Yes, we saved the best for last: California’s two best features are fun in the sun and great wine; it just has to be the Grand Poobah of warm-weather wine producers.
Read Parts I & II. Click on Wine Column under the Local Flavor menu.
The fact that most wines, which show their best when the mercury rises, are grown in cool climates is no problem for the region. Due to coastal influences, there is no shortage of suitably chilly vineyards in the Golden State.
Leading our list in California summer sippers are the sparklers from the north coast appellations starting with Mendocino. From Anderson Valley, we get two excellent examples in Roederer Estate and sister winery Scharffenberger Cellars from whom even their introductory level Bruts are crisp and tasty. Handley Cellars is another gem here and their Rosé — sparkling or still — is especially yummy.
A bit farther north in this rustic wine region and taking a left bend toward the coast lies Mendocino pioneer Navarro Vineyards where you’ll find amazing Gewürztraminers and Rieslings that are at once both rich and fresh and rival the best of those varietals from anywhere.
The Los Carneros AVA is at the southern tip of both Sonoma and Napa Valley and benefits from the cooling fog and wind starting in the Pacific Ocean and winding its way up San Pablo Bay. The soils here also play a role because their good drainage and geological complexity make for excellent bedfellows for sparkling wine grapes.
Indeed the classic Champagne grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, thrive here and are the basis for the offerings of Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer. Both wineries deliver fresh bubblies at a variety of price points. So whether you are looking for values for larger affairs or splurging on a special bottle, these are names to know.
Rolling up through Sonoma to the Russian River Valley we find another exceptional summer wine in the form of one of the world’s great Sauvignon Blanc treasures from Merry Edwards Winery. Grown in soils usually reserved for high-dollar Pinot Noir and featuring an artful use of the tasty, but tricky-to-get-right Musqué clone, this wine is a panoply of stone and orchard fruit flavors held up by a beam of crispness.
Moving down the coast to the Santa Barbara area where counter-intuitively some of the coldest valleys in California are, the Pacific winds and fog deliver just enough chill to allow growers to deliver fruit with bright acids. Look for some of the unique varietals vinted at Palmina Winery such as Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Vert and Vermentino. This region also makes some of the crispest Chardonnays from the cool valleys. Dierberg Vineyard is an all-time favorite and its Chardonnay always brings spicy notes that make it an excellent food match.