Portugal has port, Spain has sherry, Sicily has Marsala –– and California has angelica. Angelica is California's original wine: The intensely sweet, fortified dessert cordial has been made in the state for more than two centuries –– primarily made from Mission grapes, first brought to California by the Spanish friars. Angelica was once drunk in vast quantities, but now fewer than a dozen vintners make angelica today. These holdouts from an earlier age are each following a personal quest for the real. For unlike port and sherry, which have strict rules about their production, angelica never gelled into something so distinct that connoisseurs can say, ““This is angelica. This is not.”” This piece looks at the history of the drink, its foggy origins in the Mission period and on through angelica's heyday and down to its degeneration into a staple of the back-alley wino set. Several current vintners are profiled, and they suggest an uncertain future for this cordial.

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