The Wine Institute and the California Association of Grape Growers held a testing recently in Los Angeles titled “Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places” in the Golden State.  It featured 130 wines from 13 different appellations with what organizers said was an emphasis on less familiar grapes, blends and regions.

Evan Goldstein, master sommelier and author, led a blind tasting of four whites and six reds from different geographic areas to set the stage before venturing into the larger tasting.  He put the California production into perspective: only 10 percent of the wines are from Napa and Sonoma and 17 percent of total production is in the high-end varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc). 

He categorized the appellations “once-removed” from stardom, including Mendocino, Lodi, Amador, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and Monterey.  The twice-removed: Calaveras, Contra Costa, Lake, Livermore, Marin, Santa Rita Hills and Temecula. The rest of the 48 wine-producing counties fall into the “other” category.  Of course huge quantities of lower-priced jug wines flow out of the  central valley where the favorite appellation is California.

After the top varietals, he noted the once-removed varietals: Pinot Grigio (Gris), Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese.  Twice-removed: Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Barbera, Pinot Blanc, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Also: Vermentino, Albarino (lovely grape from Spain), Muscat, Carignane and Nebbiolo (of Barolo fame in Tuscany).

Within the theme of the program, we went exploring and found wonderful wines and surprises from throughout the golden state.

Chardonnay: Brewer Clifton, 2008, Santa Rita Hills, $38.

Gewurztraminer: Handley, 2009, Anderson Valley, $18.

Pinot Gris: Balletto, 2009, Russian River Valley, $16.


Riesling: Trefethen, 2008, Napa Valley, $20; J. Lohr, Monterey, $10.

Vermentino: Tablas Creek, 2009, Paso Robles, $25.

Viognier: Michael David, 2009, Incognito, $18 (58 percent Viognier; 19 percent Chardonnay; 9 percent Malvasia Blanc, plus three other whites).

Cabernet Franc: Oakville Ranch, 2005, Roberts Blend, $90; Ahlgren, 2005, Santa Cruz Mountains, $28.

Nebbiolo: Palmina, 2006, Santa Barbara County, $30.

Petite Sirah: Mauritson, 2007, Rockpile, $35.

Sangiovese: Altamura, 2006, Wooden Valley,


Syrah: Big Basin, 2007, Santa Cruz Mountains, $39; Justin, 2007, Isosceles, $60; Monticello, 2008, Napa, $38; Tolosa Winery, Salal, San Luis Obispo, $42; Ampelos, 2006, Santa Barbara County.

Tempranillo: Bray , 2008, Amador, $18; Shenandoah, 2008, Amador, $24; Silver Horse, 2007, Paso Robles, $38.

Zinfandel: Terra d’ Oro, 2006, Amador, $16.