For every three bottles of wine opened in America, two come from California. (Well, for statistic nitpickers, it's almost two.) That tells you how important the Golden State is to U.S. wine drinkers, especially when it comes to bottles that sell for $25 or less, which make up the lion's share of those sales.
That's one reason Wine Spectator takes values seriously. Consider my story "Golden State Values" in the April issue of the magazine, in which I combed through recent tastings and found more than 100 California wines that offer quality at a fair price. Each scored 85 points or higher on our 100-point scale, and none costs more than $25 a bottle.
Value lovers don't have to settle for generic and mass-produced labels that carry broad designations like "California" on the label, although decent wines can be had in that category.
Instead, I focused on five specific regions: Mendocino County, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and Monterey counties, Sierra Foothills and Sonoma County. The goal was to find wines that offer a distinctive sense of place along with high quality. It was easier than you think.
There are too many wines to detail here but I selected four of my favorites from each region.
Copaín Syrah Mendocino Tous Ensemble 2010 (90 points, $24) Offers ripe, rich flavors with a firm backbone.
Enotria Dolcetto Mendocino 2009 (90, $18) Lively red with plum and smoky herb and anise flavors.
Navarro Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley Dry 2011 (88, $20) Crisp, floral and lemony.
Bonterra Zinfandel Mendocino County 2010 (87, $16) Zesty, with cherry and spicy herb flavors.
Four Vines Zinfandel Paso Robles Biker 2010 (90, $25) Ripe and loaded with raspberry and pepper flavors.
Eberle Viognier Paso Robles Mill Road Vineyard 2011 (88, $23) Zingy flavors with lemon and peach.
Groundwork Grenache Blanc Paso Robles 2011 (87, $16) Smooth with toasted spice notes.
Robert Hall Merlot Paso Robles 2010 (87, $18) Zin lover's Merlot.
Groundwork Grenache Santa Barbara County 2010 (90, $20) Complex and engaging.
Luli Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 2011 (88, $20) Rich and broad-shouldered.
Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec Santa Ynez Valley 2010 (87, $18) Tight and vibrant.
Lincourt Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills Steel 2011 (86, $18) Rich and pure, with pear and honeysuckle.
Four Vines Zinfandel Amador County Maverick 2010 (89, $19). Big and appealingly rustic.
Lava Cap Barbera El Dorado 2010 (88, $25) Jammy red loaded with fresh huckleberry.
Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête Sierra Foothills 2009 (87, $18) Mineral-laced mix of dried berry and cedar.
Renwood Zinfandel Amador County Premier Old Vine 2010 (87, $20) Jammy and easy to like.
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Alexander Valley Robert Young Vineyard 2010 (92, $25) Fragrant and graceful.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs Carneros NV (90, $20) Festive, with lively lemon and strawberry notes.
St. Francis Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vines 2010 (89, $20) Zesty and balanced, with spicy cherry flavors.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot Alexander Valley Wetzel Family Estate 2009 (88, $20) Good value Merlot doesn't get much better.
Any current California values you'd like to suggest? What did I miss?