Vines and wines
Since the 1850s California has experienced a metamorphosis regarding varieties and styles of wine. Sweet and fortified wines from the omnipresent mission grape ultimately gave way to the ever-versatile zinfandel, still important today. Riesling, colombard and chenin blanc have seen their fortunes rise and fall. Three varieties, zinfandel, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon finished the twentieth century as dominant in the blush, white and red table wine categories. Sweet and fortified wines have gone out of fashion though some very good examples remain.
Generalizations regarding style fail to describe those wines on the vanguard, which may prove to be the standard bearers 20 years hence. General styles do exist, especially since many, if not most, winemakers were trained at either UC Davis or Fresno State. There is increasing cross-pollination with producers in France, Italy, Australia and South America and this has created some blurring of the boundaries both geographically and stylistically. As new plantings mature and new opinion makers appear on the wine scene, these styles should evolve as well.
Wine critics play a vital role in the development of style. Critics have immense power in determining wine styles--critic generated scores are used by retailers and producers to sell wines. Producers then taste the high scoring wines and try to emulate those characteristics, a situation not unique to the USA.
Varietal wines (those with at least 75 percent of the variety on the label) have long been dominant in California. But changing styles means that cabernet sauvignon wine is now more likely to contain merlot and sometimes all five red Bordeaux standards. In homage to Cote Rotie, syrah producers are increasingly blending up to 10-15 percent viognier. Most varietal labeled chardonnay and pinot noir are not blended.
Meritage wines are blends of Bordeaux varieties, either red (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, petite verdot) or white (sauvignon blanc, semillon, muscadelle) which must meet legal criteria.
From "Encyclopedia of Wine"
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