French vs. California Wine

Which type of wine lover are you?

Are you a Francophile or a California wine lover? Interestingly, we’ve seen their styles converge in the last twenty-five years. French wines show more fruit and texture, while many California wines are moving toward a leaner style, with less butter in Chardonnays and oak in Cabernets. Nevertheless, climate and soil dictate that the wines from two different continents will be different, and indeed they are. I’ll go out on a limb and make the following gross generalizations: French wines tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in acidity, with less oak and less fruit. California wines are plumper, they reveal their fruit earlier in the tasting experience, and are softer. In terms of quality, California wines have improved dramatically at the middle and upper echelons, while French wines under $20 often offer a better value than similarly priced California wines. The following pairs of wines, I believe, highlight these differences in bold relief.


Cadette “La Châtelaine,”   
Vezelay, France, $20

Lemon cream aromas and firm acidity with flavors of white currant and green tea. Elegant and very much in the Chablis vein. Enjoy with a classic salad of tender greens, fennel and a white wine vinaigrette.         

Alma Rosa,   
Santa Barbara, California, $18

More opulent than the Cadette, with plush fruit and a softer texture. Still, this has refreshing acidity and is just plain delicious. Enjoy with the salad above but substitute mango and scallops for the fennel.    

Pinot Noir

Raquillet “Veleys” Mercurey,    
Burgundy, France, $32

The aromas suggest the ripeness of a New World wine, but the wine also shows a funky burnt chocolate note that I don’t often find in American Pinots. Pretty powerful Pinot that shows marvelously with pot roast.              

Baileyana Pinot Noir,  
Edna Valley, California $28

High-pitched aromas of cranberry and strawberry that arise again on the palate, augmented with the flavor of cherry cola. Very pretty Pinot that works wonders with skirt steak and guacamole tacos.


Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested. Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly. 

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