Sunshine in a Box: 12 Bottles of California Wine to Chase Away The Winter Blues

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

With winter still dragging its heels a bit, I thought that it would be nice to open a big box of sunshine. With that in mind I have put together a mixed case of sunny California wine. This mixed case should serve to highlight both the diversity of wine regions within California as well as the multitude different grapes grown.

I have posted about California wine a number of times before, so I won’t linger on too many of the details. Suffice to say, California is responsible for about 90% of the wine produced in the United States. If California were a country it would be the fourth largest wine producing country in the world after France, Italy and Spain.

Overall California is a warm, sunny state, but with its extensive coastline, proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and its numerous mountain ranges, climatic moderating influences abound. For lots more detail you might like to read some of my earlier California wine posts here and here.

In putting together this mixed case of ‘sunshine’ I decided not to choose wines much below $20/bottle, as below that, it really is hard to taste any regionality. The whole point of having this ‘go-to’ case of wine is to have yourself a little self-guided tour of California’s many and diverse wine-growing regions; from the warmer valley floors to the cool mountain sides and from the warmer inland sites to the cooler Pacific ocean influenced sites, the styles of wine produced differ greatly.

Limited to just 12 bottles, I have not fully done justice to what is available throughout California, but hopefully it will serve as a teaser, and encourage our wine loving readers to go explore for themselves. Enjoy and have fun!

Suggested White Wines
  • 2011 Gary Farrell Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, $25 – This is a first time offering from Gary Farrell. Citrussy, grassy, this wine is all about an expression of crisp refreshment from Sonoma’s cool Russian River Valley – my style of Sauvignon Blanc.
  • 2011 Lost Canyon Chardonnay, Russian River Valley Ruxton Vineyard, $35 – Another ‘cooler’ climate wine, the Russian Rover Valley is one of the top areas to seek out rich, yet well structured Chardonnay wines with crisp acidity.
  • 2011 Wild Horse Verdelho, Paso Robles, $22 – Verdelho, a more unusual variety, well suited to warmer climates (think of the island of Madeira). Verdelho has excellent acidity and so thrives here in Paso Robles (though not that much is grown). Wild Horse makes this excellent, fruity, aromatic varietal Verdelho.
  • 2010 Mount Eden Chardonnay, Wolff Vineyard, $Santa Cruz, $22 – I appreciate that this is my second Chardonnay in the case – well, deservedly so too. After all, Chardonnay is still the country’s best selling varietal wine. This example from Mount Eden is another example of a perfect combination of fruit ripeness and crisp refreshing acidity.
  • 2010 Tablas Creek “Côtes de Tablas Blanc” White Rhône Blend, Paso Robles, $25 – Still down in Paso Robles, here we have a wonderful southern Rhône style white blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne – grape varieties perfectly suited to Paso’s warm climate. It has a lovely complexity of aromas, stone fruit, tropical fruit, spice and dried herbs.
  • 2011 Tangent Albariño, Edna Valley, $17 – To most people Albariño means Galicia in northern Spain. Well, Albariño has spread its wings. Tangent is by far my favorite California producer of this wonderful grape variety. Crisp, aromatic and packed with bright citrus and stone fruit flavors.
Suggested Red Wines
  • 2010 Round Pond, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $30 – A post on California would not be ‘right’ without the inclusion of Napa Valley, where the wines do not come cheap! But I think that this example from Round Pond Estate more than delivers for its $30 price tag. Well structured, rich, but fresh and not overly opulent and packed with plenty of ripe fruit flavors.
  • 2010 Beckmen Vineyards, Cuvée Le Bec – Santa Barbara, $19 – Oh I do so love blends. Here we have a delicious Rhône Valley style blend of predominantly Syrah plus additions of Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Counoise – varieties that thrive in the warmer parts of Santa Barbara. It is delicious, fresh and packed with bright ripe fruit with lovely layers of spice and dried herbs.
  • 2010 David Bruce Petite Sirah, Central Coast, $19 – Not to be confused with Syrah, the grape variety Petite Sirah (known as Durif in France, where it originated) has a particular almost ‘cult’-following in California. It likes warm sites and plenty of sunshine, which it certainly gets down in the Central Coast. If you are not yet familiar with Petit Sirah, now is your chance to give it a try with this quite delicious example from David Bruce.
  • 2011 Dashe “Les Enfants Terribles” Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $25 – If Napa valley is sacred on any California wine listing, then so too is Zinfandel. I am a big fan of Dashe wines and love all their Zin wines. This Enfants Terribles is no exception. Fruity, spicy, juicy – overall a deliciously flavorful wine and not in any way the heavy, alcoholic style.
  • 2010 Patz and Hall, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $22 – Longtime readers of the Kitchn will know that I am a big Patz & Hall fan. While they specialize in single vineyard wines, I am pretty partial to this wine, the Sonoma Coast blend, for which the fruit comes from a number of different Pinot Noir vineyards. I like it for its elegant lighter body and its wonderful perfumed nose and vividly fresh and fruity flavors.
  • 2010 Concannon Vineyard Reserve Syrah, Livermore Valley $25 – Syrah in California has many identities from the cooler climate to the warmer climate identities. I especially like this warmer climate example from Livermore Valley. This is a rich, full-bodied, flavorful Syrah, packed with dark fruit flavors and spicy notes. Incidentally, Concannon founded back in 1883 is one of the oldest operating wineries in the United States – and the first to be established by an Irish emigrant.

I would love to hear from readers on their favorite wines to create a case of California sunshine.

Enjoy sunny California in a bottle!

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.

Images: Courtesy of Wine Institute, California