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Andrew Campbell: Revisiting the sunshine state for wine inspiration

Beyond the familiar Californian brands of Gallo, Blossom Hill and Echo Falls, the Golden State has a plethora of other wineries with some very serious and expensive producers

Andrew Campbell
Andrew Campbell

A few weeks ago I reviewed a selection of Gallo wines to mark US Independence Day.

Gallo produces more than a quarter of US wines from a state – California – that accounts for 90 per cent  of the country’s production. In fact if California was a country it would be the world’s fourth largest producer – well ahead of Australia – with wine-making dating back to the first Spanish settlers in 1521.

Yet, beyond the familiar  Californian brands of Gallo, Blossom Hill and Echo Falls that take up swathes of British supermarket space, the Golden State has a plethora of other wineries with some very serious and expensive producers.

Beringer, founded in 1876 (the same year as Custer’s Last Stand), is the oldest continuously operating winery in the famed Napa Valley near San Francisco.

Their wines are highly rated – even down to their cheaper entry level offerings.

Beringer chardonnay 2011 and cabernet sauvignon 2010  (California’s two most widely grown varieties) were recently reduced to less than £6 in Asda and were a steal at the discount price.

They’re back to £9 now but keep a look out because Asda has a tendency to repeat offers.

The chardonnay is excellent – packed with lush ripe peach and citrus flavours and hints of tropical fruit and apricot.

That’s all wrapped within an oaky creaminess and a long finish.

The cabernet sauvignon has a powerful and clean nose of cherry, bramble and blackcurrant with a touch of creamy vanilla.

The taste is also good with cherry, blackcurrant and oak and a spicy finish.

Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, became California’s sparkling wine capital after top champagne house Roederer sunk $15m into an estate in 1980. Fetzer  has been there substantially longer and is a leader in sustainable wine production allied with a reputation for value.

Majestic is selling Fetzer Valley Oaks White Zinfandel Rosé 2011 for £8.99 or £6.99 each when buying two bottles. Brightly coloured, it’s essentially a dry rosé but with hints of sweetness from strawberry and cherry flavours. It’s a well made easy-drinking tipple with good depth.

McManis Family Vineyards Viognier 2011 is an excellent example of this hit-and-miss white French grape.

Selling at £10.99 or £8.99 when buying two bottles at Majestic, it is dominated by a ripe peach nose supported by aromas of flowers and citrus. Rich peach flavours flow over the taste buds with cream and smoke adding depth and a touch of complexity.

Grapefruit flavours come to the fore in a long, pleasing finish.

Ravenswood is a familiar name on British shelves and I’ve been a fan of their Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel for some years. The 2010 is reduced to £7.99 a bottle when buying two or more at Majestic. It conforms fully to Ravenswood ‘No Wimpy Wines’ motto with 14.5% alcohol and a big taste that would sit well in the glass of the burliest of Grid Iron linebackers. Aromas of creamy, jammy plum lead to similar flavours supported by warm lingering spice.

This is a well-balanced brute of a wine that would go great with a hearty meat dinner and cheese.

Saintsbury is a Californian wine star from Carneros at the southern end of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

Founded in 1981 by brewing college buddies David Graves and Dick Ward, the winery rapidly gained a reputation for top quality chardonnay and pinot noir – indeed its 1995 chardonnay reserve remains one of the best whites I've ever tasted.

While not cheap, it was better than Burgundy chardonnays with bigger reputations and much bigger price-tags. Chardonnay and pinot noir remain Saintsbury’s mainstay though it has branched out into syrah in recent years.

Discounted to £20 a bottle when buying two or more, Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir 2009 is the cheapest of four Saintsbury pinot noirs stocked by Majestic.

It has a brooding red fruit and cherry nose with a degree of complexity. Flavours are similar yet it is difficult to escape the acidic and slightly tannic finish.

This is a good pinot noir but not great and many people may gain more pleasure from a much cheaper and more easy drinking, fruity pinot noir from Chile or New Zealand.


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