Articles in Wine
The snow outside has me longing for the beginning of rosé season. But sampling this bright 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado, with its lively flavors of cassis and pomegranate, at dinner recently reminded me that you don’t have to wait for hot weather to enjoy savory, medium-bodied pink wines. This food-friendly example was perfect with grilled pork chops and sautéed kale and would be delicious with tapas like olives and sharp cheese.
The wine’s origin, Lodi, Calif., surprised me, as did the varietals in the juicy blend. Bokisch Vineyards has made a specialty of growing Spanish varietals and two found their way into this wine. Made mostly from Barbera, it includes percentages of Graciano and white Albariño that add notes of dark cherry, smooth tannin and a nice crispness. Graciano is a very old variety in Spain, supposedly dating back before the Romans arrived. Aging in stainless steel preserves the wine’s acidity and fruit.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Region: Clements Hills, Lodi, Calif.
Grape: 86% Barbera, 8% Albariño, 6% Graciano
Serve with: Barbecued chicken or pork chops; tapas; paella
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Markus Bokisch, who owns the eponymous winery with his wife Liz, has a deep family connection with Spain, where he spent summers in Catalonia with his mother’s relatives. He started his career at Joseph Phelps in Napa, but spent a few years working in the wine industry in Spain, where he fell in love with Spanish grapes. When the couple returned to the U.S., they bought land in Lodi, planting varietals such as Tempranillo and Garnacha. Now they farm 1,000 acres, selling the grapes to 40 wineries.
I’ve always thought of the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area), southeast of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevadas, as the place big producers such as Sutter Home and Gallo turn to for grapes for their basic, somewhat boring blends. Few realize it has a 150-year-long vineyard tradition; many families have grown grapes — especially Zinfandel and Tokay, used for brandy — for a century or more.
Although Zinfandel is still the most planted grape, a new generation of adventurous growers is branching out. The Bokisches are at the forefront of the experimentation. Many of their vineyards are organic and others are certified green according to “Lodi Rules.” This complicated system includes using solar and biodiesel energy and monitoring the land ecosystem and water, but also permits some use of synthetic pesticides.
The 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado leans toward the bigger, fruitier Spanish style of rosé, which makes it ideal for drinking at any time of the year. So don’t wait for summer to sample its delights over a long brunch or dinner.
Top photo: 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards
Once upon a time, Alsace wines were relatively simple to understand. Alsace is virtually the only French appellation that allows the mention of a grape variety on the label, and with a couple of easily identifiable exceptions, the wines tended to be dry. But things seem to have changed in recent years. Am I alone in feeling disappointed that a wine I thought would be dry from the label turns out to be rich with a sweet, even cloying, finish? And then matters are complicated further with all the grands crus names. There are 50 altogether, but I can only ever remember a handful. Happily, a recent visit to Maison Trimbach in Ribeauvillé has served to restore my faith in the region.
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Trimbach makes the full range of Alsace grape varieties, with elegantly leafy Pinot Blanc, some rounded Pinot Gris and some deliciously understated Gewürztraminer — we joked about whether a restrained Gewürztraminer really exists. But it is really with Riesling that the Trimbach style comes into its own, emphasizing the slatey minerality of the grape variety.
A full range of Riesling
Trimbach makes seven qualities of Riesling, beginning with the simple Riesling based on grapes purchased from some 30 growers, picked and pressed by hand. The vinification is very simple, usually entailing a malolactic fermentation and certainly no oak. Freshness and minerality are the key characteristics. The wine has a fresh slatey note, with very good acidity, and a firm dry finish — just as Alsace Riesling should be.
Next up the scale is the Riesling Réserve, a selection of grapes, mainly from Trimbach’s own vineyards around Ribeauvillé. The vinification is the same, but the grapes come from vineyards with a higher limestone content. The result is a wine that has citrus notes and is very mineral, with wonderful freshness and great length. There is a certain austerity on the palate, making for a very pure example of Riesling.
The cuvée of Vieilles Vignes comes from vines that are 35 to 40 years old. They first made this cuvée in 2009, from two foudres of particularly good wine. The flavors are rich and intense, but not sweet. The wine may be a little more gourmand than the Réserve, but the fruit is always balanced with steely acidity, making a wine that is dry and honeyed, with an elegant finish.
The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is one of the flagship wines of Trimbach, whose grapes are grown in marl and limestone soil. We tasted the 2007, which Anne described as a miraculous year — full of scares about the next climatic hazard, but everything turned out well in the end. The nose was rich and honeyed, very intense with an underlying austerity. On the palate, the wine was firm and slatey with very good acidity and razor-sharp clarity. I could almost describe it as the Chablis of Alsace.
The other flagship Riesling is the Clos Ste Hune, from a vineyard the Trimbachs have owned for 200 years. The soil is pure limestone, and the vines are an average of 80 years old. The wine is made the same way as Frédéric Emile, but here you taste the effect of terroir: They are quite different. The Clos Ste Hune is very slatey, very mineral, very powerful, with very good acidity and still very youthful, with wonderful length.
And then we were given a treat: 1985 Clos Ste Hune. The colour was golden, with an elegant nose that was dry and slatey, but with an underlying richness. On the palate, there were lots of nuances, with some very intriguing dry honey and some lovely notes of maturity. It was rich and elegant, but not heavy or sweet, with a lingering finish. A fabulous glass of wine that demonstrated just how beautifully Alsace Riesling ages.
The Vendanges Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles, traditionally sweeter and richer, are only made in the very best years. The 2002 Vendange Tardive Riesling was light golden in color, and on the nose, rich with a maturing nutty nose. On the palate it was very elegant, with very good acidity — there was a little noble rot in 2002, but that is not essential. The palate was beautifully balanced with rich honeyed fruit, combining fresh acidity with some sweetness. It was subtle and nuanced.
Our tasting finished with 2001 Sélection de Grains Nobles Frédéric Emile. The grapes were picked in mid-November, with some noble rot. The color was golden and the nose maturing beautifully, as only fine Riesling can. On the palate there were nuances of dry but honeyed, nutty fruit, with some slatey characteristics and a touch of minerality, with a smooth rich finish. It was a powerful example of the heights that Riesling can achieve.
Top photo: Trimbach vineyards in Alsace. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach
Sometimes, when you taste a wine, it’s so sublime it’s evocative of liquid poetry in a bottle. I came across such an experience on my recent visit to California’s Napa Valley when I discovered Gallica’s lyrical wines.
Before I even tasted the wine, I could tell from winemaker Rosemary Cakebread’s email that I was going to meet an artist. The directions to her house were a graphic, hand-drawn map with winding roads, trees, farmhouses and vineyards.
Winemaker includes an artist’s touch in her work
Under Cakebread’s Gallica label, a minuscule production of 600 cases annually, she handcrafts Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache wines that are elegant and poetic, wines that show restraint and finesse.
“Wine should be seamless,” says the winemaker. “I want the wood to be integrated with wine.” Therefore, these wines can best be described as lyrical and beautifully knit. The artistry in her winemaking is also reflected in the name Gallica, a botanical term for a type of rose used in perfumes.
Cakebread is not new to the valley. She has been crafting wine in Napa for 33 years. However, she claims she got introduced to viticulture by accident. “Stars were in alignment,” she says with a laugh.
During the summer between high school and college, she got a job on the bottling line at Sebastiani Vineyards. “It piqued my interest. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I was curious,” she remembers.
She enrolled at the University of California, Davis, and received a degree in oenology. Her first job was in the laboratory at Inglenook Winery. From there she went to Cakebread Cellars for a short period and met Bruce Cakebread. The two have been married for more than 25 years.
Soon she moved on to Mumm Napa Valley. “I’ve always separated my career from marriage,” says the veteran winemaker.
Cakebread entered the world of sparkling wine and worked at Mumm when it was first established in Napa, operating out of Sterling Winery. In 1997, she took over as winemaker at Spottswoode Winery, a position she held till 2007. She maintained a consulting winemaker position at Spottswoode till 2012.
We met at Cakebread’s farmhouse in St. Helena (just off the Highway 29), which serves as her office. The recently purchased house just happens to be next door to her residence. The house/office comes with a patch of old Petite Sirah vine, which she plans to pull out and replant.
“Cabernet is what I know and love making,” she acknowledges. It’s this passion that led her to create the Gallica label with a 2007 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Yet the winemaker is also drawn to Rhône varietals, so she added Grenache to her portfolio in 2010. Napa Valley is not known for growing Rhône varietals, but Cakebread found a good source in the Shake Ridge Ranch vineyard in Amador County, Calif., in the Sierra Foothills.
We taste the 2011 Grenache, which is blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and a touch of Viognier. This is an exceptionally elegant, well-rounded wine with balanced fruit and soft tannins.
The Rhône red wine production falls under the Suzuri Series, a collection that will feature different blends each vintage. Cakebread chose the name “Suzuri,” which is a stone plate used for calligraphy, because of her love for Japanese art.
Gallica’s Cabernet Sauvignon bottling generally consists of 80% to 85% of this varietal blended with Cabernet Franc — to add an herbaceous quality — and Petit Verdot, which lends notes of fruits and violets. The 2010 Cabernet is superbly balanced and elegant.
There’s no overabundance of fruit here. “That’s what I like to drink,” Cakebread says.
“I tend to pick my fruit earlier. Some people say I pick under-ripe, but late picking adds too much alcohol to the wine,” she explains.
Besides the fruit that comes from the 1-acre vineyard behind the Cakebread residence, she purchases grapes from Oakville Ranch for her Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
“I’ll always make Cabernet — that’s the engine that drives everything.” However, the winemaker will soon be releasing her 2012 and 2013 Syrahs from Pisoni Vineyards in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands.
How about white wine? I ask.
“Not that I don’t like whites, but it’s a big ocean to swim in,” she muses. She doesn’t want to produce yet another Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
“I am looking for other whites like Chenin Blanc. It’s hard to find old-vine Chenin Blancs, but I’ll keep looking. I’d like to make a Vouvray style,” says the creative winemaker ever in search of a new artistic achievement.
Top photo: Winemaker Rosemary Cakebread in her vineyard. Credit: Mira Honeycutt
Drinking wine is a social activity, so it’s no surprise that social media-focused wine tasting apps have cropped up to connect wine lovers with one another and their latest discoveries. After all, any time you open a bottle, there is probably someone out there trying the same wine and wanting to talk about it too!
Delectable has fast become my go-to wine app. Admittedly, it took a few updates for me to come around, but Delectable version 3.3 is quite a useful tool. On the surface, this is a photo sharing app specifically for wine (although the odd beer does show up). What makes this so useful is the label recognition software within the app — it recognizes everything, from an obscure Santa Barbara winery with tiny production of Syrah to a crazy Chilean wine that’s not even imported in the U.S. It recognizes all pertinent information from the label: place of origin, producer, vintage, name of wine and grape variety. So you will never forget that killer wine, wherever you are. You don’t even have to write a tasting note (although you can), as there is a little slide rule with different degrees of happy faces for grading your wine. You can follow sommeliers and winemakers from across the country, like San Francisco-based Raj Parr or the guy who made talking about wine online cool, Gary Vaynerchuk, and see what they’re drinking. Also, if you see a wine you like, you can buy it within the app! There are an impressive 300,000+ members already, so join up and start snapping those pics. Free for iPhone and soon for Android.
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Wine with Friends isn’t the most original of names, but the app itself takes an innovative approach to tasting notes. Again, this is a photo sharing app, and once you’ve taken a pic of your latest wine discovery, you’re led to a tasting note page. This is the brilliant bit: Rather than a notepad, you have a wheel on your screen with different flavors you’ll find in wine. It’s divided into general subcategories, like berry and floral. Once you’ve clicked on that you can choose more specific flavors, like raspberry and rose. The next time you find a vino you like, simply whip out your phone, snap a photo and wheel through your tasting notes. There are more than 50 Western flavors and even more Asian flavors that are referenced (a little wine insight — wine experts in Asian countries tend to refer to fruits, spices and teas found in the East, like jasmine, lemongrass and star fruit) and it’s easy enough to switch between the two. You can also forgo the whole tasting note and just rate the wine with stars. Logistically speaking, this app could be a godsend — you can swirl with one hand while spinning through the wheel with the other. The idea behind the app is that you can share these notes with friends (who also have the app, of course), and try the wines your friends suggest. However, for me it’s all about the tasting wheel. Free for iPhone and soon for Android — with in-app $3.99 purchase of 150+ flavors.
These apps are perfect to use when you’re in a restaurant trying something you like, in a shop wanting to remember a recommended wine, or even at home opening a bottle from your own rack. I find it’s good practice to always take a picture with either app and do a quick rating with the happy face or stars. That way, you’ll have some sort of record. Happy tasting and snapping!
Top picture: Screen shots from Wine with Friends. Credit: Courtesy of Wine with Friends
Why save all of your good deeds for the holiday season? Giving back is all about love, so this Valentine’s Day, put together a meal that helps benefit some great causes.
Set the mood with a pretty table: When you purchase these beautiful block-printed placemats by Dolma Fair Trade made in Dharamsala, India, Given Goods Company gives 15% of profits to help support education for women and children in the area. Dolma’s efforts assist women and school-aged girls by funding education and providing steady work opportunities.
Dolma Fair Trade Placemats, $12.
Start the love flowing with a splash of bubbly: Égalité, is a new sparkling wine that donates a portion of its proceeds to LGBT nonprofit organizations across the country. Égalité is a smart blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Gamay and 5% Aligote, so cheers to all of that.
Égalité, $23.99, is available nationwide at restaurants, fine retail stores and via wine.com.
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Comfort food is loving food: Cozy up with a bean soup from the Women’s Bean Project. The organization, which also sells other mixes and spices (as well as handcrafted jewelry), has been dedicated to helping women break the cycle of poverty by giving them transitional jobs in gourmet food preparation and jewelry making. Choose from a selection that includes Toni’s 10 Bean, Sarah’s Spicy Split Pea and Giada De Laurentiis’ Lentil Soup. And let’s not forget, beans are good for the heart.
Women’s Bean Project Soup, $5.75.
Make your drizzle count: Oliovera Olive Oils come in amazing flavors like Piquant Jalapeno and Sweet Orange. Drizzle a little olive oil on your bean soup. And their vinegars, such as Ripe Peach Balsamic, make any salad happy. Best of all? For each bottle ordered, Oliovera donates five meals to a hungry child through its initiative with Feeding America. Delicious.
Oliovera olive oils and vinegars, $15.50-$34.
Chocolate, of course: By now we know that the antioxidants in chocolate are good for us, but when you buy L.A. chocolatier Compartés Chocolates for Darfur, the deed is extra sweet. Proceeds from sales benefit Relief International’s efforts in the nation to help fund a women’s health center and feed malnourished children. This beautiful gift set comes with a colorful bracelet.
Compartés Chocolates for Darfur, $20.
Finish with a cuppa: Whether you prefer tea or coffee, Laughing Man Tea and Coffee’s offerings are a charitable and delicious choice. All proceeds go to causes focusing on community development and education, and their Home Blend 184 and Dukale’s Dream are fair trade, organic and shade grown. (Actor Hugh Jackman is one of the founders of Laughing Man.)
Laughing Man Teas and Coffees, $10 and up.
Top photo: Égalité sparkling wine. Credit: Kellie Pecoraro Photography
Christmas trees are littering the curb. Bing Crosby’s croon has vanished from the radio. No more chestnuts roasting or sleigh bells ringing. Finally, that gluttonous interval between Thanksgiving and New Year’s that we term “the holidays” has run its merry course. And I have to admit: After having spent the last two-and-a-half months gorging on a range of roast birds diverse enough to rival the contents of John Audubon’s notebooks, not to mention the rivers of gravy, the endless variations of stuffing and pies of all persuasions, all washed down with bottle after bottle of wine (made in every conceivable color and style, from sparkling to dry to sweet, from red, to white, to pink and even the elusive orange) — I’ve had my fill.
At this point, I’d say I’m ready for a juice cleanse. That is, of course, if wine counts as juice. Because no matter how ascetic my mood might be, a glass or two with dinner is a basic, life-affirming pleasure that I’m simply unwilling to go without. Yet, for all the time we spend obsessing over holiday wine recommendations — what to pair with the Christmas ham, the bird and trimmings, etc — no one ever seems to talk about what to drink in the aftermath, once the leftovers have been devoured and life returns to a more measured gastronomic pace.
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In fact, I’ve always found it ironic that we tend to reserve sparkling wines for special occasions, when their style so perfectly suits casual, everyday drinking. I’m not talking about the kind of luxurious, unctuous Champagne that deserves to be served alongside appropriately rich fare: poached lobster, say, or a runny slice of Brie. At this time of the year, not only have I exhausted my Champagne budget, but I’m looking for an altogether different breed of sparkler: something clean, bracing and crisp, whose perky effervescence operates as a “hair of the dog” remedy for the post-holiday hangover.
So when I discovered that in recent years, as something of a fun side project, one of my favorite French winemakers has been making a fresh, zesty, low-alcohol sparkler known as Atmosphères, I knew it would be just the kind of curative bubbly I’d been craving.
The man in question is none other than Jo Landron, owner of the esteemed Domaine de la Louvetrie estate in Muscadet — a vigneron whose renown for crafting elegant, mineral-infused whites from the local Melon de Bourgogne grape is eclipsed only by his legendary mustache. I first encountered Landron a few years back, while attending the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers. Although his whiskers might have been the first thing I noticed about him, from the moment I tasted his range of wines I knew that he was doing something special.
I could easily exhaust my remaining word count describing his entire lineup of superlative Muscadet cuvées, whether the racy Amphibolite, the stony Fief du Breil or the densely packed Hermine d’Or, each of which is farmed organically and represents the expression of its own unique single-vineyard terroir. These are the kind of wines that, along with those of a few like-minded peers, have helped Muscadet shed its image as a simple lubricant for washing down oysters and gain recognition as a truly site-expressive wine worthy of contemplation.
With their invigorating salinity and acidic cut, any one of Landron’s efforts would offer a welcome antidote to the particular form of seasonal lethargy I’ve been suffering from. But it’s his sparkling Atmosphères bottling that best fits the bill.
Just a quick glance at the label (featuring a playful cartoon drawing of a festive drinker, glass in hand, perched atop a giant stack of bottles) sets the tone for what’s in store. Officially designated a Vin Mousseux de Qualité, the wine is produced in the traditional Champagne method, with secondary fermentation in bottle, but once in the glass it’s a much more lighthearted affair. A hand-picked blend of Folle Blanche (one of the area’s more interesting secondary grapes) with a touch of Pinot Noir for body, it’s zippy, lemony and bright, with a slightly chalky grip guaranteed to enliven even the most oversaturated palate. Think of it as liquid Prozac.
Now’s not the time to worry about fastidious wine pairings. So, in that spirit, I’d suggest drinking the Atmosphères with just about anything you like. Best of all, it’s delicious all by itself, while waiting for your appetite to return — which, if you’re anything like me, will surely be soon.
Top photo: Jo Landron. Credit: Candid Wines
Red wine blends are booming in popularity in the U.S., and I predict that in 2014 white blends will follow suit. The floral and citrus-scented 2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay is a bargain Italian example: dry, fresh, fruity, tangy and perfect as an apéritif or with steamed mussels. It also happens to be more interesting than you might expect for an under-$15 wine.
Satisfying white blends have a long history in European wine regions, and in the past few years innovative California winemakers have turned to Italy for inspiration.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay
Region: The Veneto, Italy
Grape: 60% Garganega, 40% Chardonnay
Serve with: Aperitifs, mussels in broth, vegetable risotto
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The Veneto region in northeast Italy, where the Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia comes from, has a mild climate, thanks to nearby Lake Garda, and a winemaking history that goes back to the ancient Greeks. It’s a region of wine contrasts, home to Amarone, a unique red made by a labor-intensive process of semi-drying grapes, and mass-market commercial companies that pump out millions of boring bottles a year.
The Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia blends a familiar international variety with a local Italian grape that’s widely planted throughout the Veneto. Late-ripening, Garganega is the variety that dominates Soave Classico, which must be made in a specified district near the city of Verona. The grape resembles Chardonnay in that both vary widely in taste depending on where they’re grown, when they’re picked, and how the wine is made.
Garganega grown on the Veneto’s flat plains for quantity rather than quality becomes simple, mediocre plonk. At Tenuta Sant’Antonio, grapes are planted on rolling hills, yields are kept low, and bunches are harvested by hand, all in the name of quality.
The four Castagnedi brothers — Massimo, Armando, Tiziano, and Paolo — who founded Tenuta Sant’Antonio worked as viticultural and technical wine consultants before starting the winery in 1989. They bought land in the Valpolicella zone adjacent to their father’s vineyard property, joined the two, then planted grapes and began making wine.
The Castagnedis produce a wide range of classic reds and whites under the Tenuta Sant’Antonio label, and are best known for their more expensive, top-quality Amarones, Valpolicellas, and Soaves. They describe the Scaia wines (the word refers to stone flakes in the chalky soil where the vines grow) as “modern interpretations” of traditional classics.
Happily, this doesn’t include aging in oak, which overwhelms the Garanega grape. The 2012 Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay is fermented at cold temperatures and aged in stainless steel, which preserves fruit and crispy acidity. The wine is much better than the ocean of easy-drinking whites from the Veneto. While it doesn’t have the character and style of the very best Soaves, it does have a juicy, mouth-filling personality and an attractive, everyday-drinking kind of price.
Top composite photo: 2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay label and vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Tenuta Sant’Antonio
California wine is finally getting interesting, and wine lovers can dare to hope that America’s premier wine region will produce more wines of higher quality.
What? Those $200 Napa Valley Cabernets aren’t great wines? Sorry to say, most are not. The good news is a group of winemakers is stepping away from California’s pack mentality to produce wines that reflect both an appreciation of the place the grapes are grown as well as an understanding that bigger is rarely better when it comes to wine.
By Jon Bonné
And, be still my heart, they aren’t afraid to say it. Out loud. In print. San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Jon Bonné has captured their voices and given early support to this movement in his recently released “The New California Wine: A guide to the producers and wines behind a revolution in taste” (Ten Speed Press).
During the past half-dozen years, I’ve met with established winemakers who talk about dialing back the alcohol levels on their wines. They claim a deep longing to produce “European” style wines with greater finesse and character. Then they beg, “Please, don’t quote me!” Inexplicably, they seem to think they can accomplish this transformation so slowly that their public — and the critics — will barely notice the change.
Documenting the historic shift
Shifting directions is risky. Timid American baby boomers learned about wine by leaning heavily on critical scores, buying what they were told they “ought” to drink. So when the two overlords of California wine criticism — Robert M. Parker’s Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator’s Jim Laube — championed high-alcohol fruit bombs, America’s first generation of wine drinkers eagerly fell in line behind them.
The rare winemaker willing to be quoted declaring a dramatic shift in style away from that norm has crumbled when facing angry consumers wondering why they had been paying top dollar for wines that the winemaker suddenly says are not what they ought to be.
From his perch at the Chronicle, Bonné was able to dig deep into California’s wine culture to find the winemakers who never compromised. Years of walking vineyards in every corner of the state paid off in the discovery of Steve Matthiasson, Tegan Passalacqua, Ted Lemon and dozens of other pioneers making wine to suit their personal taste rather than to score critical points. “Just three or four years ago, these guys were really out in the wilderness,” Bonné says.
Their stories of reviving abandoned vineyards in marginal growing areas, cobbling together wineries in deserted warehouses, and striking crazy work-for-free deals with vineyard owners sound more like the do-it-yourself culture that is transforming the American food scene than the big-money mentality that dominates California wine.
More than one kind of California wine
Bonné is a wine geek who delights in highly nuanced details of grape farming and cellar work. And, while that can result in a slow read at times, it’s an important plus. These are the distinctions that make a difference and separate the pioneers from more established vintners. Bonné empowers his readers by carefully explaining these specifics. And, bless him, he spares us the poetic hyperbole that hobbles so many wine books.
“This story was totally evolving as I was writing it,” says Bonné. “It was terrifying and exhilarating.” The first wine writer to make a strong statement about the promise of these emerging winemakers, and by comparison drive home the problems with California’s established wine industry, Bonné takes a risk. The nascent movement is so small it could easily dissipate.
The established “cult Cabernets” will not go away, Bonné says. Rather, support for these new wines will grow. “The people who had given up on California will turn around,” he predicts. In the future, there will be more than one kind of California wine.
Eventually, “there will be a transfer of power” in the American wine industry, he says. “This emerging generation is drinking with a level of curiosity that is very different from their parents.”
Judging by a recent crowd of young wine lovers eagerly tasting through a selection of California wines championed by Bonné, he’s calling it right. At domaineLA, a Los Angeles wine shop with a reputation for promoting an international selection of well-priced, high quality wines, Jon Bonné and Rajat Parr. was joined by leading Santa Barbara small-production vintners Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr, partners in Sandhi Wines, and Napa Valley-based winemaker Steve Matthiasson. This year, Bonné named Matthiasson the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Winemaker of the Year.”
The wines had bold, pronounced flavors, yet they retained the lift of natural acidity. All but a couple of the dozen wines on offer were priced below $40 a bottle. And the alcohol levels were all under 14%, a mark of a classic European-style wine.
Questioning the dominance of Napa Valley’s over-extracted and over-priced bruisers will soon go from taboo to “told you so.”
Top image: The beginning of growth on an old vine. Credit: Courtesy of Ten Speed Press, publisher of “The New California Wine” by Jon Bonné