Episode 111 – Elite USA
1st June 2022
I hosted a USA wine tasting the other day, and the wines were so impressive that I wanted to share them with my Wednesday Wine fans. There are no straight Chardonnays or Cabernet Sauvignons here, although these grapes pop up as components in the wines below! This list is, hopefully, as unpredictable as it is downright delicious. I was lucky enough to be given carte blanche when putting this tasting together, and so these wines represent the finest of their kind.
NV Roederer Quartet, Anderson Valley Brut, Mendocino £25.99, www.waitrosecellar.com, £29.99, reduced to £21.99 in a Mix Six, Majestic
If you haven’t tasted Quartet for a while, you should refresh your memory right away. Roederer’s Californian outpost is forty years old, and the wines have never tasted finer. While this wine might not necessarily spring to mind when searching for a keenly-priced sparkler, the fruit, balance, and refinement are sensational.
2020 Blackbird Vineyards, Dissonance Sauvignon Blanc £28.95, www.winetreasury.com
Made from 80-ish% Sauvignon Blanc from the Hudson Vineyard (q.v.) and 20-ish% Semillon from the Bavarian Lion Vineyard, matured in clay amphorae and 30% new French oak barrels, this is a ‘Pessac-Léognan- shaped’ wine with a smooth chassis and a delightful, tangy finish. Ex-Troplong-Mondot winemaker Aaron Pott crafts impressive Merlot-driven wines at Blackbird, and one might ordinarily skip over this white, but it is a beautifully-judged creation that performs complex aperitif duties as well as stepping up to main course activities, too.
2020 Alban Vineyards, Central Coast Viognier approx. £39.50, www.winetreasury.com; £41.68, www.laywheeler.com; £44.99, www.selfridges.com; £38.00, www.pacificwines.co.uk
John Alban is a legend in the Californian wine industry, and it is fair to say that he was the original Rhône Ranger. He propagated 32 hectares of Viognier in California when there was only a further 50ha in the rest of the world! This is a spectacular Viognier, and it is one of the world’s finest versions of this evocative white grape. Perfumed, sleek, enchanting and, crucially, crisp on the finish, I chose this wine to shock peoples’ palates while making the point that there is more than Chardy in California when it comes to delivering world-class flavours.
2019 Twomey Cellars, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Mendocino £69.00, www.winetreasury.com
Owned by the Silver Oak folk, there is no expense spared at Twomey and in terms of value for money (given this is not a cheap wine in the first place), this is a magnificent Pinot. Plush, bright, perfectly balanced and without any excess oak or alcohol, this is a magnificently layered wine, and I cannot recommend it enough.
2017 Betz Family Cellars, Clos de Betz, Columbia Valley, Washington State £49.50, www.winetreasury.com; £55.00, www.robersonwine.com
Bob Betz crafts fine wines that tease the senses with their herb, leather and chypre notes as much as their overt fruit. Claret-shaped (despite the Burgundian ‘Clos de Bèze’ play on words), this wine harks back to a bygone era with its tenderness, medium-weight frame and long, savoury finish. It was the perfect red to segue between the Pinot and the fuller-framed Californian reds that follow.
2018 Hudson Vineyards, Phoenix, Carneros £72.80, www.hedonism.co.uk; £70.00, www.dvinecellars.com
I served this wine blind, and every single person in the room went into raptures, and it gave rise to one of the most drawn-out games of options I have ever hosted. Phoenix is a 68% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc blend drawn from four vineyard sites, and it is aged in 90% Darnajou, François Frères, Sylvain and Taransaud French oak barrels and bottled after 20 months. The fruit here is nothing short of sublime. It is rich and all-encompassing, yet there is no unwanted muscle or coarseness of tannins. This is one of the most luxurious and indulgent Californian red wines I have tasted in years, and it will no doubt blow you away with its class and length of flavour.
2018 Alban Vineyards, Patrina Syrah, Edna Valley £74.95, www.winetreasury.com; £83.99, www.selfridges.com
Back to Alban and this staggeringly serious Syrah. John planted the first Syrah vines in California, and there are now 17000 acres planted. Pioneer, visionary, legend – this man led the way, and 2018 Patrina is a perfect wine to showcase Alban’s tremendous skill in every one of his wines. Black, spicy, fruit-packed and wild, Patrina would give every wine in the Northern Rhône and the Barossa Valley a jolly good run for their money!
2018 Pride, Mountain Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Napa / Sonoma £120.00, www.museumwines.co.uk
My final choice was a wine that I think signals the future for the Californian wine industry. Pride Mountain Vineyards, formerly known as Summit Ranch, is found on a rolling crest at the top of the Mayacamas Mountains, some 2000 feet above the floor of the Napa Valley. It straddles both the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, and the fruit here sees more pure ultraviolet light than the valley floor and cooler nights and more rainfall. In short, it is a spectacular location to grow grapes. I feel that it is a naturally future-proofed location in a world where climate change is radically changing how grapes are grown. And yes, you can taste the tension and the gravitas of the location in this wine. At this price, you would expect a world-class red. I can assure you that you can put this wine on the table with the finest Right Bank clarets and a handful of Bolgheri’s best, and it will come up smiling!