By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
We are often asked an opinion of an obscure wine from California. People are perplexed that as writers we have never heard of XYZ winery. With more than 11,600 wineries in the United States, we are still discovering new wines despite being in this business for more than 35 years.
According to recent statistics from the Winery Database, there are only 71 large wineries – those producing more than a half million cases a year – that count for most of the wine production. Smaller producers – those who produce less than 5,000 cases a year – account for 82 percent of all U.S. wineries.
The industry added a staggering 400 wineries in 2022. Since 2019 the growth has been 1,215 new wineries. Even Alaska now has 15 wineries; Hawaii has 6.
This is an amazing growth rate, especially in light of flat consumption. Young people, except for those in their 30s, aren’t drinking much wine and that portends ominous warnings for the industry as baby boomers die off. We suspect in the next decade we’ll see the market shrink.
The good news for those who do drink wine is that there are more small producers making great wine for those who have the patience and money to order them online.
We have been tasting countless wines from producers who make less than 2,000 cases a year. In general, these are great wines focused more on quality and quantity. These are more often than not extraordinary wines that simply don’t have the production to get them into a national distribution stream. You need to let your fingers do the online shopping to discover them.
Here are several we have recently discovered that will delight your palates:
Cass Rockin’ One Paso Robles 2020 ($49). Another great Rhone-variety blend from Paso Robles, this wine rocks. The blend is 40 percent grenache, 32 percent mourvedre, 21 percent syrah and 7 percent petite sirah. Big plum and black cherry aromas with a spike of spice are followed by sweet black cherry flavors with hints of mocha and clove. This wine goes down easy alone but would make a good match to barbecued foods.
Fulldraw Drift 2020 ($65). This is an exciting, tasty blend of 80 percent clairette blanche and 20 percent grenache blanc. Clairette blanche is actually an ancient grape widely planted in southern France and widely planted in the Rhone Valley. You may not recognize it because it is often blended, but here it’s the star of this terrific wine. McMahon said he was blown away with clairette after tasting it while honeymooning in Chateauneuf du Pape.
Vinoce Lori’s Lucky Penny Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($45). With a little oak exposure, this sauvignon is rounder than most. Robust floral aromatics with velvet stone fruit and citrus flavors.
McPrice Myers Sel de la Terre Paso Robles Grenache 2020 ($55). One of our favorite Paso Robles grenaches, this wine is well balanced with lots of black cherry and strawberry notes and a hint of mocha.
Cordant Wills Hills Grenache 2020 ($62). This grenache from western Paso Robles has fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors. Floral aromas.
Alkina Kin Night Sky 2021 ($47). The New Frontier Wine Co. Is a team of 44 international wine brands based in downtown Napa. Among the wines, we recently tasted were two from Alkina in the Barossa Valley. These wines capture the spirit of delicious reds from Down Under but are also beautiful on the outside. Created by South Australian artist Damien Coulthard, the labels used ochre pigments to create his interpretation of the energy coming from soils and rocks and the night sky of Alkina. This wine is a delicious blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro. It bursts with bright red fruit flavor, plums and a dash of spice. The 2021 Alkina Kin Shiraz ($36) explodes in the mouth with effusive blackberry flavors, a floral nose and fine tannins to make it a great wine to pair with beef, pasta and the like.
Meeker Knight’s Valley Viognier 2021 ($45). Lucas Meeker took over the winemaking after his father’s passing last year. Ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Sonoma County winery continues to churn out excellent wines. This viognier has pronounced tropical fruit and peach notes with a soft mouthfeel and long finish.
Three Sticks Monarch Pinot Noir 2021 ($75). Bill Price continues to knock out hits from this Sonoma winery. This wine is named after the monarch butterflies that are commonly seen as they migrate. Blackberry and plum dominate the palate.
Migration Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2021 ($46). With smooth texture and a decent price for a quality pinot noir, this wine has ripe cherry and raspberry flavors with a touch of spice and cassis.
Vina Cobos Cocodrilo Corte 2020 ($30). If there is ever an Argentine wine you want to buy, this is it. Founded by Paul Hobbs, Vina Cobos has a delicious yet serious blend of cabernet sauvignon (76 percent), malbec, cabernet franc and petite verdot. From the cool climate region of Lujan de Cuyo, this blend has deep color, effusive black cherry, spice and herbal notes with easy tannins and medium body for current drinking.