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BERGER: California red wines are becoming red again

Don't look now, but California red wine may be returning to its old color. Which is red.

This takes a bit of explaining. About a decade ago, perhaps a bit earlier, most California wineries realized that darker, denser red wines were the way to gain accolades from a few powerful wine publications. As a result, they began to make all their wines with more intensity.

Cabernet sauvignons began to be described as "black" — and this was seen as a plus. Zinfandel lost most of the berry fruit it once had and was being likened to port.

Even that most fragile and persnickety grape, pinot noir, was suddenly being manipulated and turned into a dense wine.

Over the last decade or more, the colors of almost all California red wines began to resemble one another, and that meant most wines were no longer red; they were black.

Limpidity? Forget it, it hasn't existed for years. You could block out a strobe light with most so-called red (but really black) wines.

But does this really matter in terms of wine quality? We don't, after all, drink the color. We want an attractive aroma and nice flavors in our wines, and color is merely a side issue, right?

Well, technically this is correct, but how a red wine is turned into a black wine is the key to this argument, and the techniques that have been used to darken wines usually also changed their flavors, and mostly for the worse.

Pinot noirs and merlots, especially, that were made to be black usually failed to display the aromas unique to their identities.

And cabernet had largely been transmogrified into a red wine with all the delicacy of a linebacker. At one time, it was likened to claret; now it was ink, motor oil, or molasses.


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