The major stars of the tasting for me, with strong lineups overall and one or more wines rating 93 points or higher, were Bien Nacido, Benovia, Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills, Herb Lamb, Kaena, Keenan, Ladera, Lagier Meredith, Lamborn Family, L’Aventure, Ottimino, Paloma, Saxon Brown, Seavey, Thomas Fogarty and Vino Noceto.
What was noteworthy for me among the wines I tasted was a decline in the overripe versions of these wines that had come to dominate production over the last two decades. Due, I’m sure, to the relative coolness of the last few vintages in California, as well as to a conscious aim for higher acid, more balanced wines by an increasing number of winemakers here, I tasted many more balanced, lower alcohol Cabernets this year.
I learned from this year’s Petite Sirah Symposium, the tenth year of this event, that the 2010 vintage, bottlings of which are just starting to hit the market, is probably the grape’s best vintage since Petite debuted as a “soloist.” Maybe this California heritage variety, which has for so long been in relative stealth mode, is finally poised for its breakout moment.
The wine world includes a lot of small, family-owned producers. Many produce good wines, and a multitude don’t. Occasionally, however, the results are outstanding—truly among the ranks of the region’s very best. That’s the case with Charter Oak—a tiny, Napa Valley based producer that operates out of a family’s backyard and basement cellar.
The biggest Rhône grape success story in California in terms of quality of offerings and relative value is Syrah. I’ve written previously here about the different styles of Syrah. California produces a lot of great Syrah, including cooler climate Syrahs that have savory and peppery characteristics reminiscent of Northern Rhône Syrah.
California also does well with Viognier, the white grape that produces the very expensive, floral and peach flavored wines of Northern Rhône’s tiny Condrieu appellation. Our versions typically lack the minerally qualities of great Condrieu, but the best producers are capturing Viognier’s peach and floral flavors, with good underlying acidity.
Producers who do an excellent job with the grape, and whose wines have a track record of aging well, include Corté Riva, Foley, Freemark Abbey, Ridge, Robert Biale, Rosenblum, Stags’ Leap and Turley. Other newer producers who are producing delicious versions are Aver Family, David Fulton, Gustafson, Heringer Estates, Mettler Family, Stanton and Tres Sabores. A brand new, small Sonoma-based producer I was quite impressed with is Trueheart. Good producers of bargain priced versions of Petite Sirah are Concannon and Lava Cap.
I’ve become rather fascinated with Lake County these days. It’s California’s newest region, with a bunch of brand new sub-appellations, and it’s all a little mysterious yet. I’ve made three trips to Lake County over the last few years, but found it difficult to get a real handle on the area from those visits–in part because of the long driving distances between sub-appellations. There are only a tiny handful of producers that were around even 20 years ago–most of them have gotten started in the last 10 years. I was therefore very much looking forward to this event as a chance to compare a wide array of Lake County producers.