Our Favorite Under-the-Radar California Reds

California’s most famous red grape varieties, such as Zinfa,ndel, Merlot, and the robust Cabernet Sauvignon, have held a firm control over the powerhouse. The tenure of Cabernet as California’s top wine grape has gone on longer than the time that lasted the FDR presidency.

However, this Golden State boasts an abundance of winemakers eager to make the most of the many grape varieties in the market. Certain winemakers look at lesser-known varieties such as Counoise or a combination of others, while some experiment with the very well-known Malbec and occasionally mix this with Cabernet Sauvignon to offer a new version of both.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly,” says Jerry, the play’s main character by Edward Albee called The Zoo Story. This is one of my most cherished quotes from all time, and in the case of red wine that hails from California, more apt words have never been spoken. California has a variety of off-the-beaten-path red wine treasures worth getting away from the path to find.

Tell me about your last visit to California wine country. What distance from the main roads in Napa did you travel? Do you observe your way along the Silverado Trail or Highway 29 from the tasting room? If you were in Sonoma, did you have a view of the ocean from where you parked your vehicle? If you went towards The Central Coast, did you remain in Santa Barbara’s downtown bustling tasting rooms or venture to the breathtaking scenery in Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Ynez?

California is more than its most recognizable areas: grape varieties and blends. The sophisticated spice of a well-crafted Cabernet Franc, the finesse-driven red-toned sass of a delicious Mourvedre, and lively types include Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache. These and many more provide a plethora of wines that aren’t ordinarily available to seek out.

2020 Turning Tide Red Blend Santa Ynez Valley ($26)

The winemaker Alisa Jacobson helped usher the Joel Gott wine label from the shadows to the renowned and globally recognized brand it has become today. She has recently handed the baton to Joel and Sarah Gott. She is set to create her way with renewed enthusiasm and determination to create a wine that is made from sustainable vineyards that are grown located in the coastal areas. A passionate diver and diver, her personal Instagram account is a record of up-close, intimate encounters with an array of marine life in the sea. In the case of this wine, the red is a mix of Grenache and Mourvedre from an estate she shares with her partner in the vicinity of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez AVA. Delicious and juicy, it’s made with red and black fruits and plenty of delicious baking spices that give an in-depth look into the world of the delightful.

2019 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc California ($28)

The king of California, Cabernet Franc, anthropologist-turned-winemaker John Skupny, has done it again with his 2019 release. It is made up entirely of tiny-berried Cab Franc sourced from locations located in northern Sonoma, the Central Coast, and all the up to the north of Sonoma. It provides a complete picture of the best vintage. Aromatic red berry fruits and floral notes emerge to wild crushed herbs. The savory minerality is accentuated by soft acidity and sweet tannins. Take it along alongside your favorite charcuterie dish. If you’re traveling through St. Helena in Napa Valley, visit the new Lang and Reed Tasting Salon on Main Street for indoor and outdoor tastings.

2018 Qupe Grenache Santa Barbara County ($29)

Mostly known for its lemon-kissed, candied-ginger-tinged Chardonnays, this red offers a welcome departure for the iconic Qupe label, and it’s only the second vintage of this Grenache from the winery. It’s worth a few swirls (so long as you’re wearing white), and let the subtle red florals and the enticing oak spice entice your nose. Sip it, and you’ll discover a silky smooth red that reveals in wave after wave of cherries and pomegranates. It gets more prosperous on the last sip with the addition of savory baking spices and sour dark chocolate flecks.

2019 Minus Tide Feliz Creek Vineyard Carignan ($32)

Be ready for a journey into the southern part of France and those of Kyle Jeffrey, Brad Jonas, and Miriam Jonas, co-owners of the tiny production of Minus Tide wines, including this Carignan. Jeffrey states that Carignan is among the most renowned varieties of Mendocino County, and their grapes are sourced from Feliz Creek Vineyard, which is among the oldest, with vines going in 1908. Flowers like violets and rose petals join slices of saucisson sec that are thinly cut, black olives, and white pepper. A salty, sweet finish accompanies silky, soft, dark fruit. Serve it with cured meats or an incredibly rich cassoulet.

2020 Kings Carey Mourvedre Dogged Vine Vineyard Los Olivos District ($38)

While most people are familiar with the famous Liquid Farm Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, James Sparks shows another side of his winemaking expertise with his Kings Carey line. However, even the stunning design on the label doesn’t be a distraction from the delicious Mourvedre made from a fascinating new vineyard located in Santa Barbara County called Dogged Vine, owned and operated by Ike Zekaria along with his spouse, Lara. It’s a stunningly elegant, red-berry-driven interpretation of the usually muscular and richly hued style Mourvedre, which is more prevalent throughout areas like the Central Coast and Santa Barbara. One caveat: You must be an official member of the wine club. However, it’s well worth the small cost.

2018 Materra Midnight Red Wine Napa Valley ($35)

The Cunat family is believed to have created an unusual blend in Napa’s traditionally concentrated Cabernet Oak Knoll District. The “Midnight” blend leverages Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. It is created by a top winemaking team that comprises Chelsea Barrett, the talented daughter of winemakers Heidi and Bo Barrett, who is working with consultant producer Michael Trujillo. Together, they’ve created diamonds from grapes but less sharp and more vibrant red currants, spiced plums, and fine tobacco. It also contains vanilla beans. Blueberries and cherries blend with earth and cedar to create a seamless and enjoyable experience.

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