Wine: September is California Wine Month

This is the fourth consecutive year that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed September as California Wine Month, to highlight and acknowledge the important contribution made by the Californian wine industry to the United States' economy, lifestyle and environment.

California produces 90% of all wine produced in America. As part of Wine Month, California Wine Institute organized the California Wine Rush Grand Tasting in New York on September 10th last week. Media, trade and consumers all made their way throughout the day to Espace, on West 42nd Street to experience the dazzling selection of wines on offer from the Golden State.

According to the California Wine Institute there are over 2600 bonded wineries in California, 4600 grape growers, and wine is produced in 46 of California's 58 counties. California's wine regions span 600 miles of the State's 900 mile length, and span 135 miles east to west from the Pacific Ocean coastline to the Sierra Nevada mountains. This combined with the diversity of soils, topography and micro-climates enables Californian wine producers to grow many different grape varieties, and make an enviable array of wine styles to suit every consumer's palate and budget.

California wine country is broken down into different regions and AVAs. An AVA is the official term for an approved America Viticultural Area. It is somewhat akin to the European Appellation systems such as AOC in France and DOC/DOCG in Italy, except that there are no restrictions on varieties grown, grape growing or wine-making practices. Future posts will cover specific AVAs in more detail.

The event made for a wonderful opportunity to taste a broad range of wines, from well known classics such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, to less typical wines made from Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Riesling, Rousanne and Pinotage.

When many of us think of Californian wine we polarize it as either high-end and expensive, or low end and cheap. While, this division may have had some validity in the past, it is certainly not the case today. Over the course of the afternoon I tasted many wonderful wines for less than $20. The tasting tables were organized by region and by theme. Ten regions were represented, which included Carneros, Lodi, Monterey, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara. There were also cross regional tables that poured value wines at under $15.

One of the things that I noticed across all wines tasted was the absence of overly alcoholic blockbuster styles, that tend to wipe out your taste buds on the first taste. Many wines showed restraint and finesse, inviting a second taste.

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Here are some of the highlights for me at under $20.

2007 Bray Verdelho, Amador County $16 - pleasant lemon and apricot aromas, some floral hints. Light with some notes of dried herbs on the palate.

2006 Michael David Winery - 7 Deadly Zins, Zinfandel, Lodi $17 - Packed with ripe, plummy and brambly fruit. Soft and supple mouth feel, ripe jammy fruit with spicy anise and clove notes.

2007 Parducci Sustainable White Blend $10 - Sold exclusively through Wholefoods Supermarkets. Parducci was the United States' first carbon neutral winery. Amazing wine for the price. Intensely aromatic with peach, apricot, guava and papaya flavors. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Tokai and Viognier.

2006 Stony Hill Vineyard Riesling, Napa Valley $19 - Refined and refreshing, full of lemons and limes with hints of tropical fruit across the palate.

2006 L'Aventure Côte à Côte, Paso Robles $18 - A blend of 40 % Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 30% Syrah from the L'Aventure Estate in Paso. Vibrant and brimming with riupe fruit, blackberry, blueberry, wild strawberries interwoven with spice, tar and smokey notes. Delicious.

2007 Buttonwood Estate Sauvignon Blanc $14 - Brimming with bright fruit. Aromatic with some floral notes. Lovely minerality mingled with gooseberry, grassy flavors.

2007 Zaca Mesa Viognier $18 - Beautiful aromas and flavors of peach and apricot overlaid with honey and dried sage notes. Very long and smooth.

2007 Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc, Sonoma County $15 - Fruity with layers of nectarine, tangerine and lemon peel with some floral notes. Crisp and clean on the palate with tropical fruit and some dried herbs on the finish.

2005 Liberty School Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles $16 - Aromas of blackberry, black cherry, cassis with smokey, 'charry' notes.

2006 Hitching Post 'Santa Rita's Earth' Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills $30 - While over $20, I had to include this wine as it was beautifully refreshing, full of flavor - cherries, spice, earthy notes. Extremely food friendly.

Throughout September, many retailers and restaurants around the country are promoting Californian wines with tastings and special offers. A chance to try the wines, if they are not your usual tipple of choice and find some gems at great prices.

So, until next week, try something different from the sunshine state.

(Images: Vineyard image courtesy of Wine Institute of California)

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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.

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