The 2017 by all indications was a success, despite an enigmatic label giving little indication as to its contents or creators. It is a true testament to the power of old vines, maniacally fastidious vineyard and cellar work, Homeric mythology and the evocation of sea monsters. Unlike the 2017, this bottling actually lists the varieties contained therein. The Carignane again comes from the Shinns’ vineyards planted in the 1920s in the Mokelumne River section of Lodi, though the family have been farming this land since 1853. The irony of naming this very civilized wine for a sea monster has not faded. Though ‘tis true that the very sight of young vine, hot climate, over cropped Carignane and Grenache can be enough to require even the most grizzled mariner to change his or her undercrackers, here the deep-rooted, moderate-yielding old ‘uns allow smooth sailing without stalling in the horsey latitudes.As was the case in 2017, all fermentations proceeded without inoculation, and the various components matured in neutral barrels before bottling in June without filtration. All Scylla, no fylla.
California is a winemaking colossus; by itself it is the fourth largest producer in the world. Red wine accounts for 56% of the total by volume, and red grapes 63% of total acres planted. In addition, a number of California red wines are heralded as being among the most prestigious and sought-after wines in the world.
While the state’s incredibly diverse geography, soils and microclimates allow for a wide array of styles, the key factor unifying California red wine is the abundance of sunshine and a long, consistent growing season. This leads to well-developed fruit marked both by impressive ripeness and balancing acidity.
The state’s most famous red wine region, of course, is Napa Valley, where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns as king. But California boasts a wealth of other impressive appellations. The much larger and climatically varied Sonoma County also produces world class California Cabernet, along with wonderful examples of California Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
Fine versions of Cabernet and Zinfandel hail from Paso Robles as well, which is also gaining fame with Rhone varietals like Syrah and Grenache. As for Pinot Noir, terrific examples can be found from AVA’s such as Anderson Valley, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands and Sta. Rita Hills. Wineries in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties are making wonderful Syrahs, and the Sierra Foothill appellations are proving to be an experimental hotbed, with Italian and Spanish varietals employed to great effect.
This of course is a mere sketch. The subject of California red wine is as deep and broad as an ocean, and absolutely a joy to explore!