I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t enjoy California wines… they are almost as overpriced and snobby as French wines and many are just as ill-mannered. Slate has a great piece on the increasing crisis in the California wine industry by columnist Mike Steinberger (whose observations I am really coming to enjoy).
To quote Mike:
Americans are also expanding their wine horizons: Wine drinkers are often weaned on Napa merlots and Sonoma chardonnays but then become more adventurous, dabbling in Loire whites, Rhone reds, and other imports. Many find they prefer the foreign stuff, which usually has a lot more character and goes down better with meals. (California wines tend to be abusively oaked, high in alcohol, and low in acidity, making them distinctly food-unfriendly.)
But none of this adequately explains the contempt so many oenophiles now seem to feel for California wines. They aren’t just shunning them; they are cursing them. At any gathering of wine fanatics, you’re apt to find one person, and usually more, who will claim to have entirely sworn off California. The manager of a major East Coast wine store recently told me he no longer sets foot in his shop’s California section unless a client can’t be convinced to try something else.
In fact, California produces almost nothing worth drinking for under $15, a failure that borders on criminal. Finding something in this range that is merely inoffensive is a challenge, a point underscored by a recent feature in the Los Angeles Times. The paper gave four local sommeliers $300 each to come up with a list of good, fairly priced wines (fairly priced was loosely defined). Of the 39 wines selected, exactly one was from California. “There’s no price-quality ratio in California anymore,” David Rosoff of Opaline restaurant explained, “Great mistakes were made here …”
The biggest mistake is vanity: Most of the California producers with the means, skill, and desire to make good wine seem to measure success by the price tag on the bottle and would sooner flog pickles than “devalue” their brand by selling a $15 cabernet. You’d think one of California’s star oenologists might be inspired by the examples in France of great winemakers—Aubert de Villaine and Dominique Lafon come to mind—who are happily slumming it on the side, producing terrific, inexpensive wines from satellite appellations. But apparently that isn’t the California way.
OK, there are a few exceptions. Mike lists Ridge, which is generally great, and I am of course a huge fan of David Bruce (especially the luscious Petite Syrah that Bob and Terry cellar).
OK, now I’m ready to leave the office and drink. I’m going to try to stay for at least another hour.