Light and Delicious: 3 Amazing Californian Wines for an Outdoor Lunch

Summer is on its way and there’s so much to look forward to again! Last year it seemed, for many of us, to come and go without offering opportunities to enjoy many of the social occasions we love most – weddings, parties and outdoor lunches, enjoyed together with friends and family and made more special with a glass or two of delicious wine.

So, as the weather starts to warm up, why not start planning some get-togethers? There’s no better idea than an informal lunch party, at home, with fun people around you. Whether you go for a barbeque, a buffet, or a sit down meal, choosing the right wines to serve with your food can often hold the key to the overall success of the occasion.

And there can be no better choice than fruity and refreshing Californian wines. They seem to exude the sunshine and warmth of their state. However, in reality the wine growing areas feature a wide variety of climatic conditions, soil and topography, so there’s a hugely varied range to choose from. Let’s look at wines made from three of the most common grape varieties to get you started on your exploration.

Cabernet Sauvignon 

We start in the north, where temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, not only between winter and summer, but also between day and night. Grapes such as those used to make Cabernet Sauvignon need to have tough skins to withstand these conditions, but the good news is they produce full-bodied and complex wines. Award winners such as ‘Inkscape’ from Mendecino Country, in the far north-west of the state are perfect examples. Combining an earthy aroma with notes of violet, chocolate, blackcurrants and even vanilla, this wonderful wine will give your guests the perfect complement to their food when you’re serving grilled meats and full-flavored dishes.

Or travel further south (online of course!) to Napa Valley. Look out for wines with a 2016 vintage: it was considered the perfect year for the grapes of the region. Cathy Corison, one of California’s many women winemakers offers a range of inky-black Cabernet Sauvignons to choose from: Corison Sunbasket Vineyard 2016 is one of her best.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the biggest selling wine in the U.S.A., and by 2018, almost one in every five bottles sold was made from these grapes.  Chardonnay is California’s most popular white wine and, overall, its most widely grown grape varieties are the Pinot Gris/Grigio and the Sauvignon Blanc.

Crisp, fruity and refreshing, it is also subject to the changing fashions in wine drinking- today the trend is away from traditional ‘oaky’ flavors and more towards higher acidity and lower alcohol content.  However, the revolt against the ‘new-style’ Chardonnay that led to the so-called ‘ABC drinkers’ (Anything But Chardonnay) club has been replaced by a new-found respect and the wines are often praised by connoiseurs for their “freshness,” and  “energy”. In other words, they’re perfect for summer entertaining.

Chardonnay is remains a complex and interesting choice that your guests will love to sample. 

Wine expert Matt Kettmann’s description of Au Bon Climat 2015 Nuits-Blanches au Bouge Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley  attests to this, listing sandalwood, cinnamon, brioche French toast, vanilla and nutmeg as just some of the aromas and adding that there are also hints of a ‘lemony streak’ in addition to white peach and Marcona almonds! While most of us will never reach these heights of discernment, descriptions of this kind of delicious complexity of flavors can definitely stimulate our palate and intrigue us to try this and other Californian Chardonnays out on our guests. 

2017 and 2018 were also great years for Chardonnay as growing conditions were just about perfect, so look out for wines made in those years and enjoy, especially when served with fish, chicken and light, summer dishes. 

Pinot Noir

2017 and 2018 were also great years for the delicious wines made from Pinot Noir grapes. Often described as ‘everyone’s favorite red wines’ they’re valued for their richness, purity and simple elegance. 

The Santa Rita Hills region, along California’s central coast produces some of the finest Pinot Noirs.  Just look at this description from the Wine Enthusiast: “Aromas of candied raspberry and strawberry pair with damp sage, pine oil, and green peppercorn on the nose. The pristine palate’s crisp pomegranate and fresh raspberry flavors are instantly cut by eucalyptus and green tobacco leaf.”  Wow!  Other top tasters are just as enthusiastic and the variety of aromas they detect are almost as mind-blowing.

However, when you’re simply looking for a choice that’s delicious, interesting and reasonably priced, Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2018 is just one of the many amazing wines you can choose from. 

Summary 

In this article, we’ve barely scraped the surface of the world of California’s amazing wines. With plenty of sunshine and warm weather for most of the year, the state has a climate that is hardly found anywhere else in the world. And with such rich soils and perfect wine growing conditions it’s no surprise that there are around 60,000 different wines to choose from.

However, back to the summer lunch party! There’s still time to start sampling some different offerings from just a few of the 4000+ wineries to see which appeals to your palate. Your local wine suppliers will be pleased to guide you and even provide samples for you to try. 

With just an idea of the kind of wine you enjoy, and a little online research, you’ll be able to order (or buy from a local supplier) a fresh, fruity and delicious wine to arrive in plenty of time before your guests do, so you’ll be able to sample and bottle or two in advance – just to check how great it is! 

Once you set off on your journey to explore the fascinating world of wines you’ll uncover facts about the heritage and characteristics which your guests will undoubtedly love to know about – so add to their enjoyment of your party by regaling them with tales of California growers, while they enjoy the delicious wines and foods you spoil them with. 

Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

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