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Big California style is here to stay: Oz Clarke

There is no style revolution in California: low acid, velvet tannins and high alcohol is what Americans want from their wine and Californian winemakers will continue to feed that need.

That is the message from Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand, writing in the September issue of Decanter.

There is still a huge American market for ‘big, creamy wines’, Clarke says – ‘once you move away from the wine chatterati’.

And he is echoed by Margaret Rand: ‘Big, rich alcoholic, fruit-bomb wines sell,’ she says, quoting winemaker Robert Foley, who uses the word ‘monstrous’ as a term of approval to describe the mid-palate of one of his wines.

Both Clarke and Rand comment on the nascent movement towards lighter, more elegant, European-style winemaking, as championed by Coppola at Rubicon, Viader, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars or Clos du Val.

But, Rand says, they are a small drop in a big ocean: most winemakers are locked into a style that their audience likes. As Doug Shafer of Shafer says, his customers trust him: ‘They know the style will be the same every year.’

Clarke too talks about producers in a quandary. ‘I heard lots of talk of restraint, but, equally as often people said, ‘Why would we?’

At the same time, he says, the younger generation of winemakers in California are embracing the fuller style. Clarke talks to several ‘young “sons and heirs” of established Napa wine families’ who told him they wanted wines ‘young, high alcohol and full of lush fruit’ – and moreover, they would pay for them.

He concludes: ‘Enjoy Napa’s majestic Cabernets for what they are and accept that they’re here for the duration.’

Read the full article in the September issue of Decanter magazine, out now.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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