"Are California Wines Too Expensive"


We believe that California wines are getting a bad rap from many consumers, personal friends included, who believe that wine prices are outrageously high. Which in fact is simply not true.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One the publicity when a wine auction is held and big prices are bid for certain wines. The second reason is the price of wine in restaurants, especially when sold by the glass. One friend wants to know why his wife's glass of chardonnay is often two dollars more than his scotch and water.

Our rebuttal about high prices starts here with a whole list of fine wines all priced in the $10 or below range. Both Kendall-Jackson and Trinchero Family Estates have introduced brands in a choice of varietals in this price range.

Kendall-Jackson has Camelot which now includes six varietals--chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and sauvignon blanc. Winemaker is Mike Leven and from his base in Monterey Camelot wines use grapes from almost every region of the state.

We recently tasted the 1999 Camelot chardonnay and found it light in aroma and taste and full of natural fruit flavors. Excellent either with food or as a cocktail wine. Trinchero Family Estates has also introduced a new line of wines called Trinity Oaks. Under this label, again selling in the $10 range are four varietals--chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel.

We immediately had to sample the 1999 Zinfandel, always one of our favorite varietals. We liked this wine for its rich flavors immediately apparent in the aroma. A pleasant food wine ready to be enjoyed with almost any hearty entree.

Next we tried the 1998 Trinity Oaks Merlot. Grapes for this vintage came from the Central Coast and the Lodi region. Again the winemakers, Ric Oberschulte and Glenn Ardrade, have reached out for grapes from almost every California region in making their wines. Mild, mellow, smooth are words to describe this Merlot.

Geyser Peak has been a leader in producing very good wines in this price category, especially some of the whites, like sauvignon blanc and Riesling. In the 2000 Geyser Peak Riesling they have done it again. This is a great picnic wine, light in alcohol in the German style, but full of flavors, soft and with a hint of sweetness.

Only slightly higher in price are two new Trinchero releases, the 1999 Family Selection Chardonnay and 1998 Family Selection Cabernet Sauivignon. We were impressed with the Cabernet Sauvignon which was produced from grapes in five top growing regions--Santa Barbara, Lake, Napa, San Luis Obispo and Monterey.

Winemaker Derek Holstein produced this vintage from the Trinchero St. Helena winery and it had two years of American and French oak aging. This is a big, rich cabernet that will continue to improve over the next several years. However we couldn't wait that long to enjoy it.

Some California wines are more expensive and are certainly worth the extra money if you truly appreciate what is in your glass. La Crema is a Sonoma winery that was designed and built especially to produce the two great wines of Burgundy.

We recently tasted the 1999 Sonoma Chardonnay. We knew what to expect from Winemaker Jeff Stewart and were not disappointed. A truly superior vintage with intense flavors, hints of oak in the aroma and a finish that lasts and lasts.

The La Crema 1999 Pinot Noir was produced from grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast, a very cool area. Made in the Burgundy style the wine offers rich flavors and will continue to improve with more bottle aging. Both of these vintages are in the $20 range and worth it.

We also tasted recently the Geyser Peak Reserve Chardonnay, again priced at just over $20. The grapes were from Sonoma's Alexander Valley and it was all barrel fermented in French and American oak. Complex and rich and just about as true to the varietal as it can be.

Geyser Peak also released a 1998 Reserve Shiraz with a rather lofty price. This is truly a big wine with alcohol at 14 per cent and a richness and hearty palate not often found in this varietal. Not much was produced but great to put in the cellar if you have one.

Columbia River Valley wines are increasingly in the marketplace and they show very well. Certainly the 1999 Merlot from Sagelands Vineyards. Winemaker Kevin Mott used 6 per cent cabernet sauvignon and one per cent cabernet franc in this vintage which had 12 months in assorted American and French oak. Nice nose, soft palate, lasting finish, what more can we say?

Carmenet Winery, which is situated on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains between Sonoma and Napa Valleys, has launched a label called Dynamite since the vineyards are on steep rocky slopes.

We tasted the 2000 Dynamite Sauvignon Blanc and liked the wine. Ten per cent Semillon was added to the blend which we thought produced an exceptional vintage and reasonably priced as well.

Once we learned where Clarksburg, California was located we settled back to taste the Echelon 2000 vintage of Viognier which was from a single vineyard located there. Even though we have lived in California for most of a lifetime we confess to consulting AutoMap to find Clarksburg.

However we have been converted since we have always thought highly of this French varietal from the Rhone Valley and this is a good vintage indeed.

Full of flavors in both aroma and taste, a treat from the usual white wines we see most. And again with a pleasant price tag.

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Last Update:9/2/01

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