutique wineries. For me, this is why it's so difficult to tell whether a wine will be oaky or not based on the description. I've found that some wines with significant barrel aging in new oak aren't overpowered by oak, while another wine with the same wine and barrel profile is really oaky. This is because wine makers will gladly tell you about barrel treatment but are almost never going to mention the oak powder that when in after crush to ferment with the grapes, and the oak cubes that went into the barrel with the wine as it aged. Bonny Doon does disclose this, and you can see from there website how common non-barrel oak is, and this from the winery that prides itself on minimal intervention and manipulation in the wine-making process. European wines are unlikely to do this, since it is probably illegal to do in places like Bordeaux. In short, I think a lot of the excessive oakiness in CA red wines today comes from sources other than new oak barrels, but we won't know for sure until wineries start labeling their wines with ingredients like Bonny Doon and (more recently) Ridge do.

                                                                          1. re: aaron_l

                                                                            I've seen a huge backing off for many years of heavy oak treatment -- new barrels, etc. -- and tasting through the current releases of many wineries have revealed that. I still come across older releases that have been ineptly and heavily oaked, too much for that specific wine. In the hands of a good winemaker, oak is used judiciously, which sometimes means not at all.

                                                                            The whole thrust in the last five years of great winemaking from where I am in Northern California has been harmony and the direct expression of the grape, always, overall.

                                                                            So, there's a huge interest in second- and third-year barrels, especially for their specific flavor additions to the wine; and the use of neutral oak casks (imparting no flavor). Of interest also in the toast of the barrel, and the type of oak, of course. American oak (quercus a.)
                                                                            leaves such a heavy footprint -- it requires a light touch and a winemaker who understands how to use it delicately and correctly given when the wine is expected to be sold and drunk.

                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                              It's like you live on Opposite World from me. I hope the over-oaking thing has peaked, but it's still very rare that I come across a current-release California or other New World red that is not unpalatably oaky. People talk about harmony and balance, but they're only halfway back to normal. I rarely have that problem with European wines except for those styled for export and super-Tuscans.

                                                                              The 2004 Bink did have time to come around, but that was their current release in August. Now they're on to the 2005.

                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                I am not seeing what you are describing much anywhere at all, except for very high-end wines designed for aging.

                                                                                I live slightly north of you. I don't know what you're tasting, but it doesn't seem current or reflective of current releases on a widespread scale, since I frequently taste all through Sonoma, Napa and points north, east and south.

                                                                                Part of the backing off of oak is simply sales and profits. Wineries need to sell wine that is immediately recognized as easy to enjoy.

                                                                                Most people don't lay down wine for a few years and wait for the oak to resolve. They want wine to drink tonight or in the next few months. So the red wines are made -- for the most part -- to accommodate that. They're made to drink immediately and have an aging life of about 5 years.

                                                                                The most expensive wines are made to lay down and be drunk years later. Those wines will taste overoaked to those not knowing that the amount of oak is proper but simply needs time.

                                                                                Finally, there are those wines and winemakers who add too much oak, but I don't see that very often anymore.
                                                                                I do find winemaking errors like that in poorly-made wines, but as mentioned, don't come across those often.

                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                  I live in the Bay Area as well. What you're saying doesn't fit in with what I'm experiencing at all. I went into the local wineshop, which specializes in Napa and Sonoma Cabernets, and asked them if they could point me to some decent California reds that weren't heavily oaked and they kind of laughed and said "I know what you mean, but you're going to have trouble finding it." The woman who was helping me pointed me to a few options and I bought two of them. The first one I tried a few days ago was disappointing, oaky and not much else. I haven't opened the other yet. They tried to steer me to Bordeaux, but it's easy to find Bordeaux that I like and I wanted something from around here. Maria, do you have some suggestions I should try out? That would be great since I had kind of given up hope!

                                                                                  1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                    If you ask a Napa/Sonoma Cab store about an unoaked or lightly oaked wine, you're infrequently going to find one. Cabs are usually oaked and meant to be aged. As I mentioned. I allowed for this possibility.

                                                                                    However, a good many of them are made to be drunk the day they're bought, with no aging.

                                                                                    The other aspect of unoaked or lightly-oaked is: the last time you asked about them or tasted widely. Has it been lately? Seen the shift yet? It's happening everywhere.

                                                                                    Billions of dollars of profits are at stake--wineries must make wine that's friendly and easy to toss back for most people from day one (as well as making ageable Cabs) if they want to stay in business.

                                                                                    America is a "now, now, now" culture, and the wine business understands that. So of course lightly-oaked wines are everywhere, or wines that taste unoaked but actually are.

                                                                                    I will say that poorly made cheap wines often seem heavy with (fake)oak manipulation. At the other end of the spectrum are prized ultra-premium wines that taste of oak while in the barrel or upon release or during their first few years of aging. But between the low-end and high-end is the vast majority of wine that is made to be drunk the day it is purchased.

                                                                                    Just as a word of explanation: The trick in the case of ultra-premium wines is to taste "past" the oak, to perceive the fruit and other flavors "underneath" the oak. In that case, the oak is apparent but the wine is not over-oaked -- the wine simply has not had enough time to become what is intended, like a baked potato that is partially raw still. Both the wine and the potato simply need more time. You may not be in the market for this type of wine, but this is how these wines are evaluated before they're ready to drink.

                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                      >>> If you ask a Napa/Sonoma Cab store about an unoaked or lightly oaked wine, you're infrequently going to find one. Cabs are usually oaked and meant to be aged. <<<

                                                                                      Quick story:

                                                                                      I was good friends with Jerry Luper "back in the day," and following a Spring Release tasting in LA, he had an extra 750ml tank sample of 1974 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosché, which he gave me. It was a stunning wine, "bottled" right out of the tank after fermentation -- big fruit, tannins, dense, and delicious (for a tank sample), but far from a finished wine.

                                                                                      I kept the bottled tank sample and put it in my cellar.

                                                                                      When the 1974 Bosché was finally released, I paired it with my now three-year old bottled tank sample, and eventually tasted the two of them side-by-side. This was while I worked at Louis M. Martini Winery. (Jerry Luper's first job was at Martini, IIRC.) The tasting was actually six 1974 Napa Cabs -- served blind: Martini Special Selection, Heitz Martha's, Beaulieu Georges Latour, Clos du Val, and the two bottlings of Bosché. At the tasting was Louis P. Martini, Michael Martini, Steve Dooley, the enologist from the lab, and a few other people at Martini -- we were in the conference room. Silence was around the table as we tasted and evaluated . . . finally broken when Louis P. said, "Now we know when we put wine in oak."


                                                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                                                        I have stunning "frozen in time" memories of the Bosche.

                                                                                    2. re: aaron_l

                                                                                      Oh, boy, Aaron -- let's make it FOUR of us who live in Bay Area . . .

                                                                                      Anyway, my experience is closer to Maria Lorraine's, but if you insist on wanting to drink Cabernet from the Capital of Oak (Napa Valley), then you are more likely to be disappointed than not.

                                                                                      But I only worked in Napa Valley for 2-1/2 years of the 35 I was in the wine trade. Then again, "Napa is just a four-letter word the rest of in the wine business have to learn to live with."

                                                                                      Sonoma, on the whole, is less over-oaked than Napa. Mendocino and the Santa Cruz Mtns. are less oaky in general than Sonoma . . .

                                                                                      1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                        "some decent California reds that weren't heavily oaked"

                                                                                        That's not an absurd question. A good retailer would have talked with you a bit to understand exactly what you were looking for.

                                                                                        If what you were looking for was a wine where the oak was in balance with the other flavors so it didn't stand out, a well-stocked store should have some mature Cabernets from wineries such as those discussed in the Eric Asimov article I linked to below.

                                                                                        Dashe is using no new oak with most of his Zinfandels these days.

                                                                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                        People who find most contemporary Napa and Sonoma reds well-made don't have the same palate I do.

                                                                                        Presumably there are lots of those people or the industry would stop picking overripe grapes and dosing wines meant to be drunk young with oak.

                                                                                        Are you in the business?

                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          Robert, I think this comment is SERIOUSLY flawed . . .

                                                                                          >>> People who find most contemporary Napa and Sonoma reds well-made don't have the same palate I do. <<<

                                                                                          This implies that YOU (even more than the the other Robert, our Emperor and Lord, God Parker) are the arbiter of what is well made. I find any number of Napa and Sonoma wines to be well made -- indeed, it is difficult (aside from TCA) to find poorly made wines in California today -- but that doesn't mean that I like the way they taste, like the style in which they are made, or even enjoy them.

                                                                                          But they are well-made wines, nonetheless.

                                                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                                                            "they are well-made wines"

                                                                                            The execution may be perfect but the recipe is bad. Aging red wines intended to be drunk young in new oak results in food-hostile and unpleasant wines. Same deal with starting with overripe grapes. Put the two together and that's 49 out of 50 California red wines.

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              Problem No. 1 -- no recipe ("Winemaking starts in the vineyard").

                                                                                              Problem No. 2 -- which came first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, who is "right," and who is "wrong" Robert? Is the person MAKING the wine for aging wrong when over 96 percent of all wines purchased in the US are consumed within seven days of purchase, or is the person DRINKING the wine wrong for drinking the wine far too early?

                                                                                              Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that, if left to its own devices (so to speak), needs aging. So why are consumers opening and drinking the newly released vintages?

                                                                                              OK, now clearly a wine like Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon or Forest Glen is a far cry from Araujo or Bryant Family . . . and, yes, a Forest Glen or "Two Buck Chuck"-type of Cab IS meant for drinking now (if not yesterday) . . . but how do YOU want the Araujo's of the world to taste today, far short of their maturity? Do you want wineries like Phelps to really make their Insignia in a style to drink today?

                                                                                              How is it the wineries' fault if consumers open the wines too soon?

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                I think you have some things wrong here:

                                                                                                No one is aging red wines meant to be drunk young. They're either GROWN to be drunk young, or GROWN to be aged.

                                                                                                <<Put the two together and that's 49 out of 50 California red wines.>>

                                                                                                This seems to be an issue of bad data. Your sample of wine-tasting is not representative or large enough to generalize about an entire state.

                                                                                                If 49 of 50 California wines are as you say, then you are choosing lousy wines to try, or really cheap wines, or something else is completely screwy with your representative sample. Your data is bad, and your conclusion faulty because of your data.

                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                  My sample is plenty broad.

                                                                                                  When I was buying for my restaurant I constantly asked wine reps to find me California wines that I could honestly recommend to customers, which is to say, that I would drink myself. I had good luck with whites and roses. Reds were almost impossible, I think I found two. Half a dozen others, as I noted before, I liked well enough when tasting with the reps or at trade tastings that I ordered cases, but on further tasting they were too oaky and/or alcoholic.

                                                                                                  As I said, there are lots of other restaurant wine buyers out there who feel the same way. That's why you see so many Euro-centric wine lists in the Bay Area.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    Robert, I do not doubt your sincerity here, and having been to your former restaurant, I have to say I liked your wine list. That said, I disagree completely with your buying strategy.

                                                                                                    >>> When I was buying for my restaurant I constantly asked wine reps to find me California wines that I could honestly recommend to customers, which is to say, that I would drink myself. <<<

                                                                                                    When I was buying for retail stores, I would primarily buy wines that (retail) offered great quality-for-the-price (QPR). But clearly I also had to carry certain brand names (think KJ, for example), and on the higher-end, certain "names" that I knew customers would look for.

                                                                                                    But for restaurants, my priority -- first and foremost -- was NOT to buy wines "that I could honestly recommend to customers, which is to say, that I would drink myself." Rather, my priority was to buy wines that would work with the cuisine of the restaurant. Thus -- Example No. 1 -- while I'm not the biggest fan of Cabernet Franc from the Loire, if it goes with the cuisine, I'm buying the best Chinon or Bourgueil I can find -- I *still* have to be able to taste and appreciate ALL wines, even if I may not personally be a fan.

                                                                                                    Example No. 2: like you, I do not like over-oaked, overripe, overly alcoholic wines. But I know that many of my potential customers DO. So . . . should I not carry them in my retail store? Should I not have one on my wine list, even though my clientele likes and would buy them?

                                                                                                    The wine list isn't about you and your personal likes. It's about the restaurant's food, and the desires of your customers.

                                                                                                    (Note: the latter is more flexible in states like California where BYOB is permitted, but more strict in locations where it is not.)

                                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                      "Wines that I would drink myself" and "wines that went with the food in the restaurant" were not in conflict at all.

                                                                                                      Should we have served food-hostile California wines because some customers would have bought them? None of the good Italian restaurants in the Berkeley-Oakland area do that.

                                                                                                      A retail shop, it's stupid to lose sales. Carry the Rombauer, maybe you can talk its fans into trying something else. Don't stock it and they'll just go buy it elsewhere.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        >>> "Wines that I would drink myself" and "wines that went with the food in the restaurant" were not in conflict at all. <<<

                                                                                                        Sure they are, Robert, IF . . .

                                                                                                        -- if a heavily-oaked, full-bodied red will go beautifully with "this" dish, and the wine buyer abhors all heavily-oaked or full-bodied wines. (Please note, Robert, this isn't about you-as Robert Lauriston; it's about anyone-as-restaurant-wine-buyer.)

                                                                                                        -- if that off-dry Chenin Blanc will go with "that" dish, but the wine buyer hates off-dry Chenins . . .

                                                                                                        Now, if a heavily oaked wine WON'T go with the food, don't carry it. But if it does, and it's just that it's not the wine buyer's preferred style -- well, that's a different issue.

                                                                                                        Oliveto's -- a restaurant you know well -- makes the distinction on their wine list between (for example) "Full Bodied Wines in Neutral Wood," and "Full Bodied Wines in New Wood." Certain types of wines appear in multiple categories, based upon the level of wood. I've yet to find a wine on their list I thought did NOT work with the cuisine.

                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                          We had full-bodied balanced wines. We didn't have anything on the menu that would have paired better with a typical California high-alcohol oaky fruit bomb, though for people who liked that kind of wine we had Keenan Chardonnay, Textbook Cabernet, Pey Pinot Noir, and Unti Zinfandel, among others.

                                                                                                          The California "Full-Bodied Red Wines in New Wood" on Oliveto's list all have significant bottle age: 2003 Ardente and Corison Cabernets, 2006 Merry Edwards Pinot, and 2004 Sedna Syrah. Interesting that all except the ME are current releases still in stock at the wineries.

                                                                                                          The Corison's old-school, I had the 2002 on my list.

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            I remember your list, Robert. Ate there a couple of times. (Apparently not enough though.)

                                                                                                            As for the Oliveto list, I didn't even notice the CA wines . . . then again, I never noticed the CA wines on your list either.

                                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              <<Presumably there are lots of those people or the industry would stop picking overripe grapes and dosing wines meant to be drunk young with oak.>>

                                                                                              Really, do you think that this is happening still?
                                                                                              It's just so far off base from the way wine is made right now, I have to think you haven't tasted nearly enough recently.

                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                Yes, it's happening still.

                                                                                                This summer I went to a bunch of wineries in Anderson Valley. Bink was the only one with a red that wasn't a high-alcohol overripe-fruit and oak bomb.

                                                                                                At restaurants with all-California by-the-glass lists I frequently taste through all the reds and don't find anything I can stand to drink.

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  The pendulum swinging back from heavily-oaked fruit-bombs began a number of years ago, around 2006, and took 2 or 3 years for the calibration to take hold and become widespread.

                                                                                                  That's why I don't find your impressions representative at all of what has been happening in California winemaking the last six years. I also sense your tasting sample must be quite limited for you to have the impressions you do.

                                                                                                  Let's talk about the reasons for the retrenchment away from the heavily-oaked fruit bombs: harmony and money.

                                                                                                  Harmony reflects a aesthetic balancing of all elements -- sadly lacking in over-ripe, over-oaked wines. Money is far more brutal and blatant. But it's money -- profits -- that drive this new sense of harmony -- away from over-oaked fruit-bombs -- as much as aesthetics.

                                                                                                  I taste so much wine -- current releases and aged wines -- from all through California, and beyond. The wines are so drinkable now, as a whole, upon release. They HAVE to be to sell and sell again.

                                                                                                  Drinkable translates to wines that are fruit forward (but not fruit bombs), with good acid, no overt oaking (meaning, the oak isn't obvious, not unresolved or "hanging out") -- and all at a good price point that drives repeat purchases.

                                                                                                  The lack of acid in fruit-bomb wines was a huge reason to back off picking over-ripe grapes. Lack of acid makes wine less easy to drink and enjoy. That's aesthetics. But low-acid wines are not refreshing or consumer-friendly, which means repeat sales suffer. That's money.

                                                                                                  Over-ripe grapes also require more oak, which means the winery has to pay huge amounts of money for barrels (about $700-800 per barrel), and to wait at least 2 years to recoup their capital investment (land, vines, equipment, labor, etc.) in sales. The time is probably more than two years because most consumers cannot properly evaluate the wine (and purchase more) until the wine is in a drinkable state. Money again.

                                                                                                  Heavily-oaked fruit-bombs are also expensive to purchase, a direct result of lower grape yields, expensive oak barrels, and more time spent aging before release and sale. All that pushes a fruit-bomb wine beyond a certain threshold price point that makes it easy to buy for most consumers. Yet another financial reason to back off the oaked, fruit-bomb style: sales. Money.

                                                                                                  Wineries will still make wines that will appear oaked upon first release and that simply require time. These wines are not over-oaked. They're made well.

                                                                                                  And they will still make fruit-bomb wines with lots of oak, to scratch that itch for some consumers. They're made far better than they were in the past.

                                                                                                  In addition, there will always be wines that are ineptly made, in which the winemaker clumsily uses American oak, or new French oak or oak chips/blocks. There are many winemakers who don't calibrate the application of any oak to the weight of a particular vintage. That's just poor winemaking. I found quite a few examples of this in the Anderson Valley myself. But I don't consider that AVA representative of CA wines in general anyway.

                                                                                                  But judiciously oaked wines, better-made fruit-bombs, or ineptly made wines are not what I am describing.

                                                                                                  I'm talking about the vast amount of California wines -- and the Napa/Sonoma/Lake/Amador/Paso/Monterey/Santa Maria/Santa Ynez AVA wines specifically -- that are made to toss back enjoyably the day of purchase, so much so that that immediate enjoyment drives repeat sales. Harmony, sure. But money drives the decision to make that style of wine, too.

                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                    "That's why I don't find your impressions representative at all of what has been happening in California winemaking the last six years."

                                                                                                    I'm talking about more like 20 years. The pendulum may be swinging back, but 98-99% of California reds are still unpalatable to me. I meet a lot of sommeliers, wine buyers, and random drinkers who agree with me, and a lot of SF area wine lists reflect that problem. Another data point, aaron_l's comment above:

                                                                                                    "I asked them if they could point me to some decent California reds that weren't heavily oaked and they kind of laughed and said 'I know what you mean, but you're going to have trouble finding it.'"

                                                                                                    Or, for that matter, the opening post here. The #1 thing Shokora is looking to avoid is new oak.

                                                                                                    Are you in the wine industry?

                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      Again, your palate impressions are not indicative of the current California wine industry. Your sample of wines and those you're asking are simply not big enough or informed enough if you have the impressions you do.

                                                                                                      Bear in mind that you may be seeking to justify your position in lieu of tasting widely to update your position. In that case, Was Mann Weiss, Mann Sieht: "What one looks for, one will find."

                                                                                                      We've already clarified that Aaron's question in the Cabernet store was absurd. And, Shokara, our new wine taster, is more likely seeking judicious oak use rather than avoiding new oak use.

                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                          This is bugging me a bit, though I know I shouldn't get into this :)

                                                                                                          Why is asking for California wines that aren't heavily oaked absurd? Especially, as you say, that almost none of them are? I didn't ask for no-oak, or even low-oaked, just not heavily oaked. This really isn't too different from what Shokura asked. I think the information you keep repeating isn't answering Shokora's question (or mine either), it just seems to be justifying the status quo of CA wine. I would definitely understand it if you're job precludes you from suggesting wines to try, but then again you could just come out and say this. Telling us the wines you are tasting that fit what we are looking for would be a good way to end the discussion on a happy positive note.

                                                                                                          1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                            I'll try to explain:

                                                                                                            <<I went into the local wineshop, which specializes in Napa and Sonoma Cabernets, and asked them if they could point me to some decent California reds that weren't heavily oaked and they kind of laughed and said "I know what you mean, but you're going to have trouble finding it." >>

                                                                                                            That's because a wine store that specializes in Cabs probably has the heavy hitter Cabs, and not the easier-to-drink Cabs. And asking *them* to recommend one out of their lineup was probably fruitless. OK?

                                                                                                            See followup questions to your rec question below.

                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                              They steered him to Bordeaux. Shouldn't such a store have some mature California Cabernets that are balanced and ready to drink?

                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                >>> Shouldn't such a store have some mature California Cabernets that are balanced and ready to drink? <<<

                                                                                                                Where would they get them, Robert? Retail stores work on turnover. Gone are the days in which retailers deliberately take five or ten cases, even a palate, of newly released Cabernet and hold it in their back room while it ages . . .

                                                                                                                My uncle used to do that -- but that was "back in the day," and if I recall correctly, the last vintage he did that with was 1974. Then again, he also bought two pallets of 1974 Napa Valley Cabernet from Warren Winiarski at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars for his own private label, so . . .

                                                                                                                It's easy to pick up old(er) vintages of Bordeaux and -- to a lesser extent, Burgundies and Rhônes. It's always been much more difficult to acquire older California Cabs. That's one reason why I was able to "import" California Cabs *back* from Europe and sell them so rapidly to retailers and restaurants.

                                                                                                                Now, should they have steered Aaron to Bordeaux? That's another question, and -- presuming they were a knowledgable, reputable retailer -- depends upon their inventory. But I don't know the store, don't know what Aaron said to them, don't know what they said to Aaron.

                                                                                                                In my retail days I would have listened to what Aaron wanted, asked him questions, and would have TRIED to find him what he wanted -- if not a Napa or Sonoma Cab, then a California Cab; if not a wine from California, then and only them would I have opted to go outside the state. But I would have (tried to) sell him something from California -- if that is what he was looking for -- even for less money than he wanted to spend . . .

                                                                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                  I'm not sure where retail shops get mature California wines (at auction?) but I have zero problem finding them when I want one, e.g. the older Clos du Val vintages I posted about earlier.

                                                                                                                  It would be interesting to know which shop aaron_l is talking about to do a reality check on their inventory.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    That's the point, Robert -- you're not sure . . .

                                                                                                                    Clos du Val is one of the few Napa wineries that actually has older wines to offer, in no small part because they don't sell out when released -- like other wines of that era (SLWC, Montelena, etc.). Few California wineries offer older wines for sale on a wholesale level.

                                                                                                                    Buying at auction is possible, due to a change in California state law several years ago, but it is not a *reliable* source -- both in terms of availability AND in terms of quality (who knows how the wines were stored). At least the wines I "imported" back to California came out of European wholesalers and retailers . . .

                                                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                      I have no reason to care where a reliable retailer gets older wines. If a bottle is bad, I'll return it, but I've rarely had to, which tells me that they're pretty good about judging the stuff they buy.

                                                                                                                      I doubt the older Clos du Val wines I posted about earlier were purchased direct from the winery.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        Robert, I'm not trying to "nit-pick" with you, but you operate on a faulty premise.

                                                                                                                        How can a retailer judge the stuff they buy at auction? It isn't like the old days, when Heublien ran around the country offering pre-auction tastings. Christies, Bonhams & Butterfield's, WineBid.com, and other auction houses must perform "due diligence," but it's nowhere as strict and tough on wine as it is on paintings, for example. It's one thing if La Tour d'Argent is auctioning off wines; another thing entirely if it's a small, private collector.

                                                                                                                        Now retailers like K&L can indeed buy directly from private individuals if the wine in questions is 5+ years of age, but here, too, it's buyer beware.

                                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                          "How can a retailer judge the stuff they buy at auction?"

                                                                                                                          I presume it's the luck of the draw and their prices include the write-offs for bad wine. Why should I care so long as I can return off bottles?

                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                            I suppose, Robert, I wrongly presumed you cared to understand something about the business in general, given your PAST (emphasis, apparently, on the word "past") involvement.

                                                                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                              I've known some buyers for wine shops, bars, and restaurants who have a talent for finding good wines at auction.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                I still know some . . . (not sure the point of your post, Robert).

                                                                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                      "It would be interesting to know which shop aaron_l is talking about to do a reality check on their inventory."

                                                                                                                      It was Artisan Wine Depot, in Mountain View. I sometimes go there because it's close. My favorite wine store in the area is K and L. I'm new to California, as I said.

                                                                                                                      1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                        >>> I'm new to California, as I said. <<<

                                                                                                                        OK, poor assumption on my part.

                                                                                                                        >>> I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. <<<

                                                                                                                        I took that to mean you were a former winemaker in California. So, again, where (and when) were you making wine, if I may ask? I'm not asking you for the specific winery necessarily; if you don't want to name it, that's fine. But I'd love to know when you were making wine and where. It will be of great help to me in understanding where you are "coming from," to coin a phrase. ;^)


                                                                                                                        As for the Artisan Wine Depot . . . never heard of it. But their website -- http://www.artisanwinedepot.com -- doesn't exactly inspire me to drive over there either, not when the first (and biggest) thing on their home page is "We have many of Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2012." To me, that's a HUGE danger signal, and a sure sign lots of wines in the store will be over-oaked!

                                                                                                                        If that weren't enough, there are so many links to the Top 100 from *this* magazine* or *that* magazine, to "100-point wines" and so much else that turns me off . . . . yuck -- based on the website alone, I'd never set foot in that store!

                                                                                                                        (OK, Aaron, to be fair: I've never been there, and it may be a great store. I tried to find out the names of some of the people who work there, but couldn't find them on the website.)

                                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                          "If that weren't enough, there are so many links to the Top 100 from *this* magazine* or *that* magazine, to "100-point wines" and so much else that turns me off . . . . yuck -- based on the website alone, I'd never set foot in that store!"

                                                                                                                          Yeah, that explains a lot! I hadn't gone to their web-site before but it is pretty gross. Last time I went in there the guy who worked there kept telling how many "points" this wine had and that wine had, I finally said "Do you have any wines that Robert Parker didn't like because I don't think I have a lot in common with him". It was meant as a joke but they guy acted really shocked, like I was asking a priest for literature on satanism or something!

                                                                                                                          I'm still new to the area, and I also give people and stores the benefit of the doubt beyond what is probably reasonable sometimes. I need to find some better wines stores, I think! K and L has been reasonable, though the one I go to in Redwood City has very few CA wines and a lot of Bordeaux.

                                                                                                                          1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                            K&L has always had a lot of imports, especially since they acquired their own import license. They always had a focus on Bordeaux -- and make annual buying trips themselves, rather than placing all their faith in the critics -- and few retailers in California know more about Italian wines than Greg St. Clair. But they *do* have a lot of California wines. http://www.klwines.com

                                                                                                                            Also nearby is Beltramo's, which has a more California focus. http://www.beltramos.com

                                                                                                                            But the SF Bay Area as a whole is home to a great number of excellent wine stores . . . no need to put with, "What do you mean you don't like it? Parker gave it 98 points!"

                                                                                                                            1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                              klwines.com has a wider selection of wines than any of the four stores. You can order online to pick up at the nearest store and save shipping charges. Their advanced search turns up five California reds with "no new oak" in the notes:


                                                                                                                              And some others with "stainless steel":


                                                                                                                              "Neutral oak":


                                                                                                                          2. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                            Wow, those Artisan salespeople maybe didn't know their stock too well. They could have steered you to:

                                                                                                                            Bonny Doon
                                                                                                                            Donkey & Goat
                                                                                                                            Frog's Leap
                                                                                                                            Green & Red
                                                                                                                            Sean Thackrey
                                                                                                                            Tablas Creek

                                                                                                                            I'm not a huge fan of all those wineries but most of their wines are on the lighter end of the contemporary California oak scale.

                                                                                                                  2. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                    Aaron, context is everything, and in this case, Maria is correct: a store that *SPECIALIZES* in California Cabs will indeed focus their attention on the "heavy-hitters," and asking them for a wine with "low" levels of oak borders on the oxymoronic -- especially if you were looking in the $50 range.

                                                                                                                    Then again, I'm also sure you CAN find it . . . just, perhaps, not in that store. As Robert said elsewhere, it would be good to know what store you went to.

                                                                                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                Hi Maria, Could you name a few specific wines that I could buy to try out? It's sounds like the trends in CA wine is heading more towards the approach I like. I also know the recession has impacted a lot of wineries' ability to purchase new barrels, and it could be that the wines I'm trying are still the "old-school" heavy oak stuff.

                                                                                                                However, "Napa/Sonoma/Lake/Amador/Paso/Monterey/Santa Maria/Santa Ynez AVA " is a bit too general for me to go to the wine store with. :)

                                                                                                                1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                  In the last three years I've had reds that I liked or that were right on the edge for me from these wineries:

                                                                                                                  Bonny Doon
                                                                                                                  Clos Saron
                                                                                                                  Donkey and Goat
                                                                                                                  Paul Matthew
                                                                                                                  Urban Legend
                                                                                                                  Yorkville Cellars

                                                                                                                  1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                    <<Could you name a few specific wines that I could buy to try out?>>

                                                                                                                    Name a varietal, a region and a price range.
                                                                                                                    Name qualities you like.

                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                      I'm open to finding wines from the state I'm living in that I like, so he region of CA isn't a big deal to me. The varietal itself isn't that important either -the red wines I enjoy now are from many different varietals and are often blends of different varietals (though I realize that's not a California thing). Characteristics I like in a red wine are 1) food friendliness, 2) balance, 3) tannin, but with fruit to balance, 4) structure, tannin-structure or (as in the case of Chianti) acid structure, but something to hold the wine together and keep it from being flat. 5) I like the wine to express the characteristics of the grapes and the region, and not to be manipulated in a way that impacts these qualities, 6) I really don't like the "International Style" of wine from any region, or wines that have been manipulated by consultants to try to increase their Robert Parker score. I've tried these and they are not wines that I tend to like. For non-California examples of red wine styles I really like: Bordeaux, especially St Emillion though I like all sub-regions, Cotes du Rhone (and sub-regions -Gigondas, CdP, Cote Rotie), Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Chianti (including many Classicos but not oaky Riservas designed for US export), Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo della Langhe and other Nebbiolo-based wines from north-east Italy. Wines of the Veneto. Also REALLY love the less well known wines of SW France like Cabardes and Cahors.

                                                                                                                      Price range up to $50, higher for special occasions, but if there aren't any wines from a region that I like for under $50 then something is wrong...

                                                                                                                      Thanks for your (forthcoming) guidance!

                                                                                                                      1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                        Aaron, Shokora,

                                                                                                                        OK, that's a little more to go on. I like all those qualities you've listed. There is, honestly, so much to choose from. Which is why Robert's inability to find wines he likes -- given his dislike of oak of over-ripe fruit -- doesn't add up given his claim of tasting broadly the plethora/majority of California wine that's out there that is neither oaky or over-ripe.

                                                                                                                        So, to get closer, and to actually help you find something you love, and to make my job easier, tell me some **California** varietals you've tried and liked. Can you name some specific wines and why you liked them? Tell me the qualities you like in a wine.

                                                                                                                        Certain fruit you like and a point at which you dislike it, e.g., when blackberry becomes blackberry preserves? Certain varietals you hate or have never liked? Do you have an ABV limit? I'm just a chef asking your dietary preferences/restrictions before I cook for you.

                                                                                                                        Please, Shokora, feel free to do the same, since this is your thread.

                                                                                                                        Just to tell you where I'm coming from, and the pool from which I'll draw:

                                                                                                                        For wines made everywhere...

                                                                                                                        I love fruity, drinkable reds or whites with a medium-body and refreshing acidity that make them easy to toss back. For everyday drinking, I like them at a price point that makes it a no-brainer to open a bottle.

                                                                                                                        I very much like a clear, direct expression of fruit, and dislike muddy fruit or muddy flavors. I have a special love for mountain fruit, with its combo of forward/direct/clear fruit and a spine of acidity. I adore stone fruit flavors. I dislike over-ripe flabby wines.

                                                                                                                        Though not my first choice, I don't pass by a well-made malolactic (ML) Chard if I have food with which it pairs well.

                                                                                                                        Speaking of ML, I adore sur-lie aging and battonage for the flavors it creates, and prefer it to using ML in whites. I don't care for ML to the point where it masks the fruit, or when it is employed to boost inferior fruit. I love minerality, but not when it dominates.

                                                                                                                        I like some big hitters -- very ripe wines (not over-ripe wines) with high ABV as long as it all works, and everything is integrated and tastes harmonious -- but I don't drink these wines as often as I do others and generally don't seek them out. I can never tell if I will like a wine of this type until I taste it, and I've been surprised at some I liked when I thought I wouldn't. I prefer food with developed flavors with this type of wine. I don't like hot wines or over-oaked wines.

                                                                                                                        I love great texture in wine -- good body, mouthfeel, glycerol, lubricity.

                                                                                                                        As far as oak, I prefer second- and third-year French oak treatment, except for specific wines that do best with first-year French. I don't like too much vanilla (from oak). I mostly dislike American oak, because I find it, even now, employed indelicately and inelegantly, unless at the hands of a master, and then it's fine. I like oak that fades to silk and merely provides structure, mouthfeel, and flavor, especially subtle spice. I learned from others how to tell if a wine has been properly oaked or not, even when the wine is too young to drink and the oak is unresolved.

                                                                                                                        I think the increasing use of neutral oak (foudres, botti, etc.) in contemporary winemaking is a good thing.

                                                                                                                        In terms of flaws and negative characteristics in wines, I'm sensitive to Brett and dislike it greatly except for the smoky-sweet strain (4-EG). I don't like wines that don't have at least a short finish, don't like wines with a hole in their structure, don't like thin wines like some Pinot Grigios (but love Pinot Gris), don't like VA or off-flavors. I can pick out wines with different types of taint -- TCA/TBA/TeCA -- from a few feet away.

                                                                                                                        General categories of European wines I love:
                                                                                                                        the Loire whites, red Burgundy, white Burgundy (adore), the Rhone reds and whites, the Bordeaux whites, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Crus, German Rieslings more than Alsatian (all sweetness levels to match with varying degrees of spiciness in food), the Chianti Riservas, the "mas" wines of Southern France, Barberas, Barbarescos, some Dolcettos, Roero whites, Grenache/Garnacha, Riojas, Ribera del Dueros, some Northern Italian whites like Friulano, Gavis, Rosso di Montalcinos, Brunello Riservas, Amarones, French Rosés, Spanish Rosados.

                                                                                                                        [Leaving out stickies and bubbles, for the moment, but those are two of my favorite types of wines.]

                                                                                                                        I'm happy to dine with an inexpensive Italian or French table wine, made well. I love exploring obscure varietals, and undiscovered (perhaps upcoming) districts of wine.

                                                                                                                        Other places:
                                                                                                                        I've generally been disappointed with the muddy quality of wines from Chile and South America, and, like South Africa, I'd like to find more wines from those places I like. I rarely find Sicilian wines I like (too hot for physiological ripeness), except Nero d'Avola made and grown well, some Mt. Etna wines, and those from Donnafugata Winery. Only some Australian wines appeal -- I find them generally to be manipulated, and I very much dislike reductive aromas in Sauvignon Blanc made there and elsewhere. Disappointed in New Zealand lately, but I'm keeping an eye on them because they have the potential to get back on track.

                                                                                                                        Exception: If I'm traveling, I drink the local wine.

                                                                                                                        In the US, I like (as categories):
                                                                                                                        Oregon Reserve Pinot Noirs, Santa Rita Hills PNs, Roussanne/Marsanne, lightly oaked/sur lie/stainless Chards, Chenin Blanc made correctly, Semillon-based wines, Oregon Pinot Gris, elegant Cabs, Dry Creek Zins, Cabernet Franc, some Cal-Itals, Pinot Noir made as Pinot as not as Syrah, Pinot without Brett, Syrah that is not over-ripe to the point of inkiness.

                                                                                                                        So now that you know specifically what I like, maybe my comments will remind you and Shokora of some wines or qualities in wine that you like, so that I can help you both further. Or maybe you can tell me some wines to seek out that I might like, for a real exchange. Happy New Year.

                                                                                                                    2. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                      >>> "Napa/Sonoma/Lake/Amador/Paso/Monterey/Santa Maria/Santa Ynez AVA " is a bit too general for me to go to the wine store with. :) <<<
                                                                                                                      Well, no offense, but anyone who walks into a wine shop and asks for wine that way should be shot! ;^) This isn't Europe, and people don't go into wine stores and say "I want a bottle of 'Napa'." They might say "I want a bottle of Napa CABERNET," but not "Napa" by itself.

                                                                                                                      >>> I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. <<<
                                                                                                                      Where (and when) were you making wine, if I may ask? I'm not asking you for the specific winery necessarily; if you don't want to name it, that's fine. But I'd love to know when you were making wine and in what part of state. It will be of great help to me in understanding where you are "coming from," to coin a phrase. ;^)

                                                                                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                        ">>> "Napa/Sonoma/Lake/Amador/Paso/Monterey/Santa Maria/Santa Ynez AVA " is a bit too general for me to go to the wine store with. :) <<<
                                                                                                                        Well, no offense, but anyone who walks into a wine shop and asks for wine that way should be shot! ;^) This isn't Europe, and people don't go into wine stores and say "I want a bottle of 'Napa'." They might say "I want a bottle of Napa CABERNET," but not "Napa" by itself."

                                                                                                                        Yeah, I was saying this to see if Maria was actually going to give me some suggestions other than "all wine in California", it was kind of a joke on my part, reducio ad absurdam.

                                                                                                                        ">>> I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. <<<
                                                                                                                        Where (and when) were you making wine, if I may ask? I'm not asking you for the specific winery necessarily; if you don't want to name it, that's fine. But I'd love to know when you were making wine and in what part of state. It will be of great help to me in understanding where you are "coming from," to coin a phrase. ;^)"

                                                                                                                        I'm, NOT a wine maker from California, I just moved here a year and a half ago from New York. I had a great trip to Napa about 20 years ago where I went wine tasting for a week in March. I remember loving a lot of the wines, and not getting the impression that they were oak-dominated. That's what I was trying to find again now that I moved here.

                                                                                                                        I made wine in the Finger Lakes, a region that is very different from CA, and more like Alsace and Germany in the wines we make there. I was in a PhD program at Cornell when I discovered the wines there and took some courses in their wine program. I made wine for about 10 years.

                                                                                                                        This is partially why I have been frustrated with the wine "scene" here -I knew the Finger Lakes wines very well, their strengths and limitations, and when people asked for suggestions I could point them to specific wines (this year, this winery, etc.) and say I think you will like this. Or I could say (as I often did to Californians who visited) "That's not a kind of wine you will find in the Finger Lakes, that's a wine you will find in California or Australia or Chile". These limitations were NOT due to the winemakers use of things like oak, but to limitations due to climate. To ask for a wine that tastes like it comes from a different climate region *actually* is absurd, because it's not possible, it's outside the winemaker and winegrower's power. To ask for a wine that has been made with or without a specific wine making treatment (such as new oak) is NOT absurd, it is completely possible and within the winemaker's power. For example, if I go to the Finger Lakes and ask for a Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir (those are two prominent grapes there) with new oak treatment folks will point me to one. If I ask about old or used oak aged wines, with the aging characteristics or oak but not the taste and smell of new oak, then I will get shown examples of those. Same with wines that are not aged in oak barrels at all. The same is true of Chianti (though the Chiantis aged in new oak are really just for export to the US) and other wines regions such as Bordeaux as well. I hold open the possibility that the style of wine I like is just not made in California, in the way that an Alsatian Riesling aged in new oak is simply not made (or incredibly rare). In this case I would expect Maria or Jason or other experts in CA wine to say: the wine you are looking for doesn't exist, it's just not made here. That's fine! I believe you.

                                                                                                                        Please don't respond with "if you're looking for a CA wine that tastes like a Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc you won't find it"! That's definitely not what I'm asking-you can see my winemaking experience isn't going to help telling you where I'm coming from in this case, unfortunately, it's way too different :)

                                                                                                                        You and Robert have given me a nice list of CA wines that I can try. I actually visited Yorkville Cellars (kind of by accident on my way to Mendocino for vacation) and their wines were definitely not heavily oaked, though a few were on the edge. What a cool place too, it's a nice one to visit since sheep figure prominently in their approach to wine growing, for some reason.

                                                                                                                        I'm also intrigued by the Ahlgren Winery you mentioned, I may try to visit it if possible today, since it's not far from here. They have a list of their library wines and it's like an history of winemaking in California. They have Cabs from 30 years ago with 12% alcohol and some with less!! I think Cabs harvested at 21-23 brix are pretty much extinct in CA now. Looks like a really cool place and thanks for pointing me to this, it's the kind of thing I'm looking for.


                                                                                                                        1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                          Random comments:

                                                                                                                          -- I used to "import" a number of New York State wines, including from the Finger Lakes, into California as the sales manager for a statewide wholesaler, and sell a number of others while still in retail.

                                                                                                                          -- I think you're mistaken when you say (write), ". . . you can see my winemaking experience isn't going to help telling you where I'm coming from in this case, unfortunately, it's way too different." (I also think you're mistaken in terms of some of your comments the way oak is used in California, but that's a topic for another discussion.)

                                                                                                                          -- As I said earlier, "California makes the best California wines in the world." OF COURSE you're not going to find (e.g.) a "Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc" in California. Cab Franc here is nothing like that found in the Finger Lakes, or the Loire for that matter. I wouldn't suggest that, nor would I suggest you'll find an Alsatian-styled Riesling here . . . though there are some examples where one can find some similarities.

                                                                                                                          -- I am far from an expert in California wine. I may have been knowledgable at some point, and still have many friends who are active winemakers here in the state, but I retired from full-time work in the wine trade a decade ago. This doesn't mean my knowledge is 10 years old, but rather it's not as comprehensive as it once was.

                                                                                                                          -- I can't recall ANY Cabernet Sauvignon grapes harvested in the 21-22° range . . . EVER. The lowest I can recall off the top of my head was 23°, but your general point is well taken: grapes are too often harvested way too ripe, 25, 26, even 27°or more! But the conversion rates of Brix-to-alcohol are much higher today (though from a strictly scientific viewpoint, I don't understand how this can be true). In the 1960s, UC Davis taught that x° Brix X 0.5 = y% abv in a dry wine. By the late 1970s, they were teaching that x° Brix X 0.55 = y% abv. But by the early 1990s, I was seeing conversion factors as high as 0.62. Harvested at 24° Brix, these conversion rates would translate to 12.0%, 13.2%, and 14.88% abv . . .

                                                                                                                          -- German-born Walter Schug, founding winemaker at Joseph Phelps and responsible for both the creation and initial fame of both Insignia and their late harvest Rieslings, once told me that California was a much more difficult climate for growing grapes than the Rhein. The reason for this, he explained, was the wide range of temperatures between the high and lows in a 24-hour cycle, versus Germany where it didn't get as hot in the daytime, nor as cold at night. The grapes therefore didn't lose as much acidity during the day, nor did they shut down at night.

                                                                                                                          -- For my take, I've always maintained that California isn't the best place for another reason (though I've long thought Walter had a valid point!). By and large, California is comprised of volcanic soil, which is quite rich in nutrients. The result is that California vines can quite easily produce tons more fruit per acre, and the wines are very fruit-forward, or -driven (as opposed to terroir-driven). This has resulted, in no small part, in the "star-system" of winemakers -- meaning that who the winemaker is is often more important than where the grapes are grown . . .


                                                                                                                          Now, I am not the typical American wine drinker. I probably have some 40-50 cases of wine in my cellar. Maybe 10 percent are from California, 15 to be generous, but most of those are old(er) vintages of Cabernet, some dating back to the 1970s. The newer wines are predominately Zinfandels, Rhône-ish red blends, some Syrahs, and sparkling wines. Overwhelmingly my cellar is comprised of wines from Loire (white), Burgundy (white and red), the Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rioja, Priorat and Montsant, the Basque regions of Spain and France, the Douro and Alentejo, and Piedmonte -- with some from Alsace, Lebanon, etc., etc.

                                                                                                                          So you need to keep in mind that both Robert and I prefer (in general) European wines. That's the primary reason my favored region within the State of California has been, and remains, the Santa Cruz Mountains. Anderson Valley is probably second, albeit a distant one, followed by other cool(er) regions of the state.

                                                                                                                          In and around the SF Bay area, I'd look for reds from producers like Edmunds St. John, Dashe, Donkey & Goat, Ridge, Alhgren, Storrs, Salamandre Cellars (among others). But Cabernet may not be your best bet, as it is a wine that benefits from oak aging and generally shows its oak in its youth, before it has had a chance to integrate with bottle age.

                                                                                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                            ""I can't recall ANY Cabernet Sauvignon grapes harvested in the 21-22° range . . . EVER."

                                                                                                                            22 was the statewide average in 1975. I posted a couple of charts in another topic:


                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                              Note the Napa Chart is considerably higher (yes, I know, it also starts much later in time). But grapes in the Central Valley and Central Coast (Monterey, SLO, SB) were picked lower then than in the Napa Valley -- I remember getting Tepusquet Cab and Cab from International Vineyards in Monterey that was considerably lower than our Napa and Sonoma fruit. My feeble memory tells me they were right around 23°, but perhaps they *were* lower, 22.x°. (I wasn't the one logging in the measurements back then.)

                                                                                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                                There wasn't much disparity between California as a whole and Napa before the 90s. I'll post another chart showing both.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                  Robert, according to Table 4 ("Grapes for Crushing: Weighter Average Degrees Brix for All Grape Varieties from the 1976 Crop by Type, Variety"), located on pages 16-17 of the 1976 CASS report -- http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_b... -- Cabernet Sauvignon was crushed at a weighted average of:

                                                                                                                                  -- 22.7° Brix in Mendocino & Lake Counties;
                                                                                                                                  -- 23.7° Brix in Sonoma & Marin Counties;
                                                                                                                                  -- 23.1° Brix in Napa County;
                                                                                                                                  -- 22.7° Brix in Solano County;
                                                                                                                                  -- 20.2° Brix in the northern portion of the Central Coast;
                                                                                                                                  -- 22.2° Brix in the southern portion of the Central Coast;
                                                                                                                                  -- 22.8° Brix in the "Lodi Area";
                                                                                                                                  -- 21.9° Brix in the "Modesto Area";
                                                                                                                                  -- 21.5° in the central portion of the San Joaquin Valley;
                                                                                                                                  -- 23.6° in the southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley; and,
                                                                                                                                  -- 22.3° in "Southern California".

                                                                                                                                  That's the earliest record I have access to at the moment, Robert. But 1976 was the first year I worked in Napa Valley. International -- where we got some Cabernet -- is in Monterey, aka the northern portion of the Central Coast; Tepusquet is in the southern portion of the Central Coast. So . . . I was wrong in my initial post, when I wrote:
                                                                                                                                  >>> I can't recall ANY Cabernet Sauvignon grapes harvested in the 21-22° range . . . EVER. <<<

                                                                                                                                  and correct in my second post when I wrote,
                                                                                                                                  >>> I remember getting Tepusquet Cab and Cab from International Vineyards in Monterey that was considerably lower than our Napa and Sonoma fruit. My feeble memory tells me they were right around 23°, but perhaps they *were* lower, 22.x°. (I wasn't the one logging in the measurements back then.) <<<

                                                                                                                          2. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                            <<I was in a PhD program at Cornell when I discovered the wines there and took some courses in their wine program. I made wine for about 10 years. >>

                                                                                                                            Cornell's flavor science and research center is extremely impressive. Their School of Hospitality is perhaps the best in the country. Nice milieu in which to try your hand at winemaking.

                                                                                                                    3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                      Problem No. 3 -- I, too, have tasted through a number of red wines from the Anderson Valley and found several that were nothing near "overripe fruit-and-oak bombs." Perhaps you are hyper-sensitive to that; perhaps I lack a sensitivity to that (though judging by the number of California and Australian wines that I *do* find to be "overripe fruit-and-oak bombs," I doubt it); OR, perhaps it's simply a matter of hitting your head against a wall ("but it feels so good when I stop"). Why keep trying California wines when you so clearly prefer those from Italy and, to a lesser degree, France? (Or so it seems to me, based upon your repeated postings herein.)

                                                                                                                      Problem No. 4 -- Is this the wineries' fault? I would blame the restaurant's wine buyer for selecting wines for their by-the-glass pours that are completely unsuited for the intended purpose. Unless you are a wine bar, catering to a clientele who *wants* to taste new, young wines -- think, perhaps, of the wine bar inside Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants or, to a more limited degree, inside Solano Cellars -- why would you (the restaurant's wine buyer) intentionally select wines for by-the-glass service that do not compliment your restaurant's food?

                                                                                                              3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                Robert, I don't have a horse in the race, as they say, but I find my experience is more in agreement with Maria Lorraine in this regard than with your own.

                                                                                                                I am not saying there aren't over-oaked California wines. Of course there are. There are still a lot of high-end Cabernets that I find too oaky, and it remains somewhat "systemic" in both the "Shiraz-style" of Syrah and the "Pinot-as-Syrah" style.

                                                                                                                But overall, I find that there is less oak used in the (let's say) middle range of what California produces -- those wines that are too expensive for chips, and not so expensive as to be in the uppermost "cult" realm -- than there was in the 1980s and 1990s.

                                                                                                                Then again, as ML has suggested, oak is a matter of threshold -- some people may find Wine X over-oaked, while others might not.

                                                                                                                But there is difference between a wine that is over-oaked and a wine which has unresolved oak . . .

                                                                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                  I hear you (all), can you point me to an example I can buy? I understand it might mean an older wine into which the oak has dissipated, but I have friends from back east coming over for New Years, and I want to show that what California, my new home, can offer. Right now I'm drinking a beautiful Gigondas, that at $30 was cheaper than most of the CA Cabs I've been trying out, but so delicious. There has to be something like this in CA that really tastes like CA and not like the guy who made the wine and his barrels!

                                                                                                                  1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                    Aaron, as I said above, if you want to find a California Cabernet that tastes like a Gigondas -- well, you already know Grenache doesn't taste like Cab -- that won't happen. It won't even happen that you'll find a Cabernet that tastes like a Bordeaux . . . .

                                                                                                                    Now, if you want to find a California Cabernet that isn't over-oaked, that's a different question. But California wines, being more fruit-forward, generally carry oak differently, and more obviously. That is to say, take a Napa Cab and age it in 100% new oak; compare it to a Bordeaux (say Château Mouton-Rothschild) that's aged in 100% new oak -- the California Cab will taste "more oaky" 99 times out of 100 (or more).

                                                                                                                    So, look to wines like Alhgren Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, or the Bates Cab from Silver Mountain. Is Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cab -- not hte Monte Bello, but the more affordable SCMtns bottling -- too oaky? I don't think so. But if you insist on seeking out Cabs from the Napa Valley . . . well, Dunn and Arns come to mind, but . . . .

                                                                                                                    *MY* problem, Aaron, is that I don't buy very many Napa Cabs anymore . . . tastes change, and these haven't been my "preferred wines" since the mid-to-late 1980s. I *do* drink them -- when other people open them -- but I don't buy them.

                                                                                                                    Where I *do* agree with Robert is I find much more enjoyment (and for far less money) in wines from France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

                                                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                      I definitely don't expect to find a California Cab that tastes like Gigondas -if I want that I would get Gigondas! Even the Grenache in CA tastes very different than Grenache in S. France, naturally.

                                                                                                                      "Now, if you want to find a California Cabernet that isn't over-oaked"

                                                                                                                      Yes, that's the right question. I also suspect that you are correct in that the current fashion in CA wines for very, very ripe grapes (often over 26 brix) and fruitiness just doesn't go well with oak and it comes off as over-oaked, this makes a lot of sense and also helps explain why CA Cabs didn't seem over-oaked 20 years ago.

                                                                                                                      I'm a fan of Ridge and in their "club" (which just means you give them money and they send you wine every month:) and even though they use American white oak I rarely think their wine is too oaky. I love the Estate Cabernet Sauvigon you mention -though it's hard to find outside the winery.

                                                                                                                      Thanks for the suggestion, I'll give the Alhgren Bates a try this weekend. I think I may be in agreement with you and Robert about wines from Europe being much better values and more enjoyable for me, but I like to keep an open mind and expand my horizons a bit. I lived in France 25 years ago and started seriously drinking wine there, and that has colored my appreciation and understanding a bit.

                                                                                                                      1. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                        Danger! Danger! Warning, Will Robinson -- Thread Drift Approaching . . . . (or, at least, a trip down Memory Lane)


                                                                                                                        Aaron, I hope the others here will forgive me for this repetition, but you are (relatively) new here, and I find a bit of background essential . . .

                                                                                                                        I grew up in the wine trade, started tasting and learning about wine when I was 10 years of age. (Next Thanksgiving will mark 50 years since I tasted my first memorable wine, and I *still* remember it today.) My uncle had a "wine store" in LA when everyone else in the late-1940s and 50s had liquor stores. I went to work for him in 1969, and by the time I was 18, I was traveling up to Napa to buy wines directly from the wineries for his six stores.

                                                                                                                        Since then, I've worked for wineries, for other retailers, for wholesalers, and for importers, as well as writing for newspapers and magazines, and teaching for UC Extension. I finally retired from the wine trade in 2001, but remain involved through friends and by doing a little consulting.

                                                                                                                        Back in the 1960s, there was no doubt that the greatest wines were from France -- though here and there, there were some VERY memorable wines, mostly Cabs, coming out of Napa Valley (Beaulieu, Charles Krug, Inglenook, Louis Martini) . . . with the 1968 vintage, Zinfandels and *other* Cabs "burst" onto the scene; the 1969 vintage saw some great Chardonnays, more great Cabs, and the rest, as they say, is history.

                                                                                                                        But from the very beginning, one thing above all remains as true today as it was back then: California makes the greatest California wines in the world; France makes the best French wines; Spain (e.g.) makes the best Spanish wines, while Australia makes the world's best Australian wines. The differences far outweigh the similarities. Thus, not only does California Grenache taste different than Grenache from the southern Rhône, but stylistically they *must* be different due to the inherent differences in climate, soil, technique, and more -- unless the winemaker "forces" his or her wines into something it is inherently not.

                                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                          "California makes the greatest California wines in the world ..."

                                                                                                                          One of the best California wines I ever had was one of the early commercial vintages of Sassicaia. He was aiming for Bordeaux but overshot.

                                                                                                                    2. re: aaron_l

                                                                                                                      "can you point me to an example I can buy?"

                                                                                                                      Clos du Val makes old-school Cabernet Sauvignon that is made to be aged (not very nice on release) and reliably develops into lovely wine. The 2005 Napa Valley (entry-level) I had last night was good but will be better in three years. BPWine in St. Helena has the 2000 for $35. The Wine House in SF has the 1998 for $45. Prima Vini in Walnut Creek has the 1996 for $90, I can vouch that that one's drinking nicely, I got two cases for $15 a bottle at Grocery Outlet during the 2009 crash.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        Aren't all these wines whose oak has been given time to resolve? Do you honestly think that the CdV wasn't severely oaky when it was first released? (It was.) Glad to hear it resolved.

                                                                                                                        I'd never tell anyone to buy a 2000 vintage Napa Valley wine. Terrible.

                                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                          Clos du Val's Cabernet Sauvignon is made in the old-world tradition of wines that must be aged before they're ready to drink, which was the norm when they started 40 years ago. It's not just too oaky but too tannic, pretty much hard and closed. They keep the alcohol in check, too.

                                                                                                                          The vast majority of California reds I taste these days have two notes, overripe fruit and oak, sometimes with a harsh hot blast from too much alcohol. Due to the overripe fruit they don't have enough acid or tannin to develop into anything that tastes better.

                                                                                            3. Here's a good Eric Asimov article about old-school Napa winemakers:


                                                                                              1. As for the thread drift, I would say that Robert is painting wine that he personally does not like with the label of "over"-this, "over"-that, or "not well made". Of course there may be plenty of ultra extreme examples that one is going to find broad agreement with that. However in general it seems like there's an indictment of wines that actually are made well, but just not in a style one might like.
                                                                                                I happen to still like a lot of California wines, though I've been heavily into wine for many years and hang with people with cellars dominated by Europe. Of course I drink a lot of more subtle European wines too, but still fine plenty of drinking and eating occasions to enjoy "big" domestic wines.

                                                                                                Anyhow, my answer to Shokora would be to try CdPape, Languedoc, or St. Emilion, maybe even some super-tuscan blends. I would also try some Central Coast/SB County pinots or some rhone rangers and some Washington Merlot.

                                                                                                1. Dry red like Menage a Trois. If I had a dollar for everyone saying this I could buy them. Americans like sweet red wine and don't know it.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: wineglas1

                                                                                                    What did I miss? Who said "[a] dry wine like Menage a Trois"?

                                                                                                  2. One you might try: 2011 Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Native yeast, 13.5% alcohol, 15-20% new oak? (reports vary). This had none of the usual flaws that have bothered me about most California reds in recent years, but it didn't have much going for it, either. It was a pleasant enough one-note simple fruity Pinot, but for $30 I expect (and can easily get) something more. And it got 95 points from WS so now it's $40.

                                                                                                    1. Another one you might try if you can find any: 2008 Parr Selection Santa Ynez Purisima Mountain Syrah, $16 a glass in a restaurant. Balanced, no noticeable defects, pleasant and simple but none of the virtues I hope for from Syrah. After that I got a bottle of 2009 Pierre Gaillard Crozes-Hermitage ($60, so about the same price, both are $30 retail), much more character, much better value.

                                                                                                      1. Shokora, not sure if you have received the answer you are looking for, but go to a neighborhood wine shop that actually will talk to you about wines - chances are good there will be no discussions about wine auctions, etc that steers away from your original discussion. Find some wine shops that have weekly or weekend tastings so you can learn about the wines, as well as your palate.

                                                                                                        You made a comment that "you are betting there's some type (of wines) outside of California ..." You bet! You are right! With that said, may I make a recommendation for you to go outside of California. Try the Pinot Noirs of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. You will find wines that are more jammy and yet light in oak. Wanting full-bodied? In the Oregon vintages, 2010 seemed more full-bodies than those in 2009. Go up north a little more and definitely check out the wines of Washington State. You will find Cabs, Merlots, and Syrahs that are more affordable than those from CA. Good luck and when in doubt - just keep the palate open to new experiences.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: Walla2WineWoman

                                                                                                          Good suggestion. Some wine shops to check out include K&L in Redwood City and SF, Beltramo's in Menlo Park, Weimax in Burlingame, San Francisco Wine Trading Co. (aka Mr. Liquor), Arlequin in SF, and Solano Cellars in Berkeley.