California offers many incredible wine regions specializing in everything from Bordeaux and Burgundian varieties to great Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Rhone-styles. Here are some favorite premium wines found throughout the state. (Some selections were sent for editorial consideration.)
Ideal for hearty winter pairings, the Lodi AVA produces spicy old-vine Zinfandel, concentrated Bordeaux-style wines and lively Rhone-style reds and whites—many from organically or sustainably farmed vineyards. The Lange family were farmers in the late 1800s in Lodi, and then became grape-growers in 1916, and eventually, fifth generation twin brothers, Randy and Brad, became winemakers. They started Lang Twins Winery in 2006. Complex Lange Twins Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) reveals this with their black fruit, spice, and espresso filled wine. Focusing on quality with affordability, McManis Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) reveals coffee, mocha, and blackberry, with wallet-friendly approachability. Plungerhead Lodi Petit Sirah ($14) with a touch of Tempranillo, Merlot, and Zinfandel, layers blue fruit with vanilla, cedar, and sandalwood.
The Santa Barbara County AVA, and sub-regions like Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, benefit from cool coastal breezes, ensuring wines deliver vibrancy in everything from Syrah to Pinot Noir to luscious Cabernet Sauvignon. Dierberg Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon, is balanced and complex, without the weight sometimes felt with Cabernet. Qupe founder and winemaker, Bob Lindquist, began his Santa Barbara Winery in 1982 focusing on two varieties that thrive in cool-climates, Syrah and Chardonnay, sourcing fruit from premium vineyards, like the region’s Bien Nacido. A 15-acre lot is specifically farmed for Qupe to create their Y Block Chardonnay ($22.) A well-rounded wine layering apple, stony minerality, and fresh cream.
Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($25,) from Santa Maria Valley, reveals brilliant acidity, thanks to cool, fog-filled mornings, with bing cherry, cranberry, and sweet spice aromas. Celebrating the terroir of their Santa Rita Hills AVA estate has long been the focus for Sea Smoke, moving to become completely organic and biodynamic in recent years. Textured, highly structured Sea Smoke “Southing” Pinot Noir ($64) melds wild rose, boysenberry, and plum with a gorgeous palate that lingers long after the glass is finished. Though Napa-based, Migration sources quality fruit from throughout California, including Sta. Rita Hills’ Drum Canyon Vineyard for their wildflower, wild herb, and spice filled Drum Canyon Pinot Noir ($68.)
With a hands-off approach, Wrath Wines EX Pinot Noir ($29) from their certified sustainably grown Monterey AVA San Saba Vineyard, allows the terroir to shine through their expressive wine. Sustainably-grown, red fruit-forward Benziger Monterey Pinot Noir ($20), melds soft tannins with freshness. J. Lohr Monterey County Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir ($17) delivers strawberry, cherry and milk chocolate from Dijon and Pommard clones in Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands.
In 2014 the Paso Robles AVA was divided into 11 sub-AVAs, as the 40,000 vineyard acres in San Louis Obispo County grows a little bit of everything, but not everything can grow everywhere. The division helps define differences in soils, elevations, sun exposure, defining the area’s wines. Rhone varieties excel in the western, hilly parts of the AVA near the Pacific, including the Templeton Gap and Willow Creek, home of Epoch Wines. Epoch Authenticity ($80,) layers spicy Syrah with a touch of bold Mourvedre for a robust, yet refined wine. Since their 1981 start, Justin Winery’s focus has been Bordeaux varieties, as their 160-acre founder’s vineyard has similar terroir to Left Bank Bordeaux wines, as revealed in their flagship Justification ($72) blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
California has been hit by devastating wildfires this year and last, including new AVA, Malibu Coast. Malibu’s Woolsey fire burned 100,000 acres, completely destroying vineyards and structures in minutes. Supporting these hard-hit regions by sipping California wine is an easy way to assist in their rebuilding efforts.