I WAS at a tasting this week when I mentioned to one of the guests that I’d be writing about Californian wines this week.
She screwed up her face in horror and made some comments to the effect that my role as a wine editor couldn’t be all that great after all.
Perhaps the reason for this is that the UK is very badly served for Californian wines at the supermarket level.
The painful truth is that Californian wine does not come cheap, or if it does, it might not be particularly good.
So where to buy decent wine from America’s ‘Golden State’?
As a recent tasting at Hanging Ditch proved – independent wine merchants are the places to head. You may need to spend £20 plus for a bottle but there’s a sweet spot at this level for Californian wines where they really offer plenty of bang for your hard-earned buck.
The topography of the state is too varied to sum up simply but there are hotter, drier regions such as Napa 20 miles north of San Francisco.
Other vineyards closer to the Pacific such as Russian River Valley in Sonoma benefit from the cooling influence of the ocean and furthermore from the distinctive prevalence of fog and mist along the Californian coast.
This latter factor makes ideal growing conditions for cool climate varieties such as Pinot Noir.
Marimar Estate Wines
Californian wine-maker Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Marimar Torres is the sister of Miguel Torres, head of the Spanish wine empire. Her wines make full use of the cooler conditions on the coast where she has organic vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Albarino Russian River Valley 2012 (£27.99 www. vintagemarque.com) Albarino is better known as a Spanish variety which thrives in the rainy north of Spain and Portugal. Here in Don Miguel it bursts with the same vitality. The floral aromas are matched by the lime citrus notes while the palate is taut and mineral with a very long finish. Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Acero Chardonnay 2012 (£22 the drinkshop.com)
Acero means steel in Spanish and accordingly this wine has been made without the use of oak. It’s a wine of wonderful purity and elegance where the tropical flavours are kept in check by a crisp backbone of acidity. Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir, Dona Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma 2010 (£34.49 John Armit Wines, Vintage Marque ) This wine is a classic example of how the fog rolling in off the Pacific makes for ideal Pinot Noir conditions. Fine dark cherry and red berry aromas mingle with savoury spices. It’s rounded, generous and sensuous in the mouth. Marimar Estate Cristina Pinot Noir Don Miguel Vineyard 2009 (£42.49 John Armit, Vintage Marque) Named after Marimar’s daughter Cristina, this Pinot is classic Californian Pinot with a raspberry nose and hints of aromatics. The palate is silky and delicious.
Hanging Ditch Wines
Au Bon Climat Hildegard 2010 (£35)
A Californian classic made from Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Aligoté. This boasts particularly Burgundian flavours despite the fact there is no Chardonnay used at all.
The ripe peach flavours are matched by sweet oak yet there is plenty of acidity to balance it out. Joseph Swan Cotes du Rosa Carignan 2012 (£25)
This producer is a boutique winery making excellent quality wine in Russian River Valley. Very often, as here, they are Rhone-a-like wines. This Carignan is brambly with savoury, funky nose. The perfect match for wild boar sausages. Wild Hog Montepulciano Nova Vineyards, Dunnigan Hills, Sonoma County 2010 (£30)
An even smaller producer growing great wines in very small quantities. This was a revelation; an Italian classic grape variety produced in California.
There’s a dark cherry fullness to the nose and a big, but well-structured balance to the generous fruit. My favourite wine of this tasting.