By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 24th April 2021
California has a range of new styles and grapes to explore from Albarino, Gamay, Grenache and Syrah – as well as their much-loved Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
They often get neglected by UK wine lovers who believe they are overpriced – but some of the wines here offer fantastic value for money with California’s typically forward fruits and immediacy of texture.
OAK FARM VINEYARDS ALBARINO 2019
£20 James Hocking Wine
Spain’s Albarino grape has really taken to California’s Lodi region. This is a fresh new dynamic style, one of the most interesting whites at a recent Californian tasting. It comes from the Mokelumne River area forty miles south of Sacramento. Loved its clean crispness, melon and citric fruits with more floral notes and richness than Spain’s Rias Baixas.
BREAD & BUTTER CHARDONNAY 2019
£13.99/£15.99 Majestic Wine
Archetypal rich oaky Napa Chardonnay from Stefano Migotto with pineapple, almond and vanilla nose, full tropical fruits with a rich crème brulee and vanilla bean flavour, soft creamy mouthfeel – unashamedly unsubtle, but it really does live up to its name with its rich buttery character.
BOGLE VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2019 ***STAR VALUE***
£13.50 bt (£10.40 bt for 12 bts currently on offer) The Wine Society
At its knockdown price, this is staggeringly good value. Part oak/part stainless steel this big vanilla and buttery creamy Chardonnay is in a style which was stereo-typical California, before the fruit got dialled down. Bright focused upfront fruit with that immediacy of texture which California does so well.
MERRY EDWARDS RUSSIAN RIVER SAUVIGNON BLANC 2018
£57 Harvey Nichols
It’s all change at Merry Edwards winery in Sonoma, recently bought by Champagne Louis Roederer, but this vintage was prior to the winery sale. Typical of Merry Edwards’ refined subtly oaked style, made from a mix of Sauvignon clones: melon and mango, vanilla, crème brulee with a long finish – surely the best Sauvignon Blanc in California.
TYLER SANTA BARBARA CHARDONNAY 2017
£29.99 JN Wine; Highbury Vintners; Hedonism Wine
Tyler winery is an impressive new find (I also tasted their La Rinconada 2018 Chardonnay which was superb). It is all about delicacy and finesse, made from a blend of vineyard blocks (Bien Nacido and Dierberg) by Justin Willett who founded Tyler in 2005 to focus on Burgundian grapes. Appley, minty, ripe fruits with a fresh minerally core.
PAUL HOBBS RUSSIAN RIVER CHARDONNAY 2017 ***STAR BUY***
£49.99 Virgin Wines; The Wine Reserve; Hennings Wine; Harvey Nichols
Clear winner at a recent Californian tasting for its fabulous richness and intensity. Beautifully balanced example from Paul Hobbs who has made superb oaked Chardonnay in foggy Russian River in Sonoma for over two decades. Pearskins, tangerine, almonds and citrus – this is gorgeous, bright, poised with an incredible finish.
CLINE LODI ZINFANDEL 2018
The Zin craze first began in the aftermath of the Gold Rush and until Cabernet Sauvignon superseded it, Zinfandel used to be the most planted grape in California. Old Vine Zinfandel is now highly prized – and no-one does good value better than Cline: sweet berried fruits, ripe sweet, spicy, vanilla with soft supple tannins, easy and approachable.
FARMHOUSE CALIFORNIAN RED 2019 Cline Cellars ***STAR VALUE***
£10.50 The Wine Society
Brilliant value Rhone Ranger meets California blend crafted by winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos at Cline Cellars; a mix of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre and Grenache brings you plums, cherry and herbs in a soft lush complex mouthful with smooth rich finish.
BIRICHINO OLD VINE GRENACHE 2018
£21.99/£28.99 Majestic Wine; £27.95 Field & Fawcett
An extraordinary Grenache like no other I have tasted – from 100 year old vines from George Besson’s vineyard near Santa Cruz mountains made by the super talented Birichino duo, John Locke and Alex Krause. Strawberries, cherries and spice with an exotic liqueur undertone – a fascinating take on the popular Rhone grape.
LIEU-DIT GAMAY 2016 ***STAR BUY***
£24 Wanderlust Wine
Another stand-out wine from California’s tasting. Lieu-Dit is an exciting new venture in Santa Maria Valley in southern California. This Gamay is grown on marine chalk on east-west valleys which allows morning fog and cool ocean breezes to retain grape acidity. Bright cherry fruit, lively crunchy acidity, good length: what a superb find.
SCHUG SONOMA COAST PINOT NOIR 2017
£28.50 Field & Fawcett
Schug are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialists who manage to keep prices affordable. I love their approachable style including this clean aromatic vibrant Pinot Noir with its herby notes and soft smooth tannins, made from a blend of low yielding ocean-influenced vineyards including Western Carneros & Petaluma Gap in Sonoma.
AU BON CLIMAT ISABELLE PINOT NOIR 2017 ***STAR BUY***
£49.99 Majestic Wine
The king of Pinot Noir, Jim Clendenen, does it again. His Isabelle Pinot Noir was the standout red at our Californian tasting. So beautifully complex and balanced – it would compare well to Burgundy. Fabulous perfumed bouquet, soft lush tannins, surprisingly not a single vineyard, but a blend named after his daughter Isabelle.
DuMOL RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY SYRAH 2013
£53 Raeburn Fine Wines
Russian River in Sonoma is not well-known for Syrah, but this exceptional wine made by Scottish winemaker Andy Smith is his best yet from this grape. A blend of three vineyards, from mainly Greywacke soils, this multi-dimensional wine has fabulous violet and pepper nose, lush velvety cassis fruit with juicy savoury tannin. Now beautifully mature, Smith says it will develop a further 5 years+.
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