Read on for your [re]introduction to four utterly delicious California wines:
Neither of these two breeds is superior, mind you. They just go about their exploration of wine in completely different ways. And there can be downsides to each approach; in the case of the former, endlessly switching up your wine loves means you risk the chance of missing out on the delightful evolution (or welcome consistency) of an old flame.
Which is exactly what happened to us with California wines.
We fell hard for the wines of the Golden State early in our budding career as oenophiles. Unlike the sometimes difficult-to-understand old-world bottlings of Italy or France (which reminded us a lot of the moody, unavailable boys we crushed on in high school), California juice offered an easy-drinking, fun-loving entrée to the slightly intimidating world of wine. But as our obsession with and curiosity about wine grew, we shifted our attention to broader shores and the lure of untasted marvels -- Portuguese vinho verde! French viognier! Oregon pinot gris! Many years -- and many hundreds of bottles of wine -- later, we've found ourselves right back where we started. We recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with three Cali producers from waaaay back in our wine-drinking careers, along with making the acquaintance of a couple we'd never even heard of. And you know what? Every bottle we tried made us realize how much we'd missed our first love.
4. Big House White 2011 ($10) & 3. Big House Unchained "Naked" Chardonnay ($10): Who says inexpensive wine has to be cheap plonk? Not us -- and especially not after tasting through a handful of wines from the insanely popular Monterey County producer Big House Wine Company, named for its proximity to the Soledad State Correctional Facility. Lady winemaker extraordinaire Georgetta Dane uses her gift for blending (driven by the aromas of each wine) and obsession with old-world varieties to turn out some of the most quaffable wine you've ever had. The Big House White mashes up more than ten aromatic white wines -- chiefly viognier, malvasia blanca, and grüner veltliner -- into one harmoniously delicious offering. Fragrant white peach, nectarine and coconut aromas set the stage perfectly for a mouthful of more ripe stone fruit, mango and lime flavors.
The second of the Big House wines we tasted, the aptly named Unchained "Naked" Chardonnay, served as a welcome reminder of how fresh and clean this variety can be when free from heavy-handed oak treatment. A gorgeous nose of crisp apple, lemon curd and bright pineapple lured us in; the tropical notes of ripe melon and guava that coursed along our palates sealed the deal. The ridiculously low price point -- and the fact that both wines come in picnic-friendly three-liter boxes -- makes these wines ideal candidates for the ultimate warm weather sport: porch pounding. 2. Franciscan Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($17) With all of the focus -- and reliably cheap pricing -- on Kiwi sauvignon blanc, it's not much of a stretch to understand why many of us (and you, too) have strayed away from Californian versions of the grape. After trying this undeniably drinkable bottle from Franciscan -- likely better known to you as makers of high-falutin' cabernet sauvignon and merlot -- we've remembered all the reasons why Napa Valley sauv blanc should not be slept on. While winemaker Jay Turnipseed (if that's not a great name for a vignernon, we don't know what is) admitted he admires the stylings of both old (Loire Valley) and new world (New Zealand), he set out to make a version that reflected equally the venerable history of the label and his own approach to modern winemaking techniques. Instead of serving up yet another overly grassy, green pepper-dominated wine, we thrilled at the discovery of one of the tastiest sauvignon blancs we've had in a minute. Crisp, mineral-driven citrus fragrances preceded a lip-smackingly tart mouthful of grapefruit and key lime. Savor this sun-kissed stunner on its own (to better appreciate all of its glory), or serve alongside Dungeness crab for the ultimate Californian food and wine pairing experience.
1. Guardian Central Coast Chardonnay 2009 ($13): Chardonnay has gotten a ridiculously bad rap over the past decade, particularly in the wine world. That's because the abundance -- fueled by stupendously high sales figures -- of what many perceived to be cloying, way-too-buttery chards coming out of Cali had finally worn out their welcome, causing a consumer backlash so hardcore that it had its own slogan: ABC, or "Anything But Chardonnay." Wines like this one are heralding the return of this noble grape by delivering everything amazing about the variety (full-bodied mouthfeel, fleshy peach and pear fruit profiles), sans the sometimes unwelcome side effects that come with barrel fermenting and aging. Succulent fragrances of the aforementioned stone fruits accurately forecast the ensuing flavors we reveled in from sip one. A healthy dose of lively acidity and a lengthy finish made this the perfect pick for a Sunday dinner of pan-roasted chicken with a creamy mushroom gravy. Welcome back, chard -- we've missed you.
Check back for part two of this series on our rekindled love affair with California wines: The Reds.