Classy California Cuvées For A Song

By Robert Parker

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I taste many California wines that are world-class but are priced so high they cannot be considered "values." With all the marvelous fruit grown in the Golden State, it's a shame how few wineries turn out good, modestly priced wines. Here are some perennial best buys, which include chardonnay, zinfandel, and some wonderful red blends.

Beringer 2005 Alluvium Blanc Knight's Valley

90 points

Beringer 2005 Chardonnay Napa Valley

86 points

These two whites from this huge operation are far superior to what their $16 prices might suggest. The Alluvium Blanc, a crisp blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon, is filled with fig and grapefruit characteristics. It is Beringer's take on a dry white Bordeaux. The Napa chardonnay offers plenty of honeysuckle, pear, and tropical fruit notes.

Edmeades 2004 Mendocino Zinfandel

87 points

Edmeades 2005 Mendocino Zinfandel

89 points

This producer, working in the northern Mendocino frontier, has long created zinfandels of great character. While the single-vineyard zins are expensive, the basic cuvée, at $18, is always a strong effort that reveals plenty of this varietal's black pepper, sweet- and-sour cherry, and herbal notes.

Gallo Family Vineyards 2004 Chardonnay Sonoma Reserve

90 points

Gallo Family Vineyards 2005 Pinot Gris Sonoma Reserve

88 points

The Gallo winemaking empire is putting out better and better wines, and these are among the best values in the lineup. The gorgeous 2005 pinot gris, at $13, is a food-friendly crisp and fruity white. The refreshing 2004 chardonnay, also $13, reveals classic aromas of lemon butter, white peaches, and honeysuckle with little evidence of oak.

Kendall-Jackson 2005 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay Jackson Estates

89 points

At $12, this may be the best value in American chardonnay. Moreover, you will have no trouble finding it. K-J produces hundreds of thousands of cases of this wonderful cuvée, which emphasizes fruit instead of wood.

Marietta Non-Vintage Old Vine Red Lot No. 41

89 points

You need not pay attention to the lot number. I have tasted every one since the early teens, and the wine's uniformity is always something to behold. This $10 offering has plenty of pepper, earth, and spice. Enjoy it with barbecue foods and pizza. It is puzzling why few California wineries try to emulate this great success story.

Château St. Jean 2005 Fumé Blanc Sonoma

85 points

Chateau St. Jean 2005 Pinot Blanc Alexander Valley

88 points

Where else can you find a beautiful, smoky, crisp, melony, dry white for $13? The fumé blanc is a perfect match for seafood and poultry. If you enjoy the taste of orange marmalade or fresh, ripe apples, check out the 2005 pinot blanc, which sells for $18.

Trentadue 2005 Old Patch Red Sonoma

87 points

Medium-bodied and fruity, at $14 it is an ideal bistro wine. This California version of a Côtes du Rhône reveals scents of strawberries, cherries, earth, and pepper. The name refers to a patch of old vines planted with different grapes as opposed to a single varietal.

Wines rated from 96-100 are extraordinary; 90-95, excellent; 80-89, above average to very good.

Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.

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