I originally wrote this post for The San Francisco Wine Trading Company on their blog, "Let's Talk Wine." It is reused here with their permission.
This is the dawn of a new era for California wines. After years of trending in overly oaked Chardonnay and highly extracted Pinot Noir in California, a new ethic has been introduced into winemaking: balance. In the country that invented Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, we have grown accustomed to the predictability of taste—even in our wines—and obvious, uniform and sweet flavors have historically won out over nuance and subtlety. It only makes sense that big, bold, hit-you-over-the-head wines were once in vogue in America. However, much has changed since that era. As Americans are developing a greater conscientiousness around the provenance of food and drink, our palates are evolving, too.
Jon Bonné’s recent book, The New California, is a testament to this shift in taste and discusses how more California producers are aiming for subtlety and a better expression of terroir in their wines. It is not certain if they are hearing the call of the consumer or if they are responding to nuance through the evolution of their own taste buds. But one thing is certain: we have seen the shift here in the store, as an increasing number of customers come to us seeking lower alcohol, more understated wines. As fans of complexity and nuance, we are happy to oblige.
In this same vein, Master Sommelier Rajat “Raj” Parr and restaurateur Michael Mina of RN74 have teamed up with Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards to create the organization, In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB), to open the dialogue with other winemakers. California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers have classically been fixated on Burgundy as the model of poise in both varietals, and they have started a fascinating and exciting conversation for those interested in discovering the true potential of California’s terroirs. Considering every contributing factor in great winemaking, from ancestral farming practices and native yeasts to vine age and balanced acidity levels, they have started a buzz in the winemaker community that stands to transform the face of California wines forever.
Being ardent Europhiles here at the store has certainly given us a taste for elegant and restrained wines, although we have been equally proud California wine lovers as well. Today, it’s exciting to see how the line between Old and New World styles is fading. Many European winemakers are looking for a clean and bright expression of fruit—a notion traditionally associated with the New World. That California is gravitating more towards terroir means that both styles will have finally valued balance. Balance of fruit, aromatics, acidity and tannins. With that balance ultimate comes a greater respect for terroir, allowing the individual charm of each appellation or vineyard to stand in the limelight and enhance our appreciation of its character. We are pleased to witness this evolution of taste and how it is already raising the bar of quality across the board, irrespective of Old or New World associations.