Wine in California
California Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon has been referred to as the king of red wine grapes. Cabernet Sauvignons and blends where the variety predominates are some of the most prized wines produced in California. The grape is also the main ingredient in blends for many of the most famous red wines in the world. Cabernet Sauvignons are dry, full flavored and made to be long lived for many labels. The aging potential can be upwards of 10-20 years, though 5 to 9 years is more usual. Fans of Cabernet Sauvignon are familiar with the wine’s common descriptors: berry, currant and cassis or herbaceous, bell pepper and toasty oak aromas and flavors. In U.S. supermarkets, Cabernet Sauvignon represented 14 percent of the wine revenues and 10 percent of the case volume in 2005.
If Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes, Chardonnay is the queen of whites. The variety is California’s most widely planted winegrape, with 95,000 acres reported in 2005. Chardonnay far and away remains the most popular wine in the U.S. and has continued to be the leading varietal wine for the last decade, with sales increases every year. Chardonnay represented an estimated 26 percent of California’s table wine volume shipped to the U.S. market in 2005.
Fans of Chardonnay are familiar with the wine’s usual descriptors: green apple, fig and citrus flavors, a complex aroma, and high acidity for a crisp wine. The wine is often aged in oak to produce toasty, vanilla and buttery overtones.
Merlot is the leading red varietal wine purchased by Americans today. Experiencing double digit sales growth throughout much of the 90’s and yearly gains into the new millennium, Merlot first became the top red varietal wine in U.S. supermarkets in 1999, according to ACNielsen, a firm that tracks laser-scanning sales in 3,000 supermarkets and large-volume retail outlets nationwide. Merlot sales were 7.8 million cases in 2005 in food stores, growing dramatically from the 1.6 million cases sold in 1995.What is the reason for Merlot’s popularity? Industry observers offer possible explanations. Consumers who are new to wine may be trying red wine because of news reports linking moderate drinking to a healthy lifestyle. Also, white and blush drinkers may be expanding their preferences to red. Merlot may be the choice in both instances because of the soft, approachable and luscious character that is appealing to new and regular red wine drinkers. In restaurants, Merlot’s average price is similar to the average price of the widely popular Chardonnay varietal, according to a “Wine & Spirits” magazine poll of restaurants.
California Pinot Noir
When the central character, Miles, in the hit movie, “Sideways,” first extolled the virtues of Pinot Noir, U.S. supermarket sales of the variety jumped 18 percent between October 24, 2004 and July 2, 2005, compared to the same period a year earlier. The movie was released on October 22, 2004. Pinot Noir, however, had been steadily growing in popularity long before “Sideways” helped propel the wine into mainstream American awareness. In looking at winegrape production stats, California crushed 95,000 tons of Pinot Noir in 2005, up more than triple from the 32,000 tons crushed in 1990, according to the California Grape Crush Reports. Clearly, Americans are expanding their preference for the fresh raspberry, plum, rose and spice flavors and aromas that one can find in Pinot Noir.