California: Wine, Californian Wine Regions, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, & More Profiled

Which California Cabernet Sauvignons Deserve "First Growth" Status?

In 1855, the Exposition Universelle was held in Paris to showcase all that was good in France.  Emperor Napoleon III requested the leading Bordeaux merchants to rank the best wines.  The top wines were rated as First Growths.  Over the years, many people in the rest of the world have discussed what wines from their country would be First Growths.  I am often asked what I think the First Growths of California are.  It is an interesting conversation with lots of room for debate.

Top 10 California Syrahs - The Wine List - October 2014

Syrah is a grape that most wine merchants will tell you is a difficult sell.  It seems it’s always going to be the next big thing, but never is.  For consumers, that’s a good thing.  A great Syrah usually will cost far less than a comparable quality Cabernet or Pinot Noir.  For my money, I tend to buy more Syrah than any other grape.  A disclaimer here – I liked it so much, I started to make it. 

In any event, as the temperatures start to drop, fall is great time for a hearty red with dinner or next to a warming fire.  Syrah is a grape that really changes its personality depending on where it is grown.  Cooler climate Syrahs can be quite different from warmer climate ones.  California has plenty of each.  While I love many of the cooler climate Syrahs, most of the ones listed below are warmer climate Syrahs.  In my opinion, that is where the very best of Syrahs from California can be found.

The Top 25 Odd-Ball Wines of California

We all know the standard wine varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc, but there are an astounding 10,000 grape varieties here on Planet Earth. The majority of California vineyard acreage is planted to just eight grape varietals and less than 10 percent is home to grapes few people care about, and even fewer understand, let alone can pronounce. But an accomplished assemblage of odd-ball varietals and their winemaker shepherds champion these grapes. These winemakers are the first and only line of defense against the abyss of sameness. Here in alphabetical order are just 25 (there are more) of the most odd-ball grapes turned into wine in the Golden State, followed by their producer, and location.

Top 25 Most Awesome Tasting Rooms in California

Wine tasting is not merely the act of drinking wine, it is the total experience and that includes the physical space you are standing in when sampling Sauvignon Blanc or pondering Petit Verdot.

Ten California Cabernet Sauvignons for the Money

California Cabernets are some of the best wines in the world.  Unfortunately, the pricing on many of them has gotten quite exorbitant.  There are a plethora of great wines for $100 or more.  Even at the $75 mark, there is no shortage of outstanding wines.  So, for purposes of this list, these are my favorite five California Cabernets priced at under $25 per bottle.  In addition, I only chose wines that are very consistent from vintage to vintage.  Finally, I have avoided rare and hard to find wines for this list. 

The Three Legged Winemaker - An Interview with Napa Valley Legend Mike Grgich

Mike Grgich and Brad PrescottI recently had the great privilege of spending an afternoon with legendary Napa Valley winemaker Mike Grgich. Over a long lunch and more than a few bottles of his finest wines, we discussed his career and its influence on Napa winemaking as well as his myriad accomplishments, winning both the 1976 Judgment of Paris and the Great Chicago Showdown to name but a few. I had never met Mike in person before and did not know what to expect. What I found was a man with deep pride in his accomplishments but one who is equally grateful to all those who helped and influenced him along the way. I also discovered a man who is the living embodiment of the American dream, having fled communism to find success in Paradise, California. It's safe to say that my long lunch with Mike was the most enjoyable and interesting day of the six years I have spent running IntoWine. I interviewed Mike via email in 2007. The interview below is round two, where I get to ask my wish list of questions. Thankfully, Mike obliged.  

Wine to Go Buy This Week - Lilu by Clos DiDi, a Carneros Chardonnay

Clos DidiI recently had the opportunity to try a terrific small-production, Sonoma chardonnay that I highly recommend. Lilu by Clos Didi is liquid gold, the kind of chardonnay that appeals to even those people who don't typically choose chardonnay.

Top 50 California Cabernet Sauvignons to Try Before You Quit Drinking (a non-dump bucket list if you will!)

In putting together a list of the top California Cabernets, there is sure to be some disagreement.  I tried to include those wines that have a track record, the wineries still making great wines, those that seemed to have the commitment for the future and some personal favorites.  I am sure I left some out.

1. Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select – It’s always hard to name the number one wine.  But this has a track record that’s very long.  Even in less than stellar vintages, it is an outstanding wine.  They just don’t seem to make a dud.  My only complaint is the price at over $200 a bottle.  But, in comparison to other Napa Cabs or elsewhere in the world, this is a fair price. 

Top 75 California Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking (a non-dump bucket list if you will!)

In my last article, I listed the Top 75 French Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking.  In this article I look at the “non-dump bucket” list for wines from California.  This proved to be a different task.  First, very few wineries have a long track record of making great wine.  Secondly, while California is diverse, it does not have the diversity of climates and terroir and grape varietals of France.  Still, it does produce some of the best wines in the world and any wine lover should make it a point to try as many of them as they can.  Here is my list:

1. Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – It’s hard to pick the first wine.  This one is a great wine in every vintage and has been for a long time.  Expensive but still possible to afford and made in large enough quantities to be found in grocery stores.  Every lover of Cabernet should try this once.

Q&A with Amelia Ceja, Owner of Ceja Vineyards, Sonoma

In 1999, Amelia Ceja co-founded Ceja Vineyards located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Amelia was named president which made her the first Latina Woman Vintner in California. The Ceja family paved the way not only for Latinos but also for many minority families in the wine industry. Today they produce about 10,000 cases of wine which is distributed throughout the U.S. and hey farm over 100 acres of prime vineyard land. Additionally they have successfully used social media and Amelia has created over 100 video blogs about pairing wine and Mexican food.

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