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Readers sometimes wonder why I don’t write more often about California wines. The answer is very simple: California offers some of the worst values in the wine world. Many top California wines are unbearably expensive, while much that is cheap tastes cheap. I avoid under-$15 California wines at all costs. At the high end of the spectrum, California does produce some splendid if pricey wines. One of the best, and best-value, top-end wineries is Flora Springs, where the whites are subtle and the reds understated, and the prices are reasonable for the quality involved. Jerry and Flora Komes bought the old Louis Martini Napa Valley homestead in 1978, intending to retire there. But the property came with two derelict 19th-century wineries. The younger generation — son John, daughter Julie, and son-in-law Pat Garvey — had the good sense to hire wine maker Ken Deis away from Joseph Heitz in 1980. Twenty-four years later, the team is still intact — a rarity of longevity in the Napa Valley. I like the whites, but they’re a bit expensive. The same $25-$35 that gets you a nice Flora Springs Chardonnay will get you a more exciting premier cru Chablis or a succulent Meursault from the splendid 2002 white burgundy vintage. The reds are another matter. The top red is called “Trilogy,” for the three grape varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc — used in traditional red Bordeaux blends. Deis has been making “Trilogy” for 20 years now, since 1984. The best recent vintages are 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2001. The ’94 boasts a lovely palate of vanilla and raisins. The ’97 might be better still. The ’99 and ’01 are impressive, but still very young; both are a bit closed in at the moment and clearly need time in bottle. Curiously, it’s the two youngest wines — tasted out of barrel — that shout fruit. Both the ’02 and ’03 are positively redolent of raspberries, as well as dark, melting chocolate. They are deliciously hedonistic wines. I can’t wait to revisit them in bottle — 10 years from now! WHITES

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