Drink local. Except when drinking local means being subjected to overripe low acid, whisky-like alcohol fruit bombs.
This may sound familiar, especially if you read what I write, but even I admit it's not always easy to do. If only California wines were labeled in such a way that you knew what you were in for -- but. save an alcohol percentage, we don't have much to go on.
Fortunately, counter to the small amount of clarity we get from a label, we have a great amount of producers here in California. And by knowing the style and reputation of these producers we can make a good guess as to the profile of the wine. With that knowledge, we have the ability to enjoy wines crafted with the balance and elegance of their European counterparts without having to leave the state, let alone the country.
When speaking with winemakers I often hear the phrase "wine is made in the vineyard" and I agree with this philosophy, to a point. There can be no great wine without great fruit -- this is true. That being said, great fruit does not simply make itself into great wine. The winemaker plays a crucially important role in the process, from making fruit selections to deciding on what proportions of each lot is used, to controlling fermentation. There can be no great wine without great winemakers. Even if the hand of the winemaker is not apparent, its presence is required. And knowing when not to do something is just as an important choice to make as when to intervene.
One California producer that skillfully crafts wines with balance, purity of fruit and varietal expression is Joshua Klapper of La Fenetre. Klapper sources fruit from top vineyards in Santa Barbara and carefully blends them into interesting and dynamic wines. In his "A Cote" line he produces offerings that are both affordable and ready to drink upon release.
The 2010 "A Cote" Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is reminiscent of a young Puligny Montrachet if it were a foreign exchange student having spent a summer on the West Coast. Pear and golden apple command the palate with just a hint of yeasty goodness from extended barrel aging sur lie. Layers of complexity exist here that range from a subtle richness and body to a finish full of refreshing acidity. This is a wine that could easily occupy an afternoon, effortlessly pulling attention from whatever seemed important to what actually is.
The 2010 "A Cote" Santa Barbara County Chardonnay retails for about $20 a bottle.
[Photo of the barrel rolling from La Fenetre's website.]
Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.