Decanter: California momentum lies in marginal varieties

  • Monday 9 May 2011

The vibrant heart of California winemaking lies in the marginal varietals like Grenache, Albariño – and Chardonnay.

Bonny Doon albarino

Albariño: 'thriving''

Writing in the June issue of Decanter magazine, US wine critic Jon Bonné says the ‘real momentum’ in California comes from smaller wineries.

‘The state’s established labels (often now owned by corporate interests) aren’t going anywhere’, he says.

Bonné, wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, says there is a ‘major change afoot in California, with new and more subtle styles of wine, typically made by small producers and younger winemakers, frequently after time spent apprenticing in Europe.’

These new producers are working with Grenache – ‘suddenly a serious contender’, Carignan – ‘an affordable staple’, Albariño – ‘actually thrives here’, Marsanne/Roussanne – ‘an opulent alternative to Chardonnay’, and other more esoteric varieties.

Bonné also makes the case for a Chardonnay revival, which has suffered over the years ‘amid oceans of godawful winemaking’.

‘There is a beautiful new diversity of Chardonnay styles emerging, with generally lower alcohols and far more nuance.’

At the same time, grapes that seemed once to be the new hope for California are becoming stagnant…

The future of Syrah, Bonné says, is in doubt, as is that of Viognier, ‘once considered the next Chardonnay’. Zinfandel and Pinot come in for criticism, the former suffering from ‘too much cheap oak and high alcohol levels’, the latter ‘ill-defined’.

The result is a classic conflict, the old guard ‘colliding’ with the innovators. California, the writer concludes, ‘is at a crossroads’.

The June issue of Decanter magazine is out now


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