Inexpensive, authentic California wines of place? Yes, we can
There’s been an interesting discussion going on at the Tablas Creek blog on why California wineries find it so hard to make good, artisanal wine priced between $10 and $20. The reason Jason Haas blogged on this topic was (as he explained) because of a blog that the S.F. Chronicle’s Jon Bonné posted on March 27 that wondered why there aren’t more and better wines available for restaurants (as, for example, there are from Cotes-du-Rhone producers). Jason also was activated by this article that appeared in the N.Y. Times last month on why California can’t seem to produce Europe’s versions of inexpensive, savory local wines.
Let’s back up. The notion of finding a perfect vin de pays or vino di tavola at a little bistro or trattoria in the Languedoc or Tuscany is very romantic, but let’s keep in mind that it was created and disseminated by American tourists traveling to Europe, not by locals who’ve drunk these wines for generations and find them, not exactly romantic, but hearty and quaffable. When you’re traveling in an exotic foreign country, perhaps sitting at a table with someone you love eating local dishes in a place of great beauty and culture, everything is heightened — including the local wines. But let’s not forget there’s another narrative here: Often, when these American tourists try the same wine back home, it fails to live up to memory or expectation.
It’s not hard for me to imagine a European tourist traveling here in California who dined at a restaurant in Ukiah or Forestville or Paso Robles and found some amusing local bottle he, too, found romantic.
Jason’s blog explained how the economics of land prices in his neck of the woods (western Paso Robles) dictate against being able to sell a bottle of wine that retails for below $20. (And thank you to Jason for being so honest and clear about the numbers.) But can we dispense with the incorrect notion that California doesn’t have really good wines, reflecting true terroir, for under $20? Here are just a handful that I’ve quite enjoyed recently. Each is an authentic wine that shows its origins in a fine and interesting way. (Keep in mind the prices listed are suggested retail, according to the winery. That means you should be able to find these wines priced even lower on the open market.)
Alma Rosa 2007 Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County, $18)
Atmosphere 2008 Demark St. Vineyard Fume Blanc (Sonoma Valley, $18)
Novy 2007 Syrah (Napa Valley, $19)
Sausal 2007 Estate Zinfandel (Alexander Valley, $19)
Navarro 2008 Gewurztraminer (Anderson Valley, $19)
Tangent 2008 Paragon Vineyard Riesling (Edna Valley, $20)
Sean Minor 2008 4 Bears Pinot Noir (Carneros, $17)
Pedroncelli 2007 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (Dry Creek Valley, $16)
Katherine Goldschmidt 2007 Crazy Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, $20)
Concannon 2007 Conservancy Petite Sirah (Livermore Valley, $15)
Foxen 2008 Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Chenin Blanc (Santa Maria Valley, $20)
I could go on and on. I mean, these are all fine, local, authentic and artisanal wines. I scored all of them highly, and would be happy to drink them on a regular basis. So we really need to stop this California bashing and boo-hooing that we don’t produce quality, local, authentic wines of terroir at everyday prices. It just ain’t so.