The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2015

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26  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2015 O ne of the discoveries that impressed our group of som- meliers during this past April's San Luis Obispo SOMM Camp was the region's focus on a few alternative- style "aromatic whites." They found the modest plethora of Albariño, for instance, particularly intriguing. This Spanish grape is intrinsically tart wherever it is grown on the West Coast—now including Lodi, Carneros, Mendocino, Monterey, Paso Robles, Santa Ynez Valley, several pockets of Oregon (from Columbia Gorge to Umpqua Valley) and Washington—but in cool-coastal San Luis Obispo, it makes wines that are positively rapier- like in mouth-watering acidity. There are a significant number of other varietal whites grown and produced on the West Coast that are meeting sommeliers' generally accepted criteria for "contemporary" whites: besides sharper acidity, lower alcohol, zero or minimal oak, emphasis on as much minerality as fruit and, of course, easier affinity with the multiple sensations (i. e., hot, sour, salty, sweet, umami) that our chefs are aggressively playing with. A couple of years ago, a movement called the "Seven Percent Solution" popped up in Northern California, based upon one Sonoma retailer's estimate that about 93 percent of what is grown in California consists of just eight of the most popular wine grapes. In order of number of acres, accord- ing to the USDA's latest California Grape Acreage Report, the following grapes dominate California vineyards: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. In reality, though, total acreage of these eight varieties adds up to about 364,000 acres, slightly less than 64 percent of California's total wine grape acreage (over 570,000 acres). So that seven percent "solution" is, in reality, a "Thirty-Six Percent Solution." California grows a lot more "other" grapes than you may think. In Lodi alone, we've counted more than 100 different varia- tions of Vitis vinifera—most of it supply- ing bulk wine producers' continuous need to blend in super-sized batches, but more and more of it is finding its way into varietal bottlings by tiny- to mid-sized specialty brands. Take David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars, who just came out with a wispy, bone-dry, citrusy, flowery Sidebar 2014 Mokelumne River–Lodi Kerner. Why Kerner—a Riesling-Trollinger cross that once was the workhorse grape of wines like Liebraumilch? Says Ramey, "After a lifetime of making and selling wine, I feel like producing a new set of wines that I enjoy drinking. I love Chardonnay, of course, but I also like a wine for just sitting outside and relax- ing on my patio." Ah, but there is so much more, especially by vintners without the rarified creds of a Ramey, but who, like Ramey, are genuinely jazzed by the array of grapes at their disposal—many from fairly recent plantings, and many that have been sitting out in the fields for decades, largely ignored, waiting to be "rediscovered." A Modest Plethora of Alternative Whites EXPLORING CALIFORNIA'S "OTHER" VARIETALS story and photos by Randy Caparoso Alfaro Family 2013 La Playita Vineyard Grüner Veltliner Profoundly tart, crackling lime/ grapefruit/peppery varietal from Santa Cruz Mountains. Precedent 2013 Chenin Blanc "Sec," Clements Hills–Lodi Not your granddaddy's Chenin; sharp as a tack, with silky, beeswax, honeyed texturing. Aequorea 2013 Spanish Springs Vineyard Viognier, San Luis Obispo The un-Viognier, from an extreme coastal growth; tasting more like a mouthful of rocks and drippy nectarine. Paix sur Terre 2014 Kiler Grove Ugni Blanc, Paso Robles The grape commonly known as Trebbiano, which, grown on limestone slopes, comes out steely, sinewy, minerally. Acquiesce 2014 Picpoul Blanc, Mokelumne River–Lodi The quintessential oyster white – lemony, light as a feather, and a tinge of jasmine spice. Bokisch 2014 Clay Station Vineyard Verdejo, Borden Ranch–Lodi All the lip-smacking, tangerine, orange blossom, lemon twist qualities you look for in this grape. Buena Vista Vinicultural Society 2014 French Colombard, Russian River Valley Once the backbone of California jug "Chablis," this grape produces stony, refreshingly under-fruited dry whites precisely like this. Kerner, a cross between Riesling and Trollinger, grows in the Mokelumne River-Lodi AVA.

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