The Best California Wines to Buy Right Now
With more time spent at home, what's stopping you from having wine with lunch every day, or as warmer weather comes, enjoying a new ritual of happy hour on the deck? (Because coronavirus Zoom Happy Hours are definitely a thing.) So in light of our new drinking habits, we asked Jill Bernheimer, owner of Domaine LA in Hollywood, which California wines we should buy now. The answer? Look to micro-winemakers.
The reasons are two-fold: Firstly, these dedicated men and women lovingly hand-craft fewer than 10,000 cases of wine a year, spending more time and effort on creating a quality product than any big corporation. Secondly, these primarily younger winemakers typically lease vineyards and buy fruit—they don't own the land like more established brands. And they usually rely on restaurants for distribution but because these eateries aren't operating, they need the cash flow from their already released wines to help them make it through the next vintage (because without the cashflow from restaurant sales, they won't have the financial ability to access their raw materials). “It's very important that we buy from these wineries, either directly or through retail,’’ Bernheimer urges. Here's a look at some bottles she thinks are worth seeking out and stocking up on right now. Note: These wines are available from the makers listed below, or via phone or email at Domaine LA (323-932-0280 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Chad Hinds is working in Shasta County and focusing on Alpine grape varieties. His Iruai Red and White are vibrant, soulful wines that are precise and balanced. And at $26 a bottle, Bernheimer says they pack immense value.
Martha Stoumen Winery
Martha worked as Chris Brockway's assistant at Broc Cellars, where wines are made using spontaneous fermentation, a process that utilizes only native yeasts and bacteria that exist on the grapes in order to make wine. She also staged her wines in Italy before venturing out on her own. Her Post-Flirtation Red and White wines have just been released and show off a side of California grapes, such as Zinfandel, that's unexpectedly zippy.
Monte Rio Cellars
From former New York sommelier Patrick Cappiello comes Monte Rio, focusing on older vine sites and grapes of yesteryear. His red made from Mission grapes is light yet highly structured and delicious slightly chilled for an afternoon aperitivo as we head into the warmer months, but can just as easily hold up to a steak. Rubired is a hybrid of the vinifera variety Tinto Cão and Alicante Ganzin, created by Dr. Harold Olmo in 1958. Cappiello discovered this vineyard, in the Central Valley, after several years of searching for a vineyard owner that would allow them to send in a team to hand harvest (this grape is almost always machine harvested and de-stemmed). Whole clusters are brought to the winery and put into a concrete tank where carbonic fermentation occurs for nine days, before the wine is pressed and transferred to a stainless tank until it's ready to be bottled.
From the Central Coast, Cameron and Marlen Porter share a love of music and wine, which is what led them to this project. Each of their wines is an attempt to "amplify" the voice of the vineyard site where the grapes come from. Their Mixtape White is a blend of macerated Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer with beautiful aromatics. Enjoy it with seafood or a light pasta.
An unsung hero of California wine, Megan Bell focuses on marginal vineyard sites and grapes that have been forgotten about. According to Bernheimer, "her Chenin Blancs are truly a revelation." Whether it's her direct press bottle that is literally mouthwatering or her skin-fermented version that's textured and tropical, each bottle Megan crafts is filled with personality.