Just Released: 8 White Wines From California, Some Incomplete

What white wines to look for from the West Coast

There are some very nice wines in the latest white releases from California, but others could use a little more work. Increasingly, I am seeing wines from California — not just in this batch, and not just with whites — that are incomplete or not well-structured.

Winemakers are enamored with showing us "true expressions of the vineyard" and telling us that "wine is made in the vineyard" and that they use "minimal intervention" in the winery. All well and good, but what if the vineyard did not do a very good job that year, as frequently happens?

It’s also trendy to trash the winemaking style fostered by Michel Rolland and other consultants who prefer bolder wines. But, to paraphrase what Rolland once told me, he only performs "tricks" in the winery when he isn’t satisfied with what he couldn’t do in the vineyard.

More California winemakers should take note.

2010 Heritance Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($19). At his new venture, Bernard Portet has crafted a wine of delicate green fruit, good texture, but a somewhat undefined mid-body.

2009 Grgich Hills Napa Valley Chardonnay ($42). A certified biodynamic wine, it has enjoyable flavors of ripe apples with touches of peach and apricot, but it, too, is somewhat flabby in the middle body and could use more finishing bite.

2011 Estancia Unoaked Monterey County Chardonnay ($9). I have no inherent preferences in oaked or un-oaked chard, but this is a very good presentation of the latter. It has a lot of fresh apple fruit that is suitably muted in the finish by mild lactic/cheese flavors — a straightforward food wine.

2010 Cakebread Napa Valley Chardonnay ($42). Creamy with green grape flavors, light tannins, and a pleasant pepperiness in the finish. Just a touch of alcoholic heat, not too much for me but perhaps for those sensitive to it.

2011 Frank Family Napa Valley Chardonnay ($35). Structurally well-defined, with lots of fresh fruits and creaminess and a touch of tannins in the finish.

2011 Franciscan Napa Valley Chardonnay ($18). This is a good roasted-chicken wine, Californian in style with juicy apples, good acidity, and white pepperiness at the end.

2011 Truchard Carneros Roussanne ($21). For me, Roussanne has some trouble standing on its own as an unblended varietal, in the Rhone or in California  but that just could be my taste preferences. Here it comes across as half-riesling, half-chardonnay, very juicy and fragrant and seemingly a bit sweet in the finish.


2011 Estancia California Pinot Grigio ($11). The wine is a straightforward one without a lot of complexity but with good balance and a good mixture of fresh fruit and dried spices flavors.