Harlan Estate makes wonderful wine. I have drunk it on only a few occasions, because it is wine I need the largesse of others to enjoy: you’ll do well to find a bottle below £500. A ridiculous sum of money to pay, maybe, but that’s simply the laws of supply and demand.
California challenges our view of value, which we too often assume means cheap. It produces, and sells to the UK, vast amounts of cheap wine; in my view some of the worst-value bottles on our shelves. If you want to spend £5-6, Spain, Italy or France can deliver much more. California’s sweet spot is £20 and upwards, especially if you are a fan of the classic fine wines of France: Burgundy, Bordeaux or the Rhône.
Recently, there has been a shift in style. Once, lovers of finely tuned, mid-weight chardonnay from Burgundy found little to enjoy in California’s buttery, powerhouse versions. Now, through a combination of vineyard selection, picking dates and changes in the winery, many of its wines taste far more European in style, while retaining a distinct character. I recommend them to burgundy drinkers who’ve been left behind by the region’s recent price rises. Between £20 and £50, California is producing world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, and at good value, too.