Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine critic, wrote an article celebrating 10 hand-picked, up-and-coming wine producers in California. “The polarizing years of California wine are over,” he wrote.
Those of us who live and drink in California have seen the change coming for a while, and embraced it. We're having a great moment in California. He made one important point, though: “A new wave of energetic California winemakers has helped to push stylistic boundaries while bringing more attention to older producers who had been considered behind the times or out of fashion.”
I hadn’t thought about it, but maybe that’s why I chose 90-year-old Mike Grgich’s Fumé Blanc as last week’s Wine of the Week. Here’s a guy who shot to fame in the mid-'70s, and he's gone on to make lean, elegant Chardonnay (and Sauvignon Blanc) at his own winery, Grgich Hills, year after year. But after a while hardly anybody noticed as his consistently excellent winemaking was eclipsed by the big oaky Chardonnays that newbie wine drinkers tend to favor.
Now as newer producers pick up the mantra of low yields, low alcohol and seek to make California wines that are more food-friendly, Grgich is looking like a visionary, when he was really old school all the while.
Asimov's 10 wineries are listed lower in this post. I would have included a few more. Here's a start:
Baker Lane Vineyards for gently spiced, cool-toned Syrah from the Sonoma Coast.
August West Wine for svelte, food-friendly Pinot Noir from the Central Coast and the Russian River Valley.
Sandhi Wines for terroir-driven Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills.
Lioco for Chardonnay full of character, also Pinot Noir and old-vine Carignan.
Failla for soulful renderings of Rhone varietals in California.
Here’s Asimov’s list: Bedrock Wine Company, Birichino, Broc Cellars, La Clarine Farm, Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, Donkey & Goat, Kesner Wines, Martian Ranch and Vineyard, Massican, Matthiasson -- not a “chateau” among them. It’s a terrific selection, but the list could easily have been much larger.
Incidentally, one reason wine drinking is so exciting in Los Angeles is because we are rich in wine shops with a very personal, eclectic and even eccentric stock of wines. Proprietors are passionate about wine, and they’re out there hunting down little known and just emerging wine producers in California and elsewhere. You’re not going to find the wines Asimov pointed out in his article at the supermarket or behemoth wine and spirit retailers.
They’re lurking on the shelves of small, provocative retailers such as Domaine L.A., Venokado, Silverlake Wine, Everson Royce, Mission Wines, Woodland Hills Wine and a host of others too numerous to mention, including some bigger retailers such as Bestwinesonline, Hi-Time Wine Cellars and Wine Exchange.