California dominates US wine production, delivering 81% of the country’s output. Pitted against whole nations, the Golden State emerges as the world’s fourth largest wine producer, yielding $43.6 billion in retail value and $1.36 billion in exports. According to California’s Wine Institute, there are 5,900 wine grape growers in 49 of its 58 counties, and across 139 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), with some 110 varieties grown. This is big wine country.

So, one would expect a huge diversity of wine styles at different price points to pour out. However, that’s at odds with the generalised perceptions of the state’s portfolio. There’s a strong belief that California produces either wildly expensive, dazzlingly complex, ageworthy premium wines, or cheap, rather sweet and oaky mass-market brands, mainly from the more obvious grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. This view holds that, in-between, there’s not enough finesse, nuance, or value.

This tasting puts those preconceptions to the test by looking at California reds under £30/$30 (we’ll look, there are wines made from Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Barbera and more – even such relatively obscurities as southern France’s Counoise and Valdiguié.

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