Why Are California Wines So Boring?

10 Sep

 

photo by tryingmyhardest via Flickr

photo by tryingmyhardest via Flickr

 

I don’t want to be a hater.  I don’t want to pile it on to the upmarket California winemakers who, by all accounts, are in world of hurt these days, but there’s a big problem in Cali wine that no one seems to be willing to talk about.  California wines are boring.

Yesterday I tasted two very different wines.  From two different countries.  In two different price brackets.  It’s probably against an unwritten rule to compare them to one another, but it’s also human nature to do so.  I did.

Wine #1 was a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc without claim to a fancy appellation — it was VdP Jardin — retailing at about $15.

Wine #2 was a highly allocated, newly annointed by Mr. Parker 98 point Rhône blend from California, retailing for about $70.

The difference between them?  The Cab Franc had a personality.  It was charming, quirky even, in its two-thirds-of-the-way-to-rosé clear magenta hue with violet, plum, and fresh earth on the nose; mouthwatering raspberry and paprika on the palate.  So much going on for so little money.  The Cali red?  Its minty, dried wood aroma (hello, new oak!) translated on the palate to a massive, polished-to-a-spit-shine vanilla and vaguely berryish flavor.  I’ve tasted wine like this a thousand times before.  Technically perfect, like an air-brushed model on the cover of a magazine, it offers no surprises, no intriguing conversation.  No soul, just glossy packaging.  And, it was hot.  Why, I wondered, would anyone ever buy this when they could have 4+ bottles of the (far more fun and thus IMO superior) Cab Franc?

I taste lots of wine every week and inevitably end up pitting the best and the worst against each other in my mind: the snore of a Sonoma Coast Chard ($40) vs. a gorgeous as all get-out Grüner ($18); yet another big, alcoholic, hardly identifiable as Pinot Russian River Pinot Noir ($50) vs. a surprisingly layered beauty of a Sicilian Frappato ($20).  Unfortunately, in my mental rankings the California contenders typically fall to the bottom of the heap, largely because of the price to quality ratio.  I simply don’t want to pay $40 or $50 for an OK-but-nothing-special bottle from CA when I know I can find several intriguing, even complex, wines under $20 elsewhere.

California is the reason I fell in love with wine in the first place, and yet I seem to be falling out of love with California wine.  It’s sad.

Are charming, exciting, well-priced Cali wines even out there anymore, or are they extinct?

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4 Responses to “Why Are California Wines So Boring?”

  1. wrtish 09/11/2009 at 6:54 am #

    Nice post… did Alice Feiring put you up to this? 🙂

    • Ms. Drinkwell 09/11/2009 at 11:46 am #

      LOL! No, but I’m flattered that it crossed your mind.

  2. Kathleen Rake 09/11/2009 at 7:13 am #

    Fabulous post! You’ve articulated what I’ve felt for so long–not about Cali wines per se because we don’t get that many in our market; rather about all those “technically perfect” wines, the ones that offer no A-Ha! moments that make me want to talk/write/buy another bottle.

    Salut!

  3. christopherwatkins 10/13/2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Well, I’d be more than happy to host you at Ridge/Monte Bello; I’m pretty sure I can come up with something Californian that will plumb you from the depths of your viticultural boredom! Don’t hesitate to contact me if ever you’re close enough to visit …

    Regards,

    Christopher Watkins
    Tasting Room Manager
    Ridge/Monte Bello
    Host: “4488: A Ridge Blog”

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