Complex cabernet, Californian style
California’s finest wines are experiencing something of a golden era and have arguably never been more popular in the fine wine marketplace, sought out with regularity by collectors of the world’s finest wines. And rightly so; the very best, often produced in miniscule quantities, are wines to compete on any stage. It may be something of a generalisation to say it but recent years have seen a definite move away from cumbersome, point chasing winemaking to a place where decisions are driven by a desire to let terroir speak through composed wines of balance and authenticity. A move we endorse wholeheartedly.
Of course, the Californian sun continues to shine and herein lies some of the beauty of this region – devasting wildfires and drought to one side, this is a beautiful climate in which to ripen grapes. In the right hands producers are fashioning erudite, truly interesting wines that not only have enormous up-front appeal but also the ability to age. The greatest Cabernet Sauvignon’s of Napa display historic levels of freshness and lift with thoroughly modern approaches to nuance, energy and natural complexity. The best growers have a studious approach to water management, cover crops, dry farming and organic and biodynamic treatments. From the mountains and the benchlands to the volcanic sites of Coombsville it is invariably the producers who take a holistic view of the yearly cycle that are producing the most balanced and harmonious wines. And these in turn are the wines we almost always gravitate towards.
The region’s top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers are also on song, fashioning wines with a true stamp of place and just as much excitement as you’ll find anywhere in the world. These come in the shape of focussed wines of great precision, inspired by and competing with the great wines of Burgundy, but also richer, more statuesque offerings that flood the senses and could only ever come from the Golden State. By focussing in on specific sites growers are able to show off the diversity of this geologically complex region through the prism of wonderfully intense Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. From the complex patchwork of soils found in the Santa Cruz Mountains to Sonoma’s Russian River valley, there are a wealth of exciting wines waiting to be discovered. Old vine Zinfandel blends continues to offer both a vision of California from days gone by and some of the region’s most versatile and interesting bottles. They may not have the cachet of top Cabernet, but in the right hands these complex field blends, sensitively made, can make for wonderfully satisfying wines The Golden State really does have a wealth of exciting wines to explore – a golden era indeed.
Granted, Napa Valley is the big one, but it doesn’t stop there – there are wines coming out of Sonoma, for example, that give the illustrious Valley a run for its money.
Despite Chardonnays that have been famously mistaken for White Burgundies at blind tastings and the producers making tip-top Bordeaux-esque Cabernet blends so powerful they practically pour themselves, California is carving out a reputation that is entirely its own. You can also find top quality Pinot Noir, Syrah and most notably Zinfandel (a.k.a. Primitivo) here.