The year’s highlights in wine

By Russ Winton

The 2014 winegrape harvest, despite the drought, put smiles on the faces of growers and vintners across California. According to the USDA Pacific Regional Crop Production Report, California’s winegrape production this year is down 8 percent from 2013’s record crop. However, the 2014 harvest is the third largest on record. Winemakers are calling this vintage “one of the best” with tannins in check and smaller berries, which translates into great balance and intense fruit flavors. Year 2012 was a good vintage; 2013 was excellent; 2014 is being referred to as “exceptional.”

2014 saw red blends become extremely popular and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s their “cool” names like Sultry Red, Uncensored Red, Stark Raving Red, Red Velvet and Big Bad Red. Or maybe it’s the touch of residual sugar left in most blends. Four blends that made our table this year were Hahn’s GSM, Bogle’s Essential Red, Coppola’s Rosso and Concannon’s Crimson and Clover.

Inexpensive bubblies like Italian proseccos and Spanish cavas also have increased sales. Consumers have discovered that bubblies are excellent food wines. I listed some favorites (Nov. 25) and mistakenly mentioned Freixenet Carta Nevada as Freixenet “Carta Blanca.” Oops! I apologize to those readers still looking for “Carta Blanca.” You can find the real Freixenet Carta Nevada cava at Trader Joe’s. It sells for under $7, which is a terrific deal.

Since I’m on the topic of blunders, I recently wrote that Lucca Winery is in Stanislaus County. Wrong. Wine Line reader, Jackie, sent me a very polite email saying “You idiot, Ripon and Lucca Winery are in San Joaquin County.” I fired back saying “I live in Merced County,” thinking that was a good excuse. Wrong again. I apologize. Thanks, Jackie.

After a wait of seven years, the federal government finally approved Paso Robles’ request to split into 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Paso Robles was the largest single AVA with 614,000 acres. By contrast, Napa Valley has 16 AVAs with just 225,000 acres. Paso’s new 11 AVAs will allow their 300 or so wineries to promote the distinct microclimates, soils and growing conditions that make each unique. More details at:

My favorite wine is usually “the one that’s open.” My favorite white wines this year were: Landmark Overlook Chardonnay, McManis Viognier, Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc and Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling. My favorite reds were: Columbia Winery Cabernet, J. Lohr Estate Merlot, Bogle Pinot Noir, Morgan G17 Syrah, Coppola Black Diamond Claret, Sobon Old Vine Zinfandel, Boeger El Dorado Barbera, Tres Picos Garnacha and J. Lohr Paso Robles Grenache Rose. Thanks for reading. Have a great 2015.

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