Magazine article Sunset

California's Best-Kept Secrets

Magazine article Sunset

California's Best-Kept Secrets

Article excerpt

IT'S no secret that a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon is easy to come by in Napa Valley. Or a good bottle of almost anything in Sonoma County. As appealing as those wines are, however, they come with the price of fame.

In Napa, for example, there's a swath along the Mayacamas Mountains that produces wines I especially love-and that command big bucks. But a recent flyover revealed what should have been obvious: The Mayacamas Range doesn't stop at the Napa County line! It drops down into Lake County, where, along the slopes of the Red Hills subregion, vineyards experience similar growing conditions to those on the Napa Valley side. The resulting wines boast all the elements-muscular mountain tannins, beautiful aromatics, lively acidity-that make Napa's bottles stars.

That's especially true of the Cabernets coming out of Red Hills Lake County. "Even though Cab is farmed in many places, if you draw your eye around the West Coast, there are very few places where it's great," says Peter Molnar, co-owner of Obsidian Ridge in Red Hills Lake County. Because of the region's latitude and altitude, he says, "we can make not just powerful Cabernets but pretty Cabernets."

A reality check on the price of grapes makes the final case for Red Hills mountain Cabs: Fruit prices there average $2,500 to $3,000 a ton versus $8,000 to $12,000 a ton in Napa (in fact, some Napa producers use this lower-cost fruit in their own wines-up to 15 percent is allowed-to boost profit margins). "For the consumer, that's the difference between $30 a bottle and $70, $80, $100 a bottle," says Molnar.

Red Hills Lake County isn't the only Northern California wine region that's still under the radar, though. Here are two more areas that overdeliver on their reputation-as well as price.


1 Red Hills


With the majority of vineyard elevations above 2,000 feet. Red Hillson the south side of Clear Lakeoffers optimal mountain conditions for standout Cabs. Large shifts between daytime and nighttime temperatures allow the grapes to retain their acidity, so vintners can let them hang on the vine longer. More exposure to UV light creates thicker skins, resulting in bold flavors, aromatics, and color.

3 great bottles

Obsidian Ridge 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

(Red Hills Lake County; $30).

Stony underpinnings, vibrant blackberry and mint, and firm tannins. …

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