Posts Filed Under California wine
Following is a guest post from Andrew Barrow, the brains behind the venerable (and excellent) wine & food site Spittoon.biz in the U.K. While we North American wine bloggers were toiling (aka drinking) away and working hard this week at the first NA Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, I asked Andrew to provide a different perspective on the California wine scene than what we typically experience (good or bad) here in NA. Check out Andrew’s thoughts bellow – it’s a much different, and enlightening, scene than you might be used to here in NA – and check out his excellent writing (and superb photography) at Spittoon.biz. Cheers!
As I write I’m sipping a glass of Californian red – a Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 to be precise…
It’s fairly typical of the type of Californian wine readily available in the UK. Following the 1WineDude’s request for some foreign thoughts on Californian wine, the Woodbrige is ‘research’. A day or so ago, more research, with a bottle of Zinfandel – the only interesting Californian red available in the UK’s largest high street chain of off-licences.
Both wines display a certain richness, demonstrate varietal characters and are both very drinkable on their own.
“I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.”
I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines but they will certainly be eclipsed by the likes of Gallo White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc etc. There is no escaping these critic-derided wines. They sell at basic prices by the case load. The vast majority of Gallo drinkers wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care where they come from. How ever much we deride them, they are the bedrock of California wine in the UK – both in terms of style and in sales. Drinkers of these are highly unlikely to trade up to the Mondavi or the Zinfandel.
I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.
We are blessed with a multitude of specialist wine merchants in the UK – many are holding their own against the supermarkets and the high street chains. Only a couple though offer a decent range from California. And don’t even begin to look for Arizona or Long Island, although a smattering of wines from Oregon and Washington have found their way to these little islands. But those specialists are offering the wines at eye-wateringly high prices. You have to ask why would anyone bother – the range of wines readily available from across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa often provide much better value for money [in the U.K.].
“[The CA wines available in the U.K. lack] texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.”
With my evening meal I switched to the Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006. This retails at about £7.50 [roughly $12 USD]; the average price of a bottle of wine is half this. The wine is lightly oaked, again highly drinkable but lacks texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.
And that about sums it up really – you CAN get various Californian wines in the UK but they come at a price that doesn’t often stack up well against similar wines from elsewhere. And those Gallo wines, at the cheap end of the scale, must be enjoyed by someone. You can’t really be saying they are brought solely on price can you?
You know what kicks ass?
The movie IRON MAN. That film devastates when I watch it on the 50″ Sony HDTV in my basement.
You know what else stomps all kinds of gluteus maximus?
1WineDude.com readers! Especially when those readers make wine. Like Steve Lau of Volta Wine, which is releasing its inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon vintage (2005) this Fall. Steve contacted me as a fan of the blog and someone who grew up in my current stomping ground of Pennsylvania, wondering if I’d like to try their single-vinyeard, Howell Mountain Cab.
Howell Mountain? Would I like to try it? Hello! Does the Pope wear a hat?!?? Despite the fact that this kind of thing consistently gets me in trouble in the wine blog-o-world, I advised Steve to send me a bottle with all speed.
I tried Volta’s Cab. this past weekend. And it’s very, very good. The blackberry and plum coming off this wine is outrageously pure on the nose and on the palate, and the mouthfeel is smooth as silk. That Howell Mountain fruit is somehow lush but at the same time the tannins have a laser focus. The only thing I didn’t like about this wine was the high Voltage – at 15% abv, the wine’s booze power is no joke. But I was digging it, and it’s one of the few 14.5%+ abv wines that I’ve really been able to get behind lately without feeling like someone is trying to beat me up.
Still, I hesitated to write about the wine here, because at 291 cases produced, most 1WD readers are unlikely to be getting their hands on the stuff. BUT… with plans to branch out with other single-vineyard releases of Southern Rhone varietals from Sonoma and Riesling from Yakima, Volta might just be a producer to watch for high quality (but potentially high voltage) vino. Plus, they source grapes that are farmed organically so they’re adding to the growing list of wines that are proving wrong my theory that organic wines bite donkey bong…
I asked Steve for some insight on how the Volta got its start and what the winery is all about. According to Steve:
“I grew up in Pennsylvania. I was involved in the music industry for many years, first as an artist on Warner Brothers and then running a label called Kinetic records for Warner’s. I took some time off about four years ago at which point I met my partner who was, at the time, leaving the mortgage business. (Timely exits from two tanking industries I guess).
Long story short, after a fascination with wine for most of my adult life and a discussion with a friend who was importing wine in Amsterdam, we decided to explore the wine industry and went to the wine program at Culinary Institute in the Napa Valley. From there we just kind of dove in head first talking to as many people as we could about starting a new project, finding a facility, a winemaker and sourcing premium organic fruit.
It’s been an incredible journey, one that the more we learn, the more we realize how much we have to learn. Our winery is in Sonoma at a facility which is owned by a guy that is the former winemaker at Etude, Scott Rich. (He makes an awesome Pinot called Talisman.) Our winemaker is a a really cool guy named Massimo Montecelli. He’s a fourth generation winemaker and his entire family in in the business. He was the winemaker at Silver Oak, his brother is the winemaker for Trinchero family’s premium line and his dad was the first winemaker for E.J. Gallo back in the early seventies and is still running their wine making today. Phil Cotouri, our vineyard manager, is the leading organic vineyard manager in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. We feel privileged to be working with such generous and talented people.“
So there you have it. Good peeps, and very good unfiltered and unfined single-vineyard wine. Plus, I managed to combine Volta Wine, IRON MAN, and AC/DC in the same post. Better quit while I’m ahead…
(images: blog.al.com, bigpond-images.com, 1WineDude.com,)
To Whom It May Concern:
I’ve just polished off another 1/2 of a bottle of your tasty, 14.5% abv wines… in fact, I’m pretty sure that even though it said 14.5% on the elegant bottle, it was probably closer to 15.2%. Anyway, I hope you’ll forgive me if I stray off topic or get a little emotional. I’m sure you’ll understand…
I’m a wine lover. And I love California wines – in fact, they’re the first wines that made me stand up and say “WOW! I think I’m in love with wine!” If it wasn’t for CA wines, I would never have started my own personal and fulfilling journey into the wondrous world of wine.
So let’s just establish right now that I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for CA wine. I even love a good fruit bomb every now and then, which I’d argue is one of the fingerprints of CA wine that makes it so unique on the world stage, and capable of being so damn good.
We’ve had a good run, you and me… BUT… things just aren’t what they used to be…
Your wines… they’re just starting to… well, I’ll be honest, they’re starting to seem a little boorish sometimes. And I have to admit, I’ve been finding myself attracted to other wine regions. Southern France, New Zealand, Chile…
I didn’t expect this to happen. I thought we were happy together. But then things started to change. I understand that you need to ‘chase scores sometimes in order to command high bottle prices for your wines. After all, how else can you afford to keep up with those expensive winemaking techniques… I know how difficult it is to upkeep pricey machinery, to hand-sort grapes, and let’s not talk about the extravagant prices of new oak barrels these days!
I appreciate what you’re up against, too; those Old World wine regions have hundreds of years going for them, and they can take a long range view of their wines. You have it tougher – sometimes, if you don’t create a big, busty fruit bomb, you can’t get your name out there quickly enough to be successful – and your competition sure isn’t waiting around.
But it’s all gone overboard now. I mean, do you have to obsess about Robert Parker’s ratings all the time??!? I like the guy, but there are other palate preferences out there. Good ones, too.
I love that you’re busty with all of that alcohol and ripe fruit. It turns me on. But you used to be busty and elegant. Now… well… I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…
I’m not sure things can ever go back to being how they were.
But I’m willing to try if you are.
So please… for both of us… think twice before you go for that much alcohol. I’m not sure that any unfortified wine has enough fruit, acidity, and tenderness to balance against > 15% abv. Think about that, for you, for me. For us, and what we used to have together…
(images: flikr.com – eduardolive, unknown)