California wines (I) - Introduction

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California is the heart of the American wine industry, and the pioneer of the modern viticultural revolution. Being the biggest source of US wines, California produces wines ranging from the “two buck chucks” to top cult reds.

Image: Fog In California Vineyard, photo courtesy of Wine Institute of California

The “wine state” is situated on the southwest shore of the United States. The area of viticulture along the pacific coast is long and narrow, with vineyards showing significantly different climate and soil conditions. The cooling fogs produced by the pacific, in particular, largely influence the viticultural conditions in California.

However, similar to another new world country — Australia, most Californian wines are produced and blended regardless of the AVA (American Viticultural Areas) boundaries, with qualities largely depending on the brand and the producer, rather than the characteristics of individual vineyards. But for small wineries, or in AVAs that are particularly suitable for certain grape varieties or styles, vineyard expression is still honoured.

Thanks to the flexibility of American wine laws and innovative growers, a rich mix of grape varieties can be found in California. It’s worth mentioning that California used to be the only state in the US to produces wines from European wine grapes. Nowadays, except for the almost local Zinfandel grape, international varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominates the better quality wines.

As we mentioned in yesterday’s Tip of the Day, Zinfandel is the specialty grape of California, responsible for wines of various styles. The full-bodied, spicy white wine “Fumé Blanc”, which indicates oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc, also originated from California.

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