California is a long way from New Zealand, but not so much for wine anymore. Sure, it’s hotter in California, but where New Zealand often seeks out warmer sites to make richer wines - like Gimblett Gravels - California these days is all about emphasising the cooler and greener, to make wines that are becoming, well, more New Zealand.
Lower alcohol is one sign - it’s not uncommon to find Californian wines from funkier parts of the state having 12.5% alcohol. Acid that you can really taste is another change from the massive, rich wines of California’s past. The new wave of California wines really highlight their acidity, mostly because the vineyards are grown in cooler areas closer to the Pacific Coast, or being cooled by wind or altitude (there’s plenty of both in California). And as for green - the Californians have recently discovered that grazing sheep in the vineyard is a win-win! Their Churro sheep are somewhat hairier than an average New Zealand Merino, but seem to be enjoying decimating the weeds much the same.
But the best features of California wine country don’t change: truly immaculate, amazingly constructed wineries; lovingly manicured vineyards; real passion, knowledge and skill from almost everyone involved in the Californian wine industry; and an amazing diversity of wines, varietals, regions and flavours from this massive wine producing giant of a state. Californian wines often aren’t cheap when arriving on New Zealand shores, but it’s a region where if you pay for quality, you’ll so often get it back.
A really good example of this is any California wine labelled “Old Vines”. Sure, the Australians do the same, but more often than not you can get really, really old vines in California growing fruit for wines that are way cheaper than their Australian counterparts. How old is an old Californian vine? Well, the average age of old vineyards in California date back to the 1940’s and 1950’s - and the oldest vineyards still producing in California were planted in the 1860’s. New Zealand vineyards are still youthful striplings in comparison.
So it’s quality, history, tradition and a bright new wine future all in one with Californian wine. These wines are just worth trying, be that the classic Californian Chardonnays, Cabernets or the perennial underdog Zinfandel. Being Californian, these wines are going to match a BBQ just fine - and if you know how to rustle up a Philly Cheesesteak, rest assured that Old Vine Californian Zinfandel is the most perfect (and road tested) food and wine match ever possible. Go big - and go California.