VISITING California with the Wine Institute – to learn more about its sense of place, environmental programmes and diversity of styles – demonstrated the sheer variety of quality wines produced in the Golden State.
Yet much of the tastiest wine never leaves the United States – or even, in some cases, California.
That’s why it was interesting to see the range of wines at this week’s Napa Valley Vintners tasting in Edinburgh that were available to buy in the UK.
The 2014 Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc (£17.34, Exel Wines) proves that Californians don’t stick everything in oak barrels. This is a restrained and elegant wine, with flavours of apricot, lemon and a twist of passionfruit, along with sauvignon blanc’s tell-tale fresh acidity.
In contrast was the fuller style of the 2014 Twomey Sauvignon Blanc (£31 for the 2015, Wine Treasury), which was partially aged in oak, giving it a whiff of smoke on the nose and a creamier mouthfeel. The oaky elements are very well-integrated though and so allow the ripe peach and lemon flavours to shine.
Tasting the 2014 Trefethen Family Vineyards Chardonnay (£26 for the 2013, St Andrews Wine Co) brought back very happy memories of its property in Oak Knoll, including a barn that’s so old and famous that it was restored after being damaged in an earthquake. There’s nothing shaky about the chardonnay, which delivered ripe peach, apricot and lemon flavours, wrapped in refreshing acidity and a touch of cream.
Among the reds, film director Francis Ford Coppola’s 2013 Inglenook Edizione Pennino Zinfandel (£60, Hic Wines) holds a special place in my memory too. Packed full of blackcurrant, black cherry and vanilla flavours, the nose has that characteristic roast meat aroma that I love and a nice black pepper spice on the finish.
The 2012 Farella Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (£60, The Sampler) demonstrated how well some Napa wines can age. Black fruit mingled with vanilla, smoke and violets on the nose, pushing through to almost blueberry-like, full-bodied richness on the palate.
One wine that wasn’t available in the UK yet was the 2012 Brand Brio Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasted intense aromas of redcurrants, blackcurrants and warm, dusty earth. It’s the full package, with dry but fine tannins, a full body and a long finish.
Quality wine from California is seldom cheap – higher production costs and lower exchange rates see to that. Yet there’s no arguing with the excitement to be found when exploring beyond the oaky chardonnays and over-ripe cabernets of old.