The United States has become the largest consumer of wine in the world. With a population of more than 300 million, even a modest per capita rate of wine consumption and personal wealth makes this possible.
China will likely surpass the United States in due course, but for now, selling wine to Americans is an important export market for many countries.
Those imports satisfy about one third of the demand for wine in the States. The remainder of the demand is met by its own wine industry. California is the source of 90 per cent of United States wine production. Oregon, Washington State, New York, Virginia and Texas contribute a few percentage points each, and there is wine being produced in every state, but California is the main supplier.
Most of us have been exposed to wines from California, and to the names of wine-producing regions such as Napa and Sonoma. Not all of those wine experiences have been wonderful.
The place has been as guilty as anywhere of producing thin, weak and boring wine beverages with cheap price being their only advantage. Other wines, both red and white, have suffered from the overly enthusiastic application of oak, to the point that wood flavours covered up everything else in the taste and aroma of the wine.
On the other side of the issue, there are many marvellous wines made in California, although they sometimes can be pricey. Some small, top-quality producers are making “cult” wines which get very high ratings from the critics, and command significant prices. (I have recently been lucky enough to get a taste of a few of these top-notch wines, and they live up to their reputations!)
There are also some distinctively Californian wines such as zinfandel and “Cal Cab” (Californian Cabernet Sauvignon).
Are there good wines from California that we can afford for regular consumption (an issue not helped by the usual value of the Canadian dollar versus the American)?
I was more than pleasantly surprised to get a positive answer to that question when I recently tasted two new listings at the NLC. The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2010 ($20.47) is produced in the Central Coast area where it is indicated that cool overnight and morning fogs help moderate the otherwise intense summer heat. The aroma is attractively citrus augmented with a not-too-heavy use of oak. I would describe the combination as akin to lemon crème crackers. The taste was mouth-filling, lively with good acidity, and of moderate length. Score: 15, Rating: Very Good.
The Dreaming Tree Red Crush 2010 ($20.47) is from the North Coast where a cool but lengthy growing season in 2010 has apparently allowed extra time for flavour development. The Crush is a multi-varietal blend with Merlot the chief component. My first impression of the aroma was sweet, jammy fruit, such as raspberry. But there is more to this wine than just fruit. Some oak aging has added complexity, and touches of vanilla and smoke. Good acidity kept the wine interesting, and the tannins were soft and smooth. Score: 15, Rating: Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org