By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 22 April 2017
California is often neglected by UK wine lovers who believe the wines to be over-priced – but it is worth seeking out the range of exciting new styles and grapes emerging from across the pond - and some of our Top Ten Californians do offer good value.
Sonoma: KUNDE CHARDONNAY 2015 (14%; currently £14.99 reduced from £16.99 www.virginwines.co.uk)
For those who enjoy lightly oaked elegant Chardonnay. This appealing example of the ever popular grape hails from a large 1,850 acre family estate in Sonoma, now run by the fifth generation of Kundes. With all the typical citric and melon fruit character you expect from Chardonnay, but in a sleek creamy style with attractive hints of marzipan and caramel from part oak fermentation.
Monterey: BIRICHINO MALVASIA BIANCA 2014 (13%; £15.95 Drinkmonger, Edinburgh & Pitlochry www.drinkmonger.com) ***STAR VALUE BUY***
Exotically spicy with a sharp apple flavour and bone dry finish. You might not have encountered Malvasia before (except in Madeira), but it was brought to California from Calabria in Italy in the early C20. This is made by the winemaking duo of Alex Krause and John Locke, who met working at the famous Bonny Doon winery. When Bonny Doon stopped making Malvasia, the Birichino duo took up the challenge with grapes from cool westerly slopes of Salinas valley.
Napa Valley: RUTHERFORD HILL CHARDONNAY 2014 (14.5% £26.99, Handford Wines, South Kensington; Last Drop Wines; Twenty One wines, Brighton; Wine Library, city; Borough Wines, various; The Vine King; Guildford Wines; Harper Wells, Norwich; Vagabond, various London; Wine Utopia, Winchester; Simply Wines Direct; St. Andrews Wine Co)
A rich intense barrel fermented Chardonnay, but only a quarter new oak is used so the result is very subtle and elegant. Honeysuckle and peach flavours, creamy and rich textured example from grapes grown in the cooler southern end of Napa Valley.
Paso Robles: EBERLE MILL ROAD VIOGNIER 2015 (15%: currently £19.99 reduced from £22.99 www.virginwines.co.uk; Fine Wine Co, Musselburgh)
From ‘Rhone Ranger’ Gary Eberle who famously introduced Syrah to California, he has now turned his attention to the white Rhone grape Viognier. Beautifully peachy, full, intense style with a powerful kick to the finish - note the high alcohol at 15%
Lodi: UVAGGIO PRIMITIVO 2012 (14.5%; £14.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com) ***STAR VALUE BUY***
If you normally buy Puglian reds, this California Primitivo will be a revelation. Very ripe blueberry aromas, hints of herbs, damson and plum fruits on palate, delicious juicy from a grape which is believed to be the same as Zinfandel. Made by ex-Robert Mondavi & Bonny Doon winemaker Jim Moore who offers alternative varieties at good prices for California.
Amador County: EASTON ZINFANDEL 2012 (14.5%; £18.99 Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Domaine Direct www.domainedirect.co.uk)
Bill Easton used to be a wine merchant in Berkeley, before heading east to old gold mining country in the mid-1980’s in search of old Zinfandel vines and volcanic soils. He has turned his hand to artisan winemaking remarkably well at his Terre Rouge winery, using grapes grown on the western slopes of Sierra Nevada near Shenandoah valley, he crafts a raisiny spicy earthy style of Zinfandel.
Lodi: UVAGGIO ANTICHI VITI GRENACHE 2012 (14.5%; £18.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
You don’t see many Californian Grenache on wine lists, but it makes a superb summery red to match a platter of charcuterie. White pepper notes, very spicy and juicy with a lovely rich lush palate. Fuller and richer than a southern Rhone Grenache, but very balanced and more-ish. Another unusual and interesting Lodi red from the enterprising Jim Moore of Uvaggio.
Napa Valley: RUTHERFORD HILL MERLOT 2013 (14.5%; £29.99, Handford Wines; Last Drop; Wine Library; Harper Wells and Simply Wine Direct)
Grapes: 79% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah, 3% Malbec
As Californian Merlot pioneers, Rutherford Hill winery are ahead of the pack devoting three quarters of their production to this neglected (in Napa anyway) grape. Blackberry and cherry with hints of fruitcake and sweet plums on the mid palate finishing with fine grained tannins from 15 months French oak ageing.
Central Valley: JACKHAMMER PINOT NOIR 2014 (13.5%; £15-£20 Harvey Nichols; www.oldbridgewine.co.uk; www.thewinereserve.co.uk)
Grape: Pinot Noir
It is hard to find a good value California Pinot Noir, but this gorgeous elegant example is outstandingly good compared to other over-priced Pinots. The 2013 is now sold out, but 2014 has similar raspberry and cherry aromas and is beautifully pure complex and well-made. Grapes are blended from California’s Pinot Noir hot-spots Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
Napa Valley: THE SOCIETY’S EXHIBITION NAPA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014 (13.5%; £18 www.thewinesociety.com) ***STAR VALUE BUY***
Grapes: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot
Last year The Society’s Napa Merlot stormed our California tasting and their Cabernet has just done the same again. Both wines are made by the legendary John Williams of Frogs Leap, a careful winemaker who does not believe in using too much new oak as it can swamp the fruit. This is deep dark dense with a cassis-laiden palate, luscious, long and just delicious. It might seem a steep price, but top notch Napa Valley Cabernets can often be five times this price.
Join Rose’s French Classics Wine Dinner in Rhubarb, Prestonfield on Thursday 11 May £96 (four courses & eight wines) www.rosemurraybrown.com