The futuristic-looking United States embassy in London played host to the first ‘Collectible California’ dinner, demonstrating how the state’s wines can age, as Peter Ranscombe reports.
WHEN wine enthusiasts begin building their collection of bottles, they usually turn to the Old World classics from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
But what about California? Can wines from the Golden State become collectible?
Ultimately, collectors choose wines that have the potential to age, developing different characteristics or textures as the flavours change or the structural components become more integrated.
That’s why Bordeaux and Burgundy are so popular, along with Rioja, Italian classics like Barolo and Brunello, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other wines from the Rhone.
Yet premium wines from California share many of the same traits as these big hitters, such as acidity and tannin structures that benefit from ageing, as well as fresh and fruity New World ripeness, which can develop into even more interesting flavours over time.
That potential for ageing was at the heart of the first “Collectible California” event held at the swanky new United States embassy in London.
Organised by the UK and Ireland branch of the California Wine Institute – the trade body charged with promoting the state’s vinous output – and the US Department of Agriculture, the gathering included the first black-tie dinner to be hosted in the new building.
“There’s this lingering idea still that, for the very best premium wines, you have to go to Italy and you have to go France,” said Lew Lukens, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy, when he addressed guests before the dinner.
“Californians place enormous value on what we call ‘stick-to-it-ness’, so I know they’re going to keep challenging that snobbery and keep challenging for the recognition that their wines truly deserve.
“And that’s what tonight is all about.”
It was fascinating to taste younger and older vintages of the same wines at the event to see how they developed.
The newly-released 2014 Inglenook Rubicon (£147.80, Lay & Wheeler) – a true Napa Valley classic, made at a winery owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola – had aromas of dark chocolate and redcurrant on the nose, with firm tannins on the palate balanced by lush blackberry, blackcurrant, red cherry and vanilla.
The 2014 contained 97% cabernet sauvignon, blended with tiny amounts of merlot and petit verdot, while the 2007 Inglenook Rubicon (£325, Hard To Find Wines) contained 94% cab sav alongside small amounts of petit verdot and cabernet franc.
The 2007 had more developed aromas, including coffee and some darker prunes and figs, but still had freshness on the palate, along with a rich fruit-and-nut bar mix of milk chocolate, vanilla and darker fruit.
It’s not only red wines that have the potential to age; one of my abiding memories from last year’s visit to Napa and Sonoma was how well California’s premium whites can develop too.
One that has stuck in my mind is the 2013 Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay (£58, Woodwinters), with its fresh grapefruit and zesty lemon flavours, balanced by butter and cream notes.
Ramey’s bottles also illustrate how winemaking styles can change over time – only 30% of the 2013 was aged in new oak barrels, compared to 65% back in the 2007 Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay (£84.99, Noel Young Wines).
That higher proportion of new oak is now beautifully integrated and reflected in the toastier and nuttier flavours; yet the quality of the fruit still shines through, with a delicious freshness to the wine.
Premium sparkling wines are also worthy of ageing and few more so than the 2008 Schramsberg J Schram (£90, Vineyard Cellars), with pronounced apple puree, cinnamon and oats on the nose, leading into crisper green apples on the palate and a crackling freshness.