Up the Dry Creek without a paddle

Up the Dry Creek without a paddle

The world of Californian Wines is large, varied and daunting and even with my Official AVA maps and guides I still find myself lost in a sea of Valleys, Coasts and Creeks. There are a handful of wine bloggers out there who really do know their Oakville from their Oak Knoll and High Valley from their Hames Valley and all this week they’ve been offering guidance to the Italian Wine Blogger in return for tips on my equally confusing but endlessly rewarding chosen subject for 10; Italian vino.

So it was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation to go along to the official Wine Institute of California’s first Social Media event in Hoxton on Thursday to get a taste of the different varieties coming out of California that are available in the UK. Speaking with the organisers it seems there are real problems getting the Brits to drink mid range Californian wine but no problem at all enticing them with 3 for 10 Blossom Hill/Gallo wines.

It’s frankly impossible to generalise when it comes to Californian wines. The area is huge and 4th only to Italy, France and Spain in terms of growing area, has a massively changeable climate north to south, coast to mountains also making vintage generalisations nigh on impossible and the grapes grown change like the dickens!

There is half as much Chenin coming out of California as there was five years ago and Pinot Grigio vines have sprung up 480% in the same time. Pinot Noir and Syrah are being newly planted and traditional Zinfandel vines are being torn up. However the stalwarts we come to associate with California continue to prosper and, even with this small 12 wine sample from Thursday night we can see that wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc continue to flourish and real quality can be found in the mid priced range.

If you like tasting notes… you’re gonna love this! *flexes fingers* – Here we go! Remember folks, like always, if I am passing a wine it is only because I personally wouldn’t buy it again for my own personal consumption, a party or a friend, it doesn’t mean you will not like it. If you like, sweet apple notes and nettle finishes then you’ll love the first wine. The Beringer burning banana plantation Chardonnay I gave just 84 points to yet I requested a bottle to take home because I knew my flatmate would love it. Always read the tasting notes. If your palate is actually identical to mine then… kudos!

Loredona Monterey County Pinot Grigio 2007PASS – £9
Sits straw yellow. A fresh, clean, crisp wine with a sweet green apple nose. On the palate good acidity with a distinctive nettle like bitter finish but refreshing. 86 Points

Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc 2006PASS - £9
A straw yellow colour and aromatic from 12 inches! Exaggerated notes of pineapple, fig and melon, very tropical and “starburst-esque“. A mid bodied wine with a fruit forward flavour profile that left my tongue tingling on the finish, not in an acid way, in a sharp pointy needles way. Basic fruit explosion but good fun. 86 Points

Beringer Vineyards Founder’s Estate Chardonnay 2007BORDERLINE - £9
vibrant mid straw yellow and a nose of a burning banana plantation makes this wine distinctive for $11. Luscious mouth feel and solid fruit on the palate with apricots and papaya in play. An extreme wine both on the nose and in the mouth, a case of knowing when you’ve been tango’d. 84 Points

Bonterra Vineyards Viognier 2007BUY – £10
Mid straw yellow. A really intriguing wine on the nose producing notes that make for a strange mix. Peach and lime intermingle along a tropical sugary theme with the lime flavours coming to the fore on the palate, strong finish, strong acidity making this wine a real QPR doozy. 89 Points

Hahn Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006BUY – £10
A deep dark ruby red and thick in the glass. Aromatically obvious Cabernet Sauvignon with blackberries, a touch of graphite and a little smoky. Velvet texture and solid tannincs, fine balance, well done. 88 Points.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2006BUY - £15
Light ruby red with orange hues. Notes of bacon and cherry unfold quickly and on the palate the wine has a good balance with fine tannins. Good actually. 86 Points

And the Star of the Show… amazingly a wine I have written about already on the Wine90 blog. Only 3 Californian wines have ever shown up here and low and behold, my favourite mid priced, UK available, Californian Red was sat on the table. The EOS Petite-Sirah.

EOS Paso Robles Petite Sirah 2005BUY - £10
Deep purple in the glass and right off the bat you are hit with a blockbuster nose of cherries, spices and pepper. On the palate the wine is thick and jammy with a lustrous mouthfeel, flavourful and smooth with acres of blackcurrant in the mid palate. 14% alcohol held with absolute style, nothing harsh or hot in the finish which goes on and on with notes of chocolate. Not really complex just simply delicious. 90 Points

Leave a Comment
Why is it that mid range Californian wines haven’t really made it over the Atlantic? Or do you think they have? Also, please leave any tips for great Californian wines for me to check out to help expand my knowledge? Or, that are simply dee-lische?

Italian Wine Blog – Wine90

16 thoughts on “Up the Dry Creek without a paddle

  1. Hello Wine90.

    I am really unsurprised that the wines don’t do better here in Britain because many of the wines in that range are very hit and miss. California make good generic cheap wines and a few special bottle exist but the middle ground is overpriced.

  2. Pleased to see you liked the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot; we sell it at £13 and I think it’s lovely stuff for that kind of price. I usually struggle with Pinot Noir as I often find it a bit hit and miss depending on the producer, but KJ make a super wine.

    As for selling Californian wines in the UK in general, I’d agree that there’s a definite difficulty – we stock a fairly small range (compared to other regions in the shop’s stock) of £7-15 bottles, because they don’t tend to move at all quickly, despite people enjoying them when they try them.

  3. Pleased to see you liked the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot; we sell it at £13 and I think it’s lovely stuff for that kind of price. I usually struggle with Pinot Noir as I often find it a bit hit and miss depending on the producer, but KJ make a super wine.

    As for selling Californian wines in the UK in general, I’d agree that there’s a definite difficulty – we stock a fairly small range (compared to other regions in the shop’s stock) of £7-15 bottles, because they don’t tend to move at all quickly, despite people enjoying them when they try them.

  4. Hi there Wine90
    pretty good guide you gave us here. Even though I live in the US, my knowledge of California wineries and wines is a bit outdated since I lived in Venezuela until recently, and there there aren’t any Calif. wines. For a time Wente and Kendall Jackson made it as well as Far Niente (excellent ones may I say).
    Since returning to the US I have been getting to know many of the new ones and re-tasting the ones I already knew.
    Some surprises for me there: Robert MOndavi Private Selection Pinor Noir 2007, Menage aux Trois made with zinfandel, merlot and cab sauvignon from Pas de deux winery; and Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and 2006, excellently surprised by this wine from the valley of the Columbia River, Washington. The price range? From $7.99 to 9.99.

  5. To narrow your search for inexpensive California wines, skip the front of the bottle and simply check the back label for “Produced And Bottled By …”. If it’s there, and the bottle is within your budget, give it a taste.

  6. A really nice potted guide Wine90. These are very popular homegrown producers but what about Arrowood in Sonoma can you get that in the UK?

    Beringer and Kendall-Jackson represent value but those were not the best bottles you reviewed. Try the Chardonnay from Kendall-Jackson and the Viognier and Riesling from Beringer.

  7. The California wine market is not going to be the same after this economic downturn. Most experts agree the higher end bottles will sit and the low to mid range will be where the profit is. That being said, I have always enjoyed the Blackstone Merlot as well as the Ravenswood Merlot – both fairly inexpensive ($14 – $18), but very tasty.

  8. Thanks for all these comments. More than for any italian wine!

    A good selection of these I don’t think I can get my hands on, however, I have made a list and will see if I can pick any up on my travels.

    Maybe you US guys can swap tips!

  9. Ha! I love this piece, as I was just at a holiday party with this half dozen wine guys who do know their Dry Creek, and so on…

    I am glad I found you, on another site!

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