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"Are California Wines Overpriced?"

  by Fred McMillin


Sutter RidgeCalifornia wines have gained so much respect that demand for many Golden State goodies frequently exceeds production. Some major vintners are even supplementing supply with imports from France, Chile, Argentina, etc.

So, are California wines becoming overpriced? To get an idea, we paired 13 of them with equally-priced outsiders, ranging from Oregon to Europe to the Southern Hemisphere. For example, the panel was presented with two wrapped bottles, both $15, 1997 100% Chardonnays, one from the Napa Valley, one from New Zealand.

Here are the victors. Winning margins are shown as percent over the loser's score. I.e., if the total votes for the loser were 100, and the winner 110, the better bottle won by 10%.

Winner Margin Price Vintage The Wine
Cal. 1% $11 '97 Sauvignon Blanc/Beringer/Napa Vly.
Cal. 2% $12 '97 Chardonnay/Bayliss & Fortune/Monterey
Italy 12% $35 '94 Pinot Nero/la Bernardina/Palace Brands
Cal. 13% $20 '96 Old Vine Zin/Rosenblum/Contra Costa
Cal. 17% $8 NV Mons. Omo Red Blend/C. Mitchell/Cal.
Cal. 19% $11 '97 Pinot Noir/R. Mondavi Coastal/Cal.
Cal. 31% $13 '96 Sangiovese/Shenandoah Winery/Amador County
New Zld. 32% $15 '97 Chardonnay/Brancott Reserve/Gisborne
Cal. 37% $15 '94 Cab Franc/Sutter Ridge/Amador County (pictured)
Cal. 57% $16 '95 Syrah/Lockwood/Monterey
Cal. 58% $25 '94 Cab Staten Reserve/Field Stone/Alex. Vly.
Cal. 77% $15 '95 Merlot/Jekel/Cal.
New Zld. 92% $23 '96 Chardonnay/Brancott/Ormond Estate


Ten wins out of 13 for the Golden State makes a fairly convincing case that California wines in the $10 to $30 range are not overpriced. Also, the fact that both New Zealand entries won lends support to the rapidly-increasing critical acclaim for its marine-cooled islands, where every vineyard is within 70 miles of the shore.


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