Trailblazing Saddles

POSTED ON 21/04/2015

Stick the word ‘new’ on a name and it’s tempting to dismiss it as just another cynical re-branding exercise. Thanks in part to the fancy steak house phenomenon, the past few months have seen much talk about ‘The New California’. It sounds good but is there anything really new emerging from the Golden State or is it just more of the same, re-branded for the feelgood factor?

California wine has a unique place in the affections of UK wine drinkers. Great place to visit, box ticked, great food, box ticked, great wine, box also ticked. If it’s all so relentlessly great, how come we haven’t seen a trickle-down effect much beyond the excellent Ridge, Saintsbury and Au Bon Climat?

It’s partly because the US itself is too ready a market for producers to worry about export and when they do, most of it is plonky, often sweetened, Blossom Hill and Echo Falls. Until recently California has majored on a limited number of mainstream grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay. Equally, in California’s hot, semi-desert, wines have tended to a riper, richer, more alcoholic style often at odds with a British palate looking for freshness and drinkability.

Perhaps it was the spotlight on pinot noir at the expense of merlot in the film Sideways that kick-started a search for alternative grape varieties, new locations and improved grape growing. A mission to produce more vibrant wines has culminated in a like-minded group of 32 California producers gathered under an umbrella movement called In Pursuit of Balance. The shift to fresher wines and more varied styles has been seized on by a number of trailblazing UK wine merchants such as Roberson, Flint Wines, Hedonism and Prohibition Wines.

At a recent California tasting, I was encouraged to think that although still small, this movement is real. Among wines enjoyed were an appetisingly pineappley 2012 Jackammer Chardonnay, £16.95, Roberson, a superbly stylish, rich Puligny-like 2012 Red Car Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, £31.95, Flint Wines, and distinctly jasmine and richly peachy 2012 Peirano Estate Viognier, £14.95, Roberson.

Fine reds included a perfumed, cherry-juicy and mulberryish 2012 Jackhammer Ranch Pinot Noir, £16.95, Roberson, an approachably spicy cassis-laden 2011 Slingshot Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon £19.95, Roberson, the pepper-spicy 2013 Broc Cellars Cuvée 13.1 Monterey Syrah, £24.95, Roberson, and fragrantly peppery, minty 2009 Skylark Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Syrah, £26.95, Flint Wines.

Names to look for include Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte, Mount Eden, Lioco, Copain, Wind Gap, Kutch, Corison, Failla, Lutum, Knez, Varner, Chanin, Stolpman and Anthills Farms. Most are more widely available on restaurant and wine bar lists and price can still be an issue, but the trend towards more savoury, more varied and more drinkable wines from , yes, The New California, is real.

Something for the WeekendSomething for the Weekend

Night In

Simply Bulgarian Merlot

Among the chirpy cheap reds at Tesco’s Spring press tasting, this non-vintage Bulgarian merlot from Domaine Boyar was one that stood out for its vivid, moreishly quaffable plummy fruitiness with no oak for optimum freshness and everyday gluggability. £4.20, Tesco.

Dinner Party

2014 Terre di Faiano, Salento

From the myWaitrose showcase, this is a fragrant, floral organic dry white from Italy’s Puglian heel showing the freshness of the new vintage fiano grape with exotically juicy flavours and pineapple-tangy finish. £10.99, £8.79 with myWaitrose card, till 3 May.

Splash Out

2010 La Demoiselle de Sociando

The second wine of St.Estèphe Château Sociando Mallet, this accomplished claret displays an attractively leafy scent with muscular cassis fruit framed by the classic freshness of the 2010 vintage. £16.50 bottle/ case, Tesco, buy 2 = £22.50, Marks & Spencer.


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