Here’s a challenge to the California wine business, and especially those who think the Wine Curmudgeon is too hard on it. Use your incredible resources and talent to make a wine like this – a non-vintage red – instead of the buckets and buckets of boring, fruit-juice grocery stone plonk that you do make.
Because this French effort is not just a great cheap wine, but a great wine. As the guy at the store said to me when I bought it: “This may be the best bottle we have,” and his store has bottles that cost hundreds and thousands of dollars.
The point is not that California can’t make a wine as interesting and delicious as the Little James ($10, purchased, 13.5%). Regardless of anything else, California is probably the world’s pre-eminent wine region – the best weather, the best winemakers, the most money to spend. Rather, it’s that it has spent so much effort training consumers to buy wine with the name of the grape and a vintage on the label that it can’t conceive of anything else. If it doesn’t say Merlot 2012, no one knows what to do.
But they should. The Little James comes from a top-notch Rhone producer that mixes wine made with old grapes and wine made from current vintage fruit. The result is a $10 Hall of Fame wine: Classic Rhone barnyard aromas, red grenache fruit, some spiciness, and more tannin and acid than I expected -- a rough, though not unpleasant, peasant finish that speaks to a more traditional style of winemaking. A food wine for barbecue and burgers; highly recommended.