Wine 3 minutes 26 October 2022

Cellar Secrets: Affordable & Food-Friendly California Wines

Robert Parker Wine Advocate reviewer Erin Brooks' affordable California wines to try this fall

Globally, it’s a tough time for wine. Tariffs, supply chain and labor struggles, and the effects of climate change—devastating hail, frost, wildfires and drought—have only raised wine prices. Fortunately, California still offers an exceptional range of grapes and styles at reasonable prices if you know where to look. Our US West Coast reviewer Erin Brooks has chosen five of her favorite affordable wines from the Golden State to try this fall. This food-friendly selection offers something for every drinker, from juicy white wines to pair with lighter vegetable-based dishes to bolder red blends to pour with barbecue. Choose the latest vintage you can find at your local wine shop—these styles are dependably delicious year after year. Cheers!

Keltom Roots 2021 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
Young winemaker Brycen Hill started his own label in 2019 called Keltom Roots, focused on single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sonoma. He believes high-quality wine should be accessible to everyone and, in that spirit, produces vibrant, energetic wines that offer pure fruit expression and freshness, characteristics that make this Pinot perfect for the table. Tasted while still in the barrel, it was made with 25% whole clusters and matured in 25% new French oak, which is integrated and gently frames its pretty fruits. The nose features alluring scents of raspberry, blueberry, tangerine and violet, with wafts of dried herbs and conifer. The light-bodied palate is pure and silky, with concentrated, floral fruits and a long, spicy finish that will complement an array of classic dishes like roast chicken and mushrooms, or grilled salmon and autumn vegetables. There are limited cases of this brand new wine available so don’t hesitate to pick up what you can find! RP [92-94]

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Marietta Cellars Non-Vintage OVR Lot 73 California
Robert Parker has praised Marietta for many years, presciently noting that, “for some inexplicable reason, few California wineries turn out top quality value-priced wines…for over three decades one of the great values in dry California red wine has been the non-vintage kitchen sink blend from the Bilbro’s family-owned Marietta Cellars.” The NV OVR Lot 73 continues to impress, offering incredible pedigree and pleasure for $18. There’s more reason than ever to explore non-vintage bottlings, which allow producers to adjust in vintages plagued by drought and wildfires. It’s also an approach that allows Marietta to source old-vine fruit at affordable prices. Composed mainly of zinfandel with smaller portions of syrah, petite sirah, carignan and barbera, it has a medium ruby color and offers intense red cherry, blood orange and apricot perfume with accents of rooibos tea leaves, red licorice, lilac and loads of spicy nuances. The medium-bodied palate is light on its feet with soft tannins, bursts of refreshing acidity and detailed amaro accents on the long finish. This bright, spicy blend offers tremendous personality, capturing an exuberant sense of place and house style. Easy to drink, pair it with heartier dishes like grilled lamb or barbecue, which will mirror the spiciness of this zinfandel-based blend. RP 95

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Desparada 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Oliver's Vineyard Edna Valley
Vailia From’s Desparada wines are ideal for the table and always reasonably priced. This gorgeous sauvignon blanc ($42) suggests untapped potential for white varieties in Edna Valley, echoing a more serious style of Bordeaux blanc rather than the zestier versions of New Zealand. It was fermented and matured in French oak and acacia barrels, adding a unique textural component from the acacia’s tight grain and light toast. Scented of white peaches and kiwi with accents of green herbs, petrichor and dried flowers, the medium-bodied palate balances green tropical fruits and stony nuances and finishes long and flavorful. This age worthy sauvignon blanc will pair excellently with asparagus or English pea risotto, and will be a refreshing foil for spicier dishes. RP 93

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© Victority/iStock
© Victority/iStock

Giornata 2020 Barbera Paso Robles
Is it any coincidence that Italian varieties are some of the food-friendliest in the world? Winemaker Brian Terrizzi explores the potential of Italian grape varieties in Paso Robles with his Giornata brand, where he crafts classics like nebbiolo, vermentino, fiano and aglianico. Terrizzi’s wines capture the full, ripe fruit of California while embracing a touch of rusticity and plenty of acidity that echoes their classic Italian expressions. The barbera is especially appealing, with soaring aromatics and an expansive, finely grained feel in the mouth that’s ideal for the table. Medium ruby-purple in color, it’s scented of red and black cherries, blood orange, earth and an array of spicy accents. Made without new oak, the medium-bodied palate is bright, fresh, and intended for early-drinking with food—any Italian or tomato-based dish is going to be delicious with this barbera. At just $25 a bottle, it’s a wallet-friendly red worthy of drinking on a nightly basis. RP 92

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Lady of the Sunshine 2020 Chevey Edna Valley
Winemaker Gina Giugni represents a new generation of California producers dedicated to making affordable, delicious, transparent wines from organically and biodynamically farmed grapes. The 2020 Chevey, inspired by the sauvignon blanc-chardonnay blends from Cheverny in the Loire Valley, is bright, fresh, lively and much too easy to drink! Grown on limestone and clay, the perfumed blend of 60% sauvignon blanc and 40% chardonnay opens with some flinty, meaty aromas that give way to peach, apricot, lime peel, tarragon and panna cotta aromas with touches of floral perfume. The palate is intense and textural, with tangy acidity and saline character lingering on the finish—vinegary frisée topped with egg and bacon comes to mind as the perfect complement. At just $30, it’s as equally appealing on the budget as it is on the table. RP 94+

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Hero image: Napa Valley vineyards in fall ©Pgiam/iStock


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