For bargain wines, bypass Napa and look to other California regions

Pinot Noir grapes ripen at a vineyard overlooking the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

So Wine Spectator has determined there are good value wines made in California in regions other than the Napa Valley. Sorry, but Napa Valley would be the last California wine region I’d expect to supply bargains unless we’re talking Cabernet priced at $50 instead of the $75 the vintner feels is deserved.

Okay, maybe Im being a little unfair.


Of course you have to look to other regions for good value! Wine just costs too much to produce in Napa Valley. And so the venerable wine mag has ventured into Mendocino County, Sonoma County, the Sierra Foothills and closer to home, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County to ferret out “top-notch California wines under $25.” And by top-notch, they mean wines that have scored 85 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale.

In the world of point wines, it’s a very big deal when a bottle that retails for less than $25 comes in with scores in the high 80s or low 90s. Does it have the same quality as a $200 bottle with the same score? It’s supposed to.

Bring a bottle of Domaine de la Terre Rouge Vin Gris D’Amador from the Sierra Foothills (92 points) that costs just $16 to dinner and you have permission to gloat while your fellow wine buff quietly slips his very expensive Bordeaux or California Cabernet back into his wine bag.

The good news is that “Wine Spectator’s Golden State Values” in the April 30th issue now on the newstands is not a small list, pointing out once again that it’s a great time to be a wine drinker. Especially in California.

We’ve been noticing these kinds of wines all along. Here are three of my picks from Wine of the Week which are 1) not from Napa Valley and 2) $25 or under:

2010 Renwood Zinfandel ‘Premier Old Vine’ from Amador County, $17 to $20. These intense, almost syrupy wines aren’t for everyone, but if you love them, you’ll love this example. The 2010 has deep blackberry and bramble flavors, ripe tannins and a velvety mouth feel.

2010 Brassfield Eruption High Valley Red Wine from Lake County, $15 to $20. Here’s the wine to tote to dinner when someone is grilling a rack of humongous beef ribs or some mighty burgers. Eruption is a Lake County red from grapes grown on the slopes of an extinct volcano. Can’t get much more exotic than that, can you?

2009 Dierberg Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley, $25. It’s brilliant as an apéritif but ready to escort grilled swordfish, steamed shellfish or even a chicken fricassee to the table. I might try it with fried chicken or sweetbreads too. And certainly with sushi.

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