James Hocking: Spreading some Cali sunshine during lockdown

Wine merchant James Hocking is bringing a splash of Cali sunshine and Cali wine into self isolation, writes Peter Ranscombe.

WINE drinkers may be pining for their favourite bars and restaurants, but the lockdown has brought one major benefit for oenophiles – wholesalers are selling some of their top-notch bottles directly to consumers.

Alexander Wines’ new Wine Line Glasgow website and Berkmann’s “Help 4 Hospitality” scheme are just the tip of the iceberg.

Many distributors that previously sold stock to hotels, pubs and other hospitality venues have switched to delivering bottles to consumers who are staying at home to save lives.

One of the most exciting opportunities comes at the higher end of the market, with the chance to try bottles that would normally only be found on the wine lists of the country’s most exclusive restaurants.

California is a great example – with such affluent markets in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, its top wines tend to command top dollar by the time they reach our shores.

Yet, for a real lockdown treat, few winemaking regions can deliver such consistently high quality.

And when wholesalers like James Hocking Wine have such excellent offers available, it’s hard to resist spreading a little Cali sunshine into social isolation.

Hocking is both the new kid on the block and also an established name – he launched his eponymous wine company last year but was previously the wine director at The Vineyard Cellars, where he saw the rising popularity of Californian wine in the British market over the past two decades.

His “Lockdown California” case features six bottles for £99 – the price at which he’d normally sell them to the on-trade – and there are some exciting producers in there, including Ferrari-Carano and Oak Farm.

Two of the other wines in the case in particular jumped out at me – a pinot noir and a chardonnay from off the beaten track.

Visiting Napa and Sonoma during 2017 are among my favourite wine memories.

These days, it isn’t simply California’s two most famous regions that are stealing the show though.

The 2015 Mandolin Pinot Noir from Monterey is a prime example.

“You, me and the Bay of Monterey,” isn’t just one of Dirk Pitt’s cheesier chat-up lines in the film version of Sahara – I’m not *quite* as averse to the movie as other Clive Cussler fans – the bay is also what makes Monterey’s wine-growing areas so special.

Cooling air from the sea leads to a longer growing season, helping the grapes to retain their acidity and thereby bringing freshness to wines like Mandolin’s pinot noir.

Five years of bottle age has helped the wine to wear its 18 months in French oak barrels very lightly, with the sweet vanilla and spun sugar flavours having had time to integrate with the concentrated raspberry jam backbone.

It’s the savoury element that really won me over though – a sea salt-like minerality that will bring me back to this wine again and again.

The Arroyo Grande Valley – not to be confused with Arroyo Seco within Monterey – is one of California’s coolest winegrowing areas and that’s reflected in the excellent 2016 Talley Estate Chardonnay, which for me epitomises modern California chardonnay around this price-point.

Gone are the days of super-ripe and super-oaked chardies – this example had all the concentrated peach and pineapple aromas that Cali fan’s desire, but they’re balanced by fresh acidity.

The buttery notes were restrained too; it’s a very grown-up California chardonnay for discerning drinkers.

As well as the “Lockdown California” case – which is selling fast – Hocking is also offering wines from his “Rare & Covetable Bottles” list, for anyone who’s looking for an extra-special treat.

For more stories from Peter Ranscombe’s The Grape & The Grain drinks blog visit https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/category/grapegrain/