Wine experts point to stellar growing season in California

December 23, 2023

Best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas!

For those with a few who are tough to gift, a quick trip to Nassau Valley Vineyards would be worthwhile. NVV is the First State’s first winery, established in 1993. Recently I was pleased to learn several of its offerings won medals at the annual Harvest Challenge International Competition in Windsor, Calif. Windsor in Sonoma is home to such bellwethers as Chalk Hill Estate, La Crema, Martinelli and Sonoma-Cutrer. The area north of Santa Rosa is filled with many wonderful small producers as well. Barbara and I have visited the region on several occasions. The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are world class. Winning such events is an accomplishment. Winning in a wine region is more difficult than at big-city events. Generally, panels are better informed. NVV won gold for Meadows Edge, Broadkiln White and Laurels Red, silver for Cape Rosé and Naked Chardonnay, and a bronze for Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery is providing discounts of 10% on six bottles and 15% on cases of 12 for the holiday season. You can sample these prior to purchase in the tasting room. While there, check out the 5-gallery wine museum. Find information at

Keep some powder dry this year. Weather news from some wine countries has been dire. Steven Savage, in a recent Forbes article, claimed that spring hailstorms, heat, drought and disease have reduced wine grape yields; they’re down 14% in Spain, 12% in Italy, 20% in Chile and 25% in Australia. Our West Coast vineyards, particularly California, had the perfect growing season. Growers I trust are saying the best in over two decades. It was the coolest, longest growing season since the 1990s; temperatures were about 300 degree hours behind 2010 lows. A degree hour is an hour above 55 (Fahrenheit). This followed a winter with 141% above annual record rainfall and the deepest snowpack since the early 1980s. It had the salubrious effect of refilling reservoirs and aquifers, thus resolving drought conditions. It also helped run off salt that had accumulated near vine roots due to years of necessary drip irrigation, which brings higher levels of salt and minerals caused by less dilution in storage facilities, ponds and the aquifer. Cool weather delayed veraison (fruit ripening period) about a month by harvest. As longtime readers know, vineyards are site specific, and many factors, known as terroir, are quite important. Lohr in the Central Valley and Duckhorn Napa both claimed their normal Labor Day harvest time was deferred until early October. Slower ripening and longer hang times normally result in lower acidity (pH) and added complexity. When coupled with proper sugar levels, which occurred, the balance is enhanced. Better-developed tannin structures also augment color and flavors. Naturally, it is still too early to sample these unless you can visit the wineries. That said, this confluence of so many disparate positive factors often results in top-flight wine worthy of aging.

Malbec has a long-storied history of not knowing its own name. It is fascinating; see more by searching “US Grapes - Malbec & Cot at FPS (” I am with those who claim Malbec originated in the Lot Valley, Cahors, France, where it was initially known as Cot or Auxerrois. It was propagated until recently as Teinturier (which means dye), a blending wine to provide tannin and inky black color, and the English named the products “the black wines of Lot.” The dark color derives from anthocyanins found in the grapes’ skin. One of these is resveratrol, which has been touted as an antioxidant with implied health benefits. Another varietal that has similar characteristics is named Saperavi, from Georgia, near Russia, and its name also translates as dye. It is known to be over 6,000 years old. Fans were few until Malbec found new homes in Argentina and Chile. Domaine Bousquet has made a splash with its Ameri Single Vineyard Red blend 2019, 93 points, $30. The 2020, 92 pts., can be found at $36, and 2021, 93 pts., no prices yet. It was recommended as “ideal now with a stew of bacon and lentils” by Patricio Tapia. Tim Atkins rated it 94 pts. Ameri Organic Malbec Gualtallary 2020 needs some time but has potential. At 100% Malbec, its drinkability surprised me. It is a very dark, violet-colored wine showing floral nose and smooth palate with slightly elevated tannins. Dark fruit flavors are balanced by proper acidity lift, providing a clean finish, 91 McD at $36.


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