California's hidden treasures - The delicious wines from of the beaten path
California is America's most famous, and largest, wine producing state. It has its place in the world as one of the finest wine producing regions as well, thanks to the legendary 1976 Judgement of Paris that put Californian wines on the map. Since then California has been known for a handful of wines and when people talk about Californian wines they often talk about Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, sometimes Pinot Noir, and occasionally Merlot. But there is so much more to California than meets the eye. The state has a rich history of wine that is only now being rediscovered thanks to small, craft winemakers. Once you go off the beaten path you find a whole world of amazing wines that tell you a much deeper story of wine in California.
Old vine Carignan
Carignan is a wine that deserves a lot more attention and in California, a handful of crafty winemakers are taking the long-established Carignan vines and turning their grapes into wines of note. As California's masterful Carignan vines continue to churn out extravagant wines via some truly talented winemakers, Carignan itself is becoming a vine of Californian heritage. These are vines that go way back, have seen some things, and in the odd case ever survived prohibition. These are also great foodie wines, and they fit right into the heart of the state's culturally diverse cuisine. Okay so they may not be great with fish tacos, but we dare you to throw anything from a carnitas taco to a veggie burger, even an In-N-Out Double-DOuble at these wines.
So if there was a wine that makes an exceptional pairing for California's legendary fish tacos, then it has to be Chenin Blanc. Especially when you need something with just a little sweetness to offset the spiciness. Or just drink it by itself, but either way you need to get into Californian Chenin Blanc. It's a wine that you can take with you everywhere, from a BBQ to a party, to an elegant dinner. Chenin Blanc just has a way of effortlessly fitting in wherever it goes, keeping up with the pace of things, and never feeling out of place. You'll want to introduce it to all of your friends, and you just know that everybody will love something about it. Some will like it dry, some a little sweeter, some will attach itself to the sweet tangerine flavors, others to the crisp apple.
With its warm, Mediterranean-esque like climates California is host to a few regions where Italian varietals are taking hold. A lot of folks who are new to wine, and even those who are well versed in wine regions, struggle with Italian wines, but California takes all that is great about Italy and makes it as straightforward and accessible as anything in the New World. Cult wineries like Broc Cellars are experimenting with Nero D'Avola and Sangiovese. Martha Stoumen is also doing amazing work with Nero D'Avola as a red wine and a Rosato. You can find Californian winemakers working with everything from Arneis and Cortese, to Cieligolo, Aglianico, and Montepulciano.
Our favorite though? Idlewild Wine's Sam Bilbro is crushing it with his Piedmontese varietals, including Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. He is even making some amazing field blends in white, rosé, and red wines.
In decades past this grape was mistakenly called Napa Gamay and thought to be a descendant of legendary Gamay wines from Beaujolais. Then it went out of fashion. But now it is roaring back. Like a Venice Beach hipster who has a flair for handmade vintage items, Valdiguie is being rediscovered by hip winemakers who want to give us something uniquely Californian. There is something very retro, and yet so modern about the Valdiguie wines we get today. Valdiguie, with its vibrant aroma, and lush flavors of cranberries and sour cherries, will make you a very modern wine geek. Its an expression of cool, of the self, and the ability to share and introduce friends to something they would otherwise have overlooked. Less insufferable wine weirdo and more friend who knows whats up, whats cool, and what people will love. Valdiguie will do that to you.
Trousseau Noir and Trousseau Gris
Just a few years ago nobody would touch the Trousseau grapes, neither the Noir (a red wine grape) or Gris (a white wine grape). Today that is a shining light in California's wine portfolio. More than a shining light, in fact, Trousseau Noir and Trousseau Gris are the rarest of gems in California's crown. Trousseau Noir is light bodied, fruity, and yet elegant. The fact that it holds Noir in its name is a touch comical, as this light and translucent red wine almost comes off as a rosé. In fact, take one look at the Broc Cellars Trousseau Noir and you would swear it was a rosé. Just a few daring winemakers have tried their hand at this grape, many have experimented with just one vintage. Those who are dedicated to this light-bodied red wine will introduce you to a whole new world of complexity, dynamism, and vigor.
Trousseau Gris is a white mutation of the same grape. Our best research has led us to find just one vineyard in California that grows this delicate white grape, and just a couple of lucky winemakers who turn it into a beautifully aromatic white wine. It is a rarity and a luxury, elegant and balanced. Look for the Donkey and Goat Trousseau Gris if you ever get a chance to truly get an idea just how much this hidden treasure has to offer.
Unique field blends
The saying in the wine world is "If it grows together it goes together." Its all about creating a balanced blend. Or you can take that saying literally and toss all the grapes you grow in one field and crush them together, ferment them together, and bottle them together into a magical field blend. While the concept of a field blend is nothing new, a handful of winemakers in California are taking this to a whole new level. For them, it is about expressing everything that wine in California is, especially when they create field blends from old vines, some of which remain unrecognizable. This is about past, present, and future. This is about culture and heritage. This is a nod to times gone by while creating a modern view of what wine can and should be. Everything just seems to come together.
The next time you look for Californian wine step off the beaten path. Open your mind, your heart, and your palette. There is so much more to California than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. California is a state with a deep-rooted heritage in wine that is a blend of all different cultures coming together and making a grand, happy, balanced life under the sun. With that comes a host of wines that stand out from the industrialized weapons on mass-produced wine and become real gems that symbolize the magic of the state, its people, and what they can produce. Keep digging, keep exploring, and you will only find more of these delicious treasures.