Tom our wine guy is not a fan of "big" California red wines. He helps us pair wine with our food to enhance the food without ever overpowering. We generally do not use California reds because many are high in alcohol content, lack acidity and can have strong flavors of both vanilla and/or oak. These characteristics do not allow a wine to have a balance between sweetness and acidity which results in overpowering the taste of food.
Tom told me that over the holidays he had three bottles of California red. One of these bottles he really enjoyed. It was a zinfandel from an obscure area in Trinity County, well north of Napa recommended to him by a customer Phil from The Wishing Well in Easton, Maryland. Tom told me this wine had beautiful balance with no discernible excess sugar and some nice acidity. The wine was from R. Merlo Estate Vineyards and he told me he would have consumed the whole bottle had his father not helped him!
The other two wines were not such a pleasure they were big, grapey and sweet syrahs that he did not think would compliment any food. The second two wines had over 16% alcohol content. The high alcohol content is a result of grapes being left on the vine until they are ultra ripe which usually leads to high alcohol and ultimately out of balance wines. Tom's favorite California wines are usually from areas near the cost where fog rolls in at night. This helps cool the vines and helps the grapes develop some acidity as they mature on the vine.
I asked why California winemakers let grapes get so ripe, he explain that it is partially climate and other growing conditions. There is also another factor, the issue of ratings and "points" from critics like Robert Parker. Parker tends to love "big" wines and gives them higher scores. Winemakers know this and many will try to make wines in that style hoping to get such scores for their wines.
As always I appreciated the information I got from Tom and am looking forward to tasting the (Raquillet) Mercurey 1er 'Les Vasees' 2007 that we will be serving with local rockfish at our next Home Restaurant on Friday January 22nd.