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The red table wines of California fall automatically in three great groups, those of the claret, burgundy, and red Italian wine types. Other groups are formed by the minor red table wines, by those of the muscat type which are not table wines in the usual sense of the term, and by the red specialty wines.
CALIFORNIA CLARET TYPES:
The term "claret" was originally applied in England to the red table wines of the Bordeaux district in France, the name presumably being derived from their clarity of color.
Today claret, as a wine type, denotes any acceptable red table wine with preferably the same general character as Red Bordeaux. It should, on principle, be lighter in body than a red burgundy. The term is applied both to the wine as a type and to each wine of the type, from the indifferent to the best.
California clarets can be either varietal or generic. The latter is labeled "California Claret." Zinfandel is a popular varietal; Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the finest.
Use and service most suitable with red meats and roasts and also with chicken and other fowl. Serve at room temperature. Do not chill unless, owing to the hot climate or other causes, the wine has been stored in too warm a place. Even then chill only slightly. Uncork the bottle an hour before the meal for full enjoyment. Clarets are much used in cooking and make an excellent base for red wine punches and cups.
VARIETALS: CABERNET SAUVIGNON (Ca-berr-nay' So-vee-nyon)
The Cabernet Sauvignon, to use its full and proper name, is the premier claret grape of the world. It is mainly responsible for the superb character and flavor of the celebrated chateau-bottled and other clarets of France.
In California the Cabernet Sauvignon grape can yield, in the northern coastal region, altogether superior wines which compete very well with all but the very greatest chateau clarets of Bordeaux. Napa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma counties produce the finest, some of which are great wines anywhere under the sun.
The name of the wine is sometimes shortened to Cabernet, even on the label. Some winegrowers bottle two qualities of the wine, the better being called Cabernet Sauvignon and the lesser Cabernet. It is, on the whole, advisable always to use the full name when referring to this wine, as there is also a Ruby Cabernet and other Cabernet varieties which are less well known, and a wine labeled simply "Cabernet" could conceivably be made from Cabernet grapes other than the Sauvignon. The finest California Cabernet Sauvignons are produced from considerably more than the legally required minimum 51 per cent of grapes of that name, as the wine will not stand much blending without loss of character. The best have a deep ruby color, an expansive bouquet, and a remarkable flavor, easy to recognize and appreciate. They are often slightly heavier in body than their French prototypes. Like the latter, they possess, when young, a dryness and aromatic pungency which smooth out to a rich mellowness with age.
There is a fairly wide range of California Cabernet Sauvignons, depending on the location of the vineyard, the winegrower, and the age. Some are lighter in body and color and should be consumed when relatively young. Others are darker and heavier, mature considerably in the bottle, throwing off a deposit. The latter, which can also be purchased for laying down purposes, should be decanted or poured carefully, the bottle resting in a wine basket or cradle.
When one desires the finest claret California can produce, Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine to purchase.
The leading wine grape variety of California in acreage, production, and originality.
The experts disagree about its identity. It was at one time thought to be identical with the Hungarian Kadarka, but this has been disproved. Widely accepted is the theory that the vine was first imported to California by Colonel Agoston Haraszthy. The story is that he received a shipment of cuttings, presumably from Hungary, his native land, in February 1852 and could not decipher the name on the label attached to a certain bundle. It seemed to read Zinfandel, and that is what he named it. Eventually he planted some vines at his Buena Vista estate near Sonoma, where they flourished and made viticultural history.
Zinfandel varies considerably in quality and character, according to district and wine grower. It is, at best, a wine of peculiar charm, fruity, zestful, and aromatic with a raspberry flavor. It is essentially Californian and the only varietal table wine produced throughout the state. Most Zinfandels should be consumed young, as they will lose their zest and fruitiness with age. A few mature well and even ten-year-old Zinfandels can be satisfying in their mellowness.
Very fine Zinfandels come from the various counties of the northern coastal region. Those produced from gravelly soil, as in the Livermore Valley, remind one of a French red Graves. Other first-class Zinfandels hail from the Cucamonga district in Southern California and from San Luis Obispo County. The vine is also extensively cultivated in the inland valley region, where it yields a wine of greatly varying quality, the better ones coming from the cooler areas. The wine is also much used in blending and in the production of California port.
*The Zierfandler, it may be noted, well known in Austria, especially around Gumpoldskirchen, and a member of the Veltliner family, is a white grape, yielding a rich and spicy white table wine of the Traminer type.
A new varietal in the red table wine field. Propagated by the Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of California, the vine is a hybrid of the Cabernet Sauvignon and of the Carignane from a cross made in 1936, which first fruited in the 1940 season. Purpose of the cross was to combine the outstanding character of the Cabernet Sauvignon with the productivity of the Carignane. It was the first attempt to combine high quality and yielding ability in the same variety.
The color of Ruby Cabernet is the same as that of its august parent, Cabernet Sauvignon. Its aroma and flavor, though similar, are less distinguished. On the other hand it matures more rapidly, becoming marketable sooner.
Ruby Cabernet rates as a claret of higher than average quality; it is still too soon to judge its future clearly. The wine, to be watched with interest, is produced as a varietal in Napa, Sonoma, Santa Clara, and other counties.
GENERIC: California Claret
The generic table wine labeled "California Claret" is dry, light to medium-dark red in color, and light to medium in body. It can be made from any dark grape variety or from a blend, provided the wine is red, dry, and contains around 12 per cent alcohol. Its quality, therefore, depends strongly on the winegrower and the grapes used. Most producers bottle an inexpensive, standard quality California claret.