Wine Talk

Snooth User: KimB30

Hello Snooth!

Posted by KimB30, Jul 22, 2013.

I am from South Africa and became very familiar with the wines. Now I have to start all over with learning about wines from the Americas. Excited!

Replies

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Reply by EMark, Jul 22, 2013.

Welcome, Kimb30.  There are quite a few participants, here, who will be happy to share their knowledge of American wines--or, for that matter, French wines, or Spanish wines, or Australian wines, or any of a large number of wines from all over the world. 

However, there is a quid pro quo, here.  We hope to learn about South African wines from you.    

I'll start you off.  I live in California.  To my recollection I have tried one wine from South Africa (pretty pathetic, I agree).  It was a Spier Chenin Blanc, and it was quite good.  It seems that South Africa has a pretty good reputation for Chenin Blanc.  What other makers and what other wines from South Aftrica should I try to check out?

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Reply by KimB30, Jul 23, 2013.

Hi Mark!

Yes of course, it's a fair swap I would say ;-)

Previously I was an avid red wine drinker but recently have taken more of a liking to white wines, especially in the summer. Do you enjoy red wine? A must try is a Pinotage as the grape is exclusively grown in South Africa, it's usually an easy drinking red wine with the smoothness of a merlot but with slightly more spicyness and depth. My favorite is Beyerskloor Pinotage, with Kanonkop a close 2nd. That's to start off with the red.

SA does make a good Chenin Blanc, I would say Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is more popular though. Try Ken Forrester for a Chenin Blanc. My favorite white is Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir, delicious with anything! Haute Cabriere estate is famous for their Pinot Noir which I enjoy too, because it's a light easy-drinking red.

Wine Estates which stand out for me, and I have never been disappointed with any of the wines I've tried, are definitely Plasier de Merle and Springfield (particularly the whole berry Cab-Sav, mmmmm).

This is just to mention a few to get you started ;-)

What kind of wines is California famous for? My US wine knowledge is more than pathetic! I have actually been to Napa Valley and heard that Sonoma County wines are good. Would love to do a wine tour there!

Thanks for the reply, speak soon!

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Reply by EMark, Jul 23, 2013.

Back at ya, Kim.

Thank you for the excellent list.  The good news is that I live in a large metropolitan area.  So, it is possible that I might be able to find some of the labels that you have suggested. As it turns out, you caught me in a mistatement.  (I'm old.  I forget.)  I have had another South African wine, and it was a Pinotage from Neil Ellis.  I agree.  Very easy to drink.

Yes, I do drink a lot of red wine.  And I go for the big mouth-filling tannic reds that don't seem to be as popular, these days.  Yippee, more for me. 

"What kind of wines is California famous for?"  That is an interesting question.  The easy answer is based on the "Judgement in Paris" in 1976 when several California Cabernet Sauvignons were judged to be superior to some First Growth Bordeaux, the obvious answer is that California is most famous for Cabernet Sauvignon. 

However, there is, and, of course, you knew this was coming, a more complete answer.

My view is that California is justifiably famous for an array of wines.  California covers a lot of territory.  So, there are growing areas in some part of California that favor just about any vitis vinifera variety.  So, I think it is more fun to look at the California growing regions.  Disclaimer:  The following contains a lot of generalizations.  There are always exceptions.  Nothing is sacrosanct.

You mentionted Napa Valley.  Let's start there.  It is, clearly, the most famous wine growing region in the state.  This is where the California wines from the "Judgement in Paris" were from.  So, Napa Valley is Cabernet Sauvignon country.  The statement that "the best Cabs are from Napa Valley," is arguable--either pro or con.  I don't think that there is much dispute, though, that the most expensive California Cabs come from Napa Valley.  Even within Napa Valley there are different growing areas that offer different "styles" of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Interestingly, there seems to be a sentiment on this board that "mountain" fruit (i.e., from vineyards on the hillsides that surround the valley) produces wines that are superior to those that are grown on the valley floor.  Personally, I agree with that sentiment and find that my favorite Napa Valley Cabs come from the Spring Mountain District.  Of course, my opinion may be biased by the fact that the producers in this region, for the most part, are a tad more reasonable about their pricing. 

Of course, outstanding wines are made from other grape varieties in Napa Valley.  At the Judgement in Paris, there was a separate comparison of Napa Valley Chardonnays to White Burgundies.  Same result.  California wines were judged superior.  (A few weeks ago we had this Forum conversation on Napa Valley Chardonnays. Feel free to take a look.)  However, you can also get excellent Sauvignon Blancs, Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs from Napa Valley.

Also, I do not want to ignore the blends.  A wine does not have to be created from a single grape variety in order to be good.  A lot of wineries have outstanding "Bordeaux blends" (some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec).  I had one called "Mernet" (50% Merlot/50% Cabernet Sauvignon) the other day that was outstanding.

Let me move on to the other area that you mentioned:  Sonoma County.  Sonoma County is a fairly large area that is best reviewed by looking a smaller chunks.

In the northern part of the county you have the Alexander Valley, the Rockpile region and Dry Creek Valley.  All of these are terrific areas for red wines.  I like Cabs from Alexander Valley, but also appreciate their Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs.   Rockpile and Dry Creek Valley are Valhalla for us Zinfandel lovers.  I can argue that Zinfandels from Rockpile or DCV compete very well against Napa Valley Cabs as Californias greatest wine achievement.  As you might imagine, there are a lot of people who would disagree.

Moving south and west you have the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast region.  Both of these regions have developed an excellent reputation for wines made from Burgundian grapes--Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Towards the eastern side of the county you have the Sonoma Valley.  I'm sure somebody will jump in here and straighten me out, but I can't say that any one wine type from Sonoma Valley jumps out.  I can say that I have had very good Cabs, Zins, Pinots, Chardonnays, and Sauvignon Blancs from Sonoma Valley.

I should also mention that there is this region that straddles Napa and Sonoma called Los Carneros.  Again, this seems to be Chardonnay and Pinot Noir country.

Also, I think, of note is a very attractive area in Mendocino County (just north of Sonoma County) called Anderson Valley.  Anderson Valley is definitely "cool climate."  Pinot Noir does well, here.  Although I think the best Gewurztraminer in the state comes from here.  One of our more knowledgeble posters here has turned me on to an Anderson Valley label called Halcon.  They specialize in Rhone grape varities such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Roussanne and Marsanne.

To the east of Napa and Sonoma is the Gold Country.  This is definitely a "warm climate" area.  Gold Country does not get a lot of attention, but I like it for wines made from Italian grape varities like Sangiovese and Barbera.  Also, good Gold Country wines are made from Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. 

The California Central Coast is, again, a fairly large geography ranging from Santa Cruz in the north to Santa Barbara in the south.

  • The Sta. Rita Hills in northern Santa Barbara County is getting a lot of recognition for wines made from Burgundian grapes--Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
  • The Paso Robles region has become a very important produce or wines made from Rhone varieties, although, there is a lot of respect, also, for their Zins and Cabs.
  • Santa Lucia Highlands is, again, primarily, Chardonnay/Pinot Noir country.
  • The Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Edna Valleys are well-establishe wine producing  areas, but have, yet, to establish themselves as a preferred source of any particular wine.

I might get some pushback here from some of my Snooth friends but I will take a Syrah from any of the Central Coast regions.  Good wine and it won't break the bank.

The Temecula Valley has been trying to develop their wine industry since the 1970s.  Temecula Valley is located between Los Angeles and San Diego.  You can get good, but, probably, not great wines from Temecula.  I think their biggest problem is that they have yet to find a grape or style that rises above the ordinary.  So, most of the vineyards and winemakers are exploring multiple varieties.  (I found one, last year, that was using the Italian Cortese grape.  That is pretty unusual, here.) Temecula is definitely a "warm climate" region,  OK, let's make that "hot climate."  The best wines I have tried from Temecula have been Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel, although Hart had a much more than respectable Sauvignon Blanc.

Kim, the above epistle my seem confusing.  So, feel free to come back and ask for a different explanation.  Also, it is far from comprehensive.  I am sure that other posters will come in her and offer corrections and clarifications.

Now, all my pontificating about California wine is not meant to denigrate in any way shape or form other American wines.  There are wineries in almost all (if not all) states.  Outstanding wines are produce all over the country.  If you are learning about American wines, you do not want to ignore these.

Also, if you do decide to take a wine country vacation, be sure to come back here and ask for tips.  You will get great advice on wineries, restaurants and lodging.


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