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What type of red wine do I like?

"If that weren't enough, there are so many links to the Top 100 from *this* magazine* or *that* magazine, to "100-point wines" and so much else that turns me off . . . . yuck -- based on the website alone, I'd never set foot in that store!"

Yeah, that explains a lot! I hadn't gone to their web-site before but it is pretty gross. Last time I went in there the guy who worked there kept telling how many "points" this wine had and that wine had, I finally said "Do you have any wines that Robert Parker didn't like because I don't think I have a lot in common with him". It was meant as a joke but they guy acted really shocked, like I was asking a priest for literature on satanism or something!

I'm still new to the area, and I also give people and stores the benefit of the doubt beyond what is probably reasonable sometimes. I need to find some better wines stores, I think! K and L has been reasonable, though the one I go to in Redwood City has very few CA wines and a lot of Bordeaux.

Dec 30, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

">>> "Napa/Sonoma/Lake/Amador/Paso/Monterey/Santa Maria/Santa Ynez AVA " is a bit too general for me to go to the wine store with. :) <<<
Well, no offense, but anyone who walks into a wine shop and asks for wine that way should be shot! ;^) This isn't Europe, and people don't go into wine stores and say "I want a bottle of 'Napa'." They might say "I want a bottle of Napa CABERNET," but not "Napa" by itself."

Yeah, I was saying this to see if Maria was actually going to give me some suggestions other than "all wine in California", it was kind of a joke on my part, reducio ad absurdam.

">>> I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. <<<
Where (and when) were you making wine, if I may ask? I'm not asking you for the specific winery necessarily; if you don't want to name it, that's fine. But I'd love to know when you were making wine and in what part of state. It will be of great help to me in understanding where you are "coming from," to coin a phrase. ;^)"

I'm, NOT a wine maker from California, I just moved here a year and a half ago from New York. I had a great trip to Napa about 20 years ago where I went wine tasting for a week in March. I remember loving a lot of the wines, and not getting the impression that they were oak-dominated. That's what I was trying to find again now that I moved here.

I made wine in the Finger Lakes, a region that is very different from CA, and more like Alsace and Germany in the wines we make there. I was in a PhD program at Cornell when I discovered the wines there and took some courses in their wine program. I made wine for about 10 years.

This is partially why I have been frustrated with the wine "scene" here -I knew the Finger Lakes wines very well, their strengths and limitations, and when people asked for suggestions I could point them to specific wines (this year, this winery, etc.) and say I think you will like this. Or I could say (as I often did to Californians who visited) "That's not a kind of wine you will find in the Finger Lakes, that's a wine you will find in California or Australia or Chile". These limitations were NOT due to the winemakers use of things like oak, but to limitations due to climate. To ask for a wine that tastes like it comes from a different climate region *actually* is absurd, because it's not possible, it's outside the winemaker and winegrower's power. To ask for a wine that has been made with or without a specific wine making treatment (such as new oak) is NOT absurd, it is completely possible and within the winemaker's power. For example, if I go to the Finger Lakes and ask for a Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir (those are two prominent grapes there) with new oak treatment folks will point me to one. If I ask about old or used oak aged wines, with the aging characteristics or oak but not the taste and smell of new oak, then I will get shown examples of those. Same with wines that are not aged in oak barrels at all. The same is true of Chianti (though the Chiantis aged in new oak are really just for export to the US) and other wines regions such as Bordeaux as well. I hold open the possibility that the style of wine I like is just not made in California, in the way that an Alsatian Riesling aged in new oak is simply not made (or incredibly rare). In this case I would expect Maria or Jason or other experts in CA wine to say: the wine you are looking for doesn't exist, it's just not made here. That's fine! I believe you.

Please don't respond with "if you're looking for a CA wine that tastes like a Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc you won't find it"! That's definitely not what I'm asking-you can see my winemaking experience isn't going to help telling you where I'm coming from in this case, unfortunately, it's way too different :)

You and Robert have given me a nice list of CA wines that I can try. I actually visited Yorkville Cellars (kind of by accident on my way to Mendocino for vacation) and their wines were definitely not heavily oaked, though a few were on the edge. What a cool place too, it's a nice one to visit since sheep figure prominently in their approach to wine growing, for some reason.

I'm also intrigued by the Ahlgren Winery you mentioned, I may try to visit it if possible today, since it's not far from here. They have a list of their library wines and it's like an history of winemaking in California. They have Cabs from 30 years ago with 12% alcohol and some with less!! I think Cabs harvested at 21-23 brix are pretty much extinct in CA now. Looks like a really cool place and thanks for pointing me to this, it's the kind of thing I'm looking for.

-Aaron

Dec 30, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

"It would be interesting to know which shop aaron_l is talking about to do a reality check on their inventory."

It was Artisan Wine Depot, in Mountain View. I sometimes go there because it's close. My favorite wine store in the area is K and L. I'm new to California, as I said.

Dec 30, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

I'm open to finding wines from the state I'm living in that I like, so he region of CA isn't a big deal to me. The varietal itself isn't that important either -the red wines I enjoy now are from many different varietals and are often blends of different varietals (though I realize that's not a California thing). Characteristics I like in a red wine are 1) food friendliness, 2) balance, 3) tannin, but with fruit to balance, 4) structure, tannin-structure or (as in the case of Chianti) acid structure, but something to hold the wine together and keep it from being flat. 5) I like the wine to express the characteristics of the grapes and the region, and not to be manipulated in a way that impacts these qualities, 6) I really don't like the "International Style" of wine from any region, or wines that have been manipulated by consultants to try to increase their Robert Parker score. I've tried these and they are not wines that I tend to like. For non-California examples of red wine styles I really like: Bordeaux, especially St Emillion though I like all sub-regions, Cotes du Rhone (and sub-regions -Gigondas, CdP, Cote Rotie), Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Chianti (including many Classicos but not oaky Riservas designed for US export), Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo della Langhe and other Nebbiolo-based wines from north-east Italy. Wines of the Veneto. Also REALLY love the less well known wines of SW France like Cabardes and Cahors.

Price range up to $50, higher for special occasions, but if there aren't any wines from a region that I like for under $50 then something is wrong...

Thanks for your (forthcoming) guidance!

Dec 30, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

This is bugging me a bit, though I know I shouldn't get into this :)

Why is asking for California wines that aren't heavily oaked absurd? Especially, as you say, that almost none of them are? I didn't ask for no-oak, or even low-oaked, just not heavily oaked. This really isn't too different from what Shokura asked. I think the information you keep repeating isn't answering Shokora's question (or mine either), it just seems to be justifying the status quo of CA wine. I would definitely understand it if you're job precludes you from suggesting wines to try, but then again you could just come out and say this. Telling us the wines you are tasting that fit what we are looking for would be a good way to end the discussion on a happy positive note.

Dec 29, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

Hi Maria, Could you name a few specific wines that I could buy to try out? It's sounds like the trends in CA wine is heading more towards the approach I like. I also know the recession has impacted a lot of wineries' ability to purchase new barrels, and it could be that the wines I'm trying are still the "old-school" heavy oak stuff.

However, "Napa/Sonoma/Lake/Amador/Paso/Monterey/Santa Maria/Santa Ynez AVA " is a bit too general for me to go to the wine store with. :)

Dec 29, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

I definitely don't expect to find a California Cab that tastes like Gigondas -if I want that I would get Gigondas! Even the Grenache in CA tastes very different than Grenache in S. France, naturally.

"Now, if you want to find a California Cabernet that isn't over-oaked"

Yes, that's the right question. I also suspect that you are correct in that the current fashion in CA wines for very, very ripe grapes (often over 26 brix) and fruitiness just doesn't go well with oak and it comes off as over-oaked, this makes a lot of sense and also helps explain why CA Cabs didn't seem over-oaked 20 years ago.

I'm a fan of Ridge and in their "club" (which just means you give them money and they send you wine every month:) and even though they use American white oak I rarely think their wine is too oaky. I love the Estate Cabernet Sauvigon you mention -though it's hard to find outside the winery.

Thanks for the suggestion, I'll give the Alhgren Bates a try this weekend. I think I may be in agreement with you and Robert about wines from Europe being much better values and more enjoyable for me, but I like to keep an open mind and expand my horizons a bit. I lived in France 25 years ago and started seriously drinking wine there, and that has colored my appreciation and understanding a bit.

Dec 29, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

I hear you (all), can you point me to an example I can buy? I understand it might mean an older wine into which the oak has dissipated, but I have friends from back east coming over for New Years, and I want to show that what California, my new home, can offer. Right now I'm drinking a beautiful Gigondas, that at $30 was cheaper than most of the CA Cabs I've been trying out, but so delicious. There has to be something like this in CA that really tastes like CA and not like the guy who made the wine and his barrels!

Dec 28, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

I live in the Bay Area as well. What you're saying doesn't fit in with what I'm experiencing at all. I went into the local wineshop, which specializes in Napa and Sonoma Cabernets, and asked them if they could point me to some decent California reds that weren't heavily oaked and they kind of laughed and said "I know what you mean, but you're going to have trouble finding it." The woman who was helping me pointed me to a few options and I bought two of them. The first one I tried a few days ago was disappointing, oaky and not much else. I haven't opened the other yet. They tried to steer me to Bordeaux, but it's easy to find Bordeaux that I like and I wanted something from around here. Maria, do you have some suggestions I should try out? That would be great since I had kind of given up hope!

Dec 28, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

One factor to consider is that new oak barrels are currently also paired with other treatments that flavor the wine with oak. There is a whole industry devoted to new products that impact oakiness, originally through powder and chips, and more recently through cubes, pellets and staves. In the past, oakiness that was derived from anything other than barrel aging was solely the domain of inexpensive wines. In the past ten years major, expensive wineries have started regularly using these products and I believe they are commonplace in most wineries, even boutique wineries. For me, this is why it's so difficult to tell whether a wine will be oaky or not based on the description. I've found that some wines with significant barrel aging in new oak aren't overpowered by oak, while another wine with the same wine and barrel profile is really oaky. This is because wine makers will gladly tell you about barrel treatment but are almost never going to mention the oak powder that when in after crush to ferment with the grapes, and the oak cubes that went into the barrel with the wine as it aged. Bonny Doon does disclose this, and you can see from there website how common non-barrel oak is, and this from the winery that prides itself on minimal intervention and manipulation in the wine-making process. European wines are unlikely to do this, since it is probably illegal to do in places like Bordeaux. In short, I think a lot of the excessive oakiness in CA red wines today comes from sources other than new oak barrels, but we won't know for sure until wineries start labeling their wines with ingredients like Bonny Doon and (more recently) Ridge do.

Dec 28, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

Glad to find a kindred spirit, I'm a former winemaker from before oak really took over California so completely. Back then it really was the case that oak was NOT a spice, and if the oak characteristics were prominent in a wine (other than very young wines that were meant to be aged several years before they were opened) it was a real flaw, a screw-up on the winemaker's part. For whatever reason American winemakers and brewers like to take things to the extreme. For brewers, this happened with hops and with wine it happened with oak and ripeness.

As a winemaker, I can understand why oak has become such a part of red wine, for the same reasons that it became so prominent in Chardonnay -it has characteristics that cover up so many flaws in wine. It adds a strong vanilla aroma that masks any off-smells of herbaceous/vegetal aromas, it adds sweetness and body to a thin wine, it softens tannins in a young wine and adds soft tannins to wines laking structure. The sweetness and vanilla aromas of oak are super-appealing to people who don't drink much wine or who are just starting out. It's also a traditional thing to age wine in, so all this was much more socially-acceptable than if winemakers just added sugar, vanilla and other "spices" to the wine directly.

I think all this is fine, it's a tool to help wine and people are going to use it. What I really don't like is that while "oak-as-a-spice" can prop up a poor wine, when used as a "spice" in a good or great wine it comes with a heavy cost. All that added aroma and flavor covers up the delicate, ephemeral nuances that separate great wines from ordinary wine, good years from bad years, and even blurs the differences between regions and grape varieties. Furthermore, any jerk with money can buy Allier oak barrels. This is great for winery economics, but I think it's a real devil's bargain for prestigious wineries with great wines to use oak in this way. Unfortunately in the past few years it's tough to find even expensive California wines that don't taste and smell like oak, to the extent that young wine drinkers equate California red wine with oak.

As with everything else there will probably be a backlash, and a few years later people will "discover" unoaked red wine, just like unoaked chardonnay. :)

Dec 28, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

Wow, that's new to me, I guess the only ones I've had recently were the Contra and the Cigare Volant (in Demi-Muids, which I guess will limit it from being too oaky due to the large size). Their philosophy seems to be limited manipulation, so it's too bad they are over-oaking.

Robert, do you have any recommendation for California wines that aren't oaky? I REALLY don't like the taste of new oak and it keeps me from drinking California wine (even though I live here in CA I drink mostly wine from Europe). I'd love to have an alternate that's reasonably local, if you have any suggestions.

Dec 27, 2012
aaron_l in Wine

What type of red wine do I like?

One great option from California is Bonny Doon wines -they really don't use much oak and I love their wines. A good, reasonably priced wine from the is Contra -it's fruity dense and untainted by sweetness and the gratuitous oakiness that has ruined most California red wines.

Outside California a good, fruity and rich red wine is lower-end Bordeaux. Chateau de Brandey 2010 is such a wine, 100% merlon, 100% stainless steel fermentation, Both cost ≈$15.

Dec 27, 2012
aaron_l in Wine