California and wineCalifornia wines were largely where my wine journeys started. But living on the east coast, and in New England more specifically, the influence of Old World cultures means there is also a large supply of Old World wines. California became less and less a part of my at-home wine drinking as my tastes took me in different directions and the rich history of winemaking abroad sucked me in. But that doesn't mean California doesn't have quite a bit to offer. It's not exactly a small state and it certainly has myriad climates, micro-climates, soil types, winemaking styles/influences and even its own unique history. So today my quest for winter warmer wines takes me - er, us - west! One winery that continues to impress me is Spencer Roloson in Napa Valley. It's not often I find one single winery where I have more than one "favorite" wine in their repertoire. With these guys I do. Perhaps it is because founder/winemaker Sam Spencer has a crush on the Rhone Valley & Spain, too. (In his vineyards you will  find Rhone & Spanish varietals planted like Syrah, Carignane, Valdigue, Viognier, and even Grenache Blanc.) But what's particularly cool is that Spencer believes, as I do, that wines need to be "true to their varietal character with enough finesse, elegance and focus to reveal the origin".

What does this really mean? It means the true flavors of each grape varietal are evident, demonstrating the characteristics they are known for; they simply taste like they are supposed to, not 'manufactured' through winery tomfoolery, if you will. And the best part is (drum roll please) they have a sense of place. In tasting Spencer Roloson wines, you know they come from Napa Valley, California. Ok, so maybe you don't taste volcanic deposits necessarily... Suffice to say, the Spencer & Roloson wines have a distinctly New World, California flavor: uber-round edges, deep layers of rich flavors, often sweeter notes of vanilla or chocolate... I know you know what I'm talking about. These wines coat your tongue and go down smooooth. But this smoothness does not hide the lovely fruit or earthy, floral/herbaceous flavors each wine delivers.

"Forced" to choose just one winter warmer wine for today's post, I'm going with the 2004 Spencer Roloson Palaterra, their red blend. This wine is modeled on the wines of the Rhone with this vintage a blend of Syrah, Carignane, Valdigue grapes. If this wine was a musical instrument, I'd say it is a cello. With every movement of the bow across its strings, deeper blackberry and chocolate covered strawberry flavors are accented with higher notes of fresh cut rosemary and thyme. The finish is just as graceful and intoxicating as its flavors on the midpalate. A solid food wine, I imagine the heartier wine-lover would enjoy this alone, too.

Which California wine is your winter warmer of choice?