A Winemaker’s Favorite Varietals

So many varietals to choose from.  Where does one start?

I first became interested in wine the same way many of you did: through exposure by family and friends.  Those influences started me off on two different paths, cheap Italian wines and first growth French Bordeaux’s. There are so many delicious options for a young wine aficionado, but which way to go?

I started drinking wines back in the 1980s, when good imported wines were very easy to find.  I remember being fond of Pouilly-Fuissés and Chianti Classicos.  I worked as a server in a fine-dining restaurant that specialized in Italian-inspired cuisine. Many great Chiantis, Barolos and Barbarescos were on the wine list.

As I maneuvered through my twenty-somethings and I found myself drawn to life in Northern California, I quickly became entranced with a new (to me) red wine out there:  Zinfandel.  I loved the dense fruit and tannins I found in the Zins of the late 80s and early 90s.  Appreciation for these wines led me to California Cabernets, and I think I might have never looked too much further until my first job at a California winery introduced me to Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir became a focus of my passion for several years, and I completed my first foreign harvest in Burgundy.  There I immersed myself in the many different expressions of this grape from different terroirs.  I still am enamored of Pinot, but I have also found my calling back in California Cabernet.

Mountain Cabernet is something truly extraordinary.  I have the distinct pleasure of working with grapes from several different mountain vineyards and have been enormously satisfied with the way this grape, too, can express the terroir of different sites.

Cabernet is exciting.  It has wonderful fruit expression, phenomenal complexity and to make things challenging, tannins that have to be nurtured and sculpted.  Cabernet can be a monster.  Grown in the wrong places, it will never mature properly.  Over-cropped, it will yield simple, uninteresting, characterless wines.  But from the right site, and properly managed, it will provide a wine of stunning elegance and complexity.  It is one that will pair with the best meats and complex dishes.  I will always be captivated by a great Cabernet.

Hopefully we can discuss more on terroir and expressions of different varietals in later posts.  Cheers!