Simple Ideas

God is...

Wineries | February 19, 2012

Dead? Ok, not dead exactly. But as far as California wines go, I'd say either hiding or on the lam. Finding God in California used to be a fairly simple prospect. Head up to the Stag's Leap area of the Napa Valley and drink just about anything they were pouring.

Now...well, its not so easy. I'm not ready to declare Napa dead. But it is suffocating under mounds of not smart money. By that I mean folks from outside the state. They can't make anything drinkable in their part of the country, so they show up in CA and throw money at anything that has the cachet. In this case, the reliable Napa Cabs.

Problem is, lots of the current Napa Cabs are simply average wine. Incredibly average for the price. But as long as money is chasing average wine...you'll see more overpriced average wine coming on the market.

And here is where it gets really tricky. Because the best bottle of wine I had last year was from Napa. And the best single taste of wine I had on this trip might be from Napa. It's a tough call on that one.

So how can an area be good and dead? Well here is the deal. They will hit one of ten wines out of park. A real blockbuster that reminds you why you got in this game in the first first place. In 2011 that wine was a 2006 Cliff Lede Howell Mountain Cab. Today the best wine was clearly the Pine Ridge 2008 Fortis.

So what is the problem?

The problem are all the average wines that are hiding behind the blockbusters. Yes, that Howell last year was worth every penny of the 70 or 80 dollar price tag. And the Fortis is close to being worth the 112 a bottle that I get it for at a club discount. But you jump behind those wines and you see 50, 60 and other 70 dollar wines that are at best inoffensive.

That's where the bar seem to have landed for the rest of the line up. Take a chance and really nail one wine, then mollify the throngs of not very bright money with stuff that pairs well, but does nothing memorable. It may be a formula for making moeny, but as for living a life...I'd not encourage it.

Dollar for dollar, I'm finding better wines outside of Napa. Time and time again, it is becoming more apparent. Sure Sideways exploded the Santa Ynez Valley and it is possible that Vertical will do the same for the Williamette Valley. But there are still a lot of exceptional options outside Napa.

Down in the Central coast there is highway 46 in Paso Robles. You hop off the 101 and head west. If you go south, you get some drinkable wines in the 20-30 range at Peachy Canyon and Castoro. No world beaters here, but very drinkable Monday night wines. One the North side of 46, you are clearly moving up. I had four exceptional wines at Summerwood. They seemed to roll the dice. The fifth wine was not me, but it was out there for intensity. They were not going inoffensive. They were making risky wines that may or may not work.

Similar deal at Windward. The first Pinot Noir I had there nearly knocked my socks off, but not in a good way. Very sharp, nearly on fire. But I Iike strong acids and once again I can see that some people would just love this wine. It was another risk wine. The next three they poured were exceptional. The third on the list being one of the most subtle Pinot's I've had of late. I expect I'll pop in there to retaste that as I make my way back south.

Sonoma County is also doing great work. The prices there are right on the money for the quality. They have not hyper-inflated. And occasionally you get the "Whoa what was that?" in your glass. In both a good way and a bad way. But they are also out there on the edge.

I'm still only a few days into this wine trip, but that is how the wine map seems to be shaping up at the moment. I'll get out and beat a few more bushes and see if this trend continues. If It does, I think I see where my wine money will go. I'll still keep a finger on the Napa pulse, just to see what is going on. But in terms of filling up my house with wine...I Think I;ll be looking Sideways from Napa for the near term.


Any Comments?

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