We recently chatted with Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars about how she got into the wine business and what she's drinking lately. In today's installment, she shares her thoughts on what's new in California wine, up-and-coming winery projects to seek out, and where to look for the best value wines.
What do you think people get wrong about California wine? The most common misconception I hear about California wines is that they are all high alcohol fruit bombs—I bristle just thinking about it. Though the wines of California certainly went through a phase where the higher ripeness levels and resulting alcohols were prevalent, the pendulum has been swinging in the other direction for some time now.
Now I feel like I'm seeing the opposite happening—and that's a problem, too. The market wants lower alcohol wines, so winemakers deliver, often at the expense of the wine. They're de-alcing, they're watering back, they're doing unnatural things to the wine...that's winemaking by the numbers. A 12% abv wine is not intrinsically better than one at 15%; that's drinking by the numbers. I believe the goal should be truth—what is the truest expression of this grape variety, this vineyard? It might mean slightly different things to different people, but that's part of the beauty of winemaking; regardless, I believe the pursuit of truth is a much more admirable undertaking.
You probably have access to cool wines from winemakers you know in California: who are you excited about? What have you tasted recently that rocked? There is a LOT of stuff I'm ridiculously excited about—wines that I believe are in keeping with all the things I mentioned above, and go above and beyond from there.
I'm probably most stoked about Sandlands, the as-yet-unreleased project from our winemaker Tegan Passalacqua, of various vineyards all planted in sand (!) in promising but still widely unknown areas like Lodi, the Sierra Foothills, Contra Costa, and Placer County. Tegan is gifted both in the vineyard and in the cellar, and if the Chenin Blanc he let me try is any indication, we're in for some pretty awesome stuff from these primarily old-vine, own-rooted vineyards.
Di Costanzo's first release, a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Farrella Vineyard in another promising area (Coombsville) is superb. I've tried the Cabernet made by my friend Ketan Mody for his label beta and can't wait for it to come out—even more exciting is the project he has going up on Diamond Mountain, like REALLY up there—which he's named Jasud Estate. My friend and former boss Cory Lane even has his own label now, called Frith. It's a Grenache made from Hudson Vineyards fruit, and it's delicious.
Winner for most unique—and definitely hardest to get, as these wines are only made for friends and family and will never be sold—goes to Alex Kongsgaard's "Skeletons vs Robots" wines. Though he spends most of his time working for his family's winery, he makes these two wines on the side: an Albarino (the skeleton) and a Zinfandel (robot), bottles them, draws the corresponding rudimentary figure on the bottle in silver sharpie, and basically just gives it out to friends. Brilliant.
What's the coolest old wine you've tasted recently? Some of my favorites are old Petite Syrahs. Find one with as much age as possible on it. They take on all sorts of interesting characteristics—more savory & herbal—but manage to hold on to their fruit and structure at a surprising rate. Our winemaker Tegan thinks they become more feminine in a way, and I absolutely agree. We've actually held a fair amount of ours back...looking forward to releasing those in 20 or 30 years and blowing everybody's minds!
When you're looking for affordable wine, what regions do you look to? The unsung regions of California, like the Sierra Foothills. That area has some of the oldest vineyards in the state, but the wines are very affordable since it is still relatively unknown. We actually recently bought a winery and opened a tasting room in Plymouth up there, and going up there is incredible—all the gnarly old vines, small Gold Rush towns...hard not to feel like a frontiersman.
A great area to explore, especially since there are plenty of interesting wines available (in addition to a lot of the usual suspects, they do well with the Italian varietals like Barbera up there) at reasonable prices (most are less than $20).