That's why it's useful to have an occasion like this past weekend's "MoCool" gathering to prompt me to remember rest of the world's wines. Joining with well over 100 fellow online wine enthusiasts who converged on the Ann Arbor and Detroit area in Michigan for a weekend of sharing good wine, good food and good fellowship, we devoted this year's event to the topic "California Dreamin'," focusing entirely on the Golden State's excellent wines.
I didn't come close to tasting all the wines available over the three-day event, but managed to jot down notes on a representative sample of 80 or so, which I've posted to our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forum and also published online in the MoCool archives, along with a few photos. Links to the specific articles are below. First, though, I'd like to wrap up today's report with a few specific thoughts about California wine that occurred to me over the weekend.
They're not all alike. It's a mistake to stereotype California wines (or any region's wines) as if they were all the same. Many California-phobes shun all the state's wine on the basis of the style of some of its "cult" bottlings that attract high rating points (huge, strong, heavily oaked, monolithic) or some of its mass-market producers (soft, flabby, slightly sweet).
It's not all Cabernet. California in general and Napa and Sonoma in particular are so known for their Cabernet Sauvignons that it's easy to forget how many other interesting red wines are made in the Golden State. I spent a lot of time over the weekend happily sampling "Rhone Rangers" based on Syrah and other red Rhone grapes, not to mention California's own Petite Sirah. Ditto for the small but growing niche of "Cal-Ital" reds made from Italian varieties. And then there's Zinfandel ... and Merlot.
(I'm holding this thought, by the way, as I prepare to head over to Australia next month. It's not all Shiraz ... )
It's not all Chardonnay either. The river of mostly bland, fat, sweetish and over-oaked Chardonnay that poured out of California during the '90s was enough to put many wine lovers off the state's whites in general as some of the state's producers started making Sauvignon Blanc and even Viognier in the same blowsy fashion. But times are changing: Not only are there plenty of attractive white alternatives now, from Viognier to Rhone-style white blends, but even many of the state's Chardonnays are moving away from that sweet-butter signature.
It's not all pricey. While California "cult" wines are held up as one example of wines that achieve absurd prices because of demand only loosely related to quality, they're certainly not the only example. The weekend's tastings made it clear that there's plenty of California wine of real value, particularly when you considering wines that aren't expensive but competitive in their quality niche, like the $20ish Maloy O'Neill wines that I feature in today's tasting report.
And just to keep things balanced, a couple of more critical notes:
Only a few age well. Here I may depart from some advocates of long cellaring: In my opinion, many California wines considered ageworthy don't evolve with the same delicacy and grace as comparable French and Italian wines. I find a consistent herbaceous, vegetal "green funk" in many older California Cabernets; and even the few purportedly ageworthy Golden State Chardonnays have tasted weedy and oxidized to me after a decade in the cellar. (One of many delicious exceptions: The modest Cabernets of Louis M. Martini have a record for going on forever - I've tasted vintages from the '60s in recent years that were abolute delights.)
Food-friendliness can be an issue. All wines go with food, and a few of the weekend's matches were stunning. But by and large, the tendency of many Californians toward alcoholic strength and forward fruit makes it more difficult for me to come up with food pairings for some of them that really sing. (That being said, some of the combinations selected by Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon with the Friday dinner at Morels in suburban Detroit were perfect; and the grilled beef and other dishes prepared by volunteer chef Allan Bree at Saturday's picnic found plenty of outstanding wine companions.
WEB LINKS: For an overview of this year's MoCool events (and to sign up for the E-mail list to be notified about future gatherings), visit our MoCool Home Page,
To browse directly to each day's tasting report:
MoCool 2003 Friday Dinner, "Hang Ten with Madeline"
Three from Maloy O'Neill
Along with the big-name producers whose products show up just about everywhere, California is full of small, family-run properties making excellent but little-known wines that are often sold only at the winery - and, increasingly, although hampered by protective state laws, on the Internet.
I'm indebted to Neil Monnens, publisher of the useful Website
Neil was right. These are remarkable wines, big and powerful yet balanced, interesting and very well made ... and priced well below the nosebleed level of much of their competition. The wines are produced in very small quantities and you won't find them easily, but if you're interested, check the winery Website link below for information about purchasing direct.
Maloy O'Neill 2001 Paso Robles Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon ($20)
Maloy O'Neill 2001 Paso Robles Syrah ($20)
Maloy O'Neill 2001 Paso Robles "Gioi" ($24)
WEB LINK: The Maloy O'Neill Website, including online sales, is here:
California Wine Club's International Selections
Life is indeed sweet, and the wines in The California Wine Club's International Selections celebrate its joy! You won't want to miss the Italian duo of wines scheduled to ship on Sept. 17: A stunning 1998 Reserve Chianti from Cantine Gini and a 2000 Rosso Salento from Rocca Mitico. This two pack is $68, which includes all shipping, import charges and an engaging newsletter, Passport.
These wines have been imported directly by California Wine Club and won't be found anywhere else in the U.S.!
The California Wine Club's International Selections only ships quarterly. For more information or to join please call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Going to wine tastings
For this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, we'd like to find out what exactly it takes to lure you from your favorite easy chair to venture out and taste some wine, as we ask, "when will you most likely go out to a wine tasting?" To cast your ballot, you're invited to drop by the Voting Booth,
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
(No edition on Aug. 22, 2003)
Off to MoCool! (Aug. 20, 2003)
Hot vintage: Great vintage? (Aug. 18, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Chilean harvest stew (Aug. 21, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Aug. 25, 2003