In the second part of his report from the ‘Essential California’ virtual tasting, Peter Ranscombe goes beyond the usual suspects.
IN THE days running up to Scotland’s first lockdown, one of the final wine tastings I attended was the “Essential Calfornia” event in London.
In the hustle and bustle of a hotel in the city’s East End, winemakers and their importers rubbed shoulders with restaurant buyers and journalists.
What a difference a year makes.
This spring’s “Essential California” tasting took place online, with winemakers joining via Zoom or pre-recorded videos.
While the format may have been different, what didn’t change was the quality of the wines.
More than 5,500 samples were requested by participants, giving restaurant sommeliers, bottle shop owners, and thirsty journalists the chance to taste along at home.
Hats off to the organisers for pulling together such a logistical feat – and to the winemakers for producing such an exciting selection of bottles.
Those thousands of samples covered a wide variety of grapes, ranging far beyond the usual suspects, like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Rhone varieties again sparkled, while lesser-known grapes also caught my eye.
Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2018 (£29.95, South Downs Cellars)
A blend of five classic Rhone white grape varieties – grenache blanc, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, and clairette blanche – which together produce a warm and attractive nose full of concentrated pear, lemon, apricot, and apple compote. Its acidity is balanced by more pear, lemon, apricot, and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Mountain Tides California Rosé 2019 (£21.95, Jeroboams)
Petite sirah is best known as a high-alcohol and high-sugar red, often found in field blends with zinfandel. Here, we see its lighter side, in the form of a bright and friendly rosé, full of ripe – not flimsy – raspberry and strawberry on the nose, with lemon and sweeter strawberry jam. There’s more strawberry, lemon sherbet, and cranberry jelly on the palate to balance its acidity.
Qupé Central Coast Syrah 2017 (£22.95, The Twisted Cork)
Back to Rhone varieties, and this red from Santa Barbara, starring 81% syrah, with a dash of grenache, mouvedre, and interloper tempranillo. There’s something reminiscent of the Northern Rhone’s Crozes-Hermitage region here – perhaps it’s the aromas of roast meat, warm fur, dark chocolate, black fruit, or cedar? Or perhaps it’s the food-friendly tannins, balanced by redder fruit on the palate, and blackcurrant jam on the finish? Either way, it’s a steal.
Benevolent Neglect Counoise (£28.85, Nekter Wines)
Aye, I had to remind myself about counoise too – it’s another red variety from the Rhone, one of the components of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here in Mendocino, it trumpets the fresh and fruity style of reds for which California’s new-wave winemakers are so rightly famous. Red apple and blackcurrant join the strawberry and raspberry on the nose, but it’s the red fruit that shines on the palate, with a surprisingly-rich dose of black fruit on the finish too.
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
I’ve waxed lyrical about winemaker Rosemary Cakebread’s Gallica bottles before, and this is the perfect example of why. A complex and concentrated nose – ranging from blackcurrant, blackberry, and dark chocolate through to warm earth, roast meat, and vanilla – leads into much redder fruit on the palate, with raspberry and red plum joining the spun sugar, blackberry, and blackcurrant. The tannins are perfectly balanced by the fruit, with a dusting of mocha and dark chocolate on the finish. Sadly, I can’t spot the 2015 on sale in the UK yet, although it looks like the 2013 and 2014 have wide distribution.