To do a general blog on Californian wine is fairly ambitious. There are now over 4,100 wineries in the Golden State and it is also the 4th largest producing wine region in the world. So , to break it down, here are SIX fun Californian summer wine options which are easy to get hold of in the UK, are fantastic value and are frankly delicious.
- The Classy Prosecco Alternative – Spice up your Summer Party
Sofia Blanc de Blancs, Monterey County, 2016 £20.49 Amazon or Seabrookwines online
What is it? It’s mainly Pinot Blanc with a sprinkling of Riesling and Muscat which gives a fantastic perfume of tropical fruits and honeysuckle. It is made using the Charmat method (same as Prosecco) and is slightly off dry aka semi sweet.
Taste: Think juicy white peaches, mango, tropical orange blossoms combined with a subtle sweetness and crisp twist.
Pairing: Awesome on its own but it would be fantastic with cheeseboards or spicy fusion food.
USP: Made by film director Francis Ford Coppola in dedication to his daughter, Sofia, this is an exotic fizz, perfect for summer parties and something different than the ubiquitous Prosecco. Also, Monterey is a region which tends to offer really good value – keep your eyes peeled for it!
- Cool climate Chardonnay – Cali Personality without being too much
La Crema, Chardonnnay, Monterey, 2015 £20.49 Amazon, Hailsham Cellars
What is it? 100% Chardonnay baby! But not the blousy, toffee butterkiss popcorn that you may associate with Cali Chard from the 80’s. It’s full of the ripe summer fruit that you want without the confection due to only 20% new oak being used and 15% malo.
Taste: Baked peaches and papaya sprinkled liberally with cindered toffee wrapped up in the creamiest texture.
Pairing: Anything with a creamy or buttery sauce or rich seafood dishes. Awesome with avocado – it would be a classy pairing with your guacamole.
USP: Another scrumptious offering from Monterey which offers fantastic value and just enough Cali pep without being OTT.
- Elegant Californian Pinot (Not an Oxymoron) – The Cool Kid with Substance
Sanford Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, 2015 £45.00 Handford Wines, Last Drop Wines, Eagles Wines
What is it? 100% Pinot, grown primarily in one of California’s most famous vineyards (Sanford & Benedict) which resides in one of the top coveted regions for Chardonnay and Pinot.
Taste: Rich, full bodied pomegranate flavours are spiced up with blood orange and aromatic notes of cola. White pepper and sage ensure a fresh and savoury backbone which makes this wine so food friendly.
Pairing: Grilled tuna and smoked meat on the BBQ – for veggies try this with mushroom or aubergiene based dishes.
USP: Sanford planted the area’s first Pinot Noir in its Sanford & Benedict vineyard back in 1971. The pioneering winery’s Pinot Noir ranks among the best and most distinctive in the world. I am a self- confessed addict to their Pinot Noir Rose also!
- Exciting Merlot (again, not an Oxymoron) – The Ultimate Crowd Pleaser
Trefethen Merlot, Napa Valley, 2014 £34.00 Mark & Spencer
What is it? Mainly plump, concentrated Merlot (83%) with a dash of Malbec (9%) and Cabernet (8%) to rein in the lusciousness. Rounded but not oaky, this wine has spent 18 months in oak but only 46% new. The savvy blending of French, American, and Hungarian oak for the barrels makes for a seamless structure which still enables expression.
Taste: There is plenty of Merlot mellow plum and dark cherry fruit but this is accompanied with savoury notes of black pepper, truffle and chocolate. Lush, silky tannins complete this enigmatic and fabulously nuanced Merlot.
Pairing: The obvious option would be steak, beef or lamb. But the slight umami element means it would be sublime with duck pancakes and hoisin sauce.
USP: The Trefethen family just celebrated their 50th anniversary. This is a family who knows what they are doing in the vineyard as well as what happens in the cellar. True Napa quality at Monterey prices as Merlot just isn’t that fashionable… All the more for us!
- The Most Ridiculously Well Priced Cali Cabernet – The Timeless Classic
Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2014 £22.50 Great Western Wine
What is it? 90% Cabernet from prime sites in Napa which have been spiced up with 5% Petite Sirah and 5% Petit Verdot. 2014 was the ideal vintage and the wine was then aged for 18 months in a mixture of American and French oak with a judicious combo of 30% new oak to 70% old.
Taste: Has the generous blackberry, and blueberry fruit you would expect but this is enhanced with an enticing caress of toasted cedar from the oak and awesome herbal, liquorice spice in the background. And don’t even get me started on those silky tannins. Wow!
Pairing: BEEF WITH BLACK PEPPER, grilled steak, smoked meats, ribs, hamburgers – grilled. If you are desperate for cheese – Camembert.
USP: Even Jancis Robinson (top wine critic/ guru), says that this widely distributed wine is a ‘silly price’. Top quality Cab at bargain costs.
- Zin is my Sin – The Sexy Malbec Equivalent
The Federalist, Zinfandel, Lodi, 2015 £24.00 Handford Wines, Eagles Wines, Last Drop Wines
What is it? 93% Zinfandel which has its power amped up by the 7% Syrah. Lodi is known for providing redolent cherry, strawberry fruit but the 12 months in oak (25% new) helps rein in the opulence and adds sweet spice.
Taste: Juicy, figgy, cinnamon infused – it almost reminded me of a nutri grain bar (fig newton if you are American) in a glass. Full bodied, intense and relatively ripe tannins make this fun wine extremely easy to gulp… I mean sip at a summer party. Danger Danger!
Pairing: BBQ meat esp chicken, pulled pork, sweet BBQ sauce, pasta and meatballs, tacos, smoky bacon and Mexican mole. Zinfandel also tempers the edgier flavours like soy, sweet and sour and onzu.
USP: Lodi is a great place to find Old Vine Zinfandel which enables incredible density and structure in the wine. And don’t think that Zinfandel is just a fun, simple BBQ accessory. I have had an incredible Zinfandel from Ridge Winery (Napa Valley) which was from 1979 and reminded me of a savoury, nuanced Nebbiolo!