Wine Talk

Snooth User: Bob Fyke

Cali-phobe seeks help

Posted by Bob Fyke, Jun 29, 2010.

Being a fan of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Cabernet and Merlot from the left and right banks of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals from, you guessed it, the Rhone valley, I've had trouble finding wines that I really like from California. Sure there have been a number of very good, and occasionally great, bottles, but my experience has been about a 20% approval rating, tops, for the Cali wines that I drink. So I'm trying not to feed a predjudice that's been forming in me and I need your help.

Help me find California Pinots that don't taste like cocacola, Cabs that aren't flabby (and don't cost $300)....I think you get the idea.

What have you enjoyed from the left coast that honors the styles in which these grapes were first brought to prominence? Thanks! -Bob

PS- I like Zin for what it is. I don't need to be sold on this one. It already has a place, albeit limited, in my consumption habits.

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 30, 2010.

As a starting point for the discussion, check out this thread, and the the producers I recommend in a post on its first page:

What's wrong with California Cabs?

There are several pinots from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley, and Rhone varietals from the Central Coast, that I like, and will be happy to discuss. Let's see if anyone else chimes in....

Reply by StevenBabb, Jun 30, 2010.

just like you appreciate zin for what it is, i think you need to appreciate california wines for what they are....

there are great producers here, but they aren't necesarily going to please your palate like the french wine does...

the structure of the wine in france is different... it's like puting coke vs pepsi.... both dark syrup based drinks, but taste totaly different... and both, like france/cali, have their die hard supporters....

and remember, california isn't the only state on the left coast... willamette valley in oregon produces some GREAT pinot... and i agree with dmcker, sonoma coast, russian river valley, and even careneros are good for pinot noir....

paso robles and santa barbera/santa rita produce some fine rhone varietals....

Reply by StevenBabb, Jun 30, 2010.

oh, and one more thing...

if you think you are going to smell cocacola before the cork is opened, the power of suggestion is going to have you smell/taste cocacola

Reply by lingprof, Jun 30, 2010.

Your question was so interesting.  I drink a ton of CA wines, being a local.  But trying to list some for you, I realized that about 90% of them are either blends or zins.  Wow.

Leaving those out, here are a few (obscure?) suggestions:

Cosentino The Franc 2007 - Cab Franc - 15 or so

Joseph Carr Napa Valley 2007 - cab sauv - 20 or so (I have this but haven't actually tried it yet.  but the guy at k and l was orgasmic about it)

Jack Creek Pinot Reserve 2006 - pinot noir - 42 at vineyard

I feel a little embarrassed about admitting this for some reason, but I actually love the Coppola Director's Cut Alexander Cabernet (24 or so).  That may be too California-y for what you're seeking, though.

Reply by Carly Wray, Jun 30, 2010.

My favorite central coast Pinots come from Foxen Vineyards -- the '06 certainly has a detectable note of cola, but I've always found it to be lovingly well-integrated.

Reply by MarkAse, Jun 30, 2010.

Given your preference for French wine, high acidity then the standard Cali fare I'll jump in with a producer that no one on Snooth has probably ever heard of:

Vellum Wine Craft.  As of now they only make 1 wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, but it's not a traditional Napa Cab by any means.

As for Pinot's, I'd probably suggest looking into Sojourn Cellars as a good starting point.

Best of luck! 

Reply by Andrew46, Jul 1, 2010.

Look to small winerys that can't be found in BevMO.  A big majority of wines are made to taste like critics want them to taste in efforts to get the 90+ ranking to sell in to those that buy what they are told.  The wine business is tough right now.  Principles are out the window.  People are doing what the can to stay in business.  That said, there are still those who are focused on the wine.

Some small winerys produce top wines which express the style of the winemaker and the flavor of the indivdual grapes.  Graziano Family Wines has a label called Saint Gregory that you might like.  Check out Greenwood Ridge Vineyards.  Both Mendocino.  Of course, I like Briceland Vineyards Winery, in Humboldt, but that is, of course, totally unbiased.  I like Steele Wines from Lake County too.  Particularly his Zins. 

It is true that you have to sort through lots of average, sound but unremarkable wines.  But there are some good distinctive ones out there.  Keep looking.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 1, 2010.

Hey Bob,

Sounds like a good idea for a dinner sometime soon!

The key to it being a successful dinner might be including some older examples of wine - what do you think?

Reply by dynowine, Jul 1, 2010.

@bobbbc - there are a lot of small producers in California who create excellent wines, some that even taste like fine European or French wines or a hybrid thereof, but these producers are somewhat hard to find from any distance.  

** What I've seen is a few upscale local shops in here in So. California (small Mom and Pop operations) plug into the better small producers as a competitive advantage, in order to attract business.

One that has hosted a good number of these producers for special tastings is Wine Lab (Newport Beach CA).  

If a local producer event is planned the shop will post it on their website.   You might even be able to call a shop and ask them for their favorite 5 California producers (and why).

= = = =

Here is an example:  "On May 7, Julie Johnson of the family-run ranch and organic winemaker Tres Sabores brings along three of her best organic wines for tasting: ’08 Sauvignon Blanc, ’07 Porque No and ’07 Zinfandel. 

2901 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach

Reservations: 949.515.8466


Reply by Bob Fyke, Jul 1, 2010.

Wow! Great response. Thanks everyone for the suggested producers. I'm making a list of these and will work my way through them in an effort to see what California holds for me.

DMCKER - Thanks for the linked thread. I'll add those to the list. Also, that article in The Napa Valley Register was inciteful. It seems I'm not alone.

Greg- You know me, I love to put together off-lines. The trick will be finding those older bottles. It would be great to somehow quantify the style change from the earlier days. The wheels are turning!

Carly- Interesting that you suggested Foxen in Santa Maria. I tasted through a number of Byron's wines (neighbors?) just Monday night. I enjoyed the Bien Nacido and Sierra Madre Pinot Noir. Also, the Nielson Vineyard Chard was enjoyable.

As I write, I'm sipping the '06 Sbragia Family, Andolson Vineyard Cab Sauv (Sonoma). I picked it up yesterday before I had your kind suggestions. I bit at the WA 90 shelf talker. Whatever.

So... it's packed with lean blackberries, anise, mint, toasted almond and tobacco. There is also a sort of laquer note that was pronounced at first, but mostly blew off after 30 minutes. The tannins are pronounced and dusty. Its complexity is disjointed and I would love to taste in in 10 years to see what integrity might develop. The overriding element, though, is the 14.9% alcohol that rudely pushes everything out of the glass.

Sorry Steve, no coca-cola (or Pepsi) in this one, despite my efforts to will it.

Keep the suggestions coming and I'll try to post notes and share my exploration.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 1, 2010.

Since you asked about pinot noir, here are a few suggestions from the Central Coast and Sonoma (both the Russian River Valley and 'the True' Sonoma Coast), as well as Willamette in Oregon, and even [only] one in New Zealand). I don't like all of these equally, but all of them are good, and some of them are very special indeed. Many of them are hard to find, and pricey. And most of them have several different offerings (vineyard designated, etc.), some of which are better than others.

I didn't offer my top 3 or top 5 or top 10 (first I'd likely steer you to The True Sonoma Coast), but since I assume you drink frequently you might explore them all over time and decide what best fits your taste. Some of these are closer to France in style, others further away. Some of them even evidence certain of the problems I rant about for cabernets in that other thread. I'm still evolving my personal requirements for New World pinot. One thing I've decided is they should be judged on their own merits, rather than whether they fit stylistically with offerings from the Côte de Nuits....

Santa Barbara area
    •    Ambulineo
    •    Au Bon Climat
    •    Brewer Clifton
    •    Jonata 'La Poesia'
    •    Sea Smoke
    •    Sine Qua Non

Willamette Valley, etc. (Oregon)
    •    Archery Summit
    •    Auteur Shea Vineyard
    •    Beaux Frères
    •    Domaine Drouhin
    •    Domaine Serene
    •    Evesham Wood
    •    Owen Roe
    •    Penner-Ash Shea Vineyard
    •    Soter

Sonoma RRV
    •    Brogan Cellars
    •    Copain
    •    Dumol
    •    Kistler
    •    Kosta Browne
    •    La Crema
    •    Rochioli
    •    Stewart RRV from Paul Hobbs

Sonoma 'The True'
    •    Auteur
    •    Aubert
    •    Flowers
    •    Hirsch
    •    Kistler
    •    Marcassin
    •    Martinelli
    •    Rivers Marie
    •    Williams Selyem

New Zealand (South Island)
    •    Pyramid Valley


In the event you can't find them from your local merchants, here are four of the best online merchants in California for ordering, and the two best for Oregon and Washington. Some of the wines may require other routes (like direct ordering from the vineyards), though.
    •    K&LWines is a group of several wineshops that started in Redwood City in the San Francisco Peninsula. Now it's the best 'standard' wine merchant with the largest selection of good wines that I know of in the States from both the West Coast and Europe.
    •    BPWine offers a select range of high quality, hard to find wines from the US and Europe that are usually bought up from private collector cellars, or are direct from boutique wineries
    •    BenchmarkWine Group is the same as BPWines in orientation, though sometimes has even better offerings.
    •    Napa Valley Winery Exchange started as a place for walkin traffic off Union Square in San Fran, but is much more than that now, and has good ins with several California wine makers.
    •    AvalonWine and OregonPinotNoirClub for a better selection of wines from Washington and Oregon.



We can talk about other varietals another time.  ;-)

Reply by Bob Fyke, Jul 2, 2010.

No, really, try not to hold back. This is great! Thanks.

My mindset is the same regarding the criteria that make a wine enjoyable for me. It doesn't have to be like the old country. I probably didn't make that clear enough in the beginning. The two Byron pinots I mentioned are, to me, not Burgundian, but I still enjoyed them.

Maybe the better way to say it is, I'm searching for the winemakers that haven't followed the crowd toward overblown, point seeking styles.

Thanks again for the abundant info.

Reply by ericamichelle, Jul 2, 2010.


Have you tried the Pinot Nior by Goldeneye?

or the red blends from Paraduxx? 

I adore them!

Reply by outthere, Jul 2, 2010.

Great list dmcker, I nearly qualify for my own parking spot at Benchmark and also use K&L often. I  would add another 2 retailers to your list.

ACME Fine Wines in St Helena Ca. Local (Cali) small production wines from newcomers and old hats. Great place to find that new unknown before it hits it big. Smaller inventory but all quality products. I stop in every other week to see what's new.

Hart Davis Hart - Known for their auctions they also have a decent retail offering. A little on the high end of the price scale with no slouches but there are deals to be found now and then.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 2, 2010.

Outthere, I'm on HDH's mailing list, and have posted once (in the '09 Bordeaux en primeur thread, I think) about their auctions. Haven't paid all that much attention to their retail, but did just this morning to an offer that included Scholium, etc. Don't know ACME, though, thanks. I often have trouble getting operations to clarify whether they'll actually ship to Tokyo....

What would your pinot list be?

Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 2, 2010.

@d..... how was sea smoke?.... i first heard of it the other day, and its really sparked my interest...

Reply by outthere, Jul 2, 2010.

We have some similar interests. RRV / Sonoma Coast

  • Williams Selyem
  • Kistler
  • Kosta Browne
  • En Route
  • Gracianna
  • Merry Edwards
  • Walter Hansel
  • Rochioli
  • Arista
  • Lynmar
  • Gary Farrell
  • Siduri
  • Papapietro Perry
  • Soujourn
  • Lattanzio
  • Patz and Hall

Haven't had the opportunity to taste Rivers Marie but am anxiously awaiting. 

Reply by dmcker, Jul 3, 2010.

Outthere, there are certainly times when I envy your on-the-ground, smell-that-air, see-the-vineyards-nearly-everday, pop-into-most-any-store(or vineyard)-and-buy-bottles-we'll-likely-never-see access.

I notice you didn't mention Ms. Turley's effort....

Reply by dmcker, Jul 3, 2010.

Just checked out Acme's website, and it definitely looks promising. One question, though. Wasn't one of the principals (S. Wagner) formerly at BP Wines?

Reply by Bob Fyke, Jul 3, 2010.

This thread is becoming quite a resource.

Erica- No I haven't tried Goldeneye or Paraduxx yet, but I will seek them out.

I did try the '08 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir last night and was quite pleased. Espacially at $19.00!

My note: Light but not weak. Complete, with good acidity, spicy dark / earthy strawberry fruit and fine tannins. No over-ripeness. Drank well for the duration of the bottle.

Your recommendations are 1 for 1.

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