The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2015

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Page 29 of 136

W e've recently addressed the growing plethora of alternative-style white wines now grown and produced in California—where coastal Mediterranean climate and a seemingly endless range of vine-friendly soils have long proven to be heaven-on-earth for Vitis vinifera. Now let's talk about the growing number of alternative California reds, now available to any ambitious sommelier. The recent "Seven % Solution" movement (see page 18) has decried the predomi- nance of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and, to a lesser extent, Zinfandel and Syrah in our markets. Rightly so. Who wants a candy store with only five choices; when 15, or even 50, is far more interesting? Ironically, what we may consider "different" today, really isn't. Carignan, for instance, has a recently attained coolness factor. Yet 40 or 50 years ago it was common; the most widely planted grape in California. Almost all of it went into low-end generic "Burgundy," but that doesn't detract from the fact that it is ideally suited to California's Mediterranean terroir, and still can produce wines of brightly perfumed transparency and delicacy. Case in point: the McCay Cellars 2011 Lodi Carignane, which has a refined, zesty Pinot Noir–like silkiness and a cranberryish perfume tinged with almost garrigue-like scrubbiness. Its subtle depth and qualities of the sandy Delta earth push through because it comes from own-rooted, head-trained vines originally planted in 1909. Noble vines, noble wine. Forty, 50 years ago, Charbono—which we now know is the same grape as Douce Noir in Savoie and Bonarda in Argentina—was thought to be one of the state's most promising varieties, on par with Cabernet Sauvignon. Alas, the grape would never reach that status, which does not mean it still can't produce stupendous wine. That's how I would describe the Testa Ranch 2011 Mendocino Charbono: vinified from majestic 60-plus-year-old head-trained vines, exhibiting a nuanced Bing cherry intensity lit up by the varietal's characteristic acidity and enduring tannin. Given California's Mediterranean climate, it also makes sense that the most recent successes have been Italian varietals. Barbera, for one, looms as a big-time grape of the future. Wines like the Cooper Vineyards 2012 Amador County Barbera are every bit as chiseled, layered, sharp and velvety as anyone would want in the varietal, sans the coarse, meager qualities so common in Italian Barberas. It makes sense that varieties native to coastal Portugal should also fare well on the West Coast. I lust for the fleshy, curvaceous, downright sexy St. Amant 2013 Amador County Souzão; and the Jeff Runquist 2013 Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa–Lodi Vineyards Touriga has the gripping cojones of any Cabernet, with an elemental wild- ness that no Cabernet can ever have. Finally, there are the surprises that have been with us all along, like the half-dozen or so brands of Cinsaut culled from a Mokelumne River–Lodi growth called Bechthold Vineyard, planted way back in 1886. Among the best of them is the Onesta 2012 Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault, which has coiled underpinnings beneath a cushi- ony exuberance of strawberry-rhubarb fruit, laced with loamy earth subtleties as only ancient vines can give. Red wines like these might be considered lesser-known oddities—"ugly ducklings," as Randall Grahm once described them. But great wine is great wine, no matter what you call it. june 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  29 California's Alternative Reds Are Not Such an Odd Bunch by Randy Caparoso Testa Ranch Charbono vines, which were planted in the early 1950s. Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards with Barbera. Onesta winemaker and owner Jillian Johnson during Cinsaut harvest at Bechthold Vineyard.

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