Just Released: California Cabernets and Pinot Noirs

Not all Californian red wines are the same

In spite of the fact that we often have a one-image-fits-all take on California red wines — lots of fruit, lots of alcohol, maybe not enough acidity to be good food wines — it’s an overused mindset that doesn’t do justice to the great variety of flavors and potential pairings these wines have.

Take these four wines as examples:

The 2010 Girasole Mendocino Pinot Noir ($16) is a nice sipping wine — soft and fragrant with the flavors of marinated cherries, not a lot of food-friendly acidity, but nice tangy edges so that it doesn’t come across as too fruity.

By contrast, the 2010 Landmark “Grand Detour” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) is a bigger, more complex wine. It has exotic, dark, juicy cherry flavors with a touch of balsamic and some dried herbs in the finish. Well-balanced and long on the palate, it would go well with darker-flavored sushi and tuna and salmon steaks.

Turning to cabs, the 2009 Frank Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) is ideal for people wanting big California fruit — dark cassis, blueberries — married with creamy oak flavors and raspy tannins. Though it certainly can go to the table, it’s an ideal cocktail-hour wine to sip with something like rich gougeres and roasted nuts.

The 2009 RouteStock “Route 19” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) is a totally different take on cab — brighter, redder cherry flavors with pleasant savory accents of green briers. It would make an excellent all-purpose barbecue wine.