Excellent, Interesting California Red Wines to Gift

Most of us try to watch what we spend on wine and are careful to search out the best values we can for our own consumption. However, there are times when we might want to spend that little extra – when the wine is for a special gift.

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One of the great things about gifting wine is that you really don’t have to spend a fortune to give a special bottle. Of course you can spend a lot if you go for the highly sought after celebrated wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy or California. However there are many ways to find that special bottle (or bottles) for a whole lot less that will be appreciated even more.

With that in mind, this week my focus is on California as a source of interesting wines to gift someone special. I’ve limited myself to a max of $60 per bottle – which might seem a lot, but for a special gift it is really not that much.

Wines not up for consideration included all the big popular brands that populate our grocery stores, because they are too easily available. Similarly I am not including any of the cult Napa wines as many are far too expensive and also it is somewhat of an ‘easy’ option if money is no object.

What I am really looking for are the more artisan, smaller production wines, that probably do not have a nationwide presence, and if they do it is more usually on-premise or through specialist independent retailers. Thanks to the progress made with direct shipping laws, it is now so much easier to have wine shipped from California to most states in the US.

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Already I can hear many of you say, “Well, that is all very fine in theory, but how do I find out about these wineries? And how do I know which one to choose?” This is a very valid question, with no easy answer I’m afraid, which is why I am listing a few of the wonderful producers and wines that I have encountered over the past few years.

Alternatively, you may have visited certain memorable California wineries in the past, or have tasted a special wine that is forever imprinted on your palate. Perhaps you have read an interesting story about a winemaking family that intrigues. Additionally friends may have wine suggestions for you. Finally, given the proliferation of websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages dedicated to wine, it is fairly easy to get background on any wine you might be considering.

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Wines on my ‘Special Gift’ List at the moment include:

2007 Le Cigare Volant, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast , $37 – I have the utmost respect for winemaker Randall Grahm, his wit, his honesty, his somewhat irreverent musings on wine and of course his uncompromising focus on terroir in California. I’ve long been a fan of Le Cigare Volant – a Southern Rhône style blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. What I love about this wine (and in fact all Randall’s wines) is how they beautifully combine ripeness and fruit vibrancy with a strong savory minerality.

2008 Seasmoke Pinot Noir, ‘Southing’, Santa Barbara County, $52 – Everybody loves a Pinot Noir – what’s not to like, with the elegance and smooth silky texture? – and this is no exception. Santa Barbara is quickly carving out a name for itself as an excellent area for Pinot, thanks to the cooling maritime fog that cools the vineyards. All their wines are made from estate fruit. What I particularly love about this wine is its structure and the balance of fruit ripeness and refreshing acidity

2008 Goldeneye Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $55 – Another wonderful Pinot, this time from further up north in Anderson Valley – Goldeneye is part of the famed Duckhorn family of wineries. This wine is made using estate fruit and is wonderfully vibrant, with silky tannins, a taut structure and packed with layer upon layer of flavor that marries ripeness with savory minerality.

2008 La Follette Pinot Noir, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $50 – Here we have another small production winery, dedicated to expressing terroir. Manchester Ridge is a high altitude vineyard at about 2000 feet above sea level. While opulent and rich, the wine has delicious bright fruit and a lovely tight structure and firm backbone that will enable it to age gracefully.

2007 DEWN Bien Nacido Syrah, Bonny Doon Vineyard, $39 – Another great gifting wine from Randall Grahm. The Bien Nacido vineyard is well known for its great Syrah wines. A ripe, earthy, elegant Syrah reminiscent of the best from the Northern Rhône.

2008 Red Car ‘Dreamland, Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, $60 – Still on the Pinot Trail I highly recommend ‘Dreamland’ from Sonoma Coast – another cooler coastal area that is gaining significant recognition for its Pinot Noir wines. While ripe and fairly full-bodied, it manages to retain the elegant perfume of Pinot that we all love. Well structured with silky tannins.

2008 Cobb Pinot Noir ‘Emmaline Ann Vineyard, Sonoma Coast $68 – Okay, so I’ve gone over my $60 budget here, but I felt compelled to include this wine. Another small production family winery dedicated to terroir expression. Elegant, supple, silky, juicy, layers of flavor, deliciously refreshing were all words that I noted when enjoying this wine. Nice tight structure, crisp on the finish and very long.

If our readers are interested ‘Wines to Gift” could become a quarterly post. I would love to hear from you.

Until next week, enjoy.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

Related: Grüner Veltliner: Austria’s Most Popular White Wine

(Images: Mary Gorman)

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.