California…outrageously good red wines for every taste

From cabernet sauvignons to zinfandels, there is plenty of choice in full-bodied reds from Cali

Here on the West Coast we tend to be complacent about the wide selection of wines available to us from California.

And while there’s no shortage of white wines, the variety of rich red wines – from what would be the world’s fourth largest producer, if it were a separate country – is astonishing.

In France there is a long tradition of négociants – wineries who have few if any of their own vineyards but acquire grapes or even partially finished wines from independent growers, as well as commercial wineries.

Sebastiani & Sons have evolved into one of California’s most dependable négociants.

Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel (406132) $11.55 comes from Don Sebastiani & Sons.

Made from 100 per cent old vine zinfandel grapes it shows off a medley of berry fruit flavours and aromas – raspberry, blackberry, ripe plum, prune and dried figs are most obvious.

Under the fruit, there are tantalizing notes of vanilla and caramel – and at an unbelievably affordable price.

From Bronco Wine Company’s diverse family of brands Crane Lake 2012 pinot noir (201285) $11.65 is a light and most approachable take on ‘the heartbreak grape.’

Tart strawberry and sweet dried cherry aromas and flavours slide into raspberry and damson plum before ending with a sprinkling of sage and white pepper.

From being everybody’s favourite California red wine in the 1990s, merlot fell out of favour with the resurgence of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is often credited with being the first winemaker in California to realize that – as with France’s bordeaux – merlot is an excellent blending component, rather than making it into a straight forward 100 per cent varietal wine.

Blackstone Winemaker’s Select Merlot (103242) $14.20 is a mouth filling blend of 82 per cent merlot, four per cent petite sirah, 10 per cent syrah, two per cent cabernet sauvignon, one per cent cabernet franc and one per cent rubired – a hybrid of Portugal’s tinta cão and alicante ganzin.

This exceptionally complex merlot oozes rich blackberry, plum, and raspberry flavours over vanilla and toast and truffles.

Genetically identical to Croatia’s crljenak kaštelanski and tribidrag, as well as primitivo grown in Italy’s Apulia, red zinfandel wines have been taken to new heights in California.

The Association of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers was founded in 1991 to promote American zinfandel and its unique place in California’s culture and history.

Zinphomania is tongue-in-cheek-ishly defined as an excessive and uncontrollable desire for zinfandel brought on by the titillating aromas and decadent flavours of big red zins. Zin-phomaniac (925958) $23.25 is a seductive blend of 95 per cent lodi zinfandel and five per cent mendocino Syrah.

Jammy strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and black cherry aromas and flavours slide into spicy tea and black pepper in the finish.

Every year some of California’s best-known wineries drain their tanks to bring in grapes from the newest vintage.

With their négociant philosophy of sourcing surplus wines from anonymous top California producers (…after signing a non-disclosure agreement to protect the integrity of their brands) Cameron Hughes brings wines of exceptional quality to the market at astonishingly affordable prices.

Cameron Hughes Lot 304 Napa Valley Meritage (3335) $24.30 California Lot 304 Napa Valley Meritage is a blend of 64 per cent cabernet franc, 23 per cent merlot, nine per cent cabernet sauvignon and four per cent petite verdot.

The main grapes come from an unnamed winery in the Napa Valley that specializes in cabernet franc.

More elegant than jammy, it showcases the peppery spiced blackberry character of that variety with classic Napa Valley hints of mint and eucalyptus.

Bringing a variety of different wine grapes together from an assortment of regions almost guarantees a richer and more complex red wine.

Obviously, California`s best winemakers have realized just that.

Blended from 91 per cent cabernet sauvignon five per cent merlot, two per cent malbec, one per cent cabernet franc and one per cent petit verdot, Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon (583617) $36.90 is made from a combination of grapes primarily from the Napa Valley with contributions from vineyards in the Oak Knoll district, St.Helena, Rutherford and Mt.Veeder.

Outrageously concentrated flavours of black cherry, blackberry, spice and French and American oak segue into cappuccino and caramel with notes of mint, olives and earthy mushrooms.


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