Log In / Join Now

They Are What They Are

Posted: Jan 22, 2007 2:27am ET

James Laube shared some high-octane reds from his cellar over the weekend. And they were outstanding. They included 2004 Turley Petite Sirah Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard, 2004 Pride Syrah Sonoma County and 2002 Lewis Alec's Blend Napa Valley. They all shared flamboyant fruit and luscious velvety tannins and long finishes. Sure, they could improve with age, but they were so up-front and exciting that I couldn’t really see why they shouldn’t be enjoyed now.

I liked the Pride Syrah the best due to its slightly more reserved style compared to the other two. 92 points, non-blind. The others I scored 91 points. There’s really nothing very subtle about these wines. They were pretty in-your-face, sort of like listening to some old songs from Aerosmith compared to U2, or something like that. But “they are what they are,” as Laube explained. And you have to love them for their honest fruit.

Laube was joking around and asking me if I thought they didn’t have enough alcohol for big California reds. I think the Turley was over 15 degrees with the Lewis and Pride just under. But in all honesty, I found the wines balanced. They didn’t burn or seem overly alcoholic.

The debate continues about California wines being overly rich and alcoholic. I, of course, have tasted some reds, and whites for that matter, that are like that. But most, even with relatively high alcohol levels, seem balanced to me. And very enjoyable, especially with a juicy grilled steak like at Laube’s house.

I think that some people have forgotten the 1980s, when many wine producers in California miserably attempted to emulate the great reds of France, or make “food wines.” They picked their grapes earlier than today with lower levels of potential alcohol. Some even acidified their wines. And they had very green and austere tannins as well. It was a failed period for many winemakers in the Golden State. And for consumers, it certainly meant fewer high quality California wines in general.

As a born and raised Californian, I think that California should do what it does best ... make sunny, opulent and interesting wines. Be what they are, as my colleague Laube says.

Scott Young
Richmond, Va —  January 22, 2007 10:48am ET
I couldn't agree with you more . . . I think that people that enjoy California wines enjoy them for this very reason.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  January 22, 2007 11:03am ET
James who in the world takes care of your cat and dog while you are away traveling the world with your wine drinking adventures?
James Suckling
 —  January 22, 2007 11:08am ET
You looking for a job? I have a cleaning lady that feeds and walks them and they like to visit the office next door. I miss them!
Tim Corliss
livermore,ca —  January 22, 2007 12:10pm ET
james, I couldn't agree with you more. well said.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  January 22, 2007 1:30pm ET
A little off topic here but I'm going to a 2004 Bordeaux wine tasting in Chicago with some 80 Chateaus. Anything I should look for while tasting these?? Which appelations were the strongest when you reviewed the wines a month ago? Thanks.
Michael Oleary
Boston MA —  January 22, 2007 2:34pm ET
A Petite Sirah is a great idea James. As a die hard Pats fan I can't think of anything better to cheer me up. I don't have any Turley in stock. I do have some Madrigal. Have you ever tried it? Great wine, and at 32$ pretty reasonably priced. Now get back to Europe and stop rubbing in your world of wine travelling!
Thomas Bohrer
Hong Kong —  January 22, 2007 10:05pm ET
Poor Annie and poor Archie....( The Dogs ).
Robert Mathews
January 22, 2007 11:32pm ET
James, I have to agree with you this one. Let California wine be California wine. I am hosting Vittorio Belmonte in Southwest Florida this week--an Italian born wineamaker doing his thing in Sonoma now (VJB Cellars). His wines are super rich, opulent and sometimes high in alcohol without showing the heat. While they are so much different from the style of wine made from his home country, I really think that he's also honed in on that Cali style. Rich and big, but not obtrusive. Some of these California wines certainly have their place for me.
John Wilen
Texas —  January 23, 2007 12:54pm ET
James, I love the wines but here's the rest of the story....

One pays a price in many hidden ways for the greatness of the California style including:

1. Wine drinking for us has evolved into the main event, some would say sport, as the style we enjoy is generally less suitable at the dinner table.

2. My buddies and I can be quick to dismiss very good CA wines if they don't impress immediately. We have been conditioned over time to look for the "Wow" factor.

3. As a result, we are less tolerant of wines from other parts of the world. In comparison, they taste muted, fruitless, and bland. We all believe the more we've drunk CA wines, the less our palates have remained receptive to alternative styles.

4. For us, our favorite CA wines are never better than in their first several years after release. To our palates, these wines do not see extended positive evolution in the bottle. This has major implications for home cellars, namely downsizing, unless one aggressively sells wine that is "past its prime" to those that value them more. Nothing is worse for a young-wine drinker than a bloated cellar. Low inventory turns means you don't get to your favorites in prime time.

5. According to experts, the vineyard management and winemaking techniques required to produce what some would term 'extreme' wines, can contribute to their early demise. Yet another reason (shorter shelf life) that CA wine appreciation will continue to lag Bordeaux in the auction markets...

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.