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Why are most California red wines not delicious or food-friendly?

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Starting a new topic rather than continue derailing the "What type of red wine do I like" one.

Let's drop the cheap and expensive outliers and the old-school exceptions that need to be aged before you drink them and talk about California reds that (1) cost $20-40 bottle retail / $10-18 a glass in restaurants, (2) are technically well made in the sense that the winemakers are producing more or less the kind of wine they intend to, and (3) intended for drinking immediately after purchase.

I'm not unable to find such wines that I like, I just find it very, very difficult. I doubt I like more than one in 50 that I taste. As a noted in that other topic, when I go to places with "locavore" all-California lists, I typically taste all the reds, don't find one I want to drink, and end up drinking white when I would really prefer red.

My palate is not particularly eccentric in this regard. The food-hostility of these wines is one reason so many SF Bay Area restaurants that otherwise focus on local products have wine lists dominated by European imports.

What's going on?

First, most California vineyards are planted with inappropriate varieties. If you're trying to make a moderately priced wine for immediate consumption, nine times out of ten the most suitable grape variety or blend is not one that winemakers in Bordeaux and Burgundy use for their most expensive wines.

Next, the grapes are super-ripe. Traditionally, most grapes for red wine were picked at 21-23 Brix. Thanks to Robert Parker and mass hysteria, the average for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in 2008 was 25.7. The pendulum may be swinging back, but it has a ways to go.

These super-ripe grapes result in wines that are high in alcohol, which is exacerbated by many winemakers using new yeasts bred so that they would produce higher alcohol levels even at traditional brix levels. In the pre-Parker era, California wines (except for Zinfandel) were typically 12.5%. Today, it's rare to find a red wine under 14%, and 15% is common. That's 12 to 20% more alcohol, a radical change. It's not impossible for a balanced wine to have such a high level of alcohol, but (except for Zinfandel) it's rare.

Riper grapes have different, softer tannins and usually lower acid, which means the wines are more dominated by soft fruit flavors (which can be a plus with grape varieties that are traditionally used to make softer, fruitier wines). Softer tannins and less acid means they typically don't age well, though that's not an issue for wines intended for immediate consumption (unless you buy more than you can drink up while it's at its peak).

Another change from tradition is ubiquitous use of new oak. That used to be too expensive for moderately priced wines, but researchers at UC Davis figured out that you could use alternatives such as chips instead of barrels. Among other things, new oak makes the wine taste sweeter, exacerbating the super-ripe fruit flavors.

To my palate, without the harder tannins and higher acid of less-ripe fruit, the flavors of new oak are clashing and unpleasant. Some people obviously like the combination, but it's hard for me to imagine what food you could pair with such wines.

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  1. If you think I'm exaggerating about how much trouble I have finding California reds I like, name a specific wine that does not have the undesirable characteristics described above and I'll give it a try.

    1. I don't quite understand the need to argue a negative. You have already stated that you don't like California wine. Others do or can find many wines to enjoy from here. It does not appear that you want to like them, so why ask others to offer up their favorites for you to knock down. Simply enjoy the wines you do and let others do the same.

      1. It sounds as if you are wanting CA wines to taste like EU wines. They don't. They are valued for tasting like CA wines.

        If you have such a narrow or particular taste "range" for wine, then maybe you should just stick with what you know you enjoy. There is no point in throwing money away on wine you don't value....there is enough wine around the world to make everyone happy, right?

        3 Replies
        1. re: sedimental

          There's nothing specific to California about the defects I describe above. The Argentine and Australian wine industries are following the same fads, as are some European winemakers who make wines for export to the US, e.g. super-Tuscans.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Most people don't consider them defective, they actually enjoy them as they are -and as the are intended to be. I know I do, and appreciate what they bring to food as well.

            There are several threads on pairing wine with more "global" food. Determining that a wine is or is not food friendly ...depends on the food as much as the wine. Perhaps the foods you prefer don't pair well with these "bigger", fruitier wines. I know that many of my favorite wines get overwhelmed by the foods I choose most of the time now. Maybe the answer is that "times change". It is rare that I eat like I used to 20 years ago. 20years ago, the food I was eating then would have been blown away by these big wines.

            Most of the restaurants I prefer offer WA, CA and OR wines more than anything else, so my experience is very different than yours. The exception is my favorite italian resto offers only Italian wines but I only eat there infrequently. I had the wine pairing signature menu at Sage in Vegas last week and they had wines from all over. They had an OR Pinot that was very bold. I dine frequently in Seattle, Portland, NorCal and Vegas. I guess I just don't see the problem, maybe I am too foodie West Coast? Lol.

            I really like all styles of wine, but I do understand preferences..and I have them as well. I just can't relate to "not liking" so many wines :)

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Parker is often mentioned as the cause of the trend by Australian winemakers, but it is also clear that his tastes are consistent with those of the average consumer. So far as the average drinker in Australia drinks red wine (the current favourites are fruit-bomb SB/SSB, pinot gris, and rose), warm/hot-climate, jammy, new-oaked and alcoholic syrah remains the preferred style.

          2. Try the Lancaster Estate reds. Very nice, and will get better.

            1. What about Oregon wines? I love wine...from France and Italy, and also there are many California and Oregon wines that I think are both delicious and food friendly!

              1. Robert, I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but before I waste time and bandwidth replying, I'd like to ask: is this a SERIOUS post -- one that you would like honest and sincere replies to -- or are you just venting and/or trolling?

                25 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  I'm tired of people telling me I'm uninformed or don't taste enough wine or whatever. Now I can just point them here.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Robert,

                    I sincerely doubt it's a matter of not tasting enough wine. Now, on the one hand, NO ONE tastes enough wine, as far as winemakers are concerned; on the other hand, no one CAN taste everything. You may have areas within the world of wine where you *don't* taste enough (I don't know, but I've guessing that Moldovan Rieslings don't top your list as the wines you're most interested in tasting), but when it comes to California and Western Europe, I have little doubt that anyone who has anything more than a passing knowledge of you through this site would think that, overall, you don't taste enough.

                    As far as being uninformed, I think -- for a consumer -- you actually have a good deal of knowledge/experience. I will admit, however, to occasionally being surprised by what I would call "gaps" in your wine knowledge from a "trade" perspective. That's probably due to my associating you (perhaps more than I should) with the restaurant trade generally, rather than being someone who, for a time, owned one restaurant. Ergo, it's a bad assumption on my part.

                    There has been one consistent thing in your posts, Robert, that continues to elude my understanding: why you persist ("ad nauseam," as goldang put it) in slamming California wines for what they are, rather than being what YOU want them to be.

                    It's kind of like criticizing an elephant because it has a long nose.

                    Sure it's a flip comment, but it's also quite true: California makes the BEST Californian wines in the world -- no one makes California wines better than the Californians; just as no one makes French wines like the French, Italian wines like the Italians, Portuguese wines like -- well, you get the idea. Like it or not, Robert, it's the truth.

                    Even that bottle of Sassicaia you cited elsewhere on this site as being one of the best California wines you ever had wasn't -- it was an over-oak, "international-styled" Italian, but I've never mistaken it for a California wine in blind tastings with Napa Valley Cabernets. (OK, I've only tasted that first vintage three times -- twice, however, it was in blind tastings with Napa Cabs.)

                    Furthermore, to address some specific points in your original post:

                    >>> As a noted in that other topic, when I go to places with "locavore" all-California lists, I typically taste all the reds, don't find one I want to drink, and end up drinking white when I would really prefer red. <<<

                    a) I personally avoid places with all-California wine lists, and/or BYOB -- explaining WHY I brought my own wine to the waiter/manager/sommelier/owner. "Locovore" makes a great deal of sense when it comes to the quality of fresh produce, but it's nonsense when it comes to the "quality of fresh wine." (Carbon footprints are another matter, but let's not get sidetracked.)

                    b) It seems to me you're either a man who is a glutton for punishment, or someone with unlimited financial resources -- presuming you actually BUY those glasses of reds you make every restaurant pour before you settle on white -- or both.

                    >>> The food-hostility of these wines is one reason so many SF Bay Area restaurants that otherwise focus on local products have wine lists dominated by European imports. <<<

                    c) Completely and totally false conclusion on your part.

                    >>> First, most California vineyards are planted with inappropriate varieties. If you're trying to make a moderately priced wine for immediate consumption, nine times out of ten the most suitable grape variety or blend is not one that winemakers in Bordeaux and Burgundy use for their most expensive wines. <<<

                    d) Could you FACTUALLY back up your claim that most CA vineyards are "planted with inappropriate varieties"?

                    e) I have no idea to whom you are referring when you write, "If you are trying to produce a moderately priced wine for immediate consumption . . . " If you could be specific, and name some wineries, it would be helpful in my understanding the point you are trying to make. (Also, see "f" below.)

                    f) Just what grape varieties do winemakers in Bordeaux and Burgundy use for their LEAST expensive, or moderately priced, wines, and how are these different from the varieties used for their MOST expensive wines? Again, I don't understand what point you are trying to make.

                    >>> Next, the grapes are super-ripe. Traditionally, most grapes for red wine were picked at 21-23 Brix. <<<

                    g) Again, where do you get this? I would respectfully submit that -- as I stated previously -- you cannot speak of generalized, statewide numbers. Even if you return to "those thrilling days of yesteryear," when the conversion rate taught by UC Davis in the 1950s and '60s was 0.5 -- that is, multiply the °Brix by a factor of 0.5 to get the alcohol content in a dry wine -- 21-23° Brix would translate to 10.5-11.5% abv, and throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, 12-12.5% was the norm for most finished wines. (UC Davis taught of harvesting at 24° Brix back then.)

                    >>> In the pre-Parker era, California wines (except for Zinfandel) were typically 12.5%. <<<

                    h) Again, Robert, could you cite facts and/or sources? Under the regulations then in effect for the time period you cite, the alcohol on a wine label had to be correct within 1.5% either way (+/-). The tax rate changed significantly at 14.01% abv, so wineries would simply put "12.5% abv" on their labels (almost) automatically, knowing that their wines were somewhere between 11-14%, and so -- from a government compliance standpoint -- they were legally accurate. None of the red wines I can recall from my time working at Louis Martini in Napa came in under 12%. Paul Draper at Ridge told me, and others, that -- back in those days -- if a label of Ridge wine showed its alcohol content with a decimal point (e.g.: 13.5%), it was accurate, but if it showed it with a fraction (e.g.: 13-1/2%), they were lying through their teeth and hoping the ATF wouldn't catch them!

                    >>> Riper grapes have different, softer tannins and usually lower acid, which means the wines are more dominated by soft fruit flavors (which can be a plus with grape varieties that are traditionally used to make softer, fruitier wines). Softer tannins and less acid means they typically don't age well, though that's not an issue for wines intended for immediate consumption (unless you buy more than you can drink up while it's at its peak). <<<

                    h) Well, I would *not* say that riper grapes have "soft fruit flavors" at all. "Jammy," perhaps, or "compote" if they aren't overripe; "pruney" or "cooked" if they are. But not soft . . .

                    i) I would disagree with your comment that "softer" (i.e.: riper) tannins translate into wines not aging well. I've had dozens of wines with softer, well-integrated tannins age beautifully. The advantage of soft tannins is that the wine is more approachable while in its youth, not -- in my experience -- that it won't age well. Low acid is another matter, and I agree with you that low acid wines won't age well. But this precisely why it's legal to add acid but illegal to chapitalize in California -- grape growers never needs to worry about getting sugar levels in the grapes; winemakers, OTOH, *do* worry about the acid levels. But wine is often like a tight-rope walker -- as long as it/he/she has their balance, it can keep going and going and going . . .

                    >>> Another change from tradition is ubiquitous use of new oak. That used to be too expensive for moderately priced wines, but researchers at UC Davis figured out that you could use alternatives such as chips instead of barrels. Among other things, new oak makes the wine taste sweeter, exacerbating the super-ripe fruit flavors. <<<

                    j) Robert, no one I know in the wine trade, and very few "experienced consumers" that I know, confuses oak aging with the use of chips. the two are RADICALLY different, both in usage and in their effects upon the wine. Wines AGE in barrels; wine is FLAVORED by chips. The two are completely, and radically, different in their effect on wine -- red or white. No one I know thinks -- or has ever described to me (that I can recall) a wine with new oak as being sweet . . . .

                    I don't know, Robert, but it seems to me that you're complaining because YOU don't like something and you want the entire wine trade to change because of it. Obviously you don't, but it does seem to me that thou doth protest too much.

                    (Sorry.)

                    1. re: zin1953

                      I know that California wine has changed radically because I've been here, drinking it, since before the Parker fad started. Maybe I'm guessing wrong about some of the reasons.

                      I can't back up my claim that California's mostly planted with less than optimal varieties except by pointing to the much greater diversity of wine styles made in Europe by using hundreds of grape varieties that have adapted to various regions over centuries and millennia rather than a dozen taken from the most famous regions of France.

                      Based on drinking many of those wines, I'm 100% sure that many wineries that make boring, cookie-cutter California varietal wines could do better with other grape varieties. There are also examples of wineries that are doing it, e.g. Wind Gap Trousseau Gris.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Too funny, when I thought of your "incorrect varieties" point within the discussion I thought of suggesting Woodenhead's Trousseau Gris to you.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          >>> I can't back up my claim that California's mostly planted with less than optimal varieties except by pointing to the much greater diversity of wine styles made in Europe by using hundreds of grape varieties that have adapted to various regions over centuries and millennia rather than a dozen taken from the most famous regions of France. <<<

                          So, Robert, let me ask you a question (or two) . . .

                          Since you correctly point out that winemaking in Europe goes back over many hundreds of years, would you agree that -- hundreds of years ago -- growers merely planted "the local grape(s)" for the most part? that Jacques, Dieter, Umberto, and Miguel -- at best -- saw that Pierre, Hans, Angelo, and Juan had better success at his farm with Vine X and Y than he had with vines Q or Z and so, when planting their own vineyard, Jacques, Dieter, Umberto, and Miguel focused more on X and Y?

                          Would you not agree that there was little to no "indigenous" winemaking in the US, and that, by the time commercial winemaking came to California in particular (and the US in General), it was built on precisely that -- a more commercial model?

                          Would it not make sense, therefore, to plant the grapes that would a) command the highest prices and b) thus provide the greatest return on investment?

                          Have you ever met anyone who honestly says, "Damn, I'm going to go out and plant some of that Grand Noir de la Calmette? or Triplett Blanc? Too obscure? OK, what about Burger, Dornfelder, or Charbono? Saint Emilion, Pinotage, or Tannat? And yet, all of them are planted in Calfiornia in sufficient enough acreage to be tracked by CASS. And with the exception of Triplett, I've had varietal California wines from all of them. So all sorts of other grapes ARE here, BUT . . .

                          Did it not make more sense, returning to my previous paragraph, to plant -- since Americans primarily looked to Bordeaux and Burgundy, the Rhine and Chianti -- the grapes that made those wines? (And yet, Sangiovese never really took off here, despite California's more "Mediterranean Climate." Hmmmm.)

                          So, if I understand you correctly, you're not only criticizing California for not making European wines, but also for not having centuries and centuries of experience behind it. Do I have that right?

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Of necessity, the California wine industry is dependent on grape varieties from Europe. I just doesn't seem to me we take full advantage of their diversity. People used to drive all over California looking for the best places to grow Bordeaux varietes. Why not do the opposite and look for AOCs and DOCs that match non-Bordeaux-like terroirs?

                            The new "Wine Grapes" by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Jose Vouillamoz makes it clear that the history of grape varieties in Europe is very complicated. California's history doesn't seem all that simple, either. Haraszthy alone brought in 350 different varieties.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Ok, so -- again -- you're blaming California for not doing things to suit you!

                              Haraszthy brought in loads of different grapes, it's true. Why, then, do you suppose that some grape varieties not only survived but thrived, while other varieties disappeared? (For the purposes of this post, "thrive" means an increase in acreage.) What do you attribute it to? (Parker certainly had nothing to do with it.) Zinfandel was the only wine grape variety to actually INCREASE plantings during Prohibition, but Cabernet Sauvignon was dominant in the Napa Valley in the 1800s . . .

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I think the pre-Prohibition grape varieties had little or nothing to do with what happened later. In 1933, there were only 300 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon left in the state, in 1960 only twice that. In the mid-60s, UC Davis recommended it as the "variety of choice for red table wines" in zones I and 2. By 1971 there were 7,616 acres, in 1976 26,742, in 1997 40,457, in 2010 77,602.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  You know, Robert, I only have a few of my wine books handy -- most are in storage, as we're painting our house -- so you'll have to bear with me . . .

                                  I have no idea what the total acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the state of California was in 1933, but your numbers a) prove my point, while at the same time, ignoring it. Permit me to explain:

                                  To begin with, going back to the very beginning, Jean-Louis Vignes planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the first commercial vineyard in Alta California in the 1840s, on the site of what is now Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. So, Cabernet was here "from the very beginning." Charles Lefranc planted it in the Santa Clara Valley for Almadén wines (founded in 1852). Haraszthy brought it over, too, in the 1860s, and Buena Vista was well known for Cabernet Sauvignon in the last quarter of the 19th Century. (Not Grand Noir de la Calmette or Tannat, but Cabernet Sauvignon.) Other California producers won awards at International Expositions for their Cabernets (often labeled as "Claret") in those years from (approx.) the 1880s until the First World War.

                                  I mentioned elsewhere that Zinfandel was the ONLY grape varietal to increase in acreage during Prohibition. This was directly due to its thick skin, and thus, its ability to travel East in rail cars for home winemakers to use there. Certainly many vineyards were ripped out, a lot of prunes (plums) were planted in their place; so, too, were poultry "farming." Now, as previously mentioned, I do not have access to all of my wine books, but I *do* know -- for example -- that before Prohibition, California had 700+ wineries, but by 1933, only 160 survived. It wasn't until 1985 that California once again hit 700 wineries once again . . .

                                  In terms of the 300-acre figure specifically, the important thing (well, important to me, anyway) is to know what the acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon was in California *before* Prohibition. I wouldn't expect there to be as much in 1933 as there was in 1919. If the "300" figure is correct, it serves merely to show how much got ripped out. (More on this below.)

                                  I don't know where you got your numbers re: Cabernet Sauvignon acreage, but according to "The New Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine," completely revised by Alexis Bespaloff, © 1988 (ISBN 0-68805749-7), page 578, there were 2,659 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in California in 1966, compared to 23,959 acres of Carignane; 11,897 acres of Grenache.

                                  I can't access the numbers for 1976, but according to CASS (California Agricultural Statistics Service):

                                  -- by 1982, there were 16,640 acres of Cabernet planted in California (I can't imagine why it would have dropped 10,000+ acres from 1976; where did your numbers come from?).

                                  -- by 1997, there were 45,307 acres planted (a difference of only 150 acres between wherever you got your numbers and what CASS provided), but only 34,221 acres actually in production.

                                  -- by 2010, there were -- yes -- 77,602 acres planted (74,889 in production).

                                  Now, it seems to me that, once it was legal to sell wine commercially (i.e.: the end of Prohibition), winemakers and wineries would seek to plant their best grape varieties once again, irrespective of the thickness of their skins. In other words, "let's plant what we do best!" The 1935 Simi Cabernet was legendary, though so, too (in fairness) was their 1935 Simi Zinfandel. Beaulieu first introduced their Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in 1936. And so on and so on . . .

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    There's no question that post-colonial California winemakers were attracted to Bordeaux varieties and practices back to day one. Vignes (who was from Bordeaux) and Le Franc both made Bordeaux blends. So what?

                                    I don't think the choice of grape varieties before Prohibition or among the remnant of fine wine producers operating from the 30s to the 60s had much to do with the popularity of ~100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines in all price ranges today.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      You are asking -- among other things, in your ever-so-slightly shifting positions -- why California winemakers have focused on Cabernet Sauvignon.

                                      I have tried (perhaps in vain) to point out to you that they have focused on Cabernet Sauvignon since the earliest days of commercial winemaking in this state -- in other words, since the 1840s. When Prohibition caused a "do over," winemakers in 1933 picked up right where they left off: with Cabernet Sauvignon.

                                      In the decade of 1960s, what wines garnered fame and fortune? Well, except as noted, all the attention -- from press and consumers alike -- when to wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, such as

                                      1961 -- Inglenook Cask Bottling;

                                      1964 -- Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve;

                                      1966 -- Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve, Louis M. Martini Special Selection, and Inglenook Cask Bottling;

                                      1968 -- Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve, Louis M. Martini Special Selection, Heitz "Martha's Vineyard," Ridge Monte Bello; also, the 1968 Sutter Home ZINFANDEL "Deaver Vineyard from Amador County, the 1968 Beaulieu (semi-generic) BURGUNDY "Special Reserve," and the 1968 Beaulieu PINOT NOIR "Carneros";

                                      1969 -- Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve, Robert Mondavi "Unfiltered," Heitz "Martha's Vineyard," Ridge Monte Bello; also, Freemark Abbey CHARDONNAY, Robert Mondavi FUMÉ Blanc, Wente Bros. JOHANNISBERG RIESLING "Spatlese";

                                      1970 -- Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve, Louis M. Martini Special Selection, Robert Mondavi "Unfiltered," Heitz "Martha's Vineyard," Ridge Monte Bello; also Ridge ZINFANDEL Jimsomare.

                                      So I would postulate, Robert, that Cabernet's dominance was well-and-truly established long before Mr. Parker.

                                      This doesn't mean Parker had no influence at all. Quite the contrary! He (and the 100-point system he promulgated) had a tremendous impact! But he didn't lead California to Cabernet, nor did he make consumers drink.

                        2. re: zin1953

                          I only hang out here periodically, and while I don't know your name (zin1953) think perhaps we've talked wine elsewhere. I'm curious as to your name. If you are reluctant to say so, maybe just a first. Are you JBL?

                          1. re: john gonzales

                            My name is Jason Brandt Lewis, so i suppose -- yes -- that makes me JBL. ;^)

                          2. re: zin1953

                            "glutton for punishment, or someone with unlimited financial resources -- presuming you actually BUY those glasses of reds you make every restaurant pour before you settle on white"

                            What typically happens is I look at the by-the-glass list and the reds are either unfamiliar to me or I've tried and don't like them, so I say, "do you have any reds that aren't oaky or high-alcohol?" and the server brings me sips. Particularly when I'm sitting at the bar they'll give me tastes of all the ones I don't know.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              So, what? Every time you go into a restaurant/wine bar, you get to sample tastes of -- what? 5, 10, 15 different reds -- before you order a glass of Romorantin?

                              Eventually, don't they just say "Give it up, Mr. Lauriston -- you don't like these CA reds we have; let get you a nice glass of Chinon" ?!?!?!?

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I'm describing a frequent experience at restaurants that have only California reds on their by-the-glass lists. Usually there are only around half a dozen and I've tasted some of them already.

                                The wine bars I frequent these days, the buyers have the same problems with California wines that I do, so there aren't that many on the list and the ones they do have I usually like.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  >>> I'm describing a frequent experience at restaurants that have only California reds on their by-the-glass lists. <<<

                                  So you ARE a glutton for punishment! Why do you go to these places? Why do you subject yourself to the torture?

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Luck of the draw. I'm trying a new place or go back to a familiar place to find that they've locavored their list (e.g. Plum last month, where we consoled ourselves with Finger Lakes Riesling and Scholium Project Verdelho). I've gone numerous places where the wine list would be a strike against my going back.

                                    Gather's one place where the food's good and different enough that I'll put up with the narrow selection of reds.

                                    Talk about your first-world problems.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I can't help but wonder if Steve Plotnicki runs into the same problems . . .

                                      I don't mean to stir up a moribund topic, but I still do not get the whole "locavore" bull$#|+ when it comes to wine.

                                      Sustainable local fruits and vegetables, absolutely! Huge difference in taste. Sustainable local fish? Again, absolutely -- at least from a "well, primarily" standpoint; hard to get Maine lobster in a restaurant that is 100% "locavore" when it comes to its seafood. Meats? Same basic point -- great idea, with (probably) some exceptions for certain delicacies.

                                      But a) the quality of a wine does not noticeably decline-never-to-return the way it would with vegetables or fruit; b) the aromatics and flavors of -- let's pick Riesling, so we can focus on a single variety -- wine from California is quite different than similar wines from Washington State or the Finger Lakes, from the Rhein or Mosel, from Alsace or Austria; from New Zealand or Australia . . . it's not the same thing as (e.g.) carrots: there may be a difference in flavor between Italian carrots versus California carrots, but the issue of freshness trumps the travel issue. Wine is not similarly affected by travel -- certainly not to the same degree, if at all.

                                      BTW, if Plum has a Finger Lakes Riesling on their wine list, can they actually be said to have "locavored" wine list?

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        Wines are like spices. There are good reasons to share them around the world.

                                        Plum's current list per their web site is 100% California except for sparkling and dessert wines and the Finger Lakes Riesling.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Right, so it's NOT a locavore list . . .

                                          As I said, locavore wine lists make no sense to me . . . .

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            Maybe they're just running down their inventory on the rest. Who knows? Makes no sense to me, but I can't see any rationale other than some sort of locavore notion.

                        3. re: zin1953

                          To answer Robert's title question I would respond in two parts. First "delicious" is obviously subjective and most people find plenty of Cal wines they would labe so. Being food friendly is still subjective, based on preference and what foods one eats, though more understandable. Clearly if one eats a lot of red meat (especially grilled), one will find more matches in Cal. However a great percentage of Cal wine is consumed without being paired with food, so perhaps there's a reason they all aren't "food wines".
                          Anyhoy, looking at your criterion Robert, cab-based wines are going to be a bigger challenge. As I said in the Fruit Bomb thread, maybe Corison or Togni, but despite the lower alc level, you're still going to notice some oak. You're obviously way better off looking Pinot or cool climate syrah. It actually seems like you do know of a bunch of these. For Pinot the lower price point is going to be an issue for producers like Rhys, Anthill, Kutch, Ceritas. Ditto Arnot-Roberts. They price their wines higher and their very limited, but you might find them very interesting. Maybe Copain and Edmunds St. John?

                          1. re: john gonzales

                            The massive acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon is part of the problem.

                            I think from the late 60s through the 80s the red-wine model for most California winemakers was not Bordeaux in general but 1961 Lafite in particular. Many of them did a good job of copying that style and adapting it to local conditions, but that meant California Cabernet Sauvignon was much less diverse than Bordeaux as a whole.

                            For everyday wines, it would make more sense to use Bourg or Blaye or one of the other lesser appelations as a model (assuming the climate was suitable for Bordeaux varieties at all), but consumers still seem to prefer varietally labeled Cabernet Sauvignon. Even winemakers who make Meritage or proprietary blends tend to use a very high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon.

                            Years ago I went to an event at Arrowood once where they had barrel samples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot and you could make your own blend. It was educational to see what a wide variety of other Bordeaux-ish styles were possible. (They dropped the other four at some point in favor of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.)

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Lioco Indica Red? It's one of my "food" reds at the low end especially when out, as it is available on a bunch of winelists since they have a lot of somm buddies. Mostly old-vine Carignan, good acid, low alcohol and oak but still some interesting fruit.
                              I bring wine to most of my sit-down dinners and if I had your limited preferences and wanted to drink some Cal wines I'd bring them.

                        4. Will respond for posterity sake - but I must say this has been discussed ad nauseam.

                          Have you tried the cooler vintages that are just being released now? 2009 and 2010 Pinot Noirs from Russian River Valley - Mendocino, and 2009 Cabs from the Santa Cruz Mountains should meet your criteria.

                          Kathryn Kennedy's wines are somewhat widely available and have a good, earthy balance to them.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: goldangl95

                            Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon is currently $85 to $145, well out of my price range.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Try the Small Lot cab - it's about $35 - I've found it at Whole Foods before. Will need a decant and ideally should be aged for a year or so before drinking but I think it may meet your requirements. It will be more fruit forward than the flagship but I find it well balanced.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Robert, look for the Mondavi wines from Oakville and Stag's Leap, both under $30.

                              2. re: goldangl95

                                Another thought: I am not familiar with this region at all but am hoping to explore it this year - have you tried wines from the Sierra Foothills? I haven't explored them yet myself but have heard decent things about:

                                Clos Saron
                                Scott Harvey
                                Twisted Oak
                                Vino Noceto

                                1. re: goldangl95

                                  Clos Saron is great.

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8636...

                                  I haven't had the Vino Noceto in a few years, used to be too oaky for me.

                                  http://www.noceto.com/images/content/...

                                  Haven't tried Scott Harvey's wines. Talk about old vines:

                                  http://www.scottharveywines.com/wp-co...

                                  On the other hand, oak balls:

                                  http://wine.woot.com/forums/viewpost....

                                  Twisted Oak uses 30% and up new oak. 100% Mourvedre with 14.8% alcohol and 45% new oak? Oy.

                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                    The wines from the Sierra Foothills have made (IMHO) tremendous strides since the 1970s and 1980s. Gone -- hopefully forever -- are the days when they only sold well in the Sacramento area. The wines can be quite good, if not excellent, whether made by wineries actually IN the Sierra Foothills, or whether the foothills are merely the source for the grapes -- like those great Ridge "Fiddletown" or "Shenandoah" Zinfandels of days gone by, and the Syrah and Gamay Noir ("Bone-Jolly") currently currently produced by Edmonds St. John.

                                    My favorite wineries "up there" are Cedarville, followed by Domaine Terre Rouge/Easton. (Terre Rouge is the label used by Bill Easton for his "Rhône-ish" wines; Easton is the label for the rest).

                                    Clos Saron and Scott Harvey also make some wines really worth checking out.

                                    Other wineries with which I have some fondness for include -- in random order -- Granite Springs, Lava Cap, Mount Akum, Latcham Vineyards, Holly's Hill, and of course, Boeger.

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      I've tried Terre Rouge a bunch of times, always too much oak and alcohol for me. I see Easton has a 13.5% Cabernet Franc done in neutral oak at $20, I'll have to try that.

                                      http://www.terrerougewines.com/6-2012...

                                2. So to summarize, the poster is saying that California red wines are: (1) too big, meaning: (2) too fruity; (3) too sweet; and (4) too alcoholic. However, the market says otherwise and, apparently, based on the findings of French critics at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, the French agree. (By the way, in replays of that tasting, the California wines continue to beat the French wines--and I mean with new modern wines, as well as the older ones.

                                  I think the poster just wants a different taste profile--one that is utterly European. And there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I prefer the subtler, drier taste of European (mostly French) wines.

                                  I also challenge the statement that American wines are as alcoholic and the poster says. Alcoholic content of American wines may be a little higher, but not much.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                    I don't know about all of American wines - but certainly at this point red wines in CA almost always hit 14% and one regularly sees 15%+ (as opposed to the 13% of its French counterparts).

                                    The taste doesn't necessarily correlate with the higher alcohol percentage. But I think the difference in CA red wines v. say French red wines in alcohol % is undisputed.

                                    1. re: gfr1111

                                      The Stag's Leap that won Steven Spurrier's 1976 tasting was 13% alcohol. Warren Winiarski's mentor was André Tchelistcheff, who was in large measure personally responsible for the strong French influence on modern California winemaking and the (at least pre-Parker) definition of what California Cabernet Sauvignon should taste like.

                                      George Taber's book on the tasting has detailed descriptions of how some of the wines were made. The wineries that follow similar practices today (which is by current standards somewhat eccenric) generally make wines I like, and vice-versa.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        >>> The Stag's Leap that won Steven Spurrier's 1976 tasting was 13% alcohol. Warren Winiarski's mentor was André Tchelistcheff, who was in large measure personally responsible for the strong French influence on modern California winemaking and the (at least pre-Parker) definition of what California Cabernet Sauvignon should taste like. <<<

                                        Leaving aside the fact that André was Russian, not French (see below), and that he was an advocate (at least while he was at Beaulieu, 1938-1973) for the use of American oak, I wouldn't make too much of Warren's relationship with André. EVERYONE in the Valley in those days considered André Tchlistcheff as his or her mentor, including Robert Mondavi, Louis P. Martini, Joe Heitz, Mike Grgich and others. He was a paid consultant to Jordan, Hoffman Mountain Ranch, and countless others . . .

                                        /\/\/\/\/\

                                        *After fleeing Russia, André DID train in France at both the Institut Pasteur and the Institut National Agronomique, but -- as far as I remember -- he never really worked for a French wine producer.

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          Winiarski patterned his fermenter after Latour's, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Tchelistcheff was trained as an enologist in France. He did influence everyone in that era.

                                          Stag's Leap won the 1976 tasting because it was hard to distinguish from its French models and beat them at their own game.

                                    2. My take is that Robert is not tilting at windmills. Rather, it seems he had a thought and put it out for comment//criticism. I would do the same (and much more) before dipping my feet into the wine business.

                                      18 Replies
                                      1. re: steve h.

                                        Q: is Robert planning on dipping his feet into the wine business? Do you know something the rest of us don't?

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          I'm very active in the wine business as a consumer. It's an overlooked but important role.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            No, actually, it's not overlooked, and it's THE most important role.

                                            But perhaps I misunderstood Steve H. when he said

                                            >>> I would do the same (and much more) before dipping my feet into the wine business. <<<

                                            I thought he meant you were getting (back) into the wine business, but perhaps it is Steve who is planning to do so.

                                            (English is so imprecise in so many ways . . . sentence structure, spelling -- after all, GHOTI is pronounced the same as "fish" -- sometimes it's overwhelming.)

                                        2. re: steve h.

                                          I don't expect to convince anyone.

                                          My point in starting this topic was to have a place to discuss this stuff without derailing topics where someone's asking where to find California wines that aren't too oaky or whatever.

                                          Someone who's trying to find wines that suit their taste doesn't need to hear that if the wines don't taste good to them they have bad taste or are tasting the wrong wines.

                                          The market will sort this out in the end. Diverse fresh, fruity, high-acid, oak-free, food-friendly wines from Europe are on the shelves and California winemakers will adapt to the competition one way or another.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            >>> Someone who's trying to find wines that suit their taste doesn't need to hear that if the wines don't taste good to them they have bad taste or are tasting the wrong wines. <<<

                                            I don't think anyone has ever said that, Robert -- at least not that they/you (I presume you're speaking of yourself, since you started this thread) have bad taste.

                                            Taste, as has been frequently pointed out, is subjective. The best wine in the world is not the 104-pointer, but the one that tastes best TO YOU! Period. Someone else may agree or disagree, but that's based upon their own personal palate preferences -- again, subjective.

                                            So you don't have "bad taste," Robert, but you SHOULD stop tasting the wrong wines. If you don't like the (majority of) red wines produced in California, why do you persist in tasting/drinking California red wines? It's a valid question, I think.

                                            While I was in the trade, I had to taste hundreds of wines every week, many of which were varieties that I didn't like. I've mentioned this before -- I still needed to taste (e.g.) off-dry California Chenin Blancs, despite the fact I don't really like them, to be able to a) write about them for publications, b) know which off-dry Chenins to buy for a retail store or restaurant, and c) know how to sell it to retailers or restaurateurs when I was working on the wholesale end of things.

                                            But that's entirely different from drinking-for-pleasure, and since off-dry California Chenin Blanc provides me with little or no pleasure, I do not go into restaurants seeking to taste them, to see if I like them. Life is too short, and the world of wine is filled with so many wines that I actually DO like -- why waste my time? and money?

                                            Now, to MY (albeit biased) perspective, you *are* a glutton for punishment, even if the restaurants you go to let you taste any number of reds for free. You keep trying to find a California wine you like when you (typically) don't like them. So I have to ask: why keep hitting your head against the wall? why keep trying to kick the football when you *know* Lucy will just yank it out of the way, and you'll end up flat on your back?

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              Nail on the head.

                                              Why keep trying to convince others about your own subjective taste?
                                              I don't care for most German wines. I believe others when they say they love them. They find them fabulous. I don't. I have had all the best of them. Not to my taste. No problem. Let it go.

                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                While I do love many GR Rieslings (old and new), my wife is less a fan, but tolerates me, and my "Summer of Riesling" tastings.

                                                However, she spent a week with Dr. Ernst Loosen, and loved every wine, that he poured (about 35), so who knows? Still, I am the Riesling lover in the family, and she, well not so much. Different palates, I guess, just as you state.

                                                Hunt

                                              2. re: zin1953

                                                Jason,

                                                Good points, per my reading.

                                                In my case, I taste, and drink for my personal pleasure. I do not have to populate a wine list, or fill a cellar (other than my own overflowing one), so tend to drink what I do enjoy, with food, that I hope to also enjoy it with.

                                                Probably the one exception has been Chilean wines. I have found but one, that I would ever buy. Many distributors and retailers have tried to change that, but, to date, none has. They give me free bottles, assuring me that I will be back. Yes, I do come back, but with a negative report. I have tasted examples from the uppermost tier, to some lower, with the same results - I have only found one, that I would buy again. When dining, that would NOT be a country, to which I would head. Just my palate. My attempts at finding a really good example have been, not at dinner, but on their own. I still try, but always seem to fail, though I have not paid for a Chilean wine in a dozen years.

                                                Hunt

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  From the time I started drinking wine in the 70s up through around 1990, California wines went from mostly mediocre to often very good. Then came the Parker era and mass hysteria led producers to make bad wine and many consumers (who as you must know often aren't sure what they like, flunk triangle tests, and buy based on received ideas of what they think they should like) to go along with it.

                                                  I *think* we're on our way out of that era. I've tasted the most interesting California wines of my life in the last couple of years. I hope that's a sign that in the next few years California wines will be better and more diverse than ever.

                                                  Drinking wine to figure out how to sell it is completely unlike drinking wine for pleasure. At its best, it's in the service of other people's pleasure; at its worst, it's at the expense of other people's pleasure.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Robert?

                                                    >>> Then came the Parker era and mass hysteria led producers to make bad wine . . . <<<

                                                    It would be most helpful if you didn't equate "bad wine" with wines you simply don't like. A "bad wine" is a wine that is flawed in some OBJECTIVE, technical way (say with mercaptans or acetaldehyde). A bad bottle may, for example, be "corked" (affected by 2,4,6-trichloranisole), whereas another bottle of the same wine may be great.

                                                    On the other hand, being over-oaked, for example, or too high in alcohol is a matter of personal threshold and preference. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with aging a wine in 45 percent new oak, or even 100 percent new oak. YOU, Robert Lauriston, may not like the result, but there is no way that makes the wine "bad wine," in terms of flawed. It simply means that you, Robert, don't like it. Two very different things.

                                                    >>> . . . and many consumers (who as you must know often aren't sure what they like, flunk triangle tests, and buy based on received ideas of what they think they should like) to go along with it. <<<

                                                    Robert?

                                                    1) EVERYONE flunks triangle tests at least some of the time, and very few "straight" consumers have even heard of, let alone participated in, T-tests.

                                                    2) Despite your attempts to the contrary, consumers defy one single definition or categorization. There are consumers with a high degree of knowledge spread over a wide variety of wines; there are consumers who know a great deal about wines from one place on the planet (say "California," for the sake of discussion), but know very little about wines from elsewhere. There are consumers who hang on a wine critic's every word (or number), and those who have never heard of Robert Parker. There are even consumers who, when they ask about "Burgundy," are shocked to see 750ml bottles selling for hundreds of dollars when they actually were looking for 3.0L jugs with a finger-loop!

                                                    You do consumers AND yourself a disservice.

                                                    Furthermore, before Parker came into the picture, you don't think people bought on the recommendations of writers like Robert Lawrence Balzer, Bob Thompson, Gerald Asher, Frank Prial and the like? Hell yes, they did! Even Herb Caen -- when he mentioned the 1970 Louis Martini "regular" Cabernet in a column -- caused such a huge run on it, it had to be allocated!

                                                    The wine trade -- not only of California, but the *world* -- did not, does not, nor will not rise and fall with Robert Parker. Yes, he has been an important wine critic, no doubt about that, but he is far from omnipotent. (Remember, he never ran for the office of "god.")

                                                    >>> Drinking wine to figure out how to sell it is completely unlike drinking wine for pleasure. At its best, it's in the service of other people's pleasure; at its worst, it's at the expense of other people's pleasure. <<<

                                                    Robert?

                                                    It was also the least important of the MULTITUDE of ways I referred to . . . .

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      No other critic has ever had the influence that Parker had. No experienced professional winemaker would ever have bottled 15% alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon except to try to get high points from the Wine Advocate.

                                                      I'm skeptical that anyone really likes those wines with food. They get higher scores from Parker et al. because they taste them with other wines and no food. Balanced, food-friendly wines show poorly in that context.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Robert?

                                                        >>> No other critic has ever had the influence that Parker had. <<<

                                                        I agree with that. But that does not mean -- as you seem to want it to -- that there were no influential writers before (or since?). The DIFFERENCE between Parker and those who preceded him can largely be chalked up to three things, and three things only:

                                                        a) 1982 BORDEAUX, which he raved about and nearly every other critic and publication panned. That established his credibility and influence like no other.

                                                        b) The 100-POINT SCALE, which brought everyone back into the schoolroom and was immediately understood by all who saw it -- unlike the 20-point or 7-point scales then in popular use.

                                                        c) TIMING, in that those before him never had the internet to expand their influence.

                                                        >>> No experienced professional winemaker would ever have bottled 15% alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon except to try to get high points from the Wine Advocate. <<<

                                                        And your documented source for this fact? Or, rather, is this merely your opinion which you stated in the guise of "fact"?

                                                        >>> I'm skeptical that anyone really likes those wines with food. <<<

                                                        Yes, millions of people around the world are repeated opening and drinking wines they can't stand. Perhaps that famous piece of graffiti was right: "Eat $#|+ -- 50 million flies CAN'T be wrong!"

                                                        >>> They get higher scores from Parker et al. because they taste them with other wines and no food. <<<

                                                        And you know they would get lower scores if served with a full meal HOW exactly?

                                                        FWIW, Parker claims to taste wines by themselves, not with other wines. Connoisseurs' Guide tastes wines in flights of 8-12, served first alone, and then with food. When I was on the Bon Appetit tasting panel, we tasted wines singularly and there was always a variety of food available. Having never tasted on the Wine Spectator, Decanter, or San Francisco Chronicle panels, I cannot comment. In terms of wine competitions, they are typically tasted in flights of up to 12 wines -- except for those employing "the Peterson method," or those which follow the methodology of the Sydney (Australia) competition or the IWC in London.

                                                        Several competitions I know will and do in fact separate wines into various categories within a class (e.g.: Cabernet Sauvignon). Some may separate by levels of (perceived) tannins; some may divide them by the abv on the label; etc., etc. Other methods of subdividing the class are by vintage, by appellation, by levels of residual sugar (as with, say, Riesling), and so on.

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Parker's so-called 100-point scale is misunderstood by almost everyone. A glass of Windex would score at least 50 points.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            And???

                                                      2. re: zin1953

                                                        Good points, and not in your, or Robert's favor, the wine-porn press has done as much of a "disservice" to the US wine-buying public, as they have done a service. One needs to keep an open view, and mind, and then, weigh the ratings vs their personal preferences.

                                                        For me, some Parker wines DO hit a good mark, but many do not. It just depends. In some case, if R. P. Jr, likes it, I might not, but then, it just depends, per my palate.

                                                        Hunt

                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          And you, Bill, are "using" Parker's reviews "correctly," in that a) you are reading the notes, not just the numbers; b) you are keeping an open mind; c) you are not "blindly" accepting of *his* likes, and questioning your own palate when you don't like a wine that he does.

                                                          The key to any wine writer/reviewer/critic is consistency. The more consistent he or she is, the easier it is to "calibrate" the notes of the writer to one's own likes and dislikes. Parker IS consistent, and in that sense, he's easier to deal with than some others.

                                                          You know all this, of course, but the key is knowing one's OWN palate, and knowing how it relates to the (consistent) notes of the writer.

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            Jason,

                                                            I agree. Wine ratings are no different from, say movie cirtiques. If one knows the reviewer, and their tastes, AND they stay constant, then one can "fill in the blanks," based on their personal tastes. Going way, way back, "Playboy" magazine had a particular movie reviewer (name lost in history). I found his reviews to be most useful, as he hated what I liked, and vice versa. I used those reviews to help me chart the films, that I would see - the ones that he hated!

                                                            While there ARE R P, Jr. wines, that get good reviews, and I enjoy, I am almost his "opposite," regarding many. That is why I always prefer a detailed critique of a wine, and never look at numbers, corks, corkscrews, on similar. Tell me what the wine tastes like, and then I will decide for myself, and based on MY palate, which is how I do things.

                                                            While I greatly trust you palate, and enjoy your reviews, I know that we have different palates. Nothing wrong with that. I know that some of the wines, that give me great pleasure, will probably not make your list, and again, vice versa. I have no problem with that, and actually embrace it, since we are different people, and appreciate different things, as we should.

                                                            In all of the TN's, that you have provided, you clearly state many aspects of wine ____, and then, I use those to determine if I would, or would not, appreciate the same wines, albeit in a different manner, than you might.

                                                            Give me the prose (but keep it somewhat objective), and do not bore me with numbers, corks, corkscrews, glasses, or any of that "stuff."

                                                            I am very fortunate to have a loving wife, who has a totally different palate, than I do. We purchase, and order wines, that each appreciates, and even when they differ for the other. Heck, it means almost twice as much wine for the family. She was a really big fan of "big" CalChards, and I finally weened her to FR Chards. Now, she's an animal, and has actually upped my wine budget, since she "came on board." Not bad. Where she once asked why I was ordering cases of FR whites, she now urges me to order more! For her birthday, she told me that she wanted to fly to Burgundy, and go to the "source." I am accommodating her. Hey, it's a win-win, from where I sit.

                                                            OTOH, she is pressing me to drink my Ports younger, and that does have a major benefit - I will not live long enough to let some of the recent vintages mature, so why not learn to drink 'em earlier?

                                                            Different folk - different strokes.

                                                            Enjoy, and cheers

                                                            Hunt

                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              Bruce Williamson? (I want to say Rex Reed, but I think that's because of the article he wrote on "Myra Breckenridge.")

                                                              Ah, but I digress . . .

                                                              TO GENERALIZE, I am a huge lover of French, Spanish and Portuguese, Austrian and German wines. Domestically, I prefer wines done in -- for lack of a better term -- European-esque style. New Zealand over Australia. Lebanon to South America.

                                                              When it comes to Merlot and, to a slightly lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon, when I drink them, I prefer Washington to California.

                                                              And in virtually all cases, cooler climate to warmer . . . .

                                              3. Now, for "food-friendly," I normally head to FR, or IT, or maybe GR, depending on the dish, but, and with that said, depending on the dish (and its prep), I find many US wines to fit the bill.

                                                These might well be out of the realm of the dishes, that you are referring to, but:

                                                Burgers - Zinfandels, or a good US Merlot (harder to find, but worth the effort)
                                                Grilled Beef Tenderloin - US Cabs, with a bit of age. While I love my Bdx., I find that too many are more suited for the after-dinner, cheese-course, with a few, particular cheeses, and then adult discussion, and not so much with that grilled beef. I find that many are "sippers," and that is a term, that I often use, for many US wines, that I don't find THAT food-friendly, but still enjoyable, on their own.

                                                CA and OR Pinot Noirs CAN be great with some dishes (I think Pacific Salmon with OR PN's), but maybe not so much as the PN's from Burgundy.

                                                For me, so long as the oak is integrated, I do not find an issue with it. I cannot imagine my Montrachets without oak, but then, it must be integrated and balanced. I also find that many US Chards are "overly-oaked," but then find their opposites, the "totally un-oaked" versions, to not be interesting. For me, it is about balance and integration.

                                                Give me an evening, where I do not know the chef, or the kitchen, and I must order wines blind, then I will usually head to FR, and hope that I am correct. Second choice would be GR Rieslings, for the whites.

                                                Hunt

                                                22 Replies
                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  Thanks Hunt, for bringing this thread back to planet Earth! I am obviously far less knowledgeable about wine than most of the posters on this thread, and reading all of this stuff has been sort of grating on me. We drink wine with dinner every evening, usually something in the $20-50 retail range. We enjoy wines from the US, France, Italy, Germany, and yes occasionally from New Zealand and Australia. We are by no means wine "connoisseurs", nevertheless I think that taste is an individual matter where no one person's is more valid than another's. It is against this background that I personally find it astounding that anyone could say that all California red wines are not food-friendly. Certainly there are many extraordinary red wines from Europe, but I find many from California and Oregon, pretty darned good.

                                                  Thanks Hunt for reassuring me that I am not alone in enjoying a glass of California zin with a burger, or a California cab with a tenderloin. And yes...we just this evening enjoyed a wonderful Ken Wright Oregon pinot noir with salmon while watching the Oregon Ducks demolish Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. It was delicious!

                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                    You are most welcome, an I only hope that I can add something to the thread.

                                                    Once, I tasted wines, with wine lists, and cellar lists, in my mind. That is no longer the case, and now, it is all about MY pleasure. Oh, that, plus my wife's, and our guests.

                                                    I no longer try to figure out aging charts, and price-points to cost, and only get very local - Me.

                                                    At the end of the day, it is about my (and my dining companions') enjoyment.

                                                    While I do have some "favorites," I try to be 100% open to suggestions, and from those, who know a particular kitchen, or wine list.

                                                    Going back a week, a sommelier asked, "Which wines do you enjoy?" My reply was sort of a flippent, "Albariños to Zinfandel, so long as it is well-made, and pairs well." The flippancy was not intended, and the sommelier knew that she had "free reign" to come up with some "off-the-wall" choices. She did very well.

                                                    To me, it is about my pleasure, and I could care less about clones or DNA tests on varietals. It is about the end result, and nothing more - plus nothing less.

                                                    Enjoy,

                                                    Hunt

                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Thanks again Hunt, for your voice of reason and intelligence.

                                                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    Most of the wines I characterize as food-hostile are good with simple beef dishes. The problem is that they're not compatible with anything else, and who eats beef at every meal any more?

                                                    The same goes some of the most delicious and expensive Bordeaux wines: you have to pair the food to the wine rather than the other way around. Great for special occasions, bad for every day, not that most of us can afford to have that problem.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      But what about a nice CA sangiovese or zinfandel with a red sauced pasta, veal or chicken dish. Some imho are pretty good. And although not red, there are some reasonably priced CA gewurztraminers that imho accompany spicier foods such as Indian and Chinese quite well.

                                                      1. re: josephnl

                                                        Un-Parkerized Zinfandels are very food-friendly. You can't beat them for barbecue and they pair well with lots of other dishes. I have trouble finding them at reasonable prices and a lot of the lower-priced ones have a harsh note from oak balls or chips or the like.

                                                        California white wines are much more diverse than reds. There are plenty of Parkerized monster Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs out there but I have no trouble finding whites I like.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Please explain to this novice what you mean by a "Parkerized" wine?

                                                          1. re: josephnl

                                                            Parkerization:

                                                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_M...

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              This article is beyond me. I do not understand it. In simple words, what is "Parkerization" of wine? Please!

                                                              I drink what I consider good wine daily - usually from reasonably well-known large or boutique CA or OR wineries. I have never heard any wine merchant/salesman, winery tasting room employees, sommelier, etc. refer to a wine as being "Parkerized"!! What do you mean.

                                                              1. re: josephnl

                                                                "Parkerization" is derogatory shorthand for making dry wines from grapes that are about 25% riper (in terms of sugar content) than tradition calls for, resulting in around 25% higher alcohol levels and other, less quantifiable differences in the wine.

                                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                                  OK, to give you an ACCURATE definition of the term . . .

                                                                  "Parkerization" refers to ANY wine -- red or white, domestic or imported -- that is "over-oaked," "over-ripe," "overly-alcoholic," and/or "in-your-face." It is *always* meant in a DEROGATORY manner, and it is *always" in the eye of the beholder (or, rather, on the "palate of the taster"). In other words, there is no concrete, specific definition (e.g.: if a wine has x% alcohol, it's not "Parkerized, " but x+0.1% is -- no, no, nothing like that.) It is a subjective term based upon the palate of the taster.

                                                                  Robert Parker himself denies that such a wine exists, but he would, as the term is most often applied to wines that he rates highly. Those who tend to dislike the type of wine that Parker tends to rate highly will find several wines that qualify to be held under the umbrella of "Parkerized." The more one generally doesn't like the type of wines Parker does, the more "Parkerized" wines there are in the world.

                                                                  Those who harbor extreme dislikes of the man will find every wine favorably reviewed in The Wine Advocate to be "Parkerized."

                                                                  As for me, personally, I am not a huge fan of Robert Parker, nor of the style of wine he generally prefers. I've had wines he's rated "100 points" that I have thought were just horrible (to my palate, not in a flawed, technical way), and -- in fact -- wines he's rated highly that I thought were outstanding. Similarly, I've had wines Parker has rated poorly where I have agreed with his assessment, and poorly rated wines I thought were stunning!

                                                                  Keep in mind that -- outside of technical faults -- everything about tasting, drinking, enjoying wine is purely subjective . . . in spite of the pronouncements of some.

                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                    If a wine is under 13% alcohol, it would be weird to call it Parkerized.

                                                                    Taste is subjective, but drinking wine that's 15% alcohol objectively gets you 20% more intoxicated than drinking the same amount of wine that has only 12.5% alcohol.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      I *did* say "overly alcoholic," didn't I?

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        I have never really grasped this importance, and you're using a huge difference in 12.5 vs 15. Let's say more realisitically a typical varietal could be 13% or 15%. That's not even 1/6th more. So as opposed to drinking four glasses of the 13%, one could only have three and a half of the 15%. Is that really a big deal? If so, sit at the table and chill out another 20 minutes.
                                                                        In general, I think it is fallacy that people think Parker is so to blame for the trend in wine. Over the millions of conumers and billions of bottles and dollars, people work it out to buy what they want.

                                                                    2. re: josephnl

                                                                      To provide an unbiased definition . . . there are no set figures, numbers or percentages defining "Parkerized."

                                                                      It is indeed a derogatory term -- one which is in the eye of the beholder, or perhaps "palate of the taster" is more appropriate -- meaning any wine that is perceived by the taster as "over-oaked," "over-ripe," "overly alcoholic," "over-the-top" in ways that Robert Parker would seemingly approve of. The more one disagrees with Parker, the more "Parkerized" wines there are.

                                                                      1. re: josephnl

                                                                        I've occasionally "Parkerized" used to mean what happens to a wine when he gives it a high score: some retailers jack up the price, it sells out, and the next vintage costs a lot more.

                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          While not even the infamous "jack-booted thugs" of the ATF will kick in your front door and haul you off the Gitmo, the above definition, Robert, strikes me as way outside the term's common usage.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            In very general terms, I have not been a fan of many of the wines, that R Parker, Jr. has anointed, I have been a fan of some wines, that exhibit some similar characteristics. It just depends on the wine.

                                                                            Jason, and I, have gone to blows, regarding some wines, whether popularized by Parker, or by others. That just show a difference in palate, at that time, and with those dishes. Nothing more, and nothing less.

                                                                            I do not subscribe to R. Parker, Jr, at any level, but do find that some of his "data" does make its way, into current wine parlance. I try to just decide for myself.

                                                                            For "food-friendly," I first thing FR (both white and red), and then, depending on the dish, IT, or maybe GR.

                                                                            Still, and with that said, there HAVE been some domestic (US) wines, that paired too well, to be ignored.

                                                                            Hunt

                                                                    3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      >>> Un-Parkerized Zinfandels are very food-friendly. You can't beat them for barbecue and they pair well with lots of other dishes. <<<

                                                                      Different strokes . . . I dislike Zin with *most* barbecue, and prefer beer.

                                                                      >>> I have trouble finding them at reasonable prices and a lot of the lower-priced ones have a harsh note from oak balls or chips or the like. <<<

                                                                      What is one man's "reasonable" is another's "prohibitively expensive," and yet a third's "very inexpensive." And, who knew oak trees came in genders?

                                                                      BTW, what about so-called "Parkerized" French wines? (I say this as someone who has used the term "cuvée parkerizé" for nearly two decades. I just don't see you criticizing them anywhere near as much as you do "Parkerized" California reds.)

                                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                                        I think the most extremely Parkerized wines I've tasted were from Australia and Argentina.

                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          Not being an acolyte of Parker, and not really a follower, per se, what Zins does he recommend?

                                                                          Having done events with Paul Draper, Larry Turley and Robert Biale, I cannot recall any mention of Parker, but maybe he was not a likely subject?

                                                                          Hunt

                                                                    4. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Robert,

                                                                      Though I am an avowed carnivore, I do not eat beef at every meal.

                                                                      That said, I have found many wines (old-world and new-world), that DO go with beef, depending on the prep.

                                                                      Last night, four of us had grilled beef, with no additions. We had an Amarone, and a Barolo. Both worked well, and we enjoyed.

                                                                      Now, given a few minutes with that particular list, I could probably have come up with some US "domestic" wines, that would have worked too. As it was, the Amarone was a great deal (and worked very well), as did the older Barolo.

                                                                      As for Bdx., even more depends on the pairings. I have a small collection, but a great enjoyment. I pair, when I feel that it is appropriate, and not before.

                                                                      Though I love to expose my guests to 1er Cru Bdx, I only do so, when appropriate.

                                                                      Some specify such wines with the cheese course. I hesitate, and work closely with my caterer, so that we have JUST the right cheeses, should the 1er Cru Bdx be the last wine. I will more often add a 1er Cru white Burg, for the general cheeses, and then specific cheeses for the last of the Bdx.

                                                                      Maybe that is just me, but I want every dish to pair beautifully with every wine.

                                                                      Hunt

                                                                  2. Robert,

                                                                    Have you tried the wines from Frog's Leap? I think you might find them stylistically appealing. Dovetailing on the Zin theme (there is a pun here but I'm too tired) I've recently had the Terra d'Oro Deaver Ranch and found it to be very good for the price and much more in the camp of spice and earth rather than higher alcohol and jam.

                                                                    I'd also suggest current Sommelier darlings Copain and Lieu Dit though the latter may not be as easy to find. Hirsch came up in another thread as well but is mostly out of your price range.

                                                                    You mentioned Richard Arrowood's wines and you might keep an eye peeled for his new winery, Ampola Creek, if you liked the wine...though maybe you just like the tasting concept. I wouldn't put him the fruit bomb camp by any stretch, but I also wouldn't automatically suggest him for your purposes.

                                                                    Lastly, I also agree with the suggetion of Robert Mondavi Winery wines. Not Woodbridge or Private Selection, the wines made in Oakville under the supervision of Genvieve Janssens.

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: ellaystingray

                                                                      I was very impressed with a 2003 Miura Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir I had at Manresa a few years ago, but that's $50. The only wine Hirsch itself has for sale right now is $60.

                                                                      You mean like this Mondavi?

                                                                      http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku...

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        The price point in your request $10-18 glass pour is going to exclude many of the wines that meet your other criterion. The new, nichey, darlings like Lieu-Dit Cab Franc aren't going to be found for that price. Ditto Rhys, Kutch, etc,etc. Maybe some of the entry level Copain, but not even Wells' upper bottlings.
                                                                        I don't know about winelist availability, but I'd suggest you try some of the wines made by "Florida Jim" Cowan at his eponymous winery. Jim's a long-time wineboard denizen who really favors lower oak/octane food wines. I don't know that his stuff is going to be below 13% abv, but can guarantee that they are wines in the spirit of what you seek.
                                                                        Btw. Mondavi??? The Napa cab is almost always 14.5%, sometimes over 15%. The district cabs run in that range too. Even the seldom mentioned pinots are not finesse.

                                                                        1. re: john gonzales

                                                                          Thanks for the tip on Cowan, never heard of him before. Reasonable prices, too. I like that he tells me the technical details I want to know right up front.

                                                                          http://cowancellars.com/wines

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            On top of the wine qualities (though Jim and I do have different preferences) Jim is real nice guy.

                                                                            How about Windgap or Donkey and Goat. I jumped over to D & G's site to check pricing and see that the Winemaking proprietor's name is Jared Brandt in Berkeley.
                                                                            Maybe related to Jason??

                                                                            1. re: john gonzales

                                                                              Jared's a very nice guy. He told me Gallo has been visiting D&G to try to figure out if they could save money on yeast.

                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          Yes. The straight up Robert Mondavi Napa Cab. I realize that you probably recoil in horror when you see any mention of fruit in a California Cab review, but I bet you'll be surprised. The alcohols do run higher than you seem to like as noted by John G. but I don't find them to "feel" high alcohol. I'd hoped maybe you wouldn't notice. ;)

                                                                      2. Sorry but this still feels like you want wine the way you remember it was in your day. Things move on and wine has also. Like many restaurant owners who want the public to eat their "special" food and refuse to alter when public has a different idea, you seem to want to dictate a particular style of wine making. It says that the simple minded masses don't know what is good for them and we, the knowing elite, could show them if they would only listen.

                                                                        31 Replies
                                                                        1. re: budnball

                                                                          My view is rather the opposite: Parker led the California wine industry off on a very narrow tangent where the red wines have become even less diverse than they were in the 80s. During the same period, imports have become wildly more diverse. I think fashion-forward consumers are drinking primarily imports and the rest of the market is likely to follow.

                                                                          Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the global demand for the kind of red wine that accounts for the bulk of California's production is sufficient that they'll have no reason to change. It seems like a fragile situation, though, since you can make wines like that anywhere on the planet you can find the right soil and climate.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            >>> Parker led the California wine industry off on a very narrow tangent . . . <<<

                                                                            Parker neither led nor forced anyone anywhere.

                                                                            >>> During the same period, imports have become wildly more diverse. <<<

                                                                            And why, Robert, do you think that is? There is one simple reason for it, and it has NOTHING to do with "the lord and god Parker." It has everything to do with PRICE.

                                                                            Why did Pouilly-Fuisse first come into the American market? Because it was a less expensive (and easier to pronounce) version of Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachet. When those wines hit $7.99 in the market, Pouilly-Fuissé came in at $3.99. And guess what happened when Pouilly-Fuissé hit $7.99? Mâcon-Villages started to be imported into the US and retailed for $3.99 . . .

                                                                            When wines from the Haut-Médoc, St.-Émilion, and Pomerol got too expensive, wines from the (Bas-)Médoc, the satellites, and Lalande-de-Pomerol started arriving, as did a plethora of second- and third-labels.

                                                                            When wines from the Rhône crept up in price, wines from the Languedoc began appearing on US shores.

                                                                            It wasn't that French wines suddenly became diverse, Robert, but that the "known" wines because too expensive and so opened the doors to what were heretofore unknown (to the American market) wines.

                                                                            And when California prices went up? When Chardonnay averaged $10 or so, Australian wines came in -- Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay was $3.99, and I was bringing in a container a month. As Sauvignon/Fumé Blanc hit $8-12, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile came in. When Cabernets went up in price, Chile, Australia and other countries began exporting to the US in ever-increasing numbers . . .

                                                                            AND, to counteract that, California wineries expanded both their labels and their vineyard acreage into new realms. Plantings of Cabernet in places like Monterey, SLO, and Santa Barbara counties took off, with the idea of making lower-priced wines and keeping the dollars with them. So . . . Robert Mondavi introduced "Woodbridge," Beringer introduced "Napa Ridge," Beaulieu introduced "Coastal" and so on.

                                                                            >>> Maybe I'm wrong. <<<

                                                                            Well, if I were a betting man . . .

                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                              By "more diverse" I mean that 15-20 years ago the imports were mostly those made from the same handful of grape varieties California wineries were using, plus a few famous appellations such as Chianti, Barolo, and Rioja. Today we can choose from an enormous variety of wines made from indigenous French, Italian, and Spanish varieties.

                                                                              That much broader range of flavors is changing people's taste in wine and how they think about pairing it with food.

                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                No doubt "new" wines/varieties may well diversify the market and grab some market share and you may find more of the type wines you describe. But how much more, and is it going to dominate something like large-framed cab?
                                                                                Chianti seems to fit your bill of less ripe, fresh, higher acid, food-friendly wine. It has been imported in volume for decades, is available on lists, and at a much lower price than typical Napa reds. Yet have we really seen that many more people electing to drink it in a very broad sense. I rarely see anyone drink Chianti outside an Italian restaurant.

                                                                                To continue the thread drift, I doubt that the Chinese are going to replace Franzia and 2-buck at the very bottom. However they do hav a lot of acreage suitable for production, are really getting into wine, obviously have a production cost edge, and have a gov't that is promoting advances in the trade. I'd guees they'll be able to produce some very competitive wines at the $10 pricepoint.

                                                                                1. re: john gonzales

                                                                                  In recent years, in non-Italian restaurants, I see Morellino, Rosso di Monalcino, and even Patrimonio more often than I do Chianti.

                                                                                  It's seriously hard to find good Chianti these days. My theory is that the vineyards that used to make the high-quality stuff have been diverted to the production of super-Tuscans.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    No, it's not that. It's the differences in growing Sangiovese itself and the change in blending laws that have shifted Chianti towards a darker, richer, less enjoyable wine. Huge shift in the last 15 years. Sangiovese is grown riper, treated with more oak and blended with international varieties. It's the best and most pervasive example I know of varietal erosion. I miss the old Chianti.

                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                      I see that one of the old-school Chiantis I found has gone over to the dark side. The 2008 vintage of Badia di Morrona "I Sodi del Paretaio" was 15% Colorino and Canaiolo, now it's 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        That has been the trend for some time. Sad.
                                                                                        Chianti has, for the most part, changed from a red-fruit quaffer to a black fruit heavy.

                                                                                        You'll love this: one of the major reasons for the shift towards darker, heavier Chianti was the **overestimation** of the appeal of Parker-style wines.

                                                                                        Then, the mutiny happened, in Italy, as here. Growers/producers decried the lack of food-friendliness, and loss of profits.

                                                                                        It does seems absurd that the major grape of Tuscany, the major wine of Tuscans, would be altered so greatly to adhere to an international style. It's like New Coke, a huge tactical error. Now there's something of a pendulum swing back. May take a while to get here.

                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                          You have something there. I drank a lot of good stuff in Tuscany. I really loved the Le Macchiole Messorio and Paleo, but admittedly those are similar to Bordeaux and pricey. The wines I really appreciated were the young entry level Chiantis from some of the older-school producers. They weren't profound but boy were they fresh and great with a meal; and you are right, more red than black fruitiness. Oh and most importantly, cheap. I realize that there is something to the "being there" effect on tasting wine, but I wonder if some of the freshness in Chianti does not actually get lost in the distribution process.

                                                                                          1. re: john gonzales

                                                                                            Do you mean Chianti di pronta beva, the stuff made with a "governo" secondary fermentation that you (must) drink the year after the harvest?

                                                                                            I've seen that only once in California. I was thrilled to have it but it wasn't popular and it was still on the shelves the next year, at which point it was like drinking old Beaujolais Nouveau. I presume the importer chalked it up as a flop.

                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          IIRC, Robert, the laws governing the DOCG of Chianti Classico changed some 25-30 years ago permitting the incorporation of up to 15 percent "non-traditional" varieties. Not all producers use these "non-traditional" grapes; some produces still use the original "formula."

                                                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                                                            The earliest recorded Chianti was white, early red Chianti was predominantly Canaiolo, and Ricasoli's 1872 recipe, from which modern Chianti evolved, included Malvasia.

                                                                                            The original 1967 DOC was 50-80% Sangiovese, 10-30% Canaiolo, and 10-30% Malvasia and/or Trebbiano.

                                                                                            The 1996 revision allowed up to 100% Sangiovese and the use of French grape varieties.

                                                                                            So "original" and "traditional" are somewhat fraught terms.

                                                                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Hmm, I was just in Tuscany. I don't know about how exports might have changed, but there's still boatloads of Classico out there and to me it's about the same. It's obvious that SOME of the fruit might have moved to the Super-T's, but they aren't exactly wiping out the availability of standard or Classico. I sat next to a proprietor at a dinner and ranted my ear off about how it was a sin to blend to make the Super Tuscans. I understood about 20% of the Italian/English combo he was using so did a lot of nodding. Maybe it's the Trebbiano you're missing. All I know is that despite being a very food-friendly wine it's a tough sell.

                                                                                        1. re: john gonzales

                                                                                          Maybe they're just not sending us the good stuff.

                                                                                          Prior to the super-Tuscans, Chianti Riservas were not heavy but at their best were profound and delicious. I'm pretty sure a lot of winemakers were leaving out the white grapes before the DOC rules were changed to allow that.

                                                                                      3. re: john gonzales

                                                                                        >>> I'd guees they'll be able to produce some very competitive wines at the $10 pricepoint. <<<

                                                                                        Agreed.

                                                                                      4. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Robert? Could you be specific? Which grapes are you thinking about?

                                                                                        Barbera:
                                                                                        1982 = 10,094 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 10,129
                                                                                        1997 = 11,136
                                                                                        2011 = 6,659

                                                                                        Carignane (Carignan):
                                                                                        1982 = 10,177 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 9,567
                                                                                        1997 = 7,839
                                                                                        2011 = 3,297

                                                                                        Grenache (Garnacha):
                                                                                        1982 = 10,443 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 12,912
                                                                                        1997 = 11,699
                                                                                        2011 = 6,351

                                                                                        Mataro (Mourvedre):
                                                                                        1982 = 200 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 333
                                                                                        1997 = 398
                                                                                        2011 = 944

                                                                                        Nebbiolo:
                                                                                        1982 = n/a acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 52
                                                                                        1997 = 199
                                                                                        2011 = 166

                                                                                        Sangioveto/Sangiovese:
                                                                                        1982 = 25 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 351
                                                                                        1997 = 2,498
                                                                                        2011 = 1,881

                                                                                        Syrah:
                                                                                        1982 = 89 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 532
                                                                                        1997 = 4,277
                                                                                        2011 = 19,009

                                                                                        Valdiguié:
                                                                                        1982 = 1,410 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 1,353
                                                                                        1997 = 1,135
                                                                                        2011 = 311

                                                                                        Just for comparison's sake . . .

                                                                                        Cabernet Sauvignon:
                                                                                        1982 = 16,640 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 34,567
                                                                                        1997 = 45,307
                                                                                        2011 = 79,290

                                                                                        Merlot:
                                                                                        1982 = 2,147 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 10,004
                                                                                        1997 = 38,522
                                                                                        2011 = 45,589

                                                                                        Pinot Noir:
                                                                                        1982 = 6,709 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 9,261
                                                                                        1997 = 11,158
                                                                                        2011 = 39,273

                                                                                        Zinfandel:
                                                                                        1982 = 21,289 acres planted
                                                                                        1992 = 34,142
                                                                                        1997 = 50,498
                                                                                        2011 = 48,354

                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                          The old usual suspects, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends (695 choices), Chardonnay (370), Pinot Noir (277), Zinfandel (153), Sauvignon Blanc (79), Merlot (60), and Petite Sirah (25), constitute 83% of K&L's selection of California wines

                                                                                          New favorite Syrah, 6% (112)

                                                                                          Grenache, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc, 3% (5 to 20 of each)

                                                                                          Carignane, Pinot Gris, Semillon, Mourvedre, Pinot Blanc, Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Charbono, Dolcetto, Gamay, Grappa, Gruner Veltliner, Lagrein, Malbec, Marsanne, and Tempranillo, 1.7% (1 to 4 of each)

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            Robert? I'm sorry . . . I have no idea what you're trying to say. Your reply makes no sense to me.

                                                                                            *I* was posting figures on various grapes -- and restricting it to red, as that's what you seemed to be focusing on -- in response to YOUR saying:

                                                                                            >>> By "more diverse" I mean that 15-20 years ago the imports were mostly those made from the same handful of grape varieties California wineries were using, plus a few famous appellations such as Chianti, Barolo, and Rioja. Today we can choose from an enormous variety of wines made from indigenous French, Italian, and Spanish varieties. <<<

                                                                                            I *thought* you were saying that you can choose from an "enormous variety of [CALIFORNIA] wines made from indigenous [read "traditional"] French, Italian, and Spanish varieties." Did you not mean California wines? Did you instead mean imported wines?

                                                                                            I posted the grape acreage of various varieties at 15- and 20-year marks, plus that planted today, because -- according to the numbers -- the acreage for ALL of the ABOVE-CITED varieties has DECREASED over the past 15-20 years, except for Syrah and, to a far lesser extent, Mataro. Every other non-Burgundy and non-Bordeaux grape variety declined over the past 15-20 years . . . .

                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              To continue with each and every grape you've mentioned above, and not included in my previous reply . . .

                                                                                              Sauvignon Blanc:
                                                                                              1982 = 9,818 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 13,336
                                                                                              1997 = 11,312
                                                                                              2011 = 15,636

                                                                                              Petite Sirah:
                                                                                              1982 = 2,779 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 2,648
                                                                                              1997 = 2,692
                                                                                              2011 = 8,335

                                                                                              Viognier:
                                                                                              1982 = 0 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 138
                                                                                              1997 = 1,117
                                                                                              2011 = 3,020

                                                                                              Gewurztraminer:
                                                                                              1982 = 1,712 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 1,712
                                                                                              1997 = 1,715
                                                                                              2011 = 1,701

                                                                                              Cabernet Franc:
                                                                                              1982 = 357 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 1,894
                                                                                              1997 = 2,245
                                                                                              2011 = 3,430

                                                                                              Riesling:
                                                                                              1982 = 3,974 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 4,079
                                                                                              1997 = 2,522
                                                                                              2011 = 4,147

                                                                                              Chenin Blanc:
                                                                                              1982 = 28,494 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 29,257
                                                                                              1997 = 21,647
                                                                                              2011 = 6,888

                                                                                              Pinot Gris:
                                                                                              1982 = not tracked
                                                                                              1992 = not tracked
                                                                                              1997 = 644
                                                                                              2011 = 1,392

                                                                                              Semillon:
                                                                                              1982 = 1,683 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 2,066
                                                                                              1997 = 1,381
                                                                                              2011 = 897

                                                                                              Pinot Blanc:
                                                                                              1982 = 1,445 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 1,604
                                                                                              1997 = 1,026
                                                                                              2011 = 444

                                                                                              Charbono:
                                                                                              1982 = not tracked
                                                                                              1992 = not tracked
                                                                                              1997 = not tracked
                                                                                              2011 = 89

                                                                                              Dolcetto:
                                                                                              1982 = not tracked
                                                                                              1992 = not tracked
                                                                                              1997 = 87 acres planted
                                                                                              2011 = 112

                                                                                              Grappa -- it's a brandy/distillate!

                                                                                              Gruner Veltliner:
                                                                                              1982 = not tracked
                                                                                              1992 = not tracked
                                                                                              1997 = not tracked
                                                                                              2011 = 69

                                                                                              Lagrein: not tracked by CASS

                                                                                              Malbec:
                                                                                              1982 = 57 acres planted
                                                                                              1992 = 112
                                                                                              1997 = 232
                                                                                              2011 = 2,041

                                                                                              Marsanne:
                                                                                              1982 = not tracked
                                                                                              1992 = not tracked
                                                                                              1997 = not tracked
                                                                                              2011 = 113 acres planted

                                                                                              Tempranillo:
                                                                                              1982 = not tracked
                                                                                              1992 = not tracked
                                                                                              1997 = not tracked
                                                                                              2011 = 929 acres planted

                                                                                              NOTE: "not tracked" does not mean it wasn't planted, but merely that any acreage was not recorded separately; if the variety was planted in California, it was listed under "Other."

                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                >>> Robert? I'm sorry . . . I have no idea what you're trying to say. Your reply makes no sense to me. <<<

                                                                                                And thank you for explaining it to me . . .

                                                                                                 
                                                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                  You're looking at acreage and I'm looking at what's available retail, but I believe we agree that on average the diversity of grape varieties used to make wine in California has not increased over the past 30 years.

                                                                                                  I don't think I've ever had a wine made from Vitis californica or Vitis girdiana, which are the only grape varieties indigenous to California.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    Not increased? It's DECLINED -- and if the acreage of so-called "diverse" cultivars have declined, so too, has the amount of wine produced from those grapes. There *is* a more diverse "assortment" of wines in the marketplace, but that's because there are more and different wines being imported into California, be it from other states *or* from other countries.

                                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                      Yes, that's exactly my point. Most California wineries use the same few grape varieties and make similar-tasting wines from them. Meanwhile consumers are presented with an ever-widening choice of imported wines with diverse flavors.

                                                                                                      I think the competition is eventually going to force California winemakers to be more creative and experimental.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        Robert?

                                                                                                        I had previously asked . . .

                                                                                                        >>> I *thought* you were saying that you can choose from an "enormous variety of [CALIFORNIA] wines made from indigenous [read "traditional"] French, Italian, and Spanish varieties." Did you not mean California wines? Did you instead mean imported wines? <<<

                                                                                                        . . . and you hadn't answered me. Clearly I *thought* you were saying there was more diversity coming out of California, or I wouldn't have bothered wasting my time to post the acreage of diverse plantings.

                                                                                                        It seems to me, Robert, that you don't quite know what you want.

                                                                                                        You complain that "most California red wines are not delicious or food-friendly," and yet wineries are selling out most, if not all, of what they produce. ("Lake California" has disappeared. It will come back, no doubt, as increased acreage returns; and it will disappear once again, as either sales increase or grapes get ripped out.)

                                                                                                        You complain that "most California red wines are not delicious or food-friendly," and yet you persist and tasting (and being disappointed in) hundreds of wines a year . . . if that's not self-inflicted torture, I don't know what is.

                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          Robert,

                                                                                                          While many CA wineries DO use common varietals, there are many producers, who ARE working with non-traditional grapes.

                                                                                                          Going back a bit, think of the "Rhône Rangers." Relatively speaking, the Rhône varietals have a rather short history in CA.

                                                                                                          I also observe producers, like Picchetti (Santa Cruz Mtns.), doing work with some non-standard grapes.

                                                                                                          Maybe it is just me, but I see the CA spectrum expanding, and almost every year. Still, there IS a propensity to cultivate, and produce from a smaller sub-set of grapes, but that is due to the market, and to bankers, IMHO.

                                                                                                          I do not disagree that there are many thousands of other grapes out there, but CA is expanding, as I see it.

                                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                            Bill, it's an interesting point that the acreage of "non-standard" grapes is actually decreasing -- look at the figures I posted -- or, at the very least, shifting. For every winery like Quinta Cruz -- http://www.santacruzmountainvineyard.... -- there are new wineries sticking with the "tried-and-true" major grapes.

                                                                                                            That said, it *is* true that newer varieties are hitting the marketplace -- be it Verdelho, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Albarino, Tannat, Fiano, etc. But they are produced in such small quantities that most are sold only in tasting rooms or by mail order, or -- if it leaves the winery at all -- it never leaves the state . . .

                                                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                                                              Yes.
                                                                                              How long before we see a bunch of inexpensive Chinese wine being imported, at below what California can offer?

                                                                                              Beyond what you describe above as to general price competetiveness for imports, they also tend to have another winelist angle. People do not object as much to paying four times retail for a lesser known import. It's harder to get someone to drop four times retail on a wine they remember seeing at Ralph's and Costco. This dynamic does not say which wine is better or worse, but is a factor in how esoteric selections end up on winelists.

                                                                                              1. re: john gonzales

                                                                                                I doubt the Chinese will be able to beat Fred Franzia's prices.

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  It's not always just about price, Robert. There are plenty of people out there who do -- it's true -- love Charles Shaw wines (aka "Two-Buck Chuck"). It is ALSO true that plenty of people hate it, and buy wines which may cost a little bit more but -- to them -- taste better.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    They probably won't have to -- they just need to be reasonably priced, and taste good . . . .

                                                                                                2. re: zin1953

                                                                                                  Jason,

                                                                                                  As you point out, some of the US market, IS driven on pronunciation, regardless of the wines.

                                                                                                  I see dozens of wine lists, where PF is the ONLY FR white, and it is ill-suited for the fare. Still, it IS popular, even if 99% of the folk, who order it, know what it is. They do not care about such things, and on some lists, I have seen it at 3x what I expect to pay for a decent Montrachet - it can be THAT popular, depending on the market.

                                                                                                  Who is correct - the one, who knows the wines, the Region, the producer, or the one, who knows what they enjoy with certain dishes?

                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                            3. Perhaps this thread should be titled "I know what kind of wine I like and Robert Parker doesn't."

                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: DavidT

                                                                                                Like I said, it's not just me. Look at how many SF area restaurants and wine bars' lists are dominated by imports. There's about as much dissent about this among the wine buyers I've talked with as there is about global warming among climatologists.

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  >>> Like I said, it's not just me. Look at how many SF area restaurants and wine bars' lists are dominated by imports. <<<

                                                                                                  Which, as I've said before (and you've chosen to ignore previously), has NOTHING to do with it!

                                                                                                  >>> There's about as much dissent about this among the wine buyers I've talked with as there is about global warming among climatologists. <<<

                                                                                                  So, you mean that some wine buyers agree with you and buy imports because most California wines taste like $#|+ with the cuisine of the restaurant for which they buy; while others agree with me, and there are other reasons for imports to appear on wine lists -- just like some climatologists believe in global warming and others (apparently) do not? Is that what you're trying to say?

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    The only dissent on global climate change (not "warming") is being manufactured by the news media. See Powell Scienc pie chart.

                                                                                                     
                                                                                                    1. re: PolarBear

                                                                                                      Exactly my point.

                                                                                                2. Hi Robert -

                                                                                                  I'm trying to understand your comments a bit better. Are you generalizing all Cali reds, or Napa? If you meant Napa, I tend to agree with your assessment, however I do find and buy numerous reds that I find delicious. They are not my first choice when pairing with food though, like you, I tend to prefer a red from the other side of the pond with food. But, I don't like to drink them casually without food as much as I do reds from Napa - well other than a good Bourdeaux anyway. But I can't afford Bourdeaux the past three / four years anyway.

                                                                                                  I also find myself avoiding anything that Parker gives a high score to as well, with the exception to port that is. I do pay attention to Tanzer though.

                                                                                                  At any rate, I have pretty much given up on finding a Napa Cab Sav under $50 that I enjoy enough to buy. They are getting harder to find each year. Have you tried many Paso wines?

                                                                                                  I rather enjoy the creative GSM type blends from that area and the price point is reasonable. Adelaida has several good reds (as well as whites), that are reasonably priced that go well with food.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: akmike

                                                                                                    For me it's the whole state, though most of the old-school Cabernet Sauvignon I like (after it has been aged eight or ten years) comes from Napa.

                                                                                                    I was planning to spend a few days in Paso Robles last year and a friend who has spent a fair amount of time there recommended Tablas Creek and Lone Madrone as exceptions to the high-alcohol rule.

                                                                                                  2. Well................. One of the simplest answers I can give to a customer asking me what wine is "good" is that it is the wine they like. If they can give me enough detail of what they like about that wine, I can help them find something that 'should' be similar. And I emphasize 'should' on purpose.

                                                                                                    So it goes without saying that while I have found this whole topic very interesting, I have also marveled at how long, and how patiently, Jason has dealt with it. I'm sure there are classical definitions of what specific varietal wines "should" taste like, but the only thing I can be 100% certain of is that the experience of any one taster can only be compared to that of another on a rather broad basis, unless there is enough evidence to be able to calibrate exactly where each one's base of comparison resides.

                                                                                                    It is not surprising to have someone post negatives here about California wines and their pairing proclivities. It's generally someone who prefers old world wine profiles and they are more than free to draw their own conclusions about other profiles. When I owned my wine shop I used to note that the comment "this wine is food-friendly" was most often used by reps tasting me on old world wines. Why? Simply because old world wine profiles (from my perspective) are just not easily drunk on their own, without food. Doing that (drinking wine WITHOUT food) is close to anathema in France, I've been told, But it certainly is not in the US. Is one right and the other wrong? Only if you want to take that position. I don't.

                                                                                                    I work for a gentleman whose palate is much more sensitive to flaws than mine. That's just a fact. I chide him with the retort that I get to enjoy a lot more wine than he does. Am I a less-qualified wine advisor? Maybe. But I really think that it's more about calibration to others' tastes. Same as with reading wine critics' reviews.

                                                                                                    So.............. while I do appreciate your quest for California wines you'll like (if that's really what your post is about) it does come off as critical of (as has been said by others) something that is so subjective as to be less than fully productive without qualification.

                                                                                                    Just my 2¢. ;o]

                                                                                                    10 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                      Great points, and I will use some IT wines, to further you example. Many are just not "sippers," but only come into their own, with the correct foods. Nothing wrong with that, as they "grew up" with the foods of their region.

                                                                                                      Many years ago, I was at a trade-tasting, and talked to on IT importer. He decried that his wines were at a table, away from food, that would be friendly to his wines. He lamented that most folk would not appreciate his wines, as the foods, which they had "grown up with," were maybe 10 tables away. He first sent people to booth ___, and begged them to then taste his wines. Most did not, but I did, and we spent an hour discussing the flavor profiles. In that time, not one taster approached his booth. In that time, we were basically alone, in a room of sommeliers, and wine buyers. They did not bother with the food-wine options, and were only interested in wines, that were "tasters." Such is life, and I am glad that I gathered some recommended foods, and then came back.

                                                                                                      With many US (domestic to me) Chardonnays, I feel that too many ARE "tasters," and, while not a bad thing, do not work with my dinners.

                                                                                                      OTOH, I find that many Euro-wines are NOT "tasters," but need certain foods, to come alive.

                                                                                                      Maybe it is just me?

                                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                        Sorry, Bill...... but "IT"??? The acronym is eluding me right now.

                                                                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                          Information Technology? Nah, probably "Italian." ;^)

                                                                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                            Jason beat me to it... no pun intended, IT = Italian, in that context.

                                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                                          2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                            I think once you know an appellation or varietal wine you can taste it without food, but many European wines are incomprehensible if drunk for the first time without appropriate food.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              What are you saying? Please explain what you mean by a wine being incomprehensible?? I suppose I'm incredibly naive, but I simply judge wine by whether or not it tastes good to my palate...sometimes with food, and sometimes without. How does one comprehend wine?

                                                                                                              1. re: josephnl

                                                                                                                Some wines are made to be drunk with food and are unpleasantly sour and bitter on their own. Drink an old-school Barolo without food and you might wonder why they make it at all. Have it with tajarin alla fonduta or a cotoletta milanese and you'll know why.

                                                                                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                                                                                  Joseph, I sense a certain level of agitation (if not aggravation) on your part. I hope not, though clearly some of the discussions of late can be all but incomprehensible to some.

                                                                                                                  I wouldn't focus too much on semantics.

                                                                                                                  PURELY AS A CONSUMER, one "comprehends" wine in the same way one "understands" wine, meaning simply that you understand your own likes and dislikes, and your own preferences -- both with and without food. One person may prefer (for example) Chardonnay with veal, while someone else may prefer a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Nebbiolo. One person may adore Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel with _____________ but not by itself, while someone else might prefer to drink Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel alone . . . or never drink it at all!

                                                                                                                  In other words, judging wine by whether or not it tastes good to your palate -- sometimes with food, and sometimes with out -- is great! But "understanding" wine would be to REMEMBER which wines you like, which you don't, and HOW you like them.

                                                                                                                  Robert IS correct about some things -- certain wines need, indeed thrive, when served with food that might be dismissed out-of-hand if tasted alone. Other wines may be great, no matter the situation, and others . . . well, they'll suck no matter what!

                                                                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                    And, with your SB reference, the inverse can be true too.

                                                                                                                    I enjoy many well-made NZ SB's, but find most to be very unfriendly with too many foods. Still, as "sippers," before any food, they offer value.

                                                                                                                    Same thing with many US Chards - they work well as enjoyable sippers, but fall apart with many food dishes.

                                                                                                                    Chianti, a favorite IT (Italian) wine of mine, is usually not so good, by itself, but climbs to the top of the heap, with a tomato-based sauce, with adequate acid.

                                                                                                                    Many FR (French) Chards are wonderful, alone, but also marry well with a lot of food dishes. Over the last several mos. in many cities around the globe, we have started our meals with some of those, and then kept them around, through the cheese-course. Few US Chards would be on our table that long.

                                                                                                                    Hunt

                                                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                  Even when one knows the wine, unless they are buying it, with a chef/restaurant in mind, then it is about the enjoyment. For me, with no wine list, or cellar (other than my personal one), in mind, it becomes about enjoyment.

                                                                                                                  There is a major difference, between buying for a chef, and buying for one's personal tastes.

                                                                                                                  Now, I can interpolate fairly well, projecting Wine A with upcoming dishes, but prefer to have a logical food to taste with it.

                                                                                                                  That is just me,

                                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                                            2. I had a glass of the 2010 Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, 13.4%, neutral wood). Food-friendly but lacks the earthy qualities that are what I like most about that grape. I prefer Schug.

                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                And, you are most welcome to enjoy, or not, any wine.

                                                                                                                While I do enjoy many US PN's, that are not ideal for some food dishes, there are fewer red Burgs, that do not fit into both roles: sipper and then onto dinner. It does not, in any way, diminish my enjoyment of them, but just a statement that I generally (very generally) find them less versatile. That does not place them onto a "bad list," just not on my "order early, and drink for much of the meal," list.

                                                                                                                In the UK/Europe, I often have to explain what we are doing, regarding wines. As we are very likely to do a cheese-course, we are not likely to finish our Montrachet, so please do not wait until it is done, to serve the next wine, or the next course. We can handle it. When the cheese-course comes, we usually have one FR Chard, maybe a couple of PN's (who knows where they might come from), and then a Sauternes from the foie gras course, in case there are Bleu cheeses in the selection. So long as they give us a large enough table, we are fine, but might have a half-dozen glasses each, that are just waiting for the cheeses.

                                                                                                                I do similar with my guests, when we are doing a cheese-course. I either encourage them to save a bit of the Montrachet, or even serve one, after the reds, that are more likely to go with the mains. While not totally typical, I find that most cheeses go better with whites (certain whites), than they do with reds.

                                                                                                                I want the ultimate pairings with every course, and usually, my guests appreciate that, as well.

                                                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                  I posted about the Copain because several people recommended it above.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    But at 13.4% abv, isn't it too high in alcohol for you?

                                                                                                                    I find it really intriguing (OK, in a wrapped kind of a way, I'll admit) that you and I actually have rather similar tastes across many wines . . . I don't really have an explanation for that, save for the obviously self-serving point that -- when it comes to wine, at least -- you share my good taste. ;^)

                                                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                      Alcohol 13% and up raises a red flag for me, but I've occasionally had balanced wines that were over 15%.

                                                                                                                      Unbalanced wines can occasionally be nice in the right context. At Manresa a few years ago I had a bizarre 15.9% Sea Smoke Chardonnay paired with sashimi, in which context it could almost have passed for sake.

                                                                                                                      I'd probably have liked the Copain more if they'd picked earlier.