Roughly 90 percent of American wines are made in California, whose warm and sunny climate is well-suited to growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, including grapes. However, much of the state's fertile agricultural terrain is simply too hot for making fine wine, and the best wines are consistently made in some of California's cooler climate regions. Most of these are lined up along the coast on either side of San Francisco Bay, where a quirk of geography provides a natural form of air conditioning. To the west, a strong current in the Pacific Ocean brings very cold water to the surface, conditions that create the Bay Area's famous morning fog. To the east, the rising sun heats the surface air in the flat basin of California's Central Valley. As that warmed air rises, it creates a suction effect, where colder ocean air and fog are pulled inland through gaps in the coastal hills, with some regions experiencing a daily drape of cooling fog in the key months of the wine grape growing season. This cooling effect makes for exceptional wines in zones, like the Russian River Valley and Carneros in the famed counties of Napa and Sonoma north of the bay, but also in some lesser-known areas farther south, like Livermore Valley. This Livermore chardonnay is a prime example of how the combination of sun and fog can create an exceptionally well-balanced wine — in this case with succulent flavors of white pineapple and golden apples.
Wente "Morning Fog" Chardonnay, Livermore Valley, Calif. $12.99 (regularly $14.99; sale price through June 24). PLCB Item #3454