California Reds – A small group of winemakers in Northern California were committed to bringing the creating a winemaking industry in California that could compete on an international scale. But even once high quality wines began to be produced, wine makers had difficulty in marketing.
The turning point for California wine occurred on May 24, 1976, when California producers entered their wines in a blind tasting, comparing California wines with French. The judging panel was exclusively French, so it was a shock when the California wines were ranked the highest in both of the competition categories: Chardonnays and reds category. The results of what became known as the Judgment of Paris were reported in Time Magazine.
Since then, demand for California reds and whites surged. Today the state is recognized for creating some of the best wines in the world, and those competition wines are still being produced today.
California Wine Vintage Chart
Popping open a bottle of wine shouldn’t be a shot in the dark. That’s why Wine Enthusiast is here with our official 2021 vintage chart, to help you decide which bottles to save for later and which to enjoy right now.
The California Wine Market
Wine shipments to the U.S. from all production sources—California, other states and foreign producers—grew 1% to 406.5 million cases in 2018, with an estimated retail value of $68.1 billion. The U.S. has remained the world’s largest wine market by volume since 2010 and the U.S. is now the third leading global wine producer. California’s 245 million cases shipped within the U.S. in 2018 represent a 61% share of the total U.S. wine market.
Twenty-five years later, the US is the largest wine-consuming country in the world, giving US producers an amazing home-court advantage. That said, while the total dollar sales of wine in the US is still growing, the rate of growth is flattening. This is at a time when the US is in its second longest economic expansion in history, and business analysts see the US economy operating at such an optimal state that it has reached the rare “Goldilocks” moment. Just like the early 1990s when the boomers made their retail presence obvious, driving record wine sales, the huge millennial generation, all over 21 years of age now, is moving into their careers and higher-spending years. They will surpass the baby boomers as the nation’s largest demographic by pure numbers in 2019.
U.S. Wine Exports
U.S. wine exports, 95% from California, reached $1.46 billion in winery revenues in 2018. Volume shipments were 375 million liters or 41.7 million cases. The European Union’s 28-member countries were the top market for U.S. wine exports, accounting for $469 million; followed by Canada, $449 million; Hong Kong, $130 million; Japan, $93 million; China, $59 million; Mexico, $27 million; South Korea, $25 million; Nigeria, $15 million; Dominican Republic, $14.4 million, and Singapore, $14 million.
Profile of a US Wine Drinker
Percentage of Adult Americans who drink wine = 40% of legal drinking population (240 million) (WMC and bm166).
Wine Consumption Frequency: (WMC- 2018)
High Frequency Wine Drinkers = 33% drink wine more than once a week
Occasional Wine Drinkers = 67% drink wine once a week or less
Gender of Wine Drinkers = 56% female and 44% male (WMC, 2018)
Age/Generation of Wine Consumers = Matures (ages 73+, 5%), Baby Boomers (ages 54 – 72; 34%), Gen X (ages 42-53; 19%), Millennials (36%, ages 24 – 41), I-Generation (ages 21 – 23; 6%) (WMC – 2018)
Per Capita Wine Consumption = 11 liters per person (2.94 gallons). Even though US is largest wine consuming nation by volume, per capita rates are less than many other countries (Wine Institute, 2016)
The Wine Industry’s Impact on California
California Wine Sales
California Wine Sales in U.S. Market Hit $40 Billion in 2018, up 3% from the previous year. California wine sales to all markets, including shipments to the U.S. and export markets, were 285 million cases in 2018.
According to Nielsen-measured U.S. off-premise sales, top-selling varietals by volume share are:
Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.6%
Red Blends, 10.6%
Pinot Grigio/Gris, 9.7%
Pinot Noir, 5.2%
Sauvignon Blanc, 5.1%
White Zinfandel/Blush, 3.6%
Rosé, 2.7%. Rosé
California Red Wine Flavor Profile Chart
The Wine Flavor Wheel
Primary aromas are from the type of the grape or the environment in which it grows.
For instance, Barbera wines will often exhibit subtle nuances of licorice or anise. You’ll find quite a range of flavors in the Primary Aroma group, including fruit flavors, herbal flavors, earthiness, floral notes, and spices.
Secondary aromas come from the fermentation process, which includes yeast and other microbes. A great example of this is the sour smell that you can find in Brut Champagne that is sometimes described as “bready” or “yeasty.”
Fermentation-related aromas are present in all wines at some level and you’ll find that young wines tend to have more intense Secondary Aromas than wines that have been aged.
Tertiary aromas (classically referred to as “bouquets”) come from aging wine. Aging aromas come from oxidation and resting the wine in oak or bottles for a period of time. You’re probably familiar with the vanilla aroma associated with oak-aging. Other, more subtle, examples of tertiary aromas are nutty flavors, like the hazelnut found in vintage Champagne or the dried fruit aromas, such as fig, that are associated with older red wines.
Most Popular California Reds
Cabernet Sauvignon (Kab-er-nay Saw-vin-yawn)
Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all over the world and it ripens late. In Bordeaux and Tuscany it is almost always blended to soften its intensely astringent tannins. The Napa style is dense, purple-black, jammy and tasting of currants and black cherries.
Style: Full-Bodied Red Wine
Smooth and soft from start to finish, merlot wines.
The younger the merlot, the more you should note an orange-tinted rim hanging onto the glass, as well as its darker, almost blueberry coloration at the center of a pour. Taste-wise, merlots carry lush fruity notes, heavy on flavors of cedar, cherries, chocolate and currants. Tannin levels are moderate, and acidity stays in check with an uptick in those fruity notes that don’t veer overly sweet.
Style: There are three main styles of Merlot—a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins; a fruity wine with more tannic structure; and, finally, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pinot Noir (Pee-no Nwar)
Pinot Noir is the prettiest, sexiest, most demanding, and least predictable of all. Pinot Noir is a dry, light-bodied red that was first widely planted in France. The wines typically have higher acidity and soft a soft, smooth, low-tannin finish. Pinot Noir is the principal component of many Champagnes and other sparkling wines. Pinot Noir is best expressed as a pure varietal, and is often featured as a single-vineyard wine in Oregon and California, emulating the hundreds of tiny appellations of Burgundy. When at its best, Pinot has an ethereal delicacy yet can age for decades.
Style: Pinot Noir produces a heavily perfumed wine with scents of earth, spice, cherries, strawberries, herbs and raspberries when ripe. It is a light to medium bodied wine, with high acidity that can age well. Burgundy is an expensive wine region to taste from.
Few wines match the bright, polished and sweet notes of a red zinfandel — or as high of an alcohol level.
Zinfandel has a lighter body similar to a pinot, this red wine type finishes on the front of the tongue, fading from signature fruit flavors like cranberries, raspberries, figs and prunes to dryer profiles of cardamom and cinnamon or other warm spices.
The rim of a zinfandel may skew slightly blue — a telltale sign that the wine contains a higher acidity level. Likewise, its primary coloration will range from deep scarlets to the maroons and magentas you expect when you pour a glass of red wine.
Style: Medium-bodied to full-bodied Red Wine
Flavors & Taste of California Reds
The Napa style is dense, purple-black, jammy and tasting of currants and black cherries.
Flavors: Bell pepper, green olive, herb, cassis, black cherry
Taste: Black Cherry, Black Currant, Baking Spices, and Cedar
Smooth and soft from start to finish, merlot wines.
Flavors: Watermelon, strawberry, cherry, plum
Taste: Black Cherry, Raspberry, Plum
When at its best, Pinot has an ethereal delicacy yet can age for decades.
Flavors: Tomato leaf, beet root, pale cherry, blackberry, cola, plum
Taste: Red and black cherries and plums, raspberries, mulberries, blueberries, blackberries
Zinfandel (aka Primitivo) is a medium-bodied red wine that originated in Croatia. Wines are fruit-forward and spicy with a medium length finish. Zinfandel is a red grape that may be better known in its pink variation, White Zinfandel. When you taste Zinfandel it often explodes with candied fruitiness followed by spice and often a tobacco-like smoky finish.
Flavors: Raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, raisin, prune.
Taste: A broad, exotic array of fruits from stone (overripe nectarine), to red (raspberry, sour cherry), to blue (plum, blueberry), to black (blackberry, boysenberry), Asian 5 Spice Powder, Sweet Tobacco
How to Pair California Reds
Food Pairing: lamb, beef, smoked meats, French, American, firm cheeses like aged cheddar and hard cheeses like Pecorino.
Food Pairing: Prime ribs, braised short ribs, pork, lamb and veal chops, pasta with sausage in tomato-based sauces, traditional Italian meatballs, mushroom Swiss and veggie burgers, Caesar salad, grilled and barbecued meats, as long as they’re not too spicy and smoke cheeses and sausages
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, veal, duck, cured meat, French, German, cream sauces, soft cheeses, nutty medium-firm cheeses like Gruyèr
Food Pairing: chicken, pork, cured meat, lamb, beef, barbecue, Italian, American, Chinese, Thai, Indian, full-flavored like cheddar and firm cheeses such as Manchego.