Thoughts on California wine

Winemaking Talk - Winemaking Forum

Help Support Winemaking Talk - Winemaking Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

wood1954

Senior Member
Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 1, 2011
Messages
1,332
Reaction score
1,472
Location
Northern wisconsin
I’m on vacation in California this week and have visited many a wine tasting room in Sonoma and Calaveras county. I know at my age my taste buds aren’t what they used to be, but there is almost no difference between any red wine I’ve tasted. All the red wine is 14,5% alcohol,lots of acid and tannin. The aroma is mostly the fumes from the alcohol, I can tell the difference between a wine aged in French vs American barrels, the last place I was at did have a very good Syrah but even his Pinot noir tasted like every other Pinot. Must be the terrior people talk about. The wines overall have been very IMG_3170.jpegwell made with no faults but I’ve given up on tasting because they are all so overpowering. Plus they all cost $28-50 or more. Tonight I found a winery that sell s his wine for $10.99 and it tastes like all the other expensive wines. I was hoping to find at least one wine that really rocked me, but nope. I guess I’m just not into this high alcohol style. I’ve had better wine at my winemaking club meetings. On the bright side the scenery is amazing in Calaveras county.
 
Harvest season in wine country, I have wanted to do this some time.

What are the taste differences between what you can make with Marquette (familiar) and what you find in California (new test sample)? Practice makes one a better taster. It is too bad you can’t do a triangle test, ,,, two samples the same and one different, at the same time.
 
Wine at the winery has gotten outrageously expensive. Especially in Napa/Sonoma. I don't blame them and people will pay it. Here is a California secret-The Costco closest to where you are tasting will usually have an excellent selection of that regions wine for 1/3 the price you pay at the winery, so go there and stock up.

By in large, you are tasting young wines at the winery. So of course, wines taste like tannin and ripe fruit. Anyway, I don't recommend you generalize that all California wine is the same. It's also true that people come to like what they drink everyday, so since this is different, maybe you don't like it as much as you thought you would.

Opinion: Pinot Noir is very hit or miss everywhere. It's expensive everywhere. I'm not much of a Pinot Noir drinker. But I do like Merlot!

Usually it's best to drink what the region you are visiting is known for. In Calaveras, since it's hot, look for Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Primitivo etc. Sonoma is a huge county with everything from Coastal fog to valley heat so very hard to generalize.

Curious what took you to Calaveras? That's jumping frog territory. It's kind of an up and coming region, similar climate to Amador but even being semilocal, I;ve only gone there once to taste wine, and that was 15 years ago. Where did you go specifically and how was the experience? I may need to plan a weekend there.
 
We are big fans of Paso Robles, CA. Mostly known for Rhone blends but also some great Cabs and even some really good Pinots. Sure there are a few of the top end wineries that charge $40-50 for a tasting but the average in the AVA is $25 and at least one winery (Eberle) one of the first wineries in the AVA still has free tasting!

The local Albertson's in Paso is well known for its AMAZING selection of Paso wines at or below wine club prices. Like any other grocery store you buy 6 wines and get 20% off.

With the warmer climate these days all vinifera grapes are reaching 14-15% ABV when fully ripened and unless a winemaker wants to water their juice back not many wines will be in the "old world" style of 12-13% ABV.
 
Wine at the winery has gotten outrageously expensive.
Yup. Everything a many wineries starts at $20 USD and goes way up from there -- and that's NC. We recently visited Grandfather Winery near Boone NC, and the mediocre reds (obviously CA grapes as most of what they have doesn't grow in NC) were $24 to $28. The place was packed as they had live music, and people were slurping the wines down.
 
We started our trip in Pacifica because our friends live there. They recommended Murphys because they felt making day trips out of Pacifica would be such a hassle due to traffic, they were right traffic sucks in the Bay Area. Traffic was worse because my friend has turned into a maniacal driver. There are twenty wine tasting rooms in Murphys downtown as well as a few more wineries just outside of town. A lot of wines were well aged , one nice Syrah was 8 years old. I don’t think any wine was younger than 2021. Frogs tooth winery had very good white wine and I liked Indian Rock winery’s reds. We’re staying at a n Airbnb just out of town, very quiet, clean and well stocked and furnished. It seems like the longer a winery has been in business here their prices are more reasonable.
My barrel aged 2022 Marquette after aeration for a couple hours to soften the tannins a little is definitely my style. It’s softer with less acid and less alcohol which makes the flavors more available, it’s definitely better than my carboy aged Marquette. I am bringing one $40 bottle back to share at the next wine club meeting just to remind people how good their wine is compared to professional wine.
 
You raise a good point about California wines, one mentioned by my French friend who took his brother wine tasting in Napa. To their taste all the wines were too young and too ripe. This ripe fruit bomb style seems to sell well and I am actually having trouble growing less ripe grapes while also avoiding green flavors. Also I don’t know why they grow Pinot Noir in Napa, it does not seem like the right climate, but it sells.
 
Also I don’t know why they grow Pinot Noir in Napa, it does not seem like the right climate, but it sells.
Unlike beer and liquors, wine is intimidating. There's a lot more variety and there's a lot more to know. I expect that's among the reasons wine drinkers are often considered snobbish.

It's common for people to pick something and stick with it. One guy I know drinks only Cabernet Sauvignon. He buys 2 cases of a CS and drinks only that until it's gone. Then he buys more if he can, or tries another CS, buys 2 cases, and repeats the process. IMO he's afraid to try anything else because he doesn't know what it's supposed to taste like.

Sound silly? It's common behavior for people to stick with what they know, rather than branch out.

So ... folks who drink PN will keep buying it. And to be fair, your French friend has one taste in PN. Who's to say his is the correct one? ;)
 
You just have to pick the right spot. The Los Carneros AVA spans parts of Napa and Sonoma and sits next to San Pablo Bay and is perfect for growing Pinot with its cooler climate and fog filled mornings.

https://napavintners.com/napa_valley/los-carneros-ava/
We are members at Tolosa which is located in SLO (Edna Valley) and they source grapes from many vineyards in the region including Los Carneros. At a tasting a couple years ago they opened a bottle of the 2016 from that AVA and poured it for our group. It was an out of body experience and needless to say we bought a 3 pack right then and there.

83808-18e6c07f4cd0b617b121265b4729155b.data.jpeg

You raise a good point about California wines, one mentioned by my French friend who took his brother wine tasting in Napa. To their taste all the wines were too young and too ripe. This ripe fruit bomb style seems to sell well and I am actually having trouble growing less ripe grapes while also avoiding green flavors. Also I don’t know why they grow Pinot Noir in Napa, it does not seem like the right climate, but it sells.
 
I’m on vacation in California this week and have visited many a wine tasting room in Sonoma and Calaveras county. I know at my age my taste buds aren’t what they used to be, but there is almost no difference between any red wine I’ve tasted. All the red wine is 14,5% alcohol,lots of acid and tannin. The aroma is mostly the fumes from the alcohol, I can tell the difference between a wine aged in French vs American barrels, the last place I was at did have a very good Syrah but even his Pinot noir tasted like every other Pinot. Must be the terrior people talk about. The wines overall have been very View attachment 106470well made with no faults but I’ve given up on tasting because they are all so overpowering. Plus they all cost $28-50 or more. Tonight I found a winery that sell s his wine for $10.99 and it tastes like all the other expensive wines. I was hoping to find at least one wine that really rocked me, but nope. I guess I’m just not into this high alcohol style. I’ve had better wine at my winemaking club meetings. On the bright side the scenery is amazing in Calaveras county.
14.5% is fine. The problem is that it is too high to enjoy more than one glass, maybe two.!
 
No doubt many CA wines are in general made in a bigger, more jammy style than their Old World counterparts, but I think the weather for the past few years may also come into play here. 20, 21 and 22 were drought years and a lot of the crop came in very ripe, super concentrated and made for bigger style wines. I suspect 2023 will be different; as has been noted elsewhere here things took a long time to ripen, encouraging an earlier pick (with commensurate lower brix and pH).

My 2021 pinot noir came in at 27 brix(!) - not my choice, but I was piggybacking onto the pick of a local winery. Maybe they purposely delayed harvest to balance out other grapes/wines in their blend, or maybe field samples didn't match the pick, or maybe I got the super-ripe bin... who knows. This year, my syrah came in at a much more reasonable 24 brix with nice acidity. I'm expecting it to be a bit more Cote Rotie than Paso Robles in style...
 
That’s just you most wines can be lower alcohol around me or even higher I tend to make
Wine at the winery has gotten outrageously expensive. Especially in Napa/Sonoma. I don't blame them and people will pay it. Here is a California secret-The Costco closest to where you are tasting will usually have an excellent selection of that regions wine for 1/3 the price you pay at the winery, so go there and stock up.

By in large, you are tasting young wines at the winery. So of course, wines taste like tannin and ripe fruit. Anyway, I don't recommend you generalize that all California wine is the same. It's also true that people come to like what they drink everyday, so since this is different, maybe you don't like it as much as you thought you would.

Opinion: Pinot Noir is very hit or miss everywhere. It's expensive everywhere. I'm not much of a Pinot Noir drinker. But I do like Merlot!

Usually it's best to drink what the region you are visiting is known for. In Calaveras, since it's hot, look for Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Primitivo etc. Sonoma is a huge county with everything from Coastal fog to valley heat so very hard to generalize.

Curious what took you to Calaveras? That's jumping frog territory. It's kind of an up and coming region, similar climate to Amador but even being semilocal, I;ve only gone there once to taste wine, and that was 15 years ago. Where did you go specifically and how was the experience? I may need to plan a weekend there.
Calaveras used to have a lot of wineries then Prohibition killed them all off and they are just starting to come back strongly my 3x great grandfather owned a winery in the area the family operate it from the late 1800’s to prohibition and then slightly after prohibition ended my grandmother remembers working in the winery with her grandfather as a kid.
 
Last edited:
We are big fans of Paso Robles, CA. Mostly known for Rhone blends but also some great Cabs and even some really good Pinots. Sure there are a few of the top end wineries that charge $40-50 for a tasting but the average in the AVA is $25 and at least one winery (Eberle) one of the first wineries in the AVA still has free tasting!

The local Albertson's in Paso is well known for its AMAZING selection of Paso wines at or below wine club prices. Like any other grocery store you buy 6 wines and get 20% off.

With the warmer climate these days all vinifera grapes are reaching 14-15% ABV when fully ripened and unless a winemaker wants to water their juice back not many wines will be in the "old world" style of 12-13% ABV.
It’s not the climate that is causing the higher abv at all it’s the style of winemaking in Paso Robles the style is to pick grapes rather late and at high brix for riper more concentrated fruit flavors as sometimes Paso fruit can be bland, they also tend to saignee off 50-60% of the juice from the must and throw it away.
 
You just have to pick the right spot. The Los Carneros AVA spans parts of Napa and Sonoma and sits next to San Pablo Bay and is perfect for growing Pinot with its cooler climate and fog filled mornings.

https://napavintners.com/napa_valley/los-carneros-ava/
We are members at Tolosa which is located in SLO (Edna Valley) and they source grapes from many vineyards in the region including Los Carneros. At a tasting a couple years ago they opened a bottle of the 2016 from that AVA and poured it for our group. It was an out of body experience and needless to say we bought a 3 pack right then and there.

View attachment 106517
The winemaker at tolosa is French and I have met him he’s very knowledgeable
 
I tend to produce wines that trend towards 15-17% and I like them around that percentage, keep in mind these are commercial wines. My Zinfandel never hits under 15.5 and 16.5 is not uncommon. Alcohol doesn’t even stand out you can drink a glass of it and it drinks like a 13-14% wine you find out about the alcohol when you feel it lol.
14.5% is fine. The problem is that it is too high to enjoy more than one glass, maybe two.
 
Nebbiolo - What do you mean that "they throw away 50% of the juice"? I will admit that I don't know much about commercial wine making, as I only grow Concord grapes and brew for my family and friends. Personally, I don't know anyone else that makes wine.
 

Latest posts

Back
Top