Twenty years ago, I moved from New York City to the Napa Valley, in the sheer belief that living near vines would make me a better wine writer, and would touch my heart in ways imaginable and not. And I think it has. When I arrived, I had only a passing knowledge of Californian wines. California seemed a kind of wine Camelot – a place of awesome beauty and high ideals. But to me, the wines were a mystery. For my part, I loved Sancerre and Mosel Rieslings; I craved old Rioja; for me back then, nothing supplanted great Bordeaux.
Slowly, through immersion and maybe osmosis, I’ve come to know California during what has been the most exciting and innovative period in its two-century history. The wines that follow are not the California wines any of us first knew when California began to emerge on the world stage. California has grown up. There’s still a little Beyoncé in her step, but her inner Grace Kelly has started to be revealed. Here are 10 California wines I find fascinating. They come from all over the state, from appellations both well known and yet to be known. When each of these wines was first made, it charted
new stylistic territory. Since then, in quality and complexity, each has continued to raise California’s bar.
All of these wines have been singled out in the new, second edition of The Wine Bible.
The Ojai Vineyard, Solomon Hills Vineyard Syrah 2013
I’m not sure how a wine can take on the character of a psychological thriller, but this one has. The ‘unhinged’ – almost savage – energy of flavours in Ojai’s (pronounced ‘oh-hi’) Syrah is mesmerising: cedar, incense, spice and a deep, rich, red meatiness, like an oxtail stew that has simmered for hours. But as primordial as the aromas and flavours are, it’s the choreography – the way this wine dances and moves on the palate – that leaves you most impressed. Among wine industry insiders, Adam Tolmach, the owner and winemaker of the tiny Ojai Vineyard, is considered to be one of the best (if unsung) winemakers in California, and he certainly does have a flair for complex Syrah.
95 – Karen MacNeil – Decanter