California wines aren’t for you? Maybe it’s you.

I took this pic yesterday in a cellar that I was working in, and I was grinning like a fool while I was lining up these bottles…what a beautiful cross section of classic, modern and new wave California wines.


I’m going to admit something that may be shocking to you….when I first started out as a sommelier, I didn’t like California wine. In my defence, that was in the mid-2000s where bigger was better and biggest was best. Admittedly, I barely drank wine but I was a burgeoning Burg nerd and enjoyed them lean and savoury. My partner at the time described the wines that I liked as barely red “battery acid”. Lol. His loss.


Never will I ever forget the day when my perspective changed. Did I taste a wine so amazing that I needed a fainting couch and smelling salts? I wish. I was humiliated at a table and sent away to fetch “a real sommelier” when all I had to offer was a brilliant display of exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide table side instead of insight on the Napa Cabernet section. Ouch. While they were rude, they were not wrong.


I was working in a tasting menu only restaurant where over half opted in for the pairings. Those, I knew inside, outside, upside down and could deliver the spiel walking backwards in heels. The Champagne and Burgundy sections? Solid. Italy, Greece & Spain? Got it. California was a my middle child…ignored and brushed aside. Looking back even now, those were orders that I took and walked away without engaging. For me, that would not do…keeners gotta keen.


I was now on a quest to become an expert in a region that I didn’t particularly like, just so I would never be in that situation again. I started logically, by including some Cali content on the tasting menu. I honestly just went into the cellar and pulled the lowest alcohol bottles. We had a sous vide rib cap with bacon and thyme as a main course, so there was a TON of wiggle room with pairings. That helped, but I still felt that I was lacking.


I doubled down on this deep dive by booking my first trip to Napa….fully expecting to use my most polite face while dumping glass after glass. Know by everyone but my young self, was that you would always find what you expect to see. It is however, difficult to dismiss what is staring you right in your face…and being poured into your glass. I came home from that trip with two cases of wine and a belly full of humble pie.


What changed most as a result of that trip, was my approach to wine. I will try almost anything, and usually twice before passing the next time I’m offered. New vintage? New opportunity to like something new! I have adopted a look to like approach. I love how many wines I now like, that I definitely would prefer not to drink. My actual job is to find the wine that’s right for YOU, not me. The wines I buy professionally aren’t for me, they are for the collective you.

The first challenge in the world of wine is to find what you like, the second is learning how to appreciate the wines you don’t immediately enjoy.


If you’re not finding what you like or you think that California is not for you, I can’t wait to show you what you’re missing.


Happy wine drinking!


H

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