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"Buy California or Outsiders?"

  by Fred McMillin

A reader buys wines in the $15 to $20 price range. She asks if she should buy California or outsider bottles. That is, are California wines usually overpriced?

Domaine Chandon To check this, we paired a dozen California wines with equally-priced non-Cal counterparts. Did an Edna Valley or a New Zealand $16 Sauvignon Blanc taste better? (The tasters didn't know which was which.) Here are the results, but first a word about the scoring.


The Scoring

Say the votes for Wine A total 100, and for Wine B total 110. Then, Wine B won by 10 votes, or 10% over the loser...the envelope please.


The Results

The wines that barely won are listed first, those that really flattened the competition come last.

Place Winning
Winner Price The Wine
12th 0.1% California $16 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Carmenet, Edna Vly., '97
11th 0.6% Washington $25 Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge Vnyd., '96
10th 0.9% Oregon $18 Chardonnay Reserve King Estate, '96
9th 2.9% Chile $15 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Errazuriz, '95
8th 3.0% France $18 Chateau Larose-Trintaudon, Haut-Medoc (Seagram), '94
7th 7.3% Oregon $13 Pinot Gris, King Estate, '97
6th 7.9% California $12 Chardonnay, Mirassou Monterey, '97
5th 9.8% California $16 Cabernet Sauvignon, Guenoc, North Coast, '96
4th 14.7% California $25 Chandon 2000 Sparkler Napa County, Non-vintage (pictured)
3rd 26.8% California $20 Pinot Noir, Bargetto Santa Cruz Mtns., '94
2nd 37.8% California $14 Sauvignon Blanc, Simi, Sonoma County, '97
Winner 51.6% Oregon $18 Pinot Gris Reserve, King Estate, '97


1) California won half of the matchups. Their winning margin averaged about 16%, compared to 11% for the outsiders. This test says California wines are NOT overpriced.

2) Oregon's King Estate won THREE matches. It's certainly a winery to watch.


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